What I Played: 2017 Edition

2017 was a bountiful year for all gamers. There was no shortage of games new or old to play. This year I’ve decided rather than creating a top five, or a top ten list, to compile a list of the games I played this year in 2017 and what I have to say about each.

When compiling this list, I realized how much I really did play this year compared to past year. In a way my love of gaming found a resurgence, not that it ever went away.

A few of these games I finished, most I have not1. Most of these games came out in 2017 however there are few that have been out for a year or two.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I can’t remember the last time a game like this launched with any console. Twilight Princess launched with the Wii2 but it wasn’t nearly this vast in scope, hype, or critical reception. I wrote about how excited I was for Breath of the Wild:

now on the eve of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild  I see the Zelda game I’ve been wanting since I played A Link to the Past: a vast world by today’s gaming standards and a return to exploration and finding out things on your own

Breath of the Wild fulfilled this hype. It surpasses every 3D Zelda game I’ve ever played by leaps and bounds. I played this game for nearly 120 hours straight. I haven’t finished everything yet, because I don’t want to wear it out. I want to return to it like a pair of beloved comfortable jeans. If I had to pick a game of the year3, it would be this game.

NPCs4 in Zelda games are usually pretty boring. But in Breath of the Wild I wanted to talk to every villager and passerby. They all had an interesting thing to say. If it wasn’t something funny, they would tell you an interesting piece of what to find in this version of Hyrule. This is easily one of the most humorous Zelda games outside of Wind Waker.

Prince Sidon is the coolest guy ever. His theme music is also so good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4ZkklcIfTo
Prince Sidon is the coolest guy ever. His theme music is also so good.

Even though I love this game, there are some things I wish they could have incorporated into the game. I miss the unique items that had multiple uses. The runes in the game (magnesis, stasis, & cryonis specifically) are great, but they weren’t nearly as functional as the hookshot or other relics from past games. But they did make the bow indispensable comparatively, so this is obviously a nitpick.

I was hoping that some of shrines would be more labyrinthian and the Devine Beasts puzzles differed in quality by a good margin5.

However, the story in the game really resonated with me. In this world, Link failed 100 years ago. Ganon won. It reminded me of A Link to the Past. In that game, once Link gained the Master Sword he ventured to Hyrule Castle, broke down the barrier of evil, defeated a gauntlet of soldiers, and faced the wizard Agahnim to rescue Zelda. After he defeated Agahnim, the wizard scoffed at Link and banished him to the Dark World only to find a land in despair where evil was about to win. The journey, so to speak, had only just begun. Link’s failure in Breath of the Wild makes the progress in the game that much more meaningful. It’s basically a Rocky montage of building Link’s resolve to face Ganon for the final countdown. This is even more powerful since the player can go fight Ganon at any point in the game. Everyone can appreciate the electric charge of a good montage.

The gameplay of Breath of the Wild is so much more fun than any 3D Zelda before it. Exploration is the foundation of which this game is built and nearly always rewards the player. Combat has strategy and consequences. Hyrule, as expansive as it is, feels hand-crafted and lived in. It feels like a world in ruin.

There is so much more to speak about on this game that has already been said678. It is a modern day masterpiece and one of the reasons I am a diehard Nintendo fan. Breath of the Wild enters into my coveted Top Three Zelda Games of All Time.9

One last note: Breath of the Wild has one of the best trailers for a game ever. It even has its own soaring orchestrated arrangement that’s not found in the game10. Whether you’ve played the game or not, the trailer is always worth a watch.

Specter of Torment (Shovel Knight)

The treasure that is Shovel Knight keeps on giving. Specter of Torment is a prequel campaign telling the more somber story of how Specter Knight came to be. Even though this is just a 2D retro platformer, the story still pulls on some heartstrings.

The player assumes the role of Specter Knight and his quest to gather The Order of No Quarter. This is the Mega Man X of Shovel Knight. The gameplay is so fast and frantic compared to Plague Knight’s campaign, Plague of Shadows. I played through this in a matter of a day or two. The fact that this launched the same day as Breath of the Wild should show you how much I love Shovel Knight. I made time for this.

