Another year has come and gone, which can only mean one thing: End of year lists! 2017 has been a pretty tumultuous year, but thankfully there have been plenty of pieces of media to distract us from the eventual collapse of society as we know it. The following games, movies, and comic books are presented in no particular order.
Stand Out Indies
Video games by small teams or independent creators keep knocking it out of the park. They might not be sixty hour epics, or have photorealistic 3D graphics, but between their exploration of new gameplay mechanics and narrative themes, indie games continue to be one of the most interesting spaces in digital gaming. This list is full of indie titles, but here are a few that stood out in particular.
Night in the Woods
Infinite Fall's "Rustbelt Gothic" college dropout cat simulator defies an easy summary. It's Kickstarter campaign showed the power of a good trailer. Scott Benson's fresh animation style, Alec Holowka's musical talents, and Bethany Hockenberry's evocative writing helped sustain an eager fanbase during the game's relatively long three year development cycle.
The title explores the dying steel down of Possum Springs, viewed through the eyes of Mea Borowski. It touches on everything from the plight of under-employment, the difficulties of queer youth growing up in small towns, and coping with mental illness, all while telling an engaging ghost story. Depite breath of topics the game covers, the game never comes off as contrived or forced. Night in the Woods has an earnestness that's hard to come by in video game storytelling, and will no doubt go down in history as a classic.
Rating: Tip-toeing On Power Lines / 10
2064: Read Only Memories
Read Only Memories is back! 2064 is an updated version of the 2015 adventure game, with full voice acting, reworked puzzles, releases for the Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and XBox One. I was fortunate enough to do some QA work for the Playstation 4 port of this game, so I'm probably a bit biased putting this on my list. The voice acting cast brings the game to life, pulling together hallmark voice over artists, celebrities such as Xavier Woods, and online personalities like ProZD. Finally, the game's original composer 2mello reprises his role, bringing some fresh tracks to new release, as well as some excellent arrangements of existing themes. Jess' Sonata gets me every time.
Rating: An Even More Adorable Singularity / 10
Battle Chef Brigade
Games that mash genres together generally get a bad rap. This isn't because mixing genres together is an inherently bad idea, but because it takes the finesse of a well-tended risotto to pull it off right.
Battle Chef Brigade pulls it off right. It brings together the unusual combination of a hack-and-slash platformer with the addictive puzzle-solving "match three" genera. Tying this all together is a fantasy take on the Iron Chef cooking competition. You battle wild monsters for ingredients, match their taste gems together to create unique dishes, and learn more about the culinary secretes of the world of Victusia through an over-the-top anime-inspired narrative.
Rating: Avoding the Chopping Block with a 3-chain combo / 10
Speaking of combining genres, Supergiant Games' Pyre is arguably the Bastion and Transistor studio's take on a sports game, albeit with a fantasy twist. The cast of Pyre has been exiled from their homeland, and their only chance of return is by conducting a sacred right that plays suspiciously like 3-on-3 basketball. Pair this with a visual novel story that adapts both to your wins and losses, and you've got a recipe for a memorable gaming experience.
Rating: A Fireball Slam Dunk / 10
I'm a sucker for sci-fi games with a well realized space setting. Titles like Mass Effect do a well enough job of creating spacefaring societies, but it can be tricky to nail down that standardized, modular, but lived in zero-gravity environment. 2017 was gracious enough to provide us with two stunning examples.
Prey belongs to a genre known as "Immersive Sim", "One of those Deux Ex games", or "0451", if you're in the know. It's Arkane Studios' celebration of all things System Shock, providing players with complex systems, upgradeable skill trees, and a story with enough twists to keep your head spinning.
The opening of Prey is too good to spoil, but in short, you find yourself on a besieged space station that has taken more than a few art deco notes from Bioshock. This is a tricky title to go into detail about, but it's most memorable enemy appears enough enough to talk about. The "Mimic" is a hostile alien creature akin to one of Half Life's headcrabs. It's not simply content with jumping at you around corners and out of air ducts however. The Mimic can shapeshift into any common environmental item, from a coffee mug to a desk chair. It's a great conceit for an early game enemy: Empty rooms are threatening, and the act of rapidly hitting every item in the room with your wrench is a great mechanical incentive to explore the game's hidden areas and world building notes.
Rating: Definitely Not a Mimic / 10
Tacoma is another narrative-based non-combat first person title from Fullbright, the developers behind Gone Home. Instead of taking place in a quiet suburban town however, this game is set on an empty space station. Your character has been tasked with investigating the whereabouts of the missing crew, and you do so by inspecting the environment, snooping into computer desktops, and replaying corrupt holographic logs of the crew's final hours. The Tacoma space station feels fully realized as you explore it's nooks and crannies, and Fullbright introduces some interesting sci-fi concepts, such as sign language being used as a common gesture-based text input method. The game only takes a few hours to complete, and it's well worth a look.
Rating: Rating Not Found / 10
Like a Rogue
I have a love-hate relationship with Roguelike titles. I usually need a fairly engaging hook to get into these games. Titles like Rogue Legacy, Spelunky, and FTL have been huge hits for me in the past. They all have an end goal to work towards, and your unsuccessful runs are building towards something larger. 2017 had a few interesting Roguelike titles that caught my eye, and introduced interesting riffs into the formula.
Tom Francis' absurd space heist simulator takes the lessons learned form the above titles, and gives you a goal to work towards. You're liberating a galaxy, going from system to system to free worlds, and unlock new gear along the way. Above and beyond this however, Heat Signature introduces something rather novel: Every character you play as brings something unique to the table.
Each character has something that drives them. They've got the classic "one last mission" they need to pull off before retiring. This can be anything from rescuing a loved one, to exacting revenge, so simply stealing a device valuable to live out the rest of their days. This, paired with a starting inventory that can be lethal, non-lethal, or gadget-centric, lends a lot to each randomly rolled character, and can inspire players to get out of their first-order-optimal-strategy rut.
In addition to being a fresh Roguelike, Heat Signature is just fun. The game defines emergent gameplay. The amount of wacky situations you can get into with teleporters, time distorting devices, and silenced shotguns is incredible. Everyone who's played Heat Signature has a story about how they ran out of bullets, but managed to use a position-swapping teleporter to get a guard to shoot themselves with their own bullet. One of my crowning moments of Heat Signature was when I realized I didn't have an armor piercing weapon, so I shot the window out of the room me and my kidnapping target were in. I had a precious few seconds to remotely pilot my shuttle pod and catch both of us as we were flung off into space. Managing to grab us both before we ran out of air is a gaming feat I'll not soon forget.
Rating: -Catch Her- / 100
Never Stop Sneaking
Never Stop Sneaking is a late entrant onto this year's list. It uses the modern Roguelike progression structure of having each run build up funds which can be used to upgrade your characters and delve further into the dungeon. The dungeon in this case is a secret military base. Never Stop Sneaking thematically is a Metal Gear Solid farce, poking fun at over the top plots, and aesthetically borrowing the genome soldiers and vision cones.
The game itself plays as a top down action title. Nearly every action is automatic. If you sneak up behind an enemy, you'll automatically slash them with your sword. Get spotted by an enemy? You'll automatically shoot them if you have any ammo. The entire point of the game is to progress through the levels as quickly as possible, chain up takedown combos, and oh, rescue all of the presidents.
Yes, all of them. Even the bad ones. Did I mention the big bad has a time machine?
Check it out at the Nintendo eShop.
Rating: A Farce to Surprass Metal Gear!? / 10
I picked up an HTC Vive last Christmas, and while I haven't gotten quite as much use out of it as I've hoped, virtual reality already has a few unique experiences going for it. There were some stand-out comedy games last year, and if this year was any indication, solid VR shooters are right around the corner.
Technically this is a game from last December, but still one of the best demonstrations of what VR gaming can be. It retains the same conceit that the desktop version of SUPERHOT experimented with: It's an FPS where time only moves when you do. This is a perfect fit for an introductory VR title. If you're disoriented, you simply stand still and gather your bearings while the world around you stays frozen in time. Furthermore, SUPERHOT's encounter-based gameplay solves the FPS movement issue that developers have been struggling with by eschewing movement entirely. It's not a solution that would work for most games, but it fits the title's minimalistic art style.
Rating: OBEY / 10
If you are interested in trying out a virtual reality FPS game with movement mechanics, give Compound a look. It's currently a free Early Access title, so you've got nothing to lose if you already own a VR headset and motion controllers. Developer NotDead has experimented with multiple movement techniques throughout Compound's development, including the classic "teleportation" system, and the more tricky "hoverboard" approach to VR movement.
