I am certainly not immune to the charms of 80s and 90s game design, but the NES version of Double Dragon wasn’t a great example for Double Dragon 4 to follow. It’s not just that this simplistic beat-em-up formula didn’t age well graphically or mechanically, it’s that it simply isn’t very fun or engaging to play in 2017.
You could likely beat Shantae: Half-Genie Hero in a couple of sittings, but the platforming action is so varied, and the levels so explorable, it’s worth playing well beyond that. While it's neither innovative nor high-concept, its hand-drawn look and toe-tapping music successfully channel a joy and enthusiasm that has become far too rare in modern video games.
When I'm riding chocobos across the beach at dusk with my three friends and hunting iconic Final Fantasy monsters in a huge, picturesque open world, Final Fantasy XV feels like nearly everything I could want from a modern Final Fantasy. But when it funnels me into linear scenarios and drab, constricted spaces that plunge the simplistic combat into chaos, my blood boils a bit. There is so much good here, so much heart - especially in the relationships between Noctis and his sworn brothers. It just comes with some changes and compromises that were, at times, difficult for this long-time Final Fantasy fan to come to grips with.
A lot of effort was clearly put into Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, because almost every aspect of its gameplay has an underlying set of properties and nuances to come to grips with. While I usually love that kind of complexity, here it rarely felt meaningful or even coherent. Paired with a story that lacks the stakes and urgency of the source material, it leaves Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization feeling pretty tepid aside from its enjoyable combat.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2’s ambition is admirable, and though it’s riddled with a lot of silly little inconveniences, it mostly succeeds in giving DBZ fans an authentic-feeling world to dive into for the long haul. Though no individual element of its roleplaying or brawling gameplay is overly complex, taken as a whole there’s a surprising amount to consider while progressing your character, and enough to do to keep it from getting stale to soon.
WWE 2K17 doesn’t make any big, drastic changes, but its smart gameplay tweaks have revitalized match types I’d ignored the past few years. I really miss 2K Showcase, and 2K17 is still weak in areas that I feel should have been shored up by now, but its excellent combat, and generous amounts of customization help it retain its title.
Wayward Sky is a good example of how well suited VR is for point-and-click style adventures. It uses perspective and gesture-based gameplay to immerse you in a world that is, on its own, a well made and inviting one. Though I’ll most likely forget forget much of its gameplay sooner than later, Wayward Sky’s setting and ambiance will stay with me long after.
I didn't expect ReCore to be quite as big as it is, and from the looks of things it's possible its developers didn't either. Its world, while interesting to explore for a good while, is ultimately too big with too little happening in it to be a totally serviceable housing for the strong combat and platforming gameplay within. It feels like a great, arcadey action platformer spread across too big a canvas, and it asks you to draw back over the same lines a few too many times
A lack of balance robs the combat of much of its fun and renders many of the more interesting gameplay systems moot, but it didn’t dampen the emotional impact of I Am Setsuna’s heartfelt message for me. Few story-driven RPGs are so thematically focused or so gleefully disinterested with being “entertaining” or “fun.” To say it attempts to stand on the backs of giants is disingenuous really. I Am Setsuna isn’t a “Chrono Trigger-like;” it’s just a game that might easily have existed in the same time, if a creator with different storytelling sensibilities had been around. Its strength comes not from the ways in which it emulates the conventions of the classics, but the ways in which it defies them.
Despite its pedigree, Mighty No. 9 doesn't seem to have a good sense of what was fun about Mega Man, or 2D action-platformers in general. There are brief moments where its pieces come together, but even then it's hamstrung by its visually joyless art and animation. The soul of the Blue Bomber just isn't here, and worse yet there's no endearing personality of its own, and as a result, Mighty No. 9 feels much more like a second-rate imposter than a spiritual successor.
Overwatch is an incredible achievement in multiplayer shooter design. It bobs and weaves almost perfectly between being the quick-fix adrenaline hit you might want after a long day of work, and the thoughtful, strategic multiplayer experience that becomes the center of evening-long binges with friends. It might not have the most exhaustive list of maps and modes, but it provides nearly endless opportunities for exhilarating, coordinated play. When you're at the center of it, it feels like nothing else.
Housemarque's previous games have always kept me coming back through the strength of their gameplay alone. Alienation adds a straightforward, but enjoyable power chase on top, making its finely tuned arcade action all the more alluring. Its action-RPG elements won't make it a replacement for something like Diablo 3 or Grim Dawn, but they successfully provide a structure for unending, enjoyable alien slaughter.
Enter the Gungeon's design is quite sophisticated for a game about shooting bullets at anthropomorphized bullets with guns; it uses elements of one genre in the context of another, enhancing its most enjoyable elements. Despite there being so many more moving parts than in a typical arcade shooter, it somehow feels more immediate and focused on getting you into the action and keeping you there. And where other similar games can run out of novelty within a few hours, Enter the Gungeon is still surprising me with new implements of destruction after 50 hours of play.
There's definitely some decent meat to chew on in The Division, but it's usually surrounded by too much gristle to enjoy it for long. Both in combat and out, there are some clearly good ideas, especially the tense and dangerous Dark Zone. But they're not spread evenly or interwoven cleanly enough to form a cohesive, consistently enjoyable loop. Ultimately, The Division's overly busy, conflicted design philosophies drown its best ingredients in a bland slurry that never quite comes together into a cohesive dish.
It's hard to criticize something that seems like it was tailor-made for a wannabe competitive player like me, but I just can't ignore how little Street Fighter 5 does for the average fighting game player. It sports a wonderful, diverse cast of characters, places a clear emphasis on strong fundamental play, it gives competitive players a great online experience, and it does it all while looking gorgeous. Strictly in terms of mechanics and competitive features, Street Fighter 5 is just about peerless, but it has quite a ways to go before it stacks up against other fighting games - including its own predecessor - in terms of overall content.