Time for Bob's Obligatory Best Games of 2017 List!
Join Bob as he counts down the ten best things about 2017.
I think we can all agree 2017 was a weird year—and by "weird" I mean "aggressively terrible." But, in spite of the misery 2017 inflicted on the universe, video games were extremely good. Granted, Retronauts is a past-focused operation, but the absolutely fantastic state of games this year caused us to break format twice with an episode about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a recorded-but-currently-unreleased episode about Super Mario Odyssey. That being said, I hope you don't mind if I count down my gaming highlights of the year, if only to reflect upon how at least one element of 2017 did us right.
I've actually been doing this every year for almost a decade, but most of my past lists were lost in 1UP's implosion. If you really want to see my picks from recent years, 2016, 2015, and 2014 are still intact, online, and objectively correct.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 games that delighted me the most in 2017, presented once again in order of least-good-to-most-good.
10. What Remains of Edith Finch
While the whole "walking simulator" thing typically implies a slow and meditative experience, What Remains of Edith Finch is anything but. Yes, it's not exactly action-packed, but stuffed within its 2-3-hour running time exists a handful of wildly different experiences. As the last living member of a cursed family, you explore the convoluted house that once held your entire clan, and gradually live out the final moments of your lost relatives. Each of these sequences stands as a complete surprise, as every one carries its own narrative tone, art style, and means of input. And, by the end, all of these stories amount to to a very thoughtful meditation on death. If you normally don't have the patience for this type of game, Edith Finch could surprise you.
9. Night in the Woods
Having grown up in the same sort of blighted Rust Belt city where Night in the Woods takes place, I couldn't help but connect with this charming little indie game. It also helps that I experienced the same situation as the protagonist: returning to said town post-college and trying to figure out what comes next. Though the story eventually moves towards the fantastical, the laid-back mundanity Night in the Woods focuses on is its greatest feature. It's really a game about interpersonal relationships, and you spend much of it just hanging out with a cast of eccentric friends while trying to fill grey, empty days. Night also features some of the most natural and naturally funny dialogue I've seen in a video game, making it stand out in a medium where most writers try just a little too hard.
8. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey didn't wow me as much as my friends, but it definitely made its way into my top ten for a reason. As someone who didn't really care for the "New" Super Mario Bros. series, Odyssey made for a real return to form. Simply put, it's the follow up to Super Mario 64 that Super Mario Sunshine couldn't really deliver on. Odyssey isn't especially innovative, but its focus on giving the player a series of small, constant rewards makes picking it up for even 30 minutes a worthwhile experience. Plus, if you've stuck with Mario through his whole career, Odyssey offers plenty of fan service in the form of costumes reflecting Mario's different roles throughout the past 36 years. And since I finished the game with only around 200 Power Moons, I like knowing there's still plenty of Odyssey left for me in 2018.
7. Thimbleweed Park
Lots of Kickstarted indie games rely on shameless nostalgia, and Thimbleweed Park could have easily went in that direction: it sets out to take the form of a "lost" LucasArts adventure game, after all. But instead of being a simple throwback, Thimbleweed Park feels like a thoroughly modern take on the "classic" adventure game, keeping the great dialogue, characters, and puzzles, while improving the overall experience with some great quality-of-life features and an overall sense of fairness. With the recent Broken Age seemingly disappointing most people, I don't think Thimbleweed Park really got the attention it deserved. But it's up there with my most favorite adventure games of all time, and has the good fortune of being built with the know-how of a creator with more than 30 years of experience under his belt.
6. Yakuza 0
I've played about 120 hours of Yakuza 0 at this point, and I'm guessing 50 of those were spent on the post-game property management and hostess club management content. Even if it only takes 20-30 hours to speed through the main campaign, Yakuza games always have a ton of content, and this one's no different. And though some of the games are kind of samey, 0's '80s setting makes this entry feel special, as it explores both the early lives of familiar characters and the country of Japan during this era. Yakuza has always felt like a spiritual successor to Shen Mue, and now that it's done that game's whole "80s" thing much better, it might as well just replace Yu Suzuki's baby completely. (Sorry Shen Mue 3 backers.)
