I played a LOT of new games in 2017. In fact, it's one of the few years in recent memory where I can say that I've played mostly new games. That's with good reason; 2017 saw a ridiculous number of great games come out in dense clusters. Despite a lot of industry bullshit, I think 2017 will be remembered as one of the best years for games from a pure software perspective. I played enough good games this year that I could make a top 45 list without any questionable inclusions. And this is despite having missed some of they year's biggest hits!
Safe to say, in any lesser year, the top 9 games on this list could have all made a reasonable run for game of the year. It is a testament to the quality of 2017's releases that such fantastic games are placed where they are.
The gen 7 games are my favorite in the Pokemon series. They nearly topped my list last year because they offer such an interesting new take on the tried and true Pokemon formula without losing their identity. Ultra Sun and Moon don't really capitalize on this, offering very few changes to the original titles. The game remains so high on my list because at its core it is still Pokemon Sun and Moon, but it did not leave as much of an impression as the originals because it is so damn similar to them. This game could have been more, but instead it just rested on the laurels of a great game.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
My first Naughty Dog game was Jak and Daxter. I never had a chance to play Crash, so this was my first exposure to the series. And I had a great time.
In a lot of ways, the original Crash trilogy feels like a 3D version of Donkey Kong Country- the first game in particular. It starts out in a natural environment before the player takes on an evil industrial zone constructed by the villain. Platforming consists of a series of intense challenges that make some levels feel like a marathon. Saving is weird and inconvenient (at least in the PS1 version). There's an optional focus on a challenging collection element that is way out of my depth. And a lot of segments can have this visceral rhythm to them, particularly when you have to bounce from enemy to enemy. The second game is visually darker, while the third one is kind of all over the place and has a lot of weird gimmicks.
And it's safe to say, if I'm comparing a platforming game to Donkey Kong Country, I'm having a damn good time.
These games feel like a prototype for Mario 3D Land that completely surpasses the latter attempt. They utilize the potential of 3D environments while still creating a brisk linear feel. It's something that hasn't really been replicated since, meaning that the Crash trilogy still feels fresh from a modern perspective. They offer a nice challenge, a high skill ceiling if you're going for 100%, and a distinct feeling between each individual title, even if they're backed by the same core gameplay.
The PS1 Crash trilogy is one of the best in games. Despite having played three of these games in a row, I'm hoping we get to see a new fourth game that follows the same approach.
I never really liked 2D Sonic. I tried and tried to enjoy it over the years, but for some reason that sort of game design never really clicked with me. But for some reason, I felt drawn to Sonic Mania. I don't know why, but it was one of those weird gut feelings that I'd like the game when I didn't have much reason to believe that would be the case.
As it turns out, that gut feeling was right on the money. Sonic Mania was a blast from start to finish. For the first time I was able to have fun with 2D Sonic. I could finally see the appeal of it's momentum based challenges that rewards a careful player. Thanks to Sonic Mania, I was able to return to the Genesis titles with a fresh perspective, see them through, and have a great time.
But even so, Sonic Mania remains the peak of the entire Sonic series. The level design, graphics, music, control- practically everything about this game is the best it has ever been in Sonic. I hope the team behind this gets the chance to do more with the series, because they've more than proven they're capable.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
In a similar case to Sonic Mania, Resident Evil taught me how to enjoy the Resident Evil series. It also taught me how to not suck at Resident Evil, but let's not talk about that.
Resident Evil is a fantastic survival horror game in its own right, managing to scare the player without taking control away from them or throwing jump scares in their face. For pretty much the entire time, you're in the drivers seat. The horror comes from the anticipation of what lies ahead. Will I have enough resources to make it through this next section? Did I screw myself over by using too many bullets or healing items on that last boss? Can I make it by these enemies without fighting, or am I going to get caught? Resident Evil 7 constantly has the player asking these tense and exciting questions.
