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The Very Best Games of 2017

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The gaming year of 2017 has truly seen an embarrassment of riches in terms of games that are well worth the time and money of discerning gamers everywhere. Hell, the first few months of the year alone had enough worthy titles to rival entire years of game releases in the past.

All in all, it’s been a truly excellent year for gamers of every stripe. The arrival of the Nintendo Switch gave the floundering tech giant more relevance than it’s had in a decade, while Sony doubled down on everything that’s been making the success of the PlayStation 4 such an assured phenomenon for the last 3 years.

While the Xbox One may have less to boast about, even their camp soared to a certain degree, with games like Cuphead making waves and the line continuing to blur between the PC market and the Xbox market.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, 2017 has been an absolute banner year for gaming, but now comes the hard part: finding some order for all of these wonderful gems. We polled our diverse staff and here’s what they chose as the 25 best games of 2017. We’re confident that regardless of what genre or style of games you prefer, you will almost certainly find a lot to love here, just as we did.  (Mike Worby)


25) Nier Automata

Nier: Automata did some serious healing in 2017. Not only did it revive an IP most probably thought would forever lay dormant; it (more importantly) repaired the reputation of one of the industry’s foremost action game developers. After some dodgy licensed games, a poorly received Star Fox title and the cancellation of Scalebound, Platinum Games was back – working with Square Enix to produce an exhilarating action-RPG that doubles as one of the most thought-provoking titles in years.

Automata succeeds thanks to the collaboration of two auteurs of their craft. Platinum Games reminded everyone of their action game chops with a combat system that was tight, fluid and varied, while Yoko Taro once again proved what a master of anti-narrative he is. The result is a hybrid of Bayonetta and a bullet hell shooter framed in an existential narrative with 26 different endings, and it’s absolutely glorious.

It’s a good thing that Platinum managed to create such a masterful and enjoyable combat system, because the key to fully appreciating Nier: Automata is to see all the of game’s five main endings. Each one adds twists, fills in narrative gaps and provides alternate perspectives on an already engrossing story of androids, humanity and what it is to live, die, and kill.

There are very few, if any, times you will feel compelled to play the same game through five times (at least), but such is the brilliance of Nier’s narrative and character development that it consistently feels like a necessity rather than a chore. Each time you’ll take control of new characters, adopt different combat styles and experience the world in drastically different ways, and each time you’ll fall deeper in love with Nier. All that’s left to do after that is complete the other 21 endings. Don’t eat the mackerel, yeah? (Alex Aldridge)

24) A Hat in Time

If my full review of A Hat in Time wasn’t proof enough, I love this game to death. It melds the best of the classic platforming generation with modern design sensibilities. Gears for Breakfast, A Hat in Time’s developer, approached a tried-and-true style of gameplay and brought fresh thinking unbound by nostalgia or preconceptions.

A Hat in Time’s design philosophy is one that emphasizes pure fun. From the overarching level design down to the movement mechanics, the game creates an environment for the player to simply play. The game was built around platforming and smart level design, and it shows. The player’s forward momentum allows enough room for creativity and skill to intermingle, while still providing a fun challenge. Rather than focusing on downright hard gameplay, A Hat in Time masterfully treads the line between intuitive and difficult.

But more than that, like so many plucky underdog protagonists, this game has heart. The world and characters of A Hat in Time are an absolute joy to interact with. Despite a small number of worlds, each one possesses a distinct personality. In one world, you’ll investigate a curious case of murder on a high-speed desert train. In another, you’ll zip through soaring vistas across airy mountain peaks. A colorful cast of disco penguins, mafia cooks, and mustachioed girls await you in this adorably cheeky adventure. (Kyle Rogacion)

23) Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

While most publishers are content to take an old game, slap a lick of high definition paint onto it, and get it onto shelves as an HD remaster as quickly as possible, Square Enix went the extra mile with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. Yes, the character models and locales look better than ever, and yes, it comes loaded to the gills with a trophy list that will take a hundred hours or so to best, but by far the most important addition here from the base PS2 game is in the Zodiac job system.

Rather than having all characters able to take on all techniques, abilities, and weapons as they previously could, The Zodiac Age requires players to assign two strict job roles to each party member. There’s twelve jobs to choose from, and while you can make a party of six white mages if you so desire, part of the fun comes from mixing and matching the jobs you give to your friends for maximum effect. Want a healer that can also deal out massive damage with a spear when the situation warrants it? Or perhaps an archer that also specializes in deadly black magic spells?

Variety is the spice of life, and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age gives players enough options to make the experience wholly different to the original, and the new best way to play the game. (John Cal McCormick)

22) Splatoon 2

Creating a sequel to a beloved shooter is difficult. If the game is too similar to the original, new players will compare it to any number of the typical annual shooting entries. On the other hand, existing fans of the series need to be catered to with familiar mechanics and game design decisions. Splatoon 2 managed to tread this line incredibly well, and ends up feeling like a new game while retaining the tight, addictive Splatoon gameplay that made the original one of the best games of the surprisingly strong Wii U library.

It’s clear that the dev team listened to fan feedback from the first game and made tons of small quality of life tweaks. There’s now a difference between team ranks and single-player ranks. Players can finally change their loadouts in-between matches without leaving the lobby. The addition of pants and hair options allows for more character customization than ever in a game that’s very much about style.

At the same time, Splatoon 2 also succeeds with its major additions like an inventive new story mode, a completely new horde mode that works online as well as locally, and the new ranked mode: Clam Blitz. These all offer incredibly fun and inventive takes on the shooting genre as a whole.

Coupled with noticeable visual upgrades and continued support promised for at least 2 years after launch, Splatoon 2 is an undeniable must-own for anyone with a Switch. (Brent Middleton)

21) Nioh

What’s that thing Miyamoto says about delayed games? Total production of Nioh took between 12 and 13 years, and let’s just say ol’ Shigsy was right – these things are eventually good.

If you wanted to be lazy, you could say that Nioh is just Japanese Dark Souls. If you wanted to be pedantic as well as lazy, you could say that Nioh is just Dark Souls in Japan. Granted, it has a variation of the Souls progression system, is punishingly difficult, has a co-op and invasion system, has maps filled with traps and shortcuts that lead back to a save point that resets enemy placemen… Okay, it is like Dark Souls, but at a time where the phrase “like Dark Souls” is being used almost every month about something new, Nioh is easily the best game to bear the label.

Nioh sets itself apart with an outstanding combat system that is facilitated by an almost overwhelming amount of loot. Protagonist William Adams (loosely based on the real-life historical ‘Western Samurai’ of the same name) can quickly snap between one of three fighting stances on the fly during combat, and mastery of this mechanic is where the game is won and lost.

During the game’s lengthy and arduous campaign, you’ll be spending a lot of time crafting, combining, enchanting and selling the hundreds of new pieces of weapons and armour you’ll pick up in a variety of beautifully haunting levels. While it might feel like a chore after dozens of hours, it cannot be argued that the game doesn’t provide nearly endless choice in terms of how it can be played.

