2017 was an incredible year for gaming. Nintendo released their newest console, the Nintendo Switch, to fantastic success, and both independent and established developers surprised audiences with games that made players play or think differently than the status quo. Personally, I was amazed by the variety of experiences that these games offered. 2017 was full of these new and interesting gaming experiences, but there were a select few that really stood out to me as experiences I will hold close even beyond my time playing them.
These are my top five games of 2017!
#5: Sonic Mania - All platforms
Sonic the Hedgehog was never a series I particularly enjoyed. In fact, I have made fun of Sonic games many times throughout my life as a gamer because of their tendency to be low quality, glitchy, bug-filled messes. Though I have only ever played maybe three or four Sonic the Hedgehog games, my opinion of them was never high Sonic Mania has changed my perspective on Sonic, though. I finally understand why people enjoy Sonic games!
From beginning to end, Sonic Mania is built around speed and exploration. Exploration in 2D platformers is familiar to me as a huge fan of the Wario Land series. Speed, though, was something I had to get used to, and Sonic Mania absolutely makes speed fun. Whether it's running up walls and around loops to running beside a boss during a battle, it's fun to run! The exploration of the game was even more enticing. I was determined to find each of the Chaos Emeralds and get to the game's true ending. Completing the levels filled with blue spheres to earn medals that reward you with extra content also made me a semi-completionist. I learned the ins and outs of every blue sphere level in order to unlock all of the content I wanted to see and loved every minute of it! I hope a second Sonic Mania is here soon, because after playing this game, I'm ready to play whatever 2D Sonic is next. Say what you will about inconsistent Sonic games, but classics like Sonic Mania prove Sonic the Hedgehog is no joke.
#4: Super Mario Odyssey - Nintendo Switch
Super Mario Odyssey is an adventure, an experience and, of course, an odyssey of fun, nostalgia, red caps and mustaches.
Growing up, I had never been very fond of the original Super Mario 3D platformer games such as Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine and mainly played the 2D platformer games, instead. Those original Super Mario games were fun, but they never stood out to me as much as later 3D iterations like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World did. So when Nintendo announced this game was returning to the original style of the 3D Super Mario games, I was understandably cautious. However, as I saw more footage of and eventually played the game, I realized that Super Mario Odyssey fulfills exactly what I had been craving in those earlier Super Mario 3D platformer games.
From beginning to end, Super Mario Odyssey is filled with charming, rewarding gameplay. Throughout the game, challenges are located everywhere, and their rewards? Power Moons. See a shining lump in the ground? It probably is a Moon. Maybe there's a character that looks lonely and needs someone to talk to. There could be a Moon there too! Or you just climbed the highest tower in the game's Metro Kingdom, New Donk City. There's even a Moon up there! The rewarding gameplay makes every fun thing you do in Super Mario Odyssey an achievement. That's not all, though. The central gameplay mechanics of this game are impeccable! Just controlling Mario is satisfying, and the movement options that come with him are diverse. Mario can also throw his hat as a weapon and use it to "cap-ture" (full props to that mechanic's pun) enemies. Cap-turing an enemy allows you to take control of them and their unique attributes to let you do things such as breathe underwater using the fish-like CheepCheep, stack a tower of enemies to reach a lover as a Goomba or jet around in a water-propelled bubble as a Gushen. Super Mario Odyssey lets you have fun in however way you'd like and rewards you for doing it!
#3: Doki Doki Literature Club - PC
What is Doki Doki Literature Club? Well, it's basically a visual novel about a high school literature club where a few people meet to share poems with each other. As someone who was a member and president of an extremely similar club during high school, it was nostalgic to be reminded of my own literature club and how similar my club was to Doki Doki's, but that isn't the reason why this game stood out to me as an experience.
