2017 has been one of the most packed, and high quality years for game releases ever. The year has been full with not only some of the best video games ever made, but some of the most great games in any year.
So many great games, in fact, that I put together a top 20 this year, and still made cuts for some games I really like, such as Golf Story, Steamworld Dig 2, or Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia for one reason or another.
So, here you have it, the best games of one of the most gaming rich years of all time, as definitively decided by some guy on the internet, strictly filtered through the lens of “what I played this year.”
Games I didn’t play, but would probably like if I did:
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Fire Emblem Warriors
Night in the Woods
Mass Effect: Andromeda (Actually this probably wouldn’t be on the list.)
What Remains of Edith Finch
Finding Paradise (A.K.A. To the Moon 2.)
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Total Warhammer II (I know that’s not the real title, but it should be.)
A Hat in Time
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
All of those games are games I thought “man, I should really play this, I would probably like this game,” but simply didn’t get around to. No slight against any of those games for not showing up on this list, they might be great, they might be awful, I wish I’d had time to play them.
Now, onto the list.
20 - Cuphead
There is probably no game I feel more utterly split on this year than Cuphead. I think Cuphead is incredible, I think it’s an achievement in art design, one of the most impressive, best looking games of the year.
I also do not particularly like playing it.
Cuphead was the “git gud” game of the year, because there was no Soulsborne release this year so those people had to go somewhere. Sparking a relatively large controversy about whether or not people need to be good at/have beaten video games in order to have opinions about video games, Cuphead was quickly one of the most talked about games of the year.
Cuphead is gorgeous, and extremely challenging. Sometimes I like games that are hard, Soulsborne just might be my favorite franchise of all time. Cuphead was not difficult in a way I enjoyed my time with. That’s not to say it’s poorly made, it isn’t, I just don’t think the challenge of it was beneficial to my experience with the game. I completed the first world, first set of levels, and sort of fell off of it. I’ll get back to it. Probably.
Still, that art, the character imbued into every frame of animation, is so impressive, I can’t help but like the game, and want to get back into it. That’s why it’s on this list.
19 - Sonic Mania
Sonic Mania did the impossible, it made people briefly think Sonic might be good again, for a span of a couple months. Not without reason, it’s a heck of an achievement. I’m not a Sonic fan, generally speaking. I have some fond memories of playing the original games at a friend’s house here and there, but I was a Nintendo kid.
The ways in which Sonic Mania remixes what’s old, and subverts expectations of the original franchise are largely lost on me, but even as someone who’s put more time in Mania than any other Sonic game, it’s an amazing achievement. It gave me an appreciation for why people still look so fondly on those older Sonic games, and understand the ways in which Sonic did things differently than Mario.
The levels are expansive, hiding secrets and alternate paths. The worlds are interesting, each with their own special gimmicks which, because each world is only two levels long, usually (USUALLY) don’t outstay their welcome. The game’s platforming and movement feel smooth, and fun. The whole thing is accompanied by an excellent soundtrack.
That’s not to say the game is flawless. The “bonus levels” activated when you have 25 rings and use a checkpoint are terrible, and some of the levels were not fun to complete (looking at you, Airship). I also haven’t beaten the game yet (I’ve made my way to zone 11), so it’s possible the final levels are bad.
Ultimately, Sonic Mania redeemed years of disappointment, and bad games. It’s a cool experience, I’m glad I played.
18 - Puyo Puyo Tetris
Puyo Puyo Tetris is a Japanese puzzle game that was released in 2014. Why is it appearing on this list then? Because it did not finally make its way to North America until this year, releasing on the Nintendo Switch with both physical and digital versions, and, bizarrely, only physically on Playstation 4. The Xbox One version, despite existing in Japan (a country where people do not own Xboxes), was not localized at all.
I watched a lot of Puyo Puyo Tetris being played when it released back in 2014, and had been contemplating importing a copy myself for years, so when it finally came out here, I put my money where my mouth was and bought a copy.
What is the game? Well, as the title implies, Puyo Puyo Tetris is a combination of the puzzled games Tetris, which you already know what is, and Puyo Puyo, which is popular in Japan, but much less well known in the states. The game contains both Tetris and Puyo Puyo modes, if you simply want to play one or the other, but the main draw is the titular Puyo Puyo Tetris mode, where you are playing both Puyo Puyo, and Tetris, on the same board simultaneously. The result of this, is that the game bends your brain, requiring you to think in multiple dimensions, not literally, but in the point of planning strategies for two different games using different pieces on the same board.
On top of that, there’s a battle mode letting two players pitch their skills against each other, clearing lines and puyos in order to sabotage each other, attempting to score points, and be the last man standing. It’s one of the most hectic and fun multiplayer experiences you can have anywhere, and genuinely unlike anything you’ve ever played.
Puyo Puyo Tetris has a cult following in the states, but it’s probably one of the more obscure games on this list. I highly recommend picking it up if you’re a fan of puzzle games.
17 - Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep ~ A Fragmentary Passage ~
*Deep breath* Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep ~ A Fragmentary Passage ~, which I am going to refer to as Kingdom Hearts III: Ground Zeroes from here on out, is stupid. You already know if you should buy this game, and if you don’t know whether you should buy this game, congratulations, you should not buy this game.
Kingdom Hearts III: Ground Zeroes serves two purposes in the greater Kingdom Hearts series, the first is to serve as a demo for what Kingdom Hearts III will play as when it theoretically releases next year (hah!), and the second is to continue the story of Aqua from the end of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. Birth By Sleep ended with, quite literally, a trailer forKingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Volume 2, a game which, for whatever reason (*cough* Final Fantasy XV *cough*) never got made. While Kingdom Hearts III: Ground Zeroes is quite clearly not exactly what that sequel might have been, I almost have to suspect that it includes a good amount of the story from what that game would have included.
If none of that made sense to you, then don’t worry, you should not play Kingdom Hearts III: Ground Zeroes. It was included on a collection titled *deeper breath* Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, which also included a PS4 remaster of the 3DS game, and some sort of CG movie which I still haven’t watched, but will probably enjoy because I’m a sucker. This collection retailed for $40, and while that’s a decent price if you’re actually looking to play Dream Drop Distance, buying it just for Kingdom Hearts III: Ground Zeroes is an incredibly big ask. The game is only about 3 hours long.
ALL OF THAT HAVING BEEN SAID
Oh my god you guys, how good was this? Right? With Aqua? And Mickey? And, and, and oh my god the combat is so so so good, and everything looks amazing, and that optional boss fight IS SO TOUGH I still haven’t beaten it. Plus the costume system! With the achievements? That *has* to be in Kingdom Hearts III, right? Plus, YOU’RE PLAYING AS AQUA AGAIN, OH MY GOD! And the whole last hour, hour and a half was amaaaaazzziznnnnggggg. I’m so hype, I don’t regret spending $20 (I bought it black friday) on this for a second. Kingdom Hearts III GOTY 2018. Or 2019. Or 2020. Or 20— Whenever it comes out, basically.
I also suspect, given how the final cutscenes of the game feel like they’ve definitely been pulled straight out of Kingdom Hearts III proper, that there’s a good chance this content will literally appear on the disc with the full game, maybe even as a prologue chapter like the stuff with Roxas in Kingdom Hearts II. Even if it doesn’t, playing this made me very confident in the direction that the next game is headed, assuming it actually comes out someday, as the game has never felt better to play. Everything about this, call it what it is, demo, looked, sounded, and felt amazing. I truly loved it.
16 - Destiny 2
Destiny 2 is more Destiny, with all the strengths, and all the problems that comes with.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s things which the second game does better than the first. For one thing, it has an actual campaign this time, which feels solid, like a Halo campaign. The writing is, uh, existent, this time. You get fun voice over from characters like Cayde-6, who is Nathan Fillion and therefore very good. The strikes are all good. The Crucible is bad, but I didn’t really like it in the first game either.
At the same time, it was two steps forward, one step back. Despite having a campaign strong enough that people might actually want to revisit, they don’t have an option to replay those missions. The game took the shader system from the first one, which was fun and awesome, and completely ruined it by loot boxing them.
I really, really liked my time with Destiny 2, and I will play more Destiny 2as the DLC is released, but, at the same time, I fell off of it after about a month, like the first game, and don’t miss it all that much. Like many MMO’s (which Destiny totally is, and always has been, they tricked you into playing an MMO) it’s as much about who you’re playing with as it is about the game you’re playing.
With that in mind, no cross-play fragmented my friends across two platforms, and then further fragmented it across a third platform when the PC version came out, which was a serious bummer.
Also I didn’t do the raid because I never found time to. I watched Giant Bomb’s livestream. It looked cool.
Destiny 2, I loved it, but also *shrug*.
15 - Fire Emblem Heroes
Fire Emblem Heroes was actually way higher on this list, in the top ten, and I was going to write a bunch of glowing things about it. How I’ve logged on and actually played almost every day since it launched. How it turned Fire Emblem into a fun, casual title. How generous the game is, giving you a ton of free stuff, so that I actually feel competitive and competent in the game without having dropped a penny. How I’ve got enough stamina potions stockpiled that the typical “energy” system might as well not even exist. How well supported the game has been, with new chapters, events, or characters being added almost every week.
Then I dropped 140 orbs on the new winter banner in one sitting and didn’t get a single 5* character.
Screw that game.
14 - Prey
Prey is a game which has virtually nothing to do with Prey, the game from 2006, nor Prey 2, the infamously cancelled sequel. Instead, Prey is a follow up to the Shock games from designer Ken Levine, both System and Bio.
There’s a lot to love about Prey. From the way the game makes sure every human in the game has not only a name, but some sort of fleshing out for what their purpose on this space station was, to the way the game allows you to play it in any way you want to, following the promise of precursors in the so-called “immersive sim” genre, like Deus Ex.
Perhaps my favorite part of Prey is the way it is a self-aware follow up to games like System Shock and BioShock. While Prey is not from Ken Levine in the way those other games were, positioning it as a follow up to those games immediately instills a sense of expectations, specifically that the game it trying to trick you. Both System Shock 2, and BioShock are famous for having great plot twists (the same plot twist, in fact), which are built around subverting player’s expectations. Within the opening moments of Prey, the game has acknowledged that trickery, and that everything you think you know may well be smoke and mirrors in one of the most impressive sequences all year. It acknowledges that it knows you’re looking for it’s tricks, which kept me on edge wondering about every detail that seemed out of place for the whole game, and still by the time the greater reveal of what was really going on was pulled off, it took me by complete surprise.
Prey also has one of the most clever ideas for horror I’ve seen in a game in years. Early on, the player is underpowered to a degree that any monster can and will take them out, with ammo being scarce. The early enemies, “mimics,” still aren’t particularly strong unless they get the drop on you, but their power set still manages to make them one of the most frightening enemies in years. “Mimics” are called such because they can pretend to be any ambient object in the game. It’s become something of a meme at this point that the PS4/Xbone generation of gaming is defined by cluttered environments, with many games filling rooms with tiny objects for seemingly no purpose. Prey takes advantage of that clutter that games have trained your brain to not even register, and takes advantage of it, by quickly making every scrap of paper, every coffee mug, every trash can potentially lethal. It’s brilliant.
So why is this game not even higher on this list? Well, despite really enjoying the gameplay of the early hours of the game, I found that as time went on it became less engaging, as the game replaced survival horror with more typical immersive sim action. That’s not to say it was bad, but it never felt as inspired as those early hours once the monsters were more traditional (albeit very well designed) aliens to shoot. In addition to this, while I really enjoyed the story in the moment, it isn’t one which particularly stuck with me once I’d seen the credits roll. As soon as I finished the game, I found myself not caring about or thinking about most of the game’s plot, only remember some choice moments which were exceptional.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t play the game, even at its worst it’s still pretty great, but for a game to have moments of true brilliance dispersed between between hours of perfectly fine is a touch underwhelming. Still, definitely worth your time, especially since it’s available for around $20 on sales these days.
