GOTY 2017: Nick's Honorable Mentions
While our list of the top ten games of the year is a collaborative effort, there are always some casualties. Our Honorable Mentions offer each staff member a chance to highlight some of their other personal favorite games of 2017 that simply didn't make the cut.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the subtle and intricate balancing act that’s constantly playing out in our universe. From the elementary laws of physics to the precarity of our global environmental crisis, we exist in the midst of an unfathomably complex set of actions and reactions.
This was a tough year for a lot of people, and I know I had it much better than the vast majority of folks out there. A combination of guilt and despair permeated my thoughts as I entered 2017, and I struggled for months to justify taking the time to play games, watch movies, read books, or do anything I used to do when I felt like I could enjoy my downtime without reservation.
Instead, I channeled most of my energy into self-improvement: brushing up on my programming skills on the weekends, exercising more, walking and biking everywhere I could, challenging myself to become a more confident cook, and a whole lot of therapy.
And for the record, that regimen helped a lot! I ended the year in a better place mentally and physically than I’ve been in years. But I also realized that, while being an adult and taking care of yourself is very important, it can’t be the only thing you fill your free time with—Jack Torrance and all that.
And here’s the crux of what I’m getting at: for as difficult, infuriating, and exhausting as 2017 was, it also happened to be the absolute best year for games of my entire life. This was a year where Nintendo released a brilliant new console and a half-dozen excellent game for it, including maybe the best game they’ve ever made. It was a year where smaller developers had the courage and the mastery of their craft to make games that subverted expectations and brought on emotional highs and lows I’d rarely ever seen in games before. It was also a year where some of my favorite games came from unexpected corners of the internet—and many of them challenge my notion of what a game can be.
Here are some of my favorites, organized by the way I experienced them.
Over the Internet
As the years go by, my network of friends and acquaintances spreads farther across the globe. Fortunately, games are a wonderful way to bridge that gap and to feel connected to people I don’t get to see often.
Throughout 2017, my constant for online socialization was Overwatch. Blizzard added a few new heroes to the mix, and they all wound up fitting like a glove. But I also have to give a quick shout-out to Destiny 2 for allowing me to get in, shoot a lot of things, and get out in less than 30 hours. I got exactly what I wanted out of the storyline in that game—fun mission variety, excellent online integration, and zero desire to stick it out for the endgame.
Maybe my favorite online game of 2017 was Splatoon 2. This game delivered a shrewd refinement to the already wonderful and highly accessible chaos of the first game thanks to some finely tuned weapons and an excellent array of maps. But what made it really stand out for me are two things: it’s on Switch, which means LAN play is totally painless, and the Salmon Run mode, which makes LAN play absolutely sublime. If you skipped Splatoon 2 and you own a Switch, you really ought to give it another look. This game is dripping with style and charm, and it deserves recognition alongside the best of what Nintendo put out this year.
All right. So. About that elephant in the room.
I’m gonna plant a stake in the ground and say this: I don’t think anyone will be talking about Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds in a year or two. I think the game we played in 2017 was unreasonably rough, wildly inconsistent, and thoroughly lacking in imagination. It’s a good idea that’s been done elsewhere before, and it’s gonna be done much better in many different ways before 2018 is over.
But holy shit, I had such a fantastic time with Battlegrounds.
I spent dozens of hours with my friends (shout-out to my Buggy Boys) this year hopping into a plane, plotting a course for destruction, and riding busted-ass cars to our imminent demise—only to do it all over again, over and over. We never won that coveted chicken dinner, but we had a blast every time we tried.
I don’t like Battlegrounds as a solo exercise. It’s incredibly stressful, and given that the game runs pretty terribly on my gaming PC, I feel like there’s little joy there to stand in as a buffer between my inputs and the game’s cruel, inconsistent outputs. But as a team game? Yeah, ok, there’s really something here.
Around the Table
One thing I didn’t do so great at in 2016? Seeing people in-person. Like, you know, friends.
I also turned 30 in 2016. So between the inexorable march of time/the looming threat of my eventual demise and my desire to, uh, not hasten that, I decided to get out and be a little more social in 2017.
I dove into a bunch of wonderful party games this year. Dixit is great at combining social deduction with creative expression, and Betrayal at House on the Hill weaves a strong setting with a clever reversal mechanic that’s fun from the first attempt and seems to hold a surprising amount of strategic depth for anyone who wants to dig into it. And Secret Hitler is, in addition to a surprisingly salient primer on the perilous times we live in, also a delightful evolution on the classic formula of trust and social-deduction games.
