2017 has come to a close, marking the 2017th most consecutive year of the calendar era, and if you were like me you had no interest in opening up that Switch box to play another Mario title. Unfortunately, that also might mean that you didn’t have a ton of games to play. Well let me tell you that were several great games that you’ve missed out on, plus one other, and here they are:
Nioh (PS4, PC)
I didn’t pick up Nioh until just a few days ago, but given that it’s a Dark Souls derivative, it seemed like the type of title that I might get some miles out of. So take that into account when I say that I’m not really in love with it. It’s doing some fun things with the established mechanics and does scratch some of the same itch. It’s also, in my limited playtime, drab and ugly and feels uninspired for the time and setting that it draws inspiration from (To emphasize, it very well may fix all these issues as I play through). It captures very little of the mystery and awe of Dark Souls and has runs very light on the charming online functionality
So why did it make the list? I added it to the because it’s taking the established Souls formula and trying to do something new and different in a thoughtful manner. While I still haven’t gotten a great handle on it, I like the idea of the added complexity of switching between stances and weapons, and it feels very necessary to establishing Nioh as its own title and I think that’s important to keeping the genre fresh and innovative. So while I’m not particularly excited with it right now, I appreciate the fact that someone is trying to innovate.
Cuphead (PC, XB1)
Cuphead stands out for being so damn unique and cool. Its charm obviously derives from its gorgeous, hand animated and colored artwork, as well as its spot-on soundtrack which captures the cheerful nature of the 1930s cartoons it is inspired by. It’s a side-scrolling platformer in the post-indie platformer era that does more to excite and challenge players than ten of its predecessors combined. It’s fresh and fun in a way that the genre often fails to deliver on, but also in a way that only a platformer can really accomplish.
The game is also very difficult, but in a way which feels deliberately constructed. We could remain stuck on a single boss for an hour at a time, refining our approach and learning their patterns and still dying countless times without feeling it was unfair or cheap. In a time when I’m not even terribly excited to replay a single checkpoint in most games, there’s a lot to be said about being given an obstacle I’m willing to try, and try, and try again to overcome, and Cuphead does that exceptionally. It’s a finely distilled example of how an old genre can still be exciting and fun.
Yakuza Kiwami (PS4)
I’ve been playing the Yakuza series for a long time now. It’s a series where I know what I’m getting into every time and with the exception of a few weaker sequels in the middle, I always walk away satisfied. So what a treat it was for me this year when not one, but two new titles were released in the US. Yakuza Kiwami is, in fact, a remake of the original Yakuza, but it is no mere reskin. Instead, it uses some of the same mechanics of this year’s Yakzua 0 and retells the story in an entirely new adventure with new graphics, cinematics, voice acting and mechanics.
I’ll be the first to admit my bias towards the Yakuza series. They push all the right buttons with the seedy urban setting, over-the-top punishing violence and fiery hot style that captures, even distills, the coolness of Japanese yakuza media in an immensely addictive experience. They’re not perfect games, and for a series that’s had ten years and numerous sequels to refine its core mechanics, it’s still oddly bulky and clumsy when it comes to side content. All the same, Kiwami gives hours and hours of playtime, most of which is very satisfying, and when Yakuza 6 releases later this year, I’ve got a feeling you can expect to see it on this list again.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4)
While 2017 was a far better year than we’ve enjoyed in a while, it’s also another year where I find that I’m gaming less, and I’m less likely to spend a spare afternoon in front of a console. So when I do, I want it to be time well invested. Uncharted has always been a series where I can expect the best return for my time, with its thoughtfully crafted gameplay and cinematically scripted action, and DLC-turned-full title The Lost Legacy delivers yet again. While the game loses a little something with the subtraction of Nathan Drake, it still feels like one of the most solid, satisfying games you’ll ever play.
Earlier this year I finally got around to playing Rise of the Tomb Raider, and while it’s not a bad game, by the end I was thoroughly sick of its open world mechanics, dangling meager carrots of weapon upgrades in front of me in exchange for time-filling fetch quests. Lost Legacy may offer the completionist a few relics to chase after, if that’s your thing, but in reality there’s only really one direction to go, and it’s always going to be served up perfectly. Does it provide an open-ended world to explore? No. You’re along for the ride for a lot of the game, but you can be assured that you’re not going to spend your time chasing meaningless baubles, and that each section exists to provide either an engaging challenge or an exciting spectacle.
Yakuza 0 (PS4)
It’s at least a little ironic that I’ve bookended all my compliments about Uncharted’s concise, refined gameplay with two titles which are hugely open-ended sandbox games which take a hundred hours of (admittedly sometimes very unfocused) playtime to complete. All the same, I make no apologies for the Yakuza series, and Yakuza 0 is one of strongest, or perhaps even the best iteration of the title to date. Packed with action, oozing with character, and just so much damn fun, 0 is easily the best thing I’ve played all year, and I’d heartily recommend it to fans and newcomers.
Where 0 exceeds Kiwami is in its setting, and to some extent, the mechanics it derives from that setting. Taking place in the heyday of Japan’s economic bubble boom, 0 really lives in the mythos of money and violence of its era. Enemies explode in showers of 10,000 yen notes when struck, which is just barely a parody of Japan’s overblown excess in the late 80s. And when it comes to violence, it has some of the most satisfying overblown beat-em-up action of the whole series, mirthfully mixing shudder-inducing brutality with a subtle wink to slapstick comedy. Again, they’re games which resonate especially well with me, but I can’t think of anything I enjoyed more this year.