Punctuating the combat with exploration and some truly impressive bosses, Nioh is one of the most rewarding games of the year. It might be a little repetitive, and it isn’t better than Dark Souls, but it offers just enough individuality to enter into From Software’s realm and still feel essential alongside Miyazaki’s masterpieces. (Alex Aldridge)

20) Doki Doki Literature Club

Doki Doki Literature Club is easily the biggest surprise of the year. It’s also the hardest one to talk about, with even the most minor game details spoiling huge parts of the plot. Generally speaking, it’s an intense visual novel that disguises itself as a simple high school dating simulator. Once that disguise is peeled back, it turns into one of the wildest narratives ever crafted in the realm of gaming. So with that being said, let this be an explanation of how and why everyone needs to play this awesome game at least once.

The most important thing about Doki Doki Literature Club is that it should be played completely blind for the best experience possible. It may seem slow at first, but the game eventually starts introducing some pretty disturbing content after a couple of hours. The game can even be downright shocking at times, meaning this should be an experienced reserved for the older crowd. Eventually, it becomes so much more than a simple visual novel and introduces some ideas that simply haven’t been done like this before. Again, this all sounds incredibly vague, but that’s only because the experience can be so easily spoiled.

It’s also worth mentioning that the game was released for free on steam, meaning that anyone with a steam account should definitely try this one out. The themes get very dark, especially near the end of the game, however, that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from giving it a try. It’s an experience that is sure to be remembered for years to come. (Zack Rezak)

19) Golf Story

All throughout the Switch’s banner first year on the market, there was one genre that felt severely underrepresented: Role-Playing Games. For a long time it seemed like RPG fans on Switch would only have I Am Setsuna at launch to sink their teeth into until Xenoblade Chronicles 2 hit in December. Enter Golf Story, a late September indie release from relatively mysterious two-man team, Sidebar Games. Billed as a spiritual successor to the stellar Camelot Mario Golf RPGs, Golf Story surprised many with its charm, wit, and inventive game design.

From its opening scenes, two things are obvious: Golf Story is all about the characters, and it never takes itself too seriously. Sharp writing with Australian sensibilities abound (“Sucked in!”) and keep players grinning throughout the classic underdog story. Golf Story leans into the typical sports narrative tropes to create a truly lovable cast of characters and some of the most hilarious moments in a game I’ve seen in a long time. The mark of any great RPG is its storytelling, and Golf Story uses a combination of unique set pieces and creative dialogue box animation to drive its ridiculous story arcs home.

Though certainly not the focus, the actual golf gameplay is also quite satisfying both during side quests and full-scale matches. Though the elevation of the ground is a bit difficult to determine due to the 16-bit style, the game does an otherwise great job of providing a solid golf experience with a full range of clubs, courses, hazards, and gimmicks. Optional side quests will test the mettle of the best players, while the main story does a good enough job of steadily introducing new strategies and concepts. If you’re in the mood for a silly adventure that might just trump the Mario Golf classics of old, you owe it to yourself to play Golf Story. (Brent Middleton)

18) Life is Strange: Before the Storm

When Dontnod Entertainment first announced that there would be a prequel series developed for their breakout hit Life is Strange, the idea was met with understandable trepidation.

With the further knowledge that Dontnod had handed the project off to another studio, Deck Nine, and that the voice actress of it’s main character would not be able to return (due to a voice actor strike), Before the Storm seemed increasingly doomed in its hopes of living up to the original.

However, as many fans discovered earlier this year, Before the Storm hasn’t just met the expectations of fans, it’s wholly exceeded them. By focusing the adventure on Chloe Price, and removing the supernatural bent that powered much of the first game, Deck Nine has actually given the town of Arcadia Bay and its inhabitants even more emotional gravitas.

Dripping with the same teenage angst and adolescent rebellion that powered much of Life is StrangeBefore the Storm may even supplant its predecessor as it concludes. Either way, this prequel is a worthy part of the Life is Strange saga, and deserves to be experienced by anyone who had even a passing affection for the original. (Mike Worby)

17) Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Mario has been relying on his feet for decades, and the precision gameplay behind the high-jumping, goomba-stomping action rarely disappoints. However, for the Switch Ubisoft had a different idea (so different that it was initially met with a chorus of internet boos), and instead decided to give Mario’s dogs a rest while putting the power in his hands — and players’ minds.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle might go against the grain a bit for those who never imagined concocting a strategy for anything outside of tricky platforming, or that their favorite former plumber would wield a firearm, but somehow it came together and worked beautifully. The X-COM-style gameplay translates amazingly well to the Mushroom Kingdom’s core characters, where Mario, Luigi, and Peach must team with Rabbid lookalikes and a talking Roomba named Beep-O in order to stop a maniac bunny that can’t control his VR goggles. Or something. Like with the best Mario games, plot doesn’t matter that much; gameplay is where it counts, and Mario + Rabbids does not disappoint.

Once the oddity of not directly controlling Mario wears off, players are treated to a surprisingly deep and engaging level of turn-based strategy, as well as a variety of maps and enemies that constantly challenge one to rethink tactics from battle to battle. Those new to the genre might feel a bit intimidated at first, but like a typical Nintendo game, the difficulty is paced to perfection, never suffering from intense rises or falls, all the way through to the end.

In fact, Ubisoft has done an incredible impersonation of Mario’s makers, nailing the colorful look and feel of the franchise so well that those unaware of the game’s actual developers could easily be fooled. A lot of love was put into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and the results amount to one of the best “Nintendo” games not made by Nintendo — this year and ever. (Patrick Murphy)

16) Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus has no right to be as good as it is. I mean, how does a game about killing robot Nazis end up being one of the most emotionally impactful and well written narratives of the year?

Wolfenstein’s 2014 reboot became a bit of a cult classic. For many it went under the radar, but there were several voices in the industry that praised it highly. The 2017 sequel does little to improve upon what The New Order established in regard to gameplay. It was a simple premise to begin with: run through Nazi bunkers and occupied American cities, shooting anything with a swastika. Combat is gory, over the top and fast.

What quantifies The New Colossus’ placing on this list, is its narrative. It’s hard to explain without spoiling some rather impressive and chilling moments. For the most part Wolfenstein II feels like a video game adaptation of Inglorious Bastards. It’s bombastic, gruesome and funny.

Yet, amongst the absurdity, it finds ample opportunity to tell an emotional and thoughtful tale. A story of abuse, racism and mortality. The genuineness of the actors’ performances and the respect shown to the games writing puts Wolfenstein II among the best single player shooters of the generation. (Chris Bowring)

15) Metroid: Samus Returns

After years of waiting with baited breath for a new Metroid game, fans were finally met with Metroid: Samus Returns earlier this year.

