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‘Metal Gear Solid 3’: A Perfect Circle

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“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two – East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

Metal Gear Solid 2’s ambiguous nature, lack of resolution and all, was meant to signify the definitive end to the franchise’s overarching narrative, and nothing proves that more than the very existence of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. In establishing the next game in the series as a prequel, Hideo Kojima effectively told audiences that there was no story left to be told in a post-MGS2 world. At the same time, however, Kojima took this opportunity to bookend the Metal Gear saga by going back to the series’ previously unexplored roots: the rise of Big Boss. While already deceased by the start of the original Metal Gear Solid, his presence loomed over Snake, Liquid, Ocelot, Solidus, and Raiden like a shadow, framing their character arcs and driving the central conflict of the story at all times. It was Big Boss’ legacy that defined the series, and MGS3 went back to his beginnings not only to impart the origin of the most influential man in the franchise, but also to recontextualize Metal Gear Solid as a whole. Although Metal Gear Solid 3 would inevitably be followed by a direct sequel to Sons of Liberty, and a myriad of games chronicling Big Boss’ life post-MGS3, Snake Eater, to this day, still presents itself as an alternative end to the franchise; one that reflects on a definitive beginning to contrast MGS2’s definitive end.

At its core, at least up until Metal Gear Solid 3’s release, Metal Gear was a series that focused on the conflict between Solid Snake and Big Boss’ legacy. The first two games, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, saw Snake confronting Big Boss directly. Both games capped off with Snake presumably killing Big Boss and going into retirement. While the pair certainly had an intimate dynamic, that of a soldier and his commanding officer, it wouldn’t be until Metal Gear Solid where Kojima would add in the father-son angle that would redefine their relationship for the Solid titles. With one small edit, Snake’s war against Big Boss’ legacy took on new meaning. It was his own heritage that he was now fighting. Along with his new parentage, the revelation that Snake was a clone of Big Boss likewise added a new layer to their rivalry. Snake wasn’t just rejecting his legacy and heritage, he was diametrically opposed to his own birthright. Even with Big Boss dead, Liquid and Solidus attempt to carry out his will, giving Snake something to fight against. By the end of Sons of Liberty, Liquid is still alive through Ocelot, ensuring that the eternal struggle between Solid Snake and Big Boss remains as such. As a prequel to the entire franchise, one that takes place eight years before Solid Snake is even born, Snake Eater naturally cannot tell a story revolving around the conflict between Snake and Big Boss. What it can do, however, is establish where Big Boss’s ideologies came from, the kind of man he truly was, and why Snake would go on to become the one man capable of stopping his father.

via pinterest.co.uk (Todo Sobre Videojuegos (TSV))

“You’re not a snake, and I’m not an ocelot. We’re men with names.”

Given Ocelot’s role in the previous Solid entries, especially considering his ultimate fate as the host for Liquid’s persona in MGS2, it’s only natural Snake Eater take the time to explore his origins alongside Big Boss. Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2 saw Ocelot becoming a rival of sorts for Solid Snake. He’s the villain players interact with the most in the first game, and the antagonist for Snake’s portion of MGS2. In that sense, it’s fitting and quite poetic that Big Boss and Ocelot find themselves rivals throughout the course of MGS3. In both MGS1 and 3, Ocelot serves as the first true boss fight and reveals his role as a traitor in the post-credits stinger; while in MGS2 and 3, he vanishes but not without the promise of a future altercation. Ocelot’s role in Snake Eater is effectively an amalgamation of his role in the two preceding Solid titles. Even concerning the games released after MGS3, Ocelot’s role here is by far his most complete. Snake Eater stands out as the only entry to give Ocelot a full character arc. Ocelot begins the game as a naive rookie who slowly develops an appreciation for revolvers, torture, and Big Boss. While Ocelot finds himself in direct opposition to Big Boss many times in the narrative, he is very blatantly infatuated with him. There are many moments within the story where Kojima depicts more chemistry between Ocelot and Big Boss than between Big Boss and his actual love interest, EVA.

