Boy, 2017 was certainly a year wasn’t it? I mean, just when we all thought 2016 was the biggest mistake since anime, 2017 comes along and gives us a year where……well you’ve heard it all at this point, and if I went over everything WTF moment of we’d be here until December 2020, so why bother bringing it all up again at this point? Besides, while 2017 was a terrible that I can’t wait to end, it wasn’t all that bad. For example, I quit my terrible writing job after two years, and I decided to go back to school, with my first term ending by the time this goes up, and I’m confident that I did pretty good overall (well, as long as we ignore Japanese). And also there were video games came out this year, and guess what? They were pretty awesome……for the most part *glares angrily at Star Wars Battlefront II and Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite*.
While I feel that Sony has been resting on its laurels for the last few years, they did get some stellar games on the PS4 with Persona 5, Nier Automata, The Crash N. Sane Trilogy and Horizon Zero Dawn. Microsoft, while not having well, any major exclusives besides Cuphead (and even then, you can get that on the PC), did show that they are the most willing of the big three to push cross console play with Minecraft, as well as expanding their backwards compatibility program by adding original Xbox games; however, don’t think that letting me play Crimson Skies and the original KOTOR on my Xbox One lets you completely off the hook for cancelling Scalebound, Microsoft. And then there was Nintendo; holy crap there’s Nintendo. After spending the last few years struggling to keep the Wii U afloat, Nintendo came out swinging with their new console, the Nintendo Switch, a hybrid home console and portable that’s already outsold the Wii U in less than a year. Hell, the system’s gotten a new Zelda, a new Mario, enhanced ports of Mario Kart 8 and Pokken Tournament, a new IP in the way of Arms, a new Dynasty Warriors crossover game with Fire Emblem Warriors, and well received sequels in the way of Splatoon 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. And that’s not even counting the major third party support the system is getting (if you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of hell freezing over) from the likes of Bethesda, Sega, Ubisoft, Square Enix, and Platinum Games to name a few (with Capcom finally getting their heads out of their ass and starting to support the system in a serious way next year), plus the games we’re getting soon, including a new Yoshi game, a new Kirby game, a new Fire Emblem, a new mainline Pokemon game, ports of Bayonetta 1 and 2 (plus Bayonetta 3!), and even Metroid Prime 4; speaking of Metroid, we finally got one this year in the form of Samus Returns, and it was amazing. Yeah, they haven’t done everything right (where’s my Virtual Console on the Switch, Nintendo?), but it’s safe to say that this year, Nintendo kicked all kinds of ass and that they aren’t going to slow down anytime soon.
And so with 2017 finally coming to an end (or already ended depending on when I get this up), and with so many great games that came out, I thought that I let you guys know about all the games that I found myself enjoying quite a bit, despite not having a lot of time (or money) to play a bunch of the big ones. Because no one else has done that before, right? Before I start though, I just want to let everyone know that as a rule for my personal GOTY lists, I only count games that original released this year, meaning no remakes, remasters, enhanced ports, etc. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but in a year where we got Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Metroid: Samus Returns, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and the Switch ports of DOOM, Skyrim, and L.A. Noire, it’s not as easy to ignore as it is in previous years. I may do a list dedicated to those games if I have the time, but for now we’re focused on just the original stuff this year. Oh, and if you’re worried that this list will be nothing but Nintendo games, don’t worry……only most of them will be Nintendo games. What? I like what I like. With all the formalities out the way, here they are, in no particular order, my favorite games of 2017.
Yes, yes, I know you’re all tired of hearing everyone go on about how great Breath of the Wild is, and how it’s the greatest thing ever made, and how it’s going to end up winning a fair number of awards this year. I feel you, which is why I’m talking about this first to get out of the way. At the same time though, there’s a reason why this game got a lot of praise. While Breath of the Wild doesn’t do anything that you haven’t seen in other games, it does them in a way that make these ideas feel new and more importantly fun.