And while calling the game entirely “new” might be a bit of a stretch, Nintendo and Mercury Steam have done enough new things with Samus Returns to justify its existence. As a remake of the Game Boy game, MetroidReturn of SamusSamus Returns has seen a huge and favorable upgrade in the looks department first and foremost.

Another new addition comes in the fast and frenetic combat which the game boasts, thanks to it’s new counter attack system. Though the mechanic feels a bit over-used toward the beginning of the adventure, the gameplay grows more and more balanced as Samus Returns marches onward to the extinction of metroid-kind.

Though it takes some effort to adjust to this new play style, by the time your super-powered Samus is approaching the end game, you’ll be right at home with this latest iteration of Metroid, and truly sad to see those credits roll.

With a few new surprises for even series veterans who have played the original and the unsanctioned AM2R remake last year, Samus Returns is one more reason to hold onto Nintendo’s fledgling handheld, and its success may even lead to a remake of another classic Metroid title if fans are lucky. (Mike Worby)

14) Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

A tragic tale of grief and personal struggle against mental illness, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice follows the Celtic warrior, Senua, as she ventures into the mysterious Norse land of Helheim to save the lost soul of her dearly beloved, Dillion. With only the memories of her former mentor, Druth, as her guide, Senua must battle the nightmare guardians of Norse mythology and a curse that has followed her most her life. With the story Ninja Theory takes incredible risks to show that small studios are capable of creating beautiful, unique, AAA-like games that tackle important and often taboo subjects like mental health.

Early in Senua’s adventure, Hellblade warns the player that death will cause the rot infecting Senua to snake up her arm and, should it reach her head, the journey will end. Every encounter and puzzle are bathed in tension, as the fear of perma-death lingers in the background like one of the darker voices in Senua’s head. Sadly, one of the few flaws in Hellblade lies in its combat, which feels almost unfinished for a game developed by the same team that made Heavenly Sword and DmC: Devil May Cry. Players are left with a few simple, limited choices and the encounters become repetitive and drawn out, as if they are only there to break apart the story elements.

While Hellblade features an incredible cast and beautiful level design, its greatest triumph is in its sound design. The swirling voices of Senua’s mind come alive through the use of 3-dimensional recording to torment her throughout her quest into the depths of Helheim. This technique creates a truly immersive experience when playing with headphones as voices whisper back and forth around your head. With Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Ninja Theory took painstaking efforts to try and deliver an authentic look inside the mind of an ancient warrior suffering from psychosis. Hellblade is twistedly dark, completely unsettling, and constantly living up to the multiple warnings that are presented at the start, making it one of the greatest games of 2017. (Ryan Kapioski)

13) South Park: The Fractured but Whole

With South Park there comes certain expectations—the humor mostly, and of course the voice acting and animation, but the surprises lie in the realm of “who are they going to make fun of this time?” South Park: The Fractured but Whole parodies the superhero franchise craze in Ubisoft and South Park Digital Studios’ latest RPG. If it wasn’t for the combat, the game could easily be a TV episode of Iliad proportions, but the turn-based tactical combat easily stands on its own sans the South Park world.

What starts as an innocent mission to find a missing cat quickly devolves into one of Cartman’s harebrained schemes to get rich quick—and a lot of iconic, South Park absurdity. The Catholic Church, Jared Fogle, and Santa Claus are just a few things that are the butts of South Park’s jokes. (But then again, when were they ever not the butt of their jokes?) There’s also more flatulence than Blazing Saddles.

What stands out about South Park: The Fractured but Whole’s combat is how much more interesting and intense it gets as the game progresses. Players are also able to unlock abilities of their own as they progress through the game, like the Moses summon, which can heal the entire team. The classes are renamed to fit the South Park style, but are similar to traditional RPG classes, and there’s even a crafting system that unlocks once players reach Morgan Freeman.

South Park: The Fractured but Whole is a great blend of classic South Park comedy with plenty of new “oh wow, they actually went there” moments. Complemented by equally great RPG mechanics, it’s a better game in some ways than The Stick of Truth, and one that South Park fans are sure to enjoy. (Joanna Nelius)

12) Assassin’s Creed Origins

There’s no better way for a franchise to celebrate its 10th anniversary than with a game like this. Since 2007 Ubisoft have built one of the best regarded gaming series of the last two console eras, even if more recent titles have had less than stellar launches.

The series was in desperate need of a rest and by moving away from the sometimes convoluted lore established by previous games, Origins was free to go in whatever direction it wanted without being bound by restrictions or expectations. Bayek’s quest for revenge against those responsible for his son’s death and the establishment of the first recognizable incarnation of the Assassins never proved to be anything other than intriguing.

Ubisoft’s vision of Ptolemaic Egypt with its vast swathes of pristine desert littered with bustling settlements and ancient ruins rendered with impeccable attention to detail is a masterclass in how to create an open world featuring high quality and high quantity content.

With gameplay that was reinvigorated by the inclusion of staple RPG elements and more free-form combat mechanics, Assassin’s Creed Origins is not just the best game in the series thus far but is without question one of the best games of 2017. (Christopher Underwood)

11) PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has taken 2017 by storm and it’s not hard to see why. The premise of a gigantic free-for-all deathmatch has been popular ever since it first appeared in the 2000 Japanese cult film, Battle Royale. It’s a concept that lends itself extremely well to a video game format. There’s something so innately appealing, exciting, and entertaining about engaging in a massive brawl for dominance. PUBG captures that sentiment perfectly.

In PUBG, you parachute into a massive arena with 99 other players. A continually shrinking circle forces you to move and survive, with skirmishes happening as a byproduct of the continually decreasing space. As you make it deeper into the game, you’ll run into various pieces of loot (guns, ammo, armor, etc.) that give you a fighting chance against other players. Sometimes you’ll find your gear; other times you’ll take it by force. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as outplaying an opponent and claiming his gear.

The true genius behind PUBG lies in how free-form it is in regard to gameplay. You can choose to follow large crowds of people and engage in a chaotic storm of punches and gunfire. Or, if you’re more inclined to stealth and subtlety, you can drop far away from others and build up your arsenal. Either approach to the game is perfectly valid, as the pressure of the shrinking circle ensures that the game’s pacing never slows.

PUBG is still technically in Early Access, but the most recent update has proven that the developers are committed to the player base and the ongoing health of the game. In spite of the numerous technical issues, this game still provides a massive amount of entertainment. Every match is unique and sure to create memorable stories of thrilling defeats and anxious victories. (Kyle Rogacion)

10) Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Originally intended as a downloadable expansion to Uncharted 4, The Lost Legacy was later expanded and promoted to a standalone release at a reduced cost. It’s shorter than the other entries in the series (taking eight hours or so to finish), but it’s also a fully developed, satisfying adventure packed with the exciting action and memorable characters we’ve come to expect from an Uncharted game.

Sure, it’s a formulaic adventure without apology, giving anyone who’s played the other four games a distinct sense of déjà vu, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t compelling.

