Games. Culture.

Jurge Cruz-Alvarez’s Top Ten Games Of 2017

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Hey, hi!

I’m noted Twitter user Jurge Cruz-Alvarez. You may know me from one of my world renowned posts or from my work over at the games site Irrational Passions, a website whose staff has been described by one Blessing Adeoye Jr. as “a rugged group of misfits.” You may have also seen me write a thing or two here on OK Beast or from the various podcasts I do, like the weekly video games news show, Input. Now, one year after asking Blessing to have me on as a contributor for OK Beast’s Game of the Year extravaganza, I have arrived with a tentative, not even ranked, list.

jurge cruz-alvarezSorry, y’all. As a staff member for Irrational Passions, I have until January to refine this down to my final list for the site. So expect this list to change. I still need to play games like Cuphead, Hellblade, Doki Doki Litterature Club, and Emily is Away 2. Now, in no particular order, here are my favorite games of 2017.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil is one of my favorite game franchises. While its story is absolute nonsense, the tension and mystery that the first two games provided created some of my most cherished memories with games, and Resident Evil 4 continues to be one of my favorite games of all time.

Since Resident Evil 4, the series pivoted to being a third-person action shooter which left the fanbase divided. At the time of Resident Evil 5, I was on the side of absolute outrage and screamed for a return to basics, but in the years following I just became uninterested in the series. Then they announced Resident Evil 7, and at first glance I thought it was a cynical reboot of the series that just leaned on the recent popularity of first-person horror games like Outlast, games that I was not a fan of.

Imagine my surprise when I get my hands on the game and I’m suddenly going back and forth across the game’s dilapidated plantation to find the right ornament to open a door, OG Resident Evil style. If it wasn’t already clear, it was the best kind of surprise and I was more than happy to eat crow for how critical I was about the game up until release. Sure, the game does become more action focused in its second-half, but this is the best the series has been since Resident Evil 4 and having recently become a virtual reality believer, I’ve been thinking about going through Resident Evil 7 all over again.

sonic maniaSonic Mania

So if you are unfamiliar with me, I really like Sonic the Hedgehog. Of course I acknowledge that the series has not been consistent in quality, but regardless I find every game fascinating. This is a person who has owned four copies of 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog in his lifetime.

Now enter Sonic Mania, a game developed by a team outside of SEGA who have spent years in the Sonic community creating fan games that have added and dissected the retro Sonic the Hedgehog genome to the point that they probably understand Sonic more than anyone at SEGA. With that information, even if you don’t care about Sonic, it made the announcement of Sonic Mania appear to be one of the most fascinating Sonic games since perhaps the inception of the original, or figuring out what went wrong with the beautiful disaster that is Sonic 06.

The product that we ultimately got is a game that not only has a reverence for old Sonic, but an incredibly deep understanding of it. It’s a game that combines the lessons taught by the teams that made the wild Sonic CD and the ambitious Sonic 3 plus Sonic and Knuckles, infuses it with an affection for SEGA and their body of work, and then blasts through the limitations of the Sega Genesis to create the 2D Sonic game that the Sega Saturn never got.

To me, that’s worth a whole lot. I don’t think this grand experiment was great, I actually wish it took a little bit more of that Sonic CD experimental spirit, but to see this thing come together with the clear passion and confidence shown really warmed the heart of this ol’ SEGA fan.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

I wasn’t particularly fond of developer MachineGames’ Wolfenstein: The New Order. I thought it was a game with some great moments (the train car scene with that great interrogation and well done sex scene), but mechanically I found it to feel dated. My feelings on the latter in its follow up, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, continue to be true. It’s a game that like many, I turned down to the easiest difficulty because I had no interest in investing myself in its combat.

But this time, Wolfenstein didn’t come with just a few moments, it came with plenty of major moments that follow up each other almost immediately and are a part of this thoughtful yet humorous story with great characters. Not everything lands perfectly and that struggle for that “just right” tone can sometimes be jarring, but its commentary on how fascism rises to power and the people who make way for it cuts deep.

