In a year where a Nintendo console launched with new Mario and Zelda titles, it was amazing that Aaron managed to play anything else at all.
There’s no denying that 2017 was a phenomenal year for video games. The Nintendo Switch debuted in March with one of the best Zelda games of all time as a launch title, and then one of the best 3D Mario games came out on the same system six months later.
Meanwhile, there were a ton of other big releases. Cuphead, Wolfenstien II, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Nier: Automata, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds… It’s crazy to think that those all came out in the same year, and there were still so many many more.
- Most Feels
- Biggest Disappointment
- Most Addicting
- Best Early Access Game
- The One That Got Away
- Of Course I’ll Rebuy That!
- That Beat Tho’
- Best Multitask Game
- The Future is Bright
- Star Fox 2
- Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
- Sonic Mania
- A Hat in Time
- Hollow Knight
- Golf Story
- Super Mario Odyssey
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
First up, the awards:
Most Feels: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I was absolutely wowed by this game. From the moment Link ran out of the Resurrection Shrine and I got my first look at the sprawling, gorgeous Hyrule built for Breath of the Wild, I was instilled with a sense of wonder and awe that stayed with me every time I played. The freedom of being able to climb almost any surface and sail across distances with the paraglider turned the land into a playground that was always a joy to explore. The game didn’t pull any punches in terms of difficulty; being unprepared for a particular situation or enemy would often get you killed, which made things legitimately tense at times. Meanwhile, finding unexpected ways to overcome obstacles and defeat camps of Bokoblins and Moblins always kept me smiling.
Biggest Disappointment: Mighty No. 9
Oh, Mighty No. 9, not only were you my biggest disappointment of 2015 and 2016, but also 2017. I thought I was done with this game after it finally released in June 2016 (on six of the nine platforms for which it’d been promised, anyway). It received mediocre reviews and thoroughly disappointed most of the people who had invested in it, so I was ready to forget it and move on. But then I started receiving emails about the remaining physical rewards from the Kickstarter campaign. I had foolishly backed it at a tier for which I was still due a physical box and printed manual. Actually, what the Kickstarter had promised was:
This will be shipped to you with the printed instruction manual (see the next entry below) already inside; it won’t have the game in it because you’re getting that via the download code, but hey, put whatever else you want in there. The Western-style box will be patterned after the NES game box dimensions and style, while the Japanese version will be Famicom-esque.
And so, about a year after the game’s release, I finally received the box and manual. The manual was not ‘already inside’ the box, as the reward description had promised, because the box wasn’t assembled. It arrived flattened out, and I had to bend and crease its edges in order to complete it. I had chosen the Western-style option, which featured what had to be the laziest cover art ever. In it, the game’s protagonist crouched in front of an incredibly bad looking fireball, from which the heads of the game’s other characters haphazardly poked out. The box was at least big enough for the black and white manual to fit inside of, which the much nicer-looking Japanese-style box was too small for. The whole ordeal was just salt in an old wound, and while I want to believe that I’m finally free from this disaster for good, I already know I’m going to be reminded of it when Mega Man 11 shows up looking to eat Mighty No. 9‘s already very, very cold lunch.
Funniest: Golf Story
Right from the start, characters’ quips in Golf Story made me smile. This game kept its tongue firmly planted in its cheek as it served up one absurd situation after another. I mentioned on the podcast that at one point a group of senior citizens got into a rap battle with a gang of young thugs over golf, which by itself was one of the most ridiculous things I saw in a game during 2017. A murder mystery broke out in the middle of one of the chapters, and was intertwined with a werewolf subplot that had a suitably silly resolution. In another chapter, I defeated an invading horde of undead monsters with golf balls. Even the minor characters all had distinct personalities and, often ludicrous, motivations.
The amount of care and amazing level of talent with which the art for Cuphead was produced simply cannot be topped. My childhood dream job was in animation, thanks in no small part to the steady diet of Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons on which I was raised, so I really appreciate classic production methods and styles. The game’s visuals were all created by hand using the same cell animation technique that brought to life the cartoons on which its look is based, and they were styled flawlessly after 1930s Max Fleischer shorts. It absolutely nailed the aesthetic, and was gorgeous to look at while the game handed me my ass again and again.