Yes, every shootout and every set-piece in Lost Legacy seems directly lifted from a previous game, but thankfully, Naughty Dog has a rare ability to turn a by-the-numbers summer blockbuster, with seemingly cookie-cutter sequences, into something majestic. It’s as stirring an epic as Hollywood has ever produced and without a doubt, one of the best games of the year. (Ricky D)

9) Sonic Mania

The existence of Sonic Mania can be referred to as nothing short of a miracle, but the use of the word “miracle” would be doing a disservice to the fans/developers who made it happen.

Sonic Mania comes from the dedication of old-school underground Sonic fangame-creating and ROM-hacking fanbases, almost teeming with the ether of communities like Sonic Retro, that have been pining for a true sequel to Sonic & Knuckles ever since its release in 1994.

In fact, Mania is a result of the hard work put in by long-time classic Sonic fan/game dev, Christian Whitehead (a.k.a Taxman), whose work on ports of classic 2D Sonic games to mobile devices and modern gaming consoles, made in conjunction with Headcannon, served as the pitch for the entire project.

While, today, the Sonic series is mostly known for its laughably bad modern 3D titles, with the pinnacle being 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Mania broke that (fungicidal) mold by bringing the Blue Blur back to exactly where he left off 24 years ago.

Mania’s gameplay is painstakingly put-together to be as true to the classics as possible, while Introducing new gameplay elements, making it closer to an official sequel than any other Sonic game since the mid-90s. And a truer sequel, especially, than something like Sonic 4.

The beautiful, and immediately nostalgic, soundtrack and visual designs add to this package, as well. Above all, Sonic Mania is a unique success story, a triumphant moment that we don’t get to see often in an increasingly calculated world of big-name gaming. (Maxwell N)

8) Prey

It’s not often a title like Prey comes along, and quite honestly there’s no studio that could’ve delivered it like Arkane did. On the surface, Prey is several games we’ve already seen and played. There’s the setting and large portions of the plot from System Shock 2, the retro-futuristic art direction of Bioshock, and the movement, stealth and interaction system from Arkane’s own Dishonored series. Yet as the sum of all these parts Prey manages to not only stand on its own, but it also comes out as one of the year’s best, if maybe overlooked, titles.

Like the game’s signature Mimic enemies, it draws you in looking like one thing before blowing it’s cover and going wild. While it may at first seem like a run of the mill sci-fi survival horror it quickly becomes apparent that this is closer to a survival simulation of what living on a space station under attack might be. You can just run and hide, or you can shoot your way through, but the real fun of Prey is figuring out how best to break the game’s expectations of you by utilizing its amazing variety of tools.

Take, for instance, the conundrum of a broken elevator. The obvious solution is to take the stairs, but that might be full of enemies. In Prey you can shoot the enemies, or jump up the elevator shaft, or create your own stairs using the Glu-canon, or sneak through a vent, or create a distraction to lure out foes, or create a trap to dispose of them, or find the parts to repair the elevator to working order. Every situation allows for this level of freedom in approach.

While the story of Prey isn’t great, it does offer memorable characters to match it’s memorable moments, never faltering until the somewhat anti-climactic ending. Still it’s a great ride of a game and one worth playing over and over to experience all of the side quests and different character builds. This one may have flown under a few radars in 2017, but is certainly worth checking out in 2018. (Andrew Vandersteen)

7) Cuphead

It’s hard to talk about Cuphead without smiling with joy.  This lovable homage to 1920s cartoons has given me the most enjoyment out of any video game in 2017.  Maybe it’s my love of hard games like Dark Souls that drove me towards Cuphead, but the game’s easy to learn controls, meshed with tough as nails enemies and easily accessible boss fights, make every play session just as addicting as the last.

On the surface Cuphead is deceptively simple.  Forgiving platforming sections and run-and-gun combat are nothing new to video games.  However, the player will quickly learn that there is much more strategy needed to defeat every boss.  Carefully timed jumps, counters, and dashes are the only way to survive the onslaught of projectiles hurled your way.  Buying additional weapons and health slots from the in-game shop can make your battles a tad bit easier, but true skill and patience are what will win the day.

What makes these highly complicated fights enjoyable is the insane amount of detail and design that go into each boss.  Enemies range from a pair of boxing bullfrogs to anthropomorphic balloons and gingerbread houses, all lovingly rendered in a classic hand drawn cartoon style.  Additionally, each boss has at least three stages, making memorization of move sets and attack patterns a real challenge.  Breaking up each boss fight are mini levels that the player can use to acquire more coins to buy better gear and special moves.  This all amounts to a ridiculously exciting and fun gaming experience that, as evident by the number of fans Cuphead has created, captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of players.  Each of the three worlds is vastly different from those previous, and hold a myriad of interesting characters to talk to and help along the way.  The addition of same screen co-op is also a refreshing sight, as so few games are willing to offer local multiplayer these days.

It goes without saying that Cuphead is not for the faint of heart.  It’s a brutal boss rush with little to no hand holding along the way, but its devotion to a 1920s aesthetic and the hyper addictive gameplay make it a rare gem in 2017’s long list of games. (Carston Carasella)

6) Persona 5

Persona 5 is maybe the closest thing to style personified into a game. The essence of cool bleeds forth from every single part of Atlus’ masterpiece and washes over you like an inviting ocean wave. Persona 5 doesn’t just have Style, it IS style. While the series has always been known for its flashy anime-inspired visuals, P5 goes to new lengths, playing havoc with the color palette and coming out all the better for it.

Flashy visuals aren’t quite enough to sell a game anymore, and thankfully P5 backs up its good looks with some genuine brains, with what is undoubtedly the new watermark in JRPG systems. Dealing with life as a teen is fun enough, with plenty of side activities to keep you distracted, never mind making friends and building bonds with people you meet. The real heart of the game is its dungeon crawling, which features some of the slickest and most enjoyable combat layered into fantastic and interesting dungeons. Everything is incredibly easy to pick up and get into, but there’s intricate layers waiting for those that wish to get even deeper involved.

All of this is wrapped up with a story well worthy of the Persona series. Once again revolving around a supernatural team of super-teens, this time with the theme of subverting adult society and its expectations of young people. The writing is fantastic, save for the occasional misstep in translation, and its hands down one of the best stories in any game this year. Overall Persona 5 sets a new standard for modern JRPGs and proves that one of the oldest genres in gaming still has a lot of life left to go. (Andrew Vandersteen)

5) Resident Evil 7

When Resident Evil debuted in 1996, it helped popularize the survival horror genre and ushered in a golden age of survival horror video games known for their slow-pace, heavy exploration, and brooding atmosphere. A decade later, Resident Evil 4 shifted directions with a third-person shooter approach, fewer puzzles and a greater emphasis on gunplay and weapons upgrading. Both the original Resident Evil and Resident Evil 4 have arguably been the two biggest highlights of the series, and no other game in the franchise has come close to the greatness of those two titles – until now.