To me, Breath of the Wild is one of those “yeah, but games”. Yeah, the world doesn’t have much in it, but there’s enough for you to improvise and make your fun. Yeah, the traditional dungeons aren’t great, but the hundreds of shrines that you can explore and the number of ways that you can complete them more than make up for the lack of traditional dungeons. Yeah, the story and characters take a back seat, but I do like the frame work of finding out about the story through flashbacks, and I don’t care what anyone says: this version of Zelda is easily the best the series has seen, both from a design standpoint, and the fact that she’s a human being with flaws and fears and shows actual emotion. Hell, this game did the impossible and made me like weapon degradation, because much like everything else in this game, it was in service of the gameplay, which was exploring and experimenting in a world that was truly open.
After I beat the game and spent 100+ hours playing the game on the Wii U, I declared Breath of the Wild to be the best Zelda game. While I do feel that I may have jumped the gun there (it’s still in my top 5 though), I will say that the game finally showed me the magic of open world games. I’ve played and beaten other open world games like Grand Theft Auto V and Skyrim, but none of them have left as much of an impact as this game has. Does it have problems? Yeah, and I don’t begrudge anyone who was disappointed with the game, but for me personally I could look past those complaints, as the game more than makes up for it by being one of the few open world games that’s actually open world (seriously, you could take on the final boss as early as an hour into the game), and that is more than enough for me to declare it as one of my favorite games of 2017.
Quick, how many of you forgot that the newest Shovel Knight expansion came out this year? Come on, be honest. Yeah that’s what I thought, because I’m in the same boat. Not because Specter of Torment is bad or anything (if it was, it wouldn’t be on this list), but because there were so many great games to come out this year that it’s easy to forget certain games that fall through the crack, and unfortunately Specter of Torment was one of those games. But after turning on my Wii U for the first time in several months and playing the game again, I realized that it would be foolish of me not to include on my GOTY list.
Set up as a prequel to the base game, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment follows Specter Knight as he helps the Enchantress recruit the knights that you eventually fight in the main game and Plague of Shadows. What makes the story interesting this time around is how dark and tragic the story gets; I mean, it isn’t going to win any awards or anything (this is a game series about a blue knight that fights with a shovel after all), but what is here adds some much needed depth to the world and characters, and I found Specter Knight a pretty interesting character by the end. But you’re not playing this game for its plot, but rather its gameplay, and in that department, Specter of Torment delivers in spades. Unlike Shovel Knight and Plague Knight, Specter Knight’s gameplay is all about speed and vertical movement, using his scythe to fight enemies and to clear gaps, and once you get the timing down, it feels so good to slash dash across long gaps and foes. It may not be much, but it goes a long way to make these already familiar levels feel fresh and fun.
It’s very easy to overlook Specter of Torment, since like I said, this year has seen a ton of great games come out, and it’s basically the same game that you’ve most likely played twice before but with a fresh coat of paint. But to be fair, it’s a nice coat of paint that goes a long way in making the game feel new and fresh, and I personally consider it to be my favorite Shovel Knight campaign (though you should absolutely play the other two as well). I’ve always believed that a game doesn’t necessarily need to be new or reinvent the wheel to be considered great, and Specter of Torment is a perfect example of this. If you haven’t played it yet, you’re seriously missing out on a great game that while doesn’t do anything new, has a little bit of something for everyone.
The original Splatoon was a runaway hit on the Wii U. With its bright colors, unique art style, stellar soundtrack, memorable characters and world, constant stream of updates, and gameplay that focused more on painting territory than getting kill streaks, it’s easy to see why it got so much love during the Wii U’s rough life cycle. While there was no question that we were going to get a sequel on the Switch, I think it’s safe to say that none of us really expected to get a sequel within the first year of the system’s life, but we did. And it’s pretty much the same game that we got on the Wii U. And I’m honestly okay with that.
Okay to be fair, Splatoon 2 does have a few unique things going for it, such as the new mode Salmon Run, which is this game’s equivalent of a Horde Mode in other games, and instead of being hosted by the Squid Sisters, Splatfests are now hosted by Off The Hook, a idol duo that’s made up of Xenomorph Pearl and punk rap goddess Marina. Oh, and Marie is back wearing a kimono and is your guide in the game’s single player mode. Other than that though, it’s pretty much the same game that I fell in love with on the Wii U, complete with the same modes that were in the first game, the same weird and wacky weapon loadouts that accommodate every play style, the same tubular attitude that the original had, the same steady stream of free content, and the same gameplay emphasis on movement and covering as much of the map with your team’s ink before the time runs out. And that’s all I really need.
