A quick reflection on video gaming in 2017

Though I’m uncertain as to whether it’s an officially observed day of celebration in the UK, ‘Video Games Day‘ has had some minor publicity this year in Britain. Sadly, this has mostly come in the form of shoddy journalists producing poorly researched ‘top lists’ and retailers using it as an excuse for flash sales. Despite a bit of research, I have been unable to ascertain precisely when, where or why it originated, or how it’s distinct from ‘Video Game Day‘, which is supposedly celebrated in July (perhaps one is US-centric whilst the other’s intended to be international?).

The credibility of the day aside, it’s as good an excuse as any to reflect on the state of gaming in 2017. Many pundits I’m sure are already agreed that, in the near future, 2017 will be regarded as a golden-year for the medium. The great releases began with Resident Evil VII, a game that revitalised a series which – like the undead hordes contained therein – had (arguably) been rotting for some time. Since then we’ve had: a JRPG renaissance via Persona 5, Nioh and Nier: Automata; a slew of first-party, highly-polished hits for Nintendo’s new Switch console – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Mario + Rabbids – which in itself has broken new ground within the industry; fantastic returns to the 2D roots of both Sonic and Metroid, two franchises many long-time fans had feared for; standout indie titles such as Night in the Woods and Pyre, which have continued to push notions of what traditional game design can create and communicate; and two utterly breathtaking open-world adventure games in Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Soon enough, these will be joined by the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Super Mario Odyssey. The latter promises to be a contender for what must be the most hotly-contested Game of the Year accolades in quite some time.

To me, the two things that have marked out this year as particularly important and exciting are the Switch and Breath of the Wild. Both are now just over half a year old (having released simultaneously on March 3rd), and the interest they have generated amongst Nintendo fans – whether loyal or lapsed, life-long or newly converted – has greatly impressed many who had (to varying levels) worried over the company’s imminent future not too long ago. Across the globe the Switch has consistently outsold the Xbox One since its release, and in Japan – where the handheld market has always been dominant – it’s outpaced sales of the PS4 for a prolonged period. Bolstered by the aforementioned steady stream of quality first-party releases – which also included newcomer ARMS, a distinctly Nintendo-take on the fighting genre – it’s a platform that has changed the way many people can (and choose to) play.

Paramount in selling the idea of a ‘hybrid console’ was making Breath of the Wild the Switch’s prime launch title. Whilst Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006) had proved a reasonable cross-generational success for the Gamecube and Wii, Breath of the Wild became a veritable killer app thanks to Nintendo’s decision to unshackle it from the failing Wii U. Being able to play what many are already calling the Game of the Year on the go was – and still is – nothing short of mind-blowing. Buses, trains, planes, airports, waiting rooms: I’ve had occasion to play this expansive adventure title in all such contexts, and its ability to engross via the perfectly sized Switch display is exemplary. Apologies for yet another cliché, but if you had told ten-year-old me – huddled up under the covers playing Zelda: Oracle of Ages (2001) on the Gameboy Advance – that a game like this would one day exist in handheld form, I’d have told you to lay off the Lon Lon Milk!

It felt rather fitting that on Sunday, September 3, exactly six months on from Breath of the Wild‘s release, my girlfriend and I sat down to finally delve into the darkened halls of Hyrule Castle and dispatch Calamity Ganon in our joint playthrough. Having now completed* the game, I feel I can start to fully explore just what has made it such a seminal hit in an already much loved and lauded series. As such, I’ll be writing a multi-part retrospective on the game, examining its design, aesthetics, the developers’ intent, the professional punditry and cultural discourse it’s generating, and the Hyrule Castle kitchen sink if I can find it! In the meanwhile, here’s a portrait my girlfriend created (as part of the Merely Player’s Facebook banner) of this game’s incarnation of the series’ eponymous heroine. Happy gaming!

Zelda portrait

*Ironically, my solo playthrough likely has a much higher completion rate despite me being only one dungeon in. Still, given the game’s enormity, I reckon that rate is still under 50%…

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