I feel the need to reflect on just how amazing my recent video game history has been. Between long-delayed releases, unexpected new favorites, and wild dreams come true, I’ve been utterly spoiled. Let’s take a look back at six incredible games I’ve played within the last year or so, from the earliest I experienced to the latest:
THE LAST GUARDIAN
First glimpsed in 2009, it was a long seven years of speculation and broken dreams as The Last Guardian, Fumito Ueda’s much-anticipated successor to the legendary Shadow of the Colossus, became more myth than tangible game. After finally resurfacing in 2015 and making its way into my hands at the end of 2016, it still didn’t feel real. After four days and one of the most incredible video game experiences of my life, I can definitively say it was worth all the build-up. There were times in this game that I was in utter disbelief, both because I still couldn’t believe I was actually playing The Last Guardian but also because of just how emotionally profound the experience can be. This is mostly thanks to the amazingly lifelike companion, Trico, and the bond we formed over the course of an unforgettable journey through a wonderfully-realized world of peril and mystery.
This one took me by surprise. I knew a love letter to the classic Sonic games and 90s Sega Genesis era in general would be right up my alley, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much I would fall in love with Freedom Planet. Sometimes a work just resonates with me on a higher level and Freedom Planet is undoubtedly one of those special games. Essentially the spiritual successor to one of my favorite platformers of all time, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Freedom Planet nails everything I love about the genre: inspired and memorable levels, fluid mechanics that are satisfying to master, and a truly killer OST. I even dig the often-criticized cheesy storytelling, which I think fits the game’s 90s Saturday morning cartoon vibe perfectly.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
If there’s a centerpiece game here, this is it. As much as I love every game in this line-up, Breath of the Wild really is a dream come true and I was sometimes brought to tears while playing it by simply standing in a field and marveling at how it was all real. I opened this blog with a piece about the game (and yes, Breath of the Wild served as an inspiration for me to create “Art Imitates Nature” in the first place) and I just got finished with a twenty-one-chapter photo diary of my experience, so yeah I kind of love this game. Never before has my love of art and nature intertwined in such beautiful, literal ways as in Breath of the Wild. I’m not sure a game has ever immersed me, impressed me, and filled me with such awe and wonder and joy and just…feelings on such a regular basis as this one. Breath of the Wild doesn’t perfectly match my every wish, but it comes so close to my dreams that it’s almost uncanny and I’m both grateful to have it and excited for where my favorite video game series will go next.
Whereas Freedom Planet feels like the spiritual successor to the classic Genesis Sonic games, Sonic Mania is meant to be the actual successor. Spearheaded by a dedicated group of Sonic fans turned official Sonic developers, Mania plays and feels like the classics, features beautiful artwork that feels like a proper evolution of those titles, and perhaps surpasses them just in terms of how tight its excellent level design is (most of the time anyway). As someone who grew up with classic Sonic and has always daydreamed of a true “Sonic 4”, all of this put a huge smile on my face and between all of its references and little details, Mania is pretty much the ultimate fan-service game. This is also where the game disappoints me to a degree though as Mania is mostly comprised of remixed classic levels and largely lives in the colossal shadow of Sonic 2 and especially Sonic 3 & Knuckles instead of establishing a strong identity for itself. As it stands, the game is great fun, but I hope it is ultimately a launch point for the fully original classic Sonic successor that my inner seven-year-old truly craves.
METROID: SAMUS RETURNS
It’s been nearly a decade since the last proper Metroid title, Metroid: Other M, failed to live up to the series’ excellent pedigree in the eyes of many, myself included. So while a remake of Metroid II isn’t exactly a dream game for me, Samus Returns is still a very significant release. This is especially true considering how dramatic a remake this actually is. I was skeptical of Samus Returns when it was first unveiled, but after getting my hands on it and about five minutes of creeping through the dank tunnels of planet SR388, I realized just how much I had missed this series. Oozing with that patented Metroid atmosphere and featuring surprisingly impressive art direction, detailed environments, and possibly the best use of the 3DS’s 3D effect to date, Samus Returns exceeded my expectations in all sorts of delightful ways right up until its incredible finale. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see the day, but Samus Returns healed the deep wounds inflicted by Other M. Now bring on Metroid Prime 4.
SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY
After years of uninspired New Super Mario Bros. games and the pretty good but still highly derivative Super Mario 3D Land/World titles, I was beginning to lose hope for the core Super Mario series ever being something truly special again. I’ve already written a fairly extensive piece on Super Mario Odyssey as well as shared my extended thoughts on its many fabulous kingdoms, but suffice it to say Odyssey calls back to a time when what a Super Mario game was supposed to look like and be like wasn’t chiseled into granite and we got games like the one where Mario battled zombies in a world themed after ancient China. Now we have a game where Mario helps sentient watering cans get their flowers back from UFOs and possesses a T-Rex and has elaborate musical numbers with Pauline from Donkey Kong. If Breath of the Wild is a game that I’ve been dreaming about for half my life, than Super Mario Odyssey is a beautifully imaginative reminder of why I dream about games in the first place.