In that regard, the relationship between Big Boss and Ocelot parallels the relationship between Solid Snake and Meryl from the first Metal Gear Solid. Where there was a mutual attraction in the latter, the former takes a mostly one sided approach from Ocelot’s perspective; where Snake’s advice to Meryl was often gruff and dismissive, Big Boss’ advice to Ocelot is patient and kind hearted; and where it’s implied through MGS2 that Snake and Meryl ultimately didn’t work together as a couple, a look back on the series with MGS3’s context strongly implies that Ocelot inevitably found himself working closely together with Big Boss, even without confirmation from later installments. What would be considered the more “traditional” relationship, the one between Snake and Meryl, ends up falling apart whereas the relationship between Big Boss and Ocelot is implied to, at the very least, continue. Through Ocelot, Kojima is continuing the theme of love established in Metal Gear Solid with the same, exact context. Otacon asks Snake if love can bloom on the battlefield, and Snake Eater proves that, not only can love bloom, love blooms with a fervor. More importantly, through Ocelot, audiences get to see Big Boss in his most natural state. He’s confident, sensitive, and almost lighthearted. In many ways, he’s depicted as a less damaged version of his son; but that damage is still to come.

via www.planetminecraft.com

“One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny… The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.”

Big Boss’ goal throughout the original series, which would later be adopted by Liquid in Metal Gear Solid and transposed onto Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid 2, was to establish a world of perpetual warfare: Outer Heaven. In Outer Heaven, soldiers would always have a place and always have a purpose. While Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid took a grey approach to the concept, forcing players to question whether or not Big Boss’ paradise truly was the den of evil it was implied to be, it wouldn’t be until Metal Gear Solid 3 that the philosophy behind Outer Heaven would be explored more in-depth. To fully understand what Outer Heaven represents, however, requires an understanding of The Boss’ role in the franchise. Present in only Metal Gear Solid 3, The Boss is the Big Boss to Big Boss’ Solid Snake. To further parallel the dynamic, Kojima sets Snake Eater before Big Boss earns his title. For the majority of the game, he’s known only as Naked Snake. When The Boss seemingly betrays the United States, Naked Snake is tasked with infiltrating Russia, putting a stop to her plans, and ultimately killing her. Up and through their final confrontation, Snake questions how a patriot like The Boss could betray her country. She led America to victory in World War II; she was the first human ever to reach outer space; and she sacrificed everything she ever loved for the benefit of what she believed to be a better tomorrow. By the time Snake discovers the truth, that she was framed but had to die regardless, Naked Snake becoming Big Boss signals more than the adoption of his mentor’s former title: it signifies the moment Big Boss’ life is divided between before and after.

Disillusioned with his country and the very notion of patriotism, Big Boss inevitably defects and establishes Outer Heaven, a safe haven for soldiers like The Boss; soldiers who have been deemed “purposeless.” While Big Boss’ desire for Outer Heaven makes sense given the context, and is almost sympathetic, it does stem from a place of misunderstanding. During their final battle, The Boss says that whoever “inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.” While The Boss is clearly trying to warn Snake of the life he’ll lead as Big Boss, it’s the notion of “endless battle” that he ends up latching onto for the rest of his life. It certainly doesn’t help his misunderstanding that The Boss takes a rather poetic approach to their final battle, referring to it as the “greatest ten minutes” of their lives. Given the life Big Boss ends up leading after The Boss’ death, it is entirely possible that his final moments fighting The Boss truly were the greatest he ever experienced leading to an almost psychological need for Outer Heaven. The real tragedy of their battle, though, as sad as it for Snake to become Big Boss through a ritualistic killing of his mentor, comes from the message The Boss tries to impart, a message that ends up disregarded in its entirety.  

via comicvine.gamespot.com

“Is there such a thing as an absolute, timeless enemy? There is no such thing, and never has been. And the reason is that our enemies are human beings like us. They can only be our enemies in relative terms. The world must be made whole again.”

