And so, with the crap out of the way, we get to my top lists.
I guess it’s fair to say that 2017 was the Year of the Switch, and considering how utterly ridiculous the standard was on that platform – with my top ten games seeing six entries on the Switch – that it made sense to split things up to be fairer on all parties. After all, it’s not fair if only one non-Switch game is in my top five; objectively I can’t deny the Switch killed things in 2017 but I also admit that it would make me very uncomfortable to see Nintendo just outright dominate the list. At that point, you need to split things up to even try to be fair.
So here’s Step One; My Top Non-Switch Games of 2017. In case you aren’t aware – this year I have decided to implement a new Score System for my lists covering five categories;
1. Gameplay (Is it fun to play? Does it make sense when playing it?)
2. Extras (Is there plenty to do? Is the DLC worth additional money?)
3. Technical (Are there bugs and glitches? Do they impact the game?)
4. Business (Does the business make sense for the consumer or the company?)
5. Personal (Basically – how much did I like it?)
A game can score between zero and five points – meaning the least a game can score is zero (and at that point, it’s really not even a “game”… more of a “brick” or “frisbee”…), and the most of course is twenty-five.
The system for numbering is thus; 0 = crap. 1 = bad. 2 = okay. 3 = good. 4 = great. 5 = excellent.
All entries for my year-end rankings are listed down and I pick the top/bottom from the list.
Other than that, the usual rules apply;
1 – It had to have released in 2017
2 – I have to have played it.
Got that? Excellent, let’s talk the good stuff.
#5 – THE EVIL WITHIN 2 (PC, PS4, XBO — Bethesda/Tango Gameworks)
Gameplay 4 / Extras 5 / Technical 4 / Business 3 / Personal 4 – Total Score: 20/25
Whilst everyone gushed over the – in my opinion – terribly overrated Resident Evil 7, Shinji Mikami dropped The Evil Within 2 which for me was objectively the better survival horror game of the year. And that’s not just because it’s quite scary and fiendishly tricky in spots.
No, what puts The Evil Within 2 on this list is the ambition and the execution – one might assume that this would be expected of Mikami, the Godfather of Resident Evil, but the first game – whilst ambitious – lacked in the execution department. The Evil Within 2 is, like most horror games of this era, not wholly original – taking parts of Twin Peaks, Silent Hill, Assassin’s Creed and even Inception – but the blend is far more palatable thanks to a cracking script full of twists and turns, a fascinating setting and setting about righting a few wrongs of the original game to boot. It also has some tremendous set pieces, and an affirming but also heartbreaking ending which – in my viewpoint at least – puts this little series to bed. At least for the time being.
It wouldn’t work without the characters and indeed, the villains – surprisingly well executed considering the breakneck whiplash that comes in at times, where you’re not quite sure what the game is building up to. You can definitely see where Resident Evil got its character charm from with this game; everything slots remarkably into place, and that makes it both satisfying and enjoyable. Sure, there’s no Jill or Nemesis in sight – but there are some really solid arcs and designs that really sing in the context of this game.
Now, should Shinji Mikami return to Resident Evil? Eh… maybe? I’ve softened a little, but I still believe a creative director and designer of this calibre that can turn out a horror game of this scale and magnitude should continue pushing forward into newer realms and newer ideas, rather than returning to resuscitate the dying franchise that Capcom managed to run into the ground in his absence. The Evil Within 2 is everything Resident Evil 7 isn’t; coherent, inventive and inspired, it may be Capcom will pay good money for him to return.
But based on The Evil Within 2, I’m thinking he will probably turn it down to try something different. And I, for one, would applaud him for that decision.
#4 – CUPHEAD (PC, XBO — Studio MDHR)
Gameplay 4 / Extras 4 / Technical 4 / Business 4 / Personal 4 – Total Score: 20/25
Microsoft may not have had much to shout about this year – but the long delayed Cuphead is certainly something they should be rightly crowing about, because it’s a remarkable accomplishment and a fantastic game in its own right.
Everyone talks about the art style – which, for the record, is fantastic (if not entirely original since Disney did this sort of thing back in the 16-bit era). But it’s not just the look – it’s the feel, the sensation, the pacing and the wit that keeps this game above so many other titles this year. It’s not the “Dark Souls” of Platformers – come on, that’s Salt & Sanctuary – but it is a throwback game, with a well constructed challenge and a keen eye for framerates and game mechanics, keeping it fairly straight-forward and allowing multi-stage boss fights and the occasional platforming segment (with some auto-scrolling parts) to posit the actual challenge. It doesn’t feel cheap, or aggressively stupid, it just feels… right somehow.
Of course, I don’t think this game is for everyone – but I also can’t agree with the backlash some outlets put it under. What it does, it does remarkably well and I honestly don’t think there was any intent to harm or offend here. I don’t think this is the game to read into. I think that would be foolish.
That said, it’s nice to see a game delayed this long turning out to be a real corker. Microsoft may have a rough ride ahead of it – I’m sure I’ll be talking about that this month at some point – but if nothing else, they can at the very least say that they were the backbone of Cuphead, and put the money into it. At a time when so many big companies have been ploughing their cash into some of the absolute worst games you can imagine, there’s something to be said for the simplicity and straight-forward attitude of a game like this. Microsoft could have made demands. It seems they didn’t. And the end result has more than justified their hands-off approach.
#3 – SONIC MANIA (PC, PS4, XBO, SWITCH — Capcom)
Gameplay 4 / Extras 4 / Technical 4 / Business 5 / Personal 4 – Total Score: 21/25
Not a Switch exclusive so it gets to go in this list. Yay for loopholes!
