Best of 2017: Top 15 Games

Here we are. Time to count down my favourite videogames from a truly phenomenonal year for the medium (The best in ten years?). There are some games on this list that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone even remotely interested, but the real measure of 2017 is the games that don’t make the list because I just didn’t have time to get into them. And no, I don’t just mean games other people liked but didn’t really grab me. I’m talking Horizon Zero Dawn, Cuphead, Yakuza Zero, Steamworld Dig 2, Night in the Woods, Tales of Berseria, Golf Story, Gang Beasts. Games that in any other year I would have been all over. Games I’ve already seen on many other top ten lists across the internet.

Part of this can probably be attributed to my conscious decision not to ignore good games on the 3DS as long as they were coming out. I clocked nearly 200 hours of combined 2017 playtime on my 3DS according to its activity log – mostly on trains and buses – and if it weren’t for the Nintendo Switch overshadowing it on every big site and YouTube channel I would have been shocked that I wasn’t seeing some of these 3DS games on more people’s lists. Of course, the Switch was still a thing, so there are more Switch games on this page than on any other console. The rest of the numbers are made up by some delightfully surprising indie and triple-A games gripping enough to help me temporarily forget about all the other games I could be playing. What an insane year.

A game qualifies for the list if I play it for over five hours or finish it. You’ll see the platform on which I played each game in parentheses next to its title.

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VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. ARMS (NS)

Major new IPs from Nintendo are rarer than a PC without Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds installed, so it’s a big deal when one comes along. Following in the spiritual footsteps of 2015’s Splatoon, ARMS is an attempt by Nintendo to refresh what players can expect from a fighting game, in much the same way that Splatoon injected new life into the shooter genre. Taking stylistic cues from Blizzard’s Overwatch in the character design department and infusing these designs with Nintendo wackiness, ARMS is a charming game with deceptive mechanical depth and phenomenonal 1v1 duel multiplayer. Though the rest of its modes are inherently less deep and the game’s single player mode is basic at best, ARMS is my pick for most improved game of the year post-launch, with extra incentives, modes and characters now part of the package. And let’s not forget that theme song, which slots right in alongside Nintendo’s catchiest first-party tunes. ARMS should not be overlooked by anyone buying a Switch.

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14. Pokemon Ultra Sun (3DS)

Let’s be honest – It doesn’t take much for me to put a Pokemon game on a list like this. My first two lists had Pokemon games at the very top (White 2 and X, decisions which I stand by). Pokemon Ultra Sun could probably have just added some new Pokemon to the Alola Dex and called it a day, I would have played it to completion with a different team from my Sun playthrough, and enjoyed the hell out of it. But it wouldn’t have made this list. Like previous “third versions” of Pokemon games, Ultra Sun brings in a swathe of changes friendly to competitive Pokemon battlers, like the reintroduction of move tutors and an all-new way to earn Battle Points that’s faster, easier and more reflex-based than ever before in the form of Mantine Surf. It gives obsessive collectors the chance to catch every single non-mythical legendary Pokemon in the series via Ultra Wormholes, changes up the game’s final hours substantially, adds a fantastic nostalgia-fueled epilogue focusing on the series’ historic villains, and yes, adds a bunch of Pokemon to the region. But the best change for me is the most consistent – the script is almost twice as long as Sun‘s thanks to the addition of countless extra pieces of flavour dialogue and sidequests throughout the game that feel more like they belong in a typical JRPG than anything else the series has attempted. As a result, Alola feels even more alive than it did in 2016. That kept me playing just as much as anything else.

