An exhilarating knock-out…
Nintendo has been knocking it out of the park as of late; through the release of the masterful Breath of the Wild and the forever endearing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo welcomes a new addition to the their collection of fantastic IPs and their ever growing lineup of excellent Switch games. I have to be honest with all of you, I was not impressed with ARMS when it was originally revealed back in January. Gimmicky motion-controls have never been my cup of tea, and the questionably marketed reveal trailer showcasing a man in business attire fighting against a Japanese school girl was laughable at best. However, after a few Nintendo Directs showcasing the game’s surprising amount of depth and a plentiful amount of hands-on time with the Global TestPunch, my perception of Nintendo’s newest IP took a sharp 180. The Global TestPunch proved that this bizarre complex fundamentally works and it’s ridiculously fun and addictive. While the TestPunch featured a considerable fraction of content, the final product adds an exceptional bevy of different modes and unlocks to keep this addictive experience vigorous and constantly on your mind. While its single-player portion is rather shallow and is undoubtedly a secondary point of concern, both online and local multiplayer are extremely robust and are the fundamental crux as to why ARMS is such a delight. The nuanced gameplay, robust catalogue and combination of different weaponry – which are called ARMS to little surprise – slew of varying idiosyncratic game modes, and a constant stream of new dedicated content within the coming months, ARMS is an absolute knock-out of a gem and is arguably the best motion controlled game I have ever played.
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A “bona fide, Monafied” masterpiece
While my thoughts on the Shin-Megami subseries may emit a questionable sense of bias, piercing through any form of clouded judgment was surprisingly trivial as Persona 5 is an absolute delight, regardless of my attachment to the series. As I’ve mentioned profusely, Persona 4 Golden is my favourite video game of all-time, and my biased standpoint stems from the sheer fact that this experience saved my life. With that rather audacious statement declared, expectations for its sequel were undoubtedly and unfairly monumental; Persona 4 was an enlightening experience that impeccably resonated with every beat of my contemporary life at that point in time. Persona 5 is not nearly as masterful as its predecessor, but one must understand that it was never going to be nor does it need to be. Persona 5 is an intricately designed experience that exudes an unparalleled aura of stylistic charm, with its immaculate presentation placed in a profound echelon of its own. While its pivotal narrative lacks the grave and brutal nature of its predecessor, it still manages to weave elements of moral intensity, corruption, unity and friendship, throwing in plenty of twists and turns that construct a sound and compelling narrative that is arguable the best in the series. While dozens of returning elements foster the core structure that we’ve come to expect, welcome new additions are added into the mix to create the most streamlined, accessible, and smooth Persona experience to date. Character development and gameplay are seamlessly entwined with each element inherently affecting the other, the simplistically complex battle-system is a refined work of art that bears an untouched stylistic aesthetic, and the excellent new Mementos system provides a refreshing approach to longevity and level grinding, justifying its questionable existence. While Persona 5’s characters aren’t nearly as endearing as the exquisite cast of Persona 4 and the typical sense of dread and impending doom is questionably absent for most of the journey, Persona 5 is undoubtedly the most polished entry in the series as its intricately designed gameplay systems and captivating narrative points are stellar examples of this genre’s iconic framework and impressive capability. It might not be the life-changing experience that its older brother delivered, but Persona 5 is an excellent standalone experience that is extraordinarily gratifying for all who wish to partake in this exquisite journey – it is a bona fide masterpiece.
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The open-world genre has always been a perplexing beast as most titles struggle to find a harmonic balance between the interminable desire for seamless quality and quantity. Most popularized examples simply litter their sandboxes with menial tasks for the sole purpose of longevity, while others have a profound sense of world-building that never appropriately warrants the use of open-world fundamentals. The Legend of Zelda series has always embraced the essential nuts and bolts of the open-world genre, but its explorative world has always felt dissociated from the core innards of the experience. The latest entry in the three-decade long running franchise is said to rethink the conventions of the Zelda series, offering new implementation of player freedom. Breath of the Wild is not only a reinvigorating surge of pulsating energy into the Zelda series, but a masterful reinvention of the open-world genre as a whole, incorporating elements of fundamental realism and meaningful progression that were simply not present in the examples of yesteryear. With a core thematic imprint of discovery, Breath of the Wild’s sense of unadulterated curiosity and exploration is second to none; every minute detail serves a resound purpose and each structured piece of this exceptional puzzle seamlessly blends with the overarching world. Breath of the Wild is simply the most cohesive title in the series and an impeccable example of the aforementioned harmonic balance in the open-world genre. An embodiment of the imperative first steps of a console generation, while simultaneously striking a notable chord as a renowned swan song, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word.
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Rising from the dead…
*Since I do not own a PlayStation VR, this review will not cover any virtual reality component of Resident Evil 7.*
The Resident Evil series has been a victim of its own success over the recent years, having struggled with multiple identity crises and fundamentally losing the particular elements that fostered the survival horror genre. Capcom’s latest entry into the series is a bipolar experiment as its perspective and overall tone are a relative far cry from the series’ renowned tendencies; while it rekindles certain gameplay and design elements that are not only reminiscent to the series’ golden age, but seamlessly blends the core fundamentals of the genre and the powerless implementation that has been popularized in modern survival horror game design, ushering a harmonic balance of the new and old. Resident Evil 7 is a resounding renaissance that acts as a true return to form for the series and establishes a new successful era for, what many would’ve considered, a fatigued franchise. It’s an engrossing experience that is exceptionally well-paced, with each key moment and discomforting setting serving a resilient purpose. Resident Evil 7 trades off its recent predecessors’ reliance on redundant action for a methodical approach to horror, rightfully returning the series’ key ability to instill fear through its haunting environment and impeccable sound design. It’s a terrifying ride that will undoubtedly send bracing chills down your spine, arguably attaining the top spot as the best horror game of the current generation. While it never reaches the meteoric heights of the Gamecube remake of the original or the masterful Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 7: biohazard meets the established gold standard of the series and exceeds most contemporary expectations as it is the best Resident Evil game since the aforementioned fourth entry, and a textbook example on how to properly revitalize a dying franchise.
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New COG, old tricks.
Fun and familiar. Upon completing Gears of War 4’s 8-10 hour campaign, those two decisive words constantly reverberated in the back of my mind, evoking a rather ineffable sensation. Gears of War 4, in a lot of ways, is the best entry in the series, as it productively enhances existing elements of the established franchise and polishes them off to a crisp, pristine shine; however, its devotion to refine, instead of reinventing the formula can, at times, result in a rather stagnant experience that strikes serious chords of déjà vu. Its parallelism to the original trilogy is a double-edged sword. Gears of War 4 is an excellent, by the numbers, sequel that may have questionable relevance, but is a fun, engaging experience from start to finish. While it does very little to differentiate itself from its predecessors, and archaic design elements which were fostered in the original back in 2006 are still present a decade later, Gears of War 4 still manages to be a great experience that acts as a simple reminder that it can still hold its own in the modern realm of gaming. Its campaign may be brief and lack the nuanced punch that made the original an excellent class of innovation, but it’s an enjoyable piece of modern entertainment that is paired nicely with an excellent assortment of multiplayer components – Horde 3.0 is an excellent highpoint that lives up to the addictive nature of the series’ legacy. Certain balancing issues that have continuously plagued the Gears of War multiplayer scene are, for some reason, still present in this fourth instalment. Although it’s arguably the safest sequel in the history of gaming, Gears of War 4 is a worthy addition to an excellent series.
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Kept you waiting, huh?
Metal Gear Online will not be weighed into this review as I primarily focused on the single-player aspect of The Phantom Pain.
The Metal Gear Solid series is a renowned work of video game art that is equally daunting as it is inventive. For many, this beloved franchise paved the way for video game story-telling, perfected the calm yet addictive nature of stealth gameplay, and fostered one of gaming’s greatest heroes, Solid Snake. As someone with an inept ability for the stealth genre of video games, the Metal Gear series never once appealed to my preferences, despite its popularity and unanimous praise. Funnily enough, I completed the entire core Metal Gear Solid series this year and I honestly regret not rectifying my juvenile boycott sooner as the Metal Gear Solid series is an astounding achievement. Kojima’s fifth main and final entry to the Metal Gear series, The Phantom Pain, is a rather obtuse experience as it transcends so many inherent fundamentals of the series while diminishing certain attributes that’ve become synonymous with the idiosyncratic series. Kojima’s first foray into the vast depths of the open world is not only a success but it surpasses the modern status quo for the genre. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a near-perfect gameplay experience that both encourages and compliments your play style, expecting a required level of intelligence and interpretation. This is simply stealth gameplay perfection as The Phantom Pain offers a minutia of different tactical approaches for any foreseeable state of affairs, thus the experience is fluctuated accordingly, never emitting feelings of stagnancy or frustration. Complemented with an excellent and engaging open world to utilize as your own playground of sorts, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a gameplay rich experience that is admittedly addictive and is honestly one of the best open world games I have ever played. Unfortunately, The Phantom Pain’s narrative is unable to match, let alone surpass, the ingenious nature of its gameplay counterpart. What has become an expected component of the Metal Gear Solid series is practically non-existent in The Phantom Pain. Its sense of narrative is sparse – proving to be disappointing at best, deficiently pathetic at worst – its obstructively disjointed by a bizarre and questionable episodic structure and while its gameplay counterpart is filled to the brim with meaningful and engaging content, its core narrative simply feels underdeveloped. However, despite its discrepancies, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain still manages to transcend as a near-perfect experience that is profoundly addicting from start to finish, simply never letting up. Although it may not be my favourite entry in the profound series, that honor belongs to Snake Eater, it is still an absolute favourite of mine and as I previously mentioned, it’s also one of the best open world games to date. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an excellent entry into an already excellent established franchise and is undoubtedly the best game of 2015 that I never played.
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Immense quantity for the sake of meaningful quality…
No Man’s Sky will undoubtedly serve as a stern lesson for the entire gaming community moving forward; it’s a clear cut example of excellent ideas wound together into an underwhelming package which unsurprisingly fails to live up to the insurmountable hype. My expectations were relatively shallow to begin with as I honestly could not understand the pure obsession pertaining to developer Hello Games’ latest project; yes, its technical prowess and sheer scope are noteworthy to say the least, but its moment to moment gameplay – what little of it that was brought to light – left much to be desired. Cosmic exploration and a personal sense of discovery is a rather enticing premise on paper, but the gargantuan scope of an expansive world – or universe in the case of No Man’s Sky – is absolutely meaningless if the core gameplay lacks intriguing purpose and doesn’t properly foster a rewarding sense of progression. No Man’s Sky is the literal embodiment of monotony and repetition; its quintillion procedurally generated planets are aesthetically gorgeous and while some planets vary in terms of visual diversity, perilous weather conditions, and collection of wild life and vegetation, each meticulous activity you partake in on one planet is a carbon copy of what you’ll do on the next. While Hello Games were so fixated on constructing a technical marvel that would surpass the scope of the modern competition, they simply forgot to make their game fun in the end. At its core, No Man’s Sky is a resource gathering experience, clearly taking inspiration from Minecraft’s addictive and accessible nature, but is clearly unable to grasp, let alone match, its profound social prominence and sense of ownership. While No Man’s Sky gives you the necessary tools to discover a vast array of different planets, star systems, and unidentified species, what’s the point of discovery if you can’t share that sense of glory with anyone else? For a procedurally generated galaxy with infinite possibility, I’m quite surprised by the empty, lifeless, and uninspired aura the collective package emits. While Hello Games should definitely be commended for the technical achievement that is No Man’s Sky – its sense of scale and technical performance is astounding and unprecedented – their bold new cosmic sandbox is the perfect reminder that bigger isn’t always better.