The seventh entry in the series, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard swerves in its own new direction by taking the best parts of the series (a measured pace and focus on exploration) and adding a new first-person perspective. Fear is palpable everywhere and just about everything in this game can make a player jump. It could be the creaking of a floorboard or a door that slams shut behind you or even nothing but silence. It immerses you like no Resident Evil before it and all of this is captured with gorgeous (or grotesque) visuals and incredible sound design which rivals the best work ever done in video games.

While the more recent entries in the series placed a focused on action and gunplay at the expense of a methodical, brutal form of horror, Resident Evil 7 does the opposite. Yes, folks, Resident Evil is terrifying again, and a bold and successful reinvention of the franchise. The long-overdue return to survival horror is just what the series needed and it ends up making Resident Evil 7 one of the best games of the year. (Ricky D)

4) Super Mario Odyssey

This year, Nintendo released two complementary AAA headliners: One that prides itself on its breadth and another that prides itself on its density. Like an HGTV drama between city planners with competing philosophies, Team Zelda and Team Mario have conflicting views about proper land use. Team Zelda believes in empty space as breathing room, time for reflection, an opportunity to admire surroundings. But then Team Mario replies “A rock? Stick a moon in it! A tiny bird? Stick a moon in it! A random patch of dirt? Give ‘em two moons — one now and another in the post-game!” But it doesn’t stop there. They also stuffed Mario full of moves until he couldn’t possibly contain any more, and then they said: “We have too many moves for any one man, so let’s stick the rest in other characters and make Mario possess them.” Super Mario Odyssey is so jam-packed, it leaves jam feeling jelly.

The shocking thing is that it works. Mario and his world feel more densely articulated than ever before, while the game’s open design allows players to carve their own path based on their own wants and needs. Like Zelda, Odyssey embraces the differences between its players. And in a year where people around the globe were forced to confront grim realities on a day-to-day basis, this game’s happiness, charm, and spirit were transporting panaceas. Having gaming’s happy-go-lucky mascot back in full swing, while helping its equally brave and bravado hardware resurrect Nintendo’s good name, made Odyssey feel important (and maybe even necessary). Admittedly, this game is also plagued with freebie moons, shallow themes, and tons of filler. And most of us at Goomba Stomp are firmly not in the camp hallowing it one of the Greatest. Games. Ever. Made. But we still think it’s pretty special, in spite of its flaws.

I’ve been writing a seventeen-part kingdom-by-kingdom analysis of the game for the past several weeks and the more I dig into it, the more fascinating it becomes. Though not free of faults, it’s clearly crafted with a rare love of life and an eye for detail that makes it a special entry in one of gaming’s most special franchises. And like the also-pretty-decent The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it sets a template for the series to expand upon and delve deeper into with future entries. But as for now, Mario has once again captured our hearts. (Kyle Rentschler)

3) Horizon Zero Dawn

The first quarter release window was given an entirely new relevance in 2017, with some of the biggest titles of the year (maybe the decade) launching in January through March. Perhaps the most anticipated by consumers and the media alike was Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn.

With it’s picture perfect presentation of a lush post-apocalyptic Earth overrun by mechanical monstrosities straight out of the hybridized nightmares of Issac Asimov and Michael Crichton, this game took basic open world concepts and tinkered with them just enough to make the entire experience feel fresh and new. Its central character, Aloy, set a new standard for female protagonists and finally put paid to the absurd notion that female characters are detrimental to sales.

Her story covered topics from spiritual hubris to corporate greed as well as questions about the very essence of humanity, which made for one of the most compelling and intriguing narratives of this generation. Although it may have been passed over at the Game Awards, it definitely stands out as my personal game of the year as more than any other title released in the last twelve months Horizon Zero Dawn reaffirms the continued importance of brand new, AAA, single-player IPs. (Christopher Underwood)

2) What Remains of Edith Finch

While the initial trailer for What Remains of Edith Finch certainly stirred up some buzz, gamers could be forgiven for wondering what would set this walking simulator apart from the pile of them which had been released over the past few years.

As it turned out though, what set it apart was quite a lot. You see What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t just a walking simulator, it’s the next stage of evolution for the genre itself. It’s a flying simulator, a swinging simulator and an honest to god sea monster-writhing simulator.

It’s a game that asks you to do a mundane task with one hand while focusing on a much more interesting one with the other hand. It’s a game that sends you through a dozen interconnected slices of life in a house too magical to ever really exist. And ultimately, it’s a tragic tale of a family that seems to be cursed by the fates themselves to face one unfortunate mishap after another.

More than any other game on this list, What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. With it’s low asking price, short running time, and lasting emotional impact, this is a game that deserves to be experienced by any gamer who is at all serious about this medium as a means for artistic expression. (Mike Worby)

1) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild  

Deviating from the iconic conventions of such a beloved saga is a dangerous maneuver to say the least, and could have spelled the spoiling of Link’s much anticipated adventure. Fortunately, what results is the most ambitiously absorbing open world experience ever crafted, and one of the best (if not the best) games of its genre.

Whilst players may miss zipping throughout intricately ingenious dungeons, hookshot in hand, they can instead fall in love with the array of activities to embrace in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. From conquering side quests and shrines, to felling fearsome foes, to kitting out Link in beneficial (not to mention stylish) garments, every facet of the acclaimed journey is crafted to fixate players in a state of addictive transfixion.

That which cements The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as undeniably masterful, however, is its confidence in its vision (and execution of said vision). For Nintendo to grasp such a saga, flaunting a formula that is held dear to players the world over, and detour from the long established staples of Link’s adventures, takes a special blend of balmy and brilliant. Such a daring direction that could result in a sacrifice of identity, instead comes to fruition as a truly modernized The Legend of Zelda journey.

A story that blooms gracefully, a soundtrack that compliments gently, and an adventure that engrosses throughly. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sublimely steers Nintendo’s tunic clad hero into a future that’s brighter than the radiance of the Triforce itself. (Harry Morris)

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‘Bee Simulator’ Review: Pleasantly Droning On

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Unless a typical bee’s day involves a lot of clunky wasp fights, high-speed chases, and dancing for directions, it’s doubtful many players will walk away from Bee Simulator feeling like they’ve really been given a glimpse into the apian way of life. Sure, there’s plenty of the typical pollen collecting and human annoying here, but odd tasks like hauling glowing mushrooms for ants, helping baby squirrels find their mom, and stinging some little brat who’s stomping all your flowers (hopefully he doesn’t have an allergy) are also on the agenda. That’s not exactly keepin’ it real, but regardless, the variety is actually more simple and less silly than it sounds; it turns out that even doing weird bee stuff quickly becomes repetitive. Still, this family-friendly look at a bug’s life is bolstered by a sincere love of nature, as well as some smooth flight mechanics and a surprisingly large open world for younger gamers to explore.

