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So 2017, much like my own life, is half over. But it’s our own fault. We’re both irresponsibly anti-exercise and our diets consist largely of sugar. But don’t feel bad for us. Our existences thus far have been full of amazing video game experiences, and actually all that sugar-digesting and non-movement have probably contributed to a fuller enjoyment of said video games. You can’t beat Breath of the Wild if you’re jogging. Sure, the Switch is portable, but it’s not waterproof, and if I’m jogging, I’m sweating…a lot.

In celebration of our soda bottle half-full lives, me and 2017 have decided to take a bit of time to share the best video games we’re experienced in all of this first half of 2017.

Transcript(ish)

I’ll start off with my top 3 games released in 2017, then on to the top 5 games I played for the first time this year, but that were released prior to 2017, and I’ll finish the list with a couple of games I haven’t played yet, but based on reviews and recommendations, I sense they would be in the tops list had I played them. Why haven’t I played them yet? I’m probably exercising too much. I’ve got to cut back on movement even more, I guess.

Also, know that I’ve completed 25 games this year and abandoned about as many, so obviously I haven’t played every game in existence. If I don’t mention one of your favorites, tell me in the comments below.

First up on the top three of 2017, Yooka-Laylee:

A lot of people don’t like Yooka-Laylee, but all the criticisms I’ve read haven’t made much sense, to me. People complain that it’s just a collect-a-thon, that it’s just another 3d platformer that adds nothing to the genre, that the game relies a lot on fourth-wall-breaking dialog and self-referential characters. Those people are correct. But those descriptions are unfair criticisms. Those descriptions are exactly what Yooka-Laylee set out to be described as. Given the context of authorial/artistic intent, the game is a resounding success. And art needs to be judged in that context. I talk a lot more about this in my “Remember Yooka-Laylee?” video, which I encourage you to watch.

Number two on my list of the top games of 2017 so far: Little Nightmares.

I love, love, love an atmospheric 2d platformer, and that love grows to the power of 4 when the game is also a creepy, puzzle game of relatively low difficulty. I love an easy game. I want to be engaged by a video game, but when the game prides itself on difficulty, the immersion can sometimes be lessoned. When the game jump cuts to a death screen and the entire game space turns to a binary Quit or Continue choice, I’m removed just a bit from the experience, and have to reinvest. Sure, it’s a small pivot and readjustment, but when stacked up in repetition the way a very difficult game can do, constant pivots, readjustments, and reinvestment can get tedious. I accept that I’m probably in the minority on this, and many people love the unique challenge that video games can offer. But me? No. Just give me a creepy 2d puzzle platformer featuring a gnome getting chased by saggy skinned butchers, gluttonous cruise ship guests, and a guy with disgustingly long arms juxtaposed against comically short legs, and I’m happy.

And the number one best game of 2017 so far: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

This game surprised me. Not because it’s a good game, but because it’s such a good game and it’s good in a way I didn’t fully grasp until several hours into the campaign. Honestly, for the first few hours, I kinda hated the game. There was almost too much to do. I feared the game was to suffer the same paralyzation by possibilities that the Far Cry games do, which is the main reason I haven’t yet liked a Far Cry game. If you allow me, the player, to do anything I want without giving me at least a bit of guidance, then I have no reason to explore. But Breath of the Wild tricks the player by letting you see the vastness of the world while keeping you gated away from it. And the difficulty, though it’s high, it’s not unfair. The game designers did something incredibly smart here. Instead of gating the player with artificial landmarks, locked doors, or invisible walls, the game lets difficulty be the gate. If you go down one path and get beaten by an enemy, chances are you aren’t meant to go down that path yet. Once I realized this, that the difficult enemies weren’t just there to challenge me, once I learned that the game is relatively easy if you’re patient enough to find the right path forward, then I was free to enjoy one of the greatest video game experiences of all time.

Now, on to the top 5 games I’ve played this year, but came out in the past. Why 5 on this list instead of 3 like in the previous list? I’ve played more pre-2017 games. Yes 2017 has been amazing but keep in mind, pre-2017 was also good.

5. Unravel

I have a soft spot for cute platformers, and when the star of such platformers is itself soft, as is the case with Yarny, the lazily named yarn-sculpted protagonist of Unravel, that softspot becomes extra squishy.

