Editorials

2017 Game of the Year – Kyle’s Top 10 List

2017, if taken explicitly from a video game perspective, has been a fantastic year. So many games on my list are complete surprises to me. Some of this comes from Nintendo releasing the Switch, a fantastic console that has already delivered some of the best Nintendo games of all time. Couple that with the usual surprise indie hits and the massive success – and my massive enjoyment – of the dark horse known as PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS and you have a year that is one to remember.

Going into my top 10 I first need to say that there is a couple of games that I think had potential to make my list but for one reason or another I either didn’t play them or didn’t put enough time to form a full opinion. This includes games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Assassins Creed Origins, Cuphead and I’m sure more. Sorry guys. It’s not you, it’s me.

With that little bit of shame out of the way, here are a couple of games I want to highlight that just barely missed my list:

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

There is so much that I like about Shadow of War. The Nemesis system is back, and it has grown and improved in fantastic ways. The addition of the Olegs add a nice mix to the system as well as in combat in general. It also goes full on crazy Lord of the Rings in parts of the story that I can really appreciate. However, the shadow of the loot boxes looms over the end game in a way that artificially drags out the game and leads to some of the most boring, grindy things I have ever put myself through, all to get a lame 30 second cutscene at the end of it. Sans that section, which feels like it only exists because of the loot boxes, and I think this game makes my list. With it, however, there’s no way I can put it on there in good conscious.

Resident Evil VII: Biohazard

If I were to give an award for the “Best Game I Didn’t Play” it would go to Resident Evil VII easily. It’s not a fault of the game that I didn’t finish it. I honestly wish I had the constitution and willpower to play a game that involves as many jump scares and heart-pounding moments as it does. At the end of the day, unfortunately, I ended up turning it off after getting way too scared of being chased around the house by Jack. I ultimately got to experience the game by way of video and I really love a lot of what is going on. I just wish I was able to actually play it.

Madden NFL 18

I doubt I ever thought I would bring up a Madden game on any type of Game of the Year list but man if this year’s Madden didn’t bring a splash with their new single player campaign mode. Now honestly, I didn’t really play much Madden beyond the single player, but I truly enjoyed the experience of becoming Devin Wade, a college dropout on his journey from being a reality contestant on Longshot to just barely squeaking by in the seventh round (at least that how my story ended) and the hope of possibly making it in the NFL. It was well-acted, well-constructed and way better than I thought I would ever get from a Madden game.

Okay with that little bit out of the way here is my top 10 games of 2017:

10. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

This is my first experience personally with Ubisoft’s Rabbids and so far, I have to say I’m enjoying their odd take on Mario. I’ve laughed out loud several times over some of the dumb things the Rabbid versions of Mario, Luigi and Peach have done. Rabbid Mario whipping out a banjo and plucking out Mario’s theme while humming is great. Rabbid Peach’s need to constantly snap selfies – especially during highly inappropriate times – never gets old. Couple that with XCOM-style gameplay that starts out feeling overly simple only to unveil a nice layer of complexity underneath and you have the makings of a great game.

9. What Remains of Edith Finch

I’m not much for “walking simulators” (let the record show that I hate that term and I apologize for using it). That being said, of the few I have played, What Remains of Edith Finch offers the best storytelling and moments of all of them. True, the game is nothing but a series of vignettes but so many of those vignettes are effective at conveying something special. The game is a tall tale, an over-embellished story of a cursed family and all the terrible things that have become of them. Whether true or not, the message is entertaining just the same. Not all sequences work (I’m looking at you Barbara Finch) but the ones that do are special. This is especially true for the Cannery sequence, which unfolds in spectacular ways and does things that I’ve never seen in a video game before.

8. West of Loathing

While I laughed several times while playing Mario + Rabbids, West of Loathing manages to be an even funnier game, and one that I’m sure I spent my entire time with some sort of goofy grin. It’s a game featuring black and white stick figures that somehow manages to be one of the funniest games I have ever played. Everything is conveyed through text and the writing is superbly clever on a consistent basis, from the main plotlines and characters all the way down to simple flavor text items and menus. Everything is worth reading and digging into. However, at the end of the day, I will never forget the various spittoons in the game and the terrible, awful things I put my character through to acquire stench-covered, disease-ridden loot out of them.

7. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

I am a huge fan of the rebooted Wolfenstein: The New Order from 2014. This sequel follows up on everything that was good about the style and attitude of that game, except it decides to turn it up to eleven. The first game was already goofy enough with a Jimi Hendrix cameo and a trip to the moon, but The New Colossus takes things to an entirely new level. No spoilers here but even knowing that there was some crazy stuff in here, I still wasn’t prepared for what happens in this game. It’s ludicrous and amazing and I cannot wait to see where they go in the next one.

