And finally, we come to the big one. The Top Switch Games of 2017. And what a bloody year it was for the Switch.
No-one thought it’d happen. Everyone thought Nintendo was doing something stupid again. Haters were gearing up to scream for third-party Nintendo. Analysts predicted the worst, and the press sharpened their pitchforks… and Nintendo killed this year, demolished it, dominated the headlines and utterly trounced the competition. And considering the last time everyone got it so spectacularly wrong on this front the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS had dropped – yeah, I think it’s safe to say Nintendo may be alright in the coming months and years.
Splitting the list up was a bit of a headache – I’ll tell you that. But I think it’s perfectly reasonable in a year which saw the floodgates open on the Switch, that we separate it from the rest of the industry (isn’t that what the haters wanted anyway?) and applaud it on its own, because I can’t tell you how outrageous this year was for the little hybrid console, and how I went from being mostly dismissive of the Wii U – look back, I was never that kind to the Wii U (even if I think it will be more favourably considered in hindsight) – to an absolute shrieking convert on the Switch.
The rules have been mentioned before. So has the scoring system. So let’s cut to the chase and massage Reggie’s ego… I mean, it’s big enough, we can all get a turn in at the same time!
#5 – ARMS (Switch — Nintendo)
Gameplay 4 / Extras 5 / Technical 4 / Business 4 / Personal 4 – Total Score: 21/25
The running joke for the Switch is thus; “That really shouldn’t work. So why does it work?” – and ARMS is… well, a blend of Sock’em Robots, Punchout, Power Stone with just a dash of Overwatch’s graphical flair. In theory, a fighting game built on the motion controls of the JoyCon sounds like an absolute disaster – in practice, however? It’s a ridiculous, full-on and riotous amount of fun.
What makes this work is that it’s surprisingly technical – the rock/paper/scissors gameplay with numerous “attachments” to strengthen or weaken your position, the roster of fighters that increased over the course of the year with their own special little quirks and abilities, the arenas themselves. This is where the Power Stone angle comes into play – it’s not like Tekken, where you just pick a fighter and get to smacking things about. There’s a remarkable amount of depth in here, which makes things unpredictable. Of course, it’s a shame it’s never likely to become an Evo thing in the same way Smash Bros. is – but who knows. Give it time.
It was one of those games which elicited a groan back when it was unveiled at the Switch event in January (perhaps not helped by following 1, 2, Switch!), but now it is in our hands… yeah. This has Nintendo’s hallmarks all over it – take an idea, strip it right down and then rebuild something around it, which I am told is an actual thing in Japanese culture so I don’t know why I’m shocked or even surprised by this anymore. Even the third-person viewpoint is understandable and done with a degree of sense and intelligence.
… and I’m a Ninjara fan. Come at me, Min-Min fans! No, in fact, don’t. NOOOOOOOOO….
#4 – FIRE EMBLEM WARRIORS (Switch — Bandai-Namco/Team Ninja)
Gameplay 4 / Extras 5 / Technical 4 / Business 4 / Personal 5 – Total Score: 22/25
This is a late entry, but I’m glad it’s here. I was given Fire Emblem Warriors for Christmas, and what a gift it was! It has demolished the last week or so in a way… well, only a Switch game can. It’s been a really weird year. I can’t even pretend to be shocked anymore.
In more “It really shouldn’t work but…”, Fire Emblem Warriors marries the technical aspects of Fire Emblem with a hero-switching and commands system on a grid-based overview map with the simple pleasures of the Warriors series. Rather like Hyrule Warriors, it turns out that the Warriors series seems to work with everything (so I look forward at some point to Dark Souls Warriors – seriously, don’t act like this is the weirdest thing you’ll read this year). It’s packed with content – some of it mindless fun and some of it really surprisingly taxing, with History Maps based on the series past.
And there are plenty of heroes to be playing, and a season pass that already looks like more than worth the entry fee with one pack (Hyrule Warriors was no different, though). It also rewards time and planning – with plenty of “skills” to unlock, weapons to find and additional challenges bolted onto the maps when completed. Also, Anna is brilliant. Anna is my everything. I never understood the whole “waifu” thing before, but Anna is mine. With picture unlocks, shop challenges and more – Fire Emblem Warriors is probably going to be in my Switch for a very, very long time. And I’m okay with that.
So what’s the next Nintendo Warriors crossover? Kid Icarus Warriors? I’d play that.
#3 – SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY (PC, PS4, XBO — Bethesda/Tango Gameworks)
Gameplay 4 / Extras 5 / Technical 5 / Business 4 / Personal 5 – Total Score: 23/25
To be in a given year where a new 3D Mario is NOT king of all it surveys is an amazing time to be alive – but here we are. It’s been that kind of year for the Switch, where even Nintendo’s flagship mascot in his first freeform adventure since Sunshine couldn’t outshine – shine, heh heh – other games on the platform.
And it’s not for any failing in Odyssey either – it’s an absolute delight of a game, without question. The visuals are awesome, the locations are awesome, Mayor Pauline is awesome and woo you go girl, the story is awesome, Cappy is awesome, Capturing enemies is awesome, the T-Rex is awesome… everything is awesome, to put a small point on it. It’s suitably chaotic and experimental whilst also building on the whole Mario mythos a bit. And as for “that boss escape sequence”… don’t know why Mario didn’t stay in there. Sure that body could be better put to use. And Peach clearly has a thing for it too.