Special mention should go to the level design. Items required to progress never feel too inconvenient or far away, and they never become an annoyance. Levels loop around and connect in smart ways, and in some cases players have to construct their own routes by choosing which zone is best to clear of enemies. This sort of level design (and a lot of themes) seem to be par for the course in Resident Evil, but I'm first exposed to them in RE7, so they've left an impression on me here. Which I argue is a testament to the game's quality. It is able to leave the same sort of impression upon me as the first Resident Evil did for new players, meaning that it is indeed cut from the same cloth as the classic older titles.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
I've loved video games since before I was grown enough to played them. And 2016 was the year that hurt my love of video games the most. Between the massive disappointments of MGSV and Fire Emblem Fates, the blatant pushback of Zelda U to meet the Switch's release, along with Nintendo's abandonment of the Wii U, it felt like my favorite series and places to play games had been left dry by capitalistic influences. In the grand scheme of things it's not a big deal; I do have other hobbies and things I care about, but it does hurt to see a lifelong hobby become less enjoyable.
With that string of massive disappointments in mind, I went into Fire Emblem Echoes with very low expectations. What I got was a game that reignited my love of video games.
Echoes might be the greatest remake I've ever played. It addresses the antiquated flaws of the NES classic, while maintaining what made that experience enjoyable at its core. The quality of writing, storytelling, and character designhas taken a complete U turn from Fates. It's like getting to play a lost Fire Emblem from before the 3DS era. And it was magical.
I'm still cautious about Fire Emblem's future, but if the remakes can at least be this good, I'll be satisfied.
Good god what a game. I love a good boss rush, and Cuphead is a near perfect execution of that design format. Each boss is interesting and rewarding to learn, offerring an emotional rollercoaster as you go from confused and overwhelmed, slowly to confident in your ballet of attacks and dodges, only to go back to scared again when you hit a new form you hadn't reached before. Trying to concoct a new strategy from in the heat of the moment is just as engaging as when you start to see the underlying pattern after multiple failed attempts. This consistent sense of fairness and enjoyability makes your eventual success a cathartic achievement.
Not to mention the presentation. Much has been said about the hand-drawn animation, but all the praise is justified. The characters are brilliantly animated and exude tons of personality, but are also so well designed that you can engage with them on a mechanical level without issue. Hand drawing characters that look great in motion as well as serving as balanced video game bosses with telegraphed attacks and mid-match transformations must be challenging, but the Cuphead team pulled it off spectacularly. The excellent visuals are supported by an underappreciated brassy soundtrack that I adore.
I love Cuphead.
A Hat in Time
Pound for pound, this is may be the best game of the year. That is to say, any one level from a Hat int Time is superior to the equivalent amount of content from, say, Mario Odyssey. But Odyssey wins out because there's simply more of it to enjoy. With the addition of 2 new worlds coming in 2018, A Hat in Time may overtake Mario Odyssey, but for now it is at number 2. I can't wait to see what comes next.
And with good reason. A Hat in Time truly feels like a follow up to Mario Sunshine (even moreso than Odyssey), with unique and interesting missions that flesh out the world in which they take place. The areas change between individual missions, letting you view the same location from multiple angles in space and time. The mechanics are great, raising the skill ceiling for skilled players while remaining accessible to those who just want to run and jump. The sound design is excellent, the visual design is charming, and creativity is abundant. It's a fantastic game. My only real complaints are that world 4 focuses too much on straight platforming and that I simply want more of this game. I can't wait for those two new worlds to come out- they are probably my most anticipated "game" of 2018.
A lot has been said about Undertale over the two years since its initial release. Since I waited to play it on consoles, I'm 2 years late to the party, but the praise is certainly warranted. It's an upbeat and positive game overflowing with humanity. The writing is genuinely hilarious and the characters are extremely relatable.
Undertale wants you to become engrossed in its world and fall in love with its characters for two reasons. The first is for the inherent joy in revering something. That is a worthwhile joy that should be cherished. It is beautiful that we can create things that resonate with and speak to people who have had very different experiences. That is wonderful. We should not take that simple truth for granted. And we should not take the simple joy of deeply engaging with fiction for granted.
But there is a point where that becomes toxic, and exploring this toxicity is where Undertale does something deeper with its fun, dopey charm. Undertale's villain is a selfish god-like being who traps the player and the game's characters in a perpetual cycle of hardship because he does not want to let go of them or the joy they bring him. What he fails to realize is that he has already lost them. Those who know of his existence either dislike him or are indifferent. Others are completely ignorant. And the joy he gets from this endless trap is practically non-existent. Sure, he laughs at the players repeated destruction, but aside from a bit of slapstick, it seems like he's really just keeping everyone trapped because who doesn't want to move on. It's is easier to keep doing what you're doing than it is to change, even if what you're doing is harmful for everyone involved.