With the constant shifting of political contexts, the enemies of today aren’t necessarily the enemies of tomorrow, nor do they have to be. What matters most is preventing cultural division and ensuring the world remain “whole.” It’s no coincidence that The Boss states her desire for a united world in a game that begins by explicitly informing audiences of the division caused by World War II. Unfortunately, Big Boss doesn’t so much as pay any mind to The Boss’ desire for a complete world. Instead, it’s Solid Snake who carries out her legacy. Even to his present enemies, Snake shows them respect. He is a man who takes time to listen to the parting words of Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf, and Vulcan Raven in Metal Gear Solid; still considers Frank Jaeger his best friend despite meeting each other for the last time on opposite sides of the battlefield; and even shows Big Boss a level of respect despite their strained history. Along with recognizing his enemies as enemies through circumstance, Snake’s desire is “to let the world be,” as evidenced by the motto of his anti-Metal Gear organization in MGS2, Philanthropy. Without so much as knowing her, Solid Snake embodies the manifestation of The Boss’ will.

Big Boss rejecting The Boss’ true message only for Snake to come upon it on his own harkens back to Snake’s message to Raiden at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2: the future is only decided by what’s passed on. The Boss genuinely does attempt to pass on her legacy, but Big Boss misinterprets it, instead putting his faith in a world where war has no end. Metal Gear Solid 2 ended on a note of ambiguity, with passing on one’s message as a critical element for social advancement. Metal Gear Solid 3 takes that message and uses it to demonstrate what happens when someone carries out a passed upon message. The Boss was not clear, or perhaps even misguided, in her parting words to Big Boss, and the world suffered for it. Her mistake was trying to pass on an unclear message to an unstable man. Snake, at the end of Sons of Liberty, doesn’t pass on any such message to Raiden. Instead, he passes on the concept of passing on one’s legacy. That, in itself, lets the world be while also ensuring a better tomorrow. Much like how Snake had to come to the conclusion of letting the world be and keeping it whole on his own, Raiden has to discover a message to impart without guidance. With The Boss, and with Metal Gear Solid 3, Kojima recontextualizes the entire Metal Gear narrative to tie into Metal Gear Solid 2’s ending. In that sense, the series also becomes a story that was always leading to an ending like MGS2’s. Metal Gear becomes a perfect circle.

via venturebeat.com

No, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is not a story about the conflict between Solid Snake and Big Boss, but it is one that sets up their relationship, and the course of the series, in a complete sense. Without stepping on the toes of Metal Gear Solid 2’s ending, MGS3 offers an answer to the identity of the Patriots, chronicles Big Boss’ downfall, establishes Ocelot’s role in the story, and re-explores themes from both MGS and MGS2 in order to weave a cohesive line throughout all three games. MGS3 is everything a prequel should be. Its existence only enhances the previous games and ties the entire narrative together without resorting to the convoluted retcons future games in the series would become known for. While it would be possible to set an MGS before the events of Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid 3 establishes itself so powerfully as the starting point of the franchise that any amendment to its status would likely do the same damage towards it that Metal Gear Solid 4 did for Metal Gear Solid 2. When a story has a definitive beginning and end, it’s best to let the world be.

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and pretentious French lit, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball on the internet and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Martin Henebury

    April 9, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    An ingenious perspective on one of the more excellent franchises in video games that may just explain away some of the hopelessly convoluted, intertwining narratives present in the MGS series to its bewildered audience.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Looking Ahead to 2020

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Indie Game Spotlight

The year is coming to an end. The holidays are just around the corner. We’ve already published our list of the best indie games of 2019 and now it is time to start looking forward to 2020. In what is sure to be our last Indie Games Spotlight of 2019, we take a look at some of the indies set for release next year. This issue includes a student project that led to the creation of an indie studio; a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game; and a comedic occult adventure game that takes place during World War II. All this and more!

Lightmatter

Imagine, “if Limbo and Portal had a weird baby.”

Aspyr and Tunnel Vision Games announced that their long-awaited, award-winning puzzle game, Lightmatter, arrives on Steam on January 15, 2020.