With tons to find, a screenshot system that lets you apply filters and make some pretty interesting images at times, plenty of costumes and headwear and an extensive end-game, Super Mario Odyssey is a fitting step into a new era for Mario that finally lets him run free and do his own thing for a bit. Most years, I’d argue this would be head and shoulders above everything else in the industry. But it’s 2017. And to reiterate – it’s been a weird year. So Odyssey, as amazing as it is, has to settle for third place.
But Mario does get to have two slots this year.
#2 – MARIO + RABBIDS: KINGDOM BATTLE (Switch — UbiSoft)
Gameplay 5 / Extras 4 / Technical 4 / Business 5 / Personal 5 – Total Score: 23/25
See what I mean about weird? UbiSoft is at #2. With a Nintendo exclusive game. With RABBIDS IN IT! With Rabbids and Mario and Luigi and Peach and Yoshi… in an XCOM-style tactical RPG. I mean… you… I… it… but… we… my brain still can’t quite handle this. It really shouldn’t work. No, really. It REALLY SHOULD NOT WORK. This… this makes no sense. At all.
And yet, when you play it… it makes perfect sense. It’s simple enough to understand – boiling down the accuracy system to three tiers (0, 50 and 100%) and adding in a Jump mechanism that allows you to literally throw your allies across the map strategically. And each map is multi-layered, multi-tiered and brilliantly constructed to take advantage of not just UbiSoft getting the admittedly undeserved chance to make a freakin’ Mario game in the Mushroom Kingdom, but to exacerbate just how ridiculous and weird and outrageous the Rabbids are themselves. Perfectly encapsulated by everyone’s favourite debut this year… Rabbid Peach. Sassy, at times bitchy and always perfectly positioned like the superstar model she is – Rabbid Peach was the standout, and if she doesn’t get her own game (hopefully with Peach and Ms. Piggy in some other weird crossover) it will be a damned shame.
Also, major props has to go to the best in-game diss track since The Great Mighty Poo. Mind you, there haven’t been many in-game diss tracks. The Phantom says what a lot of us have always really secretly wanted to say to Mario. But couldn’t. And he does it with such aplomb, such grace, such verve that I actually bought roses to replay it and throw them at my screen. Yeah, that’s weird too. But seriously, it’s a great boss battle.
And it’s absolutely wonderful to say, straight-faced, that this is one of the best UbiSoft games I have played in friggin’ YEARS. Bravo. And indeed, encore.
#5 – THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (Switch — Nintendo)
Gameplay 5 / Extras 4 / Technical 5 / Business 5 / Personal 5 – Total Score: 24/25
I wish I could be the renegade here but no. Breath of the Wild is a masterclass game and an achievement which genuinely outshines almost everything else that has been done this year. To be such a game is madness. To be that and a launch title for the Switch? That’s terrifyingly good business. Yes, the Wii U version is decent too. But taking this open-world survival adventure anywhere, to play anytime, is truly something magical.
Eiji Aonuma, rebelling against tradition, has redefined the Zelda series in a way that few could ever have expected. Almost from the outset, once the Paraglider is obtained, the whole of Hyrule is your playground. To run around, to hunt, to catch fish, to swim, to burn, to slice, to chop, to climb. Once those training wheels come off – you suddenly get an overwhelming sensation that no, really, Nintendo has stepped back and is watching to see what you do. And what have people done? Built flying contraptions. Skewed the physics. Done speed runs with those physics. Shield-surfed across the length and breadth of the world. Caught horses, fashioned ensembles to show to their friends, quested, slain monsters, been slain by monsters, tried to see how long they can stay in the air on the paraglider…
Yes, there’s a story in there. A decent one – though admittedly the DLC (only 50 hours more content for £20? I mean… THE SCANDAL!) didn’t say anything we couldn’t already figure out. The bike is awesome though. There’s lots of ambushes to find (or find you). Loads of NPC’s. You can take photos of almost everything. Did I mention there are freakin’ dragons yet? Because there are dragons, and on a snowy hill fighting a Silver Lynel, with an electric dragon circling overhead changing the music and lobbing down balls of electric energy at us, I got my “next-gen” moment. Right there. Everything clicked, and I knew… I knew this was it. This was everything. There was no going back now.
Few games so entrenched have the courage to undo decades of tradition and expectation and do something genuinely different, least of all like this. Are there problems? Sure, but they’re trifling ones. I wish Nintendo would still do another season pass or two for this – Eiji Aonuma might want to move onto the next Zelda game but there’s clearly way more that can be done in this Hyrule – but even if they don’t draft in a small team to potter about making extra stuff for this game, it’s an outstanding achievement of a game. It deserves every award it gets. And for many, it single-handedly ushered in a whole new Nintendo era that has set the bar outrageously high. I can’t imagine Nintendo getting above this one in a hurry.
… but who knows what will happen next. After doing this list and seeing Amazon have more than a dozen placeholders for the new Switch Direct… I hope this is a sign of things to come, because I can’t begin to fathom what Nintendo has waiting for us this year.
And yes, this is my overall Game of the Year. But that goes without saying. It’s pretty much everybody’s Game of the Year. It’s rare to find genuine consensus amongst gamers and critics alike, but on this one we all come together as one and say yes, this is fantastic.
Cue 2018 NintenDoomers screaming “Oh but this year Nintendo hasn’t got a BOTW game reeeeeeeeeeeeeeee NintenDOOOOOOOOOOOMED!”
I wish I could say that was a stupid joke but we all know it’s coming, and that we can be 100% certain about that is kind of sad when you think about it.
And so the Best/Worst Lists are now done.
Next up… not sure yet, but I’ve got a few things in mind. I’ll see how things go.