I took a year off but I’m back with my 2017 Game of the Year List! 2017 has been the best year for games in recent memory, with Nintendo’s strongest launch lineup since…ever! We also saw some amazing indie title debuts. Let’s start from the bottom.
10. Doki Doki Literature Club
DDLC has been taking over the youtube world. I got in before it became mainstream thanks to a tip from a friend. It starts off as a charming dating sim and then goes off the rails about a hour or two in. I was playing this late at night and the twist caught me off-guard and left me deeply unsettled.
It’s free on Steam and Itch.io and doesn’t take a huge investment of time. I’d also recommend the Game Grumps playthrough (still in progress at the time of posting) if you enjoy your VNs with silly voices.
9. What Remains of Edith Finch
Another game that wasn’t on my radar. I can’t even remember why I picked it up but I’m glad I did. It’s a walking sim with gameplay vignettes. Also I don’t use walking sim in a derogatory way, as I’m a big fan of Gone Home and Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and this in the ilk of those titles.
You take the lead of Edith Finch, the last in the line of the Finchs, as she explores her twisted family home. The home also doubles as a mausoleum with rooms preserved for the deceased family members that lived there. Most rooms are blocked off, so you need to find trap doors and hidden crawlspaces to access them.
Each room has you play through a small vignette showing the family member’s POV of the events leading to their untimely demise. Each has its own unique gameplay elements and some play better than others. My favorite was The Cannery which has you controlling two different actions with the left and right joysticks, similar to Brothers.
8. Resident Evil 7
I’m a huge fan of the Resident Evil series, with RE1 Remake being one of my top games of all time. The series has been on a decline since RE4, with RE5 being alright, and RE6 being an absolute abomination. As much as I liked RE4, it took the series in a more action direction, further from its survival horror roots. RE7 throws out the 3rd person gameplay from the last 3 installments, and takes it back to its horror roots–in 1st person!
Thematically RE7 takes a lot of cues from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most of the game takes place at a backwater bayou farm, with an insane, and seemingly immortal, family pursuing you. There isn’t a ton of enemy variation, but the monsters that are there are spooky (think the regenerating monsters from RE4). Just like RE1, I felt like I had to ration my equipment and make my shots count, keeping me in a state of unease. RE7 does enough to both innovate and also capture the feeling of the old survival horror genre circa PS1/2.
7. Persona 5
It’s been almost a decade since the last Persona, with Catherine and a bunch of spinoff Persona games filling in the gaps. Anticipation for P5 was super high, and for the most part it delivers. Graphically the game looks more like Catherine than a modern game. That said, this game is oozing style, with some of the most pleasing menus and transitions I’ve ever seen. The first time I did an all-out attack and the game freeze framed with Joker striking a pose I wanted to cheer. The style is SO effective that it makes the monotony of dungeon crawling more palatable.
Gameplay elements mostly carry over from previous personas. You play out your daily life, ranking up your confidant levels, and buying equipment to take with you into the dungeons. Dungeons are thematically much more interesting and fun to explore since they’re no longer random. Mementos, the underground labyrinth you continually return to, is the only area that randomly generates.
Narratively the game isn’t quite as strong as P4, with a pretty weak 3rd act. The characters are great, and the interactions with them are still the most engaging aspect of the game. Music is as solid as previous installments, with some funky, acid jazz. One of the best parts about P5 is the feeling of place, as you really get a feel for the districts of Tokyo you’re exploring. It’s a big time investment, but a worthy one.
6. Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods holds a special place for me. I backed the Kickstarter in 2013 when I saw Alec Holowka was involved (dev of Aquaria), and I’ve been following its development since. The trailer had a strong emotional impact on me, esp with what I was going through at the time, with incredible music and art.
