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2017 was a great year for games and here are my thoughts on my favorite ones of the year.
5: Opus Magnum
As long as Zactronics keeps releasing games they’re gonna keep ending up on my lists. They just found the perfect way to make games meant for programmers, without being educational “learn how to program” games. My first impression of opus magnum was that it felt a lot more basic and less interesting than infinifactory, shenzhen IO, or TIS-100, and yet by the end I was still trying to get cycle and space and cost records on as many puzzles as I could.
4: Sonic Mania
Sonic is a weird series and I have to admit probably most of the reason why I like it is from nostalgia. Sonic 1 was the first game I ever played, like to the point where I don’t even remember playing it for the first time. I just *always had it*. And I played the shit out of the original 3(+k) on the genesis when I was a kid. They’re hard to evaluate from a game design perspective and I know a lot of designers think they’re inherently flawed games. Just press right, and jump sometimes. And that may be right, but there’s some weird nuance to them that’s hard to pinpoint. And that’s probably why Sega’s failed at capturing anything about what made the originals good in any of their own attempts since S&K. For like 15 years people have just been telling them to just let those people making fan games do an official Sonic game, and Sega finally decided to give it a try. And it worked amazingly. Sonic Mania is the perfect nostalgia pander. I just hope they’re allowed a little more freedom in the inevitable sequel to do all original stages instead of mostly remixes.
3: Mario Odyssey
Mario Odyssey is hands down the best 3D mario game (in the 64/sunshine/galaxy lineage, I’m excluding 3D land and 3D world from here since those felt like they belonged more with the 2D games). Like far and away the best. I wasn’t entirely sure where it would place since I did have very fond memories of 64 and galaxy (lets not talk about sunshine). But out of curiosity I went and replayed them after beating Odyssey and they were almost unplayable in comparison (exaggerating just a little bit). It is insane just how much of a difference odyssey’s decision to not kick you out of the level after each moon made. Everything got streamlined. There’s no downtime between moons anymore, just a pure stream of exploration and platforming with no filler. Plus all the hat tricks you can do in the air were just amazing, and it felt awesome once you mastered them all. I 100%’d the game and my favorite part was going back for the easy moons I missed, but purposely not capturing enemies for them. You could get most of them with well timed jumps and hat tricks and it was incredibly fun learning how to master all those abilities. It’s Mario at his best, everything good about the old games polished to perfection.
2: Hollow Knight
Metroidvanias are probably my favorite genre of game when done well, and Hollow Knight very quickly earned a place among the absolute best of the genre, up there with Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night. I don’t even think there’s any specific thing about it to point to that explains why it’s so great, it’s just great overall. Its massive, there’s a ton of areas, bosses, badges, powerups, and characters, and all the areas are unique and interesting in their own way. The art and sound is top notch, the combat is simple but effective (and gets crazy hectic, especially in the colosseum), the NPC stories are charming and interesting, the bug-theme works super well, the badges and powerups allow for a surprising amount of build customizability, the healing system is nothing short of genius, and it was all made by THREE PEOPLE. One part that impressed me a lot was how, in most metroidvanias there’s usually a “set path” through the game, despite being presented as a nonlinear open world game. Locks and key items are usually all gotten in the same order. I thought Hollow Knight did this during my playthrough, but it turned out that most people managed to take different paths through the game, doing the main objectives in different orders, and all felt like theirs was the intended path.
1: Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II
Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II isn’t the best 3D Star Wars™ game, in fact I feel like it barely even fits in with the rest of the series at all (ignoring its plot). But it is the best open world game I’ve ever played, and I feel like they managed to solve a lot of the issues that plagued other games in that genre. The towers and shrines were a great way to guide you through the world and let you make your own objectives. They both incentivized and rewarded exploration. Shrines were a real tangible reward for exploring because they counted as warp points in addition to whatever loot you could find in them. None of the objectives felt arbitrary because you could just always go straight to the final boss if you wanted. They were all about powering yourself up so you could actually take on Ganon. Enemies like the guardians and lynels were legit terrifying for most of the game. They made so much content for the world that you always felt like you were finding new things while exploring. Shrines and korok seeds everywhere you looked. There’s a ton more to praise about it but I’m pretty sure if you’ve played it you know already. They took a bunch of risks, made something completely different than its predecessors, and it worked. Sure it’s got some issues (durability) and there’s parts that could have been done better (divine beasts) but it just did so much RIGHT that I can’t not see it as my game of the year.
