There’s an old curse you’ve probably heard once or twice in your life that is almost always relevant: “May you live in interesting times.” For better or worse, 2017 will go down in history as a period of interesting times in ways both great and small, but even the world of gaming experienced interesting developments that led to highs and lows that hopefully won’t be repeated in 2018. For every labour of love in the vein of Cuphead, there were equal scandals in shoddy game design and loot box money-grubbing from Battlefront II.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of hearing about the bad. 2017 had a solid lineup of absolutely fantastic games and that fact deserves a spotlight rather than focusing on all of the downer moments the past year presented to us. Let’s open up the new year properly with ten of the best games that popped up in the past twelve months, presented in no particular order.
Cuphead (Xbox One, Microsoft Windows)
I’ve already mentioned it once, but I would sleep comfortably if I dedicated an entire list to all the ways Cupheadmet or outright destroyed my expectations. It’s gone beyond what most game enthusiasts would consider a requirement for a solid gaming experience; No one asked StudioMDHR to spend years out of their lives developing a single game, but they took the initiative to produce something that is obviously a work of passion rather than an idea dreamt up by a board of executives.
Cuphead’s strengths are many and varied, but the most obvious bit of its presentation deserves the most love: Its animation and graphical style are absolutely superb. Nothing about Cuphead would feel out of place in a cartoon straight out of the 1930s and its development time of over three years shows why this process likely won’t be duplicated any time soon. The rubber hose-style animation flows and bounces in tune with an awesome soundtrack and the gameplay is both excruciatingly difficult yet also boundlessly rewarding.
Even if action platformers aren’t your preferred genre, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least watch someone play Cuphead. Just pretend it’s a Saturday morning cartoon and you’ll be set.
Resident Evil 7 (PlayStation 4, Windows, XB1)
For those who were excited about the PT Demo that dropped last year but wasn’t followed up on due to executive meddling, Resident Evil 7 smoothly stepped in to fill the void unexpectedly. Fans of the series have likely become familiar with its third-person tank-style controls that have taken over what was originally a gripping horror series from the early PlayStation library. Survival became action horror, for better or worse.
Yet RE7 suddenly took notes from the success of atmospheric first-person horror and threw in just enough of its classic trigger-happy antics to bring the series closer to its roots once again. The setting is dreary and downright disgusting and the entire game practically pulsates with a sense of impending dread that won’t leave you feeling safe until you’ve turned it off for the evening. Add in that it feels designed for VR support and it’s gone from a predictably mediocre action series to regaining its title as horror mainstay nearly overnight.
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)
Look, there’s only so much to be said about another entry into the Super Mario series of games, but Odyssey is doing well to prove Nintendo still has their heart in the right place when it comes to producing titles that make their consoles worth owning. It’s swept awards season and only seems eclipsed by Breath of the Wild in terms of public reception.
I’ve played a lot of Mario games in my day. If you enjoy the recent string of 3D titles—Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Galaxy and so on—you’re almost guaranteed to love Odyssey. Movement feels satisfying, there’s plenty of costumes to collect and force Mario to wear like a strange plumber-shaped paper doll and it manages to add just enough in the category of silly hat-possession gimmicks to grab your attention without letting it overshadow its core of classic, solid 3D platforming.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Something like three or four replays into Divinity: Original Sin 2, I’m starting to think I may have a problem.
It’s been a long time since an RPG grabbed me as hard as Divinity’s predecessor did. Frankly, it’s probably not happened since Baldur’s Gate or Knights of the Old Republic took a stranglehold on my imagination and refused to let go for far too many months of my life. The game’s depth calls back to classic dungeon crawlers and tabletop role-playing games in an easily accessible manner that leaves me wondering just what might happen if I play it again, but ever so slightly differently.
So I do. In a world with games coming out every week, that’s a seriously strong mark of quality.
Yooka-Laylee (Windows, Mac, Linux, XB1, PS4, Switch)
Reception for Playtonic’s first contribution to the gaming public has been met with mixed reception. Most of it seems to revolve around how you feel about 3D collect-a-thon platformers, as they’ve been dubbed; For many, that’s not a badge of honour so much as a shameful mark of game design conventions that fell out of style years ago.
Fortunately, I have very fond memories of Banjo-Kazooie and I couldn’t wait to see what the ex-Rare developers were going to do to revitalise the genre. I’ll admit my bias, considering I contributed to the game’s Kickstarter and I very rarely find myself giving money to empty promises, but Yooka-Laylee paid off exactly as I hoped it would. Grant Kirkhope’s cheery, bouncy rhythms are still echoing in my head from long sessions spent flying, hopping and rolling about just like I did several decades ago. It’s bright, it’s charming and I can’t wait to see what Playtonic does next.
