Saturday, December 30, 2017

My favorite games of 2017

If you had told me at the beginning of this year I'd play so many great games--so many great Switch games, especially--I would've responded by dramatically rolling my eyes.

As I've said a number of times in the last few months, I didn't expect to buy a Switch so early in its life--and certainly not before sometime in 2018.

Now I've got an actual "slew" of Switch games--so many, in fact, that I'm having a hard time keeping up with them. (On a related note, look for me to publish a bunch of "a few thoughts on" posts in the new year.)

Amazingly, I'm having a similarly hard time keeping up with all the Vita games I've bought since 2017 started. Who would've thought that'd be the case given the system's worldwide nosedive over the last 12 months? Certainly not me.

A couple of those recently acquired Vita games made a big enough impression on me that I'm including them among my favorite games of this year. They're joined by handful of Switch games, a trio of 3DS carts, and a PC title, too.

Golf Story (Switch)--In a year of surprising games, this probably was the most surprising of all for me. That's kind of funny when you consider Golf Story is just what its name implies: a digital Switch title that's one part golf, and one part story (or RPG). You're just as likely to be sent on a fetch quest or be asked to solve a mystery as you are to shoot a round of Scotland's national sport against an NPC. OK, so I personally don't think its writing is good enough to be compared to EarthBound, but that doesn't mean I think it's drivel. In fact, I'd say it's just fun--and weird--enough to bring a smile to your face more regularly than your average RPG. Even if that weren't the case, though, I'd call myself a Golf Story fan anyway thanks to how all of its components combine to create a unique experience that intrigues throughout its 15-plus-hour running time.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)--I've made no secret of the fact that I'm generally not a fan of three-dimensional Zelda games. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of them, but despite that they usually have a hard time holding my interest past the first few hours. Well, Breath of the Wild bucks that trend--or at least it has so far. I regularly get lost while wandering around its lush landscapes, I've got to admit, but it's yet to bring my progress to a screeching halt. Does this mean me finishing Breath of the Wild is a done deal? Unfortunately, it doesn't. Still, I think that result is far more likely than it was when I attempted to play through Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess thanks to the intriguingly open-ended nature of this particular Zelda adventure.

Miitopia (3DS)--I was sure I'd get a kick out of Miitopia the second I laid eyes on it. Still, I was shocked when I enjoyed its demo as much as I did. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I put more than three hours into it before giving it a rest. I've now put more than twice that into the full game, and yet it continues to make me chuckle and otherwise turn me into a grinning idiot. There's no question this RPG is an odd duck, not to mention quite a bit more "casual" than what is typical of the genre, but for me, both of those qualities conspire to make Miitopia far more entertaining than it would be if it leaned toward the traditional. I do suspect Miitopia's schtick may wear thin sooner rather than later, but that's OK; I already feel like I got my money's worth out of it.

Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World (3DS)--I'm one of those grumps that like to grouse about how Yoshi's Island is the only good Yoshi game. I regularly grumble in this way even though I didn't exactly hate Yoshi's New Island. Well, this portable port of Woolly World is miles more impressive than that 2014 release, as well as pretty much every other Yoshi title I've played since the first. One reason for that is it's gorgeous--even on the low-res 3DS screen. Another is it provides a good amount of fun. Also, it eventually offers up a good challenge for people (like me) who don't necessarily possess top-notch platforming skills--something that can't exactly be said of every Yoshi title that's followed in Island's wake.

Project Octopath Traveler demo (Switch)--Yes, this is a demo. But like the Bravely Default demo Square Enix made available well in advance of that 3DS game's release, this one is both meaty and interesting enough to prompt someone like me to declare it "game of the year"--or at least one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year. The aspect of the Project Octopath Traveler demo that most stood out at me while playing through it recently (read my impressions here) was the battle system, which feels like a zippier version of the one featured in Bravely Default and Second. Really, though, every component of this teaser blew me away--even its much maligned "vignette" filter. I guess what I'm saying here is, barring some sort of disaster popping up between now and whenever it's released, expect to see the full game discussed in next year's version of this write-up.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Witch & Hero III hits the Japanese 3DS eShop just in time to be a GOTY 2017 contender

In late October, Circle Entertainment announced that not only was a third Witch & Hero game in the works for the Nintendo 3DS but it would be released by the end of the year.

Well, it just hit the system's eShop--but only in Japan.

Given my love of this odd little series of action-y tower-defense (or witch-defense, to be more accurate) titles, I bought this latest entry as soon as I was able last night.

I've only put about an hour into Witch & Hero III so far, which means I've conquered about six or seven of its stages, but that's been enough for me to know I'll continue to plug away at it over the coming days and weeks until I either beat it or burn out on it.

Curiously, this Witch & Hero game begins much like the first. At the moment, I control only the eponymous hero, racing around each level using the 3DS' circle pad and bumping enemies to death, Ys style, as they dare to approach and even attempt to kill the witch, who sits, petrified (literally, not figuratively), in the middle of the screen.

