Metroid: Samus Returns Review [Pixelkin]

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The Metroid series is held in high esteem. It helped jump start an entirely new genre born out of platforming and exploration. Super Metroid (1994) is considered one of the best games ever made, yet Nintendo has been painfully quiet on any Metroid news or games over the last decade – until now.

Metroid: Samus Returns isn’t quite the new 2D Metroid game we were hoping for; it’s a remake of the second game in the series, 1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Game Boy. A lot of impressive went work into updating the old monochrome visuals into stunning 3D models and animated backgrounds, while the core gameplay of exploring a labyrinthine world full of secrets and power-ups remains just as compelling all these years later.

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Nintendo 3DS Is Having a Great Year in 2017 [Pixelkin]

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All eyes are on the Nintendo Switch this year, as well they should be. Nintendo has been in a weird place with home consoles over the last decade. The Wii exploded onto the scene as a gimmicky toy, then quickly collected dust in everyone’s closest. The Wii U failed to capture an audience at all, reaching only 10% of the sales of its predecessor. Launching earlier this year, the Switch is faring much better, including a killer app like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and featuring full portability.

It’s the portability that had me worried about my favorite Nintendo product of this century: the Nintendo 3DS. With the announcement and launch of the Switch, I had concerns over how Nintendo’s handheld-only console would fare when stacked up with a device that could do both.

Turns out my concerns were completely unfounded. The six-year old Nintendo 3DS is having its best year ever in 2017.

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Monster Hunter Stories Review [Pixelkin]

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The Monster Hunter series has been around for over a decade, though far more popular in Japan than in the US. The world of gigantic monsters, challenging combat, and hours of grinding and crafting weapons and armor often remains impenetrable for many would-be fans.

Monster Hunter Stories refreshingly succeeds at being a more intuitive, kid-friendly spin-off game. It incorporates basic elements of Pokémon’s monster-collecting while still using the core tenets of Monster Hunter’s questing and hunting tasks to create a welcoming, yet deeply rich experience.

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Ever Oasis Review [Pixelkin]

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Ever Oasis was a surprise announcement at E3 2016, an entirely new IP on the Nintendo 3DS. Though it presents a unique new desert world, Ever Oasis borrows all of its gameplay elements from other successful Nintendo franchises, such as Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Metroid.

The result is a satisfying though at times tedious adventure that brings a fun mix of party-based combat with maintaining a thriving refuge in a dangerous world.

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Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review [Pixelkin]

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The Fire Emblem series has exploded in the last few years. The tactical role-playing series has been around since the 90s, but only in the U.S. since 2003. With Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia we’re already getting our third Fire Emblem game for the Nintendo 3DS – but it’s actually a remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden.

Playing the remake of the second game in the storied franchise with updated sprites, 3D dungeon crawls, polished voice acting, and anime cutscenes is an incredible treat for any Fire Emblem fan.

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Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop Review [Pixelkin]

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The Cooking Mama series has been around since the days of Nintendo DS and Wii. Touchscreen mobile games were burgeoning into a dominant gaming genre for many kids and adults. These days playing a game on the Nintendo 3DS that could be almost entirely replicated on a phone feels quaint.

Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop doesn’t offer enough new gameplay or progression to warrant yet another installment in the franchise.

READ THE FULL REVIEW AT PIXELKIN

My Top Ten Games of 2016: Full List and Awards

Ten days of counting down (or counting up I suppose) my Top Ten Games of the Year has lead to this. This is my full year-end post in which I recap my Top Ten 2016 list, compare to previous lists, give out some personal awards and dubious honors, and wax poetic about the year in my gaming life.

Refresh on my previous gaming years:

I think I speak for most folks when I declare 2016 to have been a pretty awful fucking year. The UK voted to withdraw from the European Union, the US voted to put a racist, misogynistic idiot in the White House, and we lost numerous beloved celebrities and artists.

The world seems to be growing more divisive and cruel with each passing month. Yet gaming, despite numerous road blocks, seems to be evolving.

Last year was marked by a bunch of AAA games that fell flat (which won my Worst Industry Trend Award). This year my Top Ten list is dominated by successful sequels and follow-ups. Indie gaming becomes an even more nebulous, but robust category. Kickstarter is not quite as prevalent, yet Fig finds success. Nintendo officially announced their newest console, the Nintendo Switch, while Sony and Microsoft offer incremental upgrades that provide 4K resolution.

20-nintendo-switch

For another year I resisted the lure of the big consoles, sticking to some PC upgrades and my waning Wii U. After a lull last year I did get a ton of playtime out of my Nintendo 3DS, with a few making my Game of the Year list.

I played less games overall – thanks in large part to selling our old house and moving to a new one over the Summer. But many games I played I sunk well over 50 hours into, with my online game-time dominated by one of my favorite games of the year from last year.

