Halfway Mark: The 20 Best Games of 2017 So Far (Part One)

| VIEWS 3507

It’s that time once again in which our staff pulls together to come up with a list of our favourite games of the year so far. Obviously with the hundreds of games already released in 2017, nobody at Goomba Stomp has had the time or stamina to play through every single one of them. With that in mind, we hope this list comes in handy. Not only does it reflect the tastes of our writers and what games we’ve enjoyed playing during the first half of 2017, but we hope it will inspire some of our readers to catch up on some of the amazing titles that they might have missed.

A quick caveat before reading further: We decided to narrow it down to twenty titles. Based on the votes the only major oversight on our part is that nobody on staff has yet played Yakuza 0. Apart from that, there were about ten more titles that we could have squeezed in had we opted to make the list longer. Perhaps they will make an appearance when we revisit the list at the end of the year.

****

Boxboy-top-noscale

BYE-BYE BOXBOY!

How Nintendo has made a franchise out of a monochrome character basically composed of four perpendicular lines and a pair of twig legs is still baffling, but Qbby’s light-hearted adventures in his peculiar angular world have been some of the nicest surprises on the 3DS. With his “story” supposedly coming to an end with 2017’s BYE-BYE BOXBOY!, Nintendo and Hal Laboratories have delivered the perfect send-off for the little guy, a grand finale of puzzle-solving that both pays tribute to the first game and pushes the concept forward into rectangular parts unknown.

For those who haven’t played, Qbby overcomes the obstacles of each stage by sort of cloning himself – making chains of boxes. These can be shaped into stairs that allow him to reach new heights, platforms that form bridges, and shields that block his fragile box body from deadly lasers, among other things. That’s old news. BYE-BYE BOXBOY! sees the charmingly stoic boy box/box boy gaining a host of new powers, such as rocket boxes (a favorite) and warp boxes. Whereas the sequel, BOXBOXBOY!, was content to merely add a few wrinkles while delivering more of the same, the additions to BYE-BYE BOXBOY! change the game, forcing players who had been well-trained in the box arts to start over and think about polygonal problems in a different way. Then, just when a latest ability has been mastered, the game moves on, tossing the old gameplay concept in favor of a completely new one. This very Nintendo philosophy keeps even the simple world constantly feeling fresh and clever, and the motivation to see what awaits in the next level has never been greater. And by the way, though the main campaign is relatively easy, the bonus worlds that open up after completing it are some of the most diabolical that the series has known (especially to get all the crowns).

The abundance of creativity on display in BYE-BYE BOXBOY! suggests even greater possibilities for Qbby and his crew, but if the series truly has come to an end (c’mon Nintendo – doesn’t a quadrilogy make more sense?), it’s gone out with the best version yet. (Patrick Murphy)

EVERSPACE

EverSpace

Slowly but surely, the space-flight genre is making a return to gaming, with titles like Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen, No Man’s Sky, and the ever-present EvE: Online sending players to the stars in spectacular fashion. These games are often lacking something, however: simplicity. That’s where EverSpace swoops in, punching way outside its weight class and looking damn good while doing it.

EverSpace is the natural progression of every space-flight arcade game ever made. You have a well-armed spaceship, and there are things to blow up. Being built on the framework of a roguelike, with randomized events, means endless playability, and simple-to-learn controls means replaying the game is constantly enjoyable. Throw in amazing graphics that run like butter, a killer soundtrack mixing western and sci-fi that sounds straight out of Firefly, and an interesting story drip-fed through constant playthroughs, and this is one hell of a game. Considering everything else coming out this year, it might be flying under the radar, but so far it’s hands down the sleeper hit you’ve been looking for. (Andrew Vandersteen)

Everything_KeyArt

Everything

Everything the video game is not to be confused with every thing – but then again it is, because Everything lives up to its title. In Everything you can inhabit whatever you discover, from a horse to a spiral galaxy, back down to a slice of pizza or a blade of grass. The sum of Everything‘s parts is a unique and inspiring experience. In the strictest sense of gameplay, there isn’t a lot going on; in the strictest sense of art or philosophy, it isn’t coming down terribly hard on a premise either. And while it won’t be for you if you are looking for your next Big Gaming Fix, it will be if you are looking for something different.

It works, it sings, it hums, it soothes, it elates, it makes you think and feel and see things differently. It proposes that the game you are playing is simply one aspect of an even larger one, reminding us that we are as much a part of the play as anything in it. In doing so, Everything leaves room for contemplation, and invites a sense of wonder and joy. It all resonates perfectly, and is more welcome than ever in an age of increased alienation and detachment. (Marty Allen)

fire_emblem_echoes_fight

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

The Fire Emblem series has been producing hit after hit since its inception on the 3DS, and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is no exception. While it’s technically a re-imagining of one of the original games that never got released in the west, Fire Emblem Gaiden, it plays and feels like a completely new game. Many of the major game mechanics have been changed here, and it’s mostly for the better. The weapon triangle has been taken away for a more stats-based approach. Dungeon crawling has also been introduced, and it does an awesome job of breaking up the gameplay. Even with these changes, the turn-based strategy remains the focus, and it certainly trims the fat in this department.

