Man, what a year! Whatever your tastes, it’s hard to deny that 2017 was a phenomenal year for video games. Not only were there more interesting new releases each month than one could reasonably play, the entire medium felt re-energized and reinvigorated this year. I would be remiss if I didn’t attribute at least part of this newfound verve to the highly successful launch of the Nintendo Switch, the first console I ever purchased during its first year on the market. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for Mario.) But games as a whole felt bolder, more confident, more… themselves this year. The best games of 2017 felt comfortable in their skin, as if they knew exactly what they were doing and how they were going to accomplish it. This wasn’t a year of glorious, gorgeous messes; this was a year of sophistication and refinement.

Because there were so many good games in 2017, it was difficult to narrow my list down to just 10. There were some tough omissions, like Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, West of Loathing, and Persona 5, all of which would have made my top 10 in any other year. I also didn’t manage to get around to playing every game I wanted to (sorry, Horizon Zero Dawn, Everything, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), so just consider this a snapshot of the best of what 2017 had to offer in gaming. If you want the full list and ranking of the new games I played during the year, you can find it here.

Without further ado, here’s my top 10!

THE 10 BEST GAMES OF THE YEAR
10. Super Mario Odyssey
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Super Mario Odyssey

Mario’s feeling salty.

In his latest adventure, our favourite Brooklyn plumber uses a hat occupied by a sentient ghost to possess a menagerie of innocent creatures who just want to be left alone. It’s best not to think too hard about it. Mario games have always necessitated a willingness to accept some zaniness, and this game goes all-in on it. It’s an endlessly creative game, chock-full of surprises, and proof that the 3D platformer genre still has plenty of vitality in it.

9. Tacoma
Platform: Windows PC

Tacoma

Obvious propaganda is obvious.

Even as we develop increasingly impressive new technologies, for most people the future will be depressingly pedestrian and mundane. Tacoma recontextualizes space travel and galactic resource exploitation as a normal part of our lives and then exposes how potential disaster could actually be terrifyingly normal. It’s a bold statement from a medium that usually shies away from incisive socioeconomic commentary, and it’s told through a clever “augmented reality” mechanic that revitalizes the oft- (and unfairly!) maligned “walking simulator” genre.

You can read what I wrote about Tacoma‘s approach to representation here.

8. A Hat in Time
Platform: Windows PC

A Hat in Time

Is that Aurora Borealis in the sky, or Steamed Hams?

While Super Mario Odyssey looked to Super Mario 64 and Sunshine for inspiration, A Hat in Time looked to Galaxy, splitting some of its levels up into discrete, relatively linear challenges rather than massive sandboxes (though there are a couple of those too). It then added a dash of Psychonauts and topped the whole thing off with some delightfully charming writing. All in all, a stellar debut effort for Gears For Breakfast.

7. Golf Story
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Golf story

I did not.

Golf Story is both a send-up and a celebration of the gentlemen’s game. It’s also a hilarious and bizarre love letter to the golden age of top-down 16-bit RPGs. The deceptively simple three-click golf system is easy to learn, but difficult to master (especially in challenging weather and terrain conditions!) and it proves to be a robust replacement for a typical RPG’s combat system. Eat your heart out, Happy Gilmore.

6. Yakuza 0
Platform: PlayStation 4

Yakuza 0

A neon-lit street.

Many video games aspire to be like movies, but few aspire to be like television shows. Yakuza 0 imbues its dense, detailed world with the spirit of a pulpy cable drama and is all the better for it. It works both as an origin story for series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and as an introduction to the seedy underbellies of Tokyo and Osaka. It also boasts a flashy combat system (you can beat up thugs with the power of dance!) and an array of mini-games, just in case you don’t already spend enough time playing video games.

5. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

The only screenshot I had without a toilet.

There is absolutely no reason for this game to be any good. The Rabbids are terrible. Half the jokes involve toilets. Luigi is running around with a God damn sniper rifle. Yet somehow Ubisoft’s zany take on the turn-based tactics genre not only works, but also manages to be one of the best games of the year. The spirit of the Mario games lives in the game’s tactile kineticism, especially the extremely fun “team jump” maneuver. However, the game also boasts considerable strategic depth by allowing players a great deal of freedom in how they move around the battlefield and the order in which they execute their moves. The result is all of the good bits of XCOM or Frozen Synapse with most of the filler removed.

4. What Remains of Edith Finch
Platform: Windows PC

What Remains of Edith Finch

A comic book come to life.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a deceptive game. What starts off seeming like a Gone Home clone quickly transforms into a compendium of short stories about death. The conclusion of each story is obvious (spoiler: everyone dies) but the way in which those stories are told is clever, surprising, and marvelous. This is one of the most inventive narrative adventures ever to grace our personal computers. By the time the final frames hit your screen, you’ll have laughed, teared up a bit, and even audibly gasped a few times.

3. Tokyo Dark
Platform: Windows PC

Tokyo Dark

Bad dreams.

Every time you think Tokyo Dark has finished plumbing the depths of the human psyche, the game reveals that it can go deeper. Both a reinvention of the point-and-click adventure and a chilling portrait of mental trauma, Tokyo Dark draws heavily on Western influences like hard-boiled cop dramas and Japanese influences like the psychological anime films of Satoshi Kon. The game also mixes West and East by fusing adventure games with visual novels – an obvious combination that I’m surprised more studios haven’t experimented with. In any case, this is a remarkably confident debut for independent developer Cherrymochi, and the story had me ruminating on its implications for days. I can’t wait to see their next project.

2. Prey
Platform: Windows PC

Prey

I don’t want no ham tomatoes!

