Games I Played in 2017
December 31, 2017

Another year in the books, and what a great year for gaming it was! No, sadly I didn't get to play as many modern games as I would have liked, and I didn't get a Switch. However, I still had the opportunity to experience some great content and cross a whole ton of games off my backlog. In fact, since my backlog also includes books and movies, I sliced nearly 100 entries off this year.

I figured I'd take this time to yammer about my noteworthy playthroughs this year. I mean, I only played a handful of new games this year, including a well known sandbox title and a J-RPG that reinforced my adoration of Nihon Falcom.

As for my own year in review...

Anima: Ark of Sinners (Wii)
There's a surprising number of lesser known "Devil May Cry, but as a side-scrolling platformer" type of a games out there. Anima attempts to bring that sub-genre to WiiWare, but stumbles and faceplants into a pile of crap. It's a gloomy game that tries too hard to appear edgy and atmospheric, but ends up feeling soulless. Its platforming is rudimentary and its campaign is confusing, making it an unpleasant adventure. It's a shame, too, because the tabletop RPG upon which it's based sounds intriguing.

There is an Anima RPG available on Steam that I want to check out, but it'll have to wait in a lengthy line behind the cool stuff I have already waiting for me.

Alone in the Dark 3-Illumination (PC, PlayStation, Game Boy Color and Xbox 360)
Late in 2016, I powered through Alone in the Dark and its sequel. Although they didn't age well, they were wonderful horror titles to experience for fans of the genre. However, from 3 onward, the franchise curdles and grows a fine layer of mold. Each entry showcases a number of flaws, ranging from a simply bland campaign seen in Alone in the Dark 3 to a number of head-scratchers found in the Xbox 360 title. Finally, the series ends with Alone in the Dark: Illumination, a game that may as well serve as a the brand's desperate plea for death. That particular title is like playing Left 4 Dead while you're burning in hell. Because of that, I simply couldn't finish it and review it as I had hoped. Maybe one year I'll dust it off and give it as much of a go as I can, then offer a community review. Until then, it's on my "Abandoned Projects" list.

Arc Rise Fantasia (Wii)
Another Wii game? This is madness! So this one was one of the best surprises of the year because it turned out to be a rather capable turn-based RPG that is tough as nails, and not just because the enemies are powerful. You actually have to pay attention to in-battle cues and respond accordingly, plus formulate your plans a few turns in advance. It's a wonderful game, but not exactly perfect. Its voice acting is more wooden than Maine forest, and the game features no shortage of cliches. However, despite those drawbacks, it's still a terrific RPG that gleefully ate up a bunch of my free time.

Pocket Mortys (Android)
As a fan of Rick and Morty, you'd think I'd enjoy the crap out of this game. Alas, I found it to be a bare bones Pokemon clone that offers only a reasonable amount of entertainment. Instead of collecting cute animals, you amass an army of Mortys from a variety of realities. It's really not the kind of game you could easily turn into a full project, and really only offers a few solid hours of worthwhile content. After you've beaten your first boss, you've basically experienced the whole game, as the rest of the campaign is very wash, rinse, repeat. I will admit, though, that it was fun collecting some of the interesting Mortys the game had to offer.

Tempo (32X)
The '90s brought us a whole swarm of mascot platformers that oozed attitude. They conjured images of dancing, skateboard and breaking all the rules, and ten-year-olds of that time thought they were too cool. Nowadays, they all look pretty rubbish, even if some of them are actually well made. Tempo isn't one of the well made ones, though, and that's a damn shame. This one puts you in control of a dancing cricket who kicks things and fights anthropomorphic objects, like a shoe with eyes and a living boxing glove. The game breaks down thanks to its active background and the fact that you can't differentiate a legitimate platform from far off image. It also doesn't help that the game is sluggish and its mechanics are wonky, two things you don't want to see in any platformer. I'm glad this one is out of the way, though, because it was preventing from playing other piles of manure.

Vaccine (PC)
A throwback to Resident Evil with roguelike elements. Geez, am I the only one these days who sighs when I read those two words together? Roguelike elements? Procedural generation used to be a neat idea, but indie gaming pretty much killed it. While there are good games that utilize it, including Dungeonmans and Rogue Legacy, you have products like Vaccine that are the gaming equivalent of gulping down lukewarm milk. It's a plain game with few surprises, and you can experience most of what it has to offer in an hour or two. As with many other roguelikes and roguelites, this one features too many boring rooms and corridors, and ultimately doesn't add up to anything exciting.

Risen 3: Titan Lords (PC)
The Risen trilogy ended not with a bang or a fizzle, but with a modest crack. Even though the third installment is a tad glitchy and features an odd combat system, it's still a very good pirate-themed RPG. Also, never mind that Patty's getup just looked awful. Like, imagine a 20-something trying to cosplay Pippi Longstocking, but failing miserably. But I digress... Risen 3 had multiple islands to explore and loads of side quests, plus it brought back the faction system that made Gothic and the first Risen entertaining. I'm glad to have played it through to the end, even if it did culminate in an anticlimactic final boss and half-hearted closing cinematic.