Gone is the marriage system, meaning players can no longer get into relationships that result in a child, but while some may certainly miss this feature, it’s a godsend for players that simply want to get down to the combat. Each encounter is made special due to the incredible cast of fully-voiced characters as well, and even though you can’t marry them, they are still able to be interacted with. Speaking of the characters, players will control two sets of them, swapping between forces on the fly. The armies of Alm and Celica each have their own adventure to embark on, meaning that both will have to be managed. The freedom is certainly a nice change of pace, however, as the armies can be controlled in any manner during each of the acts. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is perfect for new players looking to get into the series, as well as veteran fans that are looking for some deep strategy gameplay. (Zach Rezac)

ForHonor

For Honor

By far the most appealing aspect of Ubisoft’s For Honor is its collision of not only historical fighters, but also its genre-defying gameplay mechanics. While the history nerd in me loves seeing knights, samurai, and Vikings duke it out in bloody fashion across war-torn battlefields, the game’s true success lies in its intricate combat system. Every duel with an opponent feels like an intricate dance, as the players must match each other’s combat stances and employ a number of various tactical maneuvers to gain the upper hand. This results in a satisfying gameplay loop that’s easy to learn, but extremely difficult to master.

For Honor not only provides a strong gameplay experience, but also a solid range of game modes to back it up. Even if the story mode did need an extra layer of polish or two, it still acts as a great way to introduce the player to the game’s different classes, and multiplayer makes up for any single player gripes. The faction system worked surprisingly well, and despite the limited game modes and maps, player customization and deep development trees keeps gameplay interesting. Every playable character brings a unique combat style to the table and keeps players on their toes in the heat of a match. While some characters (like the Samurai’s Nobushi class) are seen as cheap and unsportsmanlike, most of the game’s diverse roster offers a way to outmatch one’s opponent in one form or another.

What really kept For Honor from staying in the spotlight was the lack of support that Ubisoft sent its way after release. While servers stayed active in the months following, even now it’s hard to find a match on PC. Add to this a rather lackluster first expansion, and the future looks grim for this once-great multiplayer gem. Despite this, For Honor still stands as a noteworthy addition to 2017’s catalog of games. (Carston Carasella)

horizonzerodawn0002

Horizon Zero Dawn

Getting people interested in a new IP can sometimes be a tricky proposition, but Guerrilla Games made it look demonstrably easier than most, largely because they had the mother of all elevator pitches on their side in Horizon Zero Dawn: a young girl living as part of a primitive tribe has to fight robot dinosaurs using stone-age weaponry with a futuristic twist. The paradoxical nature of both the weapons she was using and the setting of the game was bewildering and intriguing, and the fast, fluid combat in which the player would have to rely on arrows, traps, and trip-wires to fell the towering robotic behemoths they’d go up against appeared undeniably impressive. After one trailer Guerrilla had our attention, but whether or not they’d be able to deliver on the premise was still up for debate.

While Horizon isn’t without flaws – namely the combat against human opponents being a largely dull affair – in practically every other regard it’s a home run. Taking down robot dinosaurs is every bit as thrilling as the initial trailers for the game had suggested, the graphical fidelity is off the charts, and the open-world is filled with interesting tasks and missions to complete that feel meaningful rather than like busy work. Beyond all that, what’s most surprising about Horizon Zero Dawn is not that it plays like a dream for the most part, but that the story is so utterly compelling.

Horizon‘s hero, Aloy, sets off on a journey that is immensely personal, but that yields secrets of gargantuan importance to the entire world she inhabits. It’s a superb sci-fi yarn that unfolds with expert pacing, delivering story revelations in a timely fashion, and hitting all the right emotional notes along the way. It’s a thought-provoking action blockbuster, one that will leave most gamers eager for a sequel the second that the credits begin to roll. (John McCormick)

Injustice 2

With the recent disappointment of big-ticket superhero team-ups across various entertainment mediums, from the Warner Bros. DC film universe (save for Wonder Woman) to Marvel’s increasingly tedious comic book events (and boilerplate films and shows, if we’re being honest), the return of the Injustice universe couldn’t have come at a better time. Set in a world where Superman abuses his power and Batman travels across universes to try and fight him, the Injustice world (which consists of the first game and the five-year long comic book series bridging the time between games) is as satisfying as major superhero mash-ups can get, telling epic, original stories that embrace the darkness inherent in the premise, without losing the thread of what makes these characters so fun to watch as they interact with each other – and of course, beat the living shit out of each other.

Set five years after the conclusion of the original game’s story, Netherrealm’s latest fighter is perhaps the finest entry in the genre to grace the current generation of consoles (taking the title from their own Mortal Kombat X). Though it features another story where Superman’s near-psychotic powers force Batman’s fascist hand, there are plenty of new characters (28 in total) and in-universe shit-talking to make Netherrealm’s well-renowned story modes reach new highs in Injustice 2.

