Who Will Win the Crystal Joystick This Time? Find Out in our Top 25 Games of 2017!
2016 was agreed by most to be an awful year, filled with the tragic deaths of so many beloved celebrities and deeply divisive political developments. 2017 saw the new year rolling around and said: “hold my beer”. In Britain, the Prime Minister (taking a break from her wheat field addiction) called an election to provide “stability” then plunged the country into even deeper chaos. In America, a grinning moron led the charge in ending net neutrality, then did a victorious Harlem Shake, managing to make everyone rage and cringe at the same time! Meanwhile, in Washington, the most powerful man in the world threatened nuclear annihilation on Twitter in-between making up new African nations and words like “covfefe”.
With the wider world fast devolving into a dystopian nightmare that makes the film Idiocracy seem optimistic, escapism has been more important than ever, and luckily the games of this year have been examplars in providing a much needed salve to our wounded souls. The HPP team got together to vote on our favorite titles from last year with some surprising and exciting results! Read our Top 25 Games of 2017 to find out which game ended up clambering over a pile of its foes’ splintered discs and DLC to claim HPP’s coveted crystal joystick this year!
Let me just state right off the bat that the marketing for Strafe was completely wrong. After gamers saw the highly amusing trailers, they were told the whole thing was a throwback to 90’s FPSes, complete with a low-poly look that wouldn’t be out of place in the original Quake.
Upon release, the disappoint was palpable. Strafe may look old-school, but its design choices are a mish-mash of FPS tropes, arcade action, and rogue-like sensibilities. However, on these terms, it’s actually a fun and challenging shooter that has a ton of replayability. It’s also great for those who enjoyed horde shooters along the lines of Serious Sam and Painkiller, as Strafe will constantly pit you against lots of monsters in tight spaces.
Strafe has players navigating their way through randomly-generated levels, facing off against dozens of braindead enemies and gathering loot which may be used to purchase upgrades and weapons. It requires many playthroughs, it’s kinda tough, and it’s a great way to unwind after a tough day at work. Best of all, the developers have listened to their fanbase and implemented a whole slew of changes for the “Millenium Edition”, which has only made it better. Strafe may not have been the indie FPS we expected, but it turned out to be an FPS the genre needed.
– Mark Delano
24. Uncharted: Lost Legacy
For the most part, Uncharted: Lost Legacy is a wild greatest hits highlight reel of the Uncharted series with intense cover shooting, thrilling vehicular chases, finger tenderizing climbing sequences and parkouring fun. There’s more than enough of Uncharted 4’s Tarzan-like rope-swinging too, whether you’re scaling cliff-faces hundreds of feet above sea level or grappling onto a moving train.
Where Uncharted: Lost Legacy deviates from other titles in the series is its foray into open world questing during the middle of the game, where you have the freedom to explore the swampy jungles of western India in something of an open world segment. If you couldn’t get enough of driving your jeep up muddy hillsides in Uncharted 4, Lost Legacy provides, with puzzles and treasures atop every sludgy slope!
Uncharted: Lost Legacy also delights with its central buddy narrative, putting adventuress Chloe Frazier together with recently reformed Uncharted 4 antagonist Nadine Ross. The pair initially work together reluctantly out of their mutual search for treasure, but slowly become friends in a very natural way. Chloe comes to confide in Nadine about her lost father as Nadine lets Chloe help her to adjust to life after being the hard-nosed leader of a South African mercenary group. The Uncharted series is also known for giving immersive interludes between its action sequences and Lost legacy is no exception. Heartwarming scenes where Chloe takes a tour of a marketplace with a local shopgirl or takes a selfie with a family of elephants break up the explosive combat sequences brilliantly.
I’d venture to guess that Uncharted: Lost Legacy didn’t reach the same dizzying heights as its predecessor did on the list because it was seen as something of a “Uncharted 4.5”, not sticking out in people’s memories so much because of its proximity and similarity to last year’s Uncharted 4. Though not as high as it might have been, Uncharted: Lost Legacy nonetheless cements its legacy on this list.
– Jonathan Trussler
23. Fire Emblem Echoes
2017 was a big year for Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem Warriors hit the Switch and new 3DS, Fire Emblem Heroes hit the app stores, and Fire Emblem Echoes Shadows of Valentia came out on the 3DS, remaking Fire Emblem Gaiden; a game that was once the least known installment of the series. Fire Emblem Echoes doesn’t necessarily bring the series back to its roots, since many of its gameplay features were exclusive to Fire Emblem Gaiden, instead it took what made this game different from the rest of the series and expanded on it to create a fresh experience.
Echoes takes the traditional FE gameplay and puts a spin on it, removing the series’ famous weapon triangle to add a level of unpredictability to the battles and making terrain play a bigger role. The characters of Fire Emblem Echoes are outstanding and fit in well with the game’s more grounded narrative, trading in recent games’ more explosive personalities for more realistic and multidimensional characters that feel more like actual people than anime characters. The inclusion of optional dungeons and alternative paths helped to give the game a more open feel to it, rewarding the player for taking their time and playing extra maps with items and characters that make later battles easier.