2017 also marks the first time I ever joined in on a sealed draft for Magic: The Gathering. My friend Nathan (who wrote about a bunch of great games for us—check out his list!) organized a draft of the Conspiracy: Take the Crown set, which pits four players in a free-for-all where the balance of power is constantly shifting. We had a great time, even if my deck was a bit, er, lopsided.
The party game I loved the most, though, has to be Monikers. It’s not all that novel of an idea, but it’s the kind of game that’s immediate to pick up, wonderfully silly, and endlessly replayable. If you’re going to have friends or family over and want something that’ll be fun for everyone, Monikers is the easiest and safest recommendation I can make.
On the Couch
Board games are fun, but you know what’s also fun? Cramming a bunch of your friends onto a couch and diving into some local co-op on a console game or five.
On the Switch, my friends and I spent dozens of hours on games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Overcooked—both wonderful games, and both exasperating in delightfully devilish ways. I also took a jab at Arms, Nintendo’s bonkers take on fighting games. It’s a little light in terms of features and none of the control schemes quite fit, but dang, that game’s positively dripping with good style. And I had a great time plowing through the first couple worlds of Cuphead with a good friend of mine, alternately exclaiming “holy shit, this game looks amazing!” and “holy shit, this game’s so hard!” throughout.
I also had an unreasonable amount of fun watching one of my friends systemically dismember camp counselors as Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th: The Game. That game’s buggy as hell and not particularly well-designed, but it’s just a joy to watch—especially with an audience.
But when it comes to gathering friends around a TV for a good time, nobody delivers with such laser precision and guaranteed laughs like Jackbox Games does. I spent probably close to 100 hours over the course of 2017 diving into Jackbox Party Pack games like Quiplash, Tee K.O. and Fibbage. The best part about the Jackbox series is you only need a cell phone or computer to play, so it’s easy to get all your friends in. Nothing made me laugh harder than the asinine in-jokes my crew and I came up with in 2017, and I hope we keep the tradition going strong this year.
Off the Beaten Path
There’s a lotta great, weird stuff on the internet. And some awful stuff. But great stuff, too.
I don’t wanna say a whole lot about any of these, but they’re all free (except Oikospiel, which even has a clever mechanic for determining what it costs). So go check ‘em all out!
- Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment
- Pet the Pup at the Party
- Universal Paperclips
- Oikospiel Book I
One thing I should call out is Universal Paperclips. It looks like a clicker/productivity game, and it is, but it also has something to say that fits very neatly into the medium. I definitely recommend giving it a go if you, too, lie awake at night thinking about the systemic way we’re turning all of Earth’s precious resources into disposable diapers and single-cup coffee pods.
For me, the absolute best discovery I made online in 2017 has to be the work of Nicky Case. They’re making games that are incredibly valuable as teaching tools and as a means for conveying empathy, and really, I beseech you to take the time to check a few out. Maybe start here: The Evolution of Trust
Across Time and Space
I also made some time for some old classics that passed me by, along with a few unexpected surprises. I picked up Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride for my DS after our contributor Ben Morgan suggested it as a good entry point for the Dragon Quest series. And, uh, wow: he was right. I tried to wring some joy out of Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Quest IX when they originally came out, but they both felt dry and joyless. Dragon Quest V is every bit as delightful as I’d hoped, and the monster-recruitment system holds up quite nicely.
This was also the year where I finally, finally found a way to play Mother 3 in English. And thanks to Doug, I managed to procure a Game Boy Advance SP straight out of a Japanese used-game store so I can play it on the genuine article.
I should also mention that I played through Metroid: Samus Returns, a remake of the Game Boy original. Yep, it’s a new Metroid game, and it’s actually pretty darn good.
Oh gosh, I also need to mention the ALttP Randomizer. This is a tool where you can take your copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and run it through an algorithm that mixes it all up. Item locations, player sprites, and all kinds of other things can be tweaked to create a fresh—but still winnable!—game every time. It’s a brilliant concept that’s a uniquely good fit for A Link to the Past. My friend Patrick and I competed a couple times in races through randomizer seeds; he beats me by at least an hour each time, but it’s a lot of fun.
Before we move back to 2017, I need to mention the true star of the year: the Super NES Classic Edition. This little thing is like a beautiful, perfect horcrux of my childhood, preserving some of my all-time favorite games in a charming package. I spent a good chunk of time digging into some of my old favorites, but the standout here has to be Star Fox 2.
