Now that my partner and I bought a TV, we’ve actually got a video game playing “area” in our home – before we just had a table, and a small TV in a bedroom (that occasionally our friends would just pile into in order to play or watch something). So we’ve spent a bit more time with video games again this year and it’s been a delight because this has been a very, very good year for video games. This list would have been harder to make if I’d played things like Nier, Horizon, Night in the Woods, PUBG, etc etc etc. I do intend on getting to all that stuff – this list is just what I got to that I loved the most.
Slightly cheating on this one because I only played it last night but I think this game deserves the credit. For anyone that saw or read Matilda, imagine the scene where she’s in Miss Trunchbull’s house and sneaking around and trying not to get caught. That’s this game. The neighbor will hurl himself out of his own windows and wreck his place trying to catch you, set traps, even watch what you did and try to block you from doing it again. It’s very messed up and it made us so uncomfortable we had nightmares afterward. One billion stars.
Getting Over It
I only played this game for twenty minutes. What’s it doing on here?
Well, I like the double meaning of the title – the game is both about climbing a mountain and about getting past anger and frustration. Noémi and I were drawn in by let’s plays of this game, partly hypnotized by the weird rippling muscles of the character (when we discovered this developer also made QWOP we were 0% surprised) but mostly fascinated by people’s reactions to it. It makes you get very, very mad, and it manages to do that while being very obvious about wanting to make you mad. You get wise to what it’s doing within minutes. But you won’t stop from getting angry. And, oddly, you can’t stop playing.
At first I hated the idea of this game, made to make people upset. Who did this person think he was? It took us reading a lot of writing about the developer and watching a video of him talking about the game to sell me on it, and he is quite delightful – this game wasn’t made from a place of spite, or negativity. It came from a place of fascination and personal reflection. The game isn’t just about you losing to this mountain and getting mad (so you play like garbage and get even more mad), but getting to that point of being past mad. To that quiet place, where being angry doesn’t even make sense anymore, and incredulity sets in. Then, amazingly, your playing improves again. Then you can beat the mountain. You can win.
Or maybe it doesn’t and you quit in a huff. That works too.
I finally bought the game and played it. I learned to swing the axe. I climbed a ways. I fell down. The first of many developer voice clips played taunting me for falling. I felt the anger start to come. Despite knowing it was going to happen and knowing how the game was trying to manipulate those feelings into my body, it’s amazing how fast the anger came. I stopped before it got too bad. I’m going to go back and try again. I will probably get very mad again. But, I think this game might actually be a useful tool for managing frustration. For what it’s made me think about, it already has a lot of value. I’ll let you know how that works out for me.
I think a lot of people expected this game to be a joke. I was concerned about the Game Grumps logo that came on the box, and with the humour that group usually uses, you could easily see this game being having super troubling comedy. What it actually is ended up being so, so much better than I would have ever expected. This is a dating sim that plays it straight and is legitimately funny, with well-written people as your characters. Explores some really nice heartfelt stuff. Well done. One billion stars.
Super Mario Odyssey
Ba-da-ba-bah, ba-da bah, baaaaaaaaaaaah!
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
I had no idea I was going to love this so much. I think it’s because it gave me an Xcom where I don’t have to watch my friends die so often. Also one that’s just generally happier thematically. Without sacrificing much difficulty – this game is real hard.
I still love me my Xcom and I think it’s better in a lot of ways but mario+rabbids is so good and I really hope it does well enough that they’ll give me another one, because I’m definitely 100%ing this thing.
Miitopia: An Epic Face-Off Between Good and Evil
Man, did Nintendo ever knock it out of the park this year. This particular game is going to be one of the most underplayed Nintendo games of all time that deserves to get played significantly more. This is a Nintendo game starring all your miis in a stage-play style story about a group of heroes taking on an evil emperor. The combat is turn-based RPG style stuff, albeit it starts out super simplified. Talking too much about the game beyond this is just a straight-up spoiler – the short version is, you should play this. And if you’re playing it, and you don’t understand yet why I’m so nuts about this game, keep playing. You might kind of think you found the part that makes me love the game, and want to stop. Don’t. Just keep playing, until the game is done. You’ll understand why. And it’s not just because the music is BANGIN. Although it is.
The Last Guardian
I’ve only got one negative thing to say about it, and I’ll get it out of the way quick – when we played it, we saw quickly why it got delayed, and delayed, and delayed some more. Besides what I’m sure were complicated politics, Last Guardian still had a fair bit of jankiness in some of the clutch jumps/moments that were meant to feel organic. There was a very real chance that the big crescendo slow motion jump to grab on to Trico’s tail would completely whiff and you’d just fall, die, and restart. This was often a huge buzzkill, but the rest of the game was so good it easily made that stuff worth it.
That game hit me so hard, man. That creature felt actually alive. It would consider pieces of food before it ate it, poke at them a bit maybe. It would watch things curiously. It would get scared and organically run places. You could control it, but only kind of? Every step of the way it felt like a real, actual living breathing animal – and not just like, a dog, or a cat, or an anything, it was unique. I got frustrated with Trico in the same way I got frustrated with my dog for not learning how to roll over. It felt real.