Sonic Mania is a revelation. After all this time, it’s impossible to understate how big a step forward this was for Sonic the Hedgehog (and how big a step back Sonic Forces was). Christian Whitehead and the HeadCannon team took their time and experience making Sonic Fan Games, and extrapolated from there showing us that the shift to three-dimensions was, perhaps, a wholly unnecessary move on Sega and Sonic Team’s part. In Sonic Mania, there’s a playful experimentation and extrapolation that feels very much like the Sonic we knew back in “them thar olden days”, like a lost instalment of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Which, incidentally, seems to have been the point.
Everything about this game tells you Sonic Team were not really welcome; the remastering of classic places, the new stages, the construction and layout, the storytelling and even the handling and in-game Sonic Physics are all perfectly pitched. The boss fights are the pinnacle of this game; playful, inventive and making full use of some of the advances in technology, it’s remarkable how good this game looks in motion and how you just have a terrible cheesy grin for the majority of it. I could maybe have done without those Special Stages (the ball ones from Sonic 3 & Knuckles – I never really liked them that much and there are way too many in this game), but it’s a tiny complaint in the face of what was a triumphant little retro throwback.
And yes, I am a sucker for the old Mean Bean Machine. Yes, I know, Puyo Puyo is on the Switch too (it’s really rather good, in fact, with a decent Tetris game bundled in with it!), but there’s something about Mean Bean Machine that gives me a warm fuzzy glow. Making that an actual boss fight – absolutely inspired. Glorious. 10/10 best decision in a Sonic Game for at least a decade. I unlocked it – and I played it more than I’d care to admit.
With Sonic Forces being a dud, perhaps the time has come to move more towards the people behind Sonic Mania instead. Sonic Team have had more chances than most companies would ever be given. Based on Mania, the torch needs to be passed – for good, and for the good of Sonic.
#2 – NIOH (PC, PS4 — Team Ninja/Bandai-Namco)
Gameplay 5 / Extras 4 / Technical 4 / Business 4 / Personal 5 – Total Score: 22/25
For all the crap I’ve given Sony this year – justifiably so, I might add – scoring Nioh as a console exclusive was a brilliant bit of business.
No, it’s NOT a Dark Souls rip-off; in fact, as I mentioned backalong, Nioh harks back more to the Tenchu series with a middle-market inflection on its art direction that calls to mind the Shadow Hearts games and Koudelka – ahh, Koudelka, I love that I can say that games name again. The combat borrows more from the Warriors games, in my viewpoint – having played Fire Emblem Warriors, there are some similarities, though Nioh’s combat is arguably tighter and more aggressive. And the mood of the game is a very, very old-fashioned throwback to the PS2 era where playing around with historical stories and making them more fantastical and magical was all the rage (a lot of throwback hits this year, I know).
But there’s something else in Nioh – a sparkle, a warmth, a wit that just makes it sing. It’s unapologetic in the dodgy translations, the duff voice-acting on the whole and at times the janky animations. Perhaps it’s in the Diablo-esque loot system, throwing tons of weapons and armour at you. Or perhaps it’s the system of summoning player avatars in to get a hold of new gear? Or the satisfying levelling system and challenge modes? Or perhaps it’s the Companion System, with a whimsical selection of fantastical deities each one more fascinating and interesting than the last.
Nioh is an astounding game – which, I still believe, should have been a little cheaper than it was at launch. A middle-market throwback at a Triple-A pricetag? Come on. But now those prices are tumbling and you can pick this up on the PC as well now, I highly recommend Nioh for those looking for something compelling and a little bit off the beaten path. It’s getting a ton of praise and all of it fully justified.
#1 – HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE (PC, PS4, XBO — Ninja Theory)
Gameplay 4 / Extras 4 / Technical 4 / Business 5 / Personal 5 – Total Score: 22/25
Senua’s Sacrifice is and was a revelation; a game with an angle on mental health issues that didn’t paint the protagonist in any way as an outright victim, sold at a mid-tier price with “Triple-A” levels of polish and graphical flair. A game which eschewed the traditional publishing route for a digital-only affair; making the game they wanted to make. A game who had a first-time voice actress (who was in fact Ninja Theory’s video editor) and beat actual professionals in actual bloody unions to winning most of the performance awards this year. A satsifyingly brutal game with a terrible, heart-rending and satisfying storyline.
Is it uncomfortable? Sure, but fun isn’t always the end-game; from time to time, being challenged and made to feel a little uneasy can be a refreshing change of pace, and Ninja Theory does this by having run all of their mental health (Senua has psychosis) angles by actual professionals in the field and – gasp! – making changes as and when needed to make sure their in-game depiction is as solid and believable as possible. It also means Senua has the occasional fourth-wall breaking moment; which really makes you feel part of the experience, part of the mechanism. It’s a brilliant bit of work and in most hands this could and would have gone terribly, horribly, depressingly (haha oh I’m bipolar) wrong – thank goodness it didn’t here.
What’s more – this was successful as a game. Not big-publisher successful, but successful enough that it completely verified NT’s angle of ditching the publisher and trying to go it alone. It showcased that mid-tier does not mean corny video games and that it’s not just Nintendo that can get away with mid-tier products (like it did for most of the Wii U’s lifespan). It speaks volumes in a year which was an absolute train wreck for most of the big publishing houses – if you have confidence, faith and a really good game, publishers may not be your saviour. It can be done. You can make ambitious, artistically-driven gaming experiences without a big corporation breathing down your neck at every turn.
A fantastic sentiment all around, Senua’s Sacrifice is my favourite non-Switch game of the year.
And that’s one more post down! Coming tomorrow – my Top Five Switch Games Of 2017.
Which obviously – spoiler – includes the Overall Game of the Year. Really, did you not see that coming?