Twenty-seventeen provided an interesting, if somewhat awkward, lineup of games for me to play. It was certainly a great year for releases, but only about half of the games I played were new. Much of my list consisted of really wonderful games that, until I bought a Playstation 4 last Spring, I did not have the ability to play. Given that personal obligations left my ‘games-played’ list noticeably shorter than usual, I only managed to play a small percentage of the year’s wonderful offerings.
Still, it wouldn’t be a new year without talking about my favorite games. These are the games that left the biggest impressions, and gave me the most joy. To be honest, they also played a huge role in rekindling a love of gaming that, frankly, had begun to stall a bit over the previous twelve months.
In no particular order, here’s the five best 2017 games (that I played) over the last year. Njoy.
A few years ago, I rented Yakuza 3. I don’t know why I picked it. I hadn’t heard much about the series, and it’s always weird to jump into the middle of a running franchise. Regardless, I really enjoyed my time with it. So despite having a half-dozen other games on my plate, when Yakuza 0 went on sale late in the year, I couldn’t resist picking it up .
I should admit that I have yet to finish Yakuza 0. In my defense, I’ve still spent as much or more time playing it than almost anything else on my list.
Yakuza 0 is everything I loved from Yakuza 3. I’m a sucker for Japanese mafia dramas, and unsurprisingly from a game called ‘Yakuza’, the story centers around the protagonists’ roles in and around the mob. However, the Yakuza series has never settled for being just another gritty crime story. In fact, the vast majority of this game is delivered in an absurd soap-opera style. From being stalked by a pervert in a diaper, to figuring out how to deal with a child’s request for an adult magazine; I’ve spent more time running ridiculous errands than I’ve spent grappling with Yakuza matters.
The combat still leaves a lot to be desired, and while the Yakuza games have never really been about the combat, the clunky control and constant random encounters often feel repetitive and tiresome. Despite of (or perhaps because of?) the more grindy aspects of the series, I find myself playing the game in day-long chunks.
Like many, I’d been watching Hellblade’s development for a long time. And like many, I still had no idea what the game was when it finally released. Its gritty, horror-themed combat caught my attention, but I never knew what kind of game it was beyond that.
As suspicious as that always makes me, Hellblade turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It’s hard to talk about what makes Hellblade good. Its combat is fun, sure, but it’s not an action game. There are plenty of platformy puzzle elements, but it’s not a puzzle game.
Hellblade is an experience, and as bullshit art-house-hipster-crit as that sounds, it’s a game that is hard to wrap your head around until you’ve played it for yourself. The story certainly won’t speak to everyone the same way, though for me, it wasn’t even really about that. Hellblade does a great job tackling the difficult subject of mental illness, but even if you’re not personally invested in that particular discussion, the way the themes and story are presented are absolutely phenomenal.
I can honestly say that I’ve not played anything quite like Hellblade before, and while I had some issues with some of the mechanical decisions Ninja Theory made, I’d recommend the game to anyone.
Few games make me as happy as Cuphead, but also, few games make me swear as often or as loudly as I did while playing Cuphead. The game is hard, the game is frustrating, and the game is amazing. It’s not the beautiful, vintage-cartoon graphics, or the snappy soundtrack. It’s not the wonderful pacing created by a game consisting almost entirely of boss fights. It’s not the tight controls and demanding, old-school sensibilities. It’s how flawlessly all those things work in harmony.
The game’s steamboat-willie aesthetic led a lot of us to assume the game would be much more light-hearted than it is, and that certainly caught a lot of us off guard. I think that reputation may have scared some people away from this wonderful title. I’m not particularly good at games. I didn’t “S-Rank” all the bosses like a certain Benjamin P Matlock, and I never will. But I did manage to beat it.
Cuphead is tough, and does require a lot of patience—which I don’t have—and a bit of stubbornness, which I do. When the dust settled, and the Devil had paid his dues, it was quite clear that Cuphead was certainly one of the best games I played last year.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is the type of game that can be really good, or really bad. If the story doesn’t resonate with the player, there’s not much left in Edith Finch to enjoy. But the story—or rather, stories—Edith Finch delivers are something quite special, and pleasantly unique.
Each vignette spins a tale of one of the Finch family members, and each features a unique style, theme, and gameplay element. Naturally, some of them spoke to me more than others, but each transported me to a different world. Playing through Edith Finch is like living inside a book of fairy tales, though these stories are better suited to Grimm’s collection than to Mother Goose’s.
Edith Finch isn’t a very long game, and it could get a little slow at times, but it was a game that I found myself excited to return to each night after work. In a year stuffed with as many amazing games as 2017 was, Edith Finch held my attention from beginning to end.
Night in the Woods
Ironically, one of the first high-profile games to release in 2017 was literally the last game I played in 2017. I probably would have missed this game altogether, if not for some glowing praise from Ben. Facing a few extra days off work, I made the last-minute decision to pick it up. After having finished it, I honestly can’t think of a better game to have spent the holidays with.
On its surface, Night in the Woods is a story-driven platformer. In reality, Night in the Woods is a warm blanket when it’s cold, late, and you just want the day to be over. Night in the Woods is loitering after-hours in the parking lot of a strip mall, just shooting the shit, and getting into whatever trouble you can find. Night in the Woods is the despair of struggling to figure out who you are, and the comfort of finding the only other people on the planet who can help you answer that question.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a game with characters written as well as Night in the Woods—characters so relatable and familiar that playing the game feels like being home. For a game with a lot of dialog text, I’ve never wanted to stop and talk to every single person I passed more than I wanted to in Night in the Woods.
The overall story didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as the individual interactions did, but Night in the Woods left me feeling like I had just made a half dozen new best friends. One of my biggest hopes for 2018 is that more games manage to make the kind of emotional connection that Night in the Woods so seamlessly pulls off.