Despite its positives the game is held back by problems carried over from the original Fire Emblem Gaiden. Poor map design leads to some forgettable and tedious maps, with Alm’s route filled with samey forests and forts while Celica’s route was a mish mash of reused boat maps and frustrating deserts and swamps. Echoes did what it could with making the game’s 20 plus year old story better but ultimately it failed to each the same narrative level as previous Fire Emblem games until the end when the climax picks up. In a way it works with the game’s tone but at the same time it lacks the excitement that the recent entries of the series are known for.
Overall, Fire Emblem Echoes Shadows of Valentia was high up on my personal GOTY list. It takes the Fire Emblem formula that made the 3DS games a hit but cuts down less necessary parts to make everything shine and work better. It has everything that makes Fire Emblem great from the cast of characters to the more strategic gameplay but it also throws in some new ideas that mesh well with the gameplay. The high points stand out enough to make this game worthy of the top 25 but the flaws hold it back from further success. Regardless Fire Emblem Echoes Shadows of Valentia was a great entry and a fitting farewell to the 3DS era of Fire Emblem.
– Jack Hills
I’ll admit, I was a little bit weary of Cuphead upon its reveal all those years ago. Sure, it looked great and was certainly one of the most distinct games in recent years, but I was concerned it would be all about style over substance. No one had attempted such an ambitious, 1930’s-style cartoon aesthetic in a game before.
Thankfully, the final product was released in 2017 and my fears, I’m happy to say, amounted to naught. Cuphead proved to be a solid and enjoyable experience with enough gameplay to not only support but also complement the unique art style. The mixture of boss-rushing, shmup-ing, and difficult platforming all come together in a surprisingly cohesive whole.
That isn’t to say Cuphead is a flawless experience. Indeed, I can lay a number of charges against it, mainly concerning some design choices and its brutal difficulty. Make no mistake, Cuphead is a grueling, soul-crushing grind almost from the get-go. It doesn’t let up and occasionally wanders into frustrating territory. But it’s still an endearing romp that’ll leave you mightily satisfied whenever you bring down one of its many bosses after much trial-and-error.
– Mark Delano
I want to start off this piece by saying I love my mother. My mother was and is an insanely important part of my growth as a human being, and a reason I am able to work for this site is because of her continued love and support. So it is very appropriate that one of my favorite gaming experiences turned out to be about out a boy with a loving mother, and a big imagination. Rakuen is not only a beautiful fairy tale adventure, but an experience that doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of life.
The beauty of Rakuen is how it is very much a game about people’s struggles, their hopes and dreams, along with their fears. It doesn’t sugarcoat themes such as acceptance, loss, love, or even death. Rather, it uses its fairytale setting as a means of communicating these themes in a palatable and charming way. It juxtaposes the bright fairytale world with the more somber realistic modern setting very well, while at the same time making the two very interconnected. Despite all the fairytale glitter, the game provided some of the most human characters in any title I’ve ever played. With notable praise for the Boy’s Mom, who by the end became the best video game mother of all time. All of this is combined with fantastic art, gameplay that compliments the atmosphere and themes, and a beautiful soundtrack by the game’s creator Laura Shigihara.
There was no other instance this year where I was both smiling, unsettled, and legitimately heartbroken while playing a title. Rakuen is a game that came out in a year where I and many others had many low points, to the point where the world often like a monochromatic dreary place. However, Rakuen was a game about facing your problems, or at the very least accepting them. Life has its dark moments, but there is equally just as much beauty. Cherish what you have, and always make sure to tell those you care about that you love them.
– Nathan Terencio
20. Blue Reflection
Created by GUST, the developers behind the Atelier and Nights of Azure series, this brand-new IP follows the story of Hinako Shirai as she returns to Hoshinomiya High School – an all-girls academy, with a specific focus on particularly gifted students. Although once a highly promising ballet student, Hinako suffered a knee injury before the beginning of the game which, due to its severity, meant that she would never be able to dance again. Little does she know, however, that her knee will soon be the least of her worries.
Within the first day of school, Hinako finds herself recruited (albeit unwillingly) by the mysterious Shijou sisters – Yuzuku and Lime – and is thrust into the midst of a series of battles against the imposing Sephira menace. Although Hinako may not want to be a heroine, destiny clearly has other plans for her and, like it or not, she’ll have to use her newly-acquired Reflector powers to save humanity.
At first glance, Blue Reflection might look like a lot of other JRPGs out there on the market. I won’t deny that that isn’t at least partially true. Between the flashy turn-based combat, healthy doses of fan service, and the game taking place in Japan, Blue Reflection does indeed check off a lot of JRPG tropes. But, in my opinion, it’s more than the sum of its parts. While Blue Reflection is undoubtedly a JRPG of the current time, there’s something about it that absolutely captivated me. And, as strange as it may sound, a lot of it doesn’t even have to do with its “JRPG-ness”.
