My Top 12 Games of 2017

This year has been peak video gaming, right? Like, it's crazy how good everything got all of a sudden. This generation went from middling to one of the best in recent memory in the span of twelve months, at least to me. Sure, that's not to say the industry hasn't been up to its usual garbage, arguably more so than usual - to the point where games might get taken to court again. Crazy.

Anyway. I've found my tastes changing a lot this year, especially after I quit professional games writing for the time being, and I've been reevaluating what "good" or "bad" games are to me. That's partially what inspired my recent list of personal all-time greats. With that in mind, take this list as a representation of my newfound tastes, and a harbinger of what you'll see me talking about going forward.

Let's kick things off with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions and Junk, In No Order

Quake Champions

Quake Champions is the arena shooter that LawBreakers wanted to be, but with actual good PC optimization and gameplay that doesn't feel like a weird compromise with each patch. It's fast, furious, twitchy, and violent as all hell. That's to say nothing of the wildly varied weapons, the memorable cast, and the really great support it's been receiving from its dev. Across the board, it's a blast, and something I'd like to see more of in the shooter space. It feels fresh. It feels novel. I dig it.

But also, it's in Early Access, so I'm keeping it off the main list.

Also, Sorlag is the best female character of 2k17, and honestly, I'd be totally chill if she kissed me with her weird toothy lizard mouth. Oh, shit, cancel that, don't send Tweet, abor-

Friday The 13th: The Game 

I've played around 80 hours of this game this year, and it's probably the multiplayer game I've been most pleasantly surprised by. Thing is, it was pretty busted for a few months. I loved it at launch, but it definitely had problems, and a lot of the residual jank took ages to fix. Some of the jank actually broke the game at some later points, and even while I was having fun, I also understood people who wanted their money back. While the game is in a more stable state now, and I do love it, it still has issues that I think might deter a whole lot of people.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

This was a top game for me in the year it came out, when I managed the ill-fated Digital Devils website (RIP.) This is a re-release, but it's quite a good one, and worth picking up for your Switch.

Superbeat: Xonic (Switch Version)

One of my favorite rhythm games ever, now on my favorite console ever, and not doomed to rot on the Vita. RIP Vita.

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone

This is basically a collection of all the other Project DIVA games in a giant mega-pack on the PS4, with literally hundreds of songs and some beautiful visuals. These are some of the best rhythm games on the market, and for the money, this was one of the year's best values.

Fire Emblem Echoes and Metroid: Samus Returns

Not to be that guy, but these are technically remakes. While they added a bunch of new content, I wanted to prioritize new content versus remakes of games that are two decades old, with one exception you'll see below, because I'm a goddamn hypocrite. They're both fantastic, though, and well worth your time. Some of the best 3DS titles, even?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Switch)

I love Skyrim, I love the Switch, this version was great and portable. Next!

Puyo Puyo Tetris

This game's been readily available for years, but it just now got a proper localization, and was a blast on the Switch. There's a lot of content, a cute campaign, and great multiplayer.

Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

It was the Sun and Moon we should've gotten in the first place, and it was great.

Persona 5


The Actual List, Because People Go Wild For Numbers

12 - Fire Emblem Warriors

Leave it to a mash-up with my least favorite Fire Emblem games to push the Warriors series to further greatness. Look, I love Awakening's characters, and I love Fates' narrative, but they're games that are a far cry from the greatness achieved in the GBA titles, Shadow Dragon, or Path of Radiance. Yet somehow, Team Ninja and Omega Force pulled the miracle of exacerbating both those titles' strengths, getting rid of what kind of sucks (the watered-down gameplay,) and came up with an action game far more tactile, strategic, and satisfying than I ever expected. It blends Fire Emblem's strategy with Warriors' fierce action to make something that both scratches that tactical itch and gives a huge adrenaline rush throughout. Oh, and its story is pretty fun and full of genuinely clever writing.

What really bumped it into this list, though, was how much content is in the base game. After finishing the story, there are special requests in each level that grant new rewards. There are additional story maps in History Mode, ones that present the player with dozens upon dozens of events to sink their teeth into, ranging from beginner challenges to some genuinely hellish late-game stuff. It's tied together by being able to persistently level your party across all modes, stat out their skill trees, get them better gear... there's so much to do in this game, and all of it's a blast.