Bee Simulator beetle

Set in a Central Park-like expanse, Bee Simulator definitely takes on a more edutainment vibe right off the bat (Goat Simulator this ain’t) with a prologue that offers up some info on the ecological importance of bees to the planet. That protective attitude is a constant throughout the game’s short campaign and side quests, as the well-being of these hive heroes is constantly under threat by those goonish wasps, the bitter cold of winter, and of course, oblivious humans. Players take control of a newly hatched worker bee (sorry, drone lovers) who dreams of a role more important than being relegated to merely buzzing by flowers, and consequently sets out to save the day. However, these crises are portrayed in the thinnest terms possible, resolved quickly, and summarily forgotten, leaving little of narrative interest.

So then, it’s up to the gameplay to keep players engaged, and in this area Bee Simulator is a bit of a mixed bag. On the good side, flying works really well, and gives a nice sense of scale to being a little bee in the great, big world. Winging it close to the ground offers a zippy sense of speed, as flowers and blades of grass rush by in colorful streaks. A rise in elevation makes travel seem slower, but provides a fantastic view of the park, showcasing a lakeside boathouse,a zoo filled with exotic creatures, as well as various restaurants, playgrounds, picnics, pedestrians, and street vendors scattered about. Precision is rarely a must outside chases that require threading through glowing rings (a tired flying sim staple) or navigating nooks and crannies, but the multi-axis controls are pretty much up to the task, and make getting around a pleasure.

Bee Simulator zebras

However, that sense of flowing freedom doesn’t quite apply to the limited list of other activities. Though the world is large, the amount of different ways to interact with it is very small, revolving around a few basic concepts: fighting, racing, dancing, retrieving, and collecting. And with the exception of the latter, these actions can only be performed at specifically marked spots that initiate the challenge; most of Bee Simulator exists purely for the view. It’s somewhat understandable in its predictability — how many different things can a bee actually do, after all? — but the gameplay is still a bit disappointing in its shallowness. Fighting plays out like a turn-based rhythm mini-game, those aforementioned races follow uninspired routes, dancing is simply a short bout of Simon, and collecting pollen employs a ‘bee vision’ that does nothing more than verify that players know their colors.

It’s very basic stuff that can’t really sustain motivation for those used to more creativity. The roughly 3-hour campaign seems to support this idea; Bee Simulator knows it doesn’t have much going on for veteran gamers. However, as a visual playground for younger kids to fly around in, free from any real danger, there is something a bit magical about the world presented. There are loads of little vignettes to happen upon, such as a family BBQ, a small amusement park, and a bustling kitchen. What exactly are those lonely row-boaters thinking about out on the lake by themselves? Where is the flower lady going in such a hurry? Discovering new places — like a lush, sprawling terrarium — creates the impression of a massive world with plenty going on regardless of whether the player sees it or not, and can serve to spark the imagination.

Bee Simulator garden

In addition to racking up that pollen for the winter, info on various flora and fauna can also be be collected and stored in the hive’s library, where 3-D models can also be purchased with ‘knowledge’ points earned through completing quests. These texts detail some interesting facts about brave bees and their relation to the environment, and can definitely be a fun teaching tool for wee gamers.

Grizzled fans of the open-world genre may want to buzz clear, however, as well as those hoping for some zaniness. Though Bee Simulator offers some solid soaring in an attractive environment, it’s a sincere, straightforward attempt to promote bee kind that doesn’t offer much more than a relaxing atmosphere and repetitive actions.

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20 Years Later: ‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ Took the Franchise’s Next Evolutionary Step

The legacy of Johto lives on in what was Game Freak’s next evolutionary step in the world of Pokémon.

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Two regions to explore, 16 gym badges to collect, two Elite Four runs to conquer, a battle tower to climb, a previous champion to best at your own game, and 251 pocket monsters to capture. There is no denying that the Johto region of Pokémon Gold and Silver had- and still may contain- the most amount of content to dig into for any player when it comes to everything outside of filling up all the entries of Sword and Shield’s Pokédex.

Pokémon Gold and Silver released in Japan 20 years ago today on November 21st, 1999. The Johto region still stands as not only one of the most renowned Pokémon games in the franchise but a contender for one of the top Game Boy and Game Boy Color games to be released on the handheld systems. No matter which entry is your favorite, there is no denying that Pokémon Gold and Silver was the next evolutionary step on Game Freak’s stairway to fame in what is now currently the largest franchise in history.

A Daunting Next Step

Pokémon Gold and Silver’s development was greenlit immediately after Red and Green had launched in Japan. The untitled sequels at the time were slated for release for the holiday season of 1998. However, during this time frame, Game Freak had also been working on a multitude of Pokémon projects including the Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Stadium and a rebranded companion version to Red that would replace Green for the overseas release of the games. The majority of the small staff team of programmers had already been occupied once the development of Gold and Silver truly began.

What was originally intended to be one year of development slowly turned into three and a half due to a lack of on-hand resources and major programming difficulties that inevitably delayed what was to be the company’s most ambitious release yet. Game Freak found themselves in a troubling situation as the independent company had to balance out time for overseeing the entire Pokémon brand that had expanded into an anime, cards, toys, and even soon to be movies. The worldwide phenomenon was continuing to expand faster than Game Freak could keep up with.

Nintendo Force Magazine – ‘Satoru Iwata Pokémon Tribute’

Late into Gold and Silver’s development, Game Freak’s team of programmers called upon star-man of the industry Satoru Iwata as the developers were having trouble with various coding bugs and fitting all the game assets onto the small memory storage of the Game Boy’s cartridges. Iwata stepped in immediately and saved yet another second-party Nintendo project from disaster. At the beginning of Gold and Silver’s development, Iwata had single-handedly recreated the entire battle system code for Pokémon Stadium by just simply playing the games and analyzing some internal coding. Iwata’s trustworthy knowledge instantly skyrocketed him to become one of the company’s most valuable informants. Nintendo’s future president returned to his all-star team of programmers working at HAL Laboratory to create graphical compression tools for Game Freak to use. This allowed the company to combine both the Johto and Kanto regions onto a single 1-megabyte Game Boy cartridge and meet their latest home territory release deadline.

The Next Phase of Evolution

Gold and Silver continued to build off of Red and Green by introducing the next region in the Pokémon world that would naturally set trends for the series going forward. One of these trends was the reoccurring introduction of a new region inspired by a different area of the world for each game.

Johto was the western half of a landmass shared by the previous game’s location. While Kanto had been based on the Kantō region of Honshu, Japan, the nearby Kansai region would become Johto’s core source of inspiration for its landscape as seen through not only its general location on the map but its architectural features. For example, the sharp shapings of rooftops and gateway entrances to towns known as torii are littered everywhere throughout Johto; some of Kansai’s most common building aesthetics.

Map of Johto and Kanto regions from Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver promotional art

Gold and Silver gained several new features that would ultimately become some of the most crucial and missed aspects of the mainline games. For starters, one important new feature that would solidify its place in future entries was the inclusion of a real-time clock. Multiple in-game events, visuals, and even Pokémon variety in the wild areas would alter depending on the time and day of the week. For example, the psychic owl species of Pokémon, Hoothoot and Noctowl, would only appear in the wild starting in the late afternoon. Eevee could only evolve into Umbreon at night, while the Bug Catching Contest was exclusively available at certain hours on weekdays.