Doki Doki Literature Club makes you genuinely care for its characters in a way I can't seem to compare to any other game I've played, and in a way only video games can do. Not only that, but the questions it invokes about the restrictions of reality are incredibly thought-provoking. There is plenty more to talk about in regards to how this game presents all of these questions and how it brings you to care for each of its characters, but I would much rather you experience them for yourself. It's a free game, after all, and takes about four hours to finish, so please, play it for yourself. Do be wary, though, if you have issues with mental health, it absolutely isn't for the faint of heart. It greatly affected me after playing it, so please be careful. It may be better to watch a playthrough of the game instead.
#2: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Nintendo Switch
Similar to my experience with the 3D platformers in the Super Mario series, The Legend of Zelda was never a series I particularly liked, either. Until Breath of the Wild, I had only played a few other Zelda titles, and they were more recent ones, too. Because of this lack of experience and a dislike for open world games, I was unsure how much I would enjoy this game, similar to my situation with Super Mario Odyssey. Breath of the Wild made it clear to me within the first hour of playtime, though, that this game was different from not only the Legend of Zelda games I had played, but also any game I had ever played.
Looking out at the hills on my local horizon, I would always think to myself, "Man, it would be neat if I could just get up and go there." The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild let me live out that fantasy. If you see somewhere in the game, you can go there, and you may even get sidetracked, finding treasure, enemies or history of the world on your way there. Breath of the Wild nurtures a sense of exploration in a player as that player explores more about the world, and even provides puzzles to find in the form of "Shrines" as the world is discovered more. These Shrines allow a player to warp back to that Shrine's location, which allows you to travel across the map with ease after doing most of them, and rewards a player with a "Spirit Orb" in return for doing a Shrine's respective puzzle. Four Spirit Orbs allow Link to increase his stamina or health meters, providing you with better abilities as you discover more of the world and find more Shrines.
This sense of exploration and freedom in a game is one I had never experienced until playing Breath of the Wild. It is a serene experience that brings to mind feelings I would only have exploring the woods outside of my house. These feelings of awe, serenity, adventure and discovery are those I hope to find in future iterations of The Legend of Zelda. Breath of the Wild has shown me that video gaming has reached a point that these feelings can be emulated in an experience unlike those accessible to me, while still showing me that there's still adventure to be had outside of the game, as well.
#1: Night in the Woods - All platforms
Night in the Woods is an adventure that's not as grand as some of the other games on this list, I will admit, but an adventure into the human experience in regards to how we experience change. It is a simple 2D platformer with some exploration involved. The story follows Mae, a girl who returns to her hometown, Possum Springs, after dropping out of college as a sophomore for unknown reasons. After returning, she comes to realize that so many things in town have changed after she's left them behind. In addition, something sinister is afoot in Possum Springs.
The premise seems simple, albeit different on the surface, but it is the experience of joining Mae on her journey back home that makes Night in the Woods so engaging. Possum Springs is based on the economically failing, down-and-out coal mining towns of Pennsylvania, where I've lived my whole life, so playing this game was strangely nostalgic in how everything was presented and the motivations of people Mae meets. Not only that, Mae shows symptoms throughout the story of having mental health issues, more specifically Psychosis symptoms, those which I also have dealt with for my entire life. Because of the common ground between Mae and myself, it was very easy to become emotionally attached to the story.
In terms of the themes Night in the Woods explores, it really is a jack of all trades, and for a good reason; the amount of dialogue in it is about double that of any average roleplaying game, which is a massive feat! The situations, conversations, and places to explore vary depending on so many different things that it takes multiple playthroughs of the game to see everything. Visually, the game is beautiful to look at and has an art style that is unlike any game I've ever played. The music also is incredible and adds even more layers to the melancholy experience this game already offers. Though it was not objectively the best game of 2017—Night in the Woods is incredibly simple in terms of gameplay mechanics, and I can acknowledge that—but in terms of providing an experience that will never be replicated in quite the same way with a character as relatable as Mae and a location as nostalgic as Possum Springs, it gave me that experience and so much more.