This has been such a spectacular year for games, and that affected me in an unintuitive way. As I was putting together this list, I wasn’t sure if I would have 10 games to fill it out with. Now, to be clear, I’ve liked way more than 10 games this year, but I just wasn’t sure if I loved them all enough to enshrine them below.
A big reason for my initial shortage is because I’m letting myself bounce off games quicker these days. Even stuff that I enjoy, like Horizon: Zero Dawn or Divinity: Original Sin 2, aren’t doing quite enough to keep me coming back. So while I like a lot of those, I don’t want them in my top 10 since I’ve only played through their first 5-to-10 hours or so.
I know why I’m not sticking to these games, and it comes down to two huge changes in my life. First, the Switch has freed me up to play games in ways that better suit how I live. That doesn’t mean I need every game on Nintendo’s handheld, but if you’re only on the PC or a TV … well, that brings me to the second change. I’ve played some of my all-time favorite games this year. If I get time to sit down and play some new game, it better win me over quickly or else next time, I’m probably just gonna go back to PUBG.
All that said, I was able to fill out my top 10, and now — of course — I’m in a situation where I’m leaving one or two off that I feel sore about. Oh, well. Not going to complain about too many good games.
10. Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy
Developers: Bennett Foddy
Publisher: Bennett Foddy
This game was made for me. It’s deliberately cruel and impenetrable in terms of its gameplay, and then developer Bennett Foddy pairs that with a voiceover track where he talks about our modern trash culture.
It’s a game where you have to get a man wielding a giant hammer to the top of a mountain only by swinging said hammer. What won me over with Getting Over It is that, no matter how much progress you make, you could fall all the way back down to the base of the mountain if you screw up badly enough. I know that seems unnecessarily punishing, but I appreciate that someone is still making games that want to cause me a bit of pain that aren’t called “Dark Souls.”
9. Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Might and Delight
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, 3DS, Vita, and PC
Specter of Torment is another Yacht Club Games throwback to the Nintendo Entertainment System. It takes some of the character and stage elements from Shovel Knight and remixes and builds on them to create one of the most refreshing platformers in years.
Yacht Club is so successful because it is playing around with stranger mechanics now that it is three games in the Shovel Knight universe. Specter Knight doesn’t have a double-jump or bouncing attack. Instead, he can jump through enemies as he attacks them. His moveset combines combat and platforming into a single elegant ballet.
8. Heat Signature
Developer: Suspicious Developments
Publisher: Suspicious Developments
Heat Signature is a space-heist game with simple visuals and lots of freedom to pursue challenges however you want. You control a character who must covertly rendezvous with other ships to rescue people, or steal loot, or assassinate someone. You get a bunch of tools, like local teleporters, to help you accomplish this, which are all cool and open up how you can approach a mission.
But I adore Heat Signature because of a mission where I went in guns blazing, got knocked out, and then ejected into the vacuum of space. My spacesuit had enough oxygen to protect me for about 100 seconds. That gave me just enough time to remote control my ship to come pick me up. I should’ve just retreated, but I was determined. I turned my ship back for the escaping craft, re-entered quietly this time, and killed everyone before steal their shuttle as my prize.
Heat Signature is very good.
7. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Mario + Rabbids has some problems. I don’t like the overworld or the puzzles between missions, but the tactical battles — the meat of the experience — make up for everything I dislike.
To put it simply, this is XCOM with Mario and Ubisoft’s weird precursors to the Minions. But Ubisoft’s designers really went wild loading up your characters with a ton of abilities. This means you can do really elaborate, powerful attacks. And the game keeps things fresh by introducing new enemies that challenge you to change your style.
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Cuphead is beautiful and a technical marvel, but it is also just a really great, challenging run-‘n’-gun-style platformer. I had fun spending time learning and perfecting my tactics for each boss before moving on. I even have it in my head that I’ll go back to get a perfect grade on every boss … but I’m not sure that’ll ever really happen.
5. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
Developer: Machine Games
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Wolfenstein II is special. In my opinion, it has the best characters and the best writing in any game ever made. It isn’t subtle about its political message, which is not “Nazis are bad.” That is an understood truth in a Wolfenstein game. Instead, Machine Games uses its game to say that actually even the people who live under Nazi oppression but don’t mind so much because they can still live comfortably are just as bad.