Lightmatter is an atmospheric, first-person puzzle game set inside a mysterious experimental facility where the shadows will kill you. The game tells a sci-fi story about a maniac inventor who has created the ultimate power source called Lightmatter. Players must explore the facility in an attempt to discover the hidden plot while facing challenging puzzles that require mastering different light sources to survive.

Not only does the game look great but what’s even more impressive is that Lightmatter originally started out as a university project where a group of Medialogy students wanted to explore lights and shadows as the primary gameplay mechanic in a puzzle game. After creating a 15-minute prototype, the team offered it as a free download on Reddit. To their surprise, the game became an overnight success with thousands of downloads and multiple accolades from game conferences around the world. It didn’t take long before they created Tunnel Vision Games with the mission to take the light/shadow concept further and turn it into a fully-fledged game. The rest, as they say, is history.


Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Investigate the Occult

Nine Witches: Family Disruption is the comedic occult adventure game you’ve been waiting for. From Blowfish Studios and Indiesruption, the game takes place in a rustic Norwegian village on the fringe of World War II, where a supernatural scholar investigates the Nazi’s plan to conjure a dark ancient power and strike a devastating blow to the Allied powers. Players must investigate their plots by communing with a variety of eccentric characters from the realms of both the living and the dead. It’s your job to unravel a mystical mystery and put a stop to the Okkulte-SS’s evil schemes before it’s too late.

Nine Witches: Family Disruption was born from my desire to blend world history with magic and my personal sense of humor,” said Diego Cánepa, designer, Indiesruption. “I’m grateful Blowfish Studios are using their powers to help me bring the game to consoles and PC so this story can be enjoyed by players across the world.” If you like indie games with beautiful, retro-inspired pixel art and a comical story dripping with gleefully absurd, dark humor, you’ll want to check this out. Nine Witches: Family Disruption summons supernatural hi-jinks to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows PC in Q2 2020.


Filament

Explore a mysterious ship.

Ahead of next year’s anticipated release of Filament, Kasedo Games & Beard Envy have revealed an exclusive look into the making of the upcoming puzzle game with the first in a series of short dev featurettes. Developed by three friends in the front room of their shared house, Filament is a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game centered around solving sets of cable-based puzzles whilst exploring a seemingly abandoned spaceship. According to the press release, Filament lets you freely explore the mysterious ship, solving over 300 challenging and varied puzzles in (almost) any order you like.

If you’d like to learn more, we recommend checking out the short episode series which explains the complexity and variety of puzzles and offers an insight into how the game was made. Filament will release for PC and consoles next year.


West of the Dead

The Wild West has never been this dark.

Announced at X019 in London, West of Dead is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter developed by UK-based studio Upstream Arcade. The game stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) as the voice of the main protagonist William Mason, a dead man awakened with only the memory of a figure in black. His existence sets into motion a chain of events that have truly mythic consequences.

Thrown into the unknown procedurally generated hunting grounds of Purgatory, your skills will be put to the test as you shoot and dodge your way through the grime and grit of the underworld. No one said dying would be easy and West of the Dead will surely test your skills. The battle for your soul will take place on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC in 2020.


The Red Lantern

Survive the Alaskan wilderness in this dog sledding, story-driven, rogue-lite game

We first took notice of The Red Lantern during a Nintendo Direct earlier this year and ever since we’ve been impatiently awaiting its release. The Red Lantern is a resource management game where you and your team of five sled dogs must survive the wilderness and find your way home. Set in Nome, Alaska, you play as The Musher, voiced by Ashly Burch (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Life is Strange), as she sets out to train for the grueling Iditarod race.