11/10 art. 11/10 music. 11/10 theming and character. Like 7/10 gameplay. The things Cuphead does well, the art and music and the character they manage to give every onscreen object, it does SO well it’s worth experiencing the game just for that. But it has some significant issues with its gameplay. This isn’t just because of it’s difficulty or anything (I love difficult games, hell I even made one of the most difficult games of this year), but that difficulty needs to come from a good place. Cuphead gets its difficulty from just covering the screen in stuff and spamming medusa heads everywhere. I also really think the lack of a health bar on bosses was a mistake, it seems like a minor issue but that health bar is the cause of so many moments of panic and relief in other games with long difficult boss fights (like *ahem* dark souls). Without it you’re just sort of firing away at the boss and dodging stufKNOCKOUT! Surprise win out of nowhere. No reason to go riskier right at the end for the final bit of damage or anything. It also didn’t help that the bosses basically never reacted to you damaging them other than changing forms once thresholds were reached. There were a few bosses in the game that were actually genuinely good though, King Dice being the prime example. I loved that endurance challenge of slightly easier bosses. It actually felt fair and consistent. That said, Cuphead could have had worse gameplay than ET for the atari and it would still be worth playing cause its art and music are so good.
Every now and then a game comes along with a ton of weird new ideas and mechanics, and throws them together and they somehow manage to fit together perfectly and make something amazing. Rain world had a ton of weird and amazing new ideas, and threw them together and… they don’t work with each other at all. It’s frustrating and unfun and I barely got anywhere in it before quitting it for good (and looking up some of the later stuff I wasn’t going to experience myself). I’d probably even say its an outright *bad* game. I’m just sticking it on this list cause it’s inherently *interesting* and all its mechanics, in isolation, are really cool. I like the theme with the rusty nature-reclaimed-the-world vibe and its massive rainfalls. I like the idea of gradually expanding the area you feel safe exploring through multiple cycles of finding food and rainfall. I like the massive world to explore. I like the weird food chain simulation stuff. I like the physics animations. I like punishing difficulty. But all stuck together these all work against each other. Extremely punishing deaths doesn’t work when physics animations and food chain stuff sometimes makes deaths unavoidable. Exploring the same areas over and over feels like it wastes its gigantic world. It’s a weird but incredibly “interesting” mess.
A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time was a pretty good and very charming 3D platformer with a lot of references and callbacks to games I liked from the gamecube era. I just felt it was a bit too short with only 4 (full) worlds, and it unfortunately got completely outshined when Mario Odyssey came out a few weeks later.
Hearthstone (Dungeon Run)
This is a weird one, it’s a side mode in an update to a game that’s been out for years, that I wasn’t expecting anything out of. They’ve done single player adventures before, and they’ve all been kinda fun when trying to figure out a deck to beat the bosses, and ultimately frustrating and shallow when it comes down to getting absurd luck even with the “right” deck. Dungeon run is different though, they made (basically) a roguelite dungeon crawling experience, you face 8 bosses in a row, pulled from a pool of about 50, scaled in difficulty depending on when you encounter them, and you draft cards and passives for your deck between boss fights. It hits all the beats you want out of a modern roguelike, every run is different, there’s lots of overpowered synergies you can draft, and a lot of classes to choose from with varying degrees of difficulty. I wasn’t expecting it at all and yet it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable single player experiences of the year, as a side mode in a multiplayer game. I would love to play a “full game” based off of this.