Like a lot of you, I headed back to the parents’ over the holidays. While quality family time was most certainly had (I’ll spare you from me shoehorning Scrabble into this month’s roundup), the trip home remained, as ever, a bountiful source of quality gaming time. This year was better than ever — as if we didn’t already know before, this freezing holiday season proved that the Switch is the greatest console ever to get comfy and cozy with!
Tempting as it was, I didn’t just play on the Switch the whole month. December is usually a pretty dry month for new releases, and while 2017 was no different, two of the year’s most popular games arrived on new platforms, letting Xbox One and Android owners in on the fun. Although, for those Android owners, the fun was of an unexpected sort! Let’s start there!
I’m an Android user, and while I’ll make no apologies for that, I’ll readily admit that the influx of new Android players to HQ Trivia was at least partially responsible for their New Year’s Eve fiasco. Along with thousands of my best Android buddies, I was all set to get in on this money-winning action at the tail end of 2017 and finally meet this Scott guy that the internet has been telling me about.
If you also tried to play HQ Trivia on New Year’s Eve, you know that Android’s first date with Scott didn’t go real well. Last year, our live New Year’s Eve mishap came courtesy of Mariah Carey — this year, it came from the trivia app that took iOS by storm this year.
HQ Trivia is an unprecedented game — you can’t play it whenever you want. Two games are scheduled per day and are hosted live by the affable, ad-libbing Scott Rogowsky. He asks 12 questions, with thousands of players getting 10 seconds to answer each — the short clock is to prevent players from Googling the answers. Get one wrong and you’re out — get all 12 right, and you win a share of that game’s prize pool, which varies from game to game.
Even with just iOS users, HQ Trivia tended to be glitchy. Add in thousands of us Android users, and things get real messy. At 11:45 eastern, Scott showed up on time for a game with an $18,000 pool, HQ Trivia‘s largest thus far. After a few minutes of establishing his persona for the sake of us newbies, he went into the questions. Those questions didn’t show up for anyone — Android or iOS. Scott marched on, with the realization clearly dawning that something had gone very wrong. Inexplicably, the show’s producers let him ask three questions before stopping the trivia portion. Scott was then left to ad-lib his way through a New Year’s Eve countdown for the east coasters. 2017 ending with a man on an app stalling his way through a busted trivia game was so right, it was probably the hardest I’ve laughed all year. Admittedly, I might not have laughed as hard if I also lived on the east coast.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Scott came back at 12:30 for a second try, which appeared to work for most users. I busted on question four (I probably should have known Selena Gomez was the Instagram queen). I am now listening to Scott riff his way through another round as I type this sentence, but the trivia part of the app has frozen and I have been eliminated. I will be back for this many times.
HQ Trivia is a free download on the App Store or Google Play.
Still at it! Most of my time back home was spent playing Super Mario Odyssey in bed two blankets deep, which substantially improved even this masterpiece of a game. Can’t say it enough — being able to switch between playing the console on a TV and as a handheld seamlessly was a wonderful idea.
It made me think a little about years past, too. My old bedroom is a little small, so whenever I’d play something on my Nintendo 64 or GameCube as a kid, I’d always be on my bed. Sitting up against the wall took me too far away from my old 19″ TV, and as everyone who’s tried it knows, there is no comfortable position that lets you lay down, get a good look at the TV, and use a controller properly. You get two out of three, tops.
What I’m saying is, if I had the Switch as a kid, I would have been a lot more comfortable and probably a lot lazier. It is the perfect console for people who love their beds a little bit too much, and it sure helps that it’s paired with a terrific Mario game right now. I’ve really enjoyed moving from world to world in the game — in true Mario tradition, each one has a theme to it (ice, desert, underwater, and so on). It’s always fun to explore each of the worlds to try to find all the hidden moons, but I will admit that so far, it’s one of the easier Mario games I’ve played.