6. Destiny 2

While Destiny 2 does earn a spot on my GOTY list, it remains a disappointment that it comes in so low. I love Destiny 1, problems and all. What started out as a good game with some excellent parts eventually snowballed into one of my favorite games of all time. Destiny 2, at first glance, fixes a lot of the problems that I had with Destiny. The environments are way better. Doing patrol missions are worthwhile and fun. We get a real story with characters and cutscenes. However, at the end of the day Destiny is about the endgame and the grind for max level and this is where Destiny 2 starts to disappoint.

I truly enjoyed most of my time with Destiny 2, starting over at level one and working my way up to max light. Sure, there were small things along the way that were concerning such as shaders being consumable, the mod system and the lame integration of strikes. However, you also have some really cool ideas in play, such as the weekly milestones, exotic quests and great clan support. Of course, you also have the Raid which, apart from the boss fight, is some of my favorite content in all of Destiny 1 and 2. With these activities getting great loot becomes less about running the raid every week three times – a Destiny 1 standard – and more about just playing the parts of the game you want to. Turns out, however, that when that great loot is too easy to get, it makes all of it lose its splendor rapidly. Now Destiny 2 is in a problem on the opposite spectrum of Destiny 1: too much loot means that none of it feels special and there is little to no reason to keep playing the game on a weekly basis. Is it a problem that is unfixable? Of course not. Does it make the incredible journey to that endgame any less enjoyable? Not in the slightest. Until they figure out a better endgame, however, Destiny 2 is going to have a hard getting me to come back regularly.

5. Yakuza 0

I have always heard about the Yakuza games, but I had never dipped my toes in. On the recommendation from others I dove into Yakuza 0, figuring that a prequel is probably the best time to jump in. I could not be happier with my decision. Yakuza 0 is a game that walks the line between serious and wacky like an expert. You have straight man Kiryu who is trying to uncover a plot to frame him but is constantly finding himself in odd situations. On the other hand, you have Majima, an over-the-top club manager who is just trying to get back into the Yakuza but tends to be the odd in the situations he finds himself in.

Like many of the best games, the world of Yakuza is filled with interesting side missions. While most are fairly straightforward from a gameplay perspective, they make up for it with interesting characters and stories. There are also two side activities in the Cabaret Club and Real Estate that are so interesting I think they could legitimately be spun off into their own mobile game. The main plot is also engaging, featuring amazing characters (especially the three lieutenants) and plenty of twists and turns to keep you going all the way to the end.

4. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS

I honestly still can’t believe that I ever got into PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS. PUBG is simply not my type of game, or at least that’s what I thought. It seemed too janky, too hardcore, too boring. With the splashes that it made in the world of videogames, however, one can certainly not ignore the juggernaut that is PUBG forever. So, I dove in. I tried it out. Within the first match I was a believer. Not that it was potential Game of the Year material (that would come later) but that what people had been ranting and raving about was legitimate and, more than that, this was actually a game I enjoyed.

Fast forward a couple of months and I’m still playing PUBG a couple of times a week. The crazy thing is that the reason I’m still playing is about as simple and basic as it gets: it’s just plain fun. I’m not chasing loot, I’m not after experience points or leveling up, I’m not trying to become the best PUBG player ever. I’m just playing because it’s fun and it’s an experience unlike anything I have had in videogames (and also chasing more chicken dinners, naturally). The tension and excitement, the highs and lows, the few kills and the many deaths. Playing PUBG is just a blast to experience. The singular win I have under my belt is one of the highlights of my gaming life, not because of my skill (I got 1 kill and spent a lot of time crawling on my belly in the fog) but because of the feelings it caused. The heart-pounding stress leading up to it and the expression of pure joy between myself and Addam after winning our chicken dinner. Add that to dozens of other matches with close calls and near misses that did not end in victory, yet still elicited amazing feelings. PUBG is a fantastic game.

3. Nier: Automata

I jumped into Nier: Automata only just a couple of months ago, long after the hype of how good of a game it is had been spread all over gaming. I knew going into it that you played through it multiple times. I knew it had something to do with machines, that it was a mix between hack n’ slash and shoot ‘em up and that it was developed by PlatinumGames. Knowing all of that going into it, I still was in no way prepared for how much I like Nier: Automata.

The funny thing is that everything I knew about Nier prior to playing it is the thing I ended up caring the least about. The gameplay is fine, with solid combat and good bullet-hell sections that honestly go on a bit too long too often. The multiple playthroughs things I find to be an unnecessary point. You play through the same section twice, from different perspectives and then every other “playthrough” is entirely new content. It’s an interesting way to break up the progression but at the end of the day this game is entirely about the world that was crafted, and the stories being told within. Nier: Automata makes you think about life, something that few games aim to do and even fewer accomplish. You’re dropped in a landscape without humans, filled with androids and machines trying to become like humans. Trying to figure out emotions, struggling with complex ideas, trying to find meaning in their existence.