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13. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4)

Hearing that there was a new Uncharted game coming where previously there was just a DLC-sized side story felt like the cherry on top of the delectable dessert platter that was 2017. I absolutely adored Naughty Dog’s last attempt at story DLC, The Last of Us: Left Behind, thanks to the way it so cleverly repurposed game mechanics from the main game, so I would have been happy with an offering of similar size this time around. Instead, The Lost Legacy is roughly the length of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and packs in much more mechanical variety, superior character performances and a few spicy narrative surprises to boot. In many ways this game is Uncharted 4 without the bloat (or, to be fair, the scope). Chloe is a great protagonist and the growth of her relationship with mercenary Nadine is worth the meagre asking price. So is the appearance of the best non-linear open area in the series yet. The Lost Legacy flew under the radar a bit in 2017 and it absolutely didn’t deserve to.

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12. Splatoon 2 (NS)

The first Splatoon ranked highly on my list two years ago for its freshness and presentation quality, but I didn’t play it for nearly as long as some of of the other games on that year’s countdown, because it was on the Wii U and hardly any of my friends were playing it. So even though many have argued that Splatoon 2 didn’t change enough to be considered worthy of a sequel moniker (as nebulous a challenge as that is), it is my second-most-played Switch game of 2017 because its mainstream success ensured I always had a friend to join. Splatoon’s base gameplay loop is good enough to make up for Nintendo’s ongoing sub-par online service, and that is really saying something. Of course the game also brought more new stuff to the table than any service-level outside appraisal could fairly say, like an improved single-player campaign, new modes, weapon types and gear systems, as well as the truly excellent horde mode interpretation Salmon Run. Let’s not forget its stellar free updates and stage-changing Splatfest events either, or the fact that as of last month you can finally change your weapon in the lobby. Splatoon 2 may only be the fourth-best Nintendo-published  Switch game of 2017, but that’s hardly its own fault. Fingers crossed it isn’t handicapped by Nintendo’s online plans next year.

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11. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)

Somehow, this is the first Metroid game I have ever finished, and I don’t have a good reason for that. I’ve enjoyed every Metroid game I’ve played, but there’s always some point in the middle where I get stuck for just long enough to allow myself to get distracted by another game. That didn’t happen with Metroid: Samus Returns. Plenty of Nintendo fans cried foul that this game didn’t hit the Switch instead of the ‘other’ handheld, but the excellent stereoscopic 3D implementation it brings to the table at a time when even first-party 3DS games are foregoing the feature altogether is a worthy (if decidedly niche) argument against that. Spanish developer Mercury Steam brings so much freshness to the series’ most overlooked game that it feels like a brand-new Metroid entry, expanding the size of the game’s world and objectives while crucially enabling Samus to do more than she ever has in a 2D game. The smoothness with which she controls calls to mind a combination of her historic adventures and her guest spots in the Super Smash Bros franchise, keeping things lively even in the most repetitive parts of the game. If you still have a 3DS and an appetite for Metroid, put down the Switch and play this.

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10. Snipperclips (NS)

The second-best Nintendo Switch launch game is still one of the very best titles you can get on the fledgling console. Though understandably overshadowed by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2-Switch – the two most loudly-marketed Nintendo games when the console hit shelves – the Big N’s decision to single out the game’s initial concept, developed by London indie studio SFB Games, and fund/Nintendo-ise its presentation was a stroke of genius. Though kind of a dud when played alone, Snipperclips really takes off as a two-player co-op experience that fits the Switch’s anytime/anywhere multiplayer promise like a candy-coloured glove. The game gets deviously difficult as the later levels unlock – The relationship between me and my sister was strained as we argued incessantly about the best shapes and strategy we needed to complete each level – but finding one of several solutions to each devious puzzle is a treat time and time again. Snipperclips’ four-player modes add both co-operative and competitive value to the budget-priced package, as does the DLC content that hit near the end of the year. Snipperclips has real staying power on the Switch charts, and so it should.