Instead of remixed levels as in Plague of Shadows there are all new levels and music11. The attention to detail and callbacks to the other two campaigns are the icing on this cake. This could be a standalone game and it would be great, but it’s just presented as an add-on to Shovel Knight. There is one more campaign left for Shovel Knight: King of Cards starring King Knight releases in 2018. If we can expect this level of quality in the new campaign this game deserves to be recognized on a whole new tier.

Cuphead

Cuphead is a retro game in both art and style. At its core, it’s a run and gun12gauntlet of challenges. It brings some modern influences to gameplay, but otherwise it’s an old school game.

Cuphead’s charming art is the drive to keep playing. Every level, every character, every background is all hand drawn animation inspired by 1930s cartoons specifically Max Fleischer’s animation works. Hand drawn animation is a dying art, but this game pays homage in the best way. But while the art is top notch, it wouldn’t be fun without solid hardcore arcade level gameplay. This game is hard, but it’s not because of cheap tricks. Once you understand enemy patterns and practice levels several times it’s a blast, and seeing what’s next is the fun.

Sonic Mania

Sonic the Hedgehog and I have a complicated relationship. I’ve never enjoyed Sonic on the same level as Mario games13, but Sonic games were my favorite platformer games on the Sega Genesis. I never found the design of Sonic the Hedgehog levels as elegant as any levels of any game developed by Nintendo. Sonic Mania fixes everything that I didn’t find fun in Sonic. The level design is stellar, the music is JAMMIN’ and this game is my favorite in the Sonic series by far. The fact this was done outside of Sonic Team will hopefully send the message to Sega to make more.

Nex Machina

Nex Machina is an arcade dual stick shooter game from Housemarque, who made the amazing Resogun. Resogun was very much a modern interpretation of the classic arcade game Defender. Nex Machina is in turn a modern interpretation of Robotron 2084 and Smash TV. Robotron 2084 is my favorite old school arcade game. It’s a game of manageable chaos where robots are the enemy and the player is the savior of humanity.

When Housemarque announced they had partnered with Eugene Jarvis, the creator of Defender, Robotron 2084, and Smash TV, my hopes were high. Arcade games14 are a dying breed that were briefly resurrected with the advent of digital distribution. They aren’t for everyone, but sometimes working towards a high score can be really fulfilling as skills are honed and muscle memory forms.

To me, Nex Machina is perfect game. It has solid controls, tons of mechanics, enemies, power ups, secrets, and a killer soundtrack. I love picking up this game and just blasting through robots for 10-15 minutes. I can’t recommend this game enough if you want an old school experience without the old school frustration. Since this game wasn’t published by Sony, there’s a glimmer of hope that this could make it to the Nintendo Switch at some point.

Nier: Automata

I only played Nier: Automata for about 5 hours. I can say this isn’t your normal action game from Platinum Games, but it does have some of that DNA in a game more focused on story. The world and music are really good. I need to finish this game in 2018.

ARMS

ARMS is fun. There was a general dismissal that this game was Wii Boxing for the Switch, but I assure you it’s not. It’s a fighting game that you can play without motion controls. Unlike a button masher with combos, each punch, block, and grab are deliberate and require patience and skill.

The character designs and world are bright and fun. Nintendo has ended its updates at the end of 2017, but over the course of six months it added several new features, characters, and stages which kept the game fresh.

This game is a fun fighting game – at least until Smash arrives on the Switch.

Splatoon 2

We had a Splatoon party when it launched.
We had a Splatoon party when it launched.

Splatoon 215 is Splatoon refined with a little less magic. I love Splatoon, but this really felt like Splatoon 1.5 as opposed to Splatoon 2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The sad thing is that the online with friends options weren’t much improved from the first one. Nintendo is still trying to figure out how the Internet works.

