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‘Twilight Princess’ and Embracing the Past

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It is important to recognize that embracing the past is not the same as living in the past. Although Twilight PrincessOcarina of Time influences are in large part due to Nintendo’s desire to give fans as traditional a Legend of Zelda experience as possible, to say that’s all Twilight Princess is would be reductive. In many ways, Twilight Princess is The Wind Waker’s antithesis. Where the latter’s narrative ultimately focused on washing away Hyrule’s influence on the world, the former sees Link spending much of his adventure restoring Hyrule not to its former glory, but rather new glory. Twilight Princess embraces the past in order to strengthen the foundation Ocarina of Time left behind.

As a result, it isn’t difficult to interpret Twilight Princess as Nintendo’s attempt at Ocarina of Time II. Both games begin with Link living in a forest village where he’s informed that he is a prophesied hero of legend; transition into him collecting three artifacts from forest, fire, and water themed dungeons so that he may wield the Master Sword; see Link collecting new artifacts in the second act after his initial plan conceived by the co-protagonist fails; and ultimately end in Link storming a Ganondorf occupied Hyrule Castle in order to save Hyrule. On a structural level, Twilight Princess is blatantly trying to invoke Ocarina of Time.

While it would certainly be easy, to stop here and point at Twilight Princess’ structure as a sign of unoriginality in its design would be a disingenuous reading. There is a clear deliberation to Twilight PrincessOcarina of Time parallels, both narratively and in regards to game design. While it may not result in a stronger game than its predecessor, Twilight Princess is able to excel all the more in certain areas when compared to previous entries in the series in large part due to its use of Ocarina of Time as a jumping off point.

Twilight Princess

Even though Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker arguably have superior core stories than Ocarina of Time, Ocarina’s narrative structure is far stronger than either game owing to how it approaches a three act structure. The first act sees Link gathering the three spiritual stones as a child; the second has him collecting medallions in the future as an adult, and the last act concludes with Link scaling Ganon’s Tower to save Hyrule. The third act is noticeably shorter than the first two, but it works for the pacing of the overall story and each act naturally transitions into one another in a clear, cohesive manner.

In Majora’s Mask, the first act is dedicated to the game’s first three day cycle; the second sees Link visiting the four regions of Termina, and the last act centers itself around the Moon. Majora’s structure works for the type of story Majora’s Mask is trying to tell, but a massive second act sandwiched between two rather short first and third acts makes for a plot that, while novel and poignant, comes off narratively disjointed with no meaningful flow of progression. Where Majora’s Mask’s structure ultimately does work for its plot, however, The Wind Waker finds itself suffering in places thanks to its structure.

The Wind Waker’s first act takes a similar approach to Ocarina of Time’s with Link needing to collect three Goddess Pearls before being welcomed into the Tower of Gods. On a conceptual level, this is perfectly sound and exactly what a first act in a Zelda game should be. The issue is that The Wind Waker is missing content so the first act, rather than ending on a climactic third dungeon, sees Link rather anticlimactically being given the third Pearl.  

Twilight Princess

Act two of The Wind Waker is easily the strongest of the title, both narratively and gameplay wise, as it sees Link getting the Master Sword from the Tower of Gods and then restoring its power in both the Temple of Earth and Wind respectively, but the plot comes to a screeching halt with the start of the third act: the Triforce hunt. While the story does pull itself around for the final dungeon, resulting in the most powerful finale the series has ever seen, the third act lacks the appropriate buildup it needs on a narrative level due to how the comparatively leisure Triforce hunt clashes with the immediacy of the plot.

In emulating Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess finds itself with the strongest of the 3D Zelda act structures allowing it to craft what may not be the best story in the series but is certainly the most cohesive with arcs and themes progressing naturally from act to act. Rather than following Ocarina beat by beat, Twilight Princess uses this opportunity to expand on The Legend of Zelda’s three act structure. Although the second act remains the longest, both the first and third acts have been given added weight.

Twilight Princess’ first act is often criticized for its slow pacing, but a slow pace is not inherently bad. It flies in the idea of instant satisfaction that seems to temper most video game discourse, but TP’s slow pace is exactly what allows for its story to fully realize itself by the end of Link’s journey. The first act, as expected, sees Link hunting for three mystical artifacts, this time pieces of Midna’s Fused Shadow, but each segment is far more fleshed out than in previous entry.