5. Playerunknown's Battlegrounds
If anything, I love Playerunknown's Battlegrounds for how much it broke the rules. Even though it existed as an unfinished multiplayer game with a single map for most of 2017, it still managed to be an outright phenomenon, completely trouncing competing games like Battlefront 2 (which EA peed down their leg in a spectacular fashion). I was a little skeptical about PUBG at first, as it's a janky, ugly game with no real character to speak of, but it only took a few weeks for it to completely replace Overwatch in my gaming group's weekly sessions. Despite the extremely simple premise, the many PUBG matches I had in 2017 contained some of the tensest moments I've ever experienced in a game, as well as the most rewarding. After playing for forty hours, I've only managed to achieve two chicken dinners, but that still feels like a real achievement.
4. The Evil Within 2
On a whim, I picked up the first The Evil Within last year and ended up finishing it out of spite. For every good moment the game had, it also featured a horribly unfair difficulty spike or a tedious boss battle built around memorizing and performing specific steps while avoiding insta-kill attacks. The Evil Within 2 amounts to an amazing improvement on the original, and to me feels like the first Resident Evil 4 wannabe game to truly usurp the throne. Like the first game, it bounces between different settings and play styles, but, this time, no particular one feels underdeveloped. The Evil Within 2 also has the distinction of making survival horror work in an open world setting, which sounds impossible, but the developers somehow make it happen. I don't blame people for ignoring the sequel after the series' poor debut, but don't sleep on this one if you haven't touched it yet.
3. NieR: Automata
I was wrong about a few things in 2017. When Platinum started showing off NieR: Automata, I knew I would buy it (mostly thanks to Platinum Games' pedigree), but I didn't think anyone else would. And even I wasn't particularly interested, having bounced off the first game and feeling unenthused about Yoko Taro's past work. But, 70 hours of Automata later, and I can only describe the game as Platinum's greatest achievement—something they needed after the crushing cancellation of Scalebound. The hauntingly beautiful atmosphere paired with a succession of existentialist short stories set in an interesting open world make NieR truly special... as well as some other things I wouldn't want to ruin here. It's such a great, well-written experience, you might even forget you're playing as a sexy robot in battle lingerie.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is a pretty obvious GOTY choice, but for good reason. Following the extremely conservative Skyward Sword, Nintendo dipped their toe into the pool of player freedom with A Link Between Worlds, and then did a cannonball with this latest Zelda. After 25 years, they finally broke away from the Link to the Past formula to fully deliver on the promise of the series debut with the technology to finally make it possible. Though it pulls in elements from Assassin's Creed, Minecraft, and, yes, even Dark Souls, this take on the open-world genre still feels wholly unique and will likely be influencing games for years to come as the original Zelda and Ocarina of Time did in the past.
1. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Welcome to Curveball Country. Population: You. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I may be the only person to have Danganronpa V3 as my favorite game of the year. And this choice isn't due to any iconoclastic, "me, an intellectual" motivation. Other games might have been more innovative, but once I started playing Danganonronpa V3, it was all I could think about until the game's final, wild chapter came to a close. The way it wraps up amounts to a massive mic drop by the creator that's definitely angered plenty of people, but, if anything, I appreciate the fact that this seemingly final entry in the Danganronpa series chose to wrap up in such an unorthodox way.
V3 does the kind of things Hideo Kojima wished he could do with Metal Gear, but couldn't thanks to the sheer hugeness of his series. And the good thing is, Danganronpa V3 is worthwhile for more than just its final twist. As with the past two games, it presents a series of murder mysteries featuring a cast of weirdos who could all die at any second—making it incredibly hard to put down. As a fan, it's a little sad to think this is likely the end of Danganronpa, but I'm extremely excited to see what the creator does next.
Games That Didn't Make the Cut
Sadly, there were way too many 100-hour games this year, meaning I didn't have the free time to get to everything. I didn't even make a dent in Persona 5, but that's definitely next on my must-play list. I also bought a copy of Wolfenstein II, and never even downloaded it, despite my newly renewed hunger for killing Nazis. Destiny 2—my first Destiny experience—kept me occupied for a few weeks, but I didn't even bother finishing the campaign. Before this paragraph goes on any longer, just know that if there's a huge, good game that's not on the list, I likely have a copy and will get around to playing it... one day.
To wrap things up, I'd like to thank everyone out there for supporting Retronauts in 2017. Though I've been working on the podcast since 2011, and helping produce it independently since 2013, this was the first year I left behind working for the web (having a miserable, awful job helped) and pivoted completely to podcasting. And I'm happy to say this huge risked paid off. I've never worked harder, but never before has my work been more fulfilling. I'm extremely excited to do even more great stuff for both Retronauts and Talking Simpsons in 2018, and very grateful that so many people decided to support me. So, thanks for your support, and here's to more beautiful distractions in 2018!