Honorable Mentions (Games I Played in 2017, Regardless of Release)
10. Final Fantasy IX (PC)
I’m sure this seems like a ridiculous inclusion, but it’s also another of the games I played the most this year, and the newly released “HD” port is the best version of this game, so surely that’s enough for an honorable mention. I loved this game on PSOne growing up, but I’d forgotten how absolutely fantastic it is to play (for the most part) until I booted it back up for the first time early this year to record the entire game for my upcoming Final Fantasy IX Story Play (Our entire Charged Shot crew is part of it, you can indulge my shameless plug). This is another remaster similar to the Zelda 3D ports on 3DS where they didn’t try to make it look modern, they just cleaned up the visuals to make it look closer to the concept art they originally intended until hardware limitations interfered for the PSOne release. Because of that, it definitely looks old, but this game’s more painterly art style has actually aged really well, and while it doesn’t render in wide screen (though you can stretch it if you want), the assets all upscaled beautifully and the bars on the side aren’t that annoying. The game plays as well as ever, also, with some minor changes such as the ability to max out your gil, abilities, and stats (though these can’t be turned off), much shorter loading screens, and seamless transitions between what used to be disc changes. In general, this new release of the game is just proof that this entry in the series has withstood the test of time and is still one of the best RPGs ever made. If you passed it up because you grew up in the more edgy era of Final Fantasy 7, or were turned off by the mediocrity that is Final Fantasy 8 (though I stand by the super cool leveling mechanics of that game), then now’s your chance to try it again, because while it can be jarring to see the series go back to a more traditional fantasy style, you do yourself a disservice by judging it solely on that. There’s a lot to love here; I should know, it’s been one of my favorite games of all time for almost 20 years now.
9. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PC)
I’m sure many people probably think it’s a tragedy this game is relegated to an honorable mention, especially since it’s possibly the game I put the most time into this year, but it kind of shot itself in the foot before it even officially launched, and I can’t say I’m terribly excited to jump back into the game now that it’s actually out of early access. This game was an unexpected phenomenon over the summer, and is still growing, but it feels like a lot of the early adopters are finally realizing the truth of the game: it’s very repetitive and not terribly rewarding to continue playing. Sure, that feeling when you get to the end and finally get your chicken dinner is immensely satisfying, but then it just kicks you back to the main lobby just like in any other game and you do it again in hopes of another one. The satisfaction from the game comes from how each match plays out differently, and you do get coins from each match that you can eventually use to get a random new clothing item (usually some color variation of the same shirt or pants, though) but most games, for me at least, devolve into spending 20-30 minutes collecting a bunch of weapons, ammo, and health items, and then as the circle closes in getting shot from someone unseen and that’s it, game over, time wasted. At least in a game like Destiny 2 the grind is actually improving your overall ability to play more of the game. In PUBG you literally start every match fresh faced and defenseless to do it all over again. So why is it on this list at all, then? It’s still just a lot of fun to squad up and run around in the maps. It’s all about the individual stories in each match, like when Thomas, Lo, and I were all killed at once after our vehicle blew up and we went flying in all directions, the last thing I saw was my character’s ragdoll body smack into the roof of a house and continue soaring through the air. Again, time wasted, game over, back to the lobby, but man we were laughing about that for a while. Ultimately, the enjoyment of a game comes from those moments, not the overall progression or story or world-building, so while I quickly get bored of the tedium of this game, it still deserves recognitions for the great moments that break up that tedium, even if it’s far from Game of the Year material.