Look, what more do you want me to say? Splatoon 2 is pretty much the same game as the first, and for some people that isn’t enough for it to warrant a Game of the Year mention. I’m not one of those people (obviously), and while I wouldn’t object to the third game trying something new or spicing things up a bit, I’m more than happy with what’s in this game, even if it isn’t as fresh as the first game.
Going into this year’s E3, easily the worst kept secret was that there would be a new game in which Mario would be paired up with Ubisoft’s Minions-I mean Rabbids. Everything about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, from the fact that Rabbids were being paired up with Mario to the fact that it would be a strategy game, just sounded terrible on paper, and when the first piece of art showing Mario and crew using guns was leaked, there were a lot of questions that many people, myself included, wanted answers to. Questions like “why is this happening”, “who thought this was a good idea”, and “what were they thinking”. After seeing the game in action and finally getting to play it though, the one question we were left asking was how. Specifically, “how the hell did this ridiculous idea turn out to be so good?”
I still don’t have the answer to the question myself, but whatever magic formula the team behind Kingdom Battle came up with just works, despite everything going against it. The combat, which is pretty much XCOM: Enemy Unknown only with more color and less RNG, is surprisingly deep with each stage having encouraging a nice variety of strategies and playstyles, with each of the eight playable characters (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and Rabbid versions of them) each having not only unique weapons, but also special abilities that can be really used to shake things up, such as Mario being able to shoot an enemy if they’re in his line of sight. The music, done by the talented Grant Kirkhope, is delightful from beginning to end. Hell, the game’s humor is really spot on this time, helped in no small part that the jokes go beyond the Rabbids screeching like idiots like normal Rabbid fare, with the Rabbid versions of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi playing off their Mushroom Kingdom counterparts so well. Hell, there’s even a song about how bullshit the Blue Shell in Mario Kart is! What is this game?
I honestly don’t know how or why Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle clicks with me; much like King Crimson in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, it just works. It’s not the best strategy game of all time, but for a game where I expected nothing, I got something that’s good, and easily the kind of game I would play with people to get them hooked on turn based strategy games. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment is the fact that this is the game that got me to like Rabbids; while I never hated them as much as the rest of the internet, I did always find myself groaning whenever Ubisoft made a new game about them. I still think they can be annoying, but if Nintendo and Ubisoft decided to make a sequel to this game or put the Rabbids in another popular Nintendo franchise (Zelda? Kirby? Maybe Fire Emblem?), I certainly wouldn’t object to it.
Hoo boy, was Fire Emblem Warriors was a divisive game in the Fire Emblem community leading up to its launch. Some people were excited for it, others weren’t, some people were excited but lost interest as more of the roster was revealed, etc. Whether you were a longtime fan or a fan who hopped on the Fire Emblem with Awakening or Fates, every fan had an opinion on this game, myself included (I’ve been a fan of the series since The Blazing Blade, a.k.a. the first Fire Emblem game we got after Marth and Roy’s debut in Super Smash Bros. Melee). And when I first saw it, I liked it, and unlike many veteran fans, I wasn’t too bummed about the roster focusing on Awakening and Fates, since those two games are the most popular in the West. But now that I’ve gotten my hands on it, what do I, as a longtime Fire Emblem fan, think of Fire Emblem Warriors? It’s on my personal GOTY list.....what do you think?
I think the reason I’m so on board with Fire Emblem Warriors is that Fire Emblem’s core gameplay fits with Dynasty Warriors better than Zelda’s gameplay did; that’s not to say that I didn’t like Hyrule Warriors (I did) or that Fire Emblem Warriors is better (I’ll get to that in a bit), but rather I found myself adjusting to the game faster than I did with Hyrule Warriors. Yeah it’s still the same mindless fun that you find in other Dynasty games, but there’s still enough Fire Emblem thrown in to make the game fun, such as class changes, pairing up units, permadeath (if you’re feeling up for it), support conversations, and of course the most important part of Fire Emblem (besides the waifus) the weapon triangle. And while you can pretty much blast your way through most of the game with a powerful enough unit, the weapon triangle ensures that combat isn’t a complete repetitive slog, and can actually be quite challenging if you aren’t careful.