Before I recap my Top Ten 2016 list we have some fun comparisons to make: My Top Ten Most Anticipated list, published back in January, and My Top Five Most Anticipated games of the second half of the year, published in July.

Here was my predicted Top Ten as of January 2016:

  1. Mass Effect Andromeda
  2. “Zelda Wii U”
  3. XCOM 2
  4. Divinity: Original Sin 2
  5. Overwatch
  6. Torment: Tides of Numenera
  7. Fire Emblem Fates
  8. Cosmic Star Heroine
  9. No Man’s Sky
  10. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Hooh boy. I lamented that I didn’t do a great job last year, but I seem to be trending downward in my predict-abilities.

xcom2 announcement

Out of those ten games, five of them wouldn’t even release this year. Mass Effect and Zelda were both long shots, and both are expected to release in the first half of 2016. They’ll roll over to 2017’s Most Anticipated list and I’ll feel much more confident about it (though it’ll make Zelda’s third appearance on that list!).

Likewise Torment and Divinity both just missed releasing this year, and should also release early next year (Torment has a Feb release date). I believe it’s the same for Cosmic Star Heroine, which has frustratingly been on my Most Anticipated lists two years running. Gimme!

That leaves us with five games. Deus Ex I literally just bought on the Steam Winter Sale, and haven’t played it yet. I did play the other four, and three of them made my end of the year list (you can probably guess the odd man out, which you’ll find in another category). That’s actually better than last year, when only two games made the final list.

 

My Top Ten Games of 2016

10) Pokémon GO

pokemon go

Pokémon GO isn’t even much of a game, but to many (including me) it was a fascinating introduction to the concept of augmented reality. Being able to go out in the real world and ‘find’ and capture Pokémon is brilliant and fun, despite the crushing lag and server problems the game suffered from its unprecedented popularity. Pokémon GO has been the definition of a fun, casual experience, and well-deserved among my Top Ten Games of the Year.

9) Skylanders Imaginators

top ten

As a veteran of the series who’s been mildly disappointed in the last two offerings, I was very pleased with Skylanders Imaginators. I’m not sure if the series can continue along this trajectory given how much the Imaginator concept changed the gameplay for the better, but for now Skylanders Imaginators is easily the best of the series.

8) Stellaris

stellaris

Stellaris wins my award for game I most need to return to, and Paradox does a great job updating and supporting their titles. I’ve dabbled in other space strategy games like Galactic Civilizations and Endless Space to varying degrees of success, but none were able to really suck me in like Stellaris.

7) Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

shadow-tactics-banner

The tactical stealth gameplay is pitch-perfect, and to actually weave a compelling historical drama on top of that is incredibly satisfying. Don’t sleep on Shadow Tactics just because it sneaked up on you in December. If you’re at all a fan of tactical strategy, it’s one of the best games you’ll play this year.

6) Fire Emblem Fates

top five 2016

Fire Emblem Fates took me a solid six months to actually finish. I had to bump the difficulty down to Normal and grind through one of the DLC maps just to get experience (apparently Conquest is the hard version because there’s no ability to grind). But I still sunk over fifty hours into it.

Despite my harsh complaints I obviously loved the combat improvements enough to still rank it on my game of the year list. Even a mediocre Fire Emblem game is still one of my favorite games of the year. All the combat improvements were a big step in the right direction; I just hope the next game can improve on the story side as well.

5) Overwatch

overwatch heroes

Overwatch is easily the most popular game on my list. The “hero shooter” blending of MOBA and FPS exploded this year. But leave it to Blizzard to once again take a genre and perfect it into an easily accessible, yet highly competitive format.

Overwatch is an incredible game. It takes all the best team-based shooting elements of Team Fortress 2 and multiple unique heroes of MOBAs into a complete and amazing package. I definitely plan on playing it off and on continuously for the foreseeable future.

4) Pokémon Sun and Moon

pokemon sun and moon

I was incredibly excited for Pokémon X and Y back in 2013, and played through all of Pokémon Black and White just months before its release. X and Y definitely made my Game of the Year list that year, and I’m here to tell you that Sun and Moon may just be the best Pokémon game I’ve played yet.

Now in its seventh generation, Pokémon Sun and Moon represents a first real shake-up of the traditional formula – and it’s all for the best. They keep everything that makes the series so endearing while improving on everything else. If you’ve been sleeping on the series or waiting for a chance to jump back in, Pokémon Sun and Moon is definitely the way to go.

3) XCOM 2

xcom 2

The XCOM: Enemy Unknown reboot made me fall in love with the series and its unique emergent gameplay. XCOM 2 is better in every way, and a great example of a direct sequel done right.

I still only have my first playthrough under my belt this year. But I did spend extra time getting achievements and playing with late game goodies, so I still sunk over 60 hours in my battle to take back Earth. I plan on spending a lot more time and playthroughs in XCOM 2 over the coming years.

2) Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

top five 2016

When Civ V came out I remember specifically feeling that it was good, but not as great as Civ IV + expansions. Civ V had a ton of balance issues, but Firaxis did a phenomenal job over the years between free updates and paid expansions to make it the best.

Vanilla Civilization VI is already better than all that. It’s the most impressed I’ve ever been with a Civ game on launch. Assuming Firaxis keeps up with their amazing post-launch support (where’s team multiplayer!?), Civilization VI will easily stand the test of time.

1) Stardew Valley

top five 2016

There’s no reason Stardew Valley should have worked for me. But I absolutely fell in love with the charming world. The music is lovely, the character interactions are well-written, and the amount of content is staggering.

While I’m not sure how much more I’ll play (as oppose to games like XCOM 2 and Civ VI), the time I did spend with Stardew Valley were my most cherished gaming moments of the year. Stardew Valley represents the best of what indie gaming has to offer: one person crafting their dream game and sharing it with the world.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Song of the Deep, Planet Coaster, Starbound, Grim Dawn

song of the deep pic

Beginning last year I began doing a Top Five Game of the Mid-Year list. I like lists. Here were my Top Five as of July:

  1. Stardew Valley
  2. XCOM 2
  3. Overwatch
  4. Fire Emblem Fates
  5. Stellaris

All five games made my final Game of the Year list, proving that the first half of the year was quite strong. It’s even more impressive as many of these games I hadn’t played in months.

Included in the list are my Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2016. I like lists, remember? Here we go (alphabetical):

  • Civilization VI
  • Cosmic Star Heroine
  • Dishonored 2
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Pokémon Sun and Moon

Not quite as good. Games often slip out of their Fall release into early the following year – but I can only claim that from one of them (Cosmic Star Heroine).

We were all holding out hope for No Man’s Sky, whose launch was such a highly publicized disaster that I’m not going to go over it here. Suffice to say I was one of the many that were disappointed with the game – but in fairness we really didn’t know enough about it. Boo on the them for being cagey with details, and boo on us for buying into the hype.

no man's sky

That leaves Dishonored 2. I never bought it! The Fall was busy with lots of big games and I just couldn’t find room. I really enjoyed the first one, but I also paid like $10 for it on a Steam sale. Right now it’s only discounted to $40 on the Steam Winter Sale, so I may wait a bit longer.

On to my awards!

Best Multiplayer: Overwatch

Most Disappointing: No Man’s Sky

Biggest Surprise: Stardew Valley

Most Played: Stardew Valley, 77 hours (though overall it’s Heroes of the Storm with another 200+ hours)

Best Early Access/Beta Game: We Happy Few

Best Original Music: Stardew Valley

Best Soundtrack: The Flame in the Flood by Chuck Ragan

Best Art Design: Overwatch

Best World Building/Atmosphere: Stardew Valley

Best Writing: Stardew Valley

Best Cooperative Game: Skylanders Imaginators

Best Game Nobody Else Played: Epistory – Typing Chronicles

Favorite New Game Mechanic: Building cities in Civ VI

Most Innovative: Epistory – Typing Chronicles

Best New Character: Merryn (Song of the Deep)

Favorite Moment: Civilization VI: Barely winning a Huge Island Map on Domination and Emperor difficulty, three turns before the end (2050). Nukes ftw!

Best Industry Trend: Lots of great strategy and tactics games

Worst Industry Trend: Where the RPGs at?

Didn’t Have Time to Play: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Too Long; Didn’t Finish: Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past

Favorite 2015 Game of 2016: Shadowrun Hong Kong (ironically won my Didn’t Have Time to Play award last year)

stardew valley farm

The Wii U suffered a down year for me. Only Skylanders Imaginators made my Top Ten list, and that’s obviously a non-Nintendo, multi-platform title. Much of my Wii U time was actually dominated by one of my favorite games from last year, Xenoblade Chronicles X, which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’m still working on to this day.

The Nintendo 3DS on the other hand got a whole lot of love this year. The first half was slower with only Fire Emblem Fates catching my attention. But the second half had Yo-Kai Watch 2, Dragon Quest VII, and Pokémon Sun and Moon. It was an embarrassment of riches, and I’m looking forward to DQ8 in January!

For me this year was dominated by strategy and tactical games. We got both an awesome XCOM and an awesome Civ game this year! Unfortunately that put an even further strain on my gaming time, as I sunk over 50 hours into at least half the games on my Game of the Year list.

alolamap

I also had to temporarily suspend Rogue’s Adventures, my social backlog group. Between hosting a D&D campaign, expanding my freelance writing, and moving in the Summer, I just didn’t have the time to devote to backlog gaming. Yet I still bought new games! I’m hoping to find a better balance next year and tackle some of these smaller titles I’ve been sitting on.

That’s it for me! Expect my Most Anticipated 2017 list to hit early next year. Here’s to hoping we all have a much better 2017. Happy Holidays!