8. Watch Dogs 2 (PS4)
I’ll admit, this game was on my top 7 before I realized it came out at the end of 2016. I’m kind of behind on video games. This is also another case where I enjoyed the first one, but it felt a little simple. My favorite part of it was just exploring the landmarks in Future Chicago, because I’ve been there enough that I knew what everything was, but the story was too dark and generic and it never really felt like you could “hack everything” as the marketing implied. Watch Dogs 2, however, seems to more fully realize this concept, as it moves from Future Chicago to Future San Fransisco and places you firmly into the hands of DedSec, the main hacker organization of this series. It’s a much more fun, light-hearted story as well as you basically just grow your online following through various viral tasks (scamming people at ATMs, hacking famous people and leaking their information, stealing a prop from a movie set and recreating a cheesy action movie trailer, etc.) in order to build the DedSec App that pools information from users and creates a kind of informational hive mind to take down Big Data, in this series called ctOS, which is trying to do a similar thing but for nefarious means. The story plays itself very meta and tongue-in-cheek, there’s even a mission where you’re tasked with leaking the new Ubisoft game online, and the brighter environment and more lighthearted tone are a big part of why I enjoy this game more than the first. There’s also a lot more customization options, from clothes to cosmetic skins for guns and gadgets, and the world feels much more alive thanks to a larger repertoire of hacking abilities and new gadgets to play with. This time, you can control almost any electronic device, such as remotely controlling a crane to pick you up from a rooftop and moving it over to another one to grab a hard to reach collectible or clearing out a dangerous area by hacking the phones of the bad guys to make one of the nearby gangs attack the bad guys for you, the sheer variety of solutions to the problems in the game make it a lot of fun to not only do missions but also just explore the world. You also have access to a small RC car that can jump and grab items hidden in vents or under crevices, as well as a drone that can scout out the area and activate all the same hackable objects that the player can. These very much come in handy, also, because this world is full of activities and collectibles. New clothing items, skins, and bags of money litter the world and you discover their location through the “hacker vision” aspect that highlights interactive things in the world for you, but it never feels overwhelming because the game makes it so fun to get these things, similar to a game like Batman: Arkham City where the world is rich, not tedious. There are also regular online events that will pop into your world, without a loading screen, and if you ignore them they’ll pop back out, but if you partake in them they act as a fun detour that can get you more renown in the game world. This isn’t even touching on the actual multiplayer in the game, which I haven’t tried yet. This is easily the best real world sandbox since Grand Theft Auto 5, and I regret missing it when it first came out last year, because this game, and series, deserves more recognition than it’s gotten so far.
Top 7 Games of 2017
7. Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (Switch)
When this game was first leaked, I was immediately on the bandwagon of how dumb it sounded, but after the official reveal, I did a full 180 and had it pre-ordered as soon as it was listed. At release, I did a day one stream for the site detailing all the cool concepts and gameplay mechanics in it; I was totally sold on this game. Having never played any Rabbids games, and genuinely finding them annoying (spoiler: I still do), I never would have expected this game to be on a Game of the Year list, but it’s just so darn well made, it deserves recognition. This is a Mario game made by Ubisoft. Just let that sink in. And it’s good. Not perfect, but good. The level of charm on display with the interactions between the Mario characters and the Rabbid party members is perfect (specifically Rabbid Peach, Bae of the Year), and the battles are varied and challenging, especially boss battles. New mechanics roll out a little too infrequently, and without much explanation, for my tastes, but every new ability and party member is a treat to play with and can really mix up how battles play out, which is good cause you have to pretty regularly go back to the hub to upgrade your party and change out the members as different battles seem catered to different abilities, which can mean a quick death if you’re not prepared. As unforgiving as this game can be sometimes, though, victory is just as satisfying, especially after a few failures and then you just figure out what strategy works. There are also some fantastic boss battles in this game, from the Rabbid-ized Donkey Kong to the hilarious Phantom Rabbid and his operatic Mario diss track (sung by Grant Kirkhope, of Banjo-Kazooie fame, I might add!), there’s just a surprising amount of work put into this game, and anyone that might have slept on it because it’s “just a rabbids crossover” should wake up and smell the fireflower.
6. Steamworld Dig 2 (Switch)
The first Steamworld Dig was a bit of an acquired taste; a procedurally generated series of tunnels you dig down and get treasure that you trade in for minor upgrades to digging speed, attack power, etc. with a loose story attached about what lies at the bottom of the tunnels. There wasn’t a lot there, but it was still a strong gameplay loop, especially for people that love those small, regular rewards for their actions, and there was always the excitement of more secret passages and better treasure below to keep that grind going. The sequel, though, ditches the procedurally generated concept and instead creates a more fully realized world and a much stronger progression system with a larger Metroidvania focus as you find hidden temples and caves with upgrades, such as water bombs for ranged explosions, speed boots for crossing crumbling blocks, and a super fun jetpack to get through more open areas you can’t create dug out platforms in. The gameplay is still very similar, it’s mostly vertical and it can be easy to dig yourself into a hole and have to wall jump out in order to reach somewhere worth exploring again, but the meticulously created spaces now feel more thought out and alive, and the different environments are more beautiful than ever with the new engine they used for this game. Like other metroidvanias, there’s also the occasional boss battle to mix things up, though these are probably the weakest part since the basic pickaxe weapon isn’t the best in combat scenarios, but the secret puzzle rooms more than make up for the weak boss fights, as you’re pushed to use all the abilities you’ve acquired to traverse the room and clear out the treasure, as well as find hidden cogs and artifacts you can use to upgrade your character in meaningful ways. The story isn’t a major improvement over the original, basically boils down to finding the lost protagonist from the first game, but it takes some late-game swerves that are enough to keep the player wondering what’s going on and expands the lore of this weird Steamworld universe. One knock about this game is that it came out after our first real Metroid game in many years, and the gameplay on display in this just doesn’t hold a candle to an actual Metroid game, but if you’re looking for a different take on that non-linear exploration formula, there are much worse options out there.