13 - Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Nothing about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle should work. This is not a particularly hot take. When the idea of this game leaked out (with Mario holding a gun, no less), everyone knew for certain that it would suck. It’s an Ubisoft game, and Ubisoft haven’t exactly been on a string of hits lately. Rabbids are like more-annoying Minions, and stopped being funny somehow before they were created. This was written off before it was announced.
Then E3 happened, and the game looked… Good? Weird, certainly, but good. It was an XCOM-lite SRPG where Mario and friends had to murder their way through legions of Rabbids? The whole thing looked solid.
I got a Switch as a gift for my birthday, which just so happens to be August 29th. You know what else happened on August 29th? Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was released. So, when I was picking up games for my fancy new Nintendo Switch, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle wound up being on that list.
There are some genres which are great, but very difficult to approach. Then a game comes out that is built with the idea of making those games approachable in mind. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of those games. It takes the SRPG genre, which features series like XCOM, Disgaea, and Fire Emblem, all of which can be intimidating and difficult, and strips it down to its core.
Unlike those games, you won’t be introduced to or create dozens and dozens of troops with their own special skills and uses to figure out, the playable character cast is limited to eight (Mario, Peach, Luigi, Yoshi, and the Rabbid versions of those characters). There aren’t dozens of stats to keep track of, and growth rates to learn and understand. There’s just skill trees for each characters, who share experience whether used or not, and two weapon slots for each character, with each character’s weapons chosen for you. There isn’t a ton of math determining hit chances, it’s either 100% if out of cover, 50% if in partial cover, or 0% if in total cover.
That might sound like it’s dumbing down the genre, and, yeah, it kinda is, but that doesn’t keep it from being fun. Each encounter feels like a puzzle with a “right” solution that you need to figure out. Each character fills a very specific niche which you need to learn how to exploit, often using every character at your disposal to get through a chapter featuring multiple encounters. It’s not an easy game, either. It’s not as hard as Ironman XCOM, or Hard Mode Fire Emblem, certainly, but it’s not a cakewalk even as a person who likes the more complicated games in the genre. By the middle of the game, I was struggling to get through each encounter.
Unfortunately I lost my save (due to circumstances out of the game’s control) when I was halfway through the very spooky haunted house level, (about 2/3rds through the game), and still haven’t made my way back to where I was, so worst game of the year, 1/10 don’t play.
In all seriousness, it’s not the most engaging game of the year, but it’s full of Mario charm (even if some of the Rabbid writing is predictably very bad), and it’s interesting to see a non-Nintendo studio working on these beloved properties. Nintendo is famously protective of their properties, which makes it all the more interesting when these weird, rare, externally produced games do show up. Three of the secretly best Zelda games ever made are the Capcom ones, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, and Minish Cap. People still remember Super Mario RPG to this day because of how strangely well a Square-made Mario RPG worked. In recent years, Hyrule Warriors was a fanservice (both kinds) smorgasbord, not only openly acknowledging the Zelda timeline, but building a fun story around them. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is another one of these weird side entries, where a completely different team gets a chance to interpret what these games could be, and like in those other cases, it works surprisingly well.
Ok, so sometimes it works out to be a Zelda CDI level trainwreck, but still. Sometimes it’s good.
Above all else, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle feels like a curiosity, a weird game that was likely made to pad out a launch year (that, surprisingly, didn’t really need padding). It’s one of those games that will show up on YouTube lists of “The Top Ten WEIRDEST GAMES You Won’t BELIEVE Got Made” ten years from now. It turned out to be an experience well worth your time, though.
12 - Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
RESIDENT EVIL 7 biohazard / BIOHAZARD 7 resident evil, as Steam has informed me is the official title of this video game, is a great horror game, and I didn’t even play it in VR.
I’m not someone deeply invested in the Resident Evil series. I’ve played RE4, and I’ve played a little bit of the PS4 re-release of the remake of the original game, but I’m hardly someone who’s been hoping for a return to form for the franchise for years.
RE7 first grabbed my interest when I saw the playable demo for it released around E3 2016, and saw just how much like P.T., which, despite only being a teaser for the doomed Silent Hills, is someone one of the scariest games ever made in its own right. I downloaded the demo, which I actually remember being rather hated for being in first person at the time, and found, yeah, it was pretty damn scary.
Months pass, I curiously read bits and pieces about mannequin fingers and demo updates without ever touching the demo again, and finally pick the game up out of a Redbox once it released, marathoning it over the course of two days.
What I found was that RE7 is fantastic. Calling it a P.T. clone is, of course, selling it very short. While the games have things in common, RE7 is a thing all its own. It’s scary. It’s funny. It’s tense. It’s actiony. It has elements from all sorts of different horror genres, from distinctly japanese body horror, to American redneck torture zombies, to a sequence straight out of the Saw franchise. It’s a love letter to all the ways movies and games have scared us over the years, and it’s extremely well done. Even the story feels like a setup for a renewed series, showing that the franchise has whole new places to go from here on out. I haven’t played, or looked into very much about the various DLCs which have followed the game, so I don’t know quite how they follow up the main game’s lingering threads, and how much was actually setup for RE8 and beyond.
There’s really not much more to say about RE7. It’s just a really impressively executed horror game. If you like those, and somehow haven’t played it yet, you really should.
11 - Nioh
I first played Nioh with one of the betas for it last year. I enjoyed it, but also thought that it was clunky, with everything’s health tuned far too high, and was concerned about the length of the game, given the amount of collectibles I’d collected after just one mission.
I played the second beta, and found it improved, but still wasn’t convinced the game would be a true success upon release.
I only actually decided to buy Nioh after seeing Jim Sterling’s review of the game just before launch, taking advantage of the Amazon Prime discount.
The flip and dismissive but also not totally inaccurate way to describe Nioh is to call it “Samurai Souls,” a Soulslike set in feudal Japan, (loosely) based on actual historical figure William Adams, fighting his way through the nastiest creatures of Japanese folklore, and various human factions.
I’m a massive fan of the Soulsborne games, ask me on the right day and I’ll tell you they’re the best games ever made, and as someone who also likes the feudal japan setting for a game, it was almost tailor made for me.
As it turns out, the betas from last year were, in fact, betas. The problems I had with those betas were fixed, the game’s combat feels less janky, the health was better tuned. The game isn’t too short, in fact, if anything works against the game it’s that it’s too long, which actually resulted in me getting really close to the end, and then not actually finishing it because some other game which definitely isn’t higher up on this list and I haven’t talked about yet came out.
Of all the “Soulslikes” to have come out so far, Nioh is the only one that’s really worked. Other games like Lords of the Fallen simply haven’t gotten the feel of the combat down. They just haven’t been as fun to play. Niohisn’t Souls good, but it’s worth being mentioned in the same conversation, and when the other game I listed is Lords of the Fallen, which is bad, it emphasizes how much of an accomplishment that is.
Nioh also manages to distinguishes itself from the Soulsborne games by being mission based, as opposed to open world, and by having a Diablo-inspired loot system.
The places the game fails, which keep it from achieving Souls-level greatness, is not having quite enough enemy variety, and many of the maps feeling… Fine. I mean, most of the level layouts aren’t bad or anything, but a lot of them are just… Serviceable. There are some standouts, such as a partially sunken level where you are carefully walking through wreckage, trying not to misstep and fall into water to your death, or a spider-infested level out of my arachnophobic nightmares.
Overall though, Nioh is proof that the Soulslike genre could actually be a genre, which, after a lot of mediocre or bad games “like Dark Souls!” was not a given. It’s proof you don’t need the From Software logo on a game in this style in order for it to be good.
10 - Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a game where you kill a loooooot of nazis. That’s good. It’s also way better written than it has any right to be, and has some of the best setpieces of a game this year.
A lot of the discourse around this game has been “put it on easy, breeze through the game, see the cutscenes,” implying that the combat isn’t good. Is that true? Ehhhhh. I played on the standard difficulty level, and for the first half I was really enjoying it, but the game is not short, and by the last few levels it had really overstayed its welcome. That might just be my brain comparing it to last year’s outstanding Doom, given both are Bethesda releases of sequels to classic ID shooters.
Wolfenstein II is not Doom good. The combat is solid, though not especially outstanding. A lot of the weapon upgrades seemed kinda pointless, or boring. The story though? The cutscenes? The sheer insanity of WHERE some of these levels wind up, though? If you thought fighting Nazi’s on the moon in Wolfenstein: The New Order was crazy, then you should really see some of the places the sequel goes, that’s all I’ll say.
The fact that they made a Wolfenstein game that’s actually interested in developing characters, and saying things about the world seems almost impossible, and yet, here we are. It really is something that needs to be seen to be believed.
9 - Doki Doki Literature Club
Hi, Monika here!
Doki Doki Literature Club is a game where you join our Literature Club! Get to know all of the girls in the club, like your childhood best friend Sayuri, the super rude Natsuki, the mysterious and distant Yuri, and me, Monika! If you take what you know about your favorite girl, and use that to write a poem she’ll like, you might even get a chance to spend more time with her! I hope you’ll choose to spend time with me!
You might have heard some buzz on the internet about our game lately, we’ve started getting a real following. Yay! You should probably hold off on looking anything up about it though. I’d feel bad if you knew more about me than I did about you, after all! The good news is, Doki Doki Literature Club is totally free on Steam! It only takes a few hours to play! Isn’t that great?
Anyway, I hope you enjoy playing this cute dating game. Just remember to take that̖̤̯ co̻n̛̘̭̞͙̼̜t͍͕̪̖͘e̮̳̻̣̝͈n͈t̞̼̲̝̟͟ ̥͔͎ẁ̜̱̜̣̹̜ar̕n͕͍i͎͔̻̞͇̯͍n̙͕̮͙̖̣g͇͔̩̰͍̣ on the download page s̩͎͙e̳̝r̴͈͕͈͕̥̟͉i͏͈o̳͟u̖͔̟͜s̢̜͚͕̩̦̙l̝͔̫̜͚̬̤̀y̙͎̖̙̫̦̤. I’d hate for you to b̰̠̣̫̝ḛ͖̀ ͏̫hu̸̗̫̦r͍͈t̖̫̲͚̞̮ͅ by any of the p̝̀l͞a̱͓̤c̗͉̼͈e̟̫̻͙̟̦s͎̠̺̲ t̳̺̺͉̙͎͚h̥͎̖͙͍e̼̺̟̙͜ g̗̝̹a̷̙̦m͈͖̕é̬̮̰̰̥̬ ͉̫̭̪̀w̭̙͖̲̣̕í̫̺ͅͅn̥̣̗̹̥̮ḏ̯s̴̤͍̟̣̮̩ ͚̯̙̱̳u͇͓͈̙̰͖p̝̤ ̬̩̪͎̯͎͟ͅg̦̯͘o̷̥͉͈̬̦i̟̦̺̜͞ͅn̩͍͍̱͇̗͘g̢̼̥̹.̞̟̝͚̗͚͎