Based on the game's logo, as well as its teaser trailer, I know it won't ape the original release's gameplay for much longer. Or at least I hope it won't do so for much longer; I'm really itching to see how the developers at Flyhigh Works change things up this time around. (In Witch & Hero II, you can move the witch around the screen using the 3DS' face buttons, which admittedly makes things a bit more hectic than I'd like.)

Anyway, if you own a Japanese 3DS, you could do far worse than buy Witch & Hero III. It's only 350 Yen right now--after Jan. 10, it'll jump to 400 Yen--and it's already proving to be a lot of fun.

If you'd rather not jump right in to the series' third entry, pick up the first one. It's also only 400 Yen ($4 in North America), and until Witch & Hero III proves otherwise, I still think it's the best of the bunch.

Need to know more about it, and maybe Witch & Hero II as well, before handing over your hard-earned cash? Read my Witch & Hero review. Or read by Witch & Hero II review.

Don't fret if you lack a Japanese 3DS. Witch & Hero III is supposed to hit other regions' eShops sometime in early 2018. Keep an eye on publisher Circle Entertainment's Twitter account for news of its release.

Monday, December 25, 2017

And the winners of the 2064: Read Only Memories Vita codes are...

I promised I'd be giving away four digital codes for the Vita version of 2064: Read Only Memories today, and that's what I'm going to do.

Rather than prolong the suspense, let's just get right to it. Here are the winners:
  • Felipe Martins
  • Sera R
  • Shiftyweb
  • ZACH
If you're one of the readers named above, leave a comment here by, say, the end of the day on Wednesday, and then we'll figure out the best way for me to send you the code.

Sorry to those of you who didn't win. I'd give you all codes for this intriguing game, if I could.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A few thoughts on the Project Octopath Traveler Switch demo now that I've finally played through it

There's something hilarious--to me, at least--about the fact that I went against my original plan of waiting until 2018 to buy a Switch and instead picked up one in late September mainly so I could check out the just-released Project Octopath Traveler demo.

What's so funny about that, you ask? Well, although the first thing I did after turning on and updating my Switch was download the aforementioned demo, all it's done since then is sit on my home screen and look pretty.

I finally booted it up a couple of days ago, and now I can't put it down. Honestly, I'm completely mesmerized by this bite-sized preview of Square Enix's upcoming "HD-2D" role-playing game for Switch at the moment. Here's why:

I really appreciate how its story at least attempts to be more "adult"--Most of the RPGs Square Enix has made for Nintendo systems (handhelds, in particular) in recent years have featured stories that are more childish than mature. Based on this demo, it seems Project Octopath Traveler may buck that trend. To be sure, I don't know that I'd even describe the text encountered here as being R-rated, but it's certainly closer to that than the PG-leaning narratives usually found in the company's Nintendo releases, and for that I'm grateful.

Its visuals are the perfect blend of old and new--On the one hand, Project Octopath Traveler doesn't look too different from the kinds of games Square put out during the 16-bit era (see: Final Fantasy VI, Romancing SaGa 3, and Seiken Densetsu 3). On the other, it also looks surprisingly modern, thanks to its three-dimensional--yet still pixelated--backdrops and heavy use of bloom and other special effects. Put those two together and you've got a game that makes me want to cry due to its gorgeousness. Yes, the vignetting can be a bit much at times, but even then I love Octopath's aesthetic and hope producer Tomoya Asano and his team don't touch it between now and whenever the full game is released.

Yasunori Nishiki's soundtrack is a revelation--OK, so obviously I'm only talking about the music that's featured in the demo or that's been teased on line. Still, that small handful of tunes is more than enough for me to feel confident the full Project Octopath Traveler soundtrack will be a stunner. Which is a bit of a surprise, as composer Yasunori Nishiki is far from a household name at this point. I'm not at all sure he's going to give Project Octopath Traveler players something that approaches the ear-popping brilliance of Bravely Default's "Baby Bird" with the work he does here, but maybe that's for the best.

No joke, I think I prefer Project Octopath Traveler's battle system to Bravely Default's--And this is coming from someone who loved Bravely Default's battle system to death. Why? Project Octopath Traveler's is a lot snappier, for starters. Also, it's also more visceral, if that makes any sense. I feel a real jolt whenever one of my party members unleashes four strikes in a row against a foe while playing this demo. The battles in Project Octopath Traveler seem to be more dynamic than those in Bravely Default, too, due to subtle camera movements and some of the aforementioned graphical effects. Again, fingers and toes crossed that Asano and his crew don't mess with this aspect of the game before the final product sees the light of day.

I'm kind of surprised enemies remain static while fighting, but I also can't say it bothers me--I've seen a number of people complain about this on line, and although I can't fault their critiques, I also can't agree with it. Or at least I can't say the lack of enemy animations is keeping me from enjoying Project Octopath Traveler's battle scenes. Who knows, though, maybe the full game will surprise in this regard by adding a hint of movement to boss encounters or something like that.

So, that's how I feel about the Project Octopath Traveler demo after putting more than three hours into it. If you've played through it, too, share your thoughts, opinions, and impressions in the comments section of this post.