Stephan’s Top 10 Games of 2017

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I think 2017 has been the best year for video games in over a decade. There was such a deluge of exceptional gaming experiences from every facet of the industry. Every genre and platform felt like it had a must play game, if not multiple. The Switch’s Zelda and Mario Odyssey, PlayStation’s Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Xbox’s… well… Cuphead. Even VR finally started to have games I got way too invested in.

I played well over 50 games this year across all platforms and genres. Games that stuck with me since I played them months and months ago, games that I only recently got into well after launch. But all of these games are exceptional experiences, if very different ones. So here are my top ten favourite games of 2017. Enjoy!

10 – Jelly Juggle (Ian MacLarty)

Jelly Juggle did what Super Mario Run set out (and failed) to do: deliver a compelling mobile experience that could be played with just your thumb. My most played mobile game of the year, Jelly Juggle is an arcade game where players juggle various fruits in the middle of the screen as a fish circling around them. It’s best described as endless pong, with multiple balls, and one player trying to keep them all bouncing on screen. It’s an absolute delight, and I cannot recommend it enough for the low low price of free on iOS and Google Play.

9 – Accounting + (Crows Crows Crows)

Accounting + is far and away the funniest game I’ve played this year. Best described as an hour-long Rick and Morty episode without Rick and Morty in it, this VR experience is the brainchild of Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and The Stanley Parable designer William Pugh. Accounting + has players starting as the new accountant at a company (Stanley?!), but that premise quickly dissolves into a fourth-wall breaking adventure through the VR kingdom, with the player going layers and layers of VR headsets deeper in a twisted Inception-like experience that left me with more questions than answers.

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By the end, I’d played the Xylophone on a skeleton with two heads, joined a hardcore gang of fluffy bunnies, murdered my defence attorney and been beheaded. Twice. As far as taking advantage of VR this game does that a little bit in turns of gameplay, letting the player move their head to interact with different objects, but mostly the story and witty writing capitalizes on the player’s immersion in the world. If anyone wants to give it a try and doesn’t have PSVR hit me up, doesn’t take more then an hour and I guarantee you’ll laugh, at least once.

8 – Nidhogg II (Messhof)

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I haven’t met anyone yet who likes Nidhogg II better than the 2014 indie classic, but I personally feel it’s overhauled visuals and new weapons make it the definitive version the Nidhogg experience. It is immediately familiar to those who’ve played the original, but still offers so many possibilities with the new slew of weapons, stages and character customization options. The real shake-up to gameplay is the new weapons, which cycle through every time you die. This adds a new level of strategy to the twitch-based combat that I love. Deciding whether to swing my cutlass or throw my dagger and hop over my enemy keeps things interesting, and prevents a lot of the repetitive kill then get killed in the exact same way ruts that the first game would get into. I hope I can break out Nidhogg II for many more couch gaming nights to come!

7 – Semispheres (Vivid Helix)

I first played Semispheres at an indie game night in Seattle back in 2015. There I got to meet the solo game designer Radu Muresan leading to an interview earlier this year where I got to learn a lot more about the interesting design behind this mesmerizing puzzle game. Radu actually used procedural generation to create the later levels of the game, picking the best levels to include in the final product.

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Released on Valentine’s Day, I spent the romantic evening playing Semispheres on the couch next to my friend Paris. We bashed our brains against some of the trickier puzzles and completed the last level in under a couple hours. The game involves moving two different dots on the screen, one blue and one orange, with the two analog sticks representing the two sides of the brain. It’s a simple mechanic that develops over the roughly 65 levels to the point where I was using both my hands all around the controller in ways I’d never done before, and in ways I’m not sure if I was meant to. But I loved it and highly recommend this one to puzzlers of all stripes.

6 – Flinthook (Tribute Games)

Tribute Games’ previous titles have all been love letters to classic 8 and 16 bit hits, but I never really felt like they offered up something new with that style I hadn’t experienced before. With Flinthook, they turned classic action/arcade platforming with the hook mechanic into an incredible rogue-lite, procedurally generated romp through the space pirate cosmos. The moment to moment gameplay feels tight and the use of the hookshot lives up to its inspirations like Bionic Commando and Super Metroid, making the mechanic core to traversal.

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Building out your character in between runs made my excited to dive back in. I enjoyed experimenting with various item combinations, allocating my precious perk points differently each run to see whether I would make it to the next boss fight and hopefully further. And the original soundtrack composed by Patrice Bourgeault carries the action, getting ingrained in my brain over the hours and hours I spent barreling through space pirate ships.

5 – Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD)

Once I resigned myself to the fact that Moons meant literally nothing, that gone was the satisfaction of skillfully maneuvering a level for that one coveted star, that they seem to have taken the Korok seeds from Breath of the Wild and made it into a whole game, I could actually get into Super Mario Odyssey. And boy did I get into it. I beat the game in a couple days, and now 300 moons in it’s all I want to play on my newly purchased Nintendo Switch.

