The Games I Loved in 2017

Okay, let’s get one thing strait before I start: this is not a “best of” list. I haven’t played nearly enough of the big games that came out this year to feel truly comfortable making that kind of list. This is just a few games I played this year I either missed the chance to talk about or want to remind people about because they left an impression upon me like few other games did this year.

1) Nioh

If you know me then you probably know that I fucking LOVE Dark Souls. The original game still ranks among my all time favorite games and I even wrote my first editorial for this site crediting it with my current school success, and now that I’m interning a real university, I still feel the same way about it. But even with all the acclaim I heap upon it, after four games (yes, including Demons Souls too) of medieval fantasy, I was hoping someone would take the formula in another direction. Take the core game play that I loved so much and move it somewhere new, like what From Software ended up doing with Bloodborne. Thankfully for me Team Ninja did just that with Nioh.

Nioh is everything I could have wanted and more. The game is every bit as challenging and rewarding as Dark Souls, but with a faster and overall smoother combat feel that felt almost more akin to Bloodborne but with more defensive options that made Dark Souls battles so tense. On top of that, the game is simply layered with complexities that you can ignore, but added so much more depth than anything any of the Souls games ever had. Three Stances for each weapons, seven types of hand to hand weapons, elemental damage, magic and ninjutsu skills, and on top of that, something like 20 different guardian spirits offering different bonuses. Add to that the beautiful Japanese setting that mixed real life historical events with Japanese mythology, and you have the first non-From Software game to truly equal the Souls games. Nioh truly feels like Team Ninja studied everything From did, then made a game using the best parts from every game, yet they still managed to give the game it’s own personality.

2) Persona 5

I wanted Persona 5 since before I knew there was going to be a Persona 5. I jumped on the Persona bandwagon with P4 on the PS2, then went back and played 3. Those two also near the top of my all time favorite games list. But each one has a pretty major flaw. P4 has a great story, but it takes forever to get going and a lot of the dept was lost in the years since P3. Persona 3, on the other hand, had the dept I wanted, but you could only control one party member which I hated and the real story didn’t even begin until you were ¾ done with the game. And Tartarus was a simply boring dungeon.

Persona 5 feels like the best of both worlds. The story is fantastic, and while it is still slow the game opens with a bang and keeps things at a much more reasonable pace. Like with Persona 4 each dungeon is a representation of it’s master/boss, but the fact they were all hand made make each one infinity more interesting and memorable than they were in the previous game. The game wasn’t perfect; I like everyone else didn’t appreciate Morgana constantly telling me to go to bed, but in the end the best thing I can say about the game was that it was 100 hours long and it never felt its length to me. And that opening theme was a jam.

3) Dusk Episode One

I haven’t gotten to episode 2 just yet, which may be the only reason it’s not here. But as far as Episode One is concerned, I cannot recommend this enough. It’s as old school as it can get yet never feels dated, which is a true triumph of game design. And yes, if you red my review you know a large part of my love of the game is that it gave me the chance to take pot shots at the kinds of backwards-thinking renecks I grew up around, and I do like taking potshots and backward-thinking redneck troglodytes.

4) Bear With Me

I think Episode One of this came out last year, but Episodes 2 and 3 were released in 2017 and….god damn do I love this game. I don’t want to say too much because I still have a review for Episode 3 coming out, but if you like point and click games, I highly recommend Bear With Me. This is the game I could nit-pick the easiest, but for all the issues I had with it I never once fell out of love with the game.

5) 20XX

At first mention, a roguelike tribute to Mega-Man doesn’t sound like the best idea. But since getting the game it i’ve found 20XX nearly impossible to put down. What makes it so good is that the game does two things i’ve never seen another roguelike do: 1) It actually manages to tutorialize new concepts. When a new trap or platforming mechanic was introduced, it was always introduced in a way that made it feel like there was some genuine level design at play instead of having the typical roguelike issue of simply having to try your luck when something new is brought in.
The second thing it does is have a consistent difficulty curve. In most other roguelikes a really good or really bad run near the start can make the best of the game either too easy or too hard. While 20XX only has three level types, new enemies types are introduced as you go and bosses have new challenges as you put the off. So a boss that might be super easy if you fight them first can become a pain in the ass if you wait too long to fight them. If nothing else, I home more roguelike devs take note of this and try incorporating some of it’s ideas into their games.

