There were a lot of good games this year, but it should be noted that this list only includes games that I’ve played, so if some of your favorite games are missing that might be the reason. There are some games that probably would’ve made it here otherwise, like A Hat in Time, Divinity: Original Sin II, The Sexy Brutale, Persona 5, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Nier: Automata, but I just never got around to playing them.
KINGDOM HEARTS 1.5+2.5 REMIX
Yeah, I know this is a weird mention. Both of these updated games already came out in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and the PS4 version just jams them together without adding anything new. That said, the move from PS3 to PS4 actually saw a ludicrous amount of optimization. Frame rate and resolution are perfect, loading times are nearly nonexistent, and with the four included games you’re looking at roughly 100+ hours of fantastic action RPGs. And, regardless of how you feel about the series, the first Kingdom Hearts is still one of the most ambitious and bizarre successes of its time. If you have any interest in the franchise, or you’re looking to consolidate all the games together, this is the most effective way to experience everything and get caught up before Kingdom Hearts 3 releases.
This is still one of the biggest heartbreaks of the year for me, because Gundam Versus is a damn good game. I run into tons of arena-style anime games that fail to capture what Gundam does so well: tight gameplay built around spatial awareness and quick reactions. The “thrill” is what helps Gundam stand out, and even though I lament the loss of local multiplayer, the game is still wicked sick. If it’s on sale, it’s worth a curiosity purchase.
#10 - HIVESWAP: ACT 1
I already gave a pretty detailed rundown of why I think Hiveswap is such an effective storytelling game, but it really is worth repeating the effectiveness of the charm and narrative delivery. Hiveswap is a bit rough around the edges due to its lower production cost and less experienced team, but it’s so refreshingly distinct in structure and attitude that few adventure games can compare to it on its own terms. At the very least, it’s a great way to kill five hours.
#9 - LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
I didn’t actually get to play a whole lot of this title, and admittedly open world games tend to rub me the wrong way, but despite that I saw nothing but greatness in Breath of the Wild. Everything about it is atmospheric, well-crafted and unbelievably serene. “Breath” is a great label for it: slow, calm and soothing. I think if I’d given the game a little more time it probably would’ve climbed the list a couple notches, because I’m almost certain there is much more to discover.
#8 - GIGANTIC
MOBAs are probably the hardest market to compete in right now, with team-based shooters being pretty close. Despite that, Gigantic is a title so ambitious that it tries to be both while also doing something completely new in the process. And the development studio, Motiga, pulls it off: the game was pretty darn great on release and elevated to a fantastic point within a few content patches. It’s a shame that most of the community dipped off after Perfect World Entertainment disbanded Motiga and dropped the dev team, but the game is still kicking around, still free to play, and still excellent as ever. Game designers, pay attention: there’s a lot to learn from Gigantic, both from its successes and failures.
#7 - CUPHEAD
I think it’s kind of incredible that the game that dominated the internet for the better part of three months is a super-simple platform shooter that can be beaten in about six hours. That, to me, is a signifier of just how powerful Cuphead is on an aesthetic and artistic level, supported largely by its nostalgic focus. Cuphead is a beautifully charming game with a surprisingly strong bite that deserves every bit of praise it got.
#6 - GUILTY GEAR XRD: REV 2
2017 was a great year for fighting games. This year saw the revival of major franchises Tekken and Marvel vs Capcom with brand new games, the former of which has actually grown on me since my initial review. Still, I think the big winner of 2017 has been Arc System Works, whose joint Guilty Gear and Blazblue series have been setting the community ablaze, and whose upcoming Blazblue Cross Tag Battle and DragonBall FighterZ have extended that flame throughout the internet. Rev 2 is the latest iteration of one of the best fighting game series ever made, taking last year’s Revelator and seriously refining it into a slick juggernaut, as well as adding new characters and a bunch of new features. If you’re thinking of getting into a fighting game series, I can’t think of one ultimately more rewarding or uniquely creative than this one.
#5 - ODIN SPHERE: LEIFTHRASIR
Maybe it doesn’t seem entirely fair to put this in my top 10 since this is basically an updated release of Odin Sphere from 2007, but hear me out. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is completely redone from nearly the ground up, specifically addressing problems and criticisms the development team and fans have made over the years – all without changing the story. In my opinion, it serves as an excellent example of how to control information in a narrative. Odin Sphere is one of my favorite games ever made, and this game is a strict upgrade. The new gameplay systems are welcoming and refreshing, and if they aren’t your thing, the dev team also included the entire original game so you can opt for a classic experience. Probably one of the best action RPGs ever made, I highly recommend checking it out.
#4 - SONIC MANIA
I feel as though I’ve been waiting forever for this game, even though it was only announced a couple years ago. Sure, there have been a couple decent Sonic games here and there, but nothing quite as iconic as the Genesis titles or as stable as Sonic Generations. Now, after years of trial and error with almost nothing to show of it, this massive fan collaboration project rolls in and completely knocks the franchise out of the park. Admittedly, I’m still hoping the Sonic series will find reasonable success with a game that isn’t basically a Genesis platformer, but when it comes to Sonic games you have to take your battles where you can, and Sonic Mania is a victory.
#3 - SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY
Best Mario game in a decade, end of story. I mean, let’s face it, if you own a Switch you probably own this game, and if you don’t you’ve likely ogled the now insurmountable number of YouTube/Twitch videos out there. People seem to have lost their minds over Super Mario Odyssey for nearly three months straight now, and there’s a good reason: Mario used to be amazing and this is the game that reminded them why. I played it for about a month straight, and kept weaving in and out for another month afterward, and to be honest the game would’ve lasted longer for me if it weren’t on a portable platform and so goshdarn accessible (which is an enormous plus). I think I still prefer the more mission-like, concentrated structure of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy with their roughly 100+ stars to the scattered scavenger hunt of Odyssey’s nearly 1000 moons, but the core gameplay is ultimately what makes these games stand out from the crowd.
#2 - HOLLOW KNIGHT
Whenever I think about how Hollow Knight came to exist, I smile. Kickstarter-funded games can be hit or miss, but this one gets a lot closer to perfection than even most AAA titles. Team Cherry is a humble two-person operation, but the sheer content and care of craft had me convinced their team was massive. These two are charging $15 for a game for which I’d gladly pay $40, if only because of how majestic it is and how much it has to offer. In comparing the game to others in its genre – namely, the exploration-driven subgenre “Metroidvania” – Hollow Knight reveals itself to be not only among the most competent, but easily one of the most visceral. Tight mechanics and gameplay, haunting and evocative music, nearly endless avenues and possibilities for exploration and beautifully paced narrative make Hollow Knight the overall most impressive game of the year...even if it wasn’t quite my favorite.
#1 - PYRE
I do think Hollow Knight was the best game to come out of 2017, but Pyre affected me on a very personal level. I’ve made a point of saying why I so deeply love Supergiant Games and their story-driven approach to game design, and Pyre is the ideal amalgamation of this development studio’s philosophy and vision that plays beautifully and reads excellently. That would be enough to put it at the same level as Hollow Knight – but what knocks it a step above is its introduction of something wholly new. While Hollow Knight is probably one of the most impressive executions of an existing genre at the highest possible level, Pyre manages to be stellar while treading ground so new I didn’t even know it existed, or how much I deeply wanted it. In terms of sheer impact, I can definitively say that Pyre hit me the hardest this year, and will continue to affect me many years down the road, and that’s why it’s my top pick for 2017.
And that’s my list. 2017 was an excellent year for video games, full of passionate and powerful titles, and my hope is that in reading this article you’ve found something new to play. Until next year.