Perhaps the real beauty of the game is not in its lush, vibrant graphics or impeccable character and stage design; its new loot system that has me spending hours and hours playing Dress Up and Kick Ass with my favorite superheroes. Every character has dozens and dozens of modular, level-based equipment to unlock (including epic sets with their own bonuses, because duh), and it adds a massive amount of customizable equipment, abilities, and skins that are available to unlock throughout the game’s many, many varied (and thoroughly enjoyable) single and multiplayer modes, a constant flood of prizes and enhancements that is almost Borderlands-esque in its randomly-dropped persistence. Like any good loot game, the UI to keep this stuff organized is absolute garbage, but as a fighting game trying to branch out and create new, interesting systems to keep casual players engaged for the long haul, Injustice 2’s loot, combined with its massive standard roster (28 surprisingly well-balanced characters) and plethora of modes, is an obvious contender for the most exciting, feature-rich fighter of the current generation. (Randy Dankievitch)

Into the Woods

Night in the Woods

Like an angst-ridden Hot Topic fever dream gone somehow right and genuine and beautiful, Night In The Woods is a refreshing take on adventure gaming and interactive storytelling that, if you are interested in either of those topics, is well worth your time. NITW comes highly recommended, but it is not for everyone. It’s a slow burn and a strange duck – or fox or cat or rat. Not unlike its endearingly damaged kitty-cat main character, Mae, it exists in a murky state of in-between – neither story nor game, but artfully both.

In essence, NITW is an adventure game built largely around having conversations and exploring. What emerges is a stylized anthropomorphic coming-of-age journey that is long on narrative and a touch short on gameplay. The game includes branching storylines, deeply realized characters, a mysterious main story, incidental mini-games, fun secrets and asides, and small bits of platforming – all of which are presented beautifully. Elements of it are imperfect, but the sum of those parts is something more: an emotionally resonant and unique experience populated by characters you’ll care about. It got to me. (Marty Allen)

Little-Nightmares_20170502201841-1200x675

Little Nightmares

There have been a lot of horror games released in recent years, usually in the form of a thriller, which is becoming a little lazy and unimaginative. Little Nightmares is different, returning to the true horror roots of eerie mystery and achluophobia-induced imaginations. The art style instantly returns you to your favourite Tim Burton film with its maniacal, creepy, and oddly anthropomorphic creatures. A cold silence looms through much of the gameplay, as you sneak around a dungeon that has all the terrors of a child’s nightmare.

Whilst introducing the player to a cannibalistic factory-of-sorts dungeon is nothing new to the trepidation of the human psychology, the idea that you, the player, can grow into the very nightmare itself is certainly an original twist that was unexpected until the final moment. Discovering the darkest parts of your own mind is terrifying in and of itself, and returns the reflection of the very monster you were scared of all along. That’s the area of the mind Little Nightmares has rooted itself in, and it cleverly unfolds its eerie silence to awaken the sounds of your own mind.

The original name of the game was to be Hunger, which gives an idea of how the game develops. It’s beautifully simplistic in many ways, and its puzzles, although sometimes mundane, can be chilling when you realize what you’re doing. An innocence gradually dissipates as you progress, reminiscent of many classic horror films; The Wicker Man springs to mind. No cheap thrills, not needlessly gory – just a beautiful horror game that you won’t regret crawling out from under your bed for. (James Baker)

NieR-Automata

NieR: Automata

Some video game fans might be quick to dismiss the critically acclaimed NieR: Automata because of its sexualized female characters; in a time when developers are overly praised for putting strong women in leading roles, there’s no excuse for mini-skirts and tight shirts, even if the developer in question isn’t Western, and their culture objectifies people left and right.

However you stand on feminism, Yoko Taro’s latest mainstream game (developed by Platinum Games and published by Square Enix) is something you need to experience. 2B doesn’t have a good reason to be wearing a maid-like short dress, but that plays a curious part in the game’s overall plot, as well as how players perceive both her and her companion, the skilled 9S. Once you get over the obvious camera angles, Automata offers things you won’t find in any other AAA title.

We all know that the gameplay is polished and quirky, seamlessly changing genres in order to stay fresh, and we also know that the game raises great philosophical questions, as well as features a gorgeous soundtrack. Yet one of its most interest aspects is often overlooked due to how common it is today. Unlike other high profile games to have come out in recent years, NieR: Automata‘s open world makes clever use of its space. Almost every spot and area serves a purpose to the story, whether helping move the main plot forward or by holding side quests. The map is quite similar to that of other games, and yet becomes familiar so quickly that every corner is potentially memorable. Even the side quests, which revolve around mundane tasks, provide unique insight into the story and philosophies surrounding the title.

NieR: Automata is not only a mini-skirt combined with great action combat. It delivers a unique experience few high profile releases care to provide. (Gabriel Cavalcanti)

PART TWO

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice.