Favorite Games of 2017

-- This list is updated as I play 2017 games, even in subsequent years. --

2017 was the year of me running of our enthusiasm or patience for games. I didn’t finish many of what I’d consider to be my favorite games but that didn’t really impact the list. It was also the year I bought a proper iPad and discovered the joys of playing touchscreen games on a big screen.

Games that would be on here that aren't currently in the database: Golf Zero, Miles & Kilo, Busy Work (a physical installation game),

List items

  • I've not yet earned a chicken dinner, despite putting close to 150 hours into the game. Turns out I'm not very good at the part of the game where the cursor needs to line up with another player's character model and I click on the mouse button enough. But the number of top-10s and even top-5s I've earned proves that I know what I'm doing when it comes to tactics and maneuvering. The only videos I've watched of this game come from Nuke.com's Murder Island series, so I'm sure if I put effort into learning it I might actually succeed. But, despite my murderous failings, there were few things this year that I looked forward to like coming home from work and unwinding with a few rounds of what I still call "Battlegrounds".

  • Greg Kasavin once wrote that "all games are played to the point at which the player loses interest. An ending is just an invitation for the player to lose interest at what's likely an appropriate time." My only knock against Breath of the Wild is that I lost interest before it invited me to end my time with it. Like Skyrim, I loved the seemingly endless exploration and the thrill of finding somewhere new. I wanted to conquer every shrine and trace every inch of the map.

    But, I could not beat Thunderblight Ganon in the Divine Beast Vah Naboris no matter how hard I tried. I watched videos, tried to power myself up, brought in strong potions and meals, but I just could not execute. And that totally killed the momentum for me. I ventured back out into the wild but eventually lost interest, putting the Wii U back on the shelf.

    Yet, despite all of this, my fondness for the great parts of the game outweighs my other experiences and it remains one of my favorite games this year.

  • Would you believe I had never played a Bridge Constructor game until now? I don't know why because this is right up my alley! I enjoy "set up the solution and execute" as a gameplay loop and the process of making small tweaks to get it just right. BCP takes some Portal mechanics (like portals, momentum, the different goo of Portal 2) and presents 60 levels of challenge. It's perfect on the iPad.

  • 2017 kicked off with me playing Beyond: Two Souls, then Oxenfree, then Night in the Woods. By pure coincidence, they flowed together well because each is narratively driven by the paranormal and teen-banter. Night in the Woods is almost a perfect game. It's absolutely gorgeous, well-written, features great characters, and effortlessly pulled me to the end. The platforming bits of exploration were fun ways to punctuate the story. And the scene at Fort Lucenne Mall with Bae is one of my favorite things I've done in a game.

    Yet, I can't get over how incongruous I felt the ending was. Maybe missed some of the cues along the way, but I just could not believe the scenario they presented. I felt dissatisfied and it soured my immediate experience with the game. But, with a bit of time to distance myself, I'm able to remember that which made the game terrific. Sharkle.

  • I am bad rearranging letters in word-building games. I am bad at knowing facts for crossword puzzles. Typeshift fixes both of those things! The regular and daily puzzles are much more manageable and the clue puzzles are constrained just enough. Typeshift makes life a bit easier by showing you which letters you've used up, which means that making even a bit of progress on a puzzle benefits the player.

    The presentation is slick and it's the first game I can think of that really takes advantage of the iPhone display's haptic feedback. Sliding the tiles up and down is tactile and there are few things as satisfying as the little pop it makes when you complete a puzzle and the letters crunch and animate. Zach Gage makes good games.

  • MMM2 is precisely everything I wanted out of the sequel to one of my favorite mobile games of all time. As I've gotten into watching Formula 1 racing, I have a better understanding of all the systems I'm managing in my team's organization by hiring staff, developing parts, and improving my drivers' abilities.

    I also appreciate the more direct control I have over race strategy. Most importantly, MMM2 surfaces much more information during races with which to make the kind of small decisions that can push my drivers ahead and help me earn championship points. I imagine this is at least some small part of what it's like to be a team principal in the garage on race weekend.

  • As I started to play Gorogoa, I was seated on an airplane next to a woman who had brought with her a large sketchbook and a roll of variously weighted drawing pencils. About an hour in, she tapped me on the shoulder and said she had to know what I was doing. I explained to her the premise of the game and how it worked and she was fascinated. It's a striking game that's as wonderful to look at as it is to play.

  • "Weeeeee!! The Videogame"

    I've very much enjoyed by time with Odyssey since purchasing a Switch late in the holiday season. The capture mechanic creates natural variation in a way that's usually forced into special suits and the openness of the levels supports experimentation.

    However, there are some core issues that prevent this from being a #1 Great Game. First, I had trouble with depth perception in some of the platforming sections.

  • This random Switch purchase turned out to be a unique experience. Like Spelunky, it’s a game where all the pieces interact and it’s up to the player to learn how the world works. This sense of discovery kept me playing for hours. I only got the “animal” ending but I left satisfied.

