I knew that the Switch was going to be a revelation when it launched this year, but I never underestimated the impact it would have. Not only do I prefer playing games on the Switch, but I find myself wanting everything on the console now. Brand new? Yup. Last gen? Sure! Retro? Yes please!
So far, I’ve successfully held off on buying Skyrim and L.A. Noire on the Switch. But my willpower is slowly draining! And then there’s re-releases of great indie titles like Crawl, Binding of Isaac… It’s exhausting. I literally caught myself thinking today that Nier: Automata would be totally rad on the Switch since it’s kind of a low-resolution modern game that could probably work. I already own Nier! But I’d totally buy it again to play it on the go, because I’m such a sucker that way.
Anyway, this was also the year that old mascots came back in force. Who would’ve believed that a good Sonic game would ever come out? And that we’d get two titles starring Mario, and that they were both good?
We’ll see if 2018 can live up to the ridiculous quality of this year. There are a number of amazing games on the horizon, but time will tell if they’ll feel as fresh as some of 2017’s best.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Splatoon 2, Sonic Mania, Battle Chef Brigade, Snipperclips: Cut it Out Together, TypeShift
GAMES I WISHED I PLAYED: Persona 5, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Pyre, Tacoma, Divinity: Original Sin 2
10. Night in the Woods
Very few games or other pieces of media successfully portray mental illness with accuracy. Night in the Woods is a rare example of getting it right with its depictions of depression, depersonalization, and bipolar disorders.
The game stars Mae, a 20-year old college drop-out that returns to her small town. She reconnects with her high school friends that never left Possum Springs in an attempt to surround herself with the familiar. Not everything is as she remembers though, and quickly finds herself caught up in spooky supernatural mysteries. The writing between Mae and her friends is some of the absolute best – it all comes across as very genuine and often very funny. Night in the Woods is also incredibly adept at portraying the mental health of its cast without falling into clichés or stereotypes.
The only knocks I have against Night in the Woods is that the conclusion to the ghost story took a turn that didn’t feel earned, and a handful of dream sequences are beautiful but also a slog to complete. But these blemishes shouldn’t prevent anyone from checking it out. At only 6-8 hours long, it’s one of the best personal stories in any medium this year.
It was a long time coming, but Cuphead‘s debut didn’t disappoint. With its savage-yet-fair difficulty and beautiful art and musical styles, Cuphead is a charming old-school throwback. It feels familiar while also feeling like a breath of fresh air in the side-scrolling genre.
I haven’t finished the game yet, but I’m looking forward to coming back to Cuphead a lot more in 2018.
(Switch, PC, iOS)
Gorogoa is a puzzle game years in the making. Developed by Jason Roberts, the game challenges your perception of reality by dragging people and places across time and space. There is no dialogue or text anywhere to be found. Instead, everything is communicated visually through breathtaking hand-drawn window panes. The game doesn’t telegraph its puzzle logic, so many solutions require dragging and touching everything you can see to progress. However, it doesn’t feel completely obtuse, save for one or two head-scratching puzzles near the end of the brisk 1-2 hour game.
If you purchase Gorogoa on the Switch, I highly recommend playing it undocked in handheld mode. The touchscreen controls are vastly superior to the weird mouse cursor that is difficult to maneuver.
7. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
PlayerUnknown’s Battleground officially released at the end of December. However, 99% of my time with the third-person multiplayer shooter was spent during its Early Access period on Steam. Nothing about this game sounds like something I would enjoy – a single-life elimination game that takes 15-30 minutes per match? That sounds awful.
But PUBG somehow overcomes its barriers to entry by providing a healthy dose of emergent gameplay that allows for some of the most incredible stories. Nearly every match, even those with anticlimactic endings, features some sort of nail-biting moment that will stick with you. Listening to others recount their PUBG sessions illuminates how each player can have wholly unique experiences despite the game’s simple mechanics.
It’s not a perfect game by a long shot. Even though it continues to improve, it still feels like you are often wrestling with the game to comply with your inputs. But if a game in an unfinished state can provide so many incredible moments, I can’t wait to see what it offers in the years to come.
6. Destiny 2
(XB1, PS4, PC)
Man, what a rollercoaster. Upon its initial release in September, Destiny 2 was destined to be my game of the year. It improved upon many aspects of the original Destiny, another game that I completely fell in love with and spent literal hundreds of hours playing. The shooting is top-notch and the multiplayer activities are some of the best in any video game in existence.