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9. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)

I didn’t get on with the Fire Emblem series all that well until last year’s Fire Emblem Fates, but I don’t think I could have handled another title in that vein so soon (One 60-hour side of that game’s story was enough for me). So it really feels like Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was directly aimed at people like me. Though remaking a 25-year-old Japan-only release that was already known as the black sheep of the FE family may seem like a weird choice now of all times, its odd-one-out status only makes it feel like a refreshing change of pace in a Fire Emblem-soaked 2017. Changing up now-sacred battle mechanics like the weapon triangle, archer abilities, spell use and more, Echoes also strips out the child system from the last two games (which didn’t feel all that justified in Fates) and adds (re-adds?) full 3D dungeon exploration, a completely revamped crimson-washed UI (bye-bye beige), full English voice acting and a tragic, engaging story about two armies and their forever-entwined leaders. The music is also as wonderful as ever. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is my favourite 3DS game from a year packing plenty of good 3DS games. Fire Emblem fans shouldn’t miss it.
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8. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4)

Few videogames have the audacity to put out a game about mental illness, let alone the perspective and vision to tackle such a minefield in any way beyond the superficial. And to be fair, it’s a difficult thing to do without coming across with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It’s tricky enough to tell your standard videogame story with genuine emotion. Yet Ninja Theory, not content to sit on its past achievements in engaging storytelling (Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one of my favourite games of the last generation), spent years consulting with mental health researchers and improving their motion capture technology until Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was the result. The way this game utilises everything from controller rumble to surround sound is truly striking, as viking protagonist Senua’s mocking inner voices come at you incessantly from all directions. The camera is always pulled in tight behind Senua, which is especially effective in the game’s adaptive-difficulty combat where those voices are often your only warning of an incoming attack. The game taunts you with an enigmatic threat of permadeath. It doesn’t hesitate to deprive you of your senses on occasion. It stays engaging all the way through. As a vanguard of sorts for indie games with ambitious budgets and mid-range asking prices, many hoped Hellblade would turn a few heads, and it certainly has.

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7. Doki-Doki Literature Club (PC)

Describing the appeal of this late-2017 oddity is a difficult task to say the least. Doki-Doki Literature Club – which is a free download from Steam by the way so you should totally play it – is at first glance a banal, by-the-numbers visual novel / dating sim packed with anime tropes, bright colours and pleasant tunes. Just when you start to get comfortable with its flow, however, it turns into… not that. When I hear buzz about a PC indie game that I supposedly should be playing, my default response is usually “Oh, OK, I’ll just wait for the console version.” With this particular visual metatextual thriller, that was never going to be an option. Doki Doki Literature Club makes full use of the fact that it exists on an inherently open platform, taking our familiarity with modern operating system quirks and using them against us to get under the skin of whoever plays the game. Even if the thought of a visual novel bores you to tears, give this one a look. Team Salvato is now a developer to watch.

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6. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (PSV/PS4)

It was quite a moment for fans to witness the return of the Danganronpa series to the visual novel / murder investigation genres after spinning off into a shooter and an anime. Seeing it attempt to hit a larger audience by jumping on to the PS Vita’s far more popular brother, the PS4, was a lovely bonus, and to NIS’s credit the release was preceded by PS4 remasters of all previous Danganronpa titles. That’s kind of important, because despite its initial pitch Danganronpa V3 is a game that requires prior knowledge of the series to get the most out of its incredible finale. In my opinion it’s one of the all-time great videogame endings and getting there is a 40-50-hour journey stacked with plenty of twists and the most well-developed cast in the series. The game’s visual presentation is a huge step up from previous titles (especially in 4K on PS4 Pro), the music is as great as ever and the post-story content stretches on for days. Even if the plot does some things that throw question marks onto the future ability of this series to keep shocking and surprising, Danganronpa V3 was worth the wait.
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5. What Remains of Edith Finch (PS4)

