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2017: The Most Marvelous Modern Year for Video Games

Published on 4th February 2018

There was something for every kind of gamer in 2017.

In accordance with the rest of this decade, the market was filled with quality triple A titles and a rise in indie prominence.  2017 was also a saving grace for people nostalgic for the times in between 8-bit/16-bit styles of indie games like top-down Mr. Shifty and Metroidvania Hollow Knight and modern takes on the first person shooter, racing game or sports title, more of which are again coming with campaigns like in EA Sports or in Star Wars: Battlefront II to supplement the online multiplayer fun.

Players who want more than that typical 2010's blend likely got something they wanted in 2017: a year which saw the strong return of the 3D platformer, the evolution of the open-world adventure genre, the perfection of the JRPG, and much more.

Games like NieR: Automata and Cuphead proved that award-winning titles can still do things never before seen.  For the former, developer Platinum Games combined hack n' slash combat with action platforming and on-rails shooting, all exquisitely paired and executed to match the directorial and storytelling ambition of the NieR series.  It was a series that, before Automata, had been fighting to get past obscurity and mediocre acclaim.

Cuphead was another game that went through an underdog story of development for years to actually become the most notable Xbox One exclusive — something many critics would wager has never been done by an indie title on any system.  The game's take on early 1900's animation and classic music is unlike anything ever seen in interactive art, and the game's addicting co-op, parry system and charismatic bosses are enough to entertain almost any bullet hell fan.

Many other indie darlings continued to prove they stand toe-to-toe with heavy hitters made up of much larger staffs.  Night in the Woods, Blaster Master Zero and Golf Story are only a few examples of shining gameplay and narrative combined.  Titles like Oxenfree and What Remains of Edith Finch are some of the most provocative and creative in the story department.

Other indie gems saw a greater light of day.  From rereleases of games like Axiom Verge and Stardew Valley to the physically released, console version of regarded RPG masterpiece Undertale, more players have been opened up to independently created and retro-inspired worlds than ever before.

A game such as Snake Pass invented a new control scheme thanks to Sumo Digital.  Generous checkpoints and a soothing set of melodies composed by David Wise are employed to optimize fun and lessen frustration when players learn to control a snake by coiling, slithering and tightening reptile Noodle's body instead of jumping and attacking like normal in the 3D space allotted.

SteamWorld Dig 2 is another outstanding indie game, in which mining through the underground is the shtick.  For fans of the genre, many have said that this sequel rivals Metroid: Samus Returns, the heroine's return to 2D form after 13 years.  Since these two titles came out in the same month, comparisons mostly kind have been made.  After developing apparently mediocre Castlevania games, Mercury Steam found their passion in remaking Metroid II with new abilities, conceptual depth and style to make what was previously the worst 2D Metroid into a contender for the best.

Speaking of contenders for the best in their franchise, Sonic Mania proved that die-hard fans can be more passionate and talented than the main developers for a series.  That being said, Sonic Team did a fantastic job of giving many fans the chance to live vicariously in the popular world of anthropomorphic characters with avatar hero furries.

However, when the Hyper Potions music drops and the sprites of blue, yellow and red color the screen, one knows the Sonic experience is about to be special; Mania combined the best of the Sega Genesis games with modern saves and so much addiction and originality to make each new replay feel fresh.

2017 was a year for feeling fresh, or at least making something longstanding feel that way.  Perhaps Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is the best successful example, which traded in for a more intimate horror feel and a first-person perspective.  2017 saw PlayStation VR and other virtual reality devices rise in the mainstream, making compatible games like Superhot and Thumper a real treat.

What we've known for years also got upgraded and reworked.  Naughty Dog's impeccable Uncharted series received its first spin-off installment in the form of The Lost Legacy, complete with the familiar precision of shooting and climbing mechanics and brand new doses of exploration and female empowerment.