  • SWD2 is the textbook example of a well-planned progression curve. Every time it seems like it's going to become laboriously difficult or repetitively easy, there's a new ability or upgrade waiting to bring you right back into the flow state of rapt attention. The game smartly did away with the consumable items of the first and introduced new traversal upgrades like the grappling hook and jet pack which made getting around the mines more enjoyable.

  • I was hot and cold on NieR all throughout. There were incredible highs but frustrating lows. For every awesome story or set piece moment, there was annoying controls or confusing objectives. The pacing felt imbalanced but I can see the greatness somewhere in there. It just wasn’t in the game that I played.

  • This is the year that Pokemon GO received updates that improved it to the point where I've kept it installed on my phone. I'm fortunate to live in an area with many Pokemon to catch, gyms to defend, and Pokestops to check-in to so that I can actually play the game. I finally evolved and caught Pokemon strong enough to use in gym battles and Nintendo patched the game to better balance the strongest Pokemon, making it more broadly playable. This, with the increased variety of Pokemon in the wild, has finally made good on the promise of last year's release.

  • Flipflop Solitaire is such a simple mashup of other solitaire variation (klondike, spider, and pyramid) that it's immediately approachable. The first milestone is completing a round, but the game also keeps track of time spent and moves made to give it a high-score goal mentality. And once you've completed the single-suit mode, you can scale the difficulty by adding up to four more additional suits! It's the kind of phone game that made me miss my train stop.

  • I haven't played a Layton game since the DS, so I have no idea where there series has been in the last ten-or-so years. But playing LMJ on my iPad reminded me why I was so fond of the first three games. Katrielle and Shurl are great characters and the writing is as good as I remember. Makes me want to go back and fill in the gaps.

  • (Released on iPad in 2017) It’s like XCOM meets Civ meets FTL. The main issue with the game is that there are so many systems and it does a poor job tutorializing, but there’s an insane amount of depth and it’s easy to spend hours just getting lost in your nebulae system. Definitely worth playing.

  • Like a good short story, Old Man's Journey packs a lot of emotion into a little package to convey tone. Wonderful environments and animation, a simple yet effective puzzle mechanic, and good sound design.

  • This is a tactical combat game in which you move your character across colored tiles to power up abilities (think: matching gems in Puzzle Quest). It's really cool concept that's slow to start but works really well when it's balanced well. However, these mechanics fall apart when the randomness of the tiles don't produce long enough paths to move along and the encounters suffer. This could have been overcome if it were easier to upgrade the characters quickly so the randomness mattered less. But, as an inexpensive iPad game, I enjoyed my time with it.

  • Time Recoil (iOS) is doing the same type of thing as Never Stop Sneaking: mostly automated combat informed by how you approach the level. The direction you're moving is the direction you're facing and the game has a targeting cone that will auto-aim, overcoming some of the precision issues that top-down touchscreen shooters often have. It's fast-paced and snappy!

  • With the iOS release this year, I got to enjoy a clicker that does a lot of things really well. It's goofy, has a neat visual style, and best of all, it has an ending! All clickers should have endings.

  • Maaaaaan, I wanted to love Persona 5. It's got styyyyyle, great music, cool character designs, and a combat system that flows incredibly smoothly. It was neat that the dungeons were more than just hallways and their difficulty seemed pretty well balanced.

    But the issue that I had was that I didn't look forward to social linking because I didn't find the characters compelling. My intuition is that they tried to flesh them out too much and didn't leave me any room to fill in the gaps. I didn't care for the frame story and felt that the Phantom Thieves' revenge missions lacked nuance (at least up to where I stopped playing in June). I just wasn't having fun like I did with Persona 3, 4, or even Tokyo Mirage Sessions.

  • I bought an iOS controller this year and Z-Exemplar was one of the first things I played with it. It's a side-scrolling shooter in the visual style of the ZX Spectrum. It nails its game loop: stages are short and upgrades can be bought pretty quickly. This fast cycle adapts the side-scrolling shooter formula to short attention spans and does away with the filler and repetition usually endemic to level-based games.

  • I had the unfortunate experience of experiencing a progression-preventing bug during the first week the game was released and chose not to restart because I was already pretty deep into the game. But, following the success of Space Plan, harkened back to the good ol' days of browser-based clickers. Simple and elegant.

  • I don't like Pocket Camp. So why have I played so much of it? It scratches the itch I have for compulsive building/collecting games I get about once a year (previously addressed by Disney Magic Kingdoms). The thing it does well is that there's almost always something to do, since there are game loops that run on both short and long cycles. And I also like the daily and event challenges. But I know for a fact that I will soon burn out on it as I find more important things to do with my life.

  • A neat concept that just didn't do it for me. As I played through a couple times I just kept thinking about the changes I would make to the game to make the choices more meaningful or create more interplay between the different AI drives. Killer art style, though.