The game combines rogue-lite elements into this story-driven adventure game, where hundreds of different events can occur—like fending off bears, resisting frostbite, attending your dogs, or receiving a signature moose-licking. This might be the first and last dog-sledding survival game we will ever play but that’s fine by us because judging by the screenshots and trailer, the game looks terrific. The Red Lantern is Timberline Studio’s debut game and is funded by Kowloon Nights. The game will be releasing on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

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The Best Games of the 2010s

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Best Games of the 2010s Best Games of the Decade

The 2010s have spoiled us with an abundance of amazing games released year after year, and with the decade quickly drawing to a close, some would argue it is the best decade for video games yet. The choice of AAA titles, MMOs, indies and even mobile games is simply overwhelming. In no other decade have we had so much variety and so much to choose from making it extremely hard to pinpoint what our favourites are. Truth be told, many of us still have some catching up to do. Not everyone has played every game nominated below, and how could we considering some of these games require hundreds of hours of our time to complete? Thankfully we have enough writers on staff to be able to cover it all, and as expected, none of us seem to agree on every winner. It wasn’t easy to choose from our many favourites but we narrowed it down to one winner and five special mentions for each year. At last, here are the best games released in the 2010s.

Best Games of the Decade

Mass-Effect-2-Best-Games-of-the-Decade

2010) Mass Effect 2

Bioware’s Mass Effect announced itself as a different kind of game. The natural evolution of games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicMass Effect offered gamers a whole universe of possibilities. Depending on their choices, their protagonist could be a cocksure rogue or an unrepentant optimist, a cold pragmatist or a warm confidante. Regardless of your choices though, what Mass Effect really offered was the chance to enter a world and experience it in your own individual manner.

Mass Effect 2 doubled down on this prospect in a way that was almost inconceivable. Giving players a bigger galaxy to explore, more characters to journey through it with, and more refined gameplay with which to devour it, Mass Effect 2 arrived as the sequel that fans never even dreamed was possible. A game with so many different possibilities for outcomes that there was an ending designed as if the player had died in his quest, there was literally no wrong way to play Mass Effect 2.

While the sequel ended up having to pull back on these ambitions, Mass Effect 2 still remains a game that made players believe that literally anything was possible, and for that reason alone, it remains a one of a kind, unforgettable experience. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Super Meat Boy

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2011) Dark Souls

Like Mass Effect 2Dark Souls is less an original prospect in and of itself, and more the perfectly refined version of a very good idea. Hidetaka Miyazaki may have hit upon a gold rush with his experimental action-RPG Demon’s Souls, but it was Dark Souls that really hit paydirt. Transporting the hybrid single-player/multiplayer experience into an ever-growing open world that devoured itself like an ouroborosDark Souls didn’t just perfect the experience that its predecessor had plotted out, it laid the groundwork for an entire genre.

Players still relentlessly speed run, troll, experiment with and redefine what Dark Souls is, and what it means to them, nearly a decade after its initial release. Check Twitch or YouTube on any given day, and you’re likely to find dozens of gamers re-exploring the world of Lordran, and seeing what it might offer them in this reincarnation of its virtues and faults, concepts and confines. Such is the result of a game so endlessly replayable that it doesn’t even ask before plonking you back at the beginning after those end credits. After all, why not spend a little more time in this world? (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Minecraft, Portal 2, Rayman Origins

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2012) Xenoblade Chronicles

It’s hard to find a game as niche as Xenoblade Chronicles. A JRPG, published in North America two years after its initial 2010 release on the already-sunsetting Wii, it seemed an unlikely prospect for success. After all, the Wii was perhaps Nintendo’s most family-friendly console, a system designed around casual audiences and motion controls; its successor, the Wii U, was just around the corner. It made little sense to release a JRPG, of all things, when the system was on its last legs.

Despite launching at the tail end of one generation and the beginning of the other,  Xenoblade Chronicles delivered one of the best JRPG experiences in decades. Xenoblade creator Tetsuya Takahashi, with a checkered history of ambitious games that failed to fully deliver on their promises, finally perfected his craft.  A gripping narrative, a spectacular score, and an innovative focus on blending the best of both Western and Japanese RPGs made Xenoblade Chronicles a stunning achievement and the best JRPG to ever come from Nintendo.