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I fought through Odyssey‘s forced motion controls, which I felt limited my ability to play the game in portable mode as I was often in a position where I couldn’t detach the joycons. But I fought none the less, and despite its unsatisfying use of motion controls and the meaningless of its collectables, I cherished my time exploring the various kingdoms of Super Mario Odyssey. It’s a testament to Nintendo’s superb design that every enemy I could possess felt new and unique, offering a new way to traverse the world, moving onto an entirely new one before it grew stale.

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The real moment that drove home my experience with Super Mario Odyssey was when I finally made it to the Mushroom Kingdom and picked up my first star, hearing that classic musical trill that transported me immediately back to when I was a little kid playing Super Mario 64 in my basement on my Aunt’s N64. I was in love with this game. I 100% completed the Mushroom Kingdom before going anywhere else. The power of nostalgia is harnessed to the maximum effect in Odyssey, the perfect end to my experience thus far.

4 – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (Naughty Dog, LLC)

I wasn’t satisfied with last year’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, as I explained in another post called “My Love/Hate Relationship with Uncharted 4.” The characters were off, the story mistreated and misrepresented established characters and the gameplay felt overly familiar, as most of it was lifted straight out of The Last of Us. But The Lost Legacy rectifies a lot of this, by taking auxiliary characters Nadine and Chloe and teaming them up for their own expedition, which became less about treasure and more about the friends they made along the way.

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Of course, Naughty Dog’s impeccable and unrivalled visual prowess is back, looking better than ever in every corner of this game. From the characters to the world to the mud-spattered jeep the production quality of The Lost Legacy is higher then any other game I played this year. But The Lost Legacy takes the linear progression that has been Uncharted‘s bread and butter and turns it on its head, opening up a hub world for players to explore at their leisure. And this freedom to explore at my own pace and in the way I saw fit elevated the traditional treasure hunting theme of Uncharted to a whole new level.

3 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD)

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What’s to say about Breath of the Wild that hasn’t already. I spent over 75 hours collecting every memory, completing every shrine, defeating every divine beast and finding 100 of those stupid Korok seeds. This is without a doubt my favourite Zelda game ever. I don’t even know where the series can go from here. How do you innovate on the unprecedented freedom and massive scale of Breath of the Wild? I don’t think you can, and for that reason I think this is the definitive Zelda experience.

2 – Cuphead (Studio MDHR)

I went into Cuphead thinking this was going to be one of those games I bought but never finished. That I would boot it up and go “Wow get a load of these graphics” and then put down after a couple stages because the game was way to hard and I didn’t have it in me to “git gud.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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I was hooked on Cuphead‘s bullet hell, sweaty palms gameplay from the start. I got better and better just as the game got harder and harder. I felt like the game was designed just for me, it knew what I was capable of and pushed me just a little beyond that, over and over again. By the time I beat the Devil and saved my soul I could breeze through the earlier boss battles that gave my so much trouble days ago. That feeling of returning to a previous challenge, equipped with experience and muscle memory, and demolishing a previously challenging boss is unrivaled. And of course, this game’s unique visual style and impeccable soundtrack elevate the experience beyond anything I played this year. In terms of pure gameplay, Cuphead is the best 2017 had to offer.

1 – Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall)

There are a few pieces of media in my life that have actually touched me. That left a mark on my mind and my heart that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. A handful of movies, a few books I read in my formative years but never before has a game gotten to me like Night in the Woods. The experience, from start to bittersweet end, felt like it was handcrafted to speak to me. Themes of living in a small town, struggling with questions about religion your parents hold dear, losing friends and learning to love all flow together throughout Mae Borowski’s heartfelt story.

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For those who don’t know, Night in the Woods is a single player adventure game starring an anthropomorphized cast of lovable small-town denizens of Possum Springs. Mae returns to her hometown after a year having dropped out of college. She spends the next few weeks trying to reconnect with her high school friends, exploring her neighbourhood and talking to her neighbours. As the majority of the game is conversations, it’s a good thing Night in the Woods is the best-written game I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. As I said in my review:

“It’s hard to untangle the bundle of emotions and thoughts that Night in the Woods left me with. I’m happy and sad and frustrated and satisfied, all at the same time. I’m glad I got to experience Mae’s story but I’m incredibly sad it’s over. I’m so pleased I was able to visit Possum Springs and meet all the quirky, lovable denizens who make it their home, but I’m left with a sense of longing to remain there with them. I was so upset when the credits pulled me away when I would’ve given anything for 10 more minutes with these characters and this world. The charm, the wonder, the ordinary, the extraordinary- it all blends together to form this artistic masterpiece, something I’ve never quite experienced before and don’t believe I’ll ever experience again.”

That’s that. What did you think? I’d love to know what you think about my list or what you think I missed in the comments. What a phenomenal year for games, and 2018 shows no sign of slowing down. Stay tuned for my 2018 preview in the new year. Thanks for reading!

If you liked this list, check out my Top 10 Movies of 2017! Or if you already did that and that’s how you got here, why not check out some of my reviews from the year.

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