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Stars and Stripes’ top 10 games of 2017

"Super Mario Odyssey" once again features Bowser kidnapping the hapless Princess Peach to kick off the game.

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By MICHAEL S. DARNELL AND BRIAN BOWERS | Stars and Stripes | Published: December 22, 2017

Another year down, another year of amazing video game experiences. As with every year, there have been some great games and some titles that are best forgotten. This year in particular will be remembered largely for the resurgence of Nintendo, what with the company’s massively successful Switch and the exceptional critical reception of two of its flagship IPs.

But 2017 was chock full of other success stories, from the increasing popularity of Twitch-friendly games to the plethora of niche titles available on just about every console or digital delivery service. It was difficult trimming down the massive list of excellent releases this year to just 10. But here we are.

Without further ado, please enjoy our rundown of what we consider to be the best video games of 2017.

1. ‘Super Mario Odyssey’
It has been one heck of a year for Nintendo. No matter how you slice it, they put out two of the best single-player games in recent memory with “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey.”

A lot of publications went with “Breath of the Wild” as their top game of the year, and that honor is well-deserved. However, equally worthy has been the absolutely magical “Odyssey.” This return to proper 3-D platforming blew away any expectation that I had for the franchise. Its perfect blend of stellar level design, clever mechanics, customization and humor made this a title I easily consider one of the best games ever made.

2. ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’
Few games manage to actually meet the level of high expectation that was levied at “Horizon Zero Dawn” right out of the gate. But not only did Guerrilla Games meet those demands, it exceeded them at nearly every turn.

The reason for “Horizon’s” success was twofold. First, Guerrilla created a dystopian world that felt unique and interesting, even among a flood of other games set in a post-apocalypse. The world’s lumbering robotic monstrosities, tribal culturalism and ruined sci-fi setting were consistently fun to explore.

The second major element driving “Horizon” was its strong cast of characters, helmed by one of the more refreshing leads in quite some time. It’s a game that really shouldn’t be missed by anybody with a PlayStation 4, and one that in most years would run away with the top spot on any end-of-year list.

3. ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’
Once again, this is easily a game that could be in the top spot. Adding true open-world game design into the generally linear “Zelda” formula was a gamble, to be sure. Entrenched fans of anything usually hate change. But in this case, it paid off.

Fans of the venerated series were treated to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful worlds ever created, with a plethora of story-enhancing mechanics that drove the touching, but sparse, plotline forward. The game was designed in such a way that casual “Zelda” fans could enjoy it, while those seeking out a true challenge had plenty of secrets to uncover and puzzles large and small to solve.

I hope Nintendo uses the “Breath of the Wild” formula for a couple more titles, as they’ve just about perfected what I want from a “Zelda” game here. And I want more.

4. ‘Cuphead’
If we gave out awards for most visually appealing title, “Cuphead” would be the runaway victor. Its reimagining of 1930s animation hasn’t been successfully done in the video game realm, and just for that alone, it deserves attention. Thankfully, the game underneath the gorgeous coat of paint is as fun as it is challenging.

The game is difficult to master, but with a little dedication, can be beat by most gamers. It’s a fun, unique side-scroller/boss rush mashup that works as both, even if the boss fights are easily the best parts of the experience. It’s also only 20 bucks — and as such, it provided more bang for my buck than any other game released in 2017.

5. ‘Divinity: Original Sin II’
Simply put, “Original Sin II” is the best party-based RPG released in more than a decade. In fact, the game’s challenge, heart and unique setting make it one of the top classic-style RPGs ever made.

It’s not a perfect game. Some of the mechanics push players a little too hard from certain playstyles, there are bugs galore and the story can often veer off Unique Street into Nonsense Gully. But that’s the natural result of taking chances. And Larian Studios seemingly made it standard practice when developing “Original Sin II” to never take the easy route, or write the expected outcome to any given quest. And we, the gamers, were rewarded with one of the most uniquely wonderful RPGs ever crafted.

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6. ‘Injustice 2’
There have been a few quality fighting games this year, but none even come close to sheer amount of content NetherRealm Studios brought to the table with “Injustice 2.” With an ever-changing series of challenges, nearly infinite unlockables and an ever-expanding cast of characters, you could have bought “Injustice 2” on launch day and still not be finished collecting everything the game offers.

Oh, and the fighting mechanics are pretty solid, too. While it would’ve been enough to feature a game in which you can beat up smug ol’ Superman as Batman — that’s in here, too — they managed to include mechanics that are easy enough for newbies to pick up, but will take serious dedication to truly master.

It’s rare that a fighter these days can bridge the gap between the highly-competitive fighting game community and the super casual button mashers of the world, but “Injustice 2” has done just that. So did “Tekken 7” in a way, but I’d argue to a much lesser extent. And when comparing amount of content, “Injustice 2” blows its competitors out of the water.

7. ‘Call of Duty: WWII’
After some serious missteps, the “Call of Duty” series got back on track with Sledgehammer Games’ return to the battlefields of 1940s Europe. The quintessential shooter returned to simple level design, with a premium placed on the emotional impact of its set pieces and some solid shooting mechanics. By streamlining the formula and returning the series to its roots, Sledgehammer managed to pull the “Call of Duty” franchise out of its funk and elevated it back to the top tier of shooters.

Even as other shooters have been forgotten or replaced by the two big battle royale shooters released this year, “WWII” continues to pull in huge audiences on Twitch — a testament to the game’s enduring popularity and quality online gaming experience.

8. ‘Destiny 2’
This is the first game on this list that has become as known for its controversial microtransaction and post-launch game decisions as it has for its gameplay. But if the game weren’t incredibly fun to play, then the outrage would’ve just died down and the game quickly forgotten.

As it stands, Bungie continues to attempt to put out fires to appease the more hardcore fanbase while the casual gamers continue to queue up to tackle the game’s extensive list of raids, challenges and high-end battles. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s one that continues to draw in fans long after other games released this year have been long forgotten.

9. ‘Absolver’
It has been a great year for video game fans. Nearly every taste has been catered to in 2017 and nearly every genre, from adventure to RPG to action, has a game that could easily be on any top ten list. “Absolver” is just such a title. This strange, unique brawler is one-part “Dark Souls,” one part “Mortal Kombat,” with just a dash of Pan-Asian cultural trappings to season.

It’s unlike anything you’ve ever played, and while it might be a bit too oddball for some, for anybody looking for something just a bit different, this open-world martial arts adventure title was like a breath of fresh air.

10. ‘Assassin’s Creed Origins’
This game tells the tale of Bayek, an Egyptian seeking to avenge the death of his son and free his homeland from oppressive Greek rulers. It also describes the founding of the brotherhood of Assassins.

Although the desert landscape is pretty drab, each of the cities pulses with a distinct Egyptian or Hellenistic vibe and can be fun to explore. And it’s exceptionally cool to search through ancient pharaonic tombs — including some in the pyramids of Giza. And if you aren’t careful you might learn a thing or two about the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

The game feels deeper than most of its predecessors. Story missions offer a wide variety of challenges and even side quests unfold in mini-stories. Combat is exciting and exploration feels rewarding.

The gameplay is smooth, with few of the control issues that plagued some of the game’s predecessors.

However, this is definitely not a game for young players. In addition to the blood, violence and profanity, one mission in the story line takes you to a brothel filled with topless women and sex acts depicted in an ancient artistic style.

darnell.michael@stripes.com
bowers.brian@stripes.com

"Horizon: Zero Dawn" - Guerrilla Games | In this post-apocalyptic tale, you play as a young woman equipped with stone-age weapons in a battle against mechanical beasts.
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