Here we are. The big one. Game of the Year.
Naming the best video game to be released in almost any given year is a pretty challenging endeavor – I say ‘almost’ because some years, like 2012, kinda suck in the video game department (I’m sorry, how else can you explain Journey winning so many GotY awards for 2012?). This difficulty is doubled, maybe tripled for a year like 2017. Despite some questionable directions the video game industry went into during the year (I’m looking your way, Battlefront II), when was the last time a year had so many stellar releases beginning right out the gate all the way to the tail end of the year?
Seriously, 2017 was a hell of a year for video games! It was like BOOM! Awesome game! BOOM! Awesome game! BOOM! Awesome game! It was murder on the wallet, but worth every penny.
With such a high watermark of a year now in the history books, the year’s best game must be named. Traditionally, I have acknowledged my top 5 games of the year. But for a year as exceptional to the medium as 2017, I had to up the ante to a full-blown top 10!
The following are the ten games that I feel stood out the most among the many greats of 2017. A number of notable titles barely missed making it on here (PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, for example, snagged my “Best Online Multiplayer” award for its intensity, but it lacks the polish of the ten games I’m listing here). I haven’t reviewed all of the games I’m about to list just yet, but I hope to get around to it. Also, as I always state when making such a list, these are my feelings for the moment, so if I later appear to change preferences to what I list here, that’s not necessarily a contradiction. Opinions change. The only things set in stone here are the top two.
Also of note is that, despite being one of the best games of this (or any other) year, I have exempted Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from this top 10 for the obvious reason that it’s a re-release. Same goes for Crash Bandicoot.
Now with that out of the way, my top 10 favorite video games of 2017!
The words “it’s like Dark Souls” are becoming largely overused these days. Sure, Dark Souls can probably claim to be the most influential new IP of the last decade, but few games actually “get it” in the way Dark Souls does.
With that said, Nioh is like Dark Souls. Of course this is a compliment. It may not have quite the same level of “ohmigoshthisisthegreatestthingever” like Souls proper, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Nioh should have Dark Souls blushing like a schoolgirl, because it’s one fine imitation.
The Japanese setting of Nioh makes for a change of pace from Dark Souls’ grim high fantasy and Bloodborne’s depressing Lovecraftian worlds, and it changes up the combat to make things more fast-paced. It may not quite be up to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s own works, but it comes much closer than it has any right to.
To be honest, Nioh is only ranked at number 10 because I haven’t found the time to beat it yet. Who knows, maybe in time I’ll regret not placing it higher?
9: Hollow Knight
Speaking of “it’s like Dark Souls,” here’s Hollow Knight!
Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania game that takes heavy inspiration from (what else?) Dark Souls, with a death system that feels like it was directly taken from Hidetaka Miyazaki’s masterworks, and even borrowing in some of their challenge.
The nice twist here is that the characters in the game are all insects, stylized into quasi-Tim Burton-esque cartoon characters brought to life by some incredible visuals. The game oozes beauty and melancholy in a way I wish more indie games would (or in a way I wish any game would). The Metroid, Castlevania and Souls inspirations are obvious here, but the combination of cartoonish animals with a deep sense of atmosphere also brings to mind Donkey Kong Country. In other words, Hollow Knight echoes a lot of what I like.
Honestly, I would love to rank Hollow Knight even higher on this list, and the only reason I don’t is because, like Nioh, I haven’t finished it yet. Though unlike Nioh, this isn’t a case of not having the time, but the tech, as my geezer of a computer craps out on the game whenever I reach a boss fight. So it looks like I’ll have to wait until I get a better computer or for Hollow Knight’s release on Nintendo Switch to experience it in its fullest. It’s a bummer, but at least it gives me something to look forward to.
No, Cuphead is not like Dark Souls. Even though it probably draws that comparison more than the aforementioned games on this list, that’s an artificial comparison. Yeah, Cuphead, like Dark Souls, is a challenging game, but whereas Dark Souls ultimately feels fair no matter how brutal it gets, Cuphead does pull a couple of cheap tricks out of its hat (I swear to God, that bee boss!). It’s for that reason that I’m not as in love with Cuphead as many others, but I’d be a total liar if I said I didn’t have a great time while playing it.
Taking inspirations from some of the best run-n-gun platformers of yesteryear, Cuphead is a fine example of how classic game design can (and frankly, usually does) trump the overly-produced, cinematic-heavy games that seem to be hailed as “best games ever” long before they’re even released (you know who you are!).
What really seals the deal, however, is Cuphead’s art direction. Sure, I’m a firm believer that visuals don’t make a game, but when something boasts as much style and personality in its art direction as Cuphead, it certainly helps to give the game an identity. And making the game entirely hand-drawn to replicate the look and feel of 1930s cartoons? Come on, how can you pass that up?
