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Kenneth’s Games of the Year 2017

Kenneth A. Azurin is a freelance writer whose routine back-and-forth travel between Los Angeles and Linz has made Facebook assume that he prefers German ads in his news feed. When he isn’t gaming, Kenneth spends his time playing basketball with friends or hunting down interesting editions of Moby-Dick to add to his collection. In 2017 he added three editions to the shelf, bringing the current total to five. No, he hasn’t finished reading Moby-Dick.

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Nintendo Switch: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

The Nintendo Switch has stolen countless waking hours from me, many more than I anticipated it would. Actually, I take that back: the console keeps tabs on your playtime per game so for my two Switch standouts of the year, the tally currently sits at 50 hours a piece and climbing… The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a no-brainer; with its beautifully sprawling open world, memorable characters new and old, and the irresistible lure of epic adventure—one which invites you to detour from saving Hyrule and clock in massive amounts of time just exploring uncharted wilderness—not only is Breath of the Wild everything you could ever ask for in a Zelda title, it’s everything you could ever ask for in a video game.

This one comes as a bit of a surprise, but Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an addictingly rewarding strategy experience that shrouds its own challenging aspects beneath a deceitful fog of straightforward storytelling, silly humor and seemingly simple battle mechanics. Though after spending some significant time with the game, it becomes illuminatingly evident that Mario + Rabbids isn’t just a cutesy crossover marketed at the brightly-colored iPhone strategy game demographic. With its charming world design, imaginative weapons and a difficulty curve that keeps you on your toes as you strive for those perfect battle ratings, there’s a whole lot of depth in this kingdom.

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Xbox One: Final Fantasy XV, Overwatch

When it comes to gaming these days, I’m usually playing catch-up with slightly older titles while everybody else is well on their way to finishing the newest releases. This might be most evident with my Xbox One play queue: Final Fantasy XV is a game that’s been out for awhile yet I’m still out there in Eos trying to summon an Astral for the first time. Like most open world RPG adventures, FFXV makes it easy to get sidetracked from your main questline—I found myself driving and camping more than I progressed the actual story. For me, developing the curious relationship between my amiable road trip buddies was as fun as anything else in the game. Distractions aside, it’s tough not to love FFXV. In classic Final Fantasy fashion, you’re swept away on an odyssey as enduring as the genre itself.

Shifting gears to a game that’s decidedly more first-person, Overwatch ended up being a MOBA that elbowed its way into my Destiny DLC schedule. With its own busy DLC calendar, there was rarely a shortage of new content between the limited holiday events and continuous character releases. I still haven’t tried several of the game’s most recent new combatants, as the roster of playable characters is quite expansive to begin with. Easy to pick up and play but formidable in its mastering, Overwatch offers a nice selection of unique PvE and PvP modes which are different enough from each other to warrant its slot in my admittedly slim library of regularly played games. As long as Blizzard keeps designing inventive new characters with desirable event skins, I’m sure the game will be a mainstay in my rotation throughout 2018 and beyond.

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PlayStation 4: Horizon Zero Dawn, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Much like Breath of the Wild on the Switch, I don’t think you can talk about PS4 games in 2017 without mentioning Horizon Zero Dawn. The game actually shares a number of commonalities with the current Zelda, and that’s certainly not a bad thing: a far-reaching fantasy world full of nasty murderous machines, battles which incorporate stealth elements and highly satisfying bow-&-arrow gameplay, a comprehensive crafting system, etc. While I still can’t get over the protagonist’s name, and I doubt I ever will, Horizon Zero Dawn has successfully established itself as a console-selling franchise that fans definitely want to see more of in the future—myself included.

Here’s something teenage-me would have never bet his lunch money on: Crash Bandicoot’s latest PlayStation outing is the best one yet. Maybe it’s the nostalgia speaking, but Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is the type of retro compilation that PSone gamers never knew they needed and are tongue-in-cheek glad that it was made. I only have personal memories of the original Crash Bandicoot; it was the first game disc I ever popped into my brand new PlayStation and its classic brand of 32-bit platforming would stay with me for a lifetime. It’s precisely this “fuel de reminisce” that throttles such an endearingly iconic character back into gaming’s current affairs, and this furry trilogy is as refined and remastered a throwback as any.

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Steam: Invisigun Heroes, Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Speaking of retro, Steam has been my go-to platform for finding and playing games that scratch my sprite-based itch. While that dynamic may soon be changing with the growth of Nintendo’s formidable indie games collection for the Switch (or “Nindies,” their term), for now Steam remains the king of the indie gaming community. One game that’s been especially near and dear to me over the last year is Invisigun Heroes, a single-screen multiplayer arena battler which focuses heavily on stealth gameplay. Knowing Invisigun’s creator has afforded me with a unique perspective into the game’s development; whether we were playtesting new levels and characters or bringing bugs to his attention, the dedication put into this project seeps through every pixel. There aren’t many 2D games that can convey a living, breathing world as convincingly as Invisigun, so it’s no wonder how easily the game achieves its best quality: it is pure fun to play!

Another title that hits close to home is Battle Chasers: Nightwar, a game crowdfunded on Kickstarter before making its eagerly anticipated cross-platform debut last Fall. Creator Joe Madureira conceived the Battle Chasers comic book series as a passion project back when I was in high school and I loved it, so it goes without saying that Nightwar’s announcement was nothing short of a dream come true for many of the source material’s cult following. As a Kickstarter backer, I’m happy to report that the final product is a gorgeous JRPG-style dungeon raider with an aesthetic that even puts Joe Mad’s original page art to shame. Nevermind that the game’s nostalgic predisposition lends itself to a phantom feeling that you’re playing something ancient and worn (to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way)—Nightwar is an underrated gem, just like the comic book before it.

Kenneth’s Games of the Year 2017
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