When the player starts the game up after achieving the best ending, this character greets the player to ask why they are back. Do they really want to reset the world and make everyone miserable, just as he had? Is the player willing to do that, just so they can squeeze a bit more fun out of the game? He is holding up a mirror to the player, for they are not so different from Undertale's villain.
Whether we're talking about our relationship to media and art or our relationships with others, they become toxic when we try to make things continue simply because that is most comfortable. The alternative could mean putting the game up on a shelf for a couple of years, or saying goodbye to a friend for the night, or ending a relationship that isn't very health. In every case there comes a point where we have to be honest with ourselves, accept that nothing can go on forever, and realize that this isn't a bad thing. We can revisit a favorite old game after putting it aside for a while (maybe with greater perspective gained from playing new games?). We can hang out with a friend someplace new or doing something new. Distance can give us a better appreciation for just how harmful a toxic relationship was in retrospect. In every case, we need to have the courage to make that initial break- to create the space for our happiness to flourish. It's not always easy; there's a comfort in the familiar. But clinging to the familiar and the secure too much ultimately ends up hurting us and those around us. It is okay for things to end.
Super Mario Odyssey
Like Undertale, a lot of people have said a lot of great things about Mario Odyssey and they are all warranted. I've shared my thoughts in the game's thread and I don't want to repeat myself here. In brief, it is wonderful to play an open, explorative Mario game with controls deep enough to offer freedom in how you approach challenges. I've waited over 10 years for this, and it has been worth the wait. Mario Odyssey is an instant classic.
Odyssey is a joyous romp through a beautiful world. Mario's passion for getting out in the world and running around and appreciating even the trivial little things is infectious. It certainly doesn't hurt that moving around is so much fun on its own. Like Mario, we shouldn't take that little hill by the road or that out of place rock for granted. These small real life landmarks might not be hiding any power moons, but they can still give you the same little kick of joy as Mario's shiny trinkets.
This game brought a lot of thoughts and emotions out of me. It came at the right time in my life, and it's something I'll probably come back to down the road. I could pick apart flaws in the hack and slash mechanics, or the overworld design, or some of the side quests, but that's not what the game is about. This is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And I think the way we talk about games could benefit from a more holistic approach. A lot of people tend to pick apart the individual parts of a game, without much thought for what the whole work says or feels like. The space where the presentation, gameplay, narrative, context, and so on all come together to create a unified whole. This is lost when we focus too much on a fragmentary breakdown.
The finale of Nier Automata might be the most significant moment I've had with a game. It is a culmination of themes and questions that ran throughout the narrative, bringing the player face to face with challenging existential crises, and giving them the tools to come out the other side with a life-affirming perspective. The player is met with a practically insurmountable bullet hell fight during the credits. They fail over and over again as the text boxes prod the player. Will you give up? Isn't this hopeless? Will you admit there is no meaning in this world? But, suddenly, hope appears in the midst of despair. The death screen starts flickering with messages of encouragement from other players who made it through. Allies bearing the names of other players come in to help you. When destroyed, it says that player's data is lost. As the ships join to help you the background song, which has been repeated throughout the game, reaches a brand new crescendo. You finally overcome this unbearable hardship with the help of others and make it to the end. Then, you are given the chance to leave a message for other people who are struggling. After that, you are given another choice. You can send a little ship out into the world to help somebody else who is struggling, but you must delete your save data to do so.
Nier Automata is a game where the final boss is existential nihilism. And it tries so hard to help you beat that boss not just for yourself, but for your family, friends, and even strangers. It is the the bonds and relationships and meaning we create between us that allows us to overcome hopelessness.
I draw a lot of references between this game and Nietzsche (which it does encourage players to do, among other writers), and to me the ending embodies the idea that I took away from "the death of god". The characters, humanoid robots who tricked themselves into serving the artificial remnants of long dead humanity, are forced to confront the truth. They can no longer spend their lives under the secure illusion of an artificial master. Freed from the authoritative destiny that they were manipulated into believing, they must now rebuild themselves (both physically and psychologically) and find meaning in a world where the closest thing they have to a god is dead. They don't know where they go from here, but they are free to create their own purpose for existing. Things are so uncertain now, but if they just keep going and keep trying things will get better. Because it is better 2B than it is to not..