Seven years, and two critically praised sequels, later, and Takahashi has yet to recapture the magic in the original Xenoblade and rekindle the pure, unadulterated sense of exploration and adventure that made it such an enjoyable experience, a testament to how unique and incredible this JRPG truly is. (Iszak Barnette)

Runners-Up: Diablo III, Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Journey, The Walking Dead

The Best Games of the 2010s

2013) The Last of Us

With The Last of Us, the cinematic-loving geniuses at Naughty Dog proved themselves once again as one of the most accomplished development teams in the world. The confident and handsome survival thriller was instantly hailed as the new bar for what gaming could and should be moving forward. The Last of Us is Hollywood stuff, of course, and it borrows from dozens of carefully chosen inspirations, among them George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While the game’s cynical portrayal of survivors turning on each other is a very familiar premise – The Last of Us is also the rare video game that follows a traditional storyline and then improves upon it. Set twenty years after a pandemic radically transformed civilization – The Last of Us follows Joel, a salty survivor, who is hired to smuggle a fourteen-year-old girl, Ellie, out of a rough military quarantine. What begins as a straightforward, albeit risky job, quickly turns into a highly emotional, palm-sweating journey that you won’t ever forget.

The Last of Us mixes traditional adventure, survival, action, stealth, and constant exploration. Amidst the action, the horror and the many layers of modern mythology at work here (all quintessentially American), the game succeeds simply as a parable of what it means to live versus surviving. By the time you get to the last act, you understand why The Last of Us is the stuff of legends. The ending is simply amazing and not because it ends with a bang, but instead, because it ends with a simple line of dialogue. It’s intense and, yes, depressing – and it earns every minute of it.

Exhausting to play but oddly exhilarating to experience, The Last of Us works its way under our skin to unnerve, reside and haunt us. From the rich, complex combat system to the sublime sound design, this game immerses the player from start to finish. The Last of Us proves how far the craftsmanship of making video games has come from the outstanding engineering and art and sound design to the fine direction and performances, and the touching relationship of the two leads. It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Last of Us is our favourite game of 2013 because it works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastic cautionary tale, a coming of age story, and a sophisticated drama about the best and worst qualities of humanity. There’s something for everyone here to appreciate! (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, DOTA 2, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V

2014) Mario Kart 8

Nintendo was so confident about Mario Kart 8 that they implied it could turn the tides of both sales and public consciousness on the Wii U. Of course, Mario Kart 8 didn’t end up doing that, but it did handily exceed the expectations of its legion of naysayers, such as the infamous Polygon pie charts. Five years later and it has not only gone down in the record books as the highest-selling game on that fateful console, but is also the highest-selling game on Nintendo’s renaissance console, the Switch.

While the appeal of Mario Kart remains perennial, Mario Kart 8 is an especially special Mario Kart. Its controls are the most fluid and refined, its visuals the most lush and detailed, and its courses the most vibrant and fully-realized. Moreover, its breakneck 200cc mode, wealth of fantastic DLC courses, and Deluxe-specific battle mode have given Mario Kart 8 incredible replay value, depth, and variety despite lacking an adventure mode. At launch, Mario Kart 8 was the peak of the series, the best modern kart racer, and a game of the year contender. Now, with tons of extra content, over thirty million copies sold, and the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 may become known as the greatest and most popular racing game of all time, kart or otherwise. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Bayonetta 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Hearthstone, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, Valiant Hearts: The Great War

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2015) Bloodborne

FromSoftware pioneered a new genre and difficulty standard with their Souls series, but Bloodborne’s their magnum opus. The sordid streets of Yharnam teem with monsters, and hacking through the bloody lot of them is a visceral (and challenging) delight.

