If 2017 was as outstanding for everything else as it was for video games, it might have been the greatest year in human history. Okay, that may be a bit of a stretch. But still, what a fantastic year it was for my favorite entertainment medium.

I’ve been mulling my feelings on the game I had the fortune–and, in some cases, misfortune–to get my hands on. My top 10 games of 2017 list is still a work in progress (but will be posted soon). In the meantime, I whipped up a list of somewhat arbitrary categories to slot other games into. With the bulk of great titles that arrived, I need a reason to talk up experiences that may not make my definitive top 10. 

Madden 18 Longshot

Best Unexpected Surprise – Madden 18 Longshot

I have a checkered history with sports games. Though I care little for watching sports on TV, I’ll occasionally give video game incarnations a shot because, well, they’re games. My history with Madden in particular largely consists of random pick-up games against friends once in a blue moon. But when I heard EA Sports planned to implement a story mode, titled Longshot, into Madden 18, genuine interest stirred in me for the first time. Sports may not do much for me but I do enjoy a good sports drama.

During the Christmas break I had some family stay over our place. A cousin happened to bring his copy of Madden 18, giving me the chance to try Longshot. After spending a night with the mode and finishing it in one sitting I walked away surprised at how much I fell in love with it.

Not only is Longshot beautifully rendered and well-acted, but the story beats with real heart. This is wonderful tale of friendship, redemption, and forgiveness that just happens to revolve around football. Best of all, the plot isn’t the “zero to hero” tale you’d expect from the premise of a college rookie receiving a golden ticket to the NFL. Both possible endings are uplifting in their own ways without going the insulting route of “Devin becomes the best player ever and everything’s happy!” Speaking of the protagonist, Devin Wade is likable guy whose fear of success I related to. 

Longshot does expect players to possess some level of football knowledge which annoyed at times. Overall, though, I’d say it’s newcomer friendly thanks to Devin’s own ignorance to crucial aspects of the sport (which becomes a major plot point). I couldn’t tell you a nickel play from a safety or whatever and, thankfully, Devin was right there with me. Because I learned alongside him, I actually gained a modicum of football knowledge besides the bare-bones basics. The act of playing football may not occur much, but since I mostly stink at Madden, I didn’t mind tossing footballs with Dan Marino in-between 10-minute cutscenes.

Also, I still catch myself singing that insanely catch Longshot song.

Runner-ups

Slime Rancher: I never played a farming game before but found myself hard-pressed to pry myself away from Slime Rancher. For more thoughts, check out my review.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: All signs pointed to this being a disaster. Instead, it wound up being a quality strategy game and one of 2017’s most pleasant surprises. My review.

Mass Effect Andromeda Group Shot

Most Disappointing Letdown – Mass Effect Andromeda

The Mass Effect trilogy stands as one of my favorite sagas in all of gaming. Commander Shepard’s epic struggle against the Reapers captured my imagination and took my emotions on a thrill ride. My excitement for Andromeda flew through the roof, making the subsequent fall back to Earth all the more painful.

I felt the dreaded “uh-oh” moment as soon as I touched down on the first planet and engaged the new alien enemies. Visiting an unexplored galaxy opened a Scrooge McDuck-sized vault of creative potential. And yet here I was battling bipedal aliens wielding guns because the basic concept of firearms somehow exists even lightyears away.

The lame Ryder felt a far cry from the heroic and inspiring Shepard. Her crew was no better. Outside of maybe the Asari scientist (whose name I don’t care to recall), my party lacked the likability and sheer cool factor that Garrus, Tali, and the rest of the old crew had in spades. 

I walked away from Andromeda after colonizing the first world. The flat premise wasn’t grabbing me and hearing anecdotes of the lame plot developments to come convinced me to hang it up. And don’t get me started on the abhorrent technical glitches. I went into 2017 expecting Andromeda to be one of its premier experiences. I guess it still kind of was, but in the worst possible way.

Runner-ups

Middle-earth: Shadow of War: I loved Shadow of Mordor but Shadow of War proved you can have too much of a good thing. The improved Nemesis system suffers from pure overexposure, with orcs appearing so often that it lost novelty and negatively impeded progress. Plus Talion’s personality somehow devolved from wooden to petrified wood. 