However, after a couple of months with D2, something seemed… Off. The progression system, while much improved over the original game, still felt unrewarding. Leveling up was quick and easy, but most activities rewarded only tokens that were used to pull the slot machines of various vendors in the world. Cashing in tokens for random rewards felt abysmally less rewarding than simply receiving a cool new weapon from a Strike or Nightfall.
I ended up bouncing away from Destiny 2, but I don’t regret the time I spent with the game. I’m confident it will improve based on the history of the franchise. And I will be there on day one. Eyes up, Guardians.
5. Life is Strange: Before the Storm
(XB1, PS4, PC)
Life is Strange was one of my favorite games of 2015. The episodic adventure game centered on a couple of teenagers in a small town in Oregon. It won my heart with its heartfelt portrayal of teenage relationships. The prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, continues this tradition against all odds – it doesn’t feature the charming protagonist from the original game, was developed by a completely new studio, and the returning character, Chloe, was voiced by someone different after unfortunate voice actor strikes.
The three episode prequel stumbles a little out of the gate sadly. But by the end of episode 1, I was in love with the residents of Arcadia Bay all over again. Before the Storm‘s 2nd episode in particular features a few incredibly clever twists on the genre that left me smiling from ear to ear. And even though it’s a prequel and thus points towards a predictable conclusion, it is still a worthy addition to one of my favorite new franchises in the adventure genre.
4. Steamworld Dig 2
(Switch, PS4, PC)
One of the biggest surprises by far was Steamworld Dig 2. I only briefly played the first Steamworld game and found it decent, but bounced off fairly quickly. However, I was hooked from beginning to end with Dig 2. The world was gorgeous and interesting to explore, the digging was fun, and I really appreciated the generous upgrade system. It will easily rank as one of my all-time favorite Metroid/Castlevania-style games and I can’t wait for more in this series.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
You can use your hat to possess a tyrannosaurus rex, a fireball, or even a slab of meat. What other reasons do you need?
Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best nostalgic trips I’ve ever had. It’s a beautiful throwback to everything that is great about Mario. It is pure joy wrapped in a video game and one that I want to play forever and ever.
2. Nier: Automata
Nier: Automata was almost my favorite game of the year. It had one of the best stories I’ve experienced in years, and the way that the game subverted expectations throughout was brilliant. It was emotional and thoughtful in ways that video games only dream to be. Sadly, it’s also an incredibly janky game that demands a lot from players to really experience what it has to offer.
The controls are rough. The combat is okay at best. The in-game map sucks. The upgrade systems are cool on paper, but are unsatisfying. But despite all of these shortcomings, Nier is able to rise above by creating a narrative that actually incorporates these lackluster elements into its themes! It’s wild what designer Yoko Taro was able to accomplish with the game’s meager budget. It has an incredibly visual style, and some of the best video game music of all time. And again, that story. Damn.
Somehow, against all odds, Nier: Automata is much, much more than the sum of its parts. And that makes it one of the most memorable and unforgettable games I played in 2017.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
(Switch, Wii U)
The Legend of Zelda has always been my favorite video game franchise. I’ve replayed the original NES game, as well as Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past countless times. However, I’m also the first to admit that the series has been rough over the last decade or so. So while I harbor deep fondness for Link and his adventures, I’m also extremely wary of each new entry. Breath of the Wild was no different.
I’m so, so glad that my fears were unfounded.
Breath of the Wild was exactly what I wanted out of a Zelda game without ever realizing it. It has the most robust and engaging open-world that I’ve ever played in. Zelda doesn’t hold your hand in any way, the total antithesis to Nintendo’s game design philosophy over the years. The game drops you into a massive sandbox with the only tools you’ll need and lets you wander and explore to your heart’s desires.
There are a couple of complaints I often hear about the game – the rain, and weapon durability. And I get it, they add an artificial level of difficulty to the game, and that’s not for everyone. But for me, the rainstorms created an interesting puzzle out of every mountain. Every combat felt like an interesting decision – do I use my awesome weapons on these weaklings to kill them quickly, at the risk of breaking them? I thought more about every single enemy encounter in Breath of the Wild than I do in every other video game.
The sheer number of surprises that existed in the world was at times overwhelming. Most games bombard players with dozens of map icons to guide them towards quests and secrets. Breath of the Wild trusts players to discover these things on their own. The feeling of accomplishment after making these discoveries is profound, second only to the original Legend of Zelda. And like that game, I can’t wait to revisit Breath of the Wild for years and years to come.