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2017 in Gaming: the Year’s Most Memorable Moments

I’ve been open in my love for this year in gaming, but it bears repeating that 2017 was one of the best years for games in quite some time. It wasn’t always that way for the culture around them, between EA’s litany of upsetting to insulting decisions and the end of American net neutrality threatening the entire industry. The games themselves, though, were often more interesting, exploratory, innovative, surprising, and ambitious on the whole than we’re used to seeing. It’s easy to imagine many of them inspiring and influencing the industry for years to come.

And along with innovative mechanics, ideas, and ambitions, this was a year of wonderful moments, some good enough to sell a game all on their own – the surprisingly emotional unveiling of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, for instance. Other times, they were from outside the actual games, like when Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb kicked off a short trend of journalists tasting Nintendo Switch cartridges. And remember the trailer where Yoko Taro advertised NieR: Automata by rolling around on the floor, before the game became so critically and commercially successful that it may have helped save PlatinumGames? There was also that time game director Kate Barrett gave Ready Player One the adaptation it truly deserves, not as that upcoming (and inevitably poor) Steven Spielberg film, but as a game satire as contemptuous of Ernest Cline’s atrocious novel as I am; that was pretty great.

So, I decided to make a list. Below I, along with several members of the Source Gaming team, have concocted a cadre of levels, environments, sequences, dungeons, boss fights, and additional things from the broader world of gaming. These moments were funny, exhilarating, inventive, wild, and shocking, and they helped energize a year of wonderful games. Thanks to Cart Boy for edits, as well as to him, Spazzy_D, and NantenJex for contributing.

NOTE TO ALL READERS: Spoilers Ahoy. Each section will be in spoiler tags and organized by their release date, so you can read whichever sound interesting. Hopefully, they may interest you in checking out some of 2017’s offerings you may have missed.

Nintendo Switch Presentation (January 13th)
With the massive success the Switch has seen this year, it becomes hard at times to remember that we knew very little beyond the form factor, name, and “gimmick” of the console when 2017 opened. This all changed when Nintendo held a special “Nintendo Switch Event” on January 13th, a highly anticipated live stream that gave us our first real look at the system. It also, unfortunately, gave us a prolonged look at the Joy-Con’s motion sensing and HD rumble capabilities. This, in addition to the light party title 1-2-Switch being one of the main pieces of software the reveal was centered on, made many (us included) question if Nintendo had truly learned any lesson from the Wii U. Add in the fact that the system had high cost accessories, an exorbitant price tag for a handheld, and paid online, and people were already declaring it DOA. We even suspected that Nintendo’s strategy was simply to wait out the year until Super Mario Odyssey came out.

The one thing that Nintendo actually did do in this event, however, was outline their releases for 2017. This was something that was overlooked at the time, largely due to fans’ unrealistic expectations of everything from a new Metroid to a Smash Deluxe not coming to fruition, but Nintendo laid out exactly how they planned to “win” this year: a new Mario, a new Splatoon, and especially a new Zelda that became the best launch title in recent memory. All of those came out, without delays, and supplanted by a shocking number of great indie games that have been making a great eShop. Heck, we even saw a brand new entry into the Xenoblade franchise, and we saw the Elder Scrolls make its long awaited debut on Big N hardware. Could this reveal have been handled better? Most likely. Still, it’s a very memorable milestone in Switch history, and it’s something I think most gamers will look back on as an important part of 2017 – especially with the machine’s incredible financial success. (Spazzy_D)

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Jack Baker (January 24)
Resident Evil 7 was an explicit attempt to bring back what people loved about Resident Evil, and what got lost when creator Shinji Mikami left the series after Resident Evil 4: quiet time, terror, insecurity, tension, and a single location to be explored. 7 hits those notes well, but with another element that got lost: an odd perspective on American culture. The first game was a Japanese studio interpreting, mashing up, and putting their spin on American tropes like zombie hordes, corporate conspiracies, and outbreaks in a way that mixed scares, camp, and the bizarre. This goes back to that, just with a new inspiration.

And thus, “Resident Evil meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the latter of which in 7 fully supplants George Romero’s Living Dead series as the primary influence. Gone are (most of) the monster hordes of early games; the threat is one family, the Bakers, who imprison, torment, and assault protagonist Ethan in their decrepit Louisiana plantation. It’s more contained and intimate than most of the series, which went from trapping cops in a house to throwing them into nation-spanning gunfights. The teaming of a western narrative designer – Richard Pearsey of Spec Ops: The Line – with a Japanese studio led to a game that wonderfully plays with extreme gore, terror, tragedy, but also the absurdist black comedy of Japanese and American horror films like Ichi the Killer, Tokyo Gore Police, Texas Chainsaw, and Evil Dead.