Cuphead Medusa Lady

Heaviest Sigh Of Relief – Cuphead

I’d been anticipating Studio HDMR’s tough-as-nails platformer for years (even before its famous sizzle-reel appearance during Microsoft’s E3 presentation year ago). The biggest question/concern I and most everyone always had: did it play as wonderfully as it looked? I remained hopeful but it was tough to dispel the possibility that Cuphead could be all flash and no substance.

After playing the game for the first time at E3 2016, some of my fears diminished but new worries sprouted. Cuphead played like a love letter to Contra  including being super difficult. My co-op partner and I couldn’t complete a stage despite multiple attempts. I still had a blast but would Cuphead go overboard with its challenge?

Cuphead’s finished form will kick your butt and the challenge won’t be for everyone. But the controls are tight and the design sound. No matter how many times you fall you’ll want to give it “just one more go”. Even without its classic-style animation it would be a standout platformer shooter. The presentation is just a Goliath-sized cherry on top. Thank goodness. 

Runner-up

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard: With a pre-release demo that felt like a poor man’s P.T., I was worried Resident Evil’s ambitious reboot would further sully the series’ good name. Instead it wound up being a return to form that felt as wonderfully familiar as it did rejuvenating. Best of all; the series is actually scary again!

Playerunknowns Battlegrounds Box Art

Biggest Game That Got Away: Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds

Unless you spent 2017 living under a rock inside of an underground cave on the planet Venus, you may have heard the name Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. The 100-player battle royale-style shooter dominated Steam and the collective consciousness of gamers. I wanted nothing more than to, as they say, join the conversation–except my laptop can’t the game to degree necessary to not get murdered immediately. Thus, I spent the year jealously watching highlight clips from the sidelines while listening to players swoon over the Early Access mega-hit.

I couldn’t wait for the Xbox One port to arrive…until it did, and with a number of egregious flaws. I may have been chomping at the bit to play it, but I didn’t want my first experience to be tarnished by a crippling framerate (I own a standard XB1 by the way). So I waited, and continue to do so until the console version hits a state I feel is acceptable enough to dive into. But man, going through 2017 without playing arguably its biggest game has been a tough pill to swallow.

Runner-up

Persona 5: I barely have a history with Persona outside of briefly playing the very first game. But I adore RPG’s and hearing tales of Persona 5’s greatness earned it a spot on my “to-play” list. Unfortunately, I never got around to it in the wake of so many jumbo-sized games this year.

Metroid Samus Returns Trailer

Favorite Mobile Experience – Metroid: Samus Returns

Crazy that we entered 2017 with no tangible hope for a new Metroid and ended it with two new projects. Metroid: Samus Returns was one of them. MercurySteam’s stellar re-imaging of the series’ most poorly aged entry defied expectations. Not only was did it fix Metroid II’s problems but built upon it with brilliant new ideas. I could go on and on, but you should check out my review of the game for my complete thoughts.

Runner-up

Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Generations: Yeah, I know it didn’t release this year. However it’s my list and I spent way too much time with this.

Assassins Creed Origins Combat

Favorite Game I Haven’t Finished Yet – Assassin’s Creed Origins

I picked up the latest Assassin’s Creed in late November believing I could finish it before the year’s end. After departing the prologue area and zooming out the full map of Egypt I thought “O…kaaay. Maybe not”

I still have a long way to go but my love affair with Bayak’s revenge quest continues to grow. It may not adhere to elements that define the series but that doesn’t make it any less of an engrossing open-world epic. Ptolemy-era Egypt has captured my imagination in way that hasn’t occured since the Renaissance-era game. The gorgeous world is dense with largely enjoyable missions and secret tombs that I’m having a blast uncovering. I can’t wait to finish it up in 2018.

Runner-up

Nioh: Dark Souls meets Ninja Gaiden sums up this thrilling and challenging action game. I spent the better part of the year chipping away at it. I cried at every death and fist-pumped every hard-fought victory. Maybe this year I’ll actually conquer it.

Keep an eye out for my Top 10 Favorite Games of 2017 list! I’d love to hear what games you enjoyed and why in the comments.

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