Ok, real quick, just a little anecdote about Star Fox 2: it was demoed at the 1995 Winter Consumer Electronics Show, and my dad just happened to take me with him on a work trip to the event. Nine-year-old me had been reading all about Star Fox 2 in Nintendo Power, and I was thrilled to get a chance to play the game before it came out. Of course, it was canceled shortly afterward, and I had to resort to digging up questionable ROMs a decade later to get a taste of what that game really could’ve been.
Playing Star Fox 2 start-to-finish was a strange and wonderful thing. I’d always wondered what that game could’ve been, and you know what? It’s actually a pretty remarkable little game. It’s short, but it’s highly replayable, and it features some of the absolute most impressive sound design of any game from that decade—the positional audio and virtual surround are second to none on the SNES.
On the Go
It wasn’t a great year for gaming on my phone, but I had a good time with Zach Gage’s latest twist on an old staple, Flipflop Solitaire. I also just recently dug into Reigns: Her Majesty, the Tinder-meets-governing sim penned by Leigh Alexander. It’s more of a very good thing, and I’m psyched to see what her voice brings to the game.
The standout game on my phone in 2017 has to be Bury Me, My Love. It’s a game where you play as a man, Majd, who’s texting with his wife, Nour, as she’s fleeing war-torn Syria. This game is absolutely brilliant for how it uses the smartphone medium to great effect: by default, you’ll play the game in real time, which means your conversations with Nour will be scattered and often be spread hours apart. This is the definitive way to play the game. There’s something about waking up to a push notification on my phone from Nour, and not knowing whether she’s in danger or just checking in, that drives home the themes of this game so effectively. It’s a brilliant evolution of the visual novel and it’s absolutely worth your time and attention.
All By Myself
And, of course, I played some games alone. This was 2017, after all, and we all cope in different ways. I’ll go quickly, because this is already way too long:
- I’m just three hours into Yakuza 0 but I love every single thing I’ve seen so far, from the inexplicable stylistic choice of multiple different cutscene types to the way the music changes when you change your fight stance during a battle. But oh my god, the karaoke. Wow. That went places.
- I don’t like Persona 5 nearly as much as Persona 4 Golden. Call me picky, but I just loved the small-town charm of Inaba, and if I’m gonna spend time in Tokyo, I’d rather it be through the late-’80s veneer of Yakuza 0. But this game is dripping with style, and the core mechanics are still solid. I’m just waiting for the story to become engaging, and I’m struggling with not hating every single character on my team. But maybe I just need to get to the third or fourth palace? I dunno. I’m losing steam. Send help.
- The game that I disliked playing the most but still recommend emphatically to everyone has to be Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. It’s markedly worse than its predecessor when it comes to the Wolfenstein bread-and-butter of shooting Nazis—which, y’know, is kind of a big deal in this series—but wow, the storytelling in this game. Absolutely wild, incredibly ambitious stuff; I literally had to drop my controller and walk away from the screen a few different times because I couldn’t immediately process what had just happened. If MachineGames combined this confident storytelling they’ve mastered with a more solid shooter like 2016’s Doom, they'd be looking at a true GOTY contender.
- Please play Doki Doki Literature Club, but only if you’ve acknowledged the content warnings. They’re absolutely not kidding around.
- I really liked a lot about Tacoma, Fullbright’s follow-up to our 2013 Game of the Year, Gone Home. It didn’t hit me as hard as Gone Home, but the way you explore the story in Tacoma is very inspired and fits the narrative very nicely, and the corporate-controlled world they paint is eerily believable.
There’s one last game we need to talk about. It’s the one game that I really felt deserved a place on our top ten list, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I’m talking about the man-in-a-bucket-with-a-hammer simulator, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.
This game is cruel. It’s unforgiving. The control scheme, like Foddy’s prior works QWOP and CLOP, is confounding. But here’s the thing: Getting Over It is also a masterfully designed game and it hosts a brilliant dialogue between the player and its creator, Bennett Foddy himself.
As of this writing, I’ve sunk about five hours into Getting Over It. I’m told it can be speedrun in under three minutes. I’m probably past the halfway point, and I intend to keep climbing. What can I say? I need to see what lies at the top. And based on the way Foddy talks about my struggle and my drive to persevere in the face of cruel odds, I think he understands.