A̧̳͈͒l̤̞͔̬͉̃̂̅̂ͮ̚s̳̙̳͎̦͓ͬ̐ͦ̂ͬ̃őͤ̑̋̅,͊ͫͦ͑̋̇ͦ͏ ̘̗̫̙̬͇̺̀ͬͫ̇̀̽ṛ̵̠͓̭̓́ͫ̒ͧe̯͉̥͖̻̰͇ͧ̋ͩ̃̒̅͟m̫̻̉̅ͤ̊̀͑̽e̼̤̣̬̻̮̳ḿ̬̪͍͕͓̗͓b̺̜̟͉̬͇ͣe̖̞͇̪̤̥̘͒̒͌ͫ͜r̕ ̡͑t͇̪̠͙̙̥ͯ̿ͨ͐o̺͍̦̩̲̲̠̽̌́ͨ̈ ͈ͤ̆̃ͅș͖̬̬̫̤͙͑̉̿̽ͨ̎p͚͚̖̙̺̤͆̏ͨ̾ͤ̋̀ͅe̺ͣͮ͑̒̔́̃ṇ̼̟̐̄ͧ̽̃͝ͅd̺͔̦̗̒͛̍ ̠̗͎̱͂̃̅ͦ̚ͅṭ̳̥̂ͨͬͯ́h̹͙͎̺͉́e̛̍͌ͤ̔̈ ̠̬̌͌̀̃̅ͯ̑m̞̹̫ͫ̂̊ͬo̱̮̣sͪẗ̝̞͗̈́̏ ̦̝̝̙͈̼͒̒̈͋ͤ͆t̯͙͂͂ͭ̈ȉ̶̹̬̫͖̲̹ͬ͋̋̔m̟̙̟̪̱̦ͫ͡ͅe͍̟̰̬͑̈́͑ ͔͉͐͆ͫ͗͌̽̃̕w̶̤͔̝̣̗̜i̫̼̭͕̘̹͖͘t̫ͨ̑͛̏̾ͨ̚͟ḩ̟͍͍̣̬̪ ̶͓͓͍̮̱̲̪ͯ̌ͬ͌̍̆ͨm̵̬̙͙̯͎̩e̼ͮ͋̋́̽,̹̲̙͓ͨ ̷̫̠̺̬̗ͤ̑M̬͉̹̻̱̳͚̈́̀̏́ͯͪö̢̙̟̳̞́ͥ̈́̚n̨̰̰̹͉͎̞͖̆̈̓̈́̓̈́i͋ͪ̏̍ͫ͏̻͚̦̪̖̼k̸̠̻͓̓̍ͫ̎͌ͦ̅a̰ͬ̀͋ͨͭ̚!҉͙͙̗͈̳̭
8 - PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Remember when I said earlier, in the Mario + Rabbids entry, that every so often there comes along a game that makes an obtuse, unfriendly genre accessible to the masses? Yeah, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is one of those games.
PUBG, as it’s referred to by fans, is a “battle royale” game. Not actually the first entry, but certainly the entry that has popularized the genre, and made it the thing to clone all year. The thing that’s so clever, to me, about PUBG, is that it took games like DayZ, which have always seemed interesting, but also like a complete waking nightmare, and boiled those experiences down into tight ~30 minute matches.
Pushing competing players into tighter and tighter areas through the circles ensure that PUBG is always thrilling to play, because you’re never more than a few moments from another encounter. The frailty of your character gives the game almost a survival horror feel, except instead of scary monsters, you’re jumping at every sound in fear of another player hiding in the bushes to kill you. Even the loot of the game took the loop of games like Fallout 4, where you search places for worthwhile knickknacks, and made it entertaining in a multiplayer context.
I do feel like the developers around PUBG have revealed themselves to be profoundly crappy, introducing microtransactions to an early access game (after saying specifically they wouldn’t do so), and crying about copycats despite that being how the games industry has always worked, for the better.
But, while PUBG is a flawed game, and I don’t think it’s close to the masterpiece some other people seem to, I can’t deny it’s a highly entertaining experience.
7 - Super Mario Odyssey
I don’t like Super Mario Galaxy that much.
Put the pitchforks away, people, I don’t think it’s a *bad* game, I just thought it wasn’t for me. The Mario games I’ve liked the most are the open-world level style ones, like Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Sunshine. Exploration is the thing I value the most in video games, being put in a world and seeing what it has to offer. That can take many forms, it can be a good open world, it can be a linear game with good writing, it can be a game hiding secrets I need to watch YouTube videos about. Regardless, Galaxy, while a good platformer, just didn’t scratch that itch for me.
Super Mario Odyssey, though, boy, that did. Odyssey is great. It’s the kind of game I’m going to put back into the Switch for years to come, and continue to whittle down that extremely high number of moons to find. The capture system is as hilarious and wonderful as I’d dreamed it would be, but the game doesn’t use it as a crutch, including a huge interesting moveset for Mario outside of that.
Each level is both entertaining to simply exist within, and also packed with content. There is maybe no game more content dense this year than Super Mario Odyssey. If you see a space where it looks like there might be something, there usually will be something there. All of the costumes are fun to collect, New Donk City is one of the best levels in any game I’ve ever played, there’s inexplicably a boss fight that looks like it’s straight out of Dark Souls for some reason, the whole thing is just great.
Also, that theme song is great. I want every Nintendo game to have a theme song now. Splatoon did! Odyssey did! Give me more theme songs, Nintendo. Give the people what they want.
6 - Nier: Automata
Remember waaaay back in the Cuphead entry, when I said there was no game I felt more conflicted about this year than Cuphead? I lied, it’s actually Nier: Automata.
Nier: Automata is brilliant. The writing is poignant, surprising, and powerful. It takes a story about robots, which you think you’ve heard before, and goes truly surprising and philosophical places with it, which unlike many similar games, don’t feel like the writers just saw the Next Gen episode “Measure of a Man” for the first time.
The characters are interesting, fleshed out, and more human than most video game characters ever. It’s the kind of game you can discuss themes about, not just events. It’s not even something I’d say the “story” of is particularly strong, the plot itself is not what makes the game special. It’s not what happens, it’s how it happens.
I love all of the gameplay weirdness. I love that you can remove 2B’s OS chip and instantly die. I love that the game switches between 3D brawler, 2D platformer, and bullet hell shooter. I love the bit with the settings menu early on, and the way that pays off later. It’s the kind of game I wanted to talk to people about as I played it, that I wanted to gush about how cool different parts were.
Plus that soundtrack is outstanding.