The twists and turns the story takes throughout is fascinating, but perhaps more touching is the small moments in between. The android that erases its memory to shut out the terrible things it has done in the past, a group of machines trying to recreate theater but not understanding the reason why theater exists, a machine who shuts himself away because he is afraid of the world. Of course, the pinnacle of this is Pascal’s arc, the tragedy of a machine who simply wants peace. The game has a lot of sorrow and pain that it works through but after a long journey Nier ultimately delivers a beautiful message of hope and love in one of the most touching and moving sequences I have experienced.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I love Zelda games. It’s a fact. In all actuality I am not one of those Zelda fans that has gotten tired of the formula. I really enjoyed Twilight Princess. I even enjoyed large parts of Skyward Sword. I’m not the type of person who has been calling for Zelda to switch it up and change the formula. All that being said, man am I glad that Nintendo did. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a literal breath of fresh air for the franchise in a way that I didn’t know I wanted. The throw out almost all the things I have come to expect from a Zelda game while also maintaining a clear devotion and appreciation for creating a world that exists within the same universe of the past games.

It’s still honestly kind of shocking to me that Breath of the Wild works. Combat is drastically different, with degrading weapons and brutally difficult enemies within the first 20 minutes of playing. Gone are traditional dungeons with their focus on a specific special item. Really items are gone all together. In place of dungeons are the fantastic shrines, which take the cleverness and puzzle-solving aspect of Zelda games and splits it into bite-sized chunks spread all over the world. Within the first hour or so, Breath of the Wild gives you everything you need to finish the game. The rest is up to you to do, or not do, as you see fit.

Really through Breath of the Wild is a game about exploration and discovery. Nintendo has crafted what just may be the best open world ever created. The map is huge and varied but details and surprises are hidden on seemingly every section of it. More importantly Breath of the Wild trusts the player to find the way themselves. Where Zelda games of the past have been lambasted for being the worst kind of hand-holding, Breath of the Wild is the kind of game that drops you off in the middle of the woods and says “Have a great time! See you at home!” The game is best when you just ignore all quests prompts and just go exploring because you’re almost always sure to find something anywhere you go in the map. Doing just that is what keeps me coming back to this game again and again. No matter how much time I spend exploring, there seems to always be something new to find.

1. Super Mario Odyssey

In a year where Nintendo puts out one of the best Legend of Zelda games of all time, I am amazed to also see one of the best Mario games of all time as well. In general, I would say I am more a fan of Zelda than Mario, so it is perhaps even more surprising that I ended up liking Super Mario Odyssey even more than Breath of the Wild. Super Mario Odyssey is a nearly perfect game, in my opinion. I have very few, if any, complaints about my time that I spent getting each of the games 800+ moons. My entire experience, from the first moments with Cappy and taking control of a frog to the last moments of tackling the hardest, most grueling section of the game, is wonderful.

Super Mario Odyssey is a game about pure joy. I feel like I spent my entire time with a smile on my face. Every new area I went to, every new secret I found, every new creature I possessed; all of it brings out just pure happiness. Everything is bright and colorful and surprising in where it goes next. On top of just the joy of being in these worlds, Super Mario Odyssey is a master class in platforming perfection. The addition of Cappy, which in many other games would end up being a tacked-on gimmick, has a wide effect on the movement of Mario. Surprisingly it’s not the possessing of creatures that I’m talking about, it actually ends up being just using the new ability of Cappy to propel and move yourself in ways that Mario has never been able to before. Once you get the mechanics of doing hat jumps and long dives down, it completely opens up the way the game feels and plays.

I also love how much time Super Mario Odyssey spends doing stuff that is entirely new while also existing as a great love letter to past Mario games. The locales that Mario visits are all interesting and wildly different from each other. For the most part these areas are unlike anything you have seen before in a Mario game. You also get to dress up Mario is a variety of outfits based on these areas. Yet within you have great callbacks such Dr. Mario, Mario Maker and Mario 64. There are many sequences in Odyssey where you transition to 2D gameplay and it’s great, original Super Mario Bros. style and feel. It recreates 1-1 within the game as well as doing a great throwback all the way back to Donkey Kong.

Moreover than all of this, though, Super Mario Odyssey is a game that I just had a blast just being in that world and experiencing everything it had to offer. It’s the perfect marriage of fantastic gameplay, great locales, amazing music and just a constant cheeriness. Super Mario Odyssey manages to offer worlds that are great to explore but somehow densely packed so that you are still constantly finding new things. It’s the type of game that I enjoyed so much that even after spending dozens of hours finding every last little moon in the game, I still would have gladly kept going if given the chance. That is why Super Mario Odyssey is my game of the year.

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