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The best game of 2014 that I never played
Boy oh boy was I a fool to have neglected what is easily an underrated gem of the current generation. Thanks to the consistent reminders and high recommendation from Wizard Dojo, I eventually decided to give Tropical Freeze a slice of my time. While I extensively enjoyed the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo, Diddy’s Kong Quest in particular is quite spectacular, I’ve always felt fairly alienated by its following as for some ineffable reason, I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as the status quo. They are certainly excellent games, do not get me wrong, but they never beguiled me to the extent of others, and while they most definitely left an imprint, I felt an unsatisfied need for something more. Both a controversial and downright ludicrous opinion am I right? Whatever personal gripe that overstayed its welcome or minute element that felt omitted, Tropical Freeze bombastically rectifies all of my personal uncertainties with the series and rightfully fills the void of understanding Donkey Kong Country’s true brilliance. Not only is it a pristine example of level variety and game design, Tropical Freeze is also the most thrilling and exhilarating platformer I have ever played. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze harmoniously merges the frantic, moment-to-moment nature of reactionary platformers and the strategic and methodical tendencies of Super Mario into a seamless masterclass of gameplay, resulting in what is easily the Wii U’s crowning jewel. Tropical Freeze is the best game of 2014 that I never played and is not only my favourite game on Nintendo’s Wii U, but is also a new personal favourite of mine.
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Greatness from small beginnings…
Very few experiences are capable of capturing the essence of adventure, let alone doing so with a resounding sense of polish; this honorable achievement in production and execution is conspicuously present in Naughty Dog’s flagship series. The fourth, and arguably final, entry in the series, entitled “A Thief’s End”, is an immaculate culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured into this journey for the past nine years. Both the player and Naughty Dog have grown with these characters for nearly a decade and Naughty Dog appropriately honed in on that premise to create possibly the most personal and melancholic Uncharted experience to date. To close things off, Naughty Dog decided to slowly dig into Drake’s past, providing much needed context, and ultimately closure, for this character who has essentially become an icon to the PlayStation community. While I’d normally advocate the traditional “gameplay over story” mentality, Naughty Dog’s repertoire would be an obvious exception to the rule. Naughty Dog has always excelled in their ability to construct well written characters and the impeccable development present in their latest triumph is further proof of the fact. Their attention to detail, excellent writing, intriguing character development, and production quality are second to none and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is yet another successful notch on Naughty Dog’s impressive belt. While Uncharted 4’s gameplay is unable to match its sheer presentational brilliance, every minute element is pooled together to create a masterful experience that is equally thrilling as it is emotional. With a heavier emphasis on exploration, new implementation of storytelling, one of the greatest Easter eggs in gaming history, and an exceptional ending that mirrors the poignancy of Persona 4, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may be the slowest entry in the series, but it’s arguably the best and undoubtedly my favourite. Nathan Drake’s final adventure is a worthy end indeed.
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A revitalizing surge of energy to an old, but beloved franchise.
The Playstation 4 remake/reimagining of 2002’s Ratchet & Clank is an exceptionally gorgeous painting in motion which re-establishes the series’ initial quirky charm and personality. Not only is Ratchet & Clank arguably the best game in the series – I’d have to replay A Crack in Time to truly weigh in on the superior title – but it’s also my second favourite Playstation 4 exclusive, trailing right behind the impeccable Bloodborne. While the game may trail on the safe and familiar in some regards, it ultimately adds a wide array of new variations which weren’t present in the 2002 original, resulting in an engaging experience for both veterans and newcomers alike. What Ratchet & Clank on the PS4 ultimately does is reassure the gaming community that the dynamic duo are still relevant and not only justifying exist in the modern era of gaming, but stand its ground amongst the robust quality of the eighth generation as Ratchet & Clank is a stellar experience that is arguably the greatest game that Insomniac has ever dished out.
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