The standout is the first boss battle, against Baker pop Jack. Now, Ethan’s been spending a while being chased throughout the mansion, constantly frustrated by the Bakers’ ability to take and walk off all sorts of punishment. Eventually, he meets a cop investigating the house and they meet in the garage, only for Jack to brutally murder him and shut the doors. Now, going up against one guy who, invulnerability aside, is still just a dude with a shovel would be a fun reversal of boss traditions. Keeping away from him is tense, and the barely useful gun you got off the officer’s body plays on the trope of getting an appropriate weapon at the right moment. Except that comes into play as you find keys to the car on the workbench. Now the script is flipped, with Jack being the underdog as you hilariously do tiny doughnuts and keep slamming him into walls – until he jumps into the car, takes the wheel, and tries to drive you face first into an I-beam. So, of course, you do it to him before the gas leaks and the car catches fire. From there, the fight shifts one last time, as you hold off Jack’s flaming body long enough for him to be caught in the car explosion. Altogether, it’s comical, zany, but still intense, with you always stuck on the defensive.

The game’s pacing and design as a whole is inconsistent, and while there’s tons of great stuff afterwards, the garage fight is its peak. It slowly loses the intimacy, throws in mold monsters, and turns to generic action. An endgame moral choice is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen in a game this year. And the goofy final boss is enjoyable, but in a “jumping the shark” kind of way where classic Resident Evil silliness finally, inevitably bursts out of the game like, well, a giant monster bursting out of a house. But this mixture of the frenetic, funny, and scary are what made it such a success, and one that may be a reversal of fortune for a franchise that’s been having difficulty finding its identity for a close to a decade. The garage fight is an amazing example of what Resident Evil 7 can do, but also what previous Resident Evil games couldn’t.

NieR: Automata, Ko-shi & Ro-shi: (February 23)
Route C, the final third of NieR: Automata, is one of 2017’s most tremendous sequences, when the game’s mixture of absurdity, thrills, and tragedy reaches a fever pitch. It starts with a bang; most of the cast of android battle-maids turn violent or die from a logic virus, protagonist 2B included. She bestows her memories and Pod sidekick on rogue android A2, and the player chooses to play a section as either her or 2B’s distraught partner, 9S. Once you finish the one you choose, you switch to the other’s. And that’s how the route works; over about ten or so vignettes, you jump between the two.

The switching is satisfying from both a gameplay perspective – 9S’s technological hacking is drastically different from A2 and 2B’s physical kind – and a narrative one, as death and devastation subsume the world. The virus reduces friendly carnival robots to zombies who cut jack-o’-lantern smiles into their heads. The pacifist machines of the forest village go the same way, with their kindly protector Pascal brought to suicidal despair as they engage in mass murder. The android resistance’s settlement collapses as machines and turned androids violently assault it. It’s as sad and horrifying as it is exciting.

Eventually, both characters enter a mysterious white tower. 9S gets injured killing ghoulish clones of 2B, while A2 finds herself in a library. She discovers shocking information about the plot…and then a giant robotic beetle, Ko-shi drops into the room. After 9S recovers, learns the information too, and gets attacked by virus-infected androids, we switch back to A2, who staves off the machine, then discovers and fights the overarching villain in a digital world. She winds up on a rising elevator platform, where Ko-shi attacks her again. Then we switch to 9S, who’s commandeered a flight suit and is rushing to the platform, before he gets attacked by another beetle, Ro-shi. From that point, you switch every minute or so between A2 fighting her boss as an action game and 9S fighting his as a bullet hell shooter. As the fights go on, the sections get shorter, eventually lasting just ten seconds. Our two heroes then confront each other at the top of the tower, right as Ko-shi and Ro-shi (who, like the other machine bosses, are named after philosophers: Confucius and Laozi) fuse. Finally, you fight them as both heroes, switching so quickly that 9S’s hatred for A2 and her apathy towards him seem to disappear as they work in perfect tandem. Sadly, it doesn’t last; after they destroy the bosses, 9S decides to kill her, and they become the other’s final boss for endings C and D. Only after taking both roads can players attempt NieR’s final, heart wrenching ending E.

The Ko-shi/Ro-shi fight is one of Automata’s many highlights, and for good reason. It’s about the purest example of its willingness to shake up its gameplay, and how well it meshes spectacle fighter brawling with top-down shooting. The artificiality of switching characters ends up making the battle more immersive – and more engaging – as 9S and A2’s perspectives meld together. And that’s necessary, because their tragic duel at the end wouldn’t be nearly as resonant without players caring about both of them. NieR: Automata is an incredible work for many reasons, but perhaps its greatest achievement is how much it injects such a deep sense of humanity into not just its characters, but the very act of play. It is drama through gameplay.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Great Plateau (March 3)

Every Breath of the Wild player has their own favorite stories and moments, partially due to its massive array of content, but mostly because its impeccable design generates wonderful personal adventures. However, I feel the greatest one of all is the very beginning, because exploring the Great Plateau might be the best tutorial I’ve ever played.