6) Little Red Lie

Like I said in my review “Little Red Lie isn’t a fun game. Hell, it’s not even a pleasant one. But it is gripping, engaging, and honest.” It’s a game that took me way too long to get through as it was so damn heartbreaking that I couldn’t stand to play it for more than an hour at a time. If you’re into interactive fiction, go get Little Red Lie.

7) Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment

The only thing holding me back from saying that Yacht Club Games are the best indie developers currently working is the fact that they have technically only made one game. However, both peaces of Shovel Knight DLC are full games in their own right and change things up so drastically that to call them merely DLC feels like an insult. Here the team took a platformer and made it feel almost like a rhythm game and continued their tradition of wordlessly conveying a relationship using the same core mechanics are the rest of the game. I cannot wait for the last expansion but i’m even more excited to see what this team does next.

8) SuperHot

It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.

(I Played on PS4, so it counts)

9) Cosmic Star Heroine

As it is with many of us, I love me some Chrono Trigger. It’s one of my all time favorite RPG’s, and as an RPG guy, that makes it one of my all time favorite games. Cosmic Star Heroine reminded me of Chrono Trigger in the best of ways. My biggest complaint with the game was that it felt like it was made for a mobile platform and I was playing it on PC.

10) Hollow Knight

I’m not going to lie, in a year where I was more productive this would have been relegated to an “honorable mention”. I took me a while to warm up to the game, and it never quite resonated with me the way it did with other people. The early hours had too much grinding and it is obviously trying to get by on the admittedly beautiful artwork and music. But after a while, around the time you get the dash I did start to see enjoy myself. I’m sure this is going to end up on a few “best of” lists, and I don’t fault anyone for that, but personally I don’t think it ever got to be that good, but i’m not upset that I put time into Hollow Knight either.

Bear With Me Episode 3 Trailer and Impressions

I have a certain fondness for Bear With Me. It was the first game i got a review code for with out having to namedrop my best friend IndieGamerChick, plus it was the first game a developer reached out to me for coverage for. And…well, it was freaking adorable. On top of that, it was also a really well written and fun little point and click. This was the first game that proved i was heading in the right direction with this whole “game journalism” thing and unlike a lot of people i know, i got to enjoy the game that proved that to me.

So, naturally i’m excited to see what it’s all been building up to. What happened to Amber’s brother? Who is the Man in Red? Why is he burning Paper City down? I want answers, god damn it! And on October 5th, i’ll get them.

In my reviews for the first two episodes I’ve made a point of noting that i don’t think this game works too well as an episodic adventure. Each episode continued the overarching narrative, but didn’t really offer unique stories of their own. Meaning each episode felt like it ended as soon as it was getting good. If the team at Exordium Games can stick the landing, this final episode should make that a non-issue as it will be possible to get some closure without having to wait for months on end.

So yeah, i’m stoked. I highly recommend the first two episodes, and am as excited for this last chapter as i possibly can be.

My Reviews for EPISODE 1 and EPISODE 2.

Bear With Me Episode Two Trailer and Impressions

I reviewed the first episode of Bear With Me back in August of last year (fun fact, it was also the first game i got a review code for) and i was really pleased with it. But the nature of episodic story telling brought it down a bit for me. I ended the review by saying “…Bear With Me Episode One hints at a great game to come, but never manages to reach those heights itself.”  So now the question Exordium Games has to answer is: can they reinvest me in the world and it’s characters over half a year later? From what I’ve seen here…..maybe.  This trailer doesn’t have me dropping to my knees in praise for the games return, but it does look to be living up to what i was expecting. If that’s all it does, that’ll be enough for me.

Bear With Me: Episode One Review

By William Shelton

Release Date: August 8, 2016

Systems: PC

Developer: Exordium Games

Publisher: Exordium Games

Rating: N/A

Obtained By: Review Copy Provided By Exordium Games

Bear With Me is adorable. Every facet of the game radiates a sickening level of cuteness that could infect even the edgiest of misanthropic goth kids. But as many a film noir femme fatale has proven, being pretty doesn’t make something good. So is the game worth bearing with? Lets find out.

You play as a young girl named Amber Ashworth who is awoken in the middle of the night by one of her stuffed animals, an elderly giraffe named Millie, who has some important news. Millie informs you that Paper City has been put on lock down after a string of fires, and that the mysterious Red Man believed to be behind them has been asking around about Miss Amber. After hearing this Amber teams up with her old partner, the retired private investigator Ted E. Bear, to solve the mystery of why the Red Man is looking for her and why he’s starting these fires.