Also for PlayStation, Persona 5 took everything the fourth installment had done and upgraded it to the max.  Hardly any other game oozes this much style while maintaining immersion and integrity in the RPG genre.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also refined many elements of the Japanese role-playing game and hosted many expansive titans and ships to explore and battle on.

It's simply incredible one can take such a jam-packed, visually enticing experience like that off of the television and on the go anytime.  The Nintendo Switch provides more convenience for the player than arguably any other system has before.  And you can take anything from Jackbox's Party Pack or the delightfully adorable Snipperclips with Joy-Con controllers separated in hand to Nintendo's modern technical masterpieces with you.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild not only invigorated a 30-plus-year-old franchise with new ideas but also helped define what an open-world, open-air game can be.  With a plot of land that is fully open for interaction with the game's intuitive climbing, cooking, combat and physics systems, Breath of the Wild is something truly special.  The normal Zelda structure within the main quest kicks Ganon's literal and metaphorical butt too, allowing for vast exploration and experimentation at any time while also allowing players to guide themselves to objectives including fully mechanical dungeons and extremely lovable characters if they so choose.  Downloadable content furthered the quest and seamlessly integrated extra story and challenge for a price that feels fair and worthwhile for the game's addicted fans.

While not as revolutionary, Horizon: Zero Dawn also succeeded in just about every area in the medium and showed that a more familiar open-world formula can work if its story, mechanics and audiovisual ideas are all executed with passion by the developers.  And for more niche audiences, games like Grezzo's Ever Oasis and even Gears of War 4 scratched an exploration-based itch in some cases.

Back to Nintendo's massive 2017, the company also topped the return of the beloved 3D platformer scene, which had its start in the '90s.  Enthusiastic developers both new and old weren't going to wait for Super Mario Odyssey to know it was okay to create this way again though.  Playtonic's Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time weren't without their quirks, but they ushered in so much fun to the fans of the genre and reinvigorated a love for hopping around and collecting.

Super Mario Odyssey completed the feel-good phenomenon of satisfying these compulsions with the former plumber's trademark history and culture of gaming.  "I can't believe this is happening right now" kind of grandiose Mario finally returned, leaving boring "New" Super Mario games behind.  No longer stale, Mario can capture and control more than 50 characters, enemies and objects in this newest adventure.  Controlling an uproot and tropical wiggler lets Mario move vertically and horizontally in new ways with the press of a button or the shake of a Joy-Con.  Possessing other forms like Hammer Bros. and Bullet Bills feels cathartic for longtime series fans and super surprising for newcomers.  With Power Moons to find around every corner and in every crevice, Odyssey never interrupts the flow and fun of play with unnecessary warps or needlessly punishing game overs.

With more gradual evolutions of the Big N's other blockbuster franchises, Splatoon 2 expanded its online play-base, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia introduced the series to full-on voice acting and a back-to-basics strategy formula, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon expanded upon arguably the best games in the handheld series, and the aforementioned Samus Returns provided one of the most epic 3DS experiences so far.

Even big-time developers brushed up their skills to deliver more innovative or loved games in previously glitchy, absent or stale franchises like with Assassin's Creed: Origins, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Call of Duty: World War II.  From a story-driven PC sequel like Finding Paradise to multiplayer-focused ports like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Rocket League, there's been something for everyone to play in 2017.

In what other year did technology revamp 4K consoles, buy into virtual reality with big-budget franchises, and allow the console gaming experience to be completely taken on the go?  Play ARMS for arcade fighting with original motion-controlled, colorful Nintendo characters.  Play Sensura's Sacrifice to understand the tricks mental illness can play on a brave protagonist.  Or take up Player Unknown's Battlegrounds to shoot each other online — we're talking 100 individuals playing from all over the world.

There's never been a more exciting time to be a gamer.  What with new consoles, technology, gameplay gimmicks, revolutions and exciting ways to tell a story, 2017 will be one for the books.  So go explore Hyrule.  Go on the next amazing odyssey.  Unleash your persona, and set the mania free!

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