Snake Pass

Snake Pass is the go to game if you want to know what it’s like to be a snake. It’s a fun game with a bunch of charm but it’s not for everyone. The controls are intuitive but have a steep learning curve. Being a snake is hard. This game is very chill and cute. It has music from David Wise, one of my favorite composers.

There is a lot of love in the level design in how it ramps up difficulty. I recommend this game if you want something different and casual.

Nidhogg 2

Nidhogg is one of those game I find hard to describe to people. It is a 1v1 2D tug of war fencing game. There, I guess I did it.

Nidhogg 2 expands on everything the first game had by adding new weapons, rule sets, and several new stages.

The biggest difference in Nidhogg 2 is the change in art style. The first game was more of a minimalist expression in 8 bit pixel art. It was very soothing. Nidhogg 2 goes for more of a grotesque 16-bit vibe reminiscent of Earthworm Jim. Some found this change enough to turn them off of the game. I don’t mind it. It certainly doesn’t take away from the gameplay which is the most important aspect of the game.

This is a fun game to pick up and play with someone else in short bits, or long extended runs. It’s also a great spectator game in my experience.

Colorful and cartoony. It's all you need.
Colorful and cartoony. It’s all you need.

Flinthook

Flinthook is one of my favorite indie games of 2017. It’s a roguelike platformer in which you use a hookshot-like grappling gun to navigate space pirate16 ships17searching for booty and a bounty. I found it fun and very challenging. There is a leveling system that adds modifiers and abilities that keep the gameplay of starting over and over fresh. I love the 16-bit aesthetic and the adventurous soundtrack. If this came to the Nintendo Switch I’d be a happy bounty hunter.18

Injustice 2

Great fighting game and one of the best DC movies you can watch. It’s mind-boggling how a fighting game understands the characters and their history and relationships better than the movies have.

Super Mario Odyssey

I never loved Super Mario 64 the way some people did. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it a lot. I had a dream long before the Nintendo 64 was a reality of a 3D Mario game. The game in my dream was more along the lines of Super Mario 3D World. I guess my imagination was a bit shallow.

But Super Mario 64 did shake up nearly everything that made a Mario game a Mario game. What always bothered me was how different the world and enemies felt from the previous Mario games. Later, 3D Mario games would eventually pull in more elements of the Mushroom Kingdom into the fold but with that came more linearity, and less exploration diversity with more focus on platforming.

BAM! Enter Super Mario Odyssey. It’s everything people wanted but didn’t get with Super Mario 3D World19.
– Freedom: Go where you want, do what you want
– Exploration: YOU GOT IT
– Timers: Gone
– Lives: Gone
– Power-Ups: EVERY ENEMY IS ITS OWN POWERUP
– Diverse Worlds: How about a motherlovin’ DRAGON or NEW DONK CITY
– But Bowser is boring: Now he’s SWAG BOWSER™20
– Plus so much more21

I feel like if there were any stops for a Mario game, they pulled them all out for this one. It’s so much fun. I hope we see more kingdoms either as part of DLC or a sequel. While not everyone loved Sunshine, and Galaxy wasn’t for everyone either, Odyssey2223 takes everything Mario has learned over the past 30 years, and makes it all feel remarkable once again.

Look at me, Mario is the Goomba now.
Look at me, Mario is the Goomba now.
I love lamp.
I love lamp.
The birds are Mario's friends.
The birds are Mario’s friends.
Showdown
Showdown
Indiana Goomba
Indiana Goomba

