When approaching my year-end gaming list at the end of 2016, I found myself having a hard time sorting through countless numbers of great games and narrowing down the list to a select few, but as I sat down to do the same for 2017, it’s a different story.

The 2017 experience was much of a quality over quantity situation, with some of the best games released this year being some very special and truly exceptional ones, instead of ones that were just great for what they were, which may arguably be a much better situation to be in.

The gaming industry continued with many of its positive and negative trends in 2017, with droves of throw-away mobile games being released daily, lootboxes or micro-transactions in almost every major game released, and almost more remasters of old games released than there were actual new games. In the end, the industry still managed to churn out a good amount of fantastic games, despite the AAA market being bloated and full of problems.

Without further ado, here’s the most important gaming experiences this year according to yours truly:

The Games:

Cuphead (Xbox One, PC)

As if this wasn’t obvious to those who follow my monthly reviews, Cuphead is hands-down one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had in years. When I reviewed it earlier this year, I went pretty in-depth as to why the charm of this little indie game equaled or surpassed every other gaming experience you could have this year, especially for those who love 2D retro games like Megaman, Contra, and Gradius, just to name a few of its great influences. For those seeking a challenge, or even for those who just fell in love with Cuphead‘s wonderful hand-drawn 1930s animation style, it will certainly provide an experience that’s worth seeking it out.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Xbox One, PS4, PC)

This prequel to the 2015 phenomenon, Life is Strange, hits all the same perfect emotional spots and fills in so many of the story and character development gaps you could have wanted from the first game, and is really one of the most enjoyable things I experienced this year. With Telltale Games going off the deep end and spreading themselves thin in 2017, Before the Storm is a clear example that this type of narrative adventure game still has just as much power when made by the right people.  My review of the first episode from a few months ago goes into much more depth about the game, and after recently finishing the season, I can gladly say that the other two episodes hold up just as well as the first one.

Friday the 13th: The Game (Xbox One, PS4, PC)

After being a fan of horror and slasher movies since the 1990s and a video game fan for even longer than that, one thing I’ve always wanted was a game that really did the iconic Friday the 13th series justice in video game format. After the notoriously bad NES game that the series received back in 1989 which had almost nothing to do with the film series, hope for a decent game seemed like it would never happen for the next 20+ years, until the new Friday the 13th: The Game was announced, with a full crowdfunding campaign that showcased how most of the big names from the film series were going to be involved with this game.  I was very skeptical about it when it was announced, since it was a multiplayer-only game, and even though the game had its fair share of glaring problems when it first launched, constant support and updating by the development team slowly but surely turned this into the game that most series fans, including myself, have wanted for almost three decades, and it has become a nearly perfect asymmetrical multiplayer game that now has offline modes added and more attention to detail than any other game ever based on a film series.

Snake Pass (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC)

Created by a team that features a number of ex-Rare (Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye 007,) employees, Snake Pass is a wonderful physics-based puzzle platformer where you play as a snake and can control each separate part of the snake with a different part of your controller. The puzzles here really make you think out every single move you make and execute complex button combinations to avoid failing your objectives, in a way that few other games ever have, and once you understand the mechanics well, this becomes a very addicting and satisfying experience.  Aside from the great puzzle and gameplay mechanics, the visuals and music are extremely cute and fun, sometimes taking the edge off of some of the more complex or challenging puzzles. Snake Pass is well worth the low entry price if you like cute 3D physics puzzles, and introduces one of the most satisfying gameplay systems I experienced this year.

Yooka Laylee (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC)

Just like the previous entry here, Snake Pass, Yooka Laylee is a game developed by former Rare employees, and is a total throwback to the golden age of 3D platformers on Nintendo 64, especially the Banjo games in particular.  With a vast, colorful world to explore, amazing music, and hilarious characters, this almost feels like stepping right back into a platformer from the late 1990s. Many people complained that the developers were a little too accurate in this regard, since the game isn’t afraid to throw some difficult challenges at you along the way, but to me, this just keeps the experience a little more authentic. The game obviously has some minor modern upgrades like modern graphics and some slightly improved controls, but it retains so much of the experience of this era of 3D platformers that you soon forget about the small updates.

Candleman (Xbox One, PC)

This fun little indie 3D platformer seemed to come out of nowhere earlier this year, with barely anyone ever hearing about it, but as you’ll see from the trailer, it features some amazing visuals and sound, and a very cool main game mechanic, where in each stage, you have a total of 10 seconds of light that your candle can produce before you die and the rest is all in the dark. This game was put together by a tiny independent team from China, and the results are truly astounding when you get immersed in this little world of Candleman. Like many other games on this list, the low price of entry and stunning production values and gameplay for it’s budget and development team size really made it stand out among all the other game experiences I had this year.

Little Nightmares (Xbox One, PS4, PC)

Late in 2016, Bandai Namco began teasing Little Nightmares, which seemed to be a game similar to Playdead’s top-notch 2D adventure games like Limbo and Inside, and when it released earlier this year, it was certainly no disappointment in holding up with those other titles.  My full review earlier this year detailed how the wonderfully dark and creepy fairy-tale world that Little Nightmares created for itself is one that’s a complete joy to get yourself wrapped up in.

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

If you’re not familiar with the Senran Kagura series, to sum it up, it’s generally a 2D/3D hack and slash ninja combat series that’s full of anime fanservice by the boatload, and features some extremely colorful visuals, great music, and fun gameplay regardless of which gameplay style it tries its hand at. While the series has also had many other types of gameplay attempts, like a card game and a rhythm game, this 2017 entry is a 3rd person team arena shooter, much along the lines of something like Nintendo’s Splatoon, with a few differences to set it apart.  Namely, the extremely mature content, huge plethora of different characters, and some different (and better) game mechanics than Nintendo’s series, in my opinion.  If you can handle copious amounts of anime fanservice and enjoy colorful, fun, 3rd person gunplay, this is the best around.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4, PC)

From the moment I started the journey into Hellblade, I was absolutely astounded at the sheer amount of visual and aural splendor the game offered. Featuring a world of Norse and Celtic mythology plus a deep exploration of mental illness, the game really breaks itself away from the conventions of most modern games with AAA production values and becomes something very much its own.  With a satisfying 3rd person swordplay combat system and a great mix of puzzles, the experience carries you through to its conclusion graciously and keeps you wanting more. To add to the immersive world, the game features no HUD and no on-screen tutorials or button prompts while playing, making it an engrossing and overwhelming cinematic experience from start to finish.  On top of all this, the game also features a controversial gameplay element, where if you die too many times, it will delete your save file and you will have to start the game over again, which almost no modern games have ever had the courage to do. This is truly a unique experience in this generation of games and worth checking out for it’s low price on whatever platform you have access to.

Honorable Mentions:

Here’s a few other games that didn’t quite make the top list but were very enjoyable in their own right and stood out among most things released this year:

Nier: Automata (PS4, PC)
Vaccine (Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, Switch, PC)
Poi (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC)
What Remains of Edith Finch (Xbox One, PS4, PC)

Conclusion:

Hopefully sharing my experiences here will help some of you find some enjoyable gaming experiences for yourself that you may not have been aware of, and hopefully 2018 turns out to have the quality of gems that 2017 did, also with the hope that the gaming industry starts to get smarter about some of its backwards polices and practices so we can see a healthier and more productive industry as it continues to grow.

You can check out my gaming history and achievements here, and seek me out on social media to discuss games any time. I’ll see you all throughout the year with certainly more reviews and industry coverage to come in 2018, and see you back again next year to see how 2018’s gaming experiences stand up to this year’s!