Most Addicting: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Every time I sat down to play this game, I knew I was going to lose hours to it. Once you settle on a destination in Breath of the Wild, you will find a hundred other things on the way there. Ruins of villages and temples, secret mazes, and enemy encampments are scattered everywhere across the country. Jon and I both managed to completely miss Lurelin Village until really late in our respective playthroughs, meanwhile I accidentally stumbled into the Shrouded Shrine just by seeing if I could use the paraglider to cross some water. My favorite moment had to be finding the Lord of the Mountain. I was out exploring one night, and noticed that the top of Satori Mountain was suddenly glowing. I decided to climb it and investigate, and found at its peak a small grove with a little pond surrounded by blupees. Standing in the water was a large, glowing, stag-like creature, which I later found out you can actually mount and ride. Things like that kept me coming back and getting so lost in the game’s world that I’d lose track of time altogether.
Best Early Access Game: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
I honestly only played PUBG a handful of times, but was immediately able to see what the big deal was. Matches are tense and exciting, oftentimes hilarious, and once in a while frustrating. The game’s brilliance is in the way it presents a simple scenario and leaves everything else up to the players. After 100 people drop onto an island full of randomly-placed weapon and armor caches, they must all move inward to remain within an ever-shrinking ‘safe zone’, killing or being killed on the way. The last one standing wins, but you can be in another match almost immediately if you’re killed. I’m looking forward to seeing how this game evolves, but I do think that they really rushed it to 1.0 status.
The One That Got Away: Nier: Automata
I really tried to make time for this one, but just couldn’t fit it in anywhere. After watching Conman demo the game at this year’s Extra Life marathon, and hearing him, Brady, Jon, Nanners and Kay talk about it on so many podcasts, I was really excited to find out what all the fuss was about. I’ll need to sneak it into my schedule at some point this year. At the very least, I want to find out why one of the main androids runs around in so much lingerie.
Of Course I’ll Rebuy That!: Full Throttle Remastered
Another one of my favorite LucasArts point and click adventure games got a remake this year, and as with Day of the Tentacle Remastered, I was overjoyed. The art had been cleaned up and, from what I could tell, re-drawn in a lot of places, and it looked fantastic. Music was a big part of this game; it had been performed by biker band The Gone Jackals, and Remastered delivered a newly cleaned-up mix of it that sounded much better than the original release. The option to swap between the old and new presentations on the fly was carried over from DOTTR, so you could compare the two at any time. I don’t suppose they could go back and redo the HD versions of the Monkey Island games next, could they? And then maybe make Ron Gilbert’s Monkey Island 3?
Shame: Magikarp Jump
While in Los Angeles for E3 and with days full of standing in long lines ahead of me, I welcomed distractions. Jon introduced me to Magikarp Jump, in which you must train a Magikarp to compete in jumping contests, of all things. Your Magikarp gets stronger through being fed and by playing very simple minigames, then goes head-to-head with AI opponents along a gym circuit. Once your Magikarp can no longer defeat its opponents, it retires, and you start over training the next generation to be marginally stronger. I ended up playing Magikarp Jump far more than I should have, between waiting for events and just lying in bed. I’m still amused by the fact that you can lose your Magikarp to random luck draws in the game, which forces you to start over with your next generation. I played it until I reached a gym that required several generations of Magikarp to complete, which was finally enough to make me lose interest.
That Beat Tho’: Cuphead
The reason this game was so successful at emulating the cartoons of the 1930s is because Studio MDHR employed the same old-fashioned production techniques of the time. In my opinion, it would have been a miss if they’d gone to all the trouble of hand-drawing the art but then used digital instruments for the soundtrack. Fortunately, they must have felt the same, and had a live band record the music. The songs are catchy and don’t feel too repetitive, which is a good thing given how many times you’ll be hearing each one due to Cuphead‘s difficulty.
Best Multitask Game: Golf Story
Golf Story‘s golf-based gameplay, combined with the Nintendo Switch’s portable nature, made it great for multitasking. Since the most frequent action you take is swinging a club, you can really play it at your own pace. I would pop the Switch out of its dock and keep at it while watching TV with my wife, and even managed to get in a few more rounds and sidequests while laying in bed at night.
The Future is Bright: Death Stranding
I think the Penny Arcade comic really nailed it when it comes to Death Stranding. Even after two previews, I still have absolutely no idea what it’s going to be about. I can’t wait to find out, even though I’m positive that I’m still not going to understand whatsoever it after it’s released.
On to the list!
- Star Fox 2
As I said on the podcast, I really loved the idea of putting a game from 1996 on a Game of the Year list in 2017. Canceled prior to its scheduled release and thought to be lost forever, all we really saw of Star Fox 2 over the past 22 years were prototype ROMs. Some of its gameplay elements did show up in Star Fox Command on the DS in 2006, and Star Fox Zero on the Wii U debuted the Arwing’s ‘walker mode’, for better or worse. When Nintendo announced that the game would come loaded on the SNES Classic, it was a shock to everyone — including the game’s development team, who finally got to celebrate its release.
Star Fox 2 was full of ambitious ideas. Argonaut Software could have just swapped out planets and enemies from the first game and kept everything else the same, but instead opted to overhaul its entire structure. Rather than a linear path of rail shooter levels through the Lylat System, players were allowed to move freely about the galactic map. Missiles and fighter squadrons would launch from Andross’ bases, and had to be intercepted in real time before they hit planet Corneria and increased its planetary damage score. Too much damage to the planet would result in a Game Over, while clearing the system of hostile forces would earn the Star Fox squadron a run at the enemy home base. Star Fox 2 alternated between first person arena shooting stages for squadron and missile interceptions, and third person flying/running sequences when attacking ground bases. The game suffers from serious dips in framerate, but I’m positive it still would have been a hit if it’d been released in 1996 (and the N64 hadn’t just come out).
The concept of Snipperclips was simple: players had to alter the shape of their characters, little beings made out of paper, to solve puzzles. Solutions involved fitting these papyrine people into oddly-shaped outlines, forming them into ramps or cups to transport objects from one side of a board to the other, and cutting them into implements for hooking or poking other targets. There was a good variety of challenges, and many of them could be solved in different ways.
This was a perfect early title for the Nintendo Switch that helped to show off some its promise. It could be played alone, but really shined in cooperative mode, with each player taking a Joy-Con in exactly the way Nintendo had advertised how multiplayer could work on their new system. I would actually break out Snipperclips at restaurants and hand my wife a controller while we waited for our food. It wasn’t quite a rooftop party, but it proved the system’s portable multiplayer potential for us. There were thankfully no unnecessary motion controls or forced reliance on any of the fancier tech packed into the Joy-Cons, like HD rumble, for this game. The puzzles never got terribly difficult, and players had the ability to both undo their last cut and fully reset their forms, making it impossible to fail a challenge. It was a little on the short side, but some very welcome DLC released in November added thirty new levels and several additional game modes.
- PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Born from Brendan Greene’s battle royale mods for DayZ, Arma 3, and H1Z1, part of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds‘ success comes from its balance between simulation and deathmatch shooter . There were multiple tiers of armor and plenty of attachments and upgrades for weapons, but having the superior kit in no way guaranteed victory. You could have a tense fight on your hands if another player got the drop on you, even if all they were armed with was a frying pan.
The game’s potential for randomness like that was really what made it so addicting. The maps were completely open, with sparsely scattered buildings throughout varying environments (none of which had a particular tactical advantage over any of the others). The central point to which the safe zone would shrink was moved every round, so there could never be the development of a ‘default strategy’ in terms of landing, going to point X for gear Y, then proceeding to point Z by way of some regular, known path. The only recurring strategy is to simply survive, and the means by which I’d accomplish that were always changing. Every round of this game gave me a completely different experience, and to get that much variety and fun out of a title is pretty special. It still could use boatloads of polish, though; I feel like they rushed it to 1.0 status, and while it sounds like a lot of the early issues have been cleared up, it has some way to go.