7: Splatoon 2
I know, I gave PlayerUnknown’s Battleground Best Online Multiplayer over Splatoon 2, yet it’s the latter that makes it onto the actual top 10 list. How does this make sense? Because while PUBG may be a bit more novel, seeing as Splatoon 2 is a sequel that sticks close to its only two-year old original, Splatoon 2 is ultimately the more refined experience. Make sense yet? No? Eh, don’t worry about it.
Simply put, Splatoon is just a fun experience, and this sequel ups the ante with some new modes, features, and a more finely-tuned single-player campaign.
It’s that sense of fun why people love Nintendo. They can take just about any genre, put a new twist on it, fill it with color and a bunch of weird characters and viola, something special is born. In the case of Splatoon, it was Nintendo’s take on the oversaturated shooter genre, which they decided to innovate by means of making it non-violent, replacing brooding space marines with squid-kids, and bullets and blood with colored ink.
Yeah, Splatoon 2 is more of the same (something which many Nintendo franchises gleefully avoid), but more of the same isn’t exactly a bad thing when the “more” is also “better.” It may not reinvent the wheel, but Splatoon 2 solidifies the series as one with a bright future in Nintendo’s library.
Speaking of Nintendo doing something new with the tried-and-true, it’s ARMS!
Nintendo has seemingly entered a new era from where they were for so long even just a few short years ago. Gripes about Nintendo “not making anything new” became a recurring complaint/joke online during the 2000s (gamers are simple creatures, and apparently can’t process that new game designs can be presented with familiar franchises). But the last few years have seen Nintendo not only revamp their most beloved franchises, but introduce some genuinely great new ones as well.
In 2015, Splatoon hit the scene and was Nintendo’s goofy take on the shooter. In 2017, ARMS did the same for the 3D fighter. Featuring characters with extendable, interchangeable arms, the title adds an element of ranged combat into the 3D fighter, while also implementing motion controls into the genre in a way that makes sense.
Like Splatoon (or Mario Kart, or Smash Bros.), ARMS is Nintendo’s unique twist on familiar territory, adding in the developer’s trademark “fun at all costs” style. Here’s hoping that, like those other Nintendo franchises, ARMS becomes a mainstay.
5: Sonic Mania
By God! A good Sonic game! In 2017! Hallelujah!
It should come as absolutely no surprise that the best Sonic game in twenty-odd years is one that replicates the series’ 16-bit heyday. Sure, you could argue it has a restrained sense of newness because it sticks to the old hedgehog playbook. But we have Mario to be inventive. By this point, we just want Sonic to be good!
Sonic Mania was not only good, however, but great! Playing both as an homage to Sonic’s most beloved adventures while also tinkering with their bits and pieces, Sonic Mania is everything Sonic should be: fast, colorful, challenging and fun.
Sure, Sonic Forces would arrive mere months later and place Sonic back in suckish territory, but for one beautiful moment in 2017, Sonic was “way past cool” once again. And even if the world is burdened with more Forces down the road, it won’t take away from what a stellar comeback Sonic Mania was.
4: Persona 5
Let’s get something out of the way, Persona 5 could be number 3 on this list if not for the fact that I haven’t finished it yet (it seems the top 3 at least should be games one has actually beat, no?). This isn’t exactly my fault, so much as it is Persona 5 being approximately a bajillion hours long. Hey, I’m not complaining, it’s a great game, and hopefully by the time I beat it, I’ll love it all the more. But I gotta rank these games somehow.
Anyway, Persona 5 is a rich RPG experience, combining what seems like several different games together (level up your character’s social interaction, capture monsters and combine them to make new monsters, traverse dungeons and complete their stories, etc.). What’s amazing is that it seems like all of these elements have depth and are well fleshed-out. Persona 5 is a rare instance of a game boasting just about everything and the kitchen sink, and still somehow making it all work.
I admit, this is actually the first Persona game I’ve played, but if Persona 5 is anything to go by, it’s a fantastic series, and I look forward to looking back at past entries.
Persona 5 may demand a lot – A LOT – of your time, but it also makes sure you always have something to do within that time. It may make a couple of questionable design choices (I don’t want to leave and come back to the dungeon! I want to finish it in one go!), but it has so much going for it, and executes it all so well that it’s all too easy to look past Persona 5’s shortcomings.
With a dizzying amount of gameplay experiences and a really intriguing story, Persona 5 proves to be worth your time. All your time!
3: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
A video game featuring the Rabbids is in my top three best games of the year… THE END IS NIGH! THE END IS NIGH! TIME TO RUN AWAY! THE END IS NIGH!
