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Will Schulz’s Top Ten Games of 2017

I asked my good friend Will to put together a list of his ten favorite games on 2017. You can follow Will on Twitter @WondrousWill. Enjoy! – Brandon

10 – Everybody’s Golf (Clap Hanz) – You don’t always need an epic adventure that spans over a hundred hours packed with tons and tons of side quests. Sometimes you just want to sit down and play a quick nine holes of golf. I’ve never played Everybody’s Golf for long stretches, but I’ve come back to it time and again for a quick round of golf between life’s other obligations.

Everybody’s Golf is a perfectly competent arcade golf experience, despite having a relatively low number of available courses. Levelling up your clubs through play is satisfying, as are the multiple side activities available in the game. I haven’t enjoyed a golf game this much since Mario Golf on the Gamecube, and I don’t see my time on Golf Island coming to an end anytime soon.

9 – Metroid: Samus Returns (Nintendo) – Many years ago, I played the original Metroid II: Return of Samus. When the remake was announced I was happy, but not super enthusiastic. Samus Returns turned out to be so much better than I imagined it would be. The 3DS remake of the Game Boy classic is my new definition of a remake done “right”.

The sometimes-confusing map of the original has been changed for the better, and the conditions to open the next area are presented MUCH more clearly. Fighting the various Metroids is more exciting thanks the Samus’ new combat abilities. Samus Returns is, in my opinion, the definitive version of Metroid II and a beautiful swan song/apology for the franchise 3DS.

8 – What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow) – I didn’t play What Remains of Edith Finch until a few days ago, but I’m glad I did so before the end of 2017. Edith Finch presents a dark and mysterious tale of the Finch family house and the unfortunate residents that called it home over the years. The tragic tales surrounding the deaths of the Finches are handled through unique, compelling gameplay sequences.

I enjoyed all the stories presented in Edith Finch, both from a gameplay and narrative perspective. The “cannery” sequence sticks out in my mind as my favorite, however. I also really enjoyed exploring the Finch house over the course of the game. My sole gripe with the game is I feel that the ending falls a bit flat. But I still highly recommend you experience What Remains of Edith Finch for yourself.

7 – Hollow Knight (Team Cherry) – Hollow Knight features the tried-and-true gameplay of the “metroidvania” genre of games wrapped in a positively gorgeous surreal aesthetic. Taking control of the Knight and exploring the beautifully bleak environments of this game is a real treat. The combat feels good, as do the assorted special abilities you acquire across your journey.

The gameplay of Hollow Knight is right at home next to the Metroids and Castlevanias it styles itself after. The hand-drawn world that serves as the backdrop to the Knight’s adventure is what sets Hollow Knight apart and places it into a class of its own. Hollow Knight is a masterpiece of side-scrolling action and exploration, and it deserves to be noticed.

6 – Sonic Mania (Christian Whitehead, Headcannon) – Sonic Mania is the Sonic game I’ve wanted for years, but Sonic Team would never make. A Genesis-style, 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game in the style of Sonic 1-3. Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest Games have done what has seemed impossible for years now: made a GOOD Sonic game. The soundtrack is stellar, the presentation is top-notch, and the gameplay is stupendous. I smiled from ear to ear from the time I started the game until I hit the end credits.

However, there are some things that keep this game from cracking my top 5. The game is rather short, and there are more stages from previous Sonic games than there are truly original stages. The first act of the retread stages are perhaps a little too faithful to the originals. The second acts of the retread stages, as well as the entirety of the new stages, show some incredible creativity which created all of the more memorable moments I had while playing Sonic Mania, but those truly creative stages and moments were spread too thin across a background of borrowed ideas.

5 – The Sexy Brutale (Tequila Works) – Have you ever wondered what the movie Groundhog Day would be like if it were a murder mystery set in an opulent masion/casino? No? Neither had I, but The Sexy Brutale paints a compelling picture of that scenario. Set in the aforementioned casino-mansion named, wait for it, the Sexy Brutale, the plot centers around the priest Lafcadio and his efforts to stop the other guests of the mansion from being horribly murdered. The catch being that all the guests are murdered over the course of a single day spread across the entirety of the mansion. You, as Lafcadio, relive that day numerous times as you try to learn as much as you can about the circumstances surrounding the murders so that the guests can be spared their grizzly fates.

I enjoyed spending my days running about the mansion, hiding in closets and spying through keyholes to gather information both about the murders and the game’s overall story. The art direction is top notch, with gorgeously themed wings and lovingly sculpted rooms. The soundtrack is another high point for The Sexy Brutale, with themes both haunting and lively building to dramatic swells as the numerous murders take place. The day the game takes place in moves quickly enough to stave off monotony, while still providing enough time to trail the victims as they go about their business in their final hours.

As a fan of time-travel stories and murder mysteries, The Sexy Brutale was almost tailor-made for me, but I am confident you will enjoy it as well.

4 – Nier: Automata (Platinum Games) – Nier: Automata is a beautiful experience. The narrative about what constitutes humanity in a world of androids and machine lifeforms from outer space set against a backdrop of a world thousands of years after the apocalypse manages to be compelling as well as thought provoking. You play as a member of YorHa, an android fighting force dedicated to ridding the Earth of the “machine lifeforms” brought by space aliens so that the last vestiges of humanity may return to the planet. Your mission takes you across an open world centered around a destroyed city taken back by nature in man’s absence. Watching the assorted groups of machine lifeforms you find attempt to emulate whatever bastardized notion of humanity they have in their heads was always simultaneously mesmerizing and disquieting.