Fire Emblem Warriors managed to actually make me respect two games I kind of dislike more, and simultaneously evolve a fifteen year-old series in major way.

11 - Sonic Forces

This game essentially turned into Bad Discourse: The Official Video Game after it came out. I feel like most critics were too hard on it because it was a 3D Sonic game. I feel like most Sonic fans were too hard on it because... I mean, they're Sonic fans, that's all you need to know. On the flip side, apologists of this game were also pretty awful, what with the death threats and "game journalism sucks" discourse. I mean, game journalism does suck, don't get me wrong. But not because of that.

Anyway. Sonic Forces was really good. I liked the story a whole bunch, even though I feel like it could have been fleshed out a little more. The level design was probably the best we've seen since Adventure, and offered a bunch of branching paths and ample opportunities to cut down on your times. The visuals were beautiful, the soundtrack was great, and look, the game actually made me cry once or twice. I love Sonic, what can I say?

It wasn't a perfect game, by any means, but it was definitely some of the most fun I had in 2017. Here's hoping we get more like it and Sonic Team doesn't decide to reboot the formula for the millionth time.

10 - Yakuza Zero and Yakuza Kiwami

The only thing better than Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima making out for twenty-plus hours would be if they'd both jump out of the TV screen, Weird Science style, and marry me. But I'll settle for playing as both of them in the most wacky, weird Yakuza entry yet. This game refines the fantastic combat we've been playing since Yakuza 3 and recontextualizes it all with a leveling system that's based on money, not EXP. It also delivers a rollicking story that's at once a soap opera with beautiful men, a gritty crime drama, a goofy farce, and a serious critique of the capitalistic excess that defined Japan's economic bubble throughout the 1980's. It's a jam. It's great.

But I can't mention Zero without also giving props to Kiwami, a from-the-ground-up remake of the original game with enough content for me to justify its placement on this list. It uses the same combat and engine of Zero as well, and its narrative is a follow-up, so you really can't play one without playing the other. They were made as companion pieces, and I genuinely feel like they should be experienced as such. Treat it like a 40 hours sprawling saga, and you'll be happy. 

These are the two best Yakuza games yet, and give me high hopes for the batshit insanity Nagoshi has in store for us in Yakuza 6 next year. Oh, and that remake of Yakuza 2 also looks pretty tight.

9 - Snipperclips: Cut It Out, Together!

Everybody bought a Switch for Zelda, while enlightened patricians, arbitors of good taste bought it for... um, fucking Zelda, honestly. But alongside Zelda came a game that entertained me and the two people I live with during that launch week, then again several months later with its fantastic DLC. That game is Snipperclips, a clever, cute puzzler that makes ingenious use of the Switch as a console, and also manages to walk the tightrope of being a good puzzle game that isn't too oblique for anyone to pick up and play. Two to four players take the role of cute little paper people, who have to cut pieces out of each other to carry objects, fit into shapes, and a variety of other challenges. It starts simple and keeps upping the ante until it's full-on bullshit garbage and goddamn, won't you just follow my directions, I know what I'm do-...
Oh, wait, you solved it before me? Um. Nevermind. Let's move on.

But that's what makes Snipperclips so special, I think. Not only is it a blast to scream at your friends, half-seriously and half-jokingly, but it's fun to see how many different ways there are to solve some of the puzzles. A lot of them have no real "right" method, and I think that's the mark of both great co-op and great puzzle. Having a bunch of crazy boundaries to push with some buddies is way better than pushing blocks along preset paths to progress through a linear experience. Snipperclips is a must-have for the Switch, and a great party game to bust out with just about anyone.

Just... be prepared to burn some friendships, alright?

8 - Splatoon 2

What if Splatoon was better, had more content, and somehow had even better pop idols than the Squid Sisters? Boom, you've got Splatoon 2, a game with a ton of modes and two tons of additional content that's still being pumped out for free.

