Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Games You Liked
We’ve already offered up our favorite games (and levels and independent games) of the year, and now it’s time for the best, final part of our annual year-end tradition: the Games You Liked edition of Keyboard Geniuses where Gameological readers share the works that captured their hearts and minds in 2017. So we’ve grabbed a few of our favorite responses, especially ones that veer from the year’s usual suspects, out of the many wonderful comments we received on our Games We Liked list and collected them here:
I liked Arms because it was a dream fighting game and a perfect showcase for the Switch. I’m a big fighting game fan, but I’ve never been particularly good at them. Despite playing them for years, I often fumble quarter-circles and charging, let alone have the time and capability to learn comboing. Smash Bros. was my optimal bread-and-butter, but even then I found myself failing hard to the tech that devoted players were pulling off. Enter Arms, where strategy and thought are just as important as execution. While it initially looks slower-paced, diving into Nintendo’s newest original reveals a ton of depth: counterpicking arms mid-match to bring down your opponent’s strategy is satisfying, and nothing quite beats landing the perfect grab or rush when your opponent made too bold a move.
Not only is Arms a solid game on its own, it also highlights the Switch’s unique strengths. Sure, you can play the game with a traditional controller, but the feeling of punching with the separated Joy-Con is delightful. It’s also the perfect game to set up on the go. You may need to have brought some extra Joy-Con for the full effect, but standing the Switch up anywhere turns it into an Arms arcade machine. It’s one of the best ways to share the fun of the system.
I liked Ever Oasis because it foregrounded the interdependence of life. Mainstream games tend to regard life as cheap, and that’s fair—these are just 1s and 0s, after all, not actual living beings. Ever Oasis, though, was developed entirely around the idea that life is sacred and living beings have a duty to support one another. The corruption at the heart of the game’s antagonist is the corruption of this ideal, turning average desert animals into monsters seeking to destroy one another. Life is being choked from the wilderness, thematically maintaining this sense of decay from a more communal lifestyle. The player character, saved from suffering a similar fate by his brother in an act of sacrifice, is only able to succeed in their journey by accepting outsiders, spreading their meager resources around to those with even less, and rebuilding the world’s sense of community from scratch. This game didn’t make much of a splash, but the director’s statement included in its digital manual outlining the themes that guided every aspect of its development really made an impression on me. Games don’t need to be made by a small team or exist outside the commercial mainstream to have a timely, powerful, positive message at their heart.
I liked Prey because it made suspending disbelief so easy. Prey’s Talos One felt like a real place, which is no easy feat given that it’s a space station set in a parallel universe where the discovery of aliens in the late ’50s led to cooperation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. And yet, if a space station were to be designed and built in that era and universe, it’s totally believable that it would look like Talos One. In the parts for staff, there’s geometric string art, wood-panelling, high ceilings and luxurious, room-filling gravity. In the parts for maintenance and operations, there’s little comfort and often even less gravity. And if you decide to go outside the space station, you’ll have to pack your own heater.
Prey never treats you like an idiot. It shows you its story and world, and lets you dig in further if you want but never forces you to sit there for 20 minutes while one of the characters tells you what to think. Amazingly, if you do decide you want to know more, it’s always got great answers. Want to know how they got all this food on the space station? Well, I suggest a trip down to waste processing. It’ll certainly make you think about eating the sushi.
DL—Bury Me, My Love
I liked Bury Me, My Love because it made the waiting in a mobile game meaningful. Many mobile games restrict your play by adding timers, often intended as “pain points” to encourage paying the developer some real money to remove or speed them up. In Bury Me, My Love, the waiting built into the game is optional but really is an essential part of the experience; the wait is the narrative. In it, you’re messaging back and forth with your character’s wife, Nour. She will often be “busy” doing something harrowing as she treks from Syria to Germany seeking refuge, or she’ll lose battery or signal at a time when she’s in great peril. All you can do is wait. Wait for a response notification. Wait for the result after a “ttys.” Wait to know if your wife is still safe. The wait feels real for a while, and though I’m not finished with the game, I’ve been playing for over a week, and I’m still captivated by Nour’s journey. It’s starting to wear on me, just as it would on her husband, Majd.
