2017 has been quite the roller coaster for the industry. Nintendo's rebirth with the Switch coincided with a push for mid-generation console-refreshes and the proliferation (and, hopefully, death) of loot-boxes. For all its ups and downs, however - wonderful surprises and deplorable controversies - the one thing 2017 was certainly not lacking in was video games. Excellent video games. The kinds of spectacular, watershed video games that just may, in the future, mark 2017 as one of the very best.
Favorite Game Released Before 2017, Played in 2017: Stardew Valley
While Stardew Valley has just seen a recent port and is awaiting updates at the time of writing, I would be remiss to not bring this joyous little game into my list in some fashion or another. In the summer, as I was patiently waiting for the Nintendo Switch release of Stardew, I broke down and purchased a copy for Xbox One, intending to fiddle around with in my spare time until the portable version dropped into my hands. And so I fiddled away... for over 80 hours. Stardew Valley is relaxing, cathartic, and simply wonderful.
2017 Honorable Mentions
Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Destiny 2, Cuphead, Prey
Top 5 Games of 2017
5. Metroid: Samus Returns
It is surely a testament to the inherently addictive nature of "Metroidvania" design that in the year of 2017, rife with "4k" this and "HDR" that, I - at one point - took the time to eschew the sparkling-new Nintendo Switch in favor of a 12 hour remake with gaming's greatest bounty hunter on the decrepit 3DS. It certainly helps, mind you, that Samus Returns happens to be an excellent video game. Fast, fluid, and enjoyably challenging, Samus' rather genocidal return to form is a glorious one.
Nioh simply got a very many things with its design very, very right - and looked stylish while doing so. Offering staggering mechanical depth, memorable encounters and a highly customizable experience, Nioh - for me - was the standout action game of the year. It wasn't without its flaws, of course: the loot system was a bit overbearing and hard to manage. And, of course, the experience as a whole was rather derivative. "Derivative" has nothing to do with quality, though. If anything, when I look at Nioh's presentation and super-smooth framerate, I think Team Ninja's work here just might keep From Software honest the next time they decide to iterate upon the Souls formula.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is simply joy. It is joy - the feeling - isolated and distilled down to its purest form and than drip-fed to the player in the form of Power Moons. Odyssey contains essentially all that one could possibly want from a Mario game: tight controls, visual splendor, excellent music - all is present and accounted for. Human memory tends to present itself in fragments, flashes of moments. While Mario might not have its hooks deep enough inside my skin to entice me into tracking down all 800+ Power Moons, when I think back on 2017 in gaming, the memories that spring to the forefront of my mind stem from all of the most spoiler-tastic moments of Super Mario Odyssey and the stupid smile they put on my face.
2. Persona 5
You n̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ saw it coming. Persona 5 is good. Persona 5 was always going to be good. Sporting 2017's most stylish visuals this side of Cuphead, a mind-numbingly catchy soundtrack and a first act enthralling enough to encourage even the most busy of bodies to stick around for the full 80+ hour ride, Persona 5 is a standout experience in a year ceaselessly choking on standout experiences. It manages to not only be a lengthy and devilishly satisfying JRPG romp, but raise the Persona franchise to new heights of popularity and success as well.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
What a year for games. What a strange, fantastic year. For all its blemishes, when I look at the above list, I'm a bit shocked. 2017 hasn't just been a year of quality, but a year of role-reversals and upheavals. It was not long ago that gaming journalists were discussing the demise of Japanese game-development. Well... 2017 is quite the response to that sentiment, even ignoring the games that failed to make my personal list, such as Resident Evil VII, Yakuza 0, or NieR: Automata. This year has been a cup-runneth-over with excellent Japanese releases. Many of which neglected Western, AAA "design" trends such as lootboxes. Many of which being from Nintendo. The same Nintendo that was naught but a punching bag a little over a year ago.
I am hardly a Nintendo-apologist, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in my opinion, is easily the best game of 2017. It is not perfect. Its problems range from the objective (framerate issues) to the subjective (player-preference regarding weapon durability.) And yet, Breath of the Wild might as well have been called Breath of Fresh Air (for Open World Game-Design.) A less-catchy title, most assuredly, but if the industry is so dedicated to open world games, consider Zelda its crowning jewel. It takes a lot of work for a game to feel so pointed, so meticulous in design. This is a far-cry from the overwhelming maps and Ubisoft-ish checklists that the genre is known for. In Zelda, all mechanics have purpose. Everything from the boulder on the distant mountainside to the weight of the physics engine encourages exploration, creating the most intrinsically Zelda game since the original Legend of Zelda on NES. A daring reinvention of one of gaming's most coveted franchises.
Breath of the Wild will change game-design for the foreseeable future. Its relaunching of Nintendo's trajectory and critical aplomb nearly assure that. In two-years time, "Such-and-Such game" will be called the Breath of the Wild of "Such-and-Such franchise." 2017 may have been full of great games, but I reckon that Breath of the Wild is the only one that becomes an adjective.