But it's a little deeper than that. When Activision-Blizzard, EA, and honestly fucking everybody is littering their games with loot box trash and microtransaction gimmicks, on top of most major multiplayer shooters having atrocious communities, something like Splatoon 2 is refreshing. Everything's free, everything's fun, and everything's pretty balanced. There's an easy way to communicate with players without having to actually interact with them in a major way. It has an aesthetic that isn't pandering and tryhard, old and boring, or basically Halo but with more fantasy this time. Everything that I hate about modern shooters, Splatoon 2 isn't. In 2017, that's even more obvious than it was in 2015. 

A bright, shiny antithesis to everything wrong with multiplayer gaming. Wonder if Nintendo did similar things for other stagnant genres this year...

7 - Resident Evil 7

For all my years of complaining that survival horror was dead, it felt like people actually listened in 2017. They answered with some of the best work ever done in the genre, and honestly, narrowing it down to two spots on my list was tough. But out of all the options, one of the final two had to be Resident Evil 7 - a game that saved one of my favorite series and managed to make first-person horror feel truly special again. 

My initial fears of Capcom embracing the "walk through jump scares" breed of horror games subsided in the first hour or so. After you're caught by the Baker Family, you're let loose on their property, with a tiny inventory to help you and an array of clever puzzles standing in your way. It felt like classic Resident Evil, just in first-person. But where it improved on the old games was bringing in the writer of Spec Ops: The Line, resulting in a narrative that was both surprisingly transgressive and actually had something to say, balanced out with a heaping helping of camp in the vein of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

Inventory management, limited ammo, oppressive enemies, memorable boss fights, and hey, that cool-ass VR mode... this was Resident Evil at its best, for the first time since Revelations. I can only hope Capcom follows through with another winner. Or makes a new Dino Crisis.

6 - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

You know it's been a good year for games when Breath of the Wild is this low. In many other years, this would be a shoe-in for the best of the best. For one thing, it reinvents open world gaming in such a way that it's killed other open world titles for me. After this, going into Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Assassin's Creed Origins and Horizon: Zero Dawn was practically impossible. They're so fucking boring. Breath of the Wild managed to shatter the genre to pieces and build it again from the ground-up.

It's a game where it feels like there truly aren't any restrictions. Climb anything, go anywhere, play the whole thing in any goddamn order you want - Nintendo doesn't give a fuck. I played the hardest main dungeon before I did anything else of note, and the game had a reverse difficulty curve because of that. The fact that a game actually let me do that is crazy, and that it's never prone to technical failure or balance problems is a miracle. Oh, and breakable weapons was the combat addition the series needed, keeping things mixed up and diverse throughout.

Breath of the Wild is great, even if the story is really flat overall. It was fun, beautiful, and filled with great characters to fall in love with and new stuff to discover around every corner. If this is where Zelda is going, then damn, it's going places.

5 - The Evil Within 2

This had all the signs of a video game turkey, to me. Yeah, I loved the first one, but it had some major problems, and I was concerned that Tango would repeat the mistakes and just tell a new story. Plus, it looked to be veering into serious Video Game Sad Dad territory, and I just don't have the time for that anymore. 

Thankfully, Shinji Mikami and his frankly conceited mentality about game design is nowhere to be found here, and the original writing staff was replaced. This results in The Evil Within 2 being not only a major improvement on its predecessor, but a major step forward for the survival horror genre as a whole. It punishes without veering into unfairness, confuses without being obtuse, scares without being cheap. And vitally, it crafts a narrative that both upends traditional masculinity and uplifts women's agency in some pretty major ways. 

Also, it's pretty fucking creepy and it's the first open-world horror game since Silent Hill 2 or maybe Dead Rising that uses that structure to do cool things. It's good, and my favorite horror game since Alien: Isolation

4 - Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

I need to clear the air. There's a popular opinion about this game that bothers me, so I need to get this out. Some people argue that the first half is good, then the rest is bad. Sorry, but that's really telling of who's playing it, because Mario + Rabbids only comes into its own after the first half. That's when it stops being baby-easy and starts completely eradicating the player every chance it gets. It doesn't get bad; it gets hard. And I love that.

Anyway. This is something I thought would be kind of a joke, and lo and behold, it wound up being one of the most mechanically complex and interesting games of the year. It was actually the best tactical role-playing experience I've had since the halcyon Nintendo DS days, if we're being honest. The sheer diversity of strategies, builds, maps, et cetera, is astonishing considering that it's a game with fucking Rabbids in it. It's been a while since I had this much fun planning strats and executing them, and it'll probably be a while after this, too.