On its face, it seems generic. You exit a cave, reach a tower, complete four shrines with a magical power in each, and climb some ruins. That gets you the Paraglider, allowing you to leave the Plateau and, from there, explore Hyrule at your whim. The twist, though, is that the environment is a compact sandbox that allows constant experimentation. A fourth of the area is a deathly cold mountain, enemies can kill you easily, and the game gives you almost no concrete information, but generous auto-saving and the variety of approaches you can take to challenges encourage trying new things. Features like explosive barrels, weapons, clothes, and food are carefully arranged where they can be most helpful (one example: spicy peppers, used for dishes that stave off the cold, can be found next to both the “main” dirt path into the mountain and a pot to cook them). It brings to mind an anecdote about Half-Life 2, where Valve experimented by building a single, exciting room containing every device and mechanic they made. There’s just so much to do that you can ignore the main quest for hours hunting boars, exploring the physics and chemistry systems, and climbing anything you can.

While I unfortunately knew many of the Plateau’s secrets from pre-release footage, it was also rife with wonderful, unexpected moments. After finishing the final shrine and refusing to fast travel, I kept dying as I crossed the snowy Mt. Hylia with insufficient gear to keep me warm before learning that a lit torch raises your temperature, and later using my magnetic and ice powers to create a makeshift bridge across a freezing river. I used a bow to fell a beehive, watching as its bees attacked an enemy in rage. I became a skilled archer, as stealthy as a ninja, an aspiring gourmet, and a talented climber. And it wasn’t from the game railroading me into learning these things: it was me who made the decision and effort to do all that, albeit on a space laid out to help players feel confident to try.

The trek through the Plateau is one amazing sequence in a game filled with them. The pitch black woods hiding Thyphlo Ruins demand you keep a lit torch as you fight off wolves. The freezing labyrinth north of Hebra Mountain is thrilling and intimidating. Conquering Eventide Island after your gear gets stolen is a challenging testament to your skills and resourcefulness, how you’ve improved not by grinding, but by learning. And the approach to and exploration of Hyrule Castle is an exciting test of everything you’ve learned, while also providing a new sandbox full of secret passages, diaries, and puzzles. But the tutorial sets the stage, teaching players that the game will neither push nor easily cater to them. In a climate of game design where frog marching players through tedious tutorials and demanding they see all its content is treated as a given, this opening is an astonishingly confident statement of purpose, willing to create a massive, fun space most players will never explore to its entirety. It presents almost all of the main ideas, systems, mechanics, and values that are central to Breath of the Wild and which have made it so excellent. Nintendo could have made a perfectly acceptable, derivative open world game. They went further, and the Plateau’s freedom, depth, personality, and opportunities are a nigh-perfect introduction to the wonderful experience that awaits you.

Persona 5, Madarame’s Museum Palace (April 4)
Iconic levels in games generally come by their status for their challenge, or a narrative element. Others get it through a complex mechanic. We’re counting Persona 5’s museum heist, though, because it has a fantastic visual style that is not just exciting and distinct, but also presents themes and narrative through its design.

Let’s break this down. Your gang of crypto-occult high schoolers have planned to sneak into the home of Ichiryusai Madarame, a local Shibuya artist who has secretly been abusing, extorting, and stealing from his various students, and steal his “heart.” However, as per the standard of Persona, his psyche has turned his run-down shack into a massive museum, filled with portraits representing the people he’s exploited. It’s structurally simple at the outset; while there’s a deep sense of claustrophobia in how compact the walls and ceiling are, it’s mostly hallways filled with elaborate waves and patterns of gold. Massive paintings, either of works he’s taken from his pupils or representations of them line the walls. However, you eventually find your way onto a setup for some of Madarame’s paintings, and, without any other open path, jump into one of a desert scene to get into another part of the museum. You keep doing this, chaining from one painting to the next. You start passing through idyllic forests, a boat on a sea whose waves actually move, and a sunset so intense it looks like a wildfire.

After continuing from a more “normal” version of the museum, you open a door and your team instead finds themselves in a surreal homage to the iconic, mind-bending, perspective exploiting work of M.C. Escher. Steps slither into each other, paintings line pillars that turn into walkways, and everything hangs over a bright yellow ether. The entire massive room seems to keep twisting in on itself, with it becoming harder to concretely know where you are. Often, the only thing holding the room together (besides its garish color scheme) are the forged paintings Madarame has made off his victims’ work. Eventually, though, it does end, and you wind up on more solid ground before making a dramatic, Mission Impossible-style capture of the prize.

What makes the Museum’s visual style work is two things. Firstly, it’s consistent. The hideous gold holds together the painting explorations, the crazy hallway, and even Madarame’s robe, exclusive to this world he’s built. The main reason, though, is that it fits its owner perfectly, which is rather important considering the way he created it. The paintings of the man’s pupils shows both how little he regards them – as nothing more than art to take, without the ability to talk back – and how dependent he is on that exploitation. The almost fetishistic application of gold isn’t just symbolic of his vanity and greed; it’s gaudy and ugly, maybe a sign of how poor an artist he truly is. The Escheresque hallway is him cribbing from a beloved artist, but it’s also a sign of his mind, and perhaps an expression of how limited he is without others’ work. To put it another way, while it’s an extreme example due to Persona’s fantasy elements, the dungeon is still a wonderful way to tell players about a character through environmental design. That’s a hard thing to do, and it’s especially necessary and appreciated in a game like this one.

What Remains of Edith Finch, Lewis’ Coronation (April 25)
It’s rare for me to play a game for just one level, but that’s what happened when both Super Bunnyhop and Game Maker’s Toolkit raved about one sequence of Edith Finch in particular. The game, about a young woman who explores her family home, living vicariously through macabre stories about how her family members died, lends itself to memorable, brilliant sequences. While they play with mechanics, tones, and even entire art styles in fun ways – including ones in which you jump between animals, control a camera, or survive a home invasion in the style of Tales from the Crypt comics – the standout memory is one of the last, that of Edith’s brother Lewis. Recovering from substance abuse problems, his psychologist has helped him find employment in a salmon cannery, moving fish that roll off one conveyor belt to the next, pausing only to put them into a small guillotine-esque device to cut off their heads.

Working in the cannery is miserable, degrading, even. The mountains of dead fish, the ugly changing room, the specks of blood on the chopper are deeply evocative, and specifically of a place you do not want to be. The initial gameplay may be even worse; you simply move the right stick (or mouse) to automatically grab the next fish that dumps into the left side of the screen to the chopper on the right, then up to send it on its way. Lewis, desperate for escape from this mind-numbing task, starts to fantasize adventures, which take the form of an entirely different game you play at the same time on the left side of the screen using the left stick (or WASD keys). It starts as small, basic exploration, but becomes increasingly elaborate, complete with advanced graphics, minor choices for the plot, and eventually a first person mode that engulfs the screen. If you neglect the job, the fish pile up and cover the daydream, which also places in giant fish barriers at points that can only be removed by working. But you also can’t just train your hands move automatically to pick the fish up, because they come onto your workstation randomly. So you have to do two things at once, and the challenge of moving Lewis’ stand-in for himself while also processing the fish turns into a trance. It’s also one you can really get into, once you start recognizing just how difficult managing two tasks at once can be.

This sequence is a stark representation of what it’s like to daydream at work, to find a way to keep the tedium at bay. We’ve all been in situations like this, trapped in monotony and desperate for a way out of it. And like the other stories in Edith Finch, it becomes increasingly scary and ominous as Lewis’ mind becomes dominated by these fantasies, slowly taking over the screen as they lead him and the player to a horrific climax. It’s a near-perfect blend of high concept terror and mundane normalcy, and presenting this through gameplay lets players experience this in a way that simply could not be done in another medium. And I think that experience also humanizes Lewis and his story in a way that wouldn’t be as compelling without the interactive element. Edith Finch sometimes runs the risk of being the walking simulator version of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, all spooky, darkly ironic deaths with a morbid sense of humor. But actually playing as these characters, not just observing them, gives them a sense of humanity and their lives and deaths meaning. It’s an excellent game, and just as good a debut for Annapurna Interactive, the spin-off of the studio behind Zero Dark Thirty, Sausage Party, and Phantom Thread whose slate of upcoming indie titles is exciting.

Source Gaming goes to BitSummit (May 20)
We at Source Gaming have been enjoying a fairly eventful year. We had a massive, 24-hour charity livestream for our anniversary, we’ve expanded our games writing beyond Nintendo while still holding onto our Super Smash Bros. roots, and we finally, definitively figured out the Zelda timeline. However, what might be the coolest thing that happened was PushDustIn’s trip to BitSummit, Kyoto’s indie game festival. While his trip last year was cool, this one was something special. Though he got to explore and play with a good number of interesting indie titles from developers all over the world, the bulk of Push’s effort was spent instead conducting interviews.