It's an emotional fucking journey of a game that invites the player to come face to face with our smallness in time, space, and perspective. But in doing so, it guides the player away from the pitfalls of nihilism, encouraging them to value life and create meaning in it. Confronting our own smallness, fragility, and insignificance can be terrifying, but it should ultimately be a life-affirming process. We exist for such a short time and see such a small piece of what's out there, but despite that we're still able to care. We form attachments, and appreciate trivial things, and we can make each other happy. In the face of such staggering cosmic realities, we are still able to create joy and meaning and love. That is beautiful and that is powerful. We cannot let despair or nihilism or cruelty take that away from us.
The top 4 were all very close in the running. If a Hat in Time's DLC levels are on par with the rest of the game, it could very well become a clear winner. But as it stands, I had to but Nier Automata at the top simply because it's stuck with me and made me think on a level very few games have.
Here are some games that might have made them on this list, but I didn't get the chance to play them: Night in the Woods Gravity Rush 2 Hollow Knight Yakuza 0 Persona 5 What Remains of Edith Finch Flinthook Dead Cells Volgarr the Viking Ittle Dew 2 Severed Blaster Master Zero
Also, shout outs goes to the DLC of Overwatch and Dark Souls 3. They were great, but didn't really fit into a top 10 list since the base games came out last year.
I'll probably make a new post or update this section to add in another 20 or so games that I liked this year. But for now, I want to let the top 10 stand on their own. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and take care of yourself.
Nice list, and I've only played three of them. Four if we're counting the Crash Bandicoot remake trilogy as interchangeable with the originals. Speaking of which, I'm glad you brought up the parallels between those Crash games and Super Mario 3D Land, because I strongly felt the same way and felt mostly alone there. (Though I probably prefer 3D Land to the Crash games, myself, disappointed though I was in 3D Land at the time.)
Shadows of Valentia does look more my speed than Fates did, but it's hard to commit to a 30-40 hour experience anymore, especially one that is going to be very familiar for the most part. I know it deviates from FE standards in a lot of ways, but probably not enough for me to justify the time investment when that time could be spent elsewhere.
Looks like I have to add A Hat In Time to my must-play list after seeing it on yet another GOTY list. And unlike Mario I already own the necessary hardware to play it...
Really nice, varied list H_O_H! This really was a very strong year; I don't know if there are as many cream-of-the-crop great games as other years, but it's hard to remember a year with this many good games worth checking out.
I really regret not playing A Hat In Time yet, but I'll be sure to check it out sooner or later. You description of it makes it sound really awesome. And I really wish the Switch version of Hollow Knight was out already, because that game looks amazing and I can't wait to play it.
I'll definitely recommend Yakuza 0 and Edith Finch. Yakuza is so, so thoroughly entertaining and Edith Finch really does a whole lot more with a genre that's largely been focused on just walking around. They'll both be on my best-of list.
Fire Emblem Echoes is definitely more of the same for the most part. It's one of the most unique Fire Emblem games, but if you're not up for more Fire Emblem, it's eccentricities aren't enough to warrant the investment. If you ever get the itch for Fire Emblem, and maybe want to try one that's a bit different and weird (in a good way), give it a try!
Those are both on my radar. I've been waiting for them to go on sale, but they really haven't. I know next to nothing about Yakuza, so I'm tempted to just start with the first one, which I also hear is the worst. I think I got 5 for free on PS3???? And I've just heard non-specific positive things about Edith Finch. The only specific thing I'm aware of is the fish level, and that's the sort of approach to game design that I think I'd enjoy.
Definitely start with 0 if you want to jump into the series, because it's a prequel that sets up a lot of what's to come, and since a lot of fans seem to consider it the best one (along with 2). It was my first Yakuza game, and now I want to play them all (I just recently picked up the remake of 1, and they are remaking 2 as well).
And yeah, Edith Finch has some really amazing vignettes (the fish one being the strongest, for sure) that do things that would only be possible through video games, which is what I appreciate most about it.