What do you think has been the most innovative game released in the past few years?
Hmm, lemme roll out some candidates.
Ori and the Blind Forest, Nioh, Breath of the Wild, MVCI, Killer Instinct, Undertale, Prey?, Mario Odyssey, Superhot, Mario Maker, and Splatoon.
Ori invented Bash. Bash is probably one of the most brilliant platformer mechanics I’ve ever seen, in the way it refreshes your air options, gives you momentum in the air, redirects projectiles, and lets you get higher than other air options. It satisfies all 4 of my criteria for depth on multiple counts. Ori also satisfies all 4 of my criteria with a number of its other moves, and has a brilliant save system that combines the convenience of save states with the risk of checkpoints.
Nioh has a stamina system for both the player and enemies that needs to be managed even more carefully than dark souls stamina, yet opens up new ways to exploit enemies. It even has 2 different types of stamina bars for enemies on yokai and human types, that each have distinct behaviors in how they refill and allow you to punish that enemy type. Plus it finds a way to combine the pacing of dark souls with a wide variety of attacks that it ties into the stance system with the ki pulse and flux mechanics.
Breath of the Wild has the chemistry engine, the idea that there are elements that can be applied to different objects and which produce different effects and output other elements based on their interaction. These types of interactions have been seen before in immersive sim types of games, but never unified to the level of the chemistry engine. It also has a unique gear and gear progression system based on the encounter level of enemies rising as you get better gear, making it an interesting bootstrapping experience, similar to minecraft in a way. Weapon durability functions like Ammo with a steady churn.
MVCI dropped the ball, but it still has its brilliant tagging system. Instead of just calling assists, you’re allowed to tag team mates at any time, with only a short cooldown as a cost. The teammate being tagged out will finish up their attack before leaving, allowing the two to string together combos and setups back to back, with the weakness that your tagged out character can get caught by the opponent if you’re not careful. This tagging system is like assists on steroids, allowing you to use any move on the fly like an assist. James Chen cleverly compared it to purple roman cancel from Guilty Gear Xrd, saying it’s like being allowed to cancel your recovery from any move on whiff or hit for free, except you can use it like your tagged out character is a projectile.
Killer Instinct is a little old, but I just saw the GDC talk on how they implemented a machine learning AI, and it’s pretty fucking brilliant. I never thought I’d see a fighting game AI with this many factors accounted for, let alone a machine learning version. I wish more games would implement this.
Undertale cleverly combines shmup-style dodging of projectiles with turn-based RPG combat, allowing for pacifism based on not attacking, but just avoiding damage. It also has blue and orange attacks, which I’ve never seen in a shmup before, and has bullet patterns that utilize them in interesting ways.I didn’t play Prey. This is really just a hunch. It seems like it’s continuing the immersive sim trend of making things interact with other things, much like BOTW.
Mario Odyssey has the crazy hatjump. That’s really all it needs to be innovative. It’s technical, it lets you jump long distances. Change direction in midair, yet it’s not a double jump, and has fairly high commitment at each stage of the jump, so you need to jump accurately and have only a limited means to correct your jump after you commit.
Superhot, time only moves when you move, letting you react to otherwise fast projectiles and dodge them. Also possessing enemies.
Mario Maker. It took the Mario mechanics we knew and loved, and added a fuckton more interactions between each level design element. Even 2 years later, there are still levels coming out that demonstrate something new about the interactions between the different pieces you can assemble.
Splatoon, you shoot paint, covering the map in paint is how you win, you move faster and refill your ammo by swimming in the paint. These core aspects interact with each other in a really flexible way, so that each is a function of one another. This means that within a match there’s a lot of different actions you can take that are useful towards winning, making deciding which to focus on rather difficult. Do you lay down as much paint as you can? Do you kill the opponents so they can’t lay down paint? Players have competing desires to accomplish these different tasks in the pursuit of overall victory, creating interesting choices. The relationship between needing to spend ink to create a surface to move faster and also refill ink is in particular really brilliant. Having that double as a means of stealth is really cool too.
It’s hard to make a call on which of these is most innovative. I have a bias towards considering innovation as it is useful to games at large, and which of these games have innovations that would be useful for other games to implement? Killer Instinct, Mario Odyssey, and Breath of the Wild have stuff that I can see being useful in other games, maybe MVCI too (I mean, Sengoku Basara has a tagging mechanic used in combos, imagine something like this in a stylish action game). A lot of the other games have mechanics that only seem to work in that particular game, like Splatoon. You can’t uproot that and stick it in any other FPS. You can’t really stick Ori’s bash in any other platformer without it becoming a lot like Ori, sometimes the mechanic defines the game, and Ori’s Bash is tightly tied to the other mechanics like projectile redirection, flinging enemies, and resetting your jumps. I am tempted to label Splatoon as most innovative overall (though I haven’t played it), just because of the incredible interdependency of its mechanics. Dunno though, enjoy the selection