NitW has you playing as an anthropomorphic cat, dealing with real world problems. She drops out of college and returns to her rural hometown, discovering things aren’t as she remembered. You spend her idle days exploring the town, interacting with its inhabitants, and rekindling relationships with your old friends. You’ll also do a bit of platforming to access some of the higher locations. Most of the gameplay takes form in minigames around story events like jamming with your friends, mall shoplifting, and a knife fight!
The characters are the backbone of the game and your interactions with them. You can go down different friend routes depending on your decisions which gave me enough reason to play through twice. There are also smaller relationships you can foster which all have a rewarding payoff. The third act goes places I didn’t expect and took another playthrough for me to appreciate more. The score is an incredible backdrop and enhances the mood of each scene. The writing of the game can be divisive, and Mae isn’t the most likeable protagonist, as she struggles to find purpose while dealing with her own inner demons. But I think Alec and Scott have created something truly unique, so if you’re looking for something different, spend a night in the woods.
5. Sonic Mania
People who knew me in my formative years will tell you that I was the biggest Sonic fan. My interest in the blue hedgehog, like for most gamers, gradually declined after years of bad games that got away from what made Sonic games good in the first place. Sonic Mania, a game by a fan of the series and not Sonic Team, takes the old Sonic games, and actually IMPROVES them, making it the best Sonic game ever made.
It remixes some classic zones like Chemical Plant and Lava Reef, and adds in a spattering of new Sonic levels that are even better. The soundtrack borrows more from the Sonic CD era, which great vocals and jazzy tunes. This game pays homage to Sonic while at the same time raising the series to a new standard. I only hope there is another game from Christian Whitehead in the works.
You can’t talk about Cuphead without first mentioning the painstaking effort the team put into the art. It’s all handdrawn to emulate the rubberhose animation style of the 1930s. It truly looks like you’re playing an old cartoon. Now pair that with challenging platforming and boss fights and you have a real high class game!
Cuphead is difficult but not overly so. The game is mostly boss fights that are broken into different phases. You can switch in different weapon loadouts as you unlock them, and parry pink projectiles to build up your super attack. As you get more savvy, you’ll learn the rhythm of each boss fight and what might have seemed near impossible becomes a ballet of parries and projectiles. When you die, it’s almost always your fault. There are a few RNG elements that can screw you over though in some of the boss fights, but these are rare.
This game also has an incredible 30s era score. I still listen to Floral Fury on a regular basis. If I was just placing games based on presentation, Cuphead would be far away the winner. I would die in boss fights just because I was in such awe of what was happening on screen. Getting to a new phase means all new boss animations which are just as rewarding as the progression you’re making. It also has one of the best boss fights in the history of games, where you’re fighting a gauntlet of casino themed bosses while rolling a dice.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
Mario Odyssey is a fucking joy to play and it’s all because of Cappy. The cap throwing mechanic in this game affords you so many things. It allows you to possess enemies, npcs, and objects, which affords you new movesets or opens up new inaccessible areas. But it also affords you much more freedom of movement in the air. When you throw your cap, you get a bit more air, but you can also dive onto your cap to bounce up and get even higher. You can then throw your cap and dive again. Pair this with a somersault, into a walljump, and you can clear huge vertical spaces.
In Odyssey, you explore different kingdoms, with the main objective to collect power moons in what feels like a big easter egg hunt. Some of them are out in the open, but many are hidden away. There are also mini areas with their own unique challenges in each kingdom, similar to the platforming challenges in Sunshine. For example, one has you possessing a bullet bill, carefully navigating a maze before it explodes.
The kingdoms vary quite a bit in space, with some huge sprawling locations like the Sand Kingdom or New Donk City, and others that are smaller, more vertical dioramas, like Woodland Kingdom (which also has the best song in the game). It’s worth exploring every nook and cranny, as you’ll be rewarded with a power moon or kingdom specific coins you can spend to unlock costumes.