Twilight Princess

Each dungeon is accompanied with a mini-arc of sorts that serves to contextualize Link’s adventure both in a narrative and gameplay sense. The lead up to the Forest Temple introduces all the key players save for Ganondorf, solidifies Link as a prophesied hero, and establishes the game’s core mechanics; the lead up to the Goron Mines introduces horseback swordplay, and establishes a firm link between the events of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess by referencing the Hero of Time both textually and visually; and the lead up to the Lakebed Temple ups the stakes of Link’s journey by revealing Ilia’s amnesia and foreshadows Ganondorf’s inclusion in the plot via the similarities in the Zora tribe’s predicament between OoT and TP while further connecting the Hero of Time to Twilight Princess’ Link.

Although the build-up to each dungeon is in itself a story, that isn’t exactly where Twilight Princess thrives most from using Ocarina of Time’s structure. Instead, it’s the end of act one where TP solidifies the good in using OoT as a base. Following the Lakebed Temple, Link and Midna suffer a massive loss at the behest of the game’s antagonist, Zant. In his first appearance, Zant nearly kills Midna, locks Link into his wolf form, and steals the Fused Shadow. The player then has to control Link all the way to Hyrule Castle where Zelda seemingly sacrifices her life to save Midna.

Both A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time see Link suffering a loss at the end of the first act, but only Twilight Princess gives its first act loss the adequate weight it needs. In giving players complete control over the hero’s loss, Twilight Princess elevates Ocarina of Time’s structure to its next natural level. The weight of the loss is explicitly seen in the overworld’s musical change, Midna’s lifeless body on Link’s back, and Link’s inability to change back into a man. It’s ultimately this philosophy that embodies Twilight Princess: embracing Ocarina of Time’s past in order to elevate its concepts.

Twilight Princess

Of course, not every attempt at “bettering” Ocarina of Time works in Twilight Princess’ favor, with the second act allowing the story to take a back seat more than Ocarina of Time ever did, but the pros do ultimately outweigh the cons. For instance, while act two is Twilight Princess’ narrative weak point, the gameplay found in this act ends up being the peak of the game, if not the series when considering dungeon design. By following Ocarina’s second act structure so rigidly, along with escalating the progression of dungeons, Arbiter’s Grounds, Snowpeak Ruins, the Temple of Time, and the City in the Sky all stand out as genuine contenders for The Legend of Zelda’s best dungeon.

Arbiter’s Grounds has Link needing to switch between his human and wolf form as he enters a sacred, haunted tomb; Snowpeak Ruins sees Link exploring a live-in manor while helping a Yeti make stew; the Temple of Time is a linear gauntlet filled with constant puzzles and enemies; and the City in the Sky revolves around the concept of Link scaling a stories high floating city that also ends up testing most of the players’ abilities up to this point.

It’s worth noting that act two is the moment when Twilight Princess begins to further differentiate itself from Ocarina of Time in terms of gameplay. The dungeons featured in the second act feature no parallels to Ocarina’s like they did in act one, Link’s swordplay will have been expanded via training with the Hero’s Shade, and the only major allusions to Ocarina of Time are visual as is the case with the Temple of Time. It’s in this act where Twilight Princess begins to solidify an identity for itself independent of Ocarina of Time; at least gameplay wise.

Twilight Princess

It’s in the third act, starting with the Palace of Twilight and ending with Hyrule Castle, where it becomes most clear why Twilight Princess emulating Ocarina of Time was fundamentally for the best. With the exclusion of The Wind Waker which kicked off its finale with the Triforce hunt, last acts in Zelda games traditionally only involve Link tackling the final dungeon before capping off the plot. Recognizing this formula, Twilight Princess adds in one more dungeon before the finale without compromising a feeling of finality.