He got to talk to two Game Freak directors who made games like Tembo the Badass Elephant and Giga Wrecker, and their interest in broadening the company’s output beyond Pokémon. Senri Tsunokawa of Over Fence Co., LTD told us about the development of Battle Sports: Mekuru. Atsushi Inaba from PlatinumGames gave us some hints towards the now-confirmed Bayonetta 3. We got the lowdown on the upcoming Iconoclasts from Joakim Sandberg, and Anucha Aribarg dove deep into the inspiration for Earth Atlantis. Robin Baumgarten explained the origins of the experimental one-dimensional Line Wobbler. Push got a wonderfully in-depth interview with the team leading the new DANGEN Entertainment, their coming into the Japanese gaming scene, and later with two of their members again on their earlier game CrossCode. Christophe Galati discussed the Game Boy inspiration in the wonderfully titled Tasukete Tako-San: Save me Mr. Octopus. And Cyrille Imbert, CEO of DotEmu, the team behind the new, acclaimed remake of Wonder Boy: the Dragon’s Trap, talked about the development of the game and how they pitched it to SEGA. Also, at the risk of giving a little too much of a peek behind the curtain, there is still an interview left to publish.

Source Gaming is a small site. We get most of our viewership from translations of Masahiro Sakurai’s writing and Super Smash Bros. speculation. We have a Patreon (consider donating!) just to help our team get better equipment. We’re not a big fish, and we probably never will be. But our smaller size allows us to explore, focus on, and discuss interesting topics. We can put our effort into translating material no one really bothered to bring to the English-speaking gaming world, either because no one really had the time, resources, or inclination for it or because no one really recognized the wealth of material there. This is a value we provide, and while my skills are entirely unsuited for that work, I’m deeply proud to be part of this team.

Plus, we got this from killer7 and No More Heroes’ Suda51:

When I was an assassin, I met a lot of people who were ‘outsiders’ and felt a lot of affinity with them. Since my assassin days, that’s something I’ve always felt attracted to. That’s my story. That’s why I like ‘outsiders’ so much. Of course, I’m not really an assassin. (laughs)

Yep; Push’s trip was…pretty great.

The Devolver Digital Press Conference (June 12)
E3 is absurd. It’s bloated digital kabuki, where publishers host conferences reminiscent of fascist rallies to debut games that might not release for years and are lucky to not be forgotten months afterwards (it’s no coincidence that my favorite of these are from Nintendo, which since 2013 has stuck to pre-taped, forty minute shows). The week can be fun, but also overwhelming, sometimes depressing, and deserving of mockery. And that’s just what Devolver Digital, producer of Hotline Miami, The Talos Principle, Enter the Gungeon, and Hatoful Boyfriend, did this year, with a hilariously psychotic fake conference giving you “tomorrow’s unethical business practices today!”

The fifteen minutes of Devolver’s show is better than any summary I could make (and tried to, deleting it because a play-by-play doesn’t do it justice); just check out the embedded video right above this paragraph. Everything ridiculous and awful about E3 presentations is nailed to a tee. It has incoherent, twisted marketing synergy phrases, like “heavy Nissan sub temporal phase shift manipulation and consumer psycho commercial analytics.” It has confused cuts between close ups and crowd shots. It has plans happily designed to take consumers’ “red hot American dolla dolla billz,” like an app that lets you literally throw money at the screen, or a feedback service that automatically patches games based on any errant comment. It has jokes about early access and live reaction YouTube personalities. It has confused celebrity cameos from Jessica Chobot and Suda51. It even has the stupid “business casual” fashion sense, where men dress in blazers and T-shirts to show they’re not stuffy execs, but gamers, man.

But what makes it brilliant is how it slowly mutates the idea of a “fake press conference” – something that isn’t too difficult to pastiche, really – into a Lynchian horror movie. The existential nightmare of these conferences morphs into an actual nightmare, with mutilation, a crushing stimulus overload, a horrifyingly raucous crowd, and a final cascade of blood and viscera as disturbing as the fetishized violence you’d see in a trailer for any conventional action game. It’s E3 as existential terror, with Chief Synergy Officer Nina Struthers and Milo Lowry from the Department of Research and Development and More development alternating between threatening violence on their viewers and openly fleecing them, all while the people in attendance are all too willing to eat it up.

More than anything else, the conference reminded me of Sex House, the hilariously mad miniseries by The Onion about a shallow, sex-focused reality show whose contestants find themselves stuck in a surreal nightmare; both are about twisting a mercenary idea so intensely it turns into a horrifying fever dream. What’s in this – the shots of the audience laughing no matter the subject matter, the meaningless buzzwords, the drumrolls for things that turn out to be meaningless, the image of players throwing caution and money to the wind, the selling of incomplete products as complete – is what we get year after year at E3, and conferences of its kind. EA and Activision’s execs may not draft up Lynchian hellscapes, but their conferences can feel like that to anyone uncomfortable with rampant consumerism. While the conference had trailers for actual games (Ruiner and Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour) its fakery and the chicanery was more “real” than almost anything you’d find at E3.

