Instead of the usual lists of my favorite games of the year I thought I'd change things up a bit with a whole awards list for the best titles of 2017, chosen exclusively by me. "But Eliwood," you say. "Isn't this essentially exactly the same as the previous lists, just with a different title and now you don't have to rank your favorite games?" To that I say: quiet you.
With the launch of the Switch, 2017 has been an absolutely incredible year for Nintendo fans. Not only have we seen some fantastic entries in beloved franchises, we've gotten a consistent stream of excellent indie and eShop releases to fill out the year. If you played the Switch as much as I did this year you've been busy indeed with one fantastic game after another, and this list doesn't even contain every single top-quality game released in 2017, just some of the ones I played. As far as launch years go, this one is hard to beat, and I look forward to what Nintendo has in store for the Switch's future.
Best Multiplayer Game: Splatoon 2
Nintendo is starting off the first year of the Switch with several of its biggest IPs, including their most recent smash hit, Splatoon. This unusual take on third-person shooters is just as addictive on the Switch, especially with the new co-op focused mode Salmon Run (which is still sadly limited to specific times, but is always fun to play). More stages, more weapons, more gear—for the most part Splatoon 2 is simply more of what fans loved of the first game, though for the most part that's enough. Online battles are just as frantic and fun, and the recently released Clam Blitz adds a fresh take on the more strategy-focused ranked battle modes. Splatoon 2 is only slowly addressing some of the annoying quirks of the first game—a recent update finally allows players to switch equipment without exiting the multiplayer lobby entirely—but if Splatfests are any indication the squid spirit is just as strong as it was on the Wii U.
Best Co-op/"Oops I Accidentally Just Killed You" Game: Nine Parchments
For a game that is meant to be cooperative, it sure is easy to kill your teammates in Nine Parchments. But that's half of the fun in this Gauntlet-style wizarding adventure for up to four players. The other half is the variety of spells that promises huge replay value, since your approach to each battle can vary wildly depending upon which spells you have available. Although the game supports online multiplayer it's really the couch co-op that captures the spirit of the game as you try to coordinate attacks with three other players in this hectic but entertaining adventure.
Best Remake: Metroid: Samus Returns
The Metroid series continues to have one of the most absolutely vexing release schedules out of any Nintendo IP. Granted, on a global scale, Metroid isn't as popular as Nintendo's other huge franchises, but for many fans the absolute silence between 2010's Metroid: Other M and 2016's Federation Force (both of which were met with mixed opinions from critics and fans) was a dire period indeed. So imagine everyone's surprise when, at E3 2017, Nintendo not only announces an upcoming Metroid Prime 4, but a remake of Metroid II, releasing in just a few months, and it turns out to be fantastic. Metroid: Samus Returns blows the original out of the water—granted it was a Game Boy title but still, Samus Returns captures the same sense of discovery and challenge with beautifully fluid action and thrilling boss fights. The wait for a new Metroid title was excruciating but the next generation of Metroid is off to a fantastic start with Samus Returns.
Most Purely Joyful Game: Super Mario Odyssey
For all of the years that they have produced Mario games, Nintendo has always managed to keep one important tenet in mind: games should be fun to play. Super Mario Odyssey lives up to this philosophy in every aspect of the game. The environments are a blast to explore, the creatures you can capture are charming and used in inventive ways, and unearthing one hidden moon after another makes for a wonderfully addictive adventure. The freedom you have in exploring and collecting moons not only gives the game a perfect sense of pacing, it speaks to the philosophy of the Switch itself. Play where you want, however you want, but you're guaranteed to be having fun with Odyssey.
Bonus Award: Best Song - Jump Up, Super Star!
I couldn't mention Odyssey without touching upon the delightfully catchy theme song. The vocal track is definitely a change of pace for Mario but like the game itself it oozes fun and positivity—I don't think it's possible to listen to it without at least bobbing your head along to the beat.
Best Excavation Game: SteamWorld Dig 2
Did you know SteamWorld Dig wasn't Image & Form's first game? They had two games released prior to the 2013 title, but neither gained as much traction as a game about digging for gems in an increasingly sprawling underground labyrinth. Thank goodness Dig became as popular as it did though, because Image & Form has been delivering gold ever since. SteamWorld Dig 2 is every bit as addictive and entertaining as its predecessor, and adds just enough new gameplay elements to keep the adventure feeling fresh and unique. It's always impressive to see what talented developers can make fun in a video game—in this case digging, collecting, and selling gems—but SteamWorld Dig 2's addictive charm speaks for itself.