At the same time, Wolfenstein II deftly pulls off a pulpy sci-fi story with bonkers twists and memorable moments. It is one of my favorite pieces of fiction right now, and I hope Machine Games gets the chance to close out its trilogy.
4. SteamWorld Dig 2
Developer: Image & Form Games
Publisher: Image & Form Games
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4
All I really want from a game is a tight, satisfying gameplay loop, and SteamWorld Dig 2 might have the best loop this year. This is a Metroid-style game where you can dig tunnels underground. As you explore these caverns, you’ll collect jewels and other valuables until you can’t carry anything else. This encourages you to go back to the surface to cash in your earnings, and to buy new upgrades and tools to help you explore even deeper the next time you descend. It’s really well done.
That loop works especially well because Image & Form has built a beautiful 2D world with a lot of variety. The map also always makes you feel like you are just a few more meters away from finding your next big character upgrade.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is so effortless in its execution of its elements that it almost makes me wonder why every game isn’t this wonderful.
3. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Developer: The PUBG Corporation
Publisher: The PUBG Corporation
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Here’s a new game that only just came out last week … of course, I played 400 hours of it before that point while it was still in Early Access.
As I said in my review-in-progress, PUBG is a seminal shooter. It represents a shift in this massive genre equivalent to Call of Duty usurping Halo in 2007. It does this by introducing a game type (100 people drop on an island — kill everyone until you are the last-person standing) that is simple enough for anyone to immediately understand. It then has a dedication to realism that really makes the struggle to win feel like a truly dramatic undertaking.
But PUBG isn’t just amazing in its setup or that exhilaration of winning. It’s the moments between where anything can happen that keeps me coming back months after I started playing back in April. And sure, a lot of those emergent moments were due to janky physics or busted systems (cars exploding after tapping a fence or buildings not rendering for you so you can see through walls for your team). But just as often it is about coming up with stupid plans that actually kind of work.
Watching @MattBodega go from plan to execution in PUBG is my gaming moment of the year. pic.twitter.com/0GISQ2VcH2
— Jeffrey Grubb (@JeffGrubb) November 5, 2017
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Mario is the game I’ve probably spent the most time playing this year relative to the amount of time I’ve written or made videos about it, so I’m glad to finally have a reason to take the time to explain why it is so great.
Super Mario Odyssey is the culmination of Nintendo spending the last several decades thinking about how to make better games. The best example of that is how no matter where you stand in one of Odyssey’s many levels, you can almost always see three to four interesting things that you’ll want to explore. It also spreads its moons (the collectible this time around) across a spectrum of difficulties.
Sometimes you’ll find a moon just because you got on top of a building, and other times you’ll get one for completing a challenging platforming section. In some instances, you have to figure out adventure-like puzzles to unlock a moon, and sometimes you just have to go buy the right outfit form the clothing store. You’re always collection moons no matter what you’re doing, and this gives this relatively open-world sandboxy platformer a tightly designed sense of pace because you can approach each kingdom however you want. If you decides to do something, chances are the game will reward you for that.
It also doesn’t hurt that the game has the tightest controls of any platformer ever and a complex, weighty physics system.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’m going to try to distill my love for Breath of the Wild for you here, but you can also just read my review, which I stand by.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a massive open-world that enables you to go anywhere, but that’s not what makes it interesting. It’s that just over every hill, you are about to find something of interesting or noteworthy. It’s like if Nintendo spent years adding meaning and things to do to a procedurally generated Minecraft map.
But while the map is amazing, it’s the systems that power this world that blew me away. The reason I fell in love with Breath of the Wild is because it has taken a crucial piece of Zelda design — the discovery — and made it cutting edge. What I originally loved about older Zelda games was figuring out how to solve a puzzle or defeat a boss. But in those games, the developers would lay out a single correct solution. In Breath of the Wild, the development team built a series of systems and then built puzzles, bosses, and enemies to let you experiment. It’s still Zelda, but Nintendo has updated it from digital to analogue.