It’s that time of the year again, and BOY what a year it’s been. 2017 certainly hasn’t been kind in a lot of aspects, but, if nothing else, its been a hell of a journey in the gaming world. Peppered in throughout the year, we’ve seen a variety of thrilling releases and announcements, with the Nintendo Switch finally coming into our hands, an epic E3 showing, and some of the most unique and gorgeous games yet (lookin’ at you Cuphead). There has been a crazy amount of amazing games that came out this year, but I’ve narrowed it down to my TOP 5, in order. Before we cut to the games, I wanna wish the Pixelrater family (yeah that’s all y’all out there) a happy holiday and New Year and thank all of you again for being along for the ride.
5. Sonic Mania
Taking a walk down memory lane always brings happiness and nostalgia, but no game has brought me back to my childhood like Sonic Mania. I was jazzed about this game as soon as it was announced, and it was so exciting to return to a Sega-Genesis-esque Sonic once more. HOLY SHIT did they do this one right. Sonic Mania is the epitome of what a revamp of a game / series should be. It gave huge nods to classic Sonic, with whole levels designed like previous levels, but with entirely new flavors, like a baller remix on an old favorite. Thrown into the mix are brilliantly designed and difficult boss battles, that get frustratingly merciless at times. The soundtrack in the game is absolutely killer, and Sonic is shining brighter than he has in YEARS. I had such a great time playing this game, and the multiplayer is also really fun to play with a friend. Forget 3D Sonic (forever please), my 2D boy is back and better than ever. I never would have thought that I would see Sonic on my own top 5 games of a year outside of the 90’s, yet here we are. Tristan hit the nail on the head with his review, so I’ll defer to him for the rest of my thoughts on Sonic Mania.
4. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Even without a built in romance system (which was one of my favorite aspects of FE: Fates), Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is an immensely successful Fire Emblem game – again showing the success a great remake can achieve. For those of you who listen to the podcast, you know that I’m already a HUGE fan of the Fire Emblem series, so picking up this game was a no-brainer for me. The main story is the same as Fire Emblem Gaiden, the original 1992 title which was never released outside of Japan. Gameplay-wise, it builds off the successes of FE: Awakening and FE: Fates, with great battle maps and a beautiful buffet spread of different characters. Every aspect of this title was fine tuned and perfected, adding in different modes of play, like 3D dungeon crawling, that have never been seen in Fire Emblem titles before. I really hadn’t played too much on my 3DS this year, with this game being the biggest exception. It was a great addition to my commute to and from work (which is usually when you’ll catch me on my 3DS), and actually took me a good while to beat. The game itself is properly challenging with a great storyline, which means it’s just difficult enough that you WILL be rewinding time / shutting off your system when your fav dies, but not too difficult that it will keep you from wanting to continue. For any fan of the series, FE: Echoes is a no-brainer to pick up, it is fast paced, innovative, and one of the most overall, well-polished Fire Emblem games I’ve ever played.
Bethesda, you’ve done it again, proving once more why you are my favorite gaming company. Going into Prey, I was extremely skeptical – I had played the original game on Xbox, but this looked totally different. I also didn’t know how much I wanted to lean into something that seemed so scary (for all y’all out there who don’t know, I CAN NOT DEAL with scary). Right out the gate, Prey’s first half hour of twists and turns had me hook, line, and sinker. Built on a rock-solid story and concept, Prey did not disappoint one bit. This was a game so immersive that I could not put the controller down. Sure, playing through Prey did have it’s heart-pumping and terrifying moments (those FUCKING MIMICS got me EVERY TIME), but the most surprising and enjoyable parts of this game for me was how much I was thinking about it even when I wasn’t playing it. While I was playing the game, I was growing alongside my character, where I was starting to shed the fear of these aliens as my character grew stronger and stronger. Was I losing my fear of scary games? I wasn’t cowering behind the corners anymore, I was running in GOO GUN ABLAZE. Jury’s out as to whether I’ll be okay with scary games going forward (spoiler alert, probably will not want to play them still) but Prey really transcends just being another scary/creepy shooter. The actual content of the game also had an incredible amount of lore and optional content to go through, which I was in LOVE with. I was able to piece together so many different narratives of the people who were on the doomed ship, and different stories interwove themselves together so beautifully. From a storytelling standpoint, this game is an absolute knockout. Just like Dishonored 2, Prey gives you a ton of different options for character upgrades, allowing you to play exactly how you’d like, and making you that much more motivated to re-play the game again and have a totally different experience the second time around. Prey surprised me in the best way possible, and has stayed on my mind all year.
2. Horizon Zero Dawn
It took me a while to finally sit down and play Horizon Zero Dawn, but HOLY SHIT is it INCREDIBLE. Right off the bat, this game scores a grand slam in the graphics department, with the boldest, most gorgeous visual details I’ve ever seen. Every character and creature model is painstakingly detailed, with eye-popping colors and textures. I really can’t speak more highly of how this game looks, it is undoubtedly the best looking game I have EVER played (and would be the #1 reason I would get a PS4 Pro). There were so many moments in playing this game that I scaled a particular series of ledges or took the long way around a path just because the view was so beautiful. The visual mix of indigenous gear and structures melding with the fluid robotics of the creatures creates a visual language that is just incredible to witness. Small things, like running around the world and watching the shadows lengthen, the colors change, and the weather change, feel like seamless and stunning moments each time. EXTREMELY fast paced and thrilling, the gameplay and combat will stay your breath and keep you on your toes. I was so surprised by how difficult the combat can get in this game, with the human and creature enemies each having their own ways of challenging my skills as a gamer. Each big battle was an adrenaline-filled rush, and even if I was defeated it was easy and exciting to get back into the fray (and possibly try out a new strategy to get through the tougher bits). The story is complex, rewarding, and exciting, with our favorite outcast, Aloy, as its incredibly badass and compelling lead. And, let’s be honest, how could you go wrong with fighting robot dinosaurs all day long?? Engrossing and adrenaline-pumping, Horizon Zero Dawn serves up a stunningly bold look at what it means to fight for survival – and is a hell of a beast to play.
1. Zelda BOTW
I’m 100% sure that everyone here at Pixelrater will have this game in their top lists, so I’ll be brief. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild is this year’s most awe-inspiring adventure that offers something for literally every type of gamer (and even non-gamers). An imaginative and enchanting narrative, jaw-dropping visuals, and an intuitive and fun fine-tuned combat system are just some of the high points on your journey through Nintendo’s crowning jewel on the Switch. Seriously, this was an INCREDIBLE title to introduce the world to the Nintendo Switch with. Playing it really felt like I was rejoining an old friend, everything seemed so familiar and welcoming. I had my reservations about having a truly open-world Zelda game, but this game blew all my expectations out of the water. I gushed about it in my original review of the game, and even months later, I’m still gushing about it. Seriously, this game has everything, including stuff that I didn’t even know I needed- shark boyfriends, badass ladies, wanting to become the chef of the year, and a narrative that honestly brought tears to my eyes. BOTW has also done an incredible job with their DLC and post-game content, which has solidified the installment’s longevity in the gaming world – as if being a Zelda title wasn’t enough. Sublime, thrilling, and hands-down my favorite game of 2017, Breath of the Wild is an absolute masterpiece.