Best Hope for Future Remakes: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
It's a pretty great time to be a Fire Emblem fan. This year alone saw a remake for a game that was never released in English, a spin-off action game, and even a mobile game that pays homage to the franchise's long history. And Shadows of Valentia is a pretty great remake, one that finds a very delicate balance between the old quirks of the original game and some new features that help make the experience a bit more modern and a bit more unique. Best of all, this may pave the way for more remakes. After all, there are still several Fire Emblem games that were never released outside of Japan, and now would be the perfect time to introduce them to the rest of the world.
Best Surprise Delight: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Seriously, who could have predicted that those bizarre rumors of a Mario/Rabbids crossover would be true, or that the end result would be such a fun game? Kingdom Battle came completely out of left field: a turn-based strategy game starring Mario and Rabbids, with an incredibly deep movement and shooting system as well as some serious challenges. Honestly the best part of Kingdom Battle may be the fact that it isn't just a goofy crossover game. This is a genuinely difficult, engaging, and rewarding strategy game, one that fans of the genre will absolutely love—even if it does have the occasional fart joke.
Best Use of Construction Paper: Snipperclips: Cut it Out, Together!
Speaking of surprise delights, I doubt anyone could have predicted that this odd little co-op puzzle game would turn out to be one of the highlights of the Switch's launch library. Snipperclips is charming, challenging, and wonderfully inventive in how it gives you just enough tools to overcome the game's tasks, but only if you're able to think up clever solutions. For a long time the game's only downside was its short length, but recent DLC has given players another chance to snip through even more unique puzzles.
Best City Building/Action-RPG Combo: Ever Oasis
And here's another surprising little game in a year filled with big name Nintendo titles. Ever Oasis may not have the star power of Mario, Zelda, or Metroid, but it has plenty of charm, and an unusual combination of gameplay elements that end up working well together in a satisfying loop. Build up your oasis to attract residents, venture out to gather materials to stock residents' shops, earn currency for shop sales, use currency to build more shops—it's a simple cycle that perfectly scratches the itch for both city-builder fans and action-RPG fans. Those players will find themselves pouring hour after hour into Ever Oasis.
Bonus Award: Cutest Characters
Seriously, look at these guys. Adorable.
Best Challenging-but-Addictive Game: Has-Been Heroes
Another early eShop title for the Switch, Has-Been Heroes puts a unique spin on the Rogue-like formula with its three-lane real-time strategy combat system. When you step back to look at it all, there is a lot happening in Has-Been Heroes, and all of it makes it easy for you to die. Repeatedly. But the mark of a good game is one that compels you to keep playing and keep retrying, and that's something that Has-Been Heroes manages beautifully.
Best Confusing RPG: Xenoblade Chronicles 2
There are two things you can say about every Xenoblade game: they have gorgeous, massive environments to explore, and they have an incredibly complex battle system with a dozen little aspects that you need to keep track of at all times. Thankfully while playing these details aren't too confusing, but boy are these games intimidating when you just look at them from the outside. Still, once you put some time into it (and each Xenoblade game can last over a hundred hours) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a deeply engrossing RPG adventure, one that hits plenty of JRPG clichés but is still a blast to simply lose yourself in.
Best Time-Looping Game: The Sexy Brutale
I'll be honest, I'm a sucker for a good murder-mystery. But what makes The Sexy Brutale stand out is the combination of several murders, all repeating within one looping day, and a central mystery tying all of them together. The stylish art design and catchy soundtrack certainly help draw the player in as well, but discovering more about the overarching mystery bit by bit is what makes The Sexy Brutale such a compelling adventure.
Best Not-Quite-Monster-Hunter Game: Monster Hunter Stories
Switch owners are still waiting patiently for some word on a localized Monster Hunter game for Nintendo's latest system but in the meantime 3DS owners get to enjoy a spin-off creature-collector RPG that turns the normally massive, frightening monsters into adorable companions. It may not have the same intensity as the main series but the charming Pokémon-style adventure has the kind of depth that RPG fans will enjoy, even as they curse at their monster companion for using the wrong attack in the midst of an intense battle.