Science run amok. Profits over people. A terrifying alien foe. These tropes may be familiar, but Prey remixes them into a cohesive whole and delivers a thrilling adventure that is possibly the best immersive sim of the decade. The game’s systems fit together perfectly, and the design and lore of its world are impeccable. Talos I feels like a real place that could have operated as an actual space station in the game’s retro-future. The game is also scary as hell; I don’t recommend playing it right before bed.

You can watch my playthrough of the game here.

1. NieR:Automata
Platform:
Windows PC

NieR:Automata

Fight me, chumps.

Each playthrough or “route” of NieR:Automata is like a layer of a philosophical onion, posing a simple question with a complex answer. The game begins by asking, “What makes a society?” Then, it poses the question, “What makes a human?” And finally, it asks you, “What makes consciousness?” And as you peel back each layer, you discover more and more secrets about the game’s world, each one more jaw-dropping than the last. Along the way, you meet some colorful characters, pilot an aerial mech, and beat up a whole lot of robots. The game’s genre is constantly shifting, from 3D hack-and-slash to shmup to 2D Castlevania clone to bullet hell and back again. NieR:Automata is unabashedly a video game – a love letter to gaming, even – and it should serve as a lesson to anyone who believes that video games are incapable of being as gripping, emotional, and thought-provoking as any other medium. Come to think of it, that’s another reason NieR:Automata is like an onion: it might make you cry.


THE 5 WORST GAMES OF 2017
Alright, we’ve covered the good. Now it’s on to the bad. Unlike last year, some of the games I played this year were truly terrible. My bottom three, in particular, really ticked me off. Let’s dive in, shall we?

5. Emily is Away Too
Platform:
Windows PC

Emily is Away Too

More like Emily is Away *Poo*, amirite?

I almost left Emily is Away Too off this list in favour of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, but in the end, I decided that an unnecessary sequel was a worse offence than a simply misguided one. (Plus I might write up a post-mortem that tries to dissect where exactly Wolfenstein II went wrong and put it up as a blog post here.) Emily is Away Too is certainly bigger than its bite-sized predecessor, but in expanding the concept, it loses almost everything that made the original game work, save its faithful recreation of mid-aughts instant messaging software and Internet browsing. The storyline I ended up following felt utterly pointless and devoid of actual drama, and it bored me to tears.

4. Yooka-Laylee
Platform: Windows PC

Yooka-Laylee

A metaphor for the game.

Yooka-Laylee isn’t an awful game. It has mostly rock-solid mechanics, excellent art design, a pretty decent soundtrack… and that’s about where the good stuff ends. It’s almost shocking how incompetent the rest of Yooka-Laylee is, from its slapdash level design to its odious writing to its confusing structure to its absurd difficulty spikes to its fundamental inability to communicate any important information to the player. The aforementioned mechanics, art design, and soundtrack rescue the game from being an unmitigated disaster, but “not an unmitigated disaster” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. I expected better from the folks who made Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64.

3. Doki Doki Literature Club
Platform: Windows PC

Doki Doki Literature Club

Agreed.

This will probably be the most controversial inclusion on the list, because it actually ended up making quite a few people’s top 10 lists. But not mine. I absolutely hated this game. It’s a shallow, exploitative experience with nothing substantive to say. Subversion can be a great means to an end, but when it’s an end in and of itself, all it does is jerk the player around. Doki Doki Literature Club has nothing to offer but subversion, and it certainly takes its sweet time getting there – more than half of its running time, during which the player has to trudge through some of the most insipid dialogue imaginable. Get to the fireworks factory faster next time! Oh, and maybe don’t make light of mental illness either. Just a thought.

2. Poi
Platform: Windows PC

Poi

Watch me swim in the dirt!

I kind of feel bad calling Poi the second-worst game of 2017. It’s clearly a labour of love and a loving homage to the 3D platformers of the ’90s. Its greatest sin is that it controls like ass (which, to be fair, is a pretty massive sin), and for a while I considered swapping its position with that of Doki Doki Literature Club. But then I remembered all the times I failed a task because the camera had a mind of its own. And then I remembered the wretched final boss fight, which could have only been designed by someone from a mirror universe where the asteroid sections of Dead Space are beloved. There’s just no excuse for that kind of garbage in a video game in 2017.

You can watch my playthrough of the game here.

1. Stay! Stay! Democratic People’s Republic of Korea!
Platform: Windows PC

Stay! Stay! Democratic People's Republic of Go Fuck Yourself!

What legal reasons? THIS IS AMERICA.

Want to send up a popular dating sim? Sure. How about making fun of the authoritarian North Korean regime? Go ahead. How about both at the same time? Why not? In fact, that sounds intriguing, right? Unfortunately, Stay! Stay! squanders that interesting premise by deciding it wants to be ecchi trash, and not even entertaining ecchi trash. It’s a profoundly boring experience with nary a hint of parody or satire. No, this is pure pastiche, and not in a fun way. It’s a cynical titty game masquerading as something more substantial and profound. And then it has the nerve to indulge in unearned seriousness at the end, as if the experience were a serious exposé on life under the Kim regime and not a shitty dating sim where you try to bang a couple of big-breasted anime waifus. Fuck this train wreck.


That does it for my round-up of gaming in 2017. I had a lot of wonderful experiences, including one of my favourite games ever in NieR:Automata. I don’t think 2018 will measure up, but I’m certainly looking forward to the second season of The Wolf Among Us, InnerSpace, the Digimon Story spinoff, and the conclusions to the Kentucky Route Zero and Yakuza sagas. Let’s hope for some interesting announcements in the year to come.

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