What amazed me is that despite having a pretty decently obvious guess what the ending was gonna be (well, one of two, see Penny Arcade – no spoilers, this was written in 2009 when they announced the game), they still came up with something that I found really beautiful.
Final Fantasy XV
For the last year and change, I’ve been playing and loving other old/classic games, like Chrono Trigger, FFVI and VII, Earthbound, among a few others. They have been a joy to play and FFVI has become an instant all-time favourite of mine, but, they do not feel like my games. They feel like other people’s games, amazing experiences from the past that they’re sharing with me. It’s been wonderful if a bit isolating – nobody is really seeing them with me for the first time. I don’t really have anyone to share that feeling with.
FFXV doesn’t feel like someone else’s game. It feels like my game. And it’s wonderful.
I have several complaints, like the egregious lack of female characters, the low number of main characters in general (FFVI was amazing about not having a specific protagonist and also having a great number of different people affected by big changes in the world). But everything else is amazing. Combat is so fun. The story is actually new and unknown. It’s graphically breathtaking – something like FFVI didn’t need great graphics, but I often found myself wishing I could see these characters and giant amazing things more actualized. In this game, I get a chocobo but it actually has feathers that ruffle in the wind and it wanders around and squaks at me sometimes. That counts for something.
But Noémi nailed it when she said that the game, in terms of music, presentation, and feel, reminds her a lot of Kingdom Hearts but with a story that’s much less bullshit (not devoid of it, but much less). And I think she has a point.
But it’s also because of the gravity they treat things with. When a giant titan comes alive and speaks to you, the ground shakes. It’s terrifying. When you summon a god in battle (which almost NEVER happens, it’s a rarity that you get to), it’s not some passing event that you can do over and over for 50MP each time – you instantly win and their attack craters the land and the cinematic has the sort of gravity that the moment really deserves. This is something that FFVII was making me feel pretty frustrated with (I’m looking at you, supernova) so the first time Ramuh showed up and blew away a battalion of soldiers for me and it looked and sounded and felt so perfect I felt tears well up in my eyes. This is what I always wanted it to feel like.
I’m still not done it. I didn’t have time to get to the end this year (I really tried, I think I’m at chapter 13/15? ish?) but I can’t wait to play more, then play the DLC, then play it again and potentially 100% as much of it as I can.
Breath of the Wild
I’ve seen some real vitreol spouted at some titles in the Zelda franchise, which I’ve never understood – every Zelda game is so polished and gleaming that even if you don’t like the direction it got taken in, it feels insane to me to call any recent Zelda game a BAD game. People’s expectations for that title are set so high from the outset that even a few various flaws or occasional mediocrity is hugely disappointing. That’s a big reason why my partner’s reaction to Breath of the Wild was very refreshing – she said it was definitely not made for her at all, but was still a very impressive game.
And that’s what makes it a triumph for me – it did something really incredible with a very pointed, specific vision and executed on it perfectly. Luckily, it is for me, and I enjoyed every second of running around in this world, and even when I finish it I’m keen to jump back in and replay it from the start again, which I’ve done four times now.
Resident Evil VII
Good horror games are so hard to come by. Good horror anything is so hard to come by. That’s why I was so overjoyed when PT came out. It was a 45 minute game that nailed the haunted house vibe, completely. It also showed a lot of promise in their approach – subtlety, good pacing, excellent conveying of a horrible narrative but without shoving it in your face with novelized pickups.
And then they canned it. Kojima got the shaft and the game ceased to be. For the next two years, clones and copycats and fan-made reconstructions of the famous hallway rolled past, continually reminding me of this beautiful terrible thing that would never be.
But god bless Capcom – they took the formula and the atmosphere/feel of PT and made a full length god damn game out of it. Sure, it’s less a spooky ghost encounter and more of a mutant horror show, but that’s what the RE world is. And that’s a big part of why this game was just so good – it was scary and tense, but somehow doing so without making your character helpless or hard to control, it was loyal to its roots in mechanics and story, and on top of all that the VR experience is the best time I’ve had in VR to date (although that part is completely optional, and the game is more than scary enough without it).
The first time I played I remember getting an hour in and then shutting it off because I was too frightened to move. I haven’t had a game do that to me in years. I’m more wise to it now and it’s not going to scare me that much again, but it’s such a tight game I’m going to love replaying it for years to come.
Special Mention: Best 2016 game of 2017
Bonus points to any co-op game I get to play with my fiancé and we both really enjoy it. We played overcooked all the way through, ploughing through the DLC and holiday content, getting perfect scores in everything, before we even knew what happened. It’s very satisfying to feel like you’re getting very efficient at something, especially when you’re working together in perfect sync, where only single words to each other or small gestures are enough to tell the other what we want them to do.
Happy new year! I’m gonna post my top ten board game and movie lists on this blog soon! Alright!