Fire Emblem Heroes & Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Nintendo’s mobile games are demonstrating to be less than thrilling for me. In the instance of Fire Emblem Heroes it instead inspired me to go back and play Fire Emblem Awakening. While a pick up and play version of Fire Emblem sounds good on paper I was unhappy to see it infused with the mobile game tropes (RNG in game loot boxes, cool downs, etc.) I think it’s a good introduction to the basics of Fire Emblem, but I’d rather play one of the many mainline games even if that means carrying a Nintendo 3DS with me.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp seems even worse. I’ve never been a direct fan of the series, more from a distance. I understand the appeal of the mainline series but Pocket Camp seems like a punch in the face to fans. It suffers even more with the mobile game “standards”. You can pay in game currency to make things happen faster, including making fruit grow on trees faster. While all of this is optional it doesn’t seem as “chill” as the mainline series. Plus, I chose my “chill” game this year with Stardew Valley.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is my zen garden. It is my meditation. It is where I find balance. I haven’t been much of a fan of games like Harvest Moon, or Animal Crossing. But Stardew Valley has those 16-bit graphics I have a weakness for, a very relaxing soundtrack, and a world that’s deeper and more mysterious than it lets on in the beginning.

The game starts with your grandpa leaving you the deed to a farm in the titular Stardew Valley. You’ve had it with your tedious cubicle humdrum life, so you move where life is a bit slower and you have control on your livelihood. It’s a bit cliched, but it suits this game’s intentions perfectly.

Jarbochov heads into town
Jarbochov heads into town

I’ve sunk over 50 hours into Stardew Valley, and every moment has been relaxing. Yeah, you have to farm and water plants, but you can also fish, mine, or adventure. Nothing in Stardew Valley feels random or fluffed. The main actions of chopping trees, planting seed, or mining ore all feel solid and fun even though they are repetitive. They feel like swinging a sword in A Link to the Past or using the shovel in Shovel Knight.

The progress in the game is perfectly suited to playing it for a few minutes or a few hours.

I love the town, the inhabitants, the music, the trees, the subtle sound design. Stardew Valley is the video game world I would want to live in.

Undertale

Undertale is one of those games everyone talked about for an entire year. That year was 2015 to 2016. And Undertale was only a PC game. I didn’t have a PC in 201524. I waited until it came to PS4 last year. I’m about halfway through at the time of this writing.

Undertale is special. It’s a game that is focused on a story and a message. Even though I haven’t finished the game yet, I know that this game will be highly regarded in 10 years. The presentation is timeless.

I really don’t want to spoil anything about this game for those who may not play it for years. I’ll just say it is unconventional.

Undertale, like Stardew Valley25 was made by one person as a labor of love , and it absolutely shows.

This GIF sums up everything great about the game:

What Pulled Me Back In

These games came to the Nintendo Switch and made me play them all over again.

DOOM

This is the most Nintendo-like FPS not made by Nintendo. If you enjoy good single player FPS campaigns, I can’t recommend this enough. The graphics did take a hit compared to other platforms but once the action starts it’s hardly noticeable26.

Rocket League

Having Rocket League available whenever and wherever has allowed for me to play it more than I ever did on any other console. The wireless local play functionality makes it even better to setup some 2v2 sports ball on the go.

Other Assorted Games I Played

  • Hidden Folks
  • Universal Paperclips
  • Snipperclips
  • Puyo Puyo Tetris
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Jamboree
  • Jackbox Party Pack 4
  • Blaster Master Zero

2017 Was A Year To Remember

2017 kicked my butt with how much there was to play. 2018 is already looking to match it.

I intend to write more regularly about what I play in 2018 because writing this was a time consuming affair.


  1. As is tradition. 
  2. And it took it another month to hit Gamecube. At least Wii U owners got to play this one with everyone else. 
  3. If you put a gun to my head, I’ll tell you Super Mario Strikers Charged just for it to end quickly. 
  4. Non Playable Character, basically the people that just stand there waiting for you to speak to them. 
  5. Vah Medoh was so easy. Too easy. 
  6. Amazing level of detail found in the game. 
  7. It has an deceptively nuanced soundtrack.  
  8. There is so much more I want to say. 
  9. 1) A Link to the Past
    2) Breath of the Wild
    3) Wind Waker
    *Subject to change in the future of course.  
  10. Which still upsets me. 
  11. Seriously. The already amazing Shovel Knight soundtrack gets a stellar new take from Jake Kaufman who makes it feel new all over again. The Pridemoor Keep track is all cheery and majestic before King Knight has taken over compared to how it sounds in Shovel Knight where is his reign is complete. 
  12. and FUN! 
  13. The tragic story of being a Nintendo fanboy 
  14. Sadly Housemarque has announced they are moving on from the genre with Resogun being their last arcade game.  
  15. Also it should have been called Spla2n. Missed opportunity. 
  16. No not those ones. 
  17. Made of wood? Somehow it works! 
  18. And it took me so long to publish this article, that it already did. 
  19. Which I still loved. 
  20. Swag Bowser
    Swag Bowser
     
