Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2017 (Part 1)

I tend to play a lot of video games whenever I’m procrastinating on whatever movie review I desperately need to get finished, or whenever I need to settle the existential panic of the world collapsing around us in some horrifying slow motion train wreck that many of us have been cheering on for terrible reasons and everyone else is trying desperately to prevent.  Needless to say that this was a VERY good year for constant escapism, but that’s not all that video games are good for considering how many great can be just as life changing and inspiring as any movie, television show, book, or other creative work!  Some games I enjoyed this year, others I hated, and most of them didn’t actually come out in 2017, but I’m gonna talk about all of them anyway because it’s the start of a new year and we ALWAYS have to take just a few looks back before we can head into the future!  Let’s get started!!

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Cuphead

GAMES2017-1

Developed by StudioMDHR Entertainment

I don’t get it.  I don’t get how THIS game, which truthfully is pretty good, managed to be yet another hill for the ETHICS IN BULLSHIT crowd to rally around for whatever perceived grievances that supposed haters had with the game.  I’ll tell you right now that, while I love the art direction and think the game play is solid (if not OVERLY inspired), the difficulty is a legitimate detriment to the game.  Never in my life have I heard people defend so vociferously the idea that a game being overly frustrating isn’t an actual flaw in the experience; especially since that’s basically been the consensus  for over a decade now when it comes to critiquing retro games.  Just look at any given AVGN video and chances are you’ll find that one of the major breaking points for the guy is an unforgiving difficulty!  Maybe this is a conversation that NEEDED to happen regarding accessibility (especially for those with disabilities) and how much a potential lack of inclusivity should impact how we evaluate and rate games which will hopefully be one positive outcome of this whole fiasco.  To me, the problem could have been sidestepped entirely if they bothered to have an ACTUAL easy mode instead of the fake one in the game right now where you CANNOT PROGRESS IF YOU USE THAT MODE!  I would have been annoyed if the game just had the one level of difficulty (which is extremely hard), but the fact that they put in a mode that the developers clearly have no respect for (why else would they gate keep progression?) is what got my blood to boil and made the whole experience that much more miserable.  This is a really solid run and gun game with amazing bosses and a very cool art style (which in and of itself is a conversation worth having that the gamer babies were up in arms about), but I can say with absolute confidence and certainty that the game is worse for not having difficulty levels so that players of all skill can enjoy it.

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Everybody’s Golf & ATHF Zombie Ninja Pro-Am

GAMES2017-2

Everybody’s Golf developed by Clap Hanz
ATHF Zombie Ninja Pro-Am developed by Creat Studios

I am a huge fan of arcade style golf games.  None of that “true swing” bullshit with the analog stick!  THREE CLICKS, AND THAT’S IT!!  Heck, I even enjoy that Eagle golf game on Android even if I can never really make progress in the damn thing.  Sadly, Everybody’s Golf (the latest iteration in the Hot Shots Golf series) isn’t TOO far behind on that front as it’s an ENORMOUS grind (I’ve played for about eight hours and I’ve BARLEY made it to the third course) but taken purely on its golf mechanics it really can’t be beat as its game play has been fine-tuned over the course of two decades by the series developers.  I don’t like a lot of the stuff on the periphery of the experience like the pointless hub world, the cosmetic DLC, and the… odd online game play (why do you run to each hole and what is with the limited use teleporters!?), but the core experience is one of the best you can find in the genre.  Now let’s talk about how Aqua Teen Hunger Force does NONE of those things.  Look, I’m a HUGE sucker for anything ATHF, but I cannot ABIDE by how awful and half assed this game ended up being.  I mean… were they even TRYING to make a golf game!?  You get the sense that the whole “golf” aspect is just another layer of ironic pointlessness which is certainly in line with the show, but you STILL have to sit there and play the damn thing which isn’t fun!  Where to even start on this!?  THEY COULDN’T EVEN GET THE POWER BAR RIGHT!  The most fundamental element in a three click golf game (the part that gauges your power and determines your accuracy) barely functions as there’s a distinct lack of precision to it that makes gauging the  distance feel like a guessing game more than anything else, and the gauge itself doesn’t even manage to move consistently!  It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in one of these games where the meter fills up at a specific rate, goes down at the SAME rate, but once it hits the strike zone (the part where you click to gauge accuracy), it inexplicable slows down which completely ruins the flow of the shot and it took FOREVER for me to get used to it!  Not that it really matters though as the aforementioned precision issues means the ball tends to go wherever the fuck it feels like, so even trying to make par feels like a Dark Souls level task of futility.  Sure, the golfing is only one third of the game as there are brawling sections and racing sections, but even THOSE end up feeling just as half assed with the brawls taking WAY too long (enemies take too many hits and you walk absurdly slowly) and the golf cart controls being lose and unreliable.  There COULD have been something to this game if they had tightened up the three core game play modes as I do kind of like the idea of the courses themselves working both as a place to golf AND a battlefield that you can explore to find secrets.  What we’re left with though is three half-finished games that when put together are even less than the sum of their parts, and probably the nadir of the Aqua Teen franchise… I mean outside of Wisdom Cube.  Why am I even ranting about this anyway?  No one gave a shit about this game when it was new, and that was like a decade ago!