Yeah, it’s still kind of baffling to think that Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a real game that really exists. Really. Not only is it a crossover between Super Mario and the Rabbids, but it’s also an XCOM-style tactical RPG with guns! And yet it all works. Somehow or another, it all works.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so much of a wonder why Mario + Rabbids works, despite its odd individual pieces. After seeing director Davide Soliani’s infamous reaction to the game’s official unveil at E3 – with tears of joy and worry streaming down his face – it should have been obvious that Mario + Rabbids was a labor of love. And that love really does shine through in the end product. Despite how utterly bonkers the game sounds on paper, it seems like every piece of it was well thought out and polished.
Mario + Rabbids boasts a surprisingly deep combat system, a great musical score by one Grant Kirkhope, and a boatload of charm. In description, the concept of Mario + Rabbids may sound like some kind of fanfiction gone awry. But in execution, it’s one hell of a game.
2: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
That’s right. Zelda only makes it to the silver medal position (of course, I’ve tended to always have a “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” outlook on Zelda because of a certain other series, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Make no mistake about it, however, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece, and arguably the best game in the legendary series.
Breath of the Wild took Zelda back to its roots, deconstructed them, and reconstructed something new from the pieces. This is the (pun intended) breath of fresh air that the Zelda series needed for quite some time. That’s not to say previous Zelda’s have been underwhelming; Wind Waker was one of the better titles of its console generation, Twilight Princess was a triumphant execution of Zelda traditions, and even the muddled and overly-long Skyward Sword was ultimately a good game. But Breath of the Wild was the Zelda game that I feel wholeheartedly earned all those 10/10s and all those claims of being “one of the best games of all time.”
This is a return to the open-world format that the original NES Legend of Zelda helped pioneer, made better than everything else in its genre by taking bits and pieces from other inspirations (among them Studio Ghibli, Portal, Skyrim and, I gotta say it, Dark Souls), sprinkling in its own share of original ideas, and bringing them together into one cohesive world.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a nearly flawless realization of combining the old with the new, and becoming its own beast because of them. It’s a genuine masterpiece, one of the best games Nintendo has ever made, and probably the best Zelda ever. In almost any other year, Breath of the Wild would have been all but guaranteed my Game of the Year award. And yet, it’s only number 2 on this list…
1 (Game of the Year): Super Mario Odyssey
Mario wins lol!
It seems most gamers who pride themselves as “hardcore” Nintendo fans seem to favor The Legend of Zelda, and even in initial response it seems the critics tend to agree. But in the long run, Mario has consistently proven to be Zelda’s better (exception being on the GameCube). That’s not a knock on Zelda, but a testament to how well the Super Mario series not only understands game design, but how consistently it seems to redefine it. Breath of the Wild may have been Zelda’s overdue transformation, but Mario has always been an ever-evolving beast. One could argue that Breath of the Wild was the bigger departure for its series, but that’s only because the old grind for Mario has always been rewriting his own rules. Odyssey is but the latest in Mario’s evolution, and quite possibly the most all-out fun gaming experience since the medium made the jump from pixels to polygons.
Some fans have baffingly lamented that Odyssey “wasn’t enough like 64,” but to hold it against the former-plumber for not sticking to his rulebook is to blatantly miss the very thing that continues to make Super Mario gaming’s premiere franchise. Despite having a richer history than any other series in the medium, it’s the one series that’s never content on doing the same. Odyssey borrows bits and pieces of 64 (and Galaxy, and even Sunshine), but it isn’t trying to be its predecessors. Super Mario Odyssey is Super Mario Odyssey, and that’s exactly why it’s brilliant.
If Super Mario is a series all about invention, then Odyssey is perhaps the most literal realization of that mentality. It doesn’t merely set out to do X-new thing for the series, but rather to present every last one of its stages as a virtual toybox for players to get lost amidst the countless ideations around every turn.
You could say that Mario’s beautifully realized Capture ability – in which the hero possesses creatures via means of magic hat – is Odyssey’s primary new hook, but even that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. It also introduces a world-traveling theme, a hilarious clash of art directions, open-world stages that are constantly introducing new concepts, and a moveset that is ingeniously constructed so that players of all kinds can play the game as they see fit (many of Mario’s moves seem purposefully tailored for speedrunners to “break” the game, for example).
Super Mario Odyssey is a game that’s simply never satisfied, yet players will be consistently satisfied with it. Odyssey is constantly throwing new ideas at the player, both big and small, with reckless abandon. Its imagination is as bountiful and spontaneous as that of a child, yet its ideas are fine-tuned and polished by masters of its craft.
In a year that arguably produced more great video games than any other, it’s only fitting that the best of the lot is quite possibly the best entry in gaming’s best series. In a year so chock-full of memorable experience, it’s a testament to Super Mario Odyssey that its placement as Game of the Year is a no-brainer. Maybe next time, Zelda.