Most Therapeutic Game: Fire Emblem Warriors
Tell me it's not satisfying to tear through hundreds of enemies at once. Musou games may be pretty formulaic when you compare them to each other, but each one gives you that absolutely satisfying feeling of raw power by taking on entire armies by yourself. And to be fair Fire Emblem Warriors does a fine job of balancing the action gameplay with a bit of the strategy that Fire Emblem is known for. Practically every level has a whole variety of objectives to cover and enemies charging toward you at once, so you have to keep on your toes to handle all of them. Mix in a few fan favorites from the Fire Emblem series and you've got a game that is beautifully action-packed with tons of replay value.
Best Murder Clean-Up Simulator: Serial Cleaner
A stylish 70s setting, a protagonist with a hip 'stache, and pools of blood to mop up with a vacuum cleaner. Serial Cleaner isn't your typical video game, mostly because you aren't the one murdering anyone, it's just your job to make sure all of the evidence is neatly cleaned up before the police can get to it. Putting aside the unique setting for a moment Serial Cleaner is an excellent stealth game, one where you have to rely upon precise timing since you don't have any fancy gadgets to help you get out of a sticky situation. It's challenging, but rewarding when you make a clean getaway.
Best New IP: ARMS
In a year where Nintendo delivered hit after hit from its core franchises, ARMS is a good reminder that they can do just as well with a brand new IP as well. And like Splatoon in 2015 this game doesn't skate by on just the Nintendo branding. ARMS is a genuinely inventive take on one-on-one fighting games, which really only makes the game's popularity all the more impressive. Here is a game where players have to completely learn the ins and outs of a unique fighting system, especially if players opt for the motion controls—arguably more challenging but clearly how the developers envisioned the game. No matter what control challenges the game presents though the depth of gameplay, colorful characters, and continuous free updates have grabbed fans worldwide. We'll see if ARMS ends up with the same lasting appeal as Splatoon but so far it's off to a strong start.
Best Old-School Throwback Game: Thimbleweed Park
Point-and-Click adventures get back to the basics of video games, when puzzles were esoteric and required combining every item with every other item just to see if anything might happen. Thankfully Thimbleweed Park isn't as tedious as that, but it will still challenge your puzzle-solving skills, especially as the game progresses and more and more locations, items, and characters are added to the mix. From the graphics to the humor to the puzzle design Thimbleweed Park is a love letter to the genre, one that pays homage to all the best (and quirkiest) aspects of 80s computer gaming.
Best "Oh Yeah That Came Out This Year" Game: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Anyone else forget that the 3DS Dragon Quest VIII port came out this year? To be fair the Switch's launch in March kind of overshadowed any other gaming news for a while, and Dragon Quest VIII launched in mid-January of this year, back when people were still working through the influx of holiday titles. But even if it was easy to forget about Dragon Quest VIII is everything that fans love about RPGs and the Dragon Quest series, along with a few new features that make the long RPG grind a little faster.
P.S. It was quite a year for remakes/ports on the 3DS, wasn't it?
The "Move Over, Cooking Mama" Award: Battle Chef Brigade
Here's another oddball game recipe for 2017: one part side-scrolling action, one part match-3 puzzle, a pinch of Iron Chef influence, and you've cooked up one of the most charming titles of the year. Battle Chef Brigade is kind of the type of game that you have to play to understand, but once you get a taste for it you'll be hooked instantly. The timed battles are wonderfully engaging and challenging, and even across the game's short length the developers have crafted a fascinating little world for the brigade to inhabit. The game was only released a few weeks ago but hopefully the developers are already working on a second serving.
Game of the Year 2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Yeah, I know, not much of a surprise here. But anyone that has played the game will immediately understand why it has swept up so many game of the year awards. Breath of the Wild is an incredible achievement not just for the Zelda franchise but the open-world genre as well. Just like Super Mario Odyssey the freedom of exploration is an absolute joy—few video game experiences can compare to those hours when you leave the Great Plateau and see the entirety of the game's world laid out before you, just waiting for you to dive in. Like the original Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild will stand as a landmark title in the franchise for being both a breath of fresh air for the series and yet also a natural progression of the original game's open gameplay.