So 2017 is over, and turned out to be a pretty damn excellent year for videogames. So good, in fact, that I haven’t played nearly as many of the year’s highlights as I’d have liked to. This list, then, is missing some of the Pretty Major Games that came out last year. Still, while it may not be comprehensive, this is my top-10 list of games from 2017.
10. Metroid: Samus Returns
Coming out of nowhere at E3 and releasing not long after, Samus Returns is almost the Metroid II remake fans have long dreamed of. It’s the first ‘proper’ Metroid game we’ve had in what seems like forever, and it’s a good Metroid game, if not quite a great one. In hewing close to Super Metroid and Zero Mission in design, it loses some of the unique creepiness that was one of my favourite bits of Metroid II, while the places where it does adhere to the original – such as fighting the same Metroids over and over again – drag despite some interesting changes to these fights. Some of the new additions work well – such as the counter mechanic and some interesting limited-energy powers – while some do not – chiefly the new non-Metroid bosses, which are wall-punchingly frustrating to fight.
Overall, this didn’t place as high on my top 10 as I’d initially hoped it would, but as a remake of one of my First Ever Videogames it’s decent, and certainly shows that the classic Metroid formula still has legs.
9. Splatoon 2
Splatoon 2 feels like the game the original Splatoon should have been. No longer hamstrung by a console that was, to be fair, a bit poo, the Splatoon formula shines on the definitely-not-poo Switch. It feels like a complete package this time around too, with a really excellent cooperative mode in Salmon Run and a much better single player campaign.
The only reason it didn’t place higher in my list is that the core experience is essentially the same as the first game. Splatoon is an absolute blast, and this is definitely the better game, but the amount of time I’d put into the Wii U original definitely saw me put this one down faster than I might otherwise have done.
8. Night in the Woods
In a year of exceptional game after exceptional game, Night in the Wood still managed to feel like a breath of fresh air. Rarely has a game so excellently balanced humour and pathos, delivering important, dead-serious observations about the world in a package that is never overbearing and is always fun. It’s a story based experience that touches on subjects like mental health, childhood expectations and the fallout of economic crises, but it’s not a walking simulator. Whether other examples in the medium might ask you to passively absorb such ‘serious’ content, Night in the Woods delights in its videogame-ness, never failing to offer up fun, interactive vignettes, providing real emotional range and making its characters feel like people.
The fact that it’s not higher on this list speaks to the overwhelming quality of everything listed south of here.
Nioh is the closest we got to a Dark Souls game in 2017, and that’s probably enough to earn it a place on my best of list regardless of anything else. Still, while the extent to which is cribs from From Software is almost comical – it even has the same annoying guess-whether-it’s-still-open menu – Nioh adds enough wrinkles to the formula to feel like its own beast. Combat is fluid and aggressive, and it’s actually weird how well a mission-based structure suits the core Souls gameplay.
Some of the new design choices aren’t the best – there is way too much loot in the game, which requires way too much time in the shop menu getting rid of 90% of it – but Nioh has more than scratched my Dark Souls itch this year. Which pretty damn impressive, particularly considering it comes from Team Ninja, a studio responsible for 1.5 good Ninja Gaiden games (more than a decade ago) and really nothing else of real worth since. I’m hoping for more of this, for sure.
6. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
This really shouldn’t have been as good as it is. What seemed like a horribly forced franchise pairing aimed at padding out the Switch’s early software library actually ended being one of the system’s standout titles. Essentially a defanged XCOM in Mario costumes, Kingdom Battle strikes the perfect balance between accessibility and strategy. It has a great learning curve and a surprising amount of depth. Aside from some frustrating trail-and-error bosses, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
And while it’s not quite my favourite game on the Switch, it is perhaps the most interesting. We all know Nintendo’s first party titles are going to be great, and naturally Mario and Zelda have ended up in virtually every best-of-year-list, but Kingdom Battle is the kind of game Nintendo needs more of – an excellent third party collaboration that takes something classically Nintendo and does something wildly left-field with it. If other big publishers follow this approach, the Switch’s future is going to be fascinating.
5. Stardew Valley
So it technically didn’t launch in 2017, but the Switch version did, and quite frankly I can’t imagine playing it on anything else. Stardew Valley is the perfect portable title, ideal to pick up for ten minutes to noodle around fishing or chopping wood, but equally capable of absorbing a couple of hours.
It’s a sublimely chilled out experience – there are goals for you to work towards should you want to, but the game is quite happy to let you choose how to spend your time. It’s a welcome palette cleanser when played alongside any of the year’s more challenge-focused games, and as a result I’ve been going back constantly since it launched. There’s a surprising amount of depth here, with a structure ripe for min-maxing whilst also allowing for the most laid-back farm life – with a range of activities all with equal progression value, it’s able to accommodate a huge range of play styles. A huge achievement, particularly when you consider the entire thing was made by one dude.