At the same time, the gameplay of Nier: Automata… Is all over the place. The game was developed by Platinum, so I was really hoping we’d get good Bayonetta Platinum, not bad Legend of Korra Platinum. What we got was definitely closer to the Bayonetta end of the scale, but Platinum haven’t made RPGs, and it shows. Everything feels like it has too much health, and at the same time the functionally limitless healing you get early into the game by buying healing items makes you nearly immortal.
Plus, this game has a bad case of “open-world syndrome.” Why is Nier: Automata an open world game? I don’t know, because the open world isn’t particularly more interesting than a tighter experience would have been. The environments of the open world range from stunning imagery (desert/desert city) to something that looks like it fell out of an early PS3 game (THE MAIN CITY MOST OF THE GAME IS SET IN).
Eventually, they introduce a hacking mini-game. I don’t want to say too much about it, but the hacking mini-game is basically a bullet hell shooter. You do a *lot* of hacking in this game. It is not optional. While the bullet hell bits outside of hacking were fine, the actual hacking is the worst thing I played all year. By the end of the game, every time hacking showed up, which was *a lot*, I was pulling my hair out in frustration. The hacking is unforgivably bad, and I’m baffled by the idea that anyone could feel good about it. It’s *so* bad.
Ultimately though, I’m glad I played Nier: Automata. It’s a weird, fascinating game that will stick with me for a long time.
5 - Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn is very, very strong. It came out really close to some other game that definitely isn’t later on in this list, huh, I wonder what that could be, which I think led to it getting a bit overshadowed, but Horizon is really impressive.
Horizon’s gameplay successes are numerous. First of all, it’s the best Far Cry game ever made. It takes that “Ubisoft open-world formula” that’s become ubiquitous with the Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, WatchDogs, etc. franchises, and outplays them at their own game. You have towers? We have robot giraffe things. You can hunt animals? Oh, so can we, and also TARGET SPECIFIC PARTS OF ROBOT ANIMALS TO GET BONUS LOOT. You can ride an elephant into an enemy base to capture it? I’ll see your elephant and raise you a robot T-Rex. The activities are all interesting. The robot designs are all excellent. The open world is varied and interesting.
The place where Horizon goes from being merely “a good open-world game” to “one of the best video games of the year” is the story, though. I had mostly written the story off when I saw trailers for Horizon. I was sold on the game from day one, because I find dinosaurs and robots to be two great tastes that taste great together, but their weird, fake native american stuff just looked bad. There’s no way to lose me faster than fake tribal culture nonsense FALLOUT 2.
And, yeah, their weird tribalism stuff is bad, because it always is, PLEASE STOP DOING THIS IT HAS NEVER WORKED, but it’s also a much smaller portion of the game than it appeared in trailers. Just a few hours in, you’re off to Rome, where all roads lead, here called “Meridian.” Once you reach Meridian, the game’s writing takes a step up, and once you start exploring old world ruins, and learning just what calamity led to this bizarre technopocalypse. I want to be clear, Horizon: Zero Dawn might be the best post-apocalyptic story I’ve ever seen. The reveals of just what is actually going on is fantastic. This is Fallout: New Vegas level writing. It’s that good.
I don’t want to say anything else about the game’s story, other than to say that Ashly Burch continues to be one of the best voice actresses working in the video game industry, and the fact that she didn’t win “Best Acting” at the Game Awards is an actual crime by criminals. Oh, also Lance Reddick is in this game, and that’s great.
Really the only thing about Horizon which stuck out to me as a major problem was the game’s loot system, which just felt unnecessary. Giving the game a Diablo-style colored loot system just felt half-hearted and not great. I got all of the best-in-slot weapons fairly early on, which made the loot for the rest of the game super boring. The whole system felt like it might have just been added because focus-testers said they liked colored loot or something, although obviously I can’t prove that. Overall, a nitpick, not a major flaw.
In terms of gameplay, Horizon gets by not through having a ton of new ideas, but by taking ideas established by games like FarDogsCreed, or even Monster Hunter, and doing them extremely well. The story is so utterly fantastic, it left me speechless. I finished the game in June, I can still hardly stop thinking about it.
4 - Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is the best Metroidvania I’ve ever played. Admittedly, I’m not an expert on the genre, but Hollow Knight is something really special. Taking obvious inspiration from games like Dark Souls (I fear I might be becoming a parody of myself), Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania set in the city of Hallownest, a society of bugs which has fallen to ruin. In order to, hopefully, save those still alive, you have to dive into the very depths of Hallownest, and face tremendous odds to survive.
Hollow Knight is truly wonderful. It’s the kind of game that I think about people overlooking because it’s a $15 indie thing instead of a big budget title and get sad. While it’s obviously a 2D game and therefore not a Soulslike, it achieves the spirit of the Soulsborne games far better than more obvious copycats like Lords of the Fallen or Salt & Sanctuary (which is actually quite good and I would recommend to fans of either Soulsborne or Metroidvanias) precisely by knowing that it needs its own identity.
Hollow Knight is gorgeous. It’s probably the second-best looking game of the year? (Hint: The first best isn’t Cuphead.) I’ve heard it described as “Tim Burton-esque,” but even comparing it to the best of his works is selling the game short. It’s something truly unique, building a world that I absolutely loved my time exploring. The story is good. The world is great. The combat is perfect.
The only thing that doesn’t sit super well with me is the game’s final level, which goes from “rewarding hard” to “Super Meat Boy” hard. Not that I have anything against Super Meat Boy, but there’s a reason that game was built around short levels, not long drawn out worlds which send you all the way back to the start if you lose all your health. It’s just not fun.
That said, the game is still brilliant. It’s coming out on Switch soon, and I’ll probably buy it again just to have it on the go. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
3 - Splatoon 2
Splatoon 2 is not just more Splatoon, it’s better Splatoon. This was the best multiplayer game of the year. This game is so utterly charming, so utterly wonderful, I just want to shout at people about squid kids all the time.
