Each year we like to celebrate the best. The best TV shows, the best Movies, the best lunches. We love celebrating what we consider to be the greatest achievement in any medium for the year. Games should be no different! These are the my picks for the best games of the year! With very little time to spare….
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo’s 2017 was one of the greatest years I’ve experienced as a lifelong fan. Firstly, the Switch is here and ready to rip. All concerns about the first year of its release were easily alleviated after Nintendo expressed their plans: New AAA releases each month, coupled with dozens of independent games on the E-Shop. There’s almost TOO MUCH to play on Switch in 2017. To kick this party off is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which just so happens to be one of the greatest Zelda games (and greatest games) ever made.
Anyone who’s played Zelda over the past decade or two knows that the LOZ formula was tired. 3 pendants unlocks a world in which you have to collect 8 more macguffins, you fight Ganon, and you save Hyrule. While I love Zelda, I have to admit that the series needed a massive overhaul. Nintendo EPD and Hidemaro Fujibayashi fly in for the rescue with a new Zelda that has a more global sensibility and a desire to return to what made Zelda, Zelda.
Breath of the Wild was built to focus on the open nature of the first Legend of Zelda leaving it up to the player to choose what to do. Very little information is given and we’re encouraged to explore with almost NO tutorial hand-holding. After the excessive training wheels in Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword this change was welcomed with open arms. Where BOTW succeeds fully is in conveying real wonder for the player as you can go anywhere and do anything, but the game trusts you enough to figure it out. The map is massive loaded with countless collectibles and leagues of terrifying enemies. Breath of the Wild introduces verticality as well. Being able to climb everything adds a certain element that most open world games are missing, actual depth. Many open world games feel flat, but BOTW combats this by allowing you to climb every mountain or walk for days to reach your goal. Let’s just not talk about the Blood Moon…ok….
In classic Nintendo fashion The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was able to give us something old, new, borrowed, and blue. All open world games moving forward will have to look at BOTW for inspiration.
Doki Doki Literature Club
I wrote about this game in my last post, but Doki Doki Literature Club is definitely one of my favorite gaming experiences of 2017. Sadly, due to me wanting to keep this post spoiler free, I can’t say much about the game outside of it being one of the most unique and original experiences I’ve had in years. The game surprised me and caught me off guard. As a jaded, 30-something gamer…that’s a rare find. It’s also FREE and worth your 3-8 hours of gameplay!
While plenty of games looked amazing in 2017, few were as stylish and original as Cuphead. Studio MDHR delivered its take on the “Devil’s Bounty Hunter” trope with the wackiness of 1930s cartoons. They designed a game that would fit in with Depression Era Fleischer Bros. or Disney cartoons. Most amazing about Cuphead was the amount of work that went into producing this modern masterpiece. See these animations….
THESE WERE ALL DRAWN AND PAINTED BY HAND ON PAPER! The amount of love and care that went into creating Cuphead is astonishing. The game is pretty great as well. Cuphead is most similar to the Konami Classic, Contra, or SNK’s Metal Slug; and while the game looks completely different, it plays like the best of the run-and-gun platformers of the 8 and 16 bit era. Cuphead is also tough, easily the hardest game I played in 2017. While it’s incredibly difficult, victory never fully feels like it’s out of your grasp. Cuphead is beautifully funny with a great sense of humor, but I can’t finish this blurb without talking about audio design. This game sounds as amazing as it looks. It’s got a fully orchestrated soundtrack, so as you traverse the world map you feel like you’re in Disney World. As you fight bosses, you hear some good, dirty jazz fill the room.
Cuphead proves that indie games can accomplish amazing things and that real creativity is still out there.
While we’re talking about art design, let’s look at Persona 5, the coolest game of 2017. Persona 5 exudes everything I wish I was: A cool anime character in a cool anime Tokyo, who just so happens to make contracts with demons so he can save the eternal souls of his friends. P5 is dark, moody, relaxed, and beautiful. While flashy anime characters bombard your screen a cool, jazzy-pop OST pushes the mood, you’re cool, be cool, and do cool stuff.
Y’know, plenty of people thought the JRPG was a dying breed and that turn-based games had no place in modern gaming, Persona 5 proves them wrong. The JRPG is alive and well, and boy will it beat the crap out of you with its Demon buddies. While P5 does have some classic anime tropes, it isn’t afraid to tackle some mature themes as well. Suicide, abuse, sexism, are just some of the issues presented and addressed in this game. While it may not always handle them with the most care, it’s definitely good to see that games are willing to handle aspects of life that often go unmentioned. After the insanity that has been 2017, it’s good to see that games are addressing these topics through their own methods.