Also worth noting is how much this feels like a piece of vintage Rareware. There's that signature goofy humor throughout the game, and Grant Kirkhope's score may very well be the best of his illustrious career. This is peak video game comedy, gameplay, and aesthetics all in one, and honestly a better "Rare" game than Rare's made since Microsoft absorbed them.

Don't @ me with Nuts and Bolts, that game sucks. But Mario + Rabbids doesn't suck. Play it.

3 - Super Mario Odyssey

For a while, I thought that one lyrics in "Jump Up! Super Star" was "it's an odyssey, yes-y," and not, "it's an odyssey, ya see," and that was really confusing for me. True story.

Super Mario Odyssey is fucking amazing. I know that's blunt, but it's the easiest way to put it. It's been a while since a 3D Mario, and an even longer one since an open-world game. But it's the first time that Nintendo's absolutely decimated the same structure they've had since 1996 with the series, in that it totally undoes the progression. Gone are preset collectible lists, a more-or-less set order to doing things, and cramped worlds navigated via hubs. Odyssey gives players a collection of sprawls to wander around in, allows them to collect trinkets in any order, abandons the idea of collectibles as predetermined "missions." Everything you thought you knew about Mario is thrown out the window here, and that's taken even a step further now that Mario can jump on his fucking hat and turn into other things

Nintendo's better at most things in game development than most other game developers, in my opinion, and Odyssey works in tandem with Breath of the Wild to sort of prove that. They've outdone themselves, and set new standards in both the open world genre and in platforming. Good stuff.

2 - Night in the Woods 

I questioned putting this game so high on my list. It honestly doesn't have much in the way of mechanics, and it's pretty linear for the most part. Yet I've thought about it almost every day since I've played it, months ago. I haven't left Night in the Woods' world because it's become a part of mine, in a way. Part of that is because, as I've previously mentioned, is because Mae's world is very much my own in some ways. A bisexual person who goes through bouts of depression, grapples with body dysmorphia, is stuck in a town they hate, and struggle with figuring out their life direction.

Scott Benson, did you stalk me before you made this? Please respond.

Night in the Woods is also a game that has a vital political message that stands out in 2017, one that rears its head at the game's climax and hits hard without any mincing of words. It's also a game that capitalizes on my love of cute things, in that every character is downright adorable, even when they're having horrible crises about their lives or almost dying. Where's my Sanrio crossover?

This is a game that's cute, scary, thought-provoking, funny, depressing, enlightening, uplifting, and... it's just so many things in one game. It's a work of art that everybody should experience at least once. 

1 - Nier: Automata 

Wow, who saw this coming? How unexpected.

When I played Nier: Automata in early January, I knew it would be something special. I felt like I was watching video games grow before my very eyes, like I was watching a prophetic vision of how great this medium can truly be, like somebody in 2017 gave a fuck about good storytelling in tandem with AAA game design. I also knew that it would get overlooked by cookie-cutter crowd-pleasers.

Luckily, Nier: Automata got a bigger audience than I thought it would, to the point where Square Enix is going to let Yoko Taro keep making video games. And thank god for that, because everyone should play this. Of course, its narrative is a cut above everything else on the market, a game that actively engages with and critiques fucking philosophy, and isn't just full of cheap plays at "made you think" moments. Its characters, right down to the most minor of NPCs, are all fascinating and nuanced, even ones that don't directly talk to the player. And mechanically, it's the best thing Platinum's ever done, and the able-bodied people that say to play to auto mode and breeze through the story because the gameplay's "bad" are honestly fucking monsters. And the art direction is sublime, even if I can empathize with people who think it gets kinda pervy. And the score is incredible, to the point where I get teary when I hear most of the tracks from it.

Fuck, man. Every part of this game, and I do mean every part, is phenomenal. I love it so much. 

Nier: Automata is my favorite game of all time, and it doesn't feel close to fair that anything else in 2017 had to compete with it. Because nothing, in all my years of gaming, really comes close to what's been achieved here. I don't think anything else will for a few decades, either.

Anyway, that's my piece. Leave your favorite games of the year in the comments, I guess. Or don't?


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