Well HELLO, friends! Nice to see you all once again! This year has been pretty wild for me, but thankfully I’ve been able to take a few dips into 2017’s pool of particularly good video games. I spent a fair amount of time this year on planes, so that may have something to do with this list being pretty mobile-heavy, but that aside, I still wish I could play everything on the Switch. That thing is great! Anyway, here are some games:
10. SteamWorld Dig 2
I loved the original SteamWorld Dig for how laid-back it was, but fell off once I got my fill of the simple loop of digging and upgrading. Dig 2 keeps the lackadaisical nature of the series but has more going on like crafting and a simple quest system that extended the time I spent with it. I eventually got stuck and haven’t gone back to it, but I think the game is symbolic of the kinds of games I want to be playing these days: low-impact, low barrier to entry, low-stress. If you’re looking for that, SteamWorld Dig 2 has it… in spades.
9. Destiny 2
I am a casual Destiny 2 player, as I was with the first Destiny. In neither have I gotten to the end-game content, and that’s just fine with me. Destiny 2 is the game I chill out in, without really caring about advancing the story. All I want to do is put crosshairs on aliens and make them blow up, and Destiny 2 is the perfect game for that.
I’ve played a few PUBG matches, but mostly I like to admire the game from afar. It’s just so TENSE, a testament to the game’s phenomenal design. It makes sense that the design speaks to me after hearing Mr. UNKNOWN on Giant Bomb’s E3 show talking about how the game was partially influenced by one of my favorite games of all time, America’s Army. All the hallmarks of the game I played almost nightly in high school are there: a suite of movement controls for every occasion; powerful, tactical weapons; limited health; engaging wide-open and close-quarters combat; and an endless supply of tense moments. It’s not every day a game comes along where every match is a toss-up between a humiliating defeat or one of your greatest gaming stories of all time.
7. Golf Story
I have lamented the lack of a good golf game for years. And when I say “good,” I mean “like I played when I was a kid.” My gold standard is PGA Tour Golf for the Sega Genesis, an unassailable classic. Golf Story is different in basically every respect except the one that matters: the golfing. The three-tap system needs no improvement. Golf Story knows this and leaves it alone, merely adding additional functionality without detracting from its holy purity. The thing about golf games, though, is that they can get tedious. Eighteen holes is a lot of holes. Golf Story, true to its name, creates plenty of other things for you to do in your mostly linear quest to become a golf champ. You’ll impress cavemen by hitting from every kind of surface, you’ll learn unique course quirks like the ability to bounce your ball off turtles in the water, you’ll microwave food. These tasks are not only well-written and funny, they also teach you to be better at the sport of gods.
I often find open-world games to be intimidating, given their size and the daunting number of things to complete. But Horizon’s beautiful, well-realized world had plenty of mystery to keep me going. Additionally, the slate of abilities is wide enough to allow for a good range of play styles. I could be stealthy when I wanted to, but also felt confident in high-action scenarios when the need arose. I jumped back into the game for a few hours before writing this, just to see if it was possible or if I had forgotten everything. I’m pleased to say that it wasn’t so bad, especially after I turned the difficulty down to “Story,” its lowest setting ;D
Pyre is a game made by craftsmen. And each craft--writing, design, art, music, voice work, sound effects--is held to the same high standard. Everything in Pyre feels lovingly handmade, making the game a joy to play. While I initially found the transitions from the story sequences to the “game” parts somewhat jarring, I quickly fell into a rhythm of eagerly anticipating whichever was coming next. I never felt like I was very good at the game, but that just added to the excitement when I would inevitably win at the last possible moment.
4. Sonic Mania
For decades, I and others stood by, watching the gleaming silver name of Sonic tarnish in the toxic air of time. We kept silent as the atrocities spawned; PRETENDERS, merely bearing the likeness of Sonic, not the soul. Not the blistering speed, not the pixel-perfect controls, not the sprawling, branching levels with nigh-infinite replayability. Just abomination after abomination, thrust upon us that we might submit and lose faith.
The standard has been raised aloft! A trailing blue banner snaps in the wind! HERE, friends, is the reclamation! What we have always known in our heart of hearts is now, finally, laid bare for all to see: Sonic is good. Sonic always was good. SONIC WILL ALWAYS BE GOOD.
Super Mario 64 was the last Mario game I truly loved, and to have what is effectively a sequel to that game fills my heart with joy. Astonishingly, Odyssey lives up to it, too. The game even improves on its predecessor in a number of ways, mainly by streamlining star/moon acquisition, without losing the core fun of navigating weird 3D landscapes and solving their puzzles. The only thing I found lacking (or perhaps just different) about Odyssey was the density of the levels. I felt like I was blowing through them, rather than learning them intimately as in Mario 64. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I would have the patience for that these days. Odyssey, it seems, has grown up with me, but still makes me feel like a little kid.
With Breath of the Wild, it feels like Nintendo’s designers have ascended to some other level, delivering a remarkably fresh take on an impacted genre. “Stand back,” they say. “We’ll take it from here.” My principal issue with open-world games is one of motivation. My compulsion to complete the always-urgent mainline story quest is so often at odds with the promise of exploring an open-ended world at my leisure that I tend to get frustrated quickly. Breath of the Wild provides a brilliant solution: a clearly defined end goal, but only a vague route to get there. This encourages the player to explore the world and accomplish what they see as the most pressing issue, creating, in effect, their own quest line. Couple that with an incredibly rich sandbox of a world, ripe for experimentation and accidental discovery, and you have a truly special game.
Okay, TECHNICALLY Solitairica didn’t come out this year (I actually learned of it from Rich Gallup’s 2016 Game of the Year list), but I’m including it for two reasons: 1) DLC for the game was released this year, which I think counts for something, and 2) it is, by far, the game I played the most in 2017.
When I tell people about the game, they initially regard it with wariness, fearing it’s yet another slow, mindless solitaire game. This is not the case. Yes, there are cards, but that’s about where the similarities end. In reality it’s more of a turn-based roguelike. The game is easy to learn, but requires careful strategic attention to excel in the more difficult encounters. It’s also got a perfect balance of per-run and persistent progression that keeps you playing but won’t frustrate you when you lose. No microtransactions, either. It is, in my opinion, the perfect mobile game.