Don’t get me wrong or anything, the JRPG elements were fun. In terms of gameplay, Blue Reflection offers plenty of opportunities for players to run around in The Common – a world parallel to our own filled – and defeat the demons inhabiting it. And the boss battles, while a bit easy, were really cool. But, at least for me, it was the daily goings on in Hinako’s life that really seemed to carry the game.
Despite the fact that the game did indeed have its fair share of tropes, most interactions between characters seemed surprisingly down-to-earth. Hinako, having suffered a life-altering injury, was essentially in mourning for most of the game. She mourned the loss of the thing that she loved the most – ballet – and became quite bitter because of it. It’s only through small, day-to-day interactions that she even begins to open up. The slow, steady pacing of Hinako’s character development, combined with an overarching mellow, slightly bittersweet vibe manages to create an atmosphere in Blue Reflection that I found to be rather unique.
There’s also the soundtrack. The wonderful, amazing soundtrack. Now, I’m picky about what kind of music that I listen to. Incredibly picky. I think that video games are a phenomenal medium through which musical artists can express themselves. I’ve heard a lot of great soundtracks over the years. But, man, did Blue Reflection’s OST ever blow me away. It quickly became my favorite soundtrack of 2017 – that’s impressive, considering how may musical heavy-hitters last year had.
Blue Reflection isn’t for everyone, but that won’t stop me from recommending it as whole-heartedly as I am. Between its often-relatable slice-of-life approach to things, simple-yet-fun combat, and a gorgeous soundtrack (and graphics, too!), Blue Reflection is certainly up there amongst my favorite JRPGs for 2017.
– Kenny McKee
19. Dirt 4
Having played a fair amount of racing games in my day, DiRT 4 makes it onto this list simply because it stands out as being not only one of the most polished of the genre that I’ve played, but one of the most polished games I played this year.
For those that don’t know, DiRT is a rally racing game series. This particular style of car racing, known colloquially as “rallying” is not your NASCAR brand of car racing. It instead consists of “beat the clock” style single sprint marathons in which you must achieve the best time of all participants to qualify as the winner. DiRt 4 does go beyond that though with a few other forms of racing, not to mention categories within those form to ensure that you’ll always have something new to play. Whether you want to run circles on the dirt track, beat your best time, or just play online with friends, DiRt 4 has you covered in almost every aspect you can imagine.
What I loved most was that I could choose exactly how I wanted to play. Picking between Gamer and Simulation mode, I got to decide whether or not I wanted to play a racing game, or pretend like I was really driving a rally car. This then carried over across all of the playstyles in DiRT 4 which meant that I got to play the game how I wanted to, not how DiRT 4 wanted me to play, and in the gaming industry of today that can be a pretty refreshing concept.
But this still isn’t all the game offers! Rallying isn’t just about having a fast car, it’s about having a great team. This means that the credits earned from your wins not only go to vehicle upgrades, it goes to hiring the best of the best all across the world to work on your crew and ensure that you stay a world class champion. This almost bordered on RPG level depth, and while it wasn’t necessary to enjoy the core aspects of the game, made things extra interesting for developing that layer of realism that would draw in the hardcore racing fans.
I had countless of hours of fun playing DiRt 4, and I plan on having more in the future. If you’re looking to get into racing games, or love them already, this game is definitely one I would recommend.
– Bethany Meadows
18. Dream Daddy
Every time I talk about this game, I feel that there is more to be said. I played a lot of good games in 2017. They weren’t all gems, but there were a lot! However, Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, always shines out to me as something amazing. I don’t think any other game this year had touched as many people.
I know I’m probably getting sappy and silly, but in the cosy little corner of Tumblr where I live, I hear many people expressing such joy about this game and how happy it made them. One Tumblr user commented on the game: “I think the reason why I’m so obsessed with this game is because everyone I know, including myself, has a terrible relationship with their Father. Almost every dad I’ve met is emotionally abusive. To see good dads that get along with their kids is so foreign to me. It’s like reading a fairy-tale!” As someone who never had a Father growing up, hearing this really touched me. I don’t know if the creators thought their game could affect people in this way, but I think it’s wonderful that it has.
More than this, I found more creative, realistic LGBT characters in Dream Daddy then in over a decade of gaming! There have been some gems over the years, but all characters in DDADDS were so relatable and well rounded. They all had flaws and each Dad seemed to have some secret passion, or a part of themselves they were afraid to let others see, something I believe all humans have.
There isn’t much more to say about the game. The art is beautiful, the music is fun and the writing is a work of genius. I think everyone can enjoy it and that it has something for everyone, but for me it was the best game released last year!
– Dougie Campbell