When we look back at the gaming landscape of 2017, what will we see? Will it be the turning point for Nintendo with smash hits like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey? Or the sudden, unexpected, yet pleasant surprises like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Cuphead, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds? Or, will it be the industry at large being marred by controversy over its indulgences of loot boxes and microtransactions, a la LOTR: Shadow of War, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and Destiny 2?
This year may have been shocking, exciting, frustrating, and even disappointing, but it was by no means dull. And for players who still haven’t decided what to do with their holiday gift cards, 3CR has compiled a short list of the best (or at least most enjoyed) games of 2017 that you may have missed.
Sonic Mania – Sega
If it weren’t for Sonic Forces, this would have been a fantastic year for the peppy blue hedgehog. Still, Sonic Mania eclipses the negativity brought on by so many misfires over the years by celebrating what made the series such a joy in its heyday. But rather than retread old ground with an easy cash-grab throwback, Sonic Mania not only remixes classic levels, it adds its own unique flair with originality that would’ve fit right in on the Sega Genesis.
Sure, the more nostalgia you have for the good ol’ 16-bit era, the more tinted your rose-colored glasses will probably be when you first play through the faithful recreation of Green Hill Valley. Yet, Sonic Mania is so unabashedly bright, cheery, easy-to-pick up, hard-to-master, and out and out fun that it’s easily one of the more pleasant surprises of the year.
And don’t tell me the opening animation didn’t charm your socks off.
Stories Untold – Devolver Digital
Mainstream pop culture is going through a little obsession with the 1980s right now. We’ve been treated to a second season of Stranger Things, a more contemporary version of Stephen King’s IT, and next year will see the film adaptation of the book Ready Player One, a love letter to the decade if there ever was one.
Stories Untold takes the familiar trappings of ’80s culture and aesthetics and wraps them around a light puzzle-solving narrative mystery, presented like a episodic primetime TV thriller.
The puzzle elements may not be particularly difficult, but the presentation makes it stand out. Each episode takes you to a different setting, with different mechanics with a different story for you to piece together. If you’d like the idea of playing a spooky, unsettling puzzler where you translate Morse code and the military alphabet, or where you play an old text-based adventure about a haunted house, then give Stories Untold a try. It’s inexpensive and fun.
Space Pirates and Zombies 2 – MinMax Games
Sometimes the best thing a game can do is build upon its original ideas. The number three and four spots go to Space Pirates and Zombies 2 (SPAZ 2) and Hand of Fate 2 respectively, for their different, yet successful approaches to a sequel.
It’s refreshing to see MinMax Games go back to the drawing board after the success of the original SPAZ. Its successor is a fully 3D polygonal space combat real-time strategy game, and introduces a new wrinkle with modular mothership designs. Couple that with a dynamic galactic map where alliances are made, wars are fought, backs are stabbed, and whole sectors of space can change hands over the course of play and this sequel becomes a total redesign of the original concept, with plenty of added flash, boom, and bang.
Hand of Fate 2 – Defiant Development
Running opposite of SPAZ 2, Hand of Fate 2 is more of a refinement of its basic premise. Compared to the original, it’s the same game, right down to the creepy card dealer giving tons of cryptic sass. But every aspect of Hand of Fate 2 has been expanded and improved, with new weapon types, enemy types, games of chance, and multi-layered side quests.
Like a good roguelike, no two playthroughs of Hand of Fate 2 will be the same, as the trading card game aspects let the player influence each layout of the game board. Although overall this sequel is more of a remix, Hand of Fate 2 knows what it’s good at and make improvement on an already solid premise.
What Remains of Edith Finch – Annapurna Interactive
What Remains of Edith Finch has been the darling of the indie scene ever since it came out in April, and with good reason. It challenges the oft-discussed notion that more linear, story-driven, “walking simulator,” titles are not legitimate games, by using gameplay mechanics to tell its story. I don’t want to go too deep into the story; so suffice it to say, if you pick this title up and still haven’t finished it, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
What Remains of Edith Finch proves that a game does not have to be long to be worth your time and money. The story will leave you haunted, with a lot of emotions to process. It shows the history of a family as seen through what it leaves behind, and every story it tells re-contextualizes the world through the different points of view of each character. What Remains of Edith Finch demands to be played in one sitting, pondered over for several days, and then played again.
Super Mario Odyssey – Nintendo
Super Mario Odyssey is video game Disneyland. Who knew we wanted to see a T-Rex with a Mario mustache, a world like New Donk City, and a big band musical number made especially for this game? Seriously, they put the lyrics to “Jump Up, Superstar,” inside the game box, that’s how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished.
Once again Nintendo takes a strong core concept (hat throwing, possession) and seemingly creates every conceivable variation and combination on that one idea. I’m still surprised to see what I can possess and how that changes the level, the gameplay – nearly every dynamic of every level. Even now, Super Mario Odyssey still finds ways to impress, amaze, and surprise.