Thursday, January 25, 2018

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2017 Awards - Top Five Platformers

What is this -- the 1990's?! This award category for the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2017 Awards sees us running and jumping with some familiar platforming all-stars of yesteryear. There's Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, and even a successor to the Banjo-Kazooie name! These five best platformers of 2017 run the gamut of familiar friends and newcomers alike. The former is especially amazing considering how long some of these franchises have been around, and they still hold a high quality with their latest releases. These are your Top Five Platformers of 2017!

5) Yooka-Laylee (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Growing up in the Nintendo 64 era, the collect-a-thon style of 3D platformers that began with Super Mario 64 and continued with Rare's pre-Microsoft days was always a favorite of mine. One of my favorite 3D platformers not only from the Nintendo 64 but of all time is Banjo-Kazooie, Rare's first effort with a 3D platformer. To say they nailed the landing and made a unique platformer that didn't just carbon copy Mario 64 would be an understatement. Members of the Banjo team have since moved on from Rare since that developer's buyout by Microsoft, and their freshman effort was none other than Yooka-Laylee. Camera and certain challenge issues made for a somewhat frustrating experience occasionally, but I managed to enjoy the game regardless. And those problems have been patched and fixed, so Yooka-Laylee is even better. Unlike Banjo-Kazooie, however, which wasn't a direct clone of Super Mario 64, Yooka-Laylee very much steers a bit too close to its Banjo series inspiration. Maybe that's why I appreciated it so much this past year.

4) Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

We already had three decent-to-extraordinary 3D platformers with Crash Bandicoot's debut back on the original PlayStation, but we've been waiting for the character to return to the spotlight. After many teases and rumors, Crash was back on a PlayStation platformer with the PlayStation 4 hit, Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy. Taking the gameplay and graphics of the original trilogy (Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped) and modernizing it to appeal to as wide and diverse a group of gamers possible, Activision and Vicarious Visions cut zero corners in bringing the classic games back to the spotlight in a extremely flattering way. Sure, those bridge levels in the original Crash Bandicoot can get rammed by a goat, but the overall package remade and remastered is one of the more content-rich platforming experiences on this list.

3) SteamWorld Dig 2 (NSW, PS4, Vita, PC)

The original SteamWorld Dig was a well-off success for developer Image & Form, but it wasn't an amazing platformer. Players did similar tasks: digging up the ground, mining for gems, finding treasure, defeating enemies, and so forth. However, there's one key difference between the original game and its superior sequel. The levels are no longer procedurally generated, meaning that the need for smart level design was required. The designers managed to make the levels filled with secrets and hidden challenge rooms insanely clever. The methods of mobility improved, too, allowing for precise platforming via jumps, wall climbs, grapple hooks, and even a jet pack. It made a good game in the original SteamWorld a vastly better one with SteamWorld Dig 2, and it makes me absolutely happy that Image & Form saw great success from the game, being the developer's highest selling effort yet.

2) Sonic Mania (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

After many years of 3D Sonic games of varying quality (mostly mediocre, to be honest), lovers of the Genesis Sonic games of yore got their wish after all of this time. They received an all-new 2D Sonic game, and it was a game that wasn't a poorly designed mess by a developer that had no idea what made 2D Sonic work like Sonic the Hedgehog 4's duo of episodes ended up being. No, instead, it was crafted by a group behind several Sonic fan games (which even led Sega and Sonic Team to contact the developers to do HD versions of Sonic 1, 2, and CD) who would make what I consider one of the best Sonic games around, Sonic Mania. With a huge assortment of new levels, past zones taking on new twists with their obstacles, while new zones showing off the team's originality and ability to create levels reminiscent of the old games, Sonic Mania delighted the entire way. The addition of the Drop Dash, meant a jump could quickly transition into a roll, making speed runs even more engaging and engrossing to pull off and watch. In a word, Sonic Mania was radical. Retro gameplay in a perfect modern context.

1) Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)

It's a very special year in gaming when former platforming rivals can take the top two spots on SuperPhillip Central's Top Five Platformers list for the Best of 2017 Awards. First, we saw Sonic the Hedgehog remind us that his games can still be relevant, but now we turn to Mario, who once again sits upon his throne with Super Mario Odyssey. Devised up of immensely proportioned worlds where Power Moons are strewn about kingdoms for the taking through a wide variety of tasks, Super Mario Odyssey was also no stickler in how many ways Mario and his helper Cappy could assist each other in getting around. This became especially true within Koopa races, where the first go-around might see you taking a typical route to the checkered flag, while the second time around requires you to be quick on your feet as well as your mind. You swiftly think up new shortcuts to fend off that Golden Koopa Troopa and snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat with a display of platforming prowess that only he could dream of. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of Mario during this year's awards ceremony. Until then, Mario is once again king of platforming for another year.

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