Saturday, December 30, 2017

My favorite games of 2017

If you had told me at the beginning of this year I'd play so many great games--so many great Switch games, especially--I would've responded by dramatically rolling my eyes.

As I've said a number of times in the last few months, I didn't expect to buy a Switch so early in its life--and certainly not before sometime in 2018.

Now I've got an actual "slew" of Switch games--so many, in fact, that I'm having a hard time keeping up with them. (On a related note, look for me to publish a bunch of "a few thoughts on" posts in the new year.)

Amazingly, I'm having a similarly hard time keeping up with all the Vita games I've bought since 2017 started. Who would've thought that'd be the case given the system's worldwide nosedive over the last 12 months? Certainly not me.

A couple of those recently acquired Vita games made a big enough impression on me that I'm including them among my favorite games of this year. They're joined by handful of Switch games, a trio of 3DS carts, and a PC title, too.

Golf Story (Switch)--In a year of surprising games, this probably was the most surprising of all for me. That's kind of funny when you consider Golf Story is just what its name implies: a digital Switch title that's one part golf, and one part story (or RPG). You're just as likely to be sent on a fetch quest or be asked to solve a mystery as you are to shoot a round of Scotland's national sport against an NPC. OK, so I personally don't think its writing is good enough to be compared to EarthBound, but that doesn't mean I think it's drivel. In fact, I'd say it's just fun--and weird--enough to bring a smile to your face more regularly than your average RPG. Even if that weren't the case, though, I'd call myself a Golf Story fan anyway thanks to how all of its components combine to create a unique experience that intrigues throughout its 15-plus-hour running time.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)--I've made no secret of the fact that I'm generally not a fan of three-dimensional Zelda games. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of them, but despite that they usually have a hard time holding my interest past the first few hours. Well, Breath of the Wild bucks that trend--or at least it has so far. I regularly get lost while wandering around its lush landscapes, I've got to admit, but it's yet to bring my progress to a screeching halt. Does this mean me finishing Breath of the Wild is a done deal? Unfortunately, it doesn't. Still, I think that result is far more likely than it was when I attempted to play through Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess thanks to the intriguingly open-ended nature of this particular Zelda adventure.

Miitopia (3DS)--I was sure I'd get a kick out of Miitopia the second I laid eyes on it. Still, I was shocked when I enjoyed its demo as much as I did. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I put more than three hours into it before giving it a rest. I've now put more than twice that into the full game, and yet it continues to make me chuckle and otherwise turn me into a grinning idiot. There's no question this RPG is an odd duck, not to mention quite a bit more "casual" than what is typical of the genre, but for me, both of those qualities conspire to make Miitopia far more entertaining than it would be if it leaned toward the traditional. I do suspect Miitopia's schtick may wear thin sooner rather than later, but that's OK; I already feel like I got my money's worth out of it.

Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World (3DS)--I'm one of those grumps that like to grouse about how Yoshi's Island is the only good Yoshi game. I regularly grumble in this way even though I didn't exactly hate Yoshi's New Island. Well, this portable port of Woolly World is miles more impressive than that 2014 release, as well as pretty much every other Yoshi title I've played since the first. One reason for that is it's gorgeous--even on the low-res 3DS screen. Another is it provides a good amount of fun. Also, it eventually offers up a good challenge for people (like me) who don't necessarily possess top-notch platforming skills--something that can't exactly be said of every Yoshi title that's followed in Island's wake.

Project Octopath Traveler demo (Switch)--Yes, this is a demo. But like the Bravely Default demo Square Enix made available well in advance of that 3DS game's release, this one is both meaty and interesting enough to prompt someone like me to declare it "game of the year"--or at least one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year. The aspect of the Project Octopath Traveler demo that most stood out at me while playing through it recently (read my impressions here) was the battle system, which feels like a zippier version of the one featured in Bravely Default and Second. Really, though, every component of this teaser blew me away--even its much maligned "vignette" filter. I guess what I'm saying here is, barring some sort of disaster popping up between now and whenever it's released, expect to see the full game discussed in next year's version of this write-up.

Strange Flesh (PC)--I knew I had to give this thoroughly not-safe-for-work Final Fight clone a thorough once-over as soon as I came across its similarly eye-opening teaser image. The good news here is a "thorough once-over" only takes up a few hours of your time, as Strange Flesh features just a handful of levels. Also, if your playthrough is anything like mine, you'll walk away feeling impressed and even a bit ... flushed? What can I say, Strange Flesh really gets your attention, if you know what I mean--assuming you're interested in muscle daddies, cigars, and fairly kinky situations. The thing is, a really impressive side-scrolling brawler sits beneath this game's X-rated skin. Its fighting mechanics are surprisingly solid, as are its unique--if decidedly "adult"--gameplay hook and era-appropriate soundtrack. All that said, I wouldn't recommend playing this one if you're not keen on pixelated depictions of gay sex.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)--Super Mario Odyssey was by no means a "sure thing" for me. Admittedly, I've liked a lot of the three-dimensional Mario games Nintendo's put out over the years, but I'm no fanboy. Still, I desperately wanted to put Odyssey through its paces after first seeing it in action earlier this year. I'd say I did just that during my nearly 16-hour playthrough. I especially enjoyed flinging Cappy to and fro in that time. For me, that gameplay element singlehandedly differentiated Super Mario Odyssey from its many noteworthy predecessors. It also made the game more consistently thrilling than any 3D Mario title I've played to date. Although I'd giddily change or improve certain aspects (a number are detailed here) if given the chance, Odyssey is a solid "game of the year" contender even in its current, not-quite-perfect form.

Undertale (Vita)--I actually put a couple of hours into the Mac version of Undertale a few years ago and loved every minute of the experience. OK, almost every minute. What didn't thrill me about it? Using my laptop's keyboard to control the action (especially the bullet-hell-ish battle scenes). So, I put the game on hold until I could boot it up on some sort of console. That time came this past August, when Undertale was released for the Vita. I promptly purchased it and have been enjoying that port's increased accessibility ever since. I've also grown even more fond of how Undertale turns the genre on its head since my first attempt through the game.

VA-11 HALL-A (Vita)--Early on, when I planned on singling out one title as my favorite game of 2017, VA-11 HALL-A was the top contender for that honor. That's how much I loved it after playing through its first few hours. (Check out this "a few thoughts on" write-up to learn more about my VA-11 HALL-A experience up to now.) Considering the bulk of that time has been spent reading text, I'd say that's a pretty impressive feat. Sure, I make a drink now and then (you're plopped into the sensibly comfortable shoes of a futuristic bartender while playing VA-11 HALL-A), and between shifts I do some shopping, surf the Internet, and create playlists, but all of that takes a back seat to stimulating conversations in this indie gem. Thankfully, those chats are more than up to the task of carrying the game.

Witch & Hero III (3DS)--It's seemingly become a tradition for me to include a Witch & Hero title in my "favorite games of the year" posts--when developer Flyhigh Works and publisher Circle Entertainment enable such a thing by releasing one, of course. This year is no exception, despite the fact that Witch & Hero III only hit the Japanese 3DS eShop a couple of days ago. (See this post for all the details.) An hour or so into the experience, I wasn't so sure the third game would follow in its predecessors' footsteps. After coming to terms with a few of its newly introduced quirks, though, I basically fell in love with it--to the point that I now prefer it to Witch & Hero II. I'm not sure it'll top the first Witch & Hero in the end, but the fact that it's even a possibility says to me that part three more than deserves a spot on my best-of-2017 list.

What were your favorite games of 2017? I'm sticking to those that actually were released in 2017 here, but feel free to include titles from any year among your own picks.

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