Not only that, but MachineGames has somehow turned that angry pixelated man at the center of the screen in Wolfenstein 3D into a character you can feel empathy for and that might go down as one of the best player characters in a first-person-shooter. I like the second chapter in this Wolfenstein story a whole lot, and I’m excited to see how this all wraps up in whatever comes after The New Colossus.

gnogGNOG

GNOG is a puzzle game that presents you with an assortment of puzzle boxes that react to your input in an absolutely colorful and imaginative way. Usually when the term “puzzle box” is thrown around when talking about games, it’s used in a figurative sense. But GNOG really is just a game where you poke and prod virtual boxes put in front of you, and that’s not going to be everyone’s jam. When I have shown it to people, they have a hard time finding the fun in it. I’ve even seen folks online struggle to describe it as a “game”, and it’s true that GNOG doesn’t really have that stickiness we all search for in a game. It doesn’t have that thing that makes us want to keep playing. There is no story or objective apart from solving this box.

But for me, the way it reacts to you makes it worth it.

It’s the explosions of color and cute characters that you will find hiding inside. It’s the figures, sounds, shapes and music that give me this feeling of childlike wonder and fun that is so rare in life once, well, once you grow up. This feeling is even more intense when GNOG is played in virtual reality, and it’s actually the experience that has sold me on the technology. I don’t think everyone will see what I see in it, but I’m so glad it’s a thing that exists.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Apart from a few hours with The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker HD on the Wii U, my history with The Legend of Zelda series wasn’t very long, and an affection for Zelda has always been a thing I’ve wanted.

The way people talk about Zelda and the memories they have attached to the series have always made me a tad jealous. Having never really embraced a Nintendo platform, it makes sense why the series and I never crossed paths, that is until I bought a Wii U and it became the first Nintendo home console I invested myself in. While for many Breath of the Wild was the first chapter in their relationship with the Nintendo Switch, for me it was the final chapter in my relationship with my Wii U, and my feelings on the game are complicated.  

In those first three hours with the game, it felt as if anything was possible.The game’s opening is punctuated with Link running towards a hill as the game’s score builds to this grand crescendo when he reaches the top and the world is all laid out in front of you. Then you’re slowly introduced to the mechanics and rules of the world, and the possibilities seem limitless.

But after a few hours, that magic left me as I realized that no matter how far I went there will always be another trial, there will always be another bokoblin that will drain my resources, and there will always be another tower to climb. Even so, sometimes that magic from the beginning of the game shows up again. Like the first time you discover that dragons are a thing that exist in this world or when an unexpected chain reaction of events all come together wonderfully.

Now that I don’t have to play the game anymore, I look fondly on it and really value the good moments I had with it.

persona 5Persona 5

Hi, yes, I’m one of those people whose favorite game of all time is Persona 4. Persona 4 Golden specifically. So I guess this game is kind of a big deal, but I’m honestly still not 100% sure how I feel about the whole experience. It’s for sure one of my favorite games of the year, so I can say that I like it, but at the same time there’s a lot about Persona 5 that is unremarkable or is inherently less impressive due to the very existence of Persona 4.

Maxing out social links is fun and it sure has that swagger of a Persona game, but this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve seen this before and a lot of what makes Persona 5 unique, mainly its cast of characters, just didn’t hit me on any level as hard as Persona 4 did. Still, they are fun characters, the music is fantastic, the game’s 100+ hour runtime can make you feel invested in a meaningful way, and I just really like the Persona series’ no frills approach at JRPG combat.

I probably need more time with my thoughts on this one. You would think 100 hours of playing it would be enough, but regardless, I’m glad I made the time to experience Persona 5.

Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story

Another Lost Phone is a mobile text adventure game that simulates the interface of a smartphone. More specifically, it simulates someone else’s phone that you now have. This game is the sequel to A Normal Lost phone which also released this year and had the same setup, but Another Lost Phone fixed almost all of my issues with its predecessor. 

Here’s what I said in my review over on Irrational Passions“Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story is a very different story than the one found in its predecessor, both of which have something meaningful to say. In the end, I think Another Lost Phone goes about delivering a message and story in a more cohesive, comfortable, and enjoyable way.”