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Just Cause 3

GAMES2017-3

Developed by Avalanche Studios

As much as people like to praise the absurd and over the top game play of the Saints Row series, I always thought that Just Cause 2 was better in every way.  MAYBE not in the humor as its story and characters are rather perfunctory, but then I wasn’t always the biggest fan of Saints Row’s humor to begin with which lacked any real subtly and nuance, at least until Zinyak showed up in the fourth game.  It took me forever to finally pick up this sequel which is pretty much everything the original game did right, only a little bit better.  Better graphics, tighter game play, more mobility options, it’s everything a standard sequel should be even if it’s not an EXTRAORDINARY one.  It’s more of the same which is just fine for me considering how much fun I had with the prior game (SO MANY HELICOPTERS TO CRASH!!), and honestly I’m not even sure where to take this series outside of a sci-fi reboot or having Rico Rodriguez fighting demons.  Speaking of which, I AM a bit disappointed to learn that our very Hispanic main star is in fact voiced by a white dude doing an accent.  There are so few Latino characters in video games (outside of criminal stereotypes and a few token spots in fighting games) that someone as straightforwardly heroic as Rico Rodriguez feels like a breath of fresh air in the industry, yet is undercut by being portrayed by yet another white dude.  Yes, I am aware that a government agent sent into a foreign country with the sole purpose of destabilizing the government is a VERY problematic character to be holding up as heroic, but within the hyper stylized fiction of this game and many other games that are just as bad if not worse (*cough* The Division *cough*), I think that playing as a Hispanic character in a game like this is worth celebrating when done right as well as criticizing when the developers misstep.

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Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

GAMES2017-4

Developed by Nintendo

I’ve always been a fan of the Zelda games, but it was never really my go to video game franchise or even my go to Nintendo franchise.  It’s always been a solid eight out of ten for me other than Windwaker which I feel is STILL the best in the entire series, and I guess the reason is that they can get a bit monotonous by the halfway point and I usually end up getting stuck on a dungeon which saps most of the fun out of it.  Heck, I STILL haven’t been Twilight Princess yet for those very reasons!  Breath of the Wild feels like the game that fixes many of the problems people like me have with the series (the kind that keep it merely REALLY good instead of BEST GAMES EVAR) and while it’s yet another in the series I’ll probably never finish, I feel the way the game works makes it a lot more forgiving to play it like that.  Sure, the quest isn’t over if I stop playing, but it works in such small distinct pieces that it still feels like a COMPLETE experience even if I haven’t finished everything.  The bite sized dungeons are a lot of fun and don’t get overly frustrating as does the world exploration which doesn’t direct you towards your next goal; allowing you to have fun and self-contained adventures outside of the main quest which is a lot easier for someone like me to enjoy than the other games where I’m stopping midway through the story arc.  It’s also probably the first Bethesda style RPG (which this most certainly is) where I don’t feel like the time I’m investing in it has been wasted or that I’m merely chipping away bit by bit towards some great experience MUCH further down the road.  Nintendo (at least on the game development end of things) really seems to get that making sure everyone has FUN when they sit down to play a game is the whole point of this industry that we’ve built over the last few decades, and their latest Zelda adventure proves that they still know how to do that one thing better than anyone else!