I loved the first Splatoon, but got into it fairly late, since I didn’t have a Wii U until months after the first game came out. Splatoon 2, I joined much earlier, with it being the very first game I got for my Switch. I love the aesthetic of it. I love the brilliant “Turf War” mode. I love all of the fashion. I love walking around in the lobby and seeing the memes people have drawn. I love the soundtrack.
What’s new in Splatoon 2? Well, there are some new maps mixed in to maps from the original. There’s new weapons, as well as the new “dualies” weapon type (which is secretly the best weapon type don’t @ me). There’s a whole new single-player campaign which, while still light enough that it’d be hard to recommend the game as a whole to anyone if they had no interest in the multiplayer aspects of the game, is deeper and better than the campaign from the first one. There’s the “Salmon Run” horde mode, which is only available some of the time for reasons that I don’t fully understand, but which is a lot of fun.
Still, the reason to get this game is to play “Turf War,” which is the main mode of Splatoon. Nintendo really found something that just feels good with hitting things with paint. It’s satisfying, and the kind of game I have a big dumb smile on my face while I’m playing.
Splatoon 2, like the first game, has received frequent free content updates throughout the year, including new maps, modes, items, etc., which is really beautiful in a year where one of the biggest multiplayer experiences of the year is actually getting into legal trouble because of the ways it’s chosen to nickel and dime players.
There’s an argument that Splatoon 2 isn’t worth praising because it’s just more Splatoon, not really reinventing itself, feeling almost like a port of the first one. While that’s understandable, I disagree. Not a lot of people owned a Wii U, so putting a sequel, however similar, out on a system people actually own is worthwhile. Beyond that, I don’t care if it’s similar. I liked the first game, I like this one even more. I get excited every time I hear there’s a new Splatfest, and carve out hours of the weekend to play at those times. Splatoon 2 is definitely fresh.
2 - Persona 5
Persona 5 was the game I was most excited for all year. I got into the Persona games, and consequently the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole, in 2013, well after Persona 4, and even Persona 4 Golden had been released. I started with Persona 3, then Persona 4, and eventually moved on into the larger series.
While I went on to the larger series, and even played weird spin-offs like the criminally underrated and underplayed Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Persona 4 remained my favorite in the series, followed closely by Persona 3. Expectations for the fifth main installment could not have been higher.
Best soundtrack. Best looking game. Best story. Best characters. Persona 5is genuinely brilliant. It’s everything I’d hoped it would be.
Few things felt as blissful as playing Persona 5 this year. The kind of moments I remember most from playing games in this year were standing in Café Leblanc, listening to the soundtrack, simply existing in that space, or reading texts from Ryuji, Ann, Makoto, and the rest of the gang. These are the kind of moments that defined the year in gaming to me. Thinking about Persona 5 puts me in a place, in a mood, that I absolutely loved.
Makoto. Ryuji. Ann. These characters, along with the rest of the cast (both party members and otherwise) are some of the best ever in a video game, with personalities and storylines I loved. Every dungeon is memorable, even the one I didn’t like (it’s the space one).
The presentation of the game is flawless. Every frame of the game could be my desktop wallpaper. In the way Persona 4 was a detective story, Persona 5 is a heist movie, and it’s a great one. The entire final third of the game is utterly jaw-dropping, with twists that genuinely got me, and the way the game plays with your expectations of what’s going to happen is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen a game pull off.
Persona 5 is long, and a lot of people were put off by that, but it uses that length to its strength. It knows how to pace a 100 hours game so that it never drags, so that it never feels padded.
Even though Persona 5 was over 100 hours long, at the end I felt sad. It was like leaving behind not only an adventure, but a group of characters I’d grown to love. I haven’t gone through the game again, but I know that it’s one I will return to, like Persona 3, and like Persona 4.
Persona 5 is one of the best JRPGs ever made. To say more would honestly do it a disservice. If you haven’t played it yet, you absolutely should.
1 - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I thought Breath of the Wild was going to suck.
The game had been in production for a long time, and everything they were saying sounded like a game whose design was finalized in the heat of “make it like Skyrim” fever. Skyward Sword had massive problems, and was the most disappointed I’d ever been in a Zelda game, easily becoming my least favorite game in one of my favorite game series.
The world they were showing with Breath of the Wild did indeed seem very large, but they’d also not really shown off anything interesting in that world. No towns, no characters, just wide open empty space. Even the title sucked. I got the game day one, because I’m a big enough fan of the series that I felt like I had to do so, but right up until the reviews started hitting, the series future seemed like a giant question mark to me.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best video games ever made.
Far from the disappointment I’d anticipated, Breath of the Wild is one of the few open world games following suit with Skyrim to actually understand even the basics of what made games like Skyrim interesting. Games like Dragon Age: Inquisition built big worlds, but failed to put anything interesting in them. Even a game like The Witcher 3, which I’ve warmed on since it came out and now consider one of the best RPGs ever made, had an open world which I never felt like exploring for the sake of exploration.
Breath of the Wild is a game which I’ll frequently turn on, and start running in a random direction, without any particular idea where I’m going or what I’m doing, and there’s always something interesting around the corner. Sometimes it’s a shrine. Sometimes it’s a new quest. Sometimes it’s a weird snowboarding minigame I didn’t know existed, despite having put over a hundred hours into the game. Sometimes it’s just a simple Korok puzzle, which still feels rewarding despite how many of them there are. Sometimes it’s just a cool environmental detail, or piece of subtle and silent storytelling.
Breath of the Wild’s climbing mechanic is brilliant, not only because of the freedom it grants players, but because of the way it gave the creators a whole new dimension to build around. This is actually something both Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey did extremely well, verticality. In both games, the world(s) feels huge, and is, but is also hugely vertical. This is extra obvious in areas like the Rito section of the game, on the western side of the map. Not only is the game expansive horizontally, but vertically, which means in any given moment not only do you have the directions north, south, east, and west to explore, but often up, and down too. This would seem to trivialize some sections of the game, such as the three labyrinths hidden throughout the world, but the designers have usually accounted for this, and created some sort of obstacle that prevents the players from giving themselves a worse experience.
