Obvious to anyone who plays games, 2017 was a fantastic year for gaming; definitely one of the best in recent memory. The AAA market delivered, interesting indie games brought welcome surprises and Nintendo finally entered back into the forefront with the release of the Switch.
Good games were a dime-a-dozen this past year, so refining a list of the very best could only be done subjectively, meaning this list might not include personal favorites.
Because time is limited for part-time games writers there were some games that I unfortunately missed, and won’t appear on this list. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," “Pyre” and the entirety of “Nier: Automata” were ones I didn’t get to play through all the way, so consider those very honorable mentions that one could find on any other game of the year list.
These five games are ones that I felt stood out, not by breaking the mold but by innovating on it to become the best version of whatever that mold is. This subjective list is full of games that developers gave their all on, delivering on promises by creating the art that we love to experience. Now, in no particular order, the top five games of 2017.
Sonic Mania (PS4)
Anticipating a good “Sonic the Hedgehog” game to release in 2017 would be like anticipating Auburn beating two number one teams in one year; just nothing anyone would expect.
The once-beloved hedgehog has only been featured in barely passable to straight-up-terrible games since moving on from the Sega Genesis, and though Sega kept pushing newer and worse games with him as the protagonist, it seemed that “Sonic” would become a relic of gaming past.
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That was, however, until “Sonic Mania” released last summer. Ditching the polygonal art style that proved to create awkward gameplay and instead using the 16-bit graphics from classic “Sonic” games, Headcannon and Christian Whitehead created one of the best platformers of 2017.
“Sonic Mania” is one of the best games of this past year because it takes what made “Sonic” great in the first place and modernized it with updated move-sets, new music and brand-new levels that expand upon the “Sonic” formula.
The gameplay is tight and frenetic, challenging players to keep up the pace while exploring the branching paths of each level. The new bosses, maps and soundtrack seem like lost levels from previous entries, and traversing the game as either Sonic, Tails or Knuckles let players experience each area differently.
“Sonic Mania” didn’t have the flash of a AAA game, but because it was able to single-handedly bring back the struggling Sega mascot in a perfect package, it earns a spot on top for last year.
Injustice 2 (PS4)
Fighting games were aplenty in 2017, and most of them were really good. It was a toss up between this or “Tekken 7,” but because I spent more time playing “Injustice 2” I had to go with that.
“Injustice 2” is one of the best games of the past year because of its perfection of the NetherRealm formula, seen previously in “Mortal Kombat X” and the first “Injustice” game. These games are fantastic because, while you can practice the same combos for hours before taking your skills into the online arena, it is also accessible for those who don’t normally play fighting games, or games in general for that matter.
The cinematography alone makes “Injustice 2” stand out, as every battle seems almost choreographed thanks to amazing sound mixing, lighting and character design. Just about every character is fun to play as, helping to emphasize the DC comic character interactions NetherRealm made for every possible matchup.
The complete package that is “Injustice 2” provides an endless amount of entertainment. NetherRealm is supporting it well into 2018, making one of the best games of last year stay strong for the foreseeable future, or at least until “Mortal Kombat 11.”
Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
The Nintendo Switch came out and blew the gaming world away with how good it turned out to be. The Wii was a lousy gimmick and the Wii U was an ultimate failure, so having a hybrid console that worked well and launched with one of the best “Zelda” games of all time hyped Nintendo fans for the future.
That future looked even brighter with the release of “Super Mario Odyssey.” Building on the foundation of “Super Mario 64” and the “Galaxy” series, this 3D platformer offers the most fluid, easily executable movement that games in the genre have ever had.
Mario games have always felt smooth and exciting, so with the addition of Cappy, Mario’s wearable sidekick/main weapon/body possessing ghost -- sounds quite dark if you haven’t played it -- “Odyssey” feels better than ever.
This movement is nicely accompanied by the open worlds of the game. Instead of warping in and out of zones for specific goals, Nintendo took a chance by opening up the terrain and scattering collectibles in every nook and cranny. It works perfectly, and “Odyssey” cements the Switch as a powerhouse console.
Playing “Odyssey” was a pure joy, making it one of the best games I had the pleasure of playing in 2017.
Destiny 2 (PS4)
Calling “Destiny 2” one of the best games of the year could seem unwarranted to a lot of people after a barrage of critics deemed it “just more Destiny.” While that description is somewhat accurate in terms of the first game’s tight shooting and look, it completely glosses over the improvements on just about everything else.
The main aspect that puts “Destiny 2” as one of the best shooters of the year -- besides the blunders of EA’s “Battlefront 2” and Sledgehammer’s “Call of Duty: WWII” -- is that it offers an engaging story mode this time. It was a shame that the first game failed to engage the player in the lore of the “Destiny” universe, and luckily that is fixed in the newer title.
The worlds of “Destiny 2” are bigger, there are more items to find and more secrets to uncover. The game just feels bigger, delivering on the promise of the first game. Progression makes sense and nothing feels too grindy, helping to keep the game more engaging and hassle-free compared to the first one.
One thing that everyone agrees on is how absolutely beautiful the game is. Every planet the player can visit feels vibrant and varied, offering different enemy types and challenges throughout.
“Destiny 2” is not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but because of its improvements, it took hold of so many players’ consoles and computers for so long that it would be remiss to not consider it one of the best games of the year.
Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)
Out of all the open world games that released in 2017, “Horizon Zero Dawn” stood out because it injected its world with rich story elements.
Not only was the gameplay some of the best in the genre, allowing for infinite ways to handle any given situation, but the reason for playing at all was the promise that you would uncover the secrets of a world lost to technology.
Most surprisingly, “Horizon” was developed by Guerrilla Games, known previously only for their "Killzone" series. While those games were pretty decent shooters, nobody expected an open world action game like this to come out of the same studio.
“Horizon” bests the “open world fatigue” that had plagued the games industry by making each environment full of opportunity but not oversaturated with meaningless quests and collectibles. Every mission and task felt like it uncovered more of the world, and the characters met along the way felt like actual people.
The mechanical fauna that populates the world are some of the most interesting enemies from 2017, and leveling up to either tame or destroy them felt like a balanced progression that matched how main character Aloy grew from adolescence to adulthood.
Because “Horizon Zero Dawn” was able to combine its sprawling environments, rich story and technically magnificent gameplay so well, it stands as one of the best games of 2017.
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