Metroid’s Comeback (June 13)
Of Nintendo’s many treasured franchises, few resonate with gamers as strongly as Metroid. However, fans of the exploration-focused sci-fi series have endured a painful slump following the harsh reception to Metroid: Other M back in 2010. Without beating a dead horse too hard, the title was often criticized for a plethora of reasons, with its linear map design and questionable writing being among the chief complaints levied at it by series veterans.

Since Other M’s release, the Metroid series continued to receive token representation through Virtual Console re-releases and titles like Super Smash Bros. and Nintendo Land. But its next proper release, unveiled after a five-year drought at E3 2015 and released the year after, was Metroid Prime: Federation Force – a spin-off starring a four-man squad of generic Galactic Federation troopers that put Samus in a supporting role (something that Other M’s script arguably did while keeping her the player character). Moreover, the title was rendered in an artstyle unlike prior Metroids, bearing a deformed, chibi look. It was instantly hated, with Metroid Prime figurehead Kensuke Tanabe trying to mitigate the ire from unhappy fans by discussing his plans for a fourth numbered Prime game. Personally speaking, I saw a number of people, both online and off, proclaim Metroid to be dead.

Flash forward to E3 2017, Nintendo ceremoniously announced Metroid Prime 4 for the Switch during their presentation. Its teaser trailer and press sheet offered next to no details concerning Samus’s forthcoming adventure (although the aforementioned interviews do give us a pretty solid idea of what to expect), yet fans were thrilled! Samus was finally returning to the field! And even better, hours later Nintendo quietly announced a second adventure, one of which would even launch this year: the poetically named Metroid: Samus Returns. A remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, Samus Returns would offer drastic changes from the game it was modeled after akin to (but going vastly further than) what the Game Boy Advance’s Metroid: Zero Mission was to the NES original. Nintendo revealed the 3DS’s Samus Returns and its corresponding amiibo during one of their “Live at E3” segments, as their main presentation revolved around the Nintendo Switch, but that’s okay; it made it almost more surprising. Finally, with the onset of a dual-screened Metroid side-scroller, the tragic loss of the canceled Metroid Dread would sting less.

After a prolonged period of hibernation, to be overwhelmed with two big announcements was quite a treat. Nintendo otherwise had a pleasant E3 showing, but Metroid’s return was their highlight. (Cart Boy)

Sonic Mania, a throwback boss (August 15th)
Sonic Mania is the Little Sonic Game that Could. Made by a team of fans turned devs rather than Sonic Team (who were busy working away on the inevitably milquetoast Sonic Forces), Mania was a return to the series’ 2D roots. Sonic 4 and Sonic Generations did so as well, with retro graphics and level design, but this took the Mega Man 9 approach; the team took painstaking efforts to recreate graphics and sound to make it look like the Sonic game we never got. And boy, did it deliver. Not only was it a tight experience that improved on design issues the original games never managed to solve, but it managed to do nostalgia right.

Considering that the series oscillates between struggling to understand what people liked about those original games and being a game version of Steve Buscemi’s “how do you do, fellow kids” character on 30 Rock, desperately pulling out trends and tropes from better games, it’s surprising Sonic isn’t as fetishistic of nostalgia as you might expect. Sonic Team is, to an extent, but they often throw out characters and lore for the benefit of failed ideas and reboots. Mania went the opposite tack, but while that in and of itself isn’t particularly special – it’s not even the first Sonic game in five years to recreate the Green Hill and Chemical Plant Zones from Sonic 1 and 2, nor was that the only Green Hill Zone we got this year – it made the smart decision to draw from more than just the obvious signifiers. It’s an experience where easter eggs and references come from a wide breadth of SEGA’s 16-bit era to surprise players and flip the gameplay on its head. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the boss fights.

In the build-up to Sonic Mania, people who had managed to play the game early were all raving about the boss of Chemical Plant Zone, the second level, and it managed to deliver. Sonic is thrust through a pipe and gets dropped next to Eggman in a small glass tube. Then suddenly the boss fight begins…except it’s not a normal boss, but a recreation of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – a 1993 puzzle game, and a westernized remake of Puyo Puyo. This is a spectacular twist, not just shaking up the gameplay in a really satisfying way but also being an unexpected throwback to an obscure Sonic spinoff. And these types of throwbacks didn’t stop here; later boss fights include the Robotnik gacha machine, a Metal Sonic fight, and Heavy Magician’s apparitions of forgotten Sonic villains Fang, Bark and Bean. These fights were love letters to fans, a unique way to approach Sonic that players can enjoy and that a “normal” Sonic game would avoid, and each one shocked me as I came across it. I just hope that when Sonic Mania 2 comes out, they can keep up these references to the many weird Sonic spinoffs. Maybe a reference to the cancelled Sonic X-Treme? Or the return of Mighty and Ray from SegaSonic the Hedgehog? I can only hope so.(NantenJex)