I made it through Bloodborne with minimal trouble, felling most bosses in two or three tries. But the last boss, the dude whose name starts with G (no spoilers), kicked my ass to the moon and back. I fought him for a whole weekend, dying upwards of fifty times. I thought I couldn’t do it, that I’d have to throw in the towel, for this was a mountain I couldn’t scale. But then something unexpected happened: I won! I flawlessly dodged his attacks, steadily chipping away at his lofty life bar until he kicked the bucket. The sensation of elation I experienced upon victory was a high that lasted for hours, and that’s when it clicked for me “This is why there’s no easy mode”. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Life is Strange, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Rocket League, Undertale, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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2016) Persona 5

When it comes to JRPGs, there’s no shortage of turn-based level grind-y time sinkers on offer, but Persona 5 is something different. It’s both unabashedly inspired by its genre brethren, yet wholly unique. Where countless JRPG stories crumble under the weight of “That’s flippin’ nonsense”, Persona 5 serves up a rewarding narrative driven by a wildly loveable band of misfits. Its relationship-building mechanics (that inspired Fire Emblem: Three Houses) are addictive, and its user interface is award-worthy. Every facet of this genre masterpiece is meticulously honed to perfection, and its bigger and better iteration (Persona 5 Royal) can’t come soon enough. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Final Fantasy XV, Inside, Overwatch, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Breath of the Wild is just how familiar yet simultaneously refreshing it feels. Breath of the Wild may be the biggest Zelda game to date, but it still feels like a Zelda adventure — in spirit, story, tone and in gameplay. You play as the young courageous Link, the hero of Hyrule, who awakens from a cryogenic sleep chamber inside of a small cave and teams up with the eponymous princess (so to speak) and sets out on an adventure to destroy the horrible fanged, boar-faced Calamity Ganon, a megalomaniac holding Princess Zelda hostage and bent on destroying Hyrule. The narrative setup is more or less standard for a Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild has something that was missing from the series for far too long — perhaps since the original title was released back in 1986.

Much like that original, Breath of the Wild is a game that begs you to keep exploring and it does this right from the start, immediately instilling a real sense of mystery, no matter how familiar you are with the series. As soon as you emerge from that opening cave, you’ll find yourself on a vista, looking out at the beautiful mountains and ruins of a post-apocalyptic, techno-plagued world. And from that moment on, the world is your oyster.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brought a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s such a landmark in video games that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. Though in the end, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go, is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Cuphead, Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil VII, Super Mario Odyssey

2018) God of War

To take their beloved franchise, turn it on its head, and deliver an experience that surpasses its acclaimed predecessors was no easy task for Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, yet they smashed it! God of War pays homage to its roots, whilst simultaneously bounding headlong into uncharted waters. It embraces modern conventions but utilizes them in a way that feels fantastically fresh.

Kratos’s journey with Atreus through the universe of Norse mythology is a masterclass in both character study and organic world-building, and a far cry from the one dimensional “Kratos angry, Kratos kill things” fare of old. Combat strikes a balance between strategic nuance and gory glee, and the Leviathan Axe feels badass to swing around. Discussing this game is more often than not an exercise in rattling off cool qualities, because there’s just that many things to dig about it. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Celeste, Monster Hunter World, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best Games of the Decade

2019 ) Fire Emblem: Three Houses

With three stories that can change depending on the choices taken, Fire Emblem: Three Houses really does allow the player to choose the path they wish. Much like previous Fire Emblem games, what the player does and chooses is at the heart of the game, with benefits and consequences for each action taken. With three different houses to discover, Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be replayed countless times while never feeling like the same game.

It’s easy to get enchanted by all the personality, charisma, and cheesiness the game has outside of battles, that it’s even easier to miss the tactical ingenuity within battles. Fire Emblem: Three Houses has shaken up much of the battle formula from previous Fire Emblem games, creating a much more fragile web, requiring a balancing of personalities and classes that can develop constructively for the rest of the game. This means every brick you place from the start of the game will affect how well your house stands by the end of the game. It’s a clever design that can catch even the most ardent Fire Emblem veterans out there.

But most importantly of all, each story doesn’t feel rushed or out of place. That isn’t just the three main stories but every characters’ own personal story. Some of the characters are a little overly cloy for my personal tastes, but that isn’t to say they didn’t fit the narrative. Their story was woven into the main story without a slip or a bump. It is that Fire Emblem: Three Houses is more than just how the player develops, but how each character develops around them. (James Baker)

Runner-Up: The Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Resident Evil 2

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Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

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Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

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