The intensely story-centric appeal of so-called “walking simulator” videogames remains a hotly-debated topic in certain online communities. Some feel that the interactive medium is wasted on telling a barely-interactive story, while others insist the mere act of inhabiting the first-person perspective of a main character and controlling the pace of a narrative improves the impact of said story. By 2017 there have been enough of these types of games, both good and bad, that I’d argue the novelty has worn off somewhat, leaving any walking sim newcomer needing to do something special to stand out. Enter What Remains of Edith Finch. Backed by the pedigree of Giant Sparrow, developers of The Unfinished Swan, Finch takes the idea of a first-person narrative experience and repeatedly turns it on its head, breaking through the restrictions established by its brethren to throw the player into some shockingly diverse situations. As you play through the artistically-licensed final moments of almost a dozen Finch family members, you inhabit the pages of a schlock-y comic book, the eyes of a hungry shark, the photography lens of a grieving father and much more, culminating in the single most affecting gaming moment of the year. There is a new bar in place for future first-person narratives thanks to this game, and it will be mighty difficult to clear.

For an excellent breakdown of the story (preferably after you’ve played it), watch Joseph Anderson’s “The Villain of Edith Finch” analysis video. It’s pretty great.
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4. Persona 5 (PS4)

The Persona series remains one of the most consistently excellent in all of gaming – not to mention one of the most stylish – and I count Persona 4 Golden among my absolute all-time favourite videogames. So when I tell you that Persona 5 is about 20 hours too long and lacks the energetic tonal balance of its immediate predecessor, yet still would have been my game of the year had it released in 2016, know that I mean every word. Persona 5 is a triumph of both style and substance, an epic boasting a series-topping suite of mechanics that call back to the early Shin Megami Tensei games from which it has indirectly spawned while also learning from the navigational mistakes made by the more recent Persona titles. There is more incentive than ever to use your in-game free time in a wide variety of ways, because almost every choice gives you something for your efforts. Nailing a dungeon run after managing your available resources feels great. Personas themselves feel more like characters than ever before. The story is heady, twisting and more relevant to the real world than most anything else this year. The soundtrack is funky and fantastic. That cast of characters will be talked about among RPG fans for decades to come. P5 is the first Persona game for a majority of the people who played it this year. And you never forget your first.

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3. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (XBO)

Well, this was a surprise.

I could have missed Wolfenstein II very easily. I never played predecessor The New Order in 2014 (The hype arrived too late) and in general I don’t play single-player first-person shooters unless they have a heavy story focus. The game also came out on the very same day as the next entry on my list, so that made things difficult. But having heard about the surprising narrative depth of the original game, The New Colossus was definitely on my radar, so when I picked up my Xbox One X and needed a game to show it off, I grabbed the game on sale and oh boy, I did not regret it. Not only does Wolfenstein II look amazing in motion, it plays like a dream (or nightmare, depending on the difficulty setting you use). Dual-wielding shotguns and assault rifles is not only viable, it’s encouraged. Few games get the feeling of power so right outside of Doom, with which Wolfenstein II shares an engine. But above all, the story of BJ Blaskowicz and his anti-Nazi gang of rebels as they attempt to take back the USA in an alt-history 1960s is funny, shocking, dramatic and heartfelt. It’s actually so ridiculous to me how good the story is. Play it.

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2. Super Mario Odyssey (NS)

From crazy opening to final boss and far beyond, Super Mario Odyssey is an absolute delight. After a decade and a half out of the Nintendo development limelight, the spirit of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine is alive and well inside this headlining Switch game, but Odyssey didn’t just arrive to stick rigidly to that spirit. The formula has been updated and streamlined, making collecting Power Moons, regional coins and costumes nothing but a joy 99% of the time. Mario has never felt better to control in three dimensions and he hasn’t ever looked this good either. Tasteful references to 30+ years of Mario appearances abound. Each new world is visually distinct from the last, offering dozens of new avenues to explore. There are moments within this game worthy of actual spoiler tags, such is their potential impact on people who have played Mario platformers before. And then there’s the capture mechanic. Thanks to Mario’s newest ally Cappy, you’re never far away from playing as something that moves unlike anything you’ve yet controlled and has challenges fine-tuned to its unique abilities. I knew I was getting a Mario 64 homage, but I didn’t think I’d also be treated to a Spacestation Silicon Valley riff on top of that. What a game.