AmaltheaElanor—Horizon Zero Dawn
I liked Horizon: Zero Dawn because it respected my time. In so many open-world games, there’s often a temptation to throw in as much content as possible to extend the play-length, and it usually comes at the cost of quality. Horizon took me 70 hours to beat, but none of the material I engaged with felt like it was expendable. Vantage points and audio logs provide connections to the past; corruption zones and bandit camps made for great peripheral activities; the cauldrons and tallnecks were limited in their numbers and distinctive. Everything in the game felt like it was intentionally included by a developer that had so lovingly crafted this world, and everything within it—optional or mandatory—was put there to enrich the player experience. No bloat or filler to be seen.
Chum Joely—What Remains Of Edith Finch
I liked What Remains Of Edith Finch because it expresses different personalities through different control schemes. As you make your way through the many sad stories of the ill-fated Finch clan, each one has its own distinct control scheme and, in many cases, its own distinct visual style. From playing as an owl swooping to catch a rabbit or a monster oozing across the deck of a ship, to swinging on a swing at the edge of a cliff, to shooting pictures of a family hunting trip or playing as a baby in the bathtub, and several more, each of the vignettes introduces you to a unique character and experience by changing the way you interact with the game.
It’s not always a painless process— I struggled to figure out the controls in a few instances, although oddly enough, the bits played as Edith were the clumsiest for me—but it really pays off in terms of the overall experience. Needless to say, the pinnacle of this progression is Lewis’ story, right near the end of the game, which has been rightly called out as one of the most memorable moments of 2017 (and beyond) by virtually everyone I’ve seen commenting on the game. Experiencing Lewis’ final descent into madness by controlling his real-life actions with the right hand and his fantasy life with the left hand makes the ending an especially visceral shock. And yet, having played it from the first-person perspective, I felt I understood his actions a bit more than I otherwise would have. Simply amazing.
Prestidigititis—Night In The Woods
I liked Night In The Woods because it helped me discover a phrase I’ve needed all my life: “fiction hangover.” I came across this phrase while browsing the subreddit board for the game. It was used to describe something the commenter usually only experienced with novels, the feeling of sad separation from a fictional person/group or place that ends before you’re ready to stop following the characters’ lives. That’s exactly what I felt between the time when the game credits rolled and I started up yet another playthrough (which would be anywhere from three weeks to 20 seconds, depending).
Matt is right when he says the game’s cast is a joy to be around. They had wonderfully pitched perspectives and voices that revealed themselves carefully and naturally, like layers being peeled away from their 2-D art. Their imperfections and prejudices were borne of years of life, rather than scripted attitudinal obstacles for the player to navigate or to help the player tell them apart from one another. Their warmth and caring was honest and real. I miss the way Mae’s mom would discuss her creepy true-crime books. I crave a stupid dad joke from Mae’s father. I want to hear Selmers’ latest poem, have Mr. Chazokov explain the stars to me, and let myself be confused and delighted by that faithful weirdo Germ. And that’s before taking into account any of the “main” cast or the game’s primary storyline.
Staggering Stew Bum—Mass Effect: Andromeda
I liked Mass Effect: Andromeda because it is the only game ever made that lets you lead humanity into the future it deserves while cosplaying as Ronald goddamn McDonald. Sure, Andromeda has a boring plot, characters who range between dull as dishwater and just plain terrible, uninteresting and unoriginal enemies, fucking crafting, and countless other pointless and frustrating features. It’s a dull and mostly unrewarding slog. But then again: Ronald goddamn McDonald.
Andromeda is a game that lets you play as a clown, a corporate mega symbol who fell arse-backward into privilege because of who their father was, bumbling around the place pretending to be a leader yet only being an embarrassment, and sexually harassing anything with a heartbeat, from blue alien commitment-phobes to rogueish Han Solo-light cliches. Yet somehow this clown is not deservedly relieved of their position before it’s all too late. No, they are actually allowed to continue on the path to oblivion. Worst of all, Andromeda, makes a mockery of what came before it, and it is 100 percent the game we all deserve. And deep down, despite resenting it and wishing it never existed, I still kinda liked it.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is 2017: The Game.
That’ll do it for 2017, Gameologerinos. It’s been an especially trying year around these parts, and so I’d like to offer my biggest, sincerest thank you for sticking with us. Thank you for reading and commenting, for being a boundless font of positivity and insight, and for being the best damn community a gaming site has ever seen. Happy holidays, everyone. We’ll see you in 2018.