- Sonic Mania
I was a Nintendo kid, and Sega was, of course, my sworn enemy. Looking back, I can see that was entirely the product of marketing that was the genesis (no pun intended) of the unfortunate institution known as the Console Wars. I had a terrible secret, though: I received a Game Gear one year for Christmas. Even worse, I had asked for it. I was perfectly happy with my Game Boy, but I was just so impressed by the Game Gear’s little color screen that I couldn’t resist. Plus, Price Club (now Costco) had a pretty sweet combo set on sale that year, so it was an easy idea to sell to my parents.
The Sonic games I spent the most time with were Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic Chaos for the Game Gear. I had also played the first two mainline games on several toy store demo kiosks for the Sega Genesis, but had never gotten very far into them. As an adult, I ironically revisited those first two Sonic games for the Genesis on Nintendo’s Virtual Console, and in their 3D remakes on the 3DS. To this day, I’ve only ever finished the Genesis and Game Gear versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic Chaos (but never with any more than three chaos emeralds). Sonic just didn’t seem to be my thing, and I had a hard time understanding people who viewed that series as being on par with the Super Mario Bros. games. The promise in Sonic games was always speed, but getting up to speed could be a tedious chore, and you always risked losing all of your rings at any moment if you didn’t have the current level fully memorized. Each stage had multiple, branching paths, which would have been great for exploration if there had been no timer. And the water levels were the absolute worst. I felt like the Mario games were the superior platformers.
Sonic Mania absolutely blew me away, because it was something that I wasn’t used to Sonic games being: fun. It featured both remixes of levels from previous games as well as completely new stages, and they were all fine-tuned to minimize on the tedious elements and maximize on allowing the player to just have fun zipping along courses and buzz-sawing through enemies. There were still branching paths, but it felt like they were easier and more rewarding to explore. Eventual memorization of the levels helped with locating entrances to special stages where you could find Chaos Emeralds, and I felt more inclined to seek them out because I was actually enjoying myself while doing so. It’s really too bad that Sega squandered all of Mania‘s goodwill with Sonic Forces.
- A Hat in Time
The 2013 Kickstarter campaign for A Hat in Time advertised the game as ‘a 3D collect-a-thon platformer in the spirit of the beloved Nintendo and Rare games from the Nintendo 64 era’, and likened it to a combination of Banjo-Kazooie, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario 64. I’d argue that it wasn’t quite as much of a collect-a-thon as Rare games of that era (which isn’t a bad thing, either), but it did fully capture the spirit and fun of 3D platfomers of the past twenty years. I don’t think I ever really use the word ‘zany’, but it’s unavoidable, here. Hat Girl must collect magic timepieces to power her spaceship, so she can make her way home. The timepieces fell onto a planet when her ship broke down, and the planet’s crazy assortment of citizens are running amok with them. To get them back, she must fight a town full of Russian-accented mafia thugs, help filmmaker birds try to outdo each other’s movies, complete contracts for a ghost in order to win back her soul, and zipline between the peaks of mountains inhabited by giant, enlightenment-seeking goats.
This game would have been higher on my list, if not for some fairly rough edges. When you think about it, the 3D platformers that have endured over the years came from the top studios, most notably Nintendo. They were heavily polished affairs, and I realized after playing A Hat In Time just how much I’d taken that for granted. What Gears For Breakfast has accomplished so far with its indie game is very impressive, but it lacks a bit in terms of consistent direction. In the very first level, Hat Girl dropped into Mafia Town and spotted Mustache Girl, and the level ended with the two deciding to team up. In the very next level, Hat Girl found Mustache Girl being held by the Mafia, and upon freeing her the two decide… to team up. Again. I was confused if I’d just seen these two characters have two separate meeting origins told back to back. Then, there was the hat and badge system. It seemed like gameplay mechanics, like making bombs and doing an ice stomp move that could activate springboards, were supposed to be tied to the different hats you could wear. Badges, meanwhile, were enhancements on mechanics and other game elements, like preventing fall damage, adding a projectile to your attacks, and reducing the cooldown on your hat powers. But then, the grappling hook, a gameplay mechanic, was tied to a badge (and essentially permanently tied up one badge spot, since you needed it frequently). It might have made more sense to make the grappling hook a hat, give Hat Girl a regular stomp move, and add a badge that turned the stomp move into the ice-based one necessary to activate springboards. Aside from that, there are other technical issues that I had. I absolutely fought with the camera’s auto-assist mode, and still had trouble after disabling it. The controls were somewhat floaty, and I struggled with Hat Girl taking an odd extra step sometimes after jumps that would cause her to walk off of platforms on which I was trying to land.