The heart is a bit too on-the-sleeve for me during much of Unravel’s respectable-for-its-genre 7 hour length. At times I felt like I was playing a Lifetime drama or a made-for-TV movie about the importance of family, but exchange the typical conflict-elevating teenage pregnancy with a storyline about radioactive waste that works in Unravel because apparently the game felt it needed some new toxic goo hazards for Yarny to navigate.

Unravel is photo-realistic 2d puzzle platforming at its best.

4. The Swapper

The Swapper is beautiful atmospheric 2d  puzzle platformer that I’d comfortably classify with Limbo and Inside on account of the moody atmosphere and weighty themes: The Swapper delves into the ethics of soul swapping.

The early game threw me, though. When trying to figure out the story (it’s intentionally vague), and therefore I’m looking into every asset for clues, I noticed that some background dressings appear to be props pulled from a kitchen trash can. Seriously, tin cans and paper plates made to look like space stuff. I thought  I was playing a transcendent Toy Story. But no. The game is deadly serious. The digital environment budget must have simply been restrictive for Facepalm Games. That, or I don’t know disposable eating utensils like I think I do.

3. Hyper Light Drifter

Like with Yooka-Laylee–though I’d argue like with all games–it’s important to consider context when discussing Hyper Light Drifter.

Director and lead designer Alex Preston was born with congenital heart disease and has been hospitalized throughout his life with various complications associated with his condition.

What this means is that Hyper Light Drifter is much better than it needs to be. All it really needed to do was be a game made by a guy who could possibly die at any moment. The context of death, and the motivation death forces, is noble enough to push the game through a few PR beats, But Hyper Light Drifter decided to actually be great.

Hyper Light Drifter mines the aesthetic of the 8 bit generation to create wonderfully captivating art. Think The Legend of Zelda meets a Dark Souls game in a future sci Fi dystopia.

2. Psychonauts

Psychonauts is easily the oldest game on this list, which is encouraging as it reminds me that there are great games out there to be rediscovered.

While the controls of this 3d platformer are sadly representative of the 15 year old limitations from which it was developed, the humor stands out, and allows me to overlook the poor hit detection and the unresponsive character movement.

Perhaps the best part about playing Psychonauts now is that I can finally join in the Psychonauts 2 fanfare. Part 2 is coming out in 2018. I’m so ready for it.

1. Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order is the biggest surprise for me. It’s not a surprise in that nobody expected it to be good. It’s a surprise in that everybody already knew it was good.

I consider myself one who stays connected to the video game world. I read video game news blogs, I watch video game commentary. I look forward to E3 every year the way desert island castaways look forward to shipments of new CDs, or books, movies, or whatever desert island media you and your drunk friends are arguing about. And don’t say that U2 is one of your desert island bands. Even U2 couldn’t listen to U2 for the rest of their lives. And U2 loves U2.

Anyway, the point is I must be doing something wrong when a game like Wolfenstein: The New Order avoids me for this long. Oh, you know what, 2014 was that year I spent on a desert island playing only Super Metroid. That explains why I hadn’t yet played Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Now, a couple games I haven’t yet played, but based on reviews and recommendations from like-minded gamers I trust, these games could be contenders for best of 2017

  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Nier: Automata

I don’t have much to say other than I really look forward to playing these games.

Lastly, a few games I played in 2017 that I liked, but I really wanted to like more. These are games that, on paper, were right up my alley. On screen though, they drove right past the alley.

Oxenfree

Oxenfree is a narrative adventure game that, for its slow pace and unfortunately non-engaging storyline about aliens, at least pays attention to post-adolescent dialog with care.

Dear Esther

Some say Dear Esther is the original walking simulator. If so, I understand the intended insult behind the genre name. This game simulates walking. In a gorgeous, abandoned seaside village with insanely beautiful caves, sure, but, just walking. Check out my video “Is the Walking Simulator Still a Thing?” for more of my thoughts about the walking sim genre, a genre which I love, by the way. I feel it’s important to say that lest you take my dislike of Dear Esther as dislike for the entire genre.

Bound

Bound is a polygonal, hyper-stylized 3rd person platformer that mixes ballet with a broken home backstory. The melodrama of the story is either enhanced by the expressive ballet elements or those elements make the melodrama even more laughable. Not sure. Either way, it’s worth the 2 ½ hours, but I wouldn’t play it for 3 hours.

That’s my list. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Put your own 2017 list in the comments below.

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Thanks for watching!

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