4. Yakuza 0
Kiryu, where have you been all my life? Yakuza 0 was my first foray into the long-running series, and damn, it shouldn’t have been. Turns out I’ve been missing out. Yakuza games have been patchy with their Western releases over the years, and while it’s always been one of those series I’ve wanted to check out, I’d never gotten around to it until 0. And I’m so glad I finally did.
Yakuza 0 feels like a throwback, and I mean that in the best possible way. It feels like a proper SEGA game, from back when SEGA were good. It’s packed with content, features genuinely great characters, feels like an intense crime drama one minute before veering off into just the wildest, most definitely Japanese stuff the next. All of the dramatic set pieces and quirky side content orbit around some of the Best Punching in Videogames, and it all fits together wonderfully. Sort-of-sequel Kiwami is on my to-play list going into 2018, and Yakuza 6 is right up there as one of my most anticipated games this year.
3. Persona 5
If I had to pick the one game I was most anticipating going into 2017, it would have been Persona 5. Persona 4 is one of my all-time favourite games, a sublime mix of JRPG, visual novel and Japanese pop culture. My expectations for the sequel were super high, and Persona 5 lives up to them. It has everything I love about Persona while making some smart choices to update the formula; plus, it’s one of the best-looking and -sounding games I’ve even seen, one of the few games I’d argue has a genuine sense of style.
It’s not quite perfect; while it exceeds 4 in many areas, particularly combat and dungeon design, there are compromises too. A greater focus on telling a continuous story means there’s less focus on your character’s day-to-day school life, which means less time spent just hanging out with the game’s cast of character, who feel slightly less developed than in previous entries as a result. And the last 15 or so hours (of about 120 total, I might add) are a bit of letdown, if only because they are not quite as excellent as the rest of it. So in my final estimation, this ends up sitting about neck-and-neck with Persona 4 in my list of all-time greats.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
So this makes me a gaming philistine, I know, but while I’ve always liked Zelda games, Breath of the Wild is the first I’ve really loved. Wind Waker comes close, but the final few hours are such tiring busywork that I’ve never actually finished it. Breath of the Wild does away with decades of Zelda tradition to embrace a particularly Nintendo approach to open world design, resulting in something that feels truly fresh and is undoubtedly one of the best games I’ve played in years. Where other open world games can feel like sandboxes populated with a ton of objective markers, the 2017 version of Hyrule feels like a world you can truly explore. Link’s Sheikah Slate gadgets make for some great puzzle moments, but truly it’s the combination of climbing, gliding and incredible map design that brings this world to life.
It’s not perfect – combat is merely okay, and the game leans on it too much (it’s galling to finally figure out how to access a elusive shrine only to be greeted by yet another Test of Strength), while the approach to weapons, and loot in general, renders most collectibles worthless by the endgame. Still, these are minor niggles in a fantastic game that has absorbed me for over 100 hours, and stands out as a crowning achievement in both the Zelda series and the open world genre.
1. Super Mario Odyssey
And in what has been standout year for Nintendo in a standout year for games in general, Mario takes the top spot, which is really not something I’d have guessed at the start of the year. Much like Zelda, I’ve always liked Mario games well enough, and really, in any other year, half the games on this list could have taken the top spot. But if Breath of the Wild is one of the best games I’ve played in years, then Mario Odyssey might well be one of the best games I’ve ever played.
With Breath of the Wild, Nintendo threw out decades of formula to create something brave, ambitious, excellent, and slightly flawed. With Odyssey, they took a formula refined over a similarly long time, distilled the parts the work, ditched anything superfluous and added just enough to create something that’s damn close to perfect. These are things I don’t like in Mario Odyssey, in total: the jump rope challenge; the Koopa step-following thing; the picture matching puzzles. That’s it. Everything else is glorious.
It’s incredibly welcoming yet also ridiculously deep – it feels like something you can keep pushing and pulling at and it just keeps giving you stuff back. It’s a crystallisation of the late-90’s mascot collect-a-thon platformer, the best possible version of the games that defined 3D platforming. It’s also just so joyful. I’ve never played a game that feels so intentionally targeted to deliver a sense of joy with almost every interaction. In short, Super Mario Odyssey is very, very good, my top game of 2017, and now one of my favourite games of all time.
And that’s that for 2017. It’s going to be a tough year to beat. There are some standout titles on the way that I fully expect to make into my top-10 this time next year; Monster Hunter World, Yakuza 6, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Ni No Kuni 2 spring immediately to mind. But 2018 is going to have to be packed with some pretty major surprises to come out with a record as good as last year. Many of those top 2017 games, like Nier Automata and Horizon: Zero Dawn, I’ve not even played yet, and are currently queued up to fill in any lulls (and please, please let there be lulls this year, there are just too many games) in the coming year’s lineup. 2018, then. Videogames, ho!