Category: Review

Best Games of 2017

If nothing else, 2017 was a good year for video games. The Switch had an excellent launch, and the PlayStation kept trucking with solid new blockbusters. By no means did I get to play everything I wanted to this year – in fact, I only picked up two big contenders for this list with a couple days left on the calendar – but I thought I’d take a look at the best of the new games I played this year.

Honourable Mention: Overwatch

Overwatch didn’t launch in 2017, but it set a high bar for its genre as it entered its second year. Its structure is a gleaming example the rest of the industry should be following: all of the game’s essential content is available with a single purchase, including future updates like new characters and maps. You don’t need to shell out $5 for each character added every few months or buy expensive expansion packs. Micro-transactions are available for loot boxes, but these are also available as gameplay rewards, and they contain only cosmetic items.

Furthermore, the game is just pure fun. A shooter of this type hasn’t grabbed me so thoroughly before. I keep coming back to Overwatch regularly, and win or lose the experience brings a smile to my face. The characters are charmingly developed, the world is vibrant, and the action is constantly being tweaked and optimized. The sporadic seasonal events bring fresh life. I can’t praise it enough.

Honourable Mention: Super Mario Odyssey

Odyssey doesn’t crack my proper list but I’d feel remiss if I left it off. It’s the follow-up to the Switch’s first year 1-2-punch – with a second piece of killer first-party software, the Switch digs its heels in and makes a stand, declaring that it’s different than its Wii predecessors. It’s the best Mario game in twenty years. It will stand as essential software alongside its 8 and 16-bit ancestors, in a way that Sunshine and Galaxy can’t.

#5 – Metroid: Samus Returns

I’ve been calling for a new Metroid title for a decade and more. It’s been thirteen years since the last 2D Metroid, ten since Metroid Prime 3 rounded out the first-person trilogy, and seven since Other M sullied the franchise name. 2017 saw Samus’s (literal) return, in the form of this remake of a Game Boy relic.

Metroid 2 is an essential story in the series’ lore but the original game is a chore for modern gamers to revisit. The 3DS provides the scope necessary for the game’s vision to be fully realized. You explore SR388 to exterminate the titular metroids as Samus Aran, upgrading her power suit along the way to reach new areas. It’s a familiar setup, but still a fun experience.

Samus Returns is a bit different from others, in that it’s more linear than usual. While you’re required to backtrack in other games, it’s only necessary here if you want more powerups. SR388 is setup as a loop, in essence. Beat one area, unlock the next. I got to the final boss, then ran through the entire world again to grab all the collectibles I couldn’t before.

I have gripes – like the lack of variety in enemies – but really, I can overlook them easily if it means Samus is back in the spotlight.

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[Repost 2013/08] Retro Gaming Review: Retron 3

[Author’s Note: This review was originally posted on Tumblr in August 2013. My opinion on this piece of hardware hasn’t changed, though I do find myself wishing I owned its beefier successor, the Retron 5.]

The Retron 3 console appears to be a grand slam – it plays Nintendo Entertainment System, Super NES, and Sega Genesis games, with RGA and S-Video cables, on two wireless controllers or original gamepads. Sounds pretty awesome, right? It is, but it’s also far from perfect.

The basic functionality is there; if you don’t have the time, space, or money to hunt down three classic systems in a sea of potential scams or ripoffs, the Retron 3 is a solid alternative. One machine does the work of three, and you end up saving a lot of space in your entertainment centre. But it sounds too good to be true for a reason.

I’ve had my eye on this system for a while; when trading in a stack of old strategy guides at the local indie store, I got a heap of credit and decided to put it towards one of these bad boys. I own a particularly odd model of NES and it doesn’t work on my modern flatscreen, and I only want a Genesis at the moment for the Sonic games and Ecco, so this seemed an awesome alternative/solution.

After unboxing and setting it up, however, I realized that the SNES slot didn’t work. Switching it out at the store for a second copy wasn’t a hassle, but it speaks to the quality of the product. This is a somewhat complicated piece of technology from a less than big-name company, so it seems some corners were cut during production and/or design. Fair enough, I figured; once I had a fully functional unit on my hands I was appeased.

Now that I’ve sunk some solid time into the system though, I’ve come to a conclusion: if the wireless controllers are the biggest appeal for you in this package, you will be sorely disappointed should you purchase this system. Imagine Nintendo or Sega made a wireless controller for their system way back in the heydays of these systems – that thing would probably be a bit better than the pair of controllers that come with the Retron. I thought, “hey, I can sit on the couch and play some Genesis,” and found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV just like my five-year-old self.

A constant line of sight is required for the controllers to function, and from a relatively close distance too. Everytime my cat walked by, the signal was disrupted; hell, even when I tilted the controller idly I found it unresponsive. You might as well cross “wireless controllers” off the list of features or benefits on this package. I highly recommend using the original corded controllers – at least you don’t need to maintain an awkward hold to keep playing. To boot, swapping batteries is a pain, there’s no way to manually sync controllers to a system, and there’s no way to remap the buttons, which are particularly awkward on SNES games that utilize the shoulder buttons (ie. Super Metroid).

But again, this is a small-time company we’re dealing with. It’s impressive that they put this system together at all, let alone with two wireless controllers (shoddy though they may be) for a fair price. Swapping between inputs is a breeze, and S-Video is a nice inclusion (for SNES and GEN only; NES games shit their pants when they try to output to that space-age technology).

When it comes down to it, I can overlook or work around the Retron 3’s flaws. Just heed my advice before you take the plunge: it’s worth your time to invest in at least one controller for each system, and to test all three system slots as soon as you get it set up to ensure they work properly. It’s not perfect for today’s completely wireless setups, but the novelty and convenience of having the three original great consoles in one device on one input on your TV truly is worth a little inconvenience.

[EDIT: Since I originally wrote this review, Hyperkin released the Retron 5, which appears to be leaps and bounds beyond the 3 – it plays the same systems’ games, as well as Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, Famicom, and Super Famicom games. Its biggest selling point in my books is its HDMI compatability, which allows you to play original NES carts on modern TVs that don’t support old connections. There’s a new Home menu and improved (Bluetooth!) controllers, among other features. However, this model runs near $200 at many retailers, and the Retron 3 remains an affordable solution for many retro gamers. If you still have some original controllers and only care about 8- and 16-bit games, the Reton 3 may be the better choice.]

[Official page]

RATING: 3/5