Super Mario Odyssey, New Donk City (October 27)
I didn’t want to choose this one, to be honest. Lists of the year’s best levels from the A.V. Club and that previously mentioned Game Maker’s Toolkit video included both this and the sequence from Edith Finch (the former also had the Resident Evil fight, and both highlighted the same levels from Dishonored: Death of the Outsider and Call of Duty: World War II. To my knowledge, no one on the SG team has played either of the latter two). I wanted to write about something different and chose Mario Odyssey’s climactic escape sequence, my favorite finale in the series. But at its core, New Donk City of the Metro Kingdom IS Super Mario Odyssey. It’s what makes it work in microcosm, what gives the game its identity.

While Odyssey is a return to the structure of Super Mario 64, it’s also very aggressively a game about the new, about trying novel ideas with one of gaming’s oldest icons. The game is filled with crazy concepts, from hat-based action to a mechanic that lets Mario take over enemies. This straddling the line between old and new can be seen best in New Donk City, because while it’s a city-wide reference to Donkey Kong with red girders and ads for Mario’s seminal debut, it’s also the kind of level we’ve never seen in a Mario platformer. The busy city streets, dark back alleys, massive apartment buildings, and towering skyscraper are structurally and stylistically different from the open spaces, soft architecture, and floating platforms that are the Mario standard. The population of realistically proportioned humans is strikingly weird, but only barely more so than other races like volleyball playing snails and robot gardening cans. There aren’t even any enemies. At first glance, it seems like it shouldn’t work at all – and that it does shows Mario’s malleability and the willingness of Odyssey to test that.

When the game was officially announced at the aforementioned Switch Presentation, I was concerned but interested: an urban environment seemed poorly suited to Mario’s platforming moves. It’s to the game’s credit that my worries were unfounded and my hopes met. Aside from his being able to use power lines to quickly climb buildings, the plumber’s expanded moveset (and his not taking damage from long falls) allows him to make truly unbelievable leaps from building to building. Even playing the game on a normal level can make you feel like a speedrunner as you move from rooftop to rooftop. It’s just fun to get around, so much so that it honestly feels as natural as the more “normal” environments of Tostarena and Bubblaine.

The kingdom’s exuberance culminates in the optional mission “A Traditional Festival.” After helping Mayor Pauline – Mario’s first damsel, from Donkey Kong – find a backup band, you become the guest of honor in the New Donk City Festival: a massive reimagining of Mario’s first adventure. Mario navigates the red girders and fights the ape like before, but the floor turns on curves, goes to its side and upside-down, and he himself moves with far more fluidity and precision than he could in 1981. This whole sequence is set to fireworks, cheering crowds, and an incredible song about Mario, Donkey Kong, and the experience of this newest game. It’s a euphoric celebration of Mario the character and Mario the series, and it works because it isn’t just nostalgia – with its different mechanics and style and atmosphere, it and Mario Odyssey honor those classic adventures by being as adventurous, inventive, and earnest as them.

Wolfenstein II: the New Colossus, the audition (October 27)
MachineGames’ Wolfenstein revival is no stranger to audacity, the greatest example being that its wild, borderline tasteless set pieces are complemented by a willingness to explore both the horrors of Nazism and a deep, tragic humanity in hero B.J. Blazkowicz. Over the three games, he’s led a concentration camp breakout with the help of a Jewish science wizard, fought Nazis on the moon with laser guns, survived a zombie apocalypse, made his own decapitation a life affirming moment, and violently dealt with his abusive, racist father. But perhaps the most shocking moment is its depiction of a 1961 Adolf Hitler, and not the notorious “Mecha Hitler” from the early games. There’s a wonderful meta element to it – B.J. has gone to the Reich’s Venusian base undercover as an actor auditioning to play himself in a propaganda film – but der Führer fittingly steals the show.

The 71-year-old Hitler is as far from that otherwise generic Wolf 3D boss as one could be. He urinates into an ice bucket, vomits, suspects Jewish spies are everywhere (completely ignoring the half-Jewish Blazcowicz literally feet away from him), and keeps mistaking the put upon Leni Riefenstahl for his mother. He’s clearly suffering cognitive decline, and the game makes no bones that he’s now merely a figurehead for this solar system-spanning empire. But he’s a figurehead whose sickening whims and “genius” are endlessly indulged, the same kind of wanton, myopic evil that embodies these games’ truly despicable villains. He’s scary partially because the camera makes sure that gun he uses to murder the other actors – among them an unnamed Ronald Reagan for not being deferential enough – is never out of sight, but mostly because he’s a disturbing representation of everything B.J. (and Wolfenstein) fights. The whole Venus journey is a stage for his one man show, but it’s captivating and mad and terrifying and hilarious, and in that way captures so much of what makes the new Wolfenstein games great.