Xeodrifter (PlayStation 4)
Renegade Kid's attempt to capture the Metroid formula was terrific, even if it was overshadowed by a game featured later on this list. This one packaged the concept into bite-sized levels rather than bogging you down with a humongous series of interconnected chambers to explore. My only gripe is that you basically fight the same boss repeatedly, except it gains new attacks with subsequent battles. Still, Xeodrifter is not too shabby and recaptures the glory days of 8-bit titles wonderfully.

The Bard's Tale (PC)
I know I'm in the minority of people who find this hack 'n slash remake lame, but I honestly couldn't see much merit in it. Its campaign plods along, its tale is full of cringe-worthy attempts at humor and its character-building system is almost nonexistent. Some thought it strange that I didn't bring up Cary Elwes in the review, but that's because his presence doesn't leave much of an impression. More than anything, the game didn't fully utilize him. You know an RPG is bland when you can make Cary Elwes seem dull.

Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
I initially reviewed this BioWare project at GameFAQs, giving it 8/10. With my new rewrite, it earned a 4/5. I discovered this year that my opinion hasn't changed much: Mass Effect is a terrific fusion of shooter and RPG, with its only downside being planet exploration segments that were boring enough to put you in a coma. Thankfully, the next installment did away with all that and featured a more focused, streamlined sci-fi actioner. However, don't let the "it's not as good as its successors" attitude prevent you from checking out the original Mass Effect, because it is an addictive space adventure.

Alpha Protocol (PC)
Boasted as an espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol is a game I had missed during its initial release. I nabbed it cheaply on Steam, and it languished on my backlog for years. Finally, I conjured the desire to play it and haven't regretted it since. Sure, hacking computers sucks and there isn't much of a variety of weaponry, but the game makes up for it by featuring stealth that somehow doesn't suck, loads of options and a Deus Ex-ish approach. Sadly, the ending was groan-worthy Hollywood nonsense.

Teslagrad (PlayStation 4)
With all of the Metroidvanias out there, it's nice to play one that stands out. I didn't review Teslagrad because it's very puzzle-heavy, and games like that usually lead to boring reviews. However, that shouldn't be taken as an indictment of Teslagrad. It's a terrific puzzle-adventure with well built platforming elements and a gorgeous art style, plus it spins a decent yarn with little to no dialogue.

Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening (PlayStation 3)
BioWare again!? Yeah, of course. I started Dragon Age back when it first hit $20 and just didn't bother to finish it. I reluctantly picked it back up this year and ended up loving the hell out of it. I liked that, more than any other BioWare game, I felt like I was playing a role and that I was more compelled to imagine a unique history for that character. Yeah, other BioWare games offer similar experiences, but Origins gets it right.

Sadly, its DLC expansion is a hairy piece of chewed bubblegum. Its campaign doesn't scale with your character, so you end up steamrolling everything. Yes, even the dragons you face are nothing more than mild roadblocks. The game's new villains are also nothing to write home about, and the expansion does little to amp me up for Dragon Age 2, which I plan to play through in 2018.

Fire Pro Wrestling World (PC)
When I read that a new FPW game was coming out on Steam, I nearly died of happiness. This is one of the few games I've purchased in Early Access, only because I love its franchise so much. As with its predecessors, World grants you options galore and leaves a lot of room for modding. The best part is you can download other people's creations via Steam Workshop. That way you can set up Kenny Omega vs. AJ Styles vs. Cody and not spend hours crafting their likenesses and fleshing out their AI routines unless you so desire it. I still have yet to check out Challenge Mode or online play, but I intend to do so before reviewing this wrestling simulator.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)
When I first saw videos of Horizon, I about crapped myself. It looked like Shadow of Mordor meets Far Cry Primal meets Paul O. Williams' "Pelbar Cycle." Hunting robots in an open (post-apocalyptic) world seemed like an intriguing enough concept that I decided to dump $60 into a new copy, and I didn't regret it. It features a boatload of side quests and distractions, actually good stealth, a wonderful story and plenty of challenge. My only gripes consists of occasional chaotic battles and a lack of genuine boss encounters, especially boss robots. Instead of featuring unique machines for bosses, the game rehashes standard enemies several times over, and that was a small disappointment.

Slayaway Camp (PC)
This is probably the best puzzler I've played in ages. Or at least it is for horror movie buffs. Slayaway sports simple mechanics, placing you in control of a murderer who slides around small arenas, trying to off horny teens and panicked citizens. However, its greatest content comes in the form of unlockable horror villains and tons of references to movies I love.

Axiom Verge (PC)
Or "Body Horror Metroid," as I like to call it. I was addicted to this one. It didn't present anything new, but took a well worn concept and reimagined it with a creepy art style and plenty of challenging segments. Its boss encounters were a real treat, because they put you up against really nasty, gruesome beasts. When you consider that only one person made this game, it's actually quite impressive.