In both the Palace of Twilight and Hyrule Castle, it’s clear that Link’s journey is coming to a close. The former dungeon sees him saving the Twilight Realm while the latter has him explicitly saving Hyrule from Ganondorf’s grasp. Both dungeons play off one another thematically with each one serving to conclude the two leads’ character arc. The former sees Midna’s effectively reaching its natural conclusion whereas the latter has Link finally coming face to face with his destiny, allowing him to establish himself as a true hero.

The idea of a character arc for Link can seem almost silly given that he’s a silent protagonist, but Twilight Princess actively challenges this notion by featuring a more expressive Link ala The Wind Waker. The notion of an arc is pushed even further through Link’s interactions with the Hero’s Shade. Over the course of Twilight Princess, players will be able to interact with Golden Wolves who then transition Link to an astral plane where a ghostly knight only know as the Hero’s Shade teaches Link new techniques for his sword.

Twilight Princess

Both The Wind Waker and The Minish Cap played with the idea of giving Link a master who could teach him new abilities, but Twilight Princess gives added context to Link’s training by making his master a character who gradually develops over the course of the game, effectively turning the swordplay upgrading process into an adventure long training arc. While seemingly unrelated to Ocarina of Time, given it was The Wind Waker that introduced the non-static progression of swordplay, Link’s interactions with the Hero’s Shade nonetheless stand out as one of the biggest pieces of content influenced by Ocarina of Time.

Not only is it hinted at rather heavily that the Hero’s Shade is the Hero of Time, dialogue both pertaining and attributed to the Hero’s Shade can be used to connect the Hero of Time and Link as blood relatives. Early on in the game, it’s explicitly mentioned that Link is descended from the legendary hero. A recurring theme of Twilight Princess is how the Hero of Time’s adventure was all but forgotten with only the Goron and Zora showing some passive semblance of remembrance towards Ocarina’s Link.

The Hero’s Shade’s arc is primarily about passing on his techniques to Link so that his soul may rest without regret. Specifically, he laments his inability to pass on his teachings and how the world forgot. In their final training session on the steps of Hyrule Castle, he likewise refers to himself not as “a hero,” but “the hero” along with referring to Link as “my child.” Of course, it’s worth noting the Hyrule Historia did eventually confirm the Hero’s Shade as the Hero of Time’s lingering spirit, but there is enough in-game evidence to connect the two characters

Twilight Princess

Although every game in the franchise has expanded the lore in their own way, forming such an extreme connection between two games in the franchise that don’t directly play off each other by featuring the same Link in the lead role is an enormous shift for The Legend of Zelda, one that solidifies a deeper connection between games in the series. Twilight Princess isn’t just working on Ocarina of Time’s influence, it’s actively expanding its world and cast, even offering a conclusion to the Hero of Time’s character arc.

Twilight Princess is a game that’s blatantly proud about the fact that it’s in the same series as Ocarina of Time. In a franchise where just about every single entry experiments with what it means to be The Legend of Zelda, a game that plays the formula so straight can be off-putting. Yet that in itself is an experiment. Twilight Princess is the closest the franchise has ever come to a direct sequel with little to no frills to distinguish it from its predecessor. On paper, the desire to dismiss it for a lack of originality is easy, but its execution makes it clear that embracing the past is exactly what makes Twilight Princess feel so grand in a franchise full of exemplary video games.

It isn’t as if Nintendo was thoughtless in adhering so closely to Ocarina of Time, either. It’s clear in how cutscenes are presented in Twilight Princess that the developers understood what made Ocarina such a great experience for audiences. Scenes are framed like they once were in OoT with dynamic angles rather than Majora’s Mask’s and The Wind Waker’s more static approaches. Twilight Princess, as a video game, is Nintendo taking an opportunity to go back to a completed concept in order to evaluate, expand, and embrace it.

Twilight Princess

When it comes down to it, Twilight Princess may not necessarily be a better game than Ocarina of Time, but it is a better game because of Ocarina of Time. It fleshes out the world of Hyrule, explicitly connecting events between games; it uses a tried and true structure to tell a story that feels definitively complete, and everything it inherits from Ocarina of Time on a gameplay level is used to craft one of the best campaigns in the franchise. Twilight Princess is a video game that is beyond proud to be a part of The Legend of Zelda, and while that may not make for the most meaningful entry in the franchise, it does make for one of the most memorable.

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.

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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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