This game has incredible flow. It takes the open world level design of Mario 64 and Sunshine, but doesn’t boot you out of the level after you collect a power moon. Even with big story events, there is a cut and then you’re back in the world. And with the large number of power moons in each kingdom, and an easy list to track them with, you constantly feel like you’re making progress. You can also get hints for some of the harder to find ones once you’re done exploring. One of the best Marios ever easy.
2. PLAYERUNKNOWN BATTLEGROUNDS
No game has taken over my life like PUBG. This game has shaken up the industry more than any other, having devs scramble to shoehorn battle royale modes into their already established titles. Expect to see a lot more battale royale themed games in 2018.
PUBG works so well because of its brilliant pacing. You drop in off a plane with 99 other players. As soon as you hit the ground, you scramble for the nearest weapon, and begin your uphill fight for survival. If you survive the early encounters, you’ll hit a lull where you’ll mostly be looting and not encountering other players. As the game progresses, a giant death circles shrinks, forcing players into a smaller space. This ramps up the tension, as you try to gun for the circle, or bunker down if you’re already inside.
When you get to the last 10, you can actually feel your heart rate go up. At this point, everyone is hiding behind a rock, inside a house, or is prone in the grass. Death can be anywhere and you can feel your senses heighten. Any small mistake will get you killed and knock you back to the title screen after an almost 30 minute game session.
It took me 100+ hours to win my first chicken dinner. I’ll never forget how that game played out and that really is a testament to how good this game is. I had my highest highs (and lowest lows) playing the game, and winning the chicken dinner is my highlight gaming achievement of the year. I’ve only won one other chicken dinner since.
This game was in Early Access most of the year, which hampered the gameplay experience with desynch issue, frame drops, and tons of lag. The full release fixes some of these issues but the netcode still needs a lot of work. For this reason, this was my most loved and most hated goty. It also got me into twitch in a big way, with personalities like DrDisrespect and Shroud.
I still think this game hasn’t come close to reaching its full potential, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
1. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
After years of more and more derivative titles, we finally have the open world, nonlinear Zelda we’ve all asked for. And it’s GOOD. In the first few hours, you learn the base mechanics in the starting area and are given cool physic-based abilities like magnetism, as well as classics like bombs. Once you get the paraglider, you can descend out of the starting area, and begin exploring Hyrule in any direction you choose. You can even head straight for Hyrule Castle to battle Ganon with 3 hearts and starter equipment. The freedom to explore where you want and how you want makes this game feel like what Zelda used to feel like for me: an adventure.
There is a main questline you can follow which will take you to the four divine beasts which also serve as the game’s major dungeons. There are also over 100 shrines scattered throughout the world that have small objectives you need to complete to earn a spirit orb you can use to increase your heart count or stamina. The more stamina you have, the higher you can climb, which opens up more areas. Climbing in this game feels really good (unless its raining), and you’ll want to climb often to survey the area and then paraglide to points of interest.
I do miss the elaborate dungeons of prior Zeldas, which were always the highlight. The tradeoff is a rich overworld packed with hidden items and shrines. You’ll want to explore out of the way areas on the map because you never know what will be there. It could be a giant labyrinth or a dark forest that requires a torch to navigate. The best thing is most of these areas are entirely optional, and so your playthrough feels like your own narrative. Which is good, because the story isn’t the strongest point of this game. It’s mostly conveyed in memories which while poignant have some questionable voice acting choices (Zelda is a brit?).
I could write another 2500 words about this game and maybe I will someday. Now that I own a switch, I do plan on going back and playing it again in 2018, with the added DLC content. It’s pretty rare I want to go back and replay a game these days, especially a big time investment like this one. You could easily spend 100+ hours if you want to thoroughly explore the world and find all the shrines (don’t bother with the korok seeds unless you’re insane).
And that’s my top 10 of 2017! Below are the list of runner-ups and games I still need to play that might have made this list.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
The Sexy Brutale
To Play List:
Horizon Zero Dawn
Metroid: Samus Returns
Evil Within 2