The punchline to the whole endeavor is that the game gives you a prompt to gleefully and deservedly kick him in the stomach. His guards will gun you down immediately for doing so, which the game makes clear will happen, but all your death does is send you to the last autosave…seconds earlier. The game is actually designed to convenience the player for brutalizing Hitler as much as you can, which is both darkly hilarious and deeply cathartic.

That humor extends to one of the small bits of gameplay you can really do, picking out lines written in blurred ink on B.J.’s hand. It’s not exactly “challenging” to figure out that his villainous caricature in Hitler’s movie wouldn’t threaten a German woman with being “caked and buttered,” but that the game lets you do that is a sign of MachineGames’ understanding of their tone. The frightening, mournful atmosphere of the first two of their Wolfenstein games does start to die when B.J. gets “recapitated” and the tone lightens up, but sequences like this show a brilliance that audacity and tastelessness obfuscate

Josef Fares’ Interview at the 2017 Game Awards: (December 7)
Generally, there are three main things one watches the Game Awards for: announcements, genuine heartfelt moments, and the kind of cringy awkwardness that led to Archer star Aisha Tyler asking a cosplayer to “pitch a meme” at the 2015 Awards. We had all of that this year. The emotional highlight was when trailblazing, longtime Atari director Carol Shaw received the Industry Icon Award, and the acceptance speeches of Hellblade’s Melina Juergens and the Cuphead team were also lovely. Nintendo’s reveal of Bayonetta 3 and the surprise launch of Breath of the Wild‘s final DLC story The Champion’s Ballad led some nice announcements, including Soulcalibur 6 and a spiritual sequel to Job Simulator. And, unsurprisingly, the show was rife with awkwardness, from the debut of a game actually titled GTFO, to what seemed like four separate bands doing musical cues seemingly at random (though the last performance, the Game Awards Orchestra playing pieces from Zelda and Persona 5 before ending on “Jump Up, Super Star!,” was rather nice), to a tired bit from Conan O’Brien who was as nakedly disengaged from the event as I was by that point.

The most memorable and instantly memetic, though, was the deranged, incoherent speech of Josef Fares, the director of Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons and the upcoming A Way Out. In about three and a half minutes of airtime during an interview with longstanding gaming host Goeff Keighley, he defended his publisher Electronic Arts (whose gross use of microtransactions in Battlefront II has become such a point of industry contention that presenter and Tangled / Chuck star Zachary Levi mocked it hours earlier), told the Oscars to “f___ themselves up,” and joyously proclaimed how excited he was to be on air (well, on a YouTube stream, anyway) while happily demanding more time. Leaked internal memos from EA show that there was an interest in using Fares as a personality to help advertise his game, so I’m not sure how much of this was planned or considered beforehand, but it was still a wild and fairly shocking moment.

Seeing the whitebread Keighley nervously trying to keep him in line for the sake of the reason he was doing the interview at all – announcing a free trial pass so players could enjoy the co-op only A Way Out with a friend online – brought me such an upswell of joy. So much of the Awards, and really the industry as a whole, is this uncomfortable dance where genuine, heartfelt emotion gets sandwiched between crass consumerism. This rambling, hilarious nonsense was perhaps the perfect fusion of how bizarre and awkward the Game Awards really are, far more than celebrity presenters and ads targeted towards some horrifying “gamer” caricature.  Whether EA was banking on him going off-script or not, it’s something that blindsided me in an event seemingly unable to do that with any regularity.

Of course, this only scratches the surface of games of 2017. We’ll almost certainly end up kicking ourselves months or years down the line when we play some of the stuff we didn’t include: Hollow Knight, Prey, Golf Story, The Sexy Brutale, and others. And so, that’s where you come in. What were some of your favorites of the ones we didn’t cover? Or, hell, were there games that were memorable for their not being good, things like Bubsy: the Woollies Strike Back, Mass Effect: Andromeda, or yes, Sonic Forces? Do you want to highlight other moments from games we included? What about competitive multiplayer – were you thrilled from one of Splatoon 2’s Splatfests, or Salem’s Smash For upset at Evo 2017? Write in the comments, tell us on Twitter or Facebook, but more than anything else, enjoy playing. This was a year of gaming we’ll be remembering years from now, and for mostly great reasons.

one comment
  1. Remember in 2017 when Shigeru Miyamoto was at that party in Los Angeles, and his hair caught on fire, and he had to jump into a fountain to douse it? What a crazy guy!

    jedisquidward on December 31 |