5. Destiny 2 (PC)
Destiny was one of those games I was really excited about, and then pretty quickly fell off from. It was very content-light, and the amount of stuff locked behind multiple expansion packs seemed gross in a way I didn’t want to support, but I could tell that the foundation there was strong, so while I didn’t immediately jump on Destiny 2, I still kept a curious eye on it leading up to release, and then waited for the PC version so I could play with the other Charged Shot boys in our own clan (join us, we have level 2 perks!). What I found was a game that felt very much like the first game, from a gameplay standpoint, and since that was its strongest aspect I didn’t mind one bit, but it had a lot more polish and more interesting content available from day one. Sure, a lot is still locked away behind DLC, but the initial package feels much more full and fun, and since I got it late, it wasn’t a long wait for the DLC anyway, I haven’t even reached the light level cap yet! Ultimately, though, despite some smart changes and more diverse campaign missions, you kinda know what you’re getting with Destiny now, and it’s a really fun game to casually play with friends as you screw around and grind for better equipment, so while it’s nothing revolutionary and has its fair share of flaws (why is it so hard to find your fireteam members if they get separated!? There’s a map now for a reason!), it’s still some of the most fun I’ve had on PC this year and that is easily worth a spot on this list.
4. A Hat in Time (PC)
This is actually a game I’ve had on my radar, and even played, long before 2017, but it was in a very early Beta stage when it was originally made playable, so the final release this year still blew me away because of how polished and different it felt. For those that don’t know, this is an old school style platformer collect-a-thon game in the vein of Mario 64 from new studio Gears for Breakfast. In the game you have a hub world (in this case a time-fueled space station) and you unlock new worlds to go to, each with their own objectives you choose that generate the world differently for that objective. The first world, for example, is Mafia Town, which feels kind of like Isle Delfino in Mario Sunshine, but run by a hive mind of generic mobsters. It’s a pretty standard sandbox to learn the different abilities that Hat Girl has and the basic concepts of the game. These concepts boil down to retrieving the hourglasses that have been scattered across the world before the scorned Mustache Girl gets to them so that Hat Girl’s ship can travel again. She has an umbrella for attacking and helping with jump mobility, and then gains various hats throughout her journey that can be changed on the fly to do things like turn to ice or use a grappling hook, and badges can be attached to the hats that add slight modifiers to her abilities such as automatically opening the umbrella at the end of a fall to avoid damage, or turning her sprint ability into a scooter she can ride anywhere. There’s a lot of variety and customization here as you collect yarn balls to unlock these new abilities and run around the 5 fun, varied worlds in this game. Speaking of, after the first traditional platforming world, they open up in some interesting and unique ways. One, in particular, takes place on a film lot where a race of talking penguins are fighting with a race of talking owls about what they should make to save their studio. Hat Girl gets caught in the middle of them and each level becomes the plot of various movies she’s the star in as you run around doing various tasks, such as solving a fake murder plot or directing a parade in the climax of an action movie, and these levels specifically spoke to how clever this game is and why it stands tall in a year rejuvenated by 3D platformers such as Yooka-Laylee, Mario Odyssey, Knack 2, and the remake of Crash Bandicoot. A Hat in Time is a refreshing take on this formula without feeling too tied to what came before it (which is more than I can say for Yooka-Laylee, one of my biggest disappointments of the year), and anyone that is a fan of the genre would be remiss to not give this one a look.
3. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)
Anyone that knows me would know that even if this game was just fine, just okay, it would have been on this list; I make no excuses for my Metroid fanboyism. We don’t get enough of them, okay!? Give me this. But, it just so happens that this is not only a great Metroid game, it’s also some of the most fun I’ve had challenging myself all year. This game is not easy from the start, in part due to Samus’s larger repertoire of moves, such as the new melee counter, so enemies are pretty unforgiving with their assault against our favorite bounty hunter. And while it’s worth noting that this is a remake of Metroid 2 on the Gameboy, that barely even factors into this new game, aside from the plot structure of Metroid genocide on SR-388, because it plays and feels like an entirely new game. This game was built from the ground up on a new engine, which I really hope they use again soon, and introduces a handful of new abilities that weren’t in that original game, as well as some that have never been in any Metroid game, such as 4 new Aeon abilities that affect Samus’s armor, gun, visor, and speed in creative ways for puzzles and combat. It also drastically changes and expands that original map (Metroid 2 didn’t even have a map to reference, but has been painstakingly created online from fans that could tolerate actually beating that less-than-stellar original game), and adds in really cool new bosses such as the Diggernaut, a large robot that actually ties into the mythology that was created for this planet in future games after this one released, which you run into a few times in the game before you actually fight. There’s such care for the Metroid universe put into this game, and the way it not only expands the story of Metroid 2 (which was only in the instruction manual originally), but also ties these events into the larger narrative of the Metroid universe literally blew my mind when I first beat it, and I still think about the repercussions it could have on future games; that’s no small feat for “just a remake”, and for those reasons and more it deserves it’s place on this list. Few other games this year have impacted me as much as this one, and I already can’t wait for where the series goes next.
2. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
From the moment Mario Odyssey was first revealed, I could tell it was going to be more than “just another Mario game”, and while I feel like it could have taken a few more risks with its formula, it’s still very easy to rank as the best Mario game ever made. The new capture mechanic is brilliantly integrated into every aspect of the game, even if the connotations of that concept are kinda creepy when you try to understand what’s happening, and similar to Zelda, this mechanic ends up creating a sandbox out of every world you visit. There are TONS of things in each world to collect and play around with; you could ignore the moons entirely and still have hours of fun in this game (at least in the post-game, where all the Kingdoms open up to new surprises and things to do), but it would honestly be hard to play the game and not find any moons, because they’re literally scattered everywhere you look. They act not only as progression in the game, but also as kind of their own achievement system, as you can go into the menu and see clues for what’s left in each world, and every action in the game nets you more, so they trigger similar impulses in your mind as Trophies and Achievements but actually have an effect on the game itself. I’ve gotten over 500 in my own game and see no reason to stop searching for the close to 500 more just because of how fun most of them are to find. The activities you do in each world feel unique to that world, for the most part, and every kingdom has its own set of new things to capture as well, so even return trips to the same locations can unlock new parts of that kingdom to explore and discover new transformations; it really never stops being exciting and new! Really, the only complaint I have about the game, and why it’s not #1, is because it’s just the best Mario game ever made. And even then, there’s parts of the Galaxy games I love more than any part of this one. Talking about Game of the Year should be what changes the course of gaming that year, and Mario is always just a safe bet for a Very Good Game™, very rarely is it a game changer.
1. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
This might seem like an obvious answer for my top game of 2017; after all, it’s on most everyone else’s lists too, but I honestly went back and forth on it for a while. Here’s the thing, this is not my favorite Zelda game. That honor still belongs to Majora’s Mask after all these years. I actually find it pretty flawed, as a Zelda game, I said as much when I reviewed the game soon after release. The reason it’s my #1, though, is because of how it single-handedly revolutionized the open world genre in a year full of the best games in their respective genres. This game even came out just DAYS after another revolutionary open world game, Horizon: Zero Dawn (which I admittedly haven’t played yet), and the prevailing opinion was that as soon as Zelda released, the average playerbase dropped off Horizon and struggled to go back because of how much more fun the world was to explore in Zelda. And that’s the thing, it has an incredible sandbox. Say what you will about its minimal story, frustrating weather physics, and awkward UI, but no other game builds its world in a way where if you think you should be able to do something in the real world, it’ll probably work in the game. This more often than not leads to creative solutions to the game’s puzzles, and you’ll frequently find yourself cycling through the available powers, all of which you get first thing, to figure out the best solution to a puzzle when often there’s multiple right answers. Everything from attaching Octorok balloons to rafts to fashion a makeshift airship, to gliding in for a surprise attack on a group of challenging enemies and taking them all out before you even hit the ground, to finding an alternate solution for a shrine you’ve struggled with a dozen tries, to even looking out from the top of the game’s expansive dungeons and seeing the entire world rendered in front of you, this game is a technical achievement that not only changes the game for the Zelda series, but proves what can be done in an open world game in general, and the risks it takes with such an established Nintendo franchise pay off, even if I’d personally love to see a more traditional story-driven sequel use this same impressive sandbox. No other game can compare to the ambitious ideas this game presents, though, which puts it a league above the rest.