Distrust (PC)
What if "The Thing" were a mixture of RTS and survival-horror? Distrust addresses that. I didn't expect to play all the way through this game, but lo and behold I found a way. You see, I let one of my people freeze to death so that I would have one fewer mouth to feed. The other I led on towards victory, even going so far as to abandon the third party member after recruiting her. The ending I received was bleak, and left me wanting either a sequel or a new scary game from this Cheerdealers.

Transistor (PC)
Super Giant's sophomore outing is actually better than its first. The game melds action, roleplaying, music and storytelling into a short, thrilling ride that left me heavyhearted. I took me a while to get used to its combat mechanics, though. Its battle is mostly real time action, but you have the option to execute multiple attacks in a single bound. Also, Transistor's closing theme stuck with me long after I finished the game, leaving me pining for more from this developer and from composer Darren Korb.

Victor Vran (PC)
Diablo meets Castlevania is an apt way to describe this hack 'n slash. It adeptly mixes action-RPG elements with vampire slaying, resulting in a roleplayer that's both action-packed and atmospheric. Sadly, it features a fairly weak middle that dulled its luster, but the game recovers in its closing quests by pitting you against memorable bosses.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA (PlayStation 4)
Of all the games I played this year, this one is my #1. Ys VIII takes Nihon Falcom's classic series and splices it with Risen and Suikoden, while also tipping its hat to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Land that Time Forgot," to craft a fresh and challenging J-RPG adventure that's epic and action-packed, not to mention emotional. And it has dinosaurs! Freakin' dinosaurs! Sure, the game's localization was spotty upon release, but it seems that matter has been addressed. Seriously, though, "Achaeozoic Big Hole?" C'mon!

P.T. (PlayStation 4)
My review of this playable teaser was meant to be a send off for a brand I once loved. Watching Konami run it into the ground has been as painful as leaping out of a plane and landing crotch-first on piano wire. This now-delisted title only adds to the heartache, and I realize more than ever that the series will probably never see a proper resurrection. Yeah, Konami says they'll do another Silent Hill, but you know it's going to be garbage.

3D Dot Game Heroes (PlayStation 3)
This Zelda clone kept me up late for about a week or so. I was amazed at how Zelda-like it was and confused as to how From Software or Sony never received legal threats, but then I had to remember that games like Neutopia exist. 3D Dot Game Heroes presents the original Zelda's formula in the most enthralling way, with a glorious presentation that melds both old and new art styles and with plenty of self-aware humor.

Pony Island (PC)
I didn't think I'd enjoy Pony Island because I thought it was going to be another lame, narrative-heavy adventure game. Oh, how wrong I was. It's a game within a game, both a hybrid of horror and adventure, a modern title with old sensibilities, an experience with Abrahamic material and Satanic scares. You play a hapless soul booting up a cursed video game and realizing that you must finish it, lest you be sent to eternal damnation. It's one of the most unique indie games I've played in a long time, and I'm glad I did so.

Mass Effect 2 (PC)
As I mentioned above, Mass Effect 2 expanded on its predecessor's shooter elements, sliced out the bits of the original that weren't all that great in the first place and presented me with an even balance of cinematics and action. This is the sci-fi ride that the first game should have been, or really that any space opera-esque title should strive to be. After finishing it, I wanted desperately to get into Mass Effect 3, but decided to my disappointment that getting through Arx Fatalis and Horizon Zero Dawn was more important (even though I dug both of those games).

Remaining in a dream (PC)
It's weird that I should bring this game up while ignoring a whole slew of great titles listed below. This is probably the most haphazard, piecemeal, abysmal game I've played this year, and that's why it's on here. Maybe I'm being unfair because it's a simple indie game and a low hanging fruit, but that doesn't diminish the notion that it's a horrible first-person shooter. You wander around in a cel-shaded world, shooting goblins and egg people who don't do much more than run at you while emitting creepy laughter. After about four levels of this nonsense, you receive a "To Be Continued" message, though you know this game isn't going to be continued. Indie games like this never are continued.

Arx Fatalis (PC)
It's nice to finally get through this old school, first-person RPG. It's a great game despite its poor aging, because it makes the most of its tight quarters. It re-imagines the rat maze sub-genre in a way that's still fresh and thrilling today. It's just a shame its magic system is as entertaining as being murdered, and that it's voice acting is on par with "The Room" at times. Otherwise, I'd say this game is damn near timeless.

Leftovers: Metagal, Gauntlet, There Was A Caveman, Metamorfose S, Dinocide, The Tape, Aphelion series, Pylon: Rogue, Labyrinthine Dreams, Nidhogg, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, Ultratron, Escape Goat, A Story About My Uncle, The Guest, Abzu, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Caster, Hazen: The Dark Whispers, Creeping Terror

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