Nitpicks aside, the game is great, and absolutely worth playing. The level design improved a lot by the last chapter, which made me excited for the additional two stretch goal chapters still on the way. It has wonderful music, and a charming art style. The fact that it remains so memorable in a year when one of the best 3D Mario games was released is definitely a testament to how good it is, flaws and all.
- Hollow Knight
I’ve avoided Metroidvania games at times in the past because I tend to be bad at their core concept. They feature large maps that are broken into sections that require the use of new powers or weapons to access. You spend much of these games passing by gates and not knowing what you need in order to open them, with the idea that you’ll backtrack once you’ve picked up the necessary key. My issue is that I never remember where to go once I’ve gotten something new. This was unfortunately how my time with Hollow Knight ended, but I did stick with it for much longer than similar games in the past.
Part of the reason for that was just how well produced the game was. The fluidly-animated characters and absolutely gorgeous backgrounds were so visually appealing that being lost wasn’t so bad most of the time. I was really impressed by the use of such muted, somber color palettes, which really helped to make each area of the map feel unique. It paired really well with the sound design, and it all came together to create the feeling of being underground. Gameplay was pretty similar to other games of the genre; walking became dashing, jumping became double jumping, and projectile attacks got bigger. The map system wasn’t as helpful as I wished it had been, even after acquiring all available upgrades for it. It was still compelling to explore, and I enjoyed finding the other characters and secrets, but eventually I hit a wall where I needed a particular upgrade and had failed to find the necessary shop for it over several hours of hunting. I would like to return to it, though, particularly since several free DLC packs were released for it last year.
- Golf Story
I really didn’t know what to expect from this game. I like golf and golf games, but never expected for an RPG in which the player character’s actions would all be golf-based. The closest comparable game I can think of is Mario Golf: Advance Tour, which did have a story mode, but in it you mostly ran around and talked to characters inbetween rounds of golf. You could find items inside barrels and other containers that you could use to increase your stats, but ultimately it was a golf game with dialogue inbetween rounds. Golf Story was an RPG with rounds of golf inbetween (and oftentimes as) sidequests. You could drop golf balls anywhere in the game’s world and hit them at anything, which was the key to getting bonus experience points and solving puzzles.
Your character had given up everything for one last shot at golf glory. They started out at the local course (called ‘Wellworn Grove’, in a pun indicative of the game’s unrelenting humor), and had to convince the coach there to take them under his wing. The characters don’t take themselves too seriously, the scenarios that occur are often silly (see my Funniest award), and the game made interesting use of HD rumble where it created actual sound effects for dialogue bubbles. Although not an industry-revolutionizing feature, it was a neat touch. Otherwise, Golf Story is a decent and fun golf game. Its 2D presentation meant that shots are were all performed by aiming, choosing the impact point on the ball, and then pressing a button in time with a meter to lock in distance and power. In addition to the usual sand and water traps, courses featured unique hazards like molerats and birds who would move balls that landed too close to them, and turtles that would pop out of the water and bounce approaching balls forward. Now that I’ve finished the game, I can still boot it up to play any of the courses, or its ridiculous ‘Galf’ minigame (although a bug prevents me from ever being able to exit that).