I won’t go into too many details in an effort to avoid spoilers, but the one thing Nier: Automata does better than any other game on this list is making the player feel uncomfortable, yet unable to look away. The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is the perfect companion to Yoko Taro’s grim storytelling. Platinum’s well-executed combat systems make fighting seem like an almost more palatable resolution than continuing to confront the more meaningful questions posed by the story. Going into this game, I had never killed an NPC that asked me for a mercy killing. I can’t say that anymore.

I never played the original Nier, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of Nier: Automata. Yoko Taro and Platinum Games have come together to craft a satisfying action game with a compelling story about what it means to be human.

3 – Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo) – Super Mario Odyssey may just be my new favorite Mario game, period. As someone that enjoyed both Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, I was more than ready to see a return to a more open, sandbox style of level design as opposed to the more rigid structures of other Mario titles. Odyssey is a master class in level design, there isn’t a bad level in the bunch. Even the smaller levels that serve primarily as backdrops for boss fights contain an impressive number of hidden secrets to find. New Donk City is the obvious star of the show, but the Steam Gardens and Tostarena deserve some love as well.

The game is a tremendous experience from start to finish, but somehow the post-credits content is even better. I loaded the game back up after the credits played and I don’t think I stopped smiling for at least two hours, it’s that good. I loved all the new challenges that were introduced to the areas I’d been to before, partially I suspect because they added a lot of the more focused challenges I enjoyed the first time around.

Super Mario Odyssey wasn’t just a fantastic experience for me, either. My six-year-old son loved the game to pieces thanks to the game’s fantastic “Assist Mode”, the best helping hand I’ve seen in a Nintendo game to date.

The only thing keeping this game from breaking into my top two is the massive number of collectable moons. There are over 800 moons in the game, and not all of them feel particularly satisfying to collect. That said, I didn’t feel like the game started to drag until I had over 650, so clearly Super Mario Odyssey is doing something very right.

2 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo) – I’ve been a Zelda fan since the original NES game. I thought the series had gone stale after Wind Waker, Twilight Princess didn’t move me in the way I hoped it would and I skipped Skyward Sword altogether. Breath of the Wild is the reinvention the series desperately needed, and I loved every blessed moment of my time in Hyrule this year.

Having more in common with the NES and SNES games than the 3D entries, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a focus on exploration. Yes, the game will happily put waypoints on a map, but the world is massive to the point that the journey between point A and point B will still have a huge amount to see and experience. If something catches your eye on the side of the road, there is almost always going to be a reward of some kind waiting for you there.

There little details in this game are numerous and wonderful. Have metal equipped in a lightning storm? You’re going to get struck by lightning. Standing in a volcano? Your bomb arrows are going to explode as soon as you nock them. Holding an apple? You can feed it to your horse! There are so many ways different objects in Breath of the Wild can interact with each other and with the environment, and discovering these interactions is always a treat.

Hyrule Castle serves as the only “traditional” Zelda dungeon in the game, but boy is it a great one. The castle is positively enormous and filled with an actual castle’s-worth of rooms to explore. The rest of the dungeon-style content is broken up into shrines focused on a small number of puzzles and no exploration. I still enjoyed the shrines, but would have loved to see more proper dungeons.

My only other complaint is that the most interesting parts of the story in Breath of the Wild are about what happened 100 years ago, rather than the quest you are currently on. As stellar as Breath of the Wild is, I couldn’t help but begrudge the fact the “real” story was limited to a small number of hidden cutscenes. The Champion’s Ballad DLC provides more of this story, but doesn’t add very much to the game in terms of actual variety.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the “reset button” the Zelda franchise desperately needed. I am enthusiastic about Zelda in a way I haven’t been since Majora’s Mask, and that is the greatest gift I could have ever expected from a Zelda game.

1 – Persona 5 (Atlus) – I used to play JRPGs all the time when I was younger, they made up the bulk of my PS1 and PS2 game collections. As time went on, the genre seemed to go out of style, and I moved to other genres. I went an entire console generation without really playing a JRPG. Enter Persona 5. Good god, what a game.

Atlus has found a way to modernize and streamline the JRPG genre without negatively impacting the core experience of the game. The combat is set up in such a way as to enable a player that knows the game’s systems to resolve encounters quickly with minimal resource cost. The world of the game feels large, but getting from place to place is quick and easy. And yet my game time still clocked in at over 100 hours.

Persona 5 wraps this epic adventure in one of the more appealing aesthetic packages I’ve seen in an RPG. Every menu is accompanied by a snappy animation that makes simple actions like changing tabs in a menu or browsing an item shop feel satisfying. This dedication to aesthetic continues into the games dungeons, which are all gorgeous and unique. From a medieval castle to garish museums and casinos, every dungeon is an incredible visual representation of the villain contained within. The game’s soundtrack is phenomenal as well, with some truly spectacular themes to accompany the dungeons.

Even the game’s Persona system, which determines a character’s abilities and weaknesses, has been made thematically consistent with the game. In a game focused on a motif of thievery, your Personas change and grow through various manners of execution and solitary confinement which are all executed within an area designed as a prison.

The main plot isn’t the deepest in the world, but the cast of characters are strong enough to carry the experience. The characters themselves, from party members all the way to the supporting cast, are extremely well-written. I came to enjoy the cast of characters very much, even the characters I didn’t think I would like at first glance. As you spend time with your comrades, each slowly reveals a narrative of personal growth that is genuinely interesting to see through to its conclusion.

I stayed up until 3 in the morning when I completed the game, and I still remember the joyful melancholy I felt as the story wound its way toward an ultimate conclusion. Persona 5 is definitely going on my list of all-time favorite games, and I can’t wait to get started on my second playthrough.

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Will Schulz’s Top Ten Games of 2017


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