The weapon system was one of the more maligned aspects of the game, but I actually have come to really like that too. The purpose of the system is twofold, not only does it encourage the player to try various items dropped by enemies, which adds variety and even exhilaration to combat, but it *also* encourages the player to find ways around combat, or to find ways to take out enemies without using weapons at all. Push boulders off a cliff down at them! Use a Korok Leaf to blow them off a cliff! Knock them into a river with bombs! These solutions are always more interesting than the game’s perfectly serviceable (though admittedly not particularly outstanding) combat.
This is even more apparent when play on the DLC’s highly challenging “Master Mode.” If you’re playing on Master Mode, especially early on, confronting enemies head on simply isn’t an option, so engaging with the stealth mechanics, the environment, and the various ways the systems of the game can be exploited. Throw a metal weapon at the enemy during a lightning storm, watch them get hit by lightning! Shoot a freezing arrow, and then a fire arrow, and watch enemies get one-shot!
Master Mode, while absolutely not something I’d recommend anyone play on their first go through the game, was actually the redeeming feature of the otherwise distinctly mediocre DLC. It makes the whole thing feels like a weird remix of the game, changing up not only enemy damage, but enemy placement, and even adding bizarre octobaloon platforms throughout the game which snipers will attempt to take you out on, it’s a really neat piece of content. You could actually compare it to the similarly bizzare and excellent Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (ok, I’ve definitely become a parody of myself now).
That’s not to say the game is perfect. There’s a lot of things I could nitpick, and one glaring flaw with the game, which keeps it from being a lock for the best open-world game ever made.
“Who cares about story?” I hear you say, voices in my head, “It’s a Zelda game! When has story ever mattered?” Well, first of all, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker both had excellent stories, fight me. Also, the creators of the game clearly cared. I’d actually hold this against the game significantly less if it didn’t seem like they were interested in telling a story, but they clearly were, they just failed to do so.
The story of Breath of the Wild starts off extremely promising. By the end of the game’s tutorial area, you’ve learned that the game is a post-apocalyptic Zelda story and that the game’s dungeons will be giant mechayou need to retake control of in order to fight the Calamity Ganon, a version of Ganon whose sheer hatred and malice has transformed him into a force of nature, rather than a beast. You might notice those last few words are the coolest thing you’ve ever heard in your life, and you’d be right.
For a while, it even seems like the game’s going to deliver on that story. The first major area of the game I completed was Zora’s Domain, which featured not only probably the main story’s strongest chapter, but introduced you to both adorable but heartbreaking story of fish-lady Mipha, and the fish-man everyone decided they were horny for, Prince Sidon. After that section, I went to the desert, which while a bit more by the numbers with the main story, featured a detour with a lot of character to infiltrate the headquarters of the Yiga Clan, a group of evil banana loving ninjas who work for Ganon. Gerudo Town also wound up being my favorite town in the game, full of great characters and memorable side quests.
Unfortunately, that’s where the story really started to go off the rails for me. The other two major chapters of the game’s story, the Rito and Goron areas, not only featured much weaker dungeons in the form of Divine Beasts Vah Medoh and Vah Rudania, but also story sections that were rather short and uninteresting.
Then there’s all of the memories to collect. I’m not sure I can tell you a single thing that happens during those memories, and I got all of them. They’re just slow, and not super interesting. They ostensibly exist to give Zelda more characterization, and to explore the world of Hyrule in the past, which should be great, but I never found them particularly noteworthy in practice.
Finally, there’s the final section. Hyrule Castle is a brilliant final dungeon, which really puts to the test all the skills you’ve picked up playing the game up to that point. Once you get to the final boss though… Well, I probably shouldn’t talk about the ending of the game for those who haven’t played it, but suffice to say, there really isn’t anything to spoil. You go there to do a thing, and then you do it. Credits.
I’m not saying every story needs a twist. I’m not saying you had to get to the final boss and then say “psych, Majora was behind everything all along sucker.” But your ending needs something interesting, something unique to happen, and there’s really just not anything to that ending, which was exceptionally disappointing to me.
If there was one thing I really liked about Skyward Sword, it was that it felt like they were interested in focusing on story there, and the story the told was good, the characters were memorable. I remember Groose from Skyward Sword, despite him being the type of bully character who should be completely disposable, because the game was willing to flesh out its cast both through comedy, and legitimate character development. Groose was great because even a character that minor got a whole arc, and was legitimately interesting watch develop. The relationship Link and Zelda have in Skyward Sword, the characters of Link and Zelda in that game, are a million times more memorable than either character in Breath of the Wild, despite Breath of the Wild having seemingly higher goals with its cutscenes, and even voice acting for the cast. Groose, without a voice, is more interesting than any character in Breath of the Wild with one.
The creators clearly put so much effort into (what worked out to be) the first half of the story of Breath of the Wild (for my particularly path through the game), that for it to just fizzle out halfway through and stop being interesting at all was a huge disappointment. I can list other minor complaints about the game, how I wish I could cook a bunch of items at once instead of one at a time, how I wish there were a set bonus that let me climb in rain, how the inability to call horses from a distance made horses fundamentally useless until the second DLC hit, but these are all nitpicks. The only thing about the game that truly made me debate whether or not it was the best game of the year or not was this one aspect.
That said, even despite a lackluster finale, Breath of the Wild is an accomplishment. Nay, Breath of the Wild is the kind of game you can use the word masterpiece about. Every single aspect of this game, every corner of that massive world, feels loved. Every single crevice, there’s something there which tells you someone looked at that, thought about that, and said “yes, I know this is in my game, and here’s why it is.” It’s the new gold-standard for open-world games, the one to beat. It revived my love of the Zelda franchise, after what I considered to be its most disappointing installment.
That’s why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best game of 2017.