One of Compound's most notable features is it's art direction. NotDead has chosen to style the game after classic Id shooters like Castle Wolfenstein and Doom, while giving the game it's own visual identity and flare. It doesn't adhere too slavishly to the classic aesthetics, using 3D models instead of rotated sprites, but it does have an overall retro feel to it. One of VR's greatest promises is letting you "step inside of a video game", and Compound is one of the first titles that appears to deliver on that promise.
Rating: Keep an Eye on this One / 10
I'm not a huge mobile gamer, people are probably going to be surprised that Pokémon Go and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp haven't made this list. That being said, I ran into two small games this year of note.
Flip Flop Solitaire
Flip Flop Solitaire is a riff on the classic game of Spider Solitare. It reduces the number of card piles down from 10 to 5 to make it more mobile friendly, but allows players to place in ascending or descending order. It's design is solid, the game is responsive, and it's so addictive I had to uninstall it off of my phone after a few weeks of playing it.
Check it out at FlipFlopSolitaire.com
Checking Into Solitaire Rehab / 10
Flat Pack is a mobile platformer which has your propeller-toting 2D character walking around the surface of 3D rectangles. It's a rather simple game, but the controls are responsive, and with the unveil of iOS 11, they added an amusing ARKit set of levels which require you to move your phone's camera around a virtual 3D level to properly view every surface.
Rating: Boxed In / 10
Nintendo Keeps Doing Their Thing
The Nintendo Switch probably deserves its own place on this list. Nintendo's newest console/handheld hybrid has taken the world by storm. There's been a good mixture of first, third, and independent titles on the Switch already. Naturally, pretty much everything Nintendo did this year made the list.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo took a big gamble on their prized franchises, and it played off in spades. Bringing an open world design perspective to Zelda was a breath of fresh air (pardon the pun) to an aging formulaic franchise. Despite being designed to also work on the Wii U, Breath of the Wild feels right at home on the Switch. It's well suited for long gaming sessions, while it's shrine puzzles make great on the go micro challenges for short gaming breaks.
Check it out at the Nintendo eShop.
Rating: A Rewarding Horseback Journey / 10
Super Mario Odyssey
Nintendo didn't play it safe with Mario either, forgoing the usual New SMB framework for something that feels fresh and exciting. Trading powerups for Cappy's capture mechanic injects fun variety into the jump around, and the drastically differently aesthetic worlds keep things interesting. New Donk City was a great end of year platforming treat.
Check it out at the Nintendo eShop.
Rating: Wedding Bowser's Suit 👀💦 / 10
The SNES Classic is weaponized nostalgia at it's finest. There's never not a good time to go back and beat Super Metroid of Kirby Super Star. The controllers feel perfect, and as long as you've got an extension cord, there's no better way to go back and play some of these Super Nintendo Classics.
Check it out… Wherever you can. Inventory is finally starting to get better.
Rating: Zomg I Still Can't Believe They Included Super Mario RPG / 10
This list isn't just covering games. There were some good movies this year too.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The latest Star Wars holds up to multiple repeat viewings. It continues to the trend of adding 21st century humor to the franchise, while playing with traditional blockbuster storylines.
Now in theaters. Eventually on Amazon.
Rating: Holding Out Hope for FinnPoe / 10
Blade Runner 2049
While Blade Runner 2049 is not a movie without flaws, it's a great example of updating a classic sci-fi aesthetic respectfully while continuing to expand it and let it grow. This is the film Ghost in the Shell (2017) should have been.
Grab the Blu-Ray on Amazon.
Rating: Do Androids Dream of Holographic Girlfriends? / 10
The Big Sick
Kumail Nanjiani's pseudo-autobiographical film was one of the best comedies in ages. Based on the true story of the actor's girlfriend falling into a coma, the film covers the Pakistani-American comedian navigating family life, getting to know his girlfriend's parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), and generally finding his place in the world. It's a gem of a film, and I spent the weeks following it's release telling everyone within earshot to go see it.
Rating: She's Still Looking At You / 10
Wow, that's a lot of media. Hopefully your browser didn't choke on all of those giant animated gifs. See you all next year!