  21. Callbacks to Mario 64 with the Mushroom Kingdom, every costume referencing some past iteration of Mario, those cute little 2D showcases where the music changes to 8bit, everything about New Donk City, & that ENDING! 
  22. If you’re looking for list on this for me, my Mario appreciation defies lists since there is so much variety in the series. 
  23. Fine! Odyssey > Sunshine > Galaxy 2 > Galaxy > 64
    Does not include Super Mario 3D Land or World which are more like 2D Mario games and should be judged on those merits. 
  24. Yes, Shawn, I know. I have one now. 
  25. Valley Forged: How One Man Made the Indie Video Game Sensation Stardew Valley 
  26. Especially in handheld mode. 

My end of the year roundup of what games I played this year is still incoming. It's just going to be a bit longer than I was anticipating because I apparently have a bunch to say. 

But since I don't have anything ready yet, please enjoy this photo of me standing next to a sign. 

This was just a sign, but it was still pretty exciting.
Photo by Alison Burcham

The US Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

Last weekend I travelled down to Nashville, TN with my wife and good friends to observe a total solar eclipse. Nashville was in the PATH OF TOTALITY1. The last solar eclipse I can recall was when I was in elementary school. I viewed it through my dad’s welding mask. It was neat.

Entering Nashville. They Warned Us.
Entering Nashville. They Warned Us.

We spent the weekend in Nashville with some eats and some sights. I got legitimate Nashville hot chicken2 3 4, and then proceeded to hang out in 95º F playing mini golf. Poor decision on my part. I digress…

Am I the total eclipse of Erica's heart?
Am I the total eclipse of Erica’s heart?

We headed to a park just outside of Nashville to avoid crowds. The park itself had a pretty large audience, but there was plenty of space and parking for all5. I didn’t really prepare to take decent photos of the eclipse. I attempted to take photos through my eclipse glasses6 and they didn’t really pan out. However with some cloud cover I was able to capture some slivers of sol. Totality hid behind some clouds until it revealed itself to the hoots and hollers of the observing crowd.

I was elated to get this shot.
I was elated to get this shot.

The eclipse was other worldly. Photos are neat, but do not capture the true experience. I know some in Ohio were mildly impressed by their partial eclipse, and even if they had 90% coverage or more… 1 to 10 percent of the sun, is still ALOT of sun. As totality neared, it was like someone throwing on the dimmer switch of the sky, but when totality hit, it was truly amazing. It was like dusk came out of nowhere.

Day to Dusk within minutes.
Day to Dusk within minutes.

And then, it was over. The partial eclipse waned out of existence, and we were poised to head home in the early afternoon. It was warned there would be significant traffic7, however we did not anticipate the true impact the eclipse had. It looks us nearly 14 hours to head home.

Gridlock into Elizabethtown, KY
Gridlock into Elizabethtown, KY

We tried to work around it, taking back roads, but it wasn’t enough. The eclipse audience was nothing short than a small migration8. During our stay and travels we met/saw people from Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. As we approached midnight, and weren’t in Ohio yet we were beat. Rest stops were packed, and it was stop and go. We arrived home near 6 AM on Tuesday completely exhausted.

