If nothing else, 2017 was a good year for video games. The Switch had an excellent launch, and the PlayStation kept trucking with solid new blockbusters. By no means did I get to play everything I wanted to this year – in fact, I only picked up two big contenders for this list with a couple days left on the calendar – but I thought I’d take a look at the best of the new games I played this year.
Honourable Mention: Overwatch
Overwatch didn’t launch in 2017, but it set a high bar for its genre as it entered its second year. Its structure is a gleaming example the rest of the industry should be following: all of the game’s essential content is available with a single purchase, including future updates like new characters and maps. You don’t need to shell out $5 for each character added every few months or buy expensive expansion packs. Micro-transactions are available for loot boxes, but these are also available as gameplay rewards, and they contain only cosmetic items.
Furthermore, the game is just pure fun. A shooter of this type hasn’t grabbed me so thoroughly before. I keep coming back to Overwatch regularly, and win or lose the experience brings a smile to my face. The characters are charmingly developed, the world is vibrant, and the action is constantly being tweaked and optimized. The sporadic seasonal events bring fresh life. I can’t praise it enough.
Honourable Mention: Super Mario Odyssey
Odyssey doesn’t crack my proper list but I’d feel remiss if I left it off. It’s the follow-up to the Switch’s first year 1-2-punch – with a second piece of killer first-party software, the Switch digs its heels in and makes a stand, declaring that it’s different than its Wii predecessors. It’s the best Mario game in twenty years. It will stand as essential software alongside its 8 and 16-bit ancestors, in a way that Sunshine and Galaxy can’t.
#5 – Metroid: Samus Returns
I’ve been calling for a new Metroid title for a decade and more. It’s been thirteen years since the last 2D Metroid, ten since Metroid Prime 3 rounded out the first-person trilogy, and seven since Other M sullied the franchise name. 2017 saw Samus’s (literal) return, in the form of this remake of a Game Boy relic.
Metroid 2 is an essential story in the series’ lore but the original game is a chore for modern gamers to revisit. The 3DS provides the scope necessary for the game’s vision to be fully realized. You explore SR388 to exterminate the titular metroids as Samus Aran, upgrading her power suit along the way to reach new areas. It’s a familiar setup, but still a fun experience.
Samus Returns is a bit different from others, in that it’s more linear than usual. While you’re required to backtrack in other games, it’s only necessary here if you want more powerups. SR388 is setup as a loop, in essence. Beat one area, unlock the next. I got to the final boss, then ran through the entire world again to grab all the collectibles I couldn’t before.
I have gripes – like the lack of variety in enemies – but really, I can overlook them easily if it means Samus is back in the spotlight.
#4 – The Jackbox Party Pack (Volumes 1-4)
Jackbox is a suite of hilarious party games, currently available in four separate volumes. I haven’t had this much fun with a party game since Wii Sports – and even then, Jackbox is so much more accessible and replayable. You don’t need a ton of peripherals, most games accommodate a large number of players and even audience members, and each game is different each time you replay it. It can be the filthiest game since Cards Against Humanity if your group answers that way, and it’s also safe enough to play with children as young as ten.
All each player needs is a smartphone or tablet (and let’s be honest, everyone brings one or the other with them everywhere these days). The games in each volume are simple and intuitive; after some peremptory instructions, everyone can get into the strategy by the middle of the first rounds. The announcers are funny and sarcastic, inspiring your own smacktalk. This game/series is another example of pure gaming joy.
If I can make a complaint or two, some games aren’t as fun or well explained as others, and the price tag can start getting a little steep after four volumes, for what are fairly simple mini-games. Luckily, bargains are available if you own other volumes already.
#3 – Persona 5
Some people will tell you that JRPGs or turn-based games are dead, that they don’t fit the current gaming climate. Persona 5 proves them wrong.
I spent a good chunk of my gaming time this year on its predecessor, Persona 4 Golden on the Vita, and I was initially disappointed that Persona 5 was so different. P4G was my introduction to the Persona series, and P5 reintroduces some elements that P4G set aside. It boasts a very distinctive style that took me a while to acclimatize to.