As for whether or not Fire Emblem Warriors is better than Hyrule Warriors, I personally think that they’re both equally good games…..but there are some things the former does better than latter. For instance, while I think Hyrule Warriors’ base cast is better from a gameplay standpoint (though in terms of series representation, they both fall flat I think) and has a better soundtrack, I like Fire Emblem Warriors’ combat more as well as finding the game’s History Mode to be a bit more engaging. Both of them have pretty meh stories though. At the end of the day, I know a lot of people were let down with Fire Emblem Warriors, and while it isn’t the best game this year, I found myself enjoying it the same way one enjoys a bag of chips or some candy: not exactly a full meal, but a nice snack to tide you over.
Oh look, a non-Nintendo exclusive game! I totally played those this year! When Sonic Mania and the game that would later be known as Sonic Forces were first announced, fans were excited for them: the former was a throwback to the Genesis era of Sonic games made by the fans, and the latter was giving off some strong Sonic Generations vibes. But while the hype for Forces dropped faster than Sonic in a water level, Mania was riding high with each new trailer leading up to its release, getting people more and more excited. And that excitement was well warranted, as Sonic Mania is not only the best Sonic game released this year (though to be fair, that’s not really a high bar to cross), but is also one of the best games in the series……even if it does go a little crazy with its fanservice at times.
Sonic Mania brings the series back to its roots, focusing on the high speed 2D gameplay of the older games, but with a nicer coat of paint and a stunning soundtrack (seriously, Tee Lopes is amazing). But it goes beyond just that, as Sonic Mania is a Sonic game for fans, by fans, with numerous nods and mentions with previous games, including but not limited to: the final boss of Sonic & Knuckles showing up as a boss in Green Hill Act 2, an Eggman fight that’s a round of Puyo Puyo on the Genesis (or Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine as it was known outside of Japan), special stages using the 3D models that were found in Sonic R, a unlockable “& Knuckles” mode to make the meme complete, and even a boss fight that has Bean the Dynamite, Fang the Sniper, and Bark the Polar Bear; you know, from that really bad 3D fighting game. If all of that sounded confusing to you, don’t worry about it; despite it being an official Sonic fangame (don’t give me that look, you know I’m right), you won’t feel lost. That’s because the core gameplay is so good, with excellent controls and well made levels that encourage exploration, that I’d argue that you wouldn’t really miss out if you’re a casual or non-fan of the series. And I say this as a diehard Mario fan; God if eight-year-old me could see this. His little mind would be blown.
I guess my only real complaint with Sonic Mania is that while it was nice to run through Green Hill Zone and Flying Battery Zone again, it would have been nice to see more original levels, especially since the few original zones in this game are so good, with Press Garden being one of the best the series has seen. Still, that’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and one that I think the team can easily fix in the inevitable sequel. Not just because it did better than Forces, but because it ultimately strikes a balance between fan service and being a great game in it’s own right, and is an easy recommendation for anyone who ever wanted to get into the series. For the Mania, by the Mania indeed.
I was in love with Cuphead from the minute it was first announced at Microsft’s 2014 E3 press conference. I had grown up with a lot of the old cartoons of the thirties and forties thanks to my dad, so to have a game with that art style minus the casual racism was a breath of fresh air, and on a system mostly associated with dark greys and brown was an even bigger surprise. And it was shooter inspired by the likes of Contra and Metal Slug! I loved those games! Then it went quiet for a few years, with the game occasionally showing up in trailers and screenshots which basically served as a reminder that the game was still coming not quietly canceled (unlike Scalebound NO I AM NOT GOING TO LET THAT GO). But the game has finally come out, and I absolutely loved it. Of course, if you heard me play the game, you wouldn’t think that, what with all the swearing and hair pulling and me thinking I had it down and then I missed a stray bullet AND I WAS SO CLOSE TO BEATING THE BOSS THIS TIME! GOD DAMNIT!