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1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (NS)

Yeah yeah, I know, real original.

In a year filled to the brim with such scarcely-believable gaming quality, how do you possibly pick a game of the year? Well, in my case it’s actually not all that difficult. How about the most rewarding, artisanally-crafted open world adventure in recent memory? With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a group of prime development talent at Nintendo of Japan has once again redefined a genre, changing what it means to have in-game boundaries and blowing the proverbial doors off of open world game design dens the world over, while simultaneously owing much to the great open-ended playgrounds that have come before. Breath of the Wild is a triumph of art direction filled to the brim with an addictive cocktail of deliberate design and loosely interlocking systems, sparking millions of emergent moments talked about by millions of players both seasoned and new. The sheer open-ended nature of every challenge and slice of exploration within this game made discussing it with friends almost as magical as playing it. It isn’t my favourite game in the Zelda series – Toppling Majora’s Mask is one hell of a task – but before Breath of the Wild I just couldn’t fathom spending triple-digit hours on a single-player videogame. 150 hours of this masterpiece later, I now do.

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Honorable Mentions
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Pyre (PS4)

Supergiant Games is part of a small group of indie videogame studios that can take a genuinely big headline when they announce a new project, such is the reputation of their previous games Bastion and Transistor. Pyre is such a weird idea for a game that few other studios could engender trust in its quality, but this fantastical 3v3 basketball / post-apocalyptic epic poem boasts fantastic writing and music with challenging gameplay to match.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (NS)

Plenty of people rate this as one of the shocks of the year. The idea of Mario characters crossing over with Ubisoft’s presumed-dead Rabbids in a turn-based strategy game that’s essentially an XCOM-lite was just not even on anyone’s radar before it was leaked in January. But the wonderful creativity of its development team somehow makes it work. Grant Kirkhope’s wonderful score enhances the Snowdrop-powered visuals and quirky humour to help you forget just how XCOM-level difficult the game can get.

Fire Emblem Heroes (Mobile)

The first Nintendo mobile game that really clicked with me. Ninty’s choice to let standard Fire Emblem team Intelligent Systems take the lead on a phone title certainly proved to be the right move. With a finely-distilled adaptation of the tried-and-true Fire Emblem battle system, a remarkably generous version of Japanese “gacha game” mechanics, a dynamite art style and meaty regular updates, Fire Emblem Heroes is now the Nintendo mobile game to beat if you ask me.

Ever Oasis (3DS)

Mark my words – This one will be on just about every list of underappreciated 3DS games you’ll see on the internet in the coming years. Grezzo (of Zelda 3DS remake fame) put together a diamond in the rough with Ever Oasis, a game combining the catharsis of town-building sims with the thrill of well-designed dungeon puzzles and the addictive qualities of loot hunting. Ever Oasis also crams in a gorgeous soundtrack and a beyond-adorable chibi art style. And a lot of capitalist desert penguins.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (NS)

This one is only in the honourable mentions section because I’m still so unsure about it. With only a dozen hours or so clocked so far, I’m still extremely early in this very long game’s story, allegedly with many more tutorials and levels of gameply to be revealed. Without the immediately apparent open-endedness of Xenoblade Chronicles X and no manual to speak of (That’s the world we live in now I guess), this one looks like a slow burn yet. But I already adore the characters and game world.

Puyo Puyo Tetris (NS)

So unassuming, so simple, so addictive, so absolutely perfect for the Switch. Combining one of the most underrated-yet-enduring (and oft-repackaged) puzzle games in the world with one of the most famous, Puyo Puyo Tetris is pure multiplayer puzzle goodness without peer. If you have a Switch you should absolutely download the free demo, which is ludicrously generous with its content, but the full game stacks mode upon mode – including a fully-voiced story campaign – and is one of the best value-for-money propositions you can buy if you’re one for regular videogame hangouts.

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