At the end of a calendar year that many may declare one of the strongest for video games in recent memory, I can't help but feel slightly disappointed. For as many exciting new games that released this year there were other games that, frankly, let me down.
And yet, despite my endless comparisons between the past and present, 2017 still managed to surprise me in interesting ways. Although I wished Breath of the Wild adhered more to the classic Zelda formula, I simply couldn't put it down. I spent a week straight scouring Super Mario Odyssey's detailed worlds and still find myself singing “Jump Up, Superstar” with a big grin on my face. Horizon: Zero Dawn was a phenomenal first effort from a studio that many assumed could only make dreary first-person shooters, while Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle proved that a Ubisoft-developed strategy game in the Mario universe could be both funny and engaging. And What Remains of Edith Finch provided a narrative that tackled heavy subjects with grace and poise, yet another feather in the cap of those who assert that, yes, games are art.
As rough as I found 2017 to be around its edges, I had some great fun all the same. Here are my five favorite games of this past year:
2017 Honorable Mentions
Persona 5, Cuphead
Top 5 Games of 2017
5. Horizon: Zero Dawn
While not without its flaws, Horizon: Zero Dawn lived up to my lofty expectations. Its visuals were spectacular, its world was captivating, and its gameplay was both addictive and complex. The game introduced a phenomenal new character to the gaming landscape in Aloy, the red-headed, outcast warrior looking to uncover her world’s deceptive secrets. Actress Ashly Burch brought Aloy to life with a strong vocal performance, while Horizon’s story provided a strong, emotional narrative and impressive underlying lore that I hadn’t anticipated. Whenever the game’s battles and numerous side objectives grew repetitive or tedious, I knew that a strong main quest lay ahead of me in wait. Beautiful, charming, and absorbing, Horizon: Zero Dawn was an excellent blend of combat and story, and made for an impressive first step for Guerrilla Games in what will undoubtedly become a flagship franchise for Sony and PlayStation.
4. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Shown off initially at E3 2017, Kingdom Battle became a day-one purchase for my Nintendo Switch thanks to its colorful aesthetic, zany characters, and unique western design philosophy. Even then, I had expected Kingdom Battle to be a fun albeit childish romp through the Mushroom Kingdom that I could play while waiting for Odyssey in October. What I didn’t expect was for Kingdom Battle to make a case for the best Switch game I’d played all year. From an accessible combat system that added meaningful layers from hour one to hour twenty, to fresh and inventive level layouts and objectives that kept the action fresh, Kingdom Battle offered far more than just a “filler” Nintendo title. A meaty campaign kept me playing longer than I had anticipated, while countless additional challenges and post-game content kept me busy long after the credits had rolled. Better yet, Ubisoft and Nintendo have done a great job at providing a range of extra post-launch weapons, levels, and modes through free updates and paid DLC. If Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe started the Switch off in style, then Kingdom Battle kept it going long into the holiday season.
3. What Remains of Edith Finch
Developer Giant Sparrow’s sophomore effort, What Remains of Edith Finch showed a newfound confidence from the studio. From the game's tight pacing and crisp visuals to its fleshed out characters and believable voice work, Edith Finch told its haunting tale of a family’s tragic history of death and grief in a way that kept me gripped to the TV from start to finish. Every room of the Finch home added another delicate layer to the family’s complex web of relationships and motivations, and by the end of the story I found myself grappling with heavy themes like love, loss, truth, and fiction. While the very end of the game left me feeling a bit disappointed, Edith Finch left a profound impact on me when all was said and done. Perhaps it was the innocence of its main character, Edith. Perhaps it was the variety of its various vignettes, or the fact that Giant Sparrow seemingly figured out how to tell a captivating tale without putting gameplay in the back seat. Regardless of what it was, I’m glad I played Edith Finch; people who deem it a “walking simulator” are truly missing out.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
I put over 25 hours into Super Mario Odyssey’s detailed worlds and Mario's wacky globe-trotting adventure. While I found myself a little disappointed with the series' return to planet Earth (if I were to give my honest opinion, I think Galaxy 2 had more inventive levels and Sunshine had a better sandbox), I never questioned the fact that Odyssey was a great experience. I also never questioned the fun I had while playing it. Ultimately, Odyssey came close to being the best game I played in 2017. It’s lighthearted. It’s charismatic. New Donk City is one of the most enjoyable hubs in all of gaming, and the city’s neon-lit festival was likely the single most awe-inspiring moment I had playing a game all year. Yet for every clever Power Moon I dug up in some hard-to-reach nook, for every colorful world I visited, for every exciting new minion I captured, everything felt small compared to what Nintendo had accomplished back in March 2017. Odyssey had been tuned to perfection with its sharp controls and careful design, but it wasn’t the giant leap forward I’d hoped for coming off of Mario’s two space adventures.
At the end of the day, Super Mario Odyssey was a delightful trip through forest, desert, arctic, and tundra. However, there was one game that impressed me more in 2017...
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I was disappointed by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It lacked the charm of The Wind Waker, the tactical combat of Skyward Sword, the dungeon variety of Twilight Princess, and the worthwhile collectibles of Majora’s Mask. The game is flawed in every conceivable way and doesn’t hold a candle to Ocarina of Time in my book. And even still, I couldn’t stop enjoying this game. For every simplistic shrine or dull combat encounter the game thrust on me, I found a beautiful vista or hidden mini-game to make up for it. For every time I fumbled with the game’s janky controls or struggled to move Link’s dumb horse over a rock, I found joy gliding off of a distant mountaintop or solving one of Kass’ clever riddles.
Whereas Super Mario Odyssey maintained a high, consistent level of quality throughout its journey, Breath of the Wild was a collection of extraordinary peaks and disappointing valleys, much like the landscape of the game itself. Towns like Hateno Village provided fascinating glimpses of townspeople going about their daily lives, while the four Divine Beasts offered unique (albeit all too brief) dungeons that rewarded creativity with a freedom previously unheard of in a Zelda game. At the same time, I lost track of the amount of Bokoblins, Keese, and Lizalfos I slayed in between these moments. I also never want to see the message “Your inventory is full” in a Zelda game ever again. On paper, most would take a game like Odyssey—a game you can depend on, no matter the circumstance—over this. And yet, as I reflect on the best games I played this year, I can think of no game I enjoyed more than Breath of the Wild. In reality, it was worth trudging through the sludge and rain (seriously, it rains too much in this game); at the end of every difficult climb, there was always a terrific view from the top of the mountain.