Yakuza 0 (PlayStation 3, PS4)
The Yakuza series hasn’t been shying away from being a little strange over its past few iterations, but the quirks that make it so uniquely Japanese seem to be what keep winning people over every time a new title pops up. Beating thugs up using a bicycle as an improvised melee weapon never really gets old, even if the game’s story tends to trend towards the amusingly serious despite the cartoonish carnage you pull off through its impressive runtime.
Beat-em-ups of any particular quality may be in short supply but Yakuza 0 isn’t lacking in the polish department.
Nier: Automata (Windows, PS4)
2017 was an amazingly strong year for RPGs and Nier practically led the charge. If you’re not in the mood for the methodical feel of Divinity, the latest entry in the Drakengard series takes a more action-oriented approach without sacrificing its story beats. In fact, I’d argue Nier takes advantage of the unique properties of a video game medium better than most RPGs bother to try, but saying anything more borders on serious spoiler talk.
It’s not perfect in the technical department, but the atmosphere pouring out of every portion of Nier should help you overlook its occasional bugs.
Stardew Valley (Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4, XB1, Switch, PlayStation Vita)
Technically a 2016 launch, the Switch release of Stardew Valley lets me stick it in this list without feeling too guilty. It’s not quite like any other game on the list, either, which is why I felt the need to break up the story-heavy, action-driven offerings of 2017 with one of the most relaxing video games you can pick up without buying another Animal Crossing title.
Playing much like a spiritual successor to Harvest Moon but with the gameplay twists of combat brought around by Rune Factory, Stardew Valley lets you live out your quiet farming dreams in an idyllic rural town with a cast of lovable characters that you can force-feed baked goods to until they fall in love with you. If that’s not quite your cup of tea you can simply spend your time establishing a turnip empire or go spelunking for ore until your thumbs fall off. Even the combat is strangely relaxing, somehow.
Human: Fall Flat (Windows, PS4, XB1, Switch)
Not into action or role-playing games? Looking for a way to make your friends feel like geniuses as you flail around in physics-heavy puzzles that seem deceptively simple at first glance? Human: Fall Flat is a physics-based puzzle game that can tempt even those who are avowedly against puzzling their way through a video game through a strangely compelling system of movement that requires careful coordination that is just shy of impossible to actively achieve.
It’s almost worth buying just to drag a group of friends into a multiplayer session to see what sort of insane herd logic sprouts from being presented with a movable catapult on a sea of islands just begging you to launch your friends to their certain doom over and over again.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo WiiU, Switch)
I have a confession to make: I lied earlier. I stuck Breath of the Wild at the end of the list because it struck me in a lot of very important ways and I felt compelled to make sure you left this article feeling the same painfully happy sense of nostalgia I got from trundling through it.
To set the stage, I’d somewhat fallen out of love with the Legend of Zelda series. They’ve always been good games, but I felt like its RPG mechanics and story were often overshadowed by games with more western design sensibilities; They almost always had deeper lore or more striking characters paired up with game engines that had flashier effects, more compelling physics systems or even just slightly smoother controls. They had become baby’s first RPGs, in my mind.
Then came my first day with Breath of the Wild and I felt the same way I did back when the N64 launched, staring at the Kokiri Forest in Ocarina of Time. I felt like there was a world waiting to be explored and that my options were nearly infinite. If you see a mountain, you can go climb it and probably find some minor rewards along the way. You can paraglide around for no reason except to ogle the scenery. You can surf down cliffsides at break-neck speeds, dodging past monsters and bumpy terrain alike. Or you can treat it like a classic Zelda title and go shrine-spelunking for hours without realising how much time you’ve spent.
What I’m trying to say is that Breath of the Wild made me realise what I’ve been missing in the LoZ series over the past few years. It feels like Dragon’s Dogma and Legend of the Colossus sat down with Ocarina of Time and decided to drag Link into the limelight no matter what it took and the end result is a beautiful, engaging game that doesn’t require an eighty-hour story to hook you for days at a time.
I could spend another article or two talking about how Nintendo’s latest releases have made me want to get back into the N64 era of gaming, but I have to go lose myself to more Breath of the Wild first. I strongly suggest you do the same.
- Sonic Mania (Windows, XB1, PS4, Switch)
- Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Windows, PS4, XB1)
- A Hat in Time (Windows, PS4, XB1)
- South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Windows, XB1, PS4)
- Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Windows, PS4, XB1)
- Nidhogg 2 (Windows, Mac, PS4)