But once I got invested in the living manga visuals and the funky soundtrack, I went all in. It was great to lose myself in a brand new turn-based game again. There’s so damn much to do, between the main story, all of the social interaction side quests, the random dungeons, and the monster collection. I loved the distinction made between the major dungeons and the randomized “Mementos” dungeons, after grinding so much in P4G’s roguelike labyrinths.
What I perhaps appreciated most, is that the game’s story is not afraid to broach some dark topics. It goes to some places that most films wouldn’t dare, and as a result everything seems so much more authentic.
#2 – Destiny 2
In a lot of ways, Destiny 2 is like a glorified expansion for Destiny 1 that presses the reset button on your characters. The core experience is largely the same on the surface. You still progress through a simple (and underdeveloped) story to unlock a bevy of new quests and raids. Everything you do revolves around obtaining new gear, which allows you to take on new dungeons, from which you pillage new gear, and so on. You’re essentially chasing your own tail for incremental growth.
Luckily the game still plays fluidly. Something about Destiny’s gameplay is so perfect and intuitive in a way that other triple-A shooters like Call of Duty can’t capture (which is odd, considering your avatar’s gravity-defying jumps). The experience is empowering, in a way. You’re a god ripping across the battlefield, unleashing a storm of bullets and pseudo-magic.
Destiny 2 isn’t a game to play for several hours each day, and this might be the key to why I love it so much. I hop on for a couple hours over the course of a week, enough to achieve some of the weekly milestones and score some fresh loot. This leads me to dabble in each of the game’s modes – PvP, PvE, strikes, and quests – for a fulfilling feast. It’s a model that suits my lifestyle right now, as I can achieve all of this while my daughter naps on the weekends. Any time I’ve missed out on the weekly resets since the game launched in September, it’s because I’ve been too busy, not for a lack of desire to hop on to the game again.
Some people will complain about certain aspects of the endgame, and I suspect these perspectives are born from over-consumption. I can definitely see how Destiny 2 could grow stale if you’re grinding it day in, day out. Others will rage over the game’s business model. It’s not as perfect as Overwatch’s, to be sure. The expansions are required to keep playing the game, which means sinking half of the game’s price into it again. Again, that’s a valid complaint. I do commend Bungie for including the season pass in the Limited Edition of the game – by buying that version, I spent as much as I would have for the season pass, and got a very snazzy collector’s item for it instead of a virtual, insubstantial possession – and for keeping their microtransactions on non-essential, essentially cosmetic items.
Your personal mileage may vary, but for this adult gamer with a child, Destiny 2 is a perfect fit.
#1 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
What can I say about Breath of the Wild that hasn’t already been said?
The key to launching the type of ambitious, non-conventional console that Nintendo is so fond of is to show the consumer everything that console can do in a single stellar experience, right off the bat. This is something the Wii and Wii U didn’t quite pull off.
Breath of the Wild does. It demonstrates the Switch’s raw power. It showcases the unique controllers and the smooth motion controls they provide. Amiibos get a chance to shine, while remaining entirely optional. You can take the biggest game of the year on the go with you. And it displays all of this while reinventing one of gaming’s biggest franchises.
Zelda didn’t need a renaissance as badly as other Nintendo IPs like Mario or Metroid, but seeing it reborn in this form was nonetheless thrilling. The Skyrim-style open world and the bleak, almost apocalyptic tone were not things I knew I wanted so badly from the series. Now I almost don’t want the next game to move away from them. Every convention was challenged, deconstructed, and put back together again in a compelling new way. We get real story, with real interactions between a cast of characters. Link and Zelda get their coolest incarnations yet.
I played Breath of the Wild for about thirty hours on the Wii U and only cleared one Divine Beast before I finally upgraded to the Switch and started over. Now, after another thirty hours, I’ve still only cleared the same beast again, but spent more time exploring this incredible new iteration of Hyrule, including poking around in its bleak, possessed castle. I could probably play for another thirty hours before taking on another of the main dungeons.
There’s something here for every type of gamer, really. No matter how you approach the game – whether you explore every inch of the world and ignore the plot, or you embrace the challenge of besting Ganon without clearing the Divine Beasts or the Master Sword, or limit yourself to only certain items – the experience is compelling, challenging, and rewarding. It’s a rare game that deserves every ounce of praise it gets.
Well, that’s my picks for 2017 – at least, until I find the time to delve into Nier: Automata and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. What were your top games of last year?