The gameplay follows series’ traditions as a solid turn-based JRPG. You also get to live out a year in the life of a teenager in Tokyo. You’ll have a job, make friends, go on dates, and stay out too late slaying demons (or getting them to join you). Persona 5 was a joy to play…all 100+ hours of it.
Resident Evil VII
Capcom still has some gas in its zombified tank. Resident Evil VII is a new RE for a new generation of gamers while not leaving behind series diehards. Resident Evil VII owes a lot more to its progenitor than the more recent releases as seen through its dedication to horror. I always felt like RE lost its way with 5 and 6, only to regain its direction with VII. The first 3/4ths of RE VII is a refreshing homage to survival horror, a genre Capcom invented in 1996. You’ll be scared, you’ll use item boxes, save on cassette tapes, solve puzzles and feel like you were in “The Mansion”. If only that mansion was populated by and undying family of maniacs. There is something reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Masascre about REVII.
The switch to First Person may feel off putting for some, but the series hasn’t felt this good in 12 years. This new orientation for RE adds the horror back to this series. A key aspect that has been missing for quite some time. Resident Evil VII is SCARY and that’s a GOOD THING! As Resident Evil 4 reinvented the genre and series in 2005, Resident Evil VII does the same in 2017. This is a great game that may have been missed due to how great 2017 has been for video games.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
In today’s video gaming climate, we don’t get too many games willing to take some risks. Horizon brought us a new IP from Guerrilla Games (Killzone) that represents how the company has grown past its FPS roots. Horizon is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. You can see how much time and love was devoted to its design. Sometimes you just need to stop and soak it all in, let the game breathe a little.
Horizon is a wonderfully crafted open-world game, and while it does suffer from some of the tropes of the genre, it’s unique feel and design allow it to stand out. Guerrilla Games also crafted a wonderful lead in Aloy. She’s a complex person with real, emotional depth, without sacrificing her collection action-heroic abilities. Ashly Burch delivers a real and honest performance and my favorite of the year.
Horizon was a big gamble, and it paid off. It’s great to see a new IP that feels so perfectly original. More companies need to take these risks to deliver more original experiences. Also…robot dinosaurs…c’mon.
And my Game of the Year?
Super Mario Odyssey
Did you seriously think that a Mario game wouldn’t win this? Super Mario Odyssey was the cherry topping the 100 scoop sundae that was Nintendo in 2017. Yes, that cherry is the size of a softball and its Maraschino juice is just oozing with nostalgic grace and modern freshness. Mario Odyssey is the best Mario game to come along since 1996, and I’d argue to say it surpasses 64 in a few aspects. The world needed an open playground Mario game and Odyssey delivered on all cylinders. I don’t care that I’m mixing up metaphors…this game is that good.
Mario had been moving through some changes over the past few generations. After Mario 64 totally changed the landscape in 1996, it would make perfect sense for Nintendo to continue with that formula for quite some time. Their focus changed when Super Mario Sunshine underperformed and forced the Big N to readdress their flagship series. After Sunshine we saw Nintendo take some chances by releasing two Mario Galaxy games that didn’t quite feel as open as 64, while still being amazing in their own right. The Big N supplemented those with 2D Mario releases in the New Super Mario Bros. series, they were fun, but there was still something missing. Super Mario 3D World was a nice touch, but it wasn’t there yet.
Let’s go on an adventure, shall we? Mario hops in what appears to be a spaceship and travels to a collection of new kingdoms. These kingdoms allow us to run wild and find fun and interesting ways to collect coins, more coins, and power moons. The Power Moons work just like power stars or shine sprites, there are just ONE THOUSAND of them…yeah…there are 999 moons in Super Mario Odyssey. There is so much you can do and so much you need to do. Odyssey takes you on a journey with each kingdom being more charming than the last. The first run through the game can be conquered fairly shortly, in about 10-15 hours or so, but by “finishing” the story you unlock hundreds of other moons to collect in previous kingdoms.
Mario Odyssey is everything perfectly Mario. It’s colorful bounciness showcases how fun and odd this trip is for gaming’s greatest icon. The cap-possession mechanic is one of the coolest spins on Mario’s ability to get powerups throughout his adventures. No need for a fire flower if you can literally become a Fire Bro.
Super Mario Odyssey pays great respect and homage to Mario’s legacy while finding ways to feel fresh and new. It is a beautiful game and it encourages the player to venture out and discover a plethora of fun collectibles. It’s the perfect 3D platformer and I hope we get to see more of this game moving forward.
Ultimately, Super Mario Odyssey is JOY 100% pure JOY and my favorite game of 2017.
I hope you all had a great 2017! Have a very happy New Year and play some games!