*ahem* Sorry about that; in case it wasn’t obvious, Cuphead is a hard game, and it makes no qualms about that. But unlike other games that follow the “git gud scrub” mentality, I never found myself cursing the game; okay I was, but it was mostly at my own ineptitude and less of the game killing me, which is a very important distinction to make. Yes, Cuphead will kick your ass and frustrate you, but beneath the frustration there’s an element of “just one more turn, I’ll get it this time”, with each new phase, new attack patterns, trying out the new shots that you buy (all of which feel great to use and have their own strengths and weaknesses) and the constant failure helping you piece together a strategy to take out the boss, until you finally beat them and feel a sense of relief and accomplishment for having conquered a tough boss not felt in games for awhile....only to go around and do it all again with a new boss. But it never felt dull or lost its edge, which I feel is helped greatly by the game’s amazing art style and just as amazing soundtrack.
I feel like if I hadn’t already been on board with Cuphead when it first announced, I don’t know if I’d be as hyped for it as I am now, since hard games like this aren’t usually my cup (ha!) of tea. But that would be a terrible mistake on my part, because Cuphead is equal parts challenging, fun, and charming that, while can be daunting at first, is a game that’s as fun to play as it is rewarding. Will it kick your ass? Yes, it totally will, but that’s all part of the experience. If you’ve never played it, you owe it to yourself to remedy that, because Cuphead is in a league all its own.
Yeah I know, this is an obvious choice, but how could I not include Super Mario Odyssey? The second punch in the one two punch that helped push the Nintendo Switch into a successful console in its first year (the first being obviously The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild), Odyssey is easily one of the best games for the system’s small but already impressive library. “Wow, a Mario game on a Nintendo console is good? What a twist!”, I hear you say. But hold your horses there buddy, because while the game is fantastic, this goes beyond just being a good Mario game; much like Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey decided to go back to the series’ root, specifically Super Mario 64’s emphasis on exploring open levels. And much like Breath of the Wild, it works out perfectly.
Seriously, everything about Odyssey is fantastic. The kingdoms are vast and fun to explore, with New Donk City easily being the best. Mario has a wide array of moves, both new and old, that feel so great to use, and figuring out how to use them effectively is so fun. Each stage is brimming with Power Moons, so that everything that you do feels rewarding, and some Moons even have multiple solutions to get them. And while he’s not used as often as the trailers made you think, Cappy and his ability to possess other things is used really well, with each transformation ranging from silly (random puzzle pieces) to freaking awesome (A MOTHERFUCKING T-REX). Oh and the music is absolutely fantastic too. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how amazing this game’s soundtrack is. Because it is.
Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game from beginning to end, and has a little something for almost everyone. Casual fans of platformers will have a good time running around, completionists will have a decent time at finding every single Power Moon (all 999 of them) and getting every costume (oh yeah, I forgot to mention you can dress up Mario in this game), speedrunners will have a blast trying to find ways to get said Moons, etc. But one thing that everyone will have while playing this game is a good time, and that’s the single most important thing that a game needs to be. It doesn’t matter how great the graphics are or how deep the game’s story is if you the player aren’t having a good time with it, and Odyssey delivers that in spades. It does just enough new that it feels fresh, and brings back a lot without it feeling like pandering. While I’m still not sure where it stacks in the series overall, I will say this: Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best games of 2017, one of the best Nintendo games ever made, and a crown jewel in the Nintendo Switch’s amazing but constantly growing library; it’s that amazing. Jump up Super Star; you earned it.
And those were my picks for the best games of 2017, and boy was it thought. There so many good games this year that I either missed or couldn’t play for various reasons (there's always next year though) that I just couldn't play, like Nier Automata and A Hat in Time. But I think regardless of what games or systems you had this year I think we can all agree that 2017 was a great year for games and 2018 looks like it'll be pretty great too. So to everyone on Destructoid, I say happy new year, and see ya in 2018. Also butts.