I stand by my review and I find myself still thinking about the two hours I spent with Another Lost Phone. Sorry for keeping the themes of the story a mystery, but they really are worth seeing for yourself if you’re still on board once you make it past the game’s content warning. I will say that it’s a story with a punch that is effective not only because of the writing and subject matter, but because of just how well it uses that “lost phone” framing.

Also, it might not have one of the best soundtracks of 2017, but it’s one I’m pretty fond of.

reigns: her majestyReigns: Her Majesty

The original Reigns made it onto my Top 10 Games of 2016. It was a game that placed you as king of a kingdom and combined what I guess you would call the “mechanics” of the popular dating app Tinder, with a bit of the decision making of a Civilization game, plus the roguelike elements of a game like Rogue Legacy. At the time, it was a clever mobile game with a blending of genres and ideas that shouldn’t have worked, but absolutely did. When a sequel was announced, I couldn’t think of how it could improve on that original game, but boy does it not take long to realize that Reigns: Her Majesty is an absolute improvement over its predecessor.

This time in Reigns, you play as a queen. Written by former games writer Leigh Alexander, the biggest change in Reigns: Her Majesty is how sharp the writing is and the weight of your decisions and the new possibilities that they open up. Not only that, but the developers made the right call in hiring a female writer to write a female player character, as your responses to the questions presented feel human and make sense within the context presented in the game.

While the original Reigns was one of my favorites of last year, I never found the energy to see it to the end. Not only did I finished Reigns: Her Majesty, but I want to go back and do it again to see anything that I might have missed. It’s a very impressive sequel and more game developers should hire Leigh Alexander to write their games.

Night in the Woods

Ever since its Kickstarter in 2013, I’ve been fascinated by Night in the Woods. This adventure game about a group of young anthropomorphic animals living in a rustbelt town is a warm coming-of-age tale with witty and empathetic writing brought to life by the wonderful art of animator Scott Benson.

Going through the game’s town of Possum Springs while its folksy pop soundtrack plays underneath brings this sense of nostalgia for a time and place that I’ve never really been in myself, but the game just takes you there; to a quiet town with hard working people under the blanket that is the Fall season.

One of my other favorite things about Night in the Woods is how it approaches its dialogue. I have described it in the past in my review for Irrational Passions as such, “Night in the Woods reads like the way we talk online. Specifically the way you would talk to friends on Twitter or in a chat room. A sort of laid back, witty, and sarcastic dialogue with a very deliberate pace to it.” This dialogue is the game’s unique secret weapon that pushed you through it.

Night in the Woods is the most comforting game I’ve played this year and seeing so many of my friends finally giving it a shot with Game of the Year season being upon us really put a smile on my face.

nierNier: Automata

My feelings on Nier: Automata have been well documented on the website known as Twitter dot com. This list is in fact not ranked, but there’s no doubt that Nier: Automata is my favorite game of the year and one of my favorite games of all time.

For those uninformed, Nier: Automata is the sequel to an action rpg by the name of Nier that was met with a negative to mixed critical reception and found somewhat of a cult following. I had no background with that game until after I played Automata. This sequel is a game more focused on the action part of the equation since it’s developed by renowned action game developer of titles such as Bayonetta, Platinum Games. Both of these games share the same creative director in one Yoko Taro.

I’m not quite ready to put everything on the table and spill my heart out on how much this game means to me personally, but I will tell you that it’s a game that makes me excited about this medium. It constantly changes genre and perspective dynamically. It tells a story in a way that only a video game can. It approaches sexuality, nihilism, and humanism in ways that no game has ever even attempted to. It’s soundtrack is this force that moves you and evolves in exciting ways as you go on.

Coming up with the right words to describe this game without sounding like a hyperbolic lunatic is hard. I hope to find those words at some point soon. Regardless, I think that whether you like it or not, Nier: Automata is going to be a game that inspires and will leave an impact, and it’s definitely my biggest surprise of the year.

So that’s my list. I will be playing a lot more in the lead up to our final Game of the Year discussions over at Irrational Passions. From me to you, I hope your holiday season is filled with good times and I hope your 2018 will be filled with even more good games and maybe new friends. Cheers!

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