Would I do it again? Yes. 9

Also this post is brought to you by McDonalds, the official restaurant of the 2017 solar eclipse. 10 11 12

McDonalds, the official restaurant of the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

  1. Seriously. if there isn’t a metal band named Path of Totality, someone needs to get on that. PATH OF TOTALITY 2017!!!! 
  2. XX-HOT, I got rep to maintain yo. 
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince%27s_Hot_Chicken_Shack 
  4. Legitichicken? 
  5. Kudos to the Goodlettsville parks department and police dept. for being so organized. 
  6. Purchase stock in eclipse glasses in early 2024. 
  7. See photo above. 
  8. Also, Elizabethtown, KY… get traffic situation figured out okay. We spent nearly 3-4 hours just trying to get through here. Probably more. 
  9. Good thing there’s another one coming in 2024. PATH OF TOTALITY is touring in OHIO! 
  10. How? How does this even happen? How is this a thing? Why is this a thing?! 
  11. Accept no substitutes. We only ate McDonalds our entire visit. 
  12. I wonder who they are going to get for the 2024 eclipse? 

Auditory Creative Endeavors

I dislike Winter very much. I never have inspiration to do anything creative even though I’m indoors for most of the season. Now cut to Spring, my favorite season, and the choice season for critics alike1. I’ve felt reinvigorated to start some new things and start creating. So I have.

Podcasting

Shawn and I have started a new podcast called Sines, Co-Sines, and Tangents.

Sines, Co-sines, & Tangents, our new podcast that's part of our Four Score & Seven Pongs Ago endeavor.
Sines, Co-sines, & Tangents, our new podcast that’s part of our Four Score & Seven Pongs Ago endeavor.

The joke is his name is Shawn Sines, and I’m his co-host, and we talk about all kinds of things that devolve into many tangents. Now that I’ve explained it, the title is now 300% more hilarious.2

Podcasting Setup (Photo by Shawn Sines)
Podcasting Setup (Photo by Shawn Sines)

It’s great to be back to podcasting, and to talk about video games with someone who appreciates them like I do yet has a completely different take. I love the democracy of podcasting much like the open web. We aren’t subject to YouTube ads , algorithms, proprietary formats or delivery. People can use whatever app they want and we own our content and deliver it directly. It may take longer for people to find it but it’s a principle I stand behind.3 4

I also love the technology behind our setup and making a good sounding podcast without a lot of post production. 5

Music

I’ve been getting back to making music. It’s not something I’m terribly good at, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I got inspired last year near vacation time. I haven’t made anything I’m very happy with to publish on the internet yet. But it’s something I’m continuing to do to stay creative. I’ve made several musical equivalents of writing on the piece of paper and throwing it in the trash bin.

In the process I’ve learned more and more about synthesizers. If there’s an instrument I identify with, it’s the synth6. A mix of technology and music.

Making music has reminded me when I started with photography. I wasn’t amazing when I started taking photos, but with years of experience and understanding the tools I had, experimenting, I’ve reached a point where I’m happy with it. For music I have been using a MIDI keyboard and my iPad with several different synth apps, and sequencers. Some might dismiss this as not “real” music. That opinion disheartens me. I grew up with electronic music by way of video games. In many instances the creators of music in video games were simultaneously programmers and musicians, writing the music in code. I read an article on Bandcamp about all these amazing genres of obscure music and it was enlightening. There’s room for everyone and taste in music is subjective. I will continue to learn and experiment, and maybe I’ll have something to share with the world in the near future.


  1. “Mother Nature raves ‘this season has really started to grow on me. 5/5 it’s a mastapeece'” – The Columbus Gazette March 20th 2017 
  2. The next time a friend doesn’t understand a joke, make sure to explain to them why it’s funny in several different ways. They will appreciate it. 
  3. I intend on writing more about the Open Web and how it’s dying soon. 
  4. Look, I’ve gone off on a tangent. 
  5. There are still a few kinks to work out as I write this. 
  6. If you haven’t watched the Lords of Synth yet, you’re missing out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXgNo5Smino