Suicune, Entei, and Raikou became the first trio of legendary creatures to start what is now known as “roaming Pokémon.” Rather than traditionally entering a dungeon-like area, players would randomly encounter these three minor legendaries in the wild grass areas of the game after they had witnessed them book it from the Burned Tower of Ecruteak City during the story. When in battle, the Pokémon will attempt to flee immediately on its first turn. If any of the three are killed in battle, the beast will never be able to appear again on your save file.

The competitive scene for the series would begin to take its modern shape because of the introduction of both breeding and the move deleter. Breeding opened a new floodgate of multiplayer strategies by allowing specific Pokémon to obtain moves they would naturally not be able to learn through technical machines and evolution. Meanwhile, the move deleter finally allowed Pokémon to be rid of their HM moves that previously could not be overwritten, allowing players to freshly design their move-sets at any given time.

The most notable feature, however, would never see a return in a future game. Being able to journey across two different regions is by far Gold and Silver’s most proclaimed component. As stated before, Kanto and Johto share an extremely close geographical connection. Because of this, players can explore the entirety of Kanto after defeating the elite four- more than doubling the amount of content the game had to offer. Outside of the Johto games, this feature has never once returned to another Pokémon game.

The Legacy of Johto Lives On

At the time of its release, Gold and Silver received a highly positive reception from both audiences and critics. The most notable features praised by critics in reviews were the inclusions of more mechanics and typings that deepened the battle system along with the designs of the lineup of new Pokémon receiving all-around praise. During its lifetime on store shelves, the two versions nearly recreated the success of their predecessors as both combined with the sales of their later third enhanced entry Pokémon Crystal sold a total of 23 million copies. Today, Pokémon Gold and Silver are still regarded as some of the best Pokémon games, but not in their original form.

In 2010, trainers had the opportunity to return to the Johto region for the third time in the tenth anniversary generation two remakes Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver for the Nintendo DS. Following in the footsteps of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, the generation two remakes not only attempted to streamline and fix the problems found in the original Game Boy entries of the series but they added a hefty new amount of content for both retuning veterans and newcomers on top of a gorgeous graphical overhaul.

HeartGold and SoulSilver – Cyndaquill partner in New Bark Town

Building off of the engine used for Pokémon Platinum, the enhanced remakes envisioned what is arguably the greatest interpretation yet of the Johto region by continuing to build off what the other DS games had already successfully established. HeartGold and SoulSilver contained nearly every feature found in a Pokémon game up until that point. It sought to continually expand upon modernizing the series through making needed accessibility changes and improving on the Nintendo Wi-Fi connectivity abilities that Diamond and Pearl had a rather shaky start with. Several lost features from previous games outside of Gold and Silver even managed to return for the remake. The beloved idea of having an interactive Pokémon partner to journey around the world with from Yellow, for example, made a comeback but this time any Pokémon could follow you as long as they had been placed in the first party slot.

While still being one of the Nintendo DS’s most commercially successful games, HeartGold and SoulSilver were not able to reach half the amount of sales their original incarnations had achieved. However, the games have averaged the highest critical reception of any mainline Pokémon game released in the franchise. The game notably received spotlight due to its included pedometer accessory the Pokéwalker. The device allowed players to place one Pokémon in the device. As a player walks in real-life, their Pokémon could collect experience, find items, and even catch other creatures that could be transferred directly back into the game.

Pokémon Gold and Silver exclusive MyNintendo 3DS themes.

Today, the original versions of Gold and Silver can be purchased on the Nintendo 3DS Eshop alongside the first Pokémon games- Red and Blue- that had released on the original Game Boy. Alongside the original generation two games, its counterpart successor Pokémon Crystal can also be purchased currently on the Eshop. 3DS home screen themes (as depicted to the left) can also be obtained through gold and silver points through the MyNintendo website.

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‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’: The Force is Strong in this One

A new hope…

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Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order Review

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the more propulsive and joyous games released this year. The latest from Respawn Entertainment (the creators of Titanfall and Apex Legends) is sure to satisfy fans who have impatiently waited almost a decade for a single-player action-adventure Star Wars game, and one that is actually good. In fact, Fallen Order is better than good— it’s great and worthy of standing side by side with the best Star Wars games ever made. Save for an incredibly bland protagonist, Fallen Order delivers what any fan could hope for.  

We’ve been waiting a long time for a good single-player Star Wars game and thankfully Respawn has come through with a narrative-driven adventure that calls to mind the best of Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Dark Souls and even God of War while also embedding itself in official universe canon. If that isn’t enough, Jedi: Fallen Order drops you into Metroidvania style environments and features incredibly tough boss battles and a skill tree that lets you unlock tons of new abilities by accumulating experience and skill points. Jedi: Fallen Order is an ambitious game, to say the least. It features the fast-paced action the developers have become famous for and while the result isn’t groundbreaking (nor original), it’s a solid space opera spectacle with enough nostalgia to overpower even the most jaded gamer.

Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Review

Order 66

The story takes place sometime between Star Wars: A New Hope and Episode III, when most of the Jedi Order are either dead or missing in action. You assume control of Cal Kestis, a promising young Padawan in the Republic who following the events of Order 66 (which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jedi) was forced to abandon his training and seek a solitary life on the planet Bracca. In order to survive Darth Sidious’s purge of the Jedi Order, Cal removed himself from the Force, concealed his identity, and took on a job working for the Empire. Unfortunately for him, a squad of professional Jedi hunters led by Second Sister have tracked him down, leaving him with little choice but to fight back.

The Story is Canon

Fallen Order kicks off with a powerful and emotional sequence as Cal decides to risk his own life and try to save his friend. In doing so, Cal reveals himself to the Empire, setting in motion a cat-and-mouse chase that sees him team up with former Jedi Master Cere Junda and a Latero pilot named Greez Dritus. Armed with Jedi powers, a lightsaber and the trusty aid of BD1 (a droid designed to assist with exploration in remote and dangerous locations), Cal blasts his way through hyperspace discovering ancient tombs, freeing Wookie slaves, hijacking an AT-AT and basically fighting the Imperial Army.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a step forward for the franchise – an exhilarating ride, filled with exciting battles, non-stop action, soaring emotions, and performances that can be described as legitimately good, rather than just good, for a video game. It’s also a rousing introduction to new characters who will likely carry this world forward (I expect a sequel or two). There’s seriously a solid story here and one that adheres to the spirit and tone of the Star Wars universe. The supporting players, for example, are all great. Cal’s droid, BD-1, is particularly captivating, and the game does an admirable job of building up Cal’s friendship with the droid in both the cinematic cutscenes and in the actual gameplay.