I thought the same of Breath of the Wild earlier in the year, although the lack of difficulty in a Zelda game bothered me more than it does in a Mario game. The classic Mario games were no cakewalk, but I always felt like Mario was at it his best when he was at the center of good, lighthearted, low-stress fun — there are plenty of other games out there that can make you throw your controller. I think Nintendo got it just right with Odyssey — it’s something that gamers new and old can play and enjoy for a few minutes or for hours on end.
Bought Super Mario Odyssey with my own cash!
A plane flies over an island. In that plane are you and 99 other players. You and those 99 players can each jump out and parachute to the ground whenever you want. On the island, you’ll find a collection of buildings, vehicles, changes of clothes, and weapons. Be the last person of 100 standing, and you win!
That’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and it’s that simplicity that made it the most popular PC game of 2017 — despite being in an unfinished state for most of it. Originally available on Steam as an alpha, PUBG got an official PC release this month alongside its debut on Xbox One (I played it on the latter). It’s one of the most thrilling and enjoyable shooting games I’ve ever played, despite the fact that I probably only fire 20 to 30 shots in a 20-minute game.
In PUBG, your character (you can create one from scratch or just get a randomly generated one) drops down onto a map that is big enough for 100 people — if you choose to parachute down to a remote spot on the map, like a small house way out in the forest, you might not run into another one of the 99 players for five minutes. You can use that time to scramble around the surrounding area and arm yourself — you start unarmed, after all! Sometimes, you’ll find that you’ve landed next to an automatic rifle with a scope and some body armor, and you’ll be good to go for the whole game. Sometimes, you will find a frying pan and a baseball cap, and you will need to hope you find better gear in some other place that one of your 99 foes hasn’t found yet.
But, don’t worry too much about the big number — the flies start dropping as soon as the parachutes do. There are no respawns, so if a player gets killed once, they’re out and off to a new game with another 99 players. You won’t want to get too comfortable, though — after a few minutes, a blue circle will appear on the map. That’s the boundary of the play zone, and it gets smaller and smaller until eventually, the remaining few players are forced into a space tight enough to where there is no place to hide. Stand outside the blue circle, and you’ll take damage until you’re dead.
To stay in the circle, you might want to find a car, a buggy, or a motorcycle — as all PUBG players learn (the hard way), you cannot outrun the blue circle of death. But, vehicles are just one of the many wrinkles that make this game so great. They might be fast, but their noise will attract the attention of the guy with a scoped assault rifle hidden in the tall grass, and that doesn’t tend to end well for the driver. You can choose instead to drive off to a remote house to see if you can score better weapons, but don’t be surprised if another player (maybe me!) sneaks up and jacks your ride, leaving you stranded.
Those decisions lead to very different play styles — some prefer to grab a ride, then patrol the outer edges of the play zone Mad Max-style, picking off stragglers. I prefer to sneak through trees on foot, using shade to make myself harder to see. Play the first way, and you’ll get into plenty of firefights. Play sneaky and patient, and you might not fire a shot until you’re one of the last 20 players left. You’re free to find what works for you, which is a credit to the game. Oh, and when 20 players are left? Your heart rate will go up. It’s genuine tension that I don’t get from many other games.
I think what I love most about PUBG is that it proves you don’t need a AAA budget and a massive marketing blitz to make a great game. Objectively speaking, PUBG looks awful — the graphics can be late-era PlayStation 2 at times, and that’s to say nothing of the little bugs and occasional lag problems. But, none of that ends up mattering because the concept of the game is that good. I was way too focused on trying to listen to where gunfire, a motorcycle, or footsteps were coming from to worry about how drab all the environments are. It’s a technically simple game, but the gameplay has been so well executed that it’s managed to blow away games with many, many times its budget.
Oh, and one more thing — winning a game of PUBG might be the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever gotten from a game. Coming out on top of a heap of 100 really is its own reward, which is good, because all you get for winning in the game is a bunch of in-game points to spend on cosmetic stuff for your avatar and a victory message of ‘Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.’
Thanks to the Xbox team for providing us with this game!