Ted's Offics

The one thing Bear With Me does perfectly is sell you on the idea that this is a film noir as understood by a 10 year old girl. Character all speak like there are doing an Chinatown reenactment, but one put on by a fourth grade drama club. A couple of gangsters smuggle carrots instead of drugs and the hard drinking PI drowns his sorrows in carrot juice (I think the development team was made up of Bugs Bunny incarnations). This all leads to a feeling that Amber is a child raised on classic Noir films by cinephile parents, but one without the world experiences to quite catch the nuances.

Mugshots
With a Name Like “Mugshots”, did these two ever have a chance NOT to be criminals.

While I did enjoy my time with Episode One, it does suffer from its stand alone nature. Where the best of episodic games manage to make each chapter feel fulfilling on its own while still contributing to the overarching story, Bear With Me Episode One feels incomplete. It ended at the perfect place and did it’s job setting the season up, but when looking back it’s easy to see that there really isn’t a lot here story wise. Once I’m able to look at the game as a whole I very much doubt this will be an issue, but as for now I can’t help but wish there was more here.

What probably will be an issue once the game is done are the out of place fourth wall breaks and odd tonal shifts. The two fourth wall breaks are the worst offenders here as they don’t add much and only served to take me out of the experience. One of them can be justified as it being a part of Amber using her imagination, but I didn’t care for it. The other one was…way to dark. Spoiler Warning I guess (this doesn’t impact the story in anyway): when interacting with a specific you listen to one of the developers (and yes, they do state they are a developer working on the game) being gruesomely murdered. The game does have dark moments that i’ll get into later, but this comes out of nowhere, contributes nothing, and is way more disturbing than anything else in the game. For a game that does so much right, that I enjoyed so much this was a “what were they thinking” scene on the level normally reserved for for truly awful games.

Then there are the tone shifts. These at least make some kind of since in the context of the games story and I can see what they might be leading up too, but they are so sudden it’s hard not to find them jarring. I’m not going to spoil when these happen, as they were effective scenes, but when they happen the game shifts into pure horror mode for a few seconds, and not knowing they were coming rattled me.

alt bathroom
Saurons search for the One Ring took Him to some strange places

With all of that combined, the game feels like there wasn’t a strong understanding of who the target audience was. That never bothered me or impacted my enjoyment of the game, but I wont hold the criticism against anyone who was bothered by it.

Gameplay wise this is a pretty standard point and click adventure. Most of the game is spent solving puzzles by finding the right item or right combinations of items to uses on people and objects in the game world. My main complaint is that these tended to be a little too easy. In the two hours I spent with the game on my first play through there was only one puzzle that game me any trouble. I didn’t actually use one item on another but thought I had, so I kept ignoring the solution because I thought it didn’t work. While I do appreciate the lack of classic Point and Click “Space Logic” in the game, I do wish the puzzles tested me just a bit more.

inventory
Good thing we never had to do something like “use Seth Macfarlane on Ted to Make Bad Stoner Comedy”

On the other end of that spectrum, the hint system also needs a bit of retooling. In that one puzzle I couldn’t figure out I kept asking Ted for help, but the advise he gave ignored the step of the puzzle I was on. So much time was wasted trying to figure out that last puzzle, and Ted was no help at all. While I shouldn’t have needed it, I still think the hints provided should have been more better focused on the step of the puzzle I was on.

In the end, Bear With Me Episode One hints at a great game to come, but never manages to reach those heights itself. I have no doubt this will work better once it’s a full game rather than an episodic one. I loved it, I want more of it and the wait for Episode Two is going to be unbearable (you didn’t think I’d end this review without another bear pun, did you?).

Bear With Me Review Scores 2

Bear with Me Trailer and Impressions

This is god damn adorable a Noir style point and click about a young girl and her teddy bear, that is the cutes god damn thing i’ve ever heard. The writing and voice work is also pretty great, and from the looks of it the “child dealing with trauma” story is going to be pretty heart-wrenching. However i do with there was a little more game play shown here. Point and click game play isn’t the most enthralling thing to watch i know, but i’d like some idea of what kind of puzzles to expect out of the game. The lack of real game play footage hasn’t stopped me from adding this  to my steam wishlist, but it would be nice too see anyways.