- Super Mario Odyssey
When we previewed Super Mario Odyssey at E3 last year, Nintendo’s booth was a madhouse. So many people were excited to play the plumber’s latest adventure that they had to wrap the lines to the demo units around the show floor and into an additional queue at the back of the expo hall. My brief couple of minutes with the game took place under the supervision of a Nintendo handler while Jump Up, Superstar! played on loop overhead. I chose to explore New Donk City, and knew that the game was going to be a hit immediately afterward. Mario controlled tightly, the visuals were bright and exciting, and I kept thinking about how I’d be able to play the game on the road thanks to the Switch’s portability.
The final game combined the best elements of many of its predecessors. Moons were the MacGuffin this time around, having replaced Stars and Shines. Whereas in previous games you would choose a particular variation of an obstacle course to load in order to hunt specific trophies, Odyssey packed most of the Moons into a single instance of its sprawling sandbox kingdoms, and allowed players continue rounding them up as long as there were any left to be found. Mario’s cap-enhanced moves let him make extra-high and/or long jumps, which really opened up movement for gamers who mastered them. The big new ability that allowed for the possession of enemies made for some of the goofiest fun I’ve had in a Mario game in years. My only complaint was in the art direction; while I thought New Donk City was great, the Cascade and Ruined Kingdoms were also far more realistic than Mario games tend to look. Compared to Super Mario 3D World, it was as if Nintendo decided not to strictly adhere to the ‘Mario look’ for this title. It’s a nitpick at best, and the obvious counterargument is that such different aesthetics only enhance the idea that Mario’s on a grand odyssey across truly exotic kingdoms, so I’m not too hung up on it.
The winner of my Prettiest and That Beat Tho’ awards, Cuphead was an absolute masterpiece of production. Its hand-drawn cell animation and musical score that was performed by a live jazz band created an exact emulation of 1930s Max Fleischer cartoons that was just a joy to behold. With all of the hype that built around the game after its brief debut at the Xbox E3 conference back in 2014, it could have ended up being a pretty-looking flop. Studio MDHR really put in the time and effort, and built an amazing game that deserves every bit of the praise it received.
I enjoy challenging games, particularly platformers. I’ve spent hundreds of hours with the likes of Super Meat Boy, the Mega Man series, Shovel Knight, and so forth. I will make a thousand attempts at them, if that’s what it takes to succeed. My wife isn’t quite on the same page as far as these kinds of games are concerned, so I really have to give her credit when it comes to Cuphead. We tackled it in co-op mode, which increased every enemy’s health in an already super hard game. She held her own through every crazy fight, be it with anthropomorphic vegetables or shape-shifting magic genies. Our eventual triumph over the Devil took months, but we had so much fun along the way.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
There was a while where this game and Super Mario Odyssey were in direct competition for my personal number one spot. Ultimately, I realized that Breath of the Wild captured my imagination in a way that no other game had this year. The feeling of discovery and open freedom of exploration in this game is really on par with the original The Legend of Zelda on the NES, and it made the whole thing so special to me. The series had developed a reliance on guiding the player through what was ultimately a linear path in the world, with a particular order to dungeons and for item acquisition. Breath of the Wild gave you a smaller (yet still spacious) starting area in which to learn the game’s basic systems, and afterward the entirety of Hyrule was opened up. You could run straight to the end at Hyrule Castle from there, if you wanted, but there’s so much to see and do that you could instead end up completely forgetting that goal over the course of a couple hundred hours.
While I did miss larger, more traditional dungeons, I did really appreciate how the small shrines complemented the open world. There were so many things to find and do, so many enemies to fight, puzzles to solve, and upgrades to find that I would get lost in the game for entire evenings. In the months that I played it, I clocked over half the number of hours that I spent in three years of Destiny. Breath of the Wild also delivered impressive visuals for Nintendo’s new (and still only modestly-powered) console, using a combination of the cell shading techniques they developed back in The Wind Waker with environment designs that reminded me of Skyward Sword. I really liked the music, which was a controversial topic; I felt like it mirrored the sparse, broken land of Hyrule in which the game was set. The two packs of DLC added a few more difficult challenges, and although I was disappointed that The Champions’ Ballad didn’t add much more to the story, I did really enjoy the Master Cycle Zero motorcycle. Still, though, why does the Master Sword need a nap, even after I completed its trials?