Story-wise, BD-1 is crucial to the plot since the droid is entrusted to guide Cal on a dangerous mission assigned by Master Cordova who left behind a list of the missing Jedi children who he believes will one day restore the Jedi Order and defeat the evil Empire. Without BD, there is no adventure. With the help of the droid, however, Cal is able to travel to various planets and discover and unlock important messages and clues left behind by Cordova. Aside from guiding Cal across various planets, BD-1 also serves several support functions in gameplay. He can function as a zipline, hack certain droid enemies, unlock doors, project holographic maps and even provide Cal with “stims” that allow him to heal himself during combat— something you definitely need since a number of gameplay mechanics are lifted from the Soulsborne genre; in other words, the game can be hard.

Truth be told, the first few hours of Fallen Order are a bit generic as players are slowly introduced to the world, but it doesn’t take long before the game starts to shine thanks to the relationships Cal forms with his colleagues who he meets along the way. Jedi: Fallen Order is a story of rebellion and finding hope, but it’s also a story of friendship and braving adversity and the game really excels by investing in the interpersonal dynamics of its entire cast, and not just the good guys but the villains as well. BD-1 is without a doubt the scene-stealer as he certainly adds some much-needed levity to the journey, but every character serves an important role (big or small) in moving the story forward. Of the entire cast, I have to make mention of Actress Debra Wilson who does a superb job in her motion-capture performance as Cere, a warrior who is wounded and haunted by her past. She is the moral center and becomes Cal’s mentor as they desperately try and survive in a world that seems entirely devoid of any hope. As the plot unfolds, Cere relives her darkest moments and confronts the mistakes of her past. In these scenes, Debra Wilson shines so brightly, you’d be forgiven for thinking she deserves an Oscar.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a fun, polished space odyssey that embraces the appeal of the Star Wars universe.

Given that Respawn Entertainment worked closely with Lucasfilm, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jedi: Fallen Order is officially part of the Star Wars lore. And despite operating in the shadow of the immensely popular series, it understands this and hardwires that understanding into its own DNA. And like the best Star Wars games, it borrows ideas from the films (and other reading material) while inserting flashbacks to flesh out the heroes and the conflict at hand. It certainly helps that the latest game in the canon explores new characters and new corners of the galaxy while remaining faithful to the core themes of the franchise and even if some of these storylines seem recycled from past stories, the new additions and the central mystery keeps the story engaging from start to finish. And while this story is much smaller in scale than the blockbuster movies, Jedi: Fallen Order raises the stakes in every chapter thanks to the omnipresent threat of the Inquisitors hunting Cal, who always seem like they’re one step away from closing in on the kill. And if you know anything about the future of the Star Wars universe, you know that Cal’s future isn’t looking too bright. All in all, the team at Respawn did an incredible job of exploring and expanding the universe of Star Wars, especially considering the dark time in which this story takes place.

Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Cast

It’s clear when playing Fallen Order that the team was interested in creating a more nuanced, character-driven tale and in order to achieve that goal, they carefully crafted a story that weaves the player’s actions and interactions into Cal’s evolving journey. What we have here is a coming of age tale which sees Cal growing as a person while strengthening his relationship with the Force. Unfortunately, Cal Kestis is also somewhat of a dull protagonist. Sure, he has a tragic past (who doesn’t in this universe) but he’s also a blank slate, predictable and devoid of layers. Given that the story takes place after the Great Jedi Purge, you’d figure the writers could have used that trauma to create a far more complex character and inject Cal with a bit more life— a bit more personality— and/or a bit more fight; instead, he’s just a quiet, brooding loner. In the end, it feels like a missed opportunity, especially since actor Cameron Monaghan, who plays both the younger and older Cal, delivers the best performance he could with the writing he was given. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination but Cal is surprisingly the only disappointing factor of the game.

Exploration

Jedi: Fallen Order’s best quality is exploration. What at first seems like a standard linear experience quickly reveals itself to be so much more. Levels are immense with plenty of shortcuts to unlock and puzzles to solve— and to help you navigate, Cal is given a handy 3D map that highlights which areas you can and cannot yet pass. Much of the game is spent exploring and it helps that each planet feels distinct and features various set pieces that liven up the proceedings. Although you do spend some time backtracking through these environments, it never becomes tedious as most areas are filled with tons of secrets such as new outfits for Cal to wear and additional stim canisters, which become valuable when facing off against a dangerous foe. As the level design quickly opens up, Cal gains new abilities that allow him to run along walls, jump higher and push and pull large objects that help him navigate through the treacherous ground.

Second Sister Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order Kicked My Ass

The combat in Fallen Order which has frequently been compared to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is easily the biggest surprise. Fighting relies heavily on blocking and carefully timed parries and the decision to make combat more focused on defensive strategy heightens the spectacle as well as the flow and pacing of the game. Jedi: Fallen Order requires patience and relies less on mindlessly button spamming and more on strategic mastery. You have to look at your surroundings, understand your enemies and identify their strengths and weaknesses. It’s all about timing, and exchanging lightsaber blows during riveting boss encounters is incredibly satisfying. And it’s not just with the boss battles either; even encounters with regular stormtroopers and alien creatures take precision and care, each battle becoming a ballet of blocks and dodges as you patiently wait for an opening to attack so you can inflict more damage. Playing in the Jedi Master mode is tough and I do mean tough. Jedi Grandmaster seems downright impossible, at least for me. You’ll die. And then you’ll die again; rinse and repeat. And did I mention that when you do die, you lose whatever XP you’ve gathered toward skill points and have to return to defeat whoever killed you in order to reclaim it. Fans of the Dark Souls series will love it; for the rest of us, you can always dial down the difficulty setting because unlike those From Software games, you do have a choice over which difficulty you want to play. Whether you’re an action game veteran or a casual Star Wars fan, the game has four difficulty modes that should accommodate everyone. That said, if you’re familiar with action games, I highly recommend Jedi Master for your first run; Story Mode and Jedi Knight are too easy and don’t provide enough of a challenge.

Jedi: Fallen Order may not receive points for originality, but Fallen Order is still one of the most entertaining games of the year.

Jedi: Fallen Order feels like a direct response by EA to its fans who’ve been very vocal about their disappointment with the company’s previous Star Wars games. Or maybe EA was just trying to please Disney who has made it clear they have no issue in parting ways with collaborators who don’t deliver quality products. Whatever the case, EA was wise to hand over the license to Respawn Entertainment who’ve proven they have a real talent for making spectacular single-player action/adventure games. In spite of some minor performance issues, Fallen Order does exactly what it set out to do. Not only does it feel like a genuine Star Wars game but it pumps new energy and life into the franchise in a way that both resurrects old pleasures and points in promising new directions. Fallen Order is great. Not groundbreaking. But one of the very best games of 2019 and one of the best Star Wars games ever made.

Jedi: Fallen Order re-awoke my love of Star Wars video games and turned my inner fanboy into my outer fanboy. Here’s hoping they make a sequel.

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