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Let It Die

GAMES2017-5

Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture

Two things I’ve never really been able to get into are Rougelikes and Dark Souls; both are just too… punishing I guess for me to get much enjoyment out of them.  The amount of time it takes to get good at ONE of those games is time I could be enjoying four or five games, so I tend to avoid those kind of games for the most part.  Still, the idea of a Dark Souls-esque Rogue Like developed by Suda 51 that you can play FOR FREE had just enough appeal for me to give it a shot.  I can’t say that it’s THAT much better than other games I’ve played in the genre, but it does have enough Suda 51 flair for it to stand out from the crowd, and the low cost of investment is a huge appeal to someone who’s worried about getting too caught up (either with time or money) with one of these types of games.  That said it did end up petering out for me after a while.  I maxed out about three characters, got to level 23, but eventually I just didn’t see much reason to continue; especially since the whole progression system still feels muddled and overly steep which is when those micro-transaction itches start to occur, but there really isn’t THAT much to get with them.  You still have grind your brains out as well as hunt increasingly hard to find materials to get decent enough weapons, and it just gets exponentially more tedious.  I don’t know… it’s fine I guess (and they even managed to get Mark Hamill to voice the opening narration), but overall I just couldn’t get into this one much more than I could Dark Souls.

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The Pinball Arcade & Pinball FX3

GAMES2017-6

The Pinball Arcade developed by FarSight Studios
Pinball FX 3 developed by Zen Studios

Have any of you looked up the price of a pinball machine!?  THOSE THINGS ARE SUPER EXPENSIVE!!  Needless to say if you’re a fan of the game like I am and you don’t want to be driving all over the freaking state to find (arguably) working machines, you’re basically stuck with these two games to satiate that burning need to hit balls with flippers.  Thankfully, both Zen Studios and FarSight Studios weren’t messing around when they made these games as both offer FANTASTIC experiences for anyone who’s even mildly interested in pinball!  Not only that, their approaches are vastly different so as to not make either of them redundant with Pinball Arcade’s tables being accurate recreations of existing machines for those who are genuinely interested in the hobby and want to experience some of the best tables out there (BLACK HOLE FOR THE WIN!!) and Pinball FX 3 creating unique tables that take full advantage of the fact that it’s VIRTUAL pinball.  That and the copious amounts of movie and television licenses they’ve been able to acquire certainly helps to give the game some visibility.  If there’s one thing that’s kind of irksome about both of these games, it’s the monetization system which is MOSTLY fair but feels a bit exploitative.  Both these games are free to download (at least on Steam) but you have to buy tables either individually or in packs which can get a bit annoying when you want maybe one or two tables in a set, or want to pick and choose without feeling gouged for going À la carte.  Pinball Arcade is the more egregious of the two as the most affordable way to buy them are the PRO Season Packs, but at forty a pop (except season five which is at twenty), it’ll cost you TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY DOLLARS to get all seven seasons!  Granted, that’s a HUGE number of tables at ninety-three in total, but if you only wanted half of them and purchased individually, you’d basically be paying the same price.  On top of that, the tables aren’t transferable to other platforms meaning you’d have to rebuy them, which seems like a PRETTY cheap move if you ask me!  Pinball FX 3 is a bit better as it has smaller packs at cheaper prices, but you’re still looking at about two hundred and three bucks to get all seventy tables!  And yet, it’s STILL the best (and cheapest) option available to most pinball fans.  MAN, is this hobby expensive!

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Puyo Puyo Tetris & Golf Story

GAMES2017-7

Puyo Puyo Tetris developed by Sonic Team
Golf Story developed by Sidebar Games

One of the best things about the Switch is how innovate it is in ways that aren’t entirely obvious and work towards fulfilling needs that consumers didn’t even realize were there.  Even the gimmicky stuff like the HD Rumble and the various plays styles are only one piece to the Switch’s overwhelming success this year, and as far as I’m concerned the REALLY solid third party games are what sealed the deal for many people.  Did I KNOW that I needed the most perfectly crafted and fine-tuned puzzle party game of all time?  Maybe not, but the twenty-five hours I’ve logged into that sucker indicates that Nintendo and Sega knew something that I didn’t!  Golf Story is similarly positioned as it’s the perfect kind of offbeat indie goodness that’s needed to round out a decent for year library for a game console, and while I didn’t take to it as much as I expected to (mostly due to the isometric angle feeling a bit off for a golf game), I can appreciate a developer who tries to do something different and Nintendo for taking a chance on elevating these kind of games.  Hopefully they don’t get TOO overzealous though, else we end up with Life of Black Tiger 2: 2 Tiger 2 Ferocious muscling its way onto the eShop.

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And on that note, we’ll end part one of this 2017(ish) retrospective!  Stay tuned for part two which should be right around the corner!  In the meantime, you can check what I wrote last year about the games of 2016!!

Games of 2016 (Part 1)
Games of 2016 (Part 2)

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