2017 is almost over – and what a year it’s been for gamers. With the medium giving us everything from mind-blowing AAA epics like The Legend Of Zelda: The Breath Of The Wild, to heart-wrenching indie masterpieces like What Remains Of Edith Finch, interactive entertainment has had one of its finest 12 months in recent memory. Yet, despite us being being able to whittle that lofty list down to the ten best games of the year, there were also a lot of brilliant releases that we feel didn’t get the love they deserved. Here are 2017’s best kept gaming secrets.
10. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
OK, OK, we know that in the great scheme of things, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 isn’t exactly a hidden gem. Yet, with this beautifully crafted RPG launching right at the end of the year, its bound to looked over by the vast majority of gamers.
Serving as a numbered sequel to the Wii’s critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles, this standalone adventure helps Switch owners scratch that post-Zelda open world itch. While its overly enthusiastic characters my be grating for everyone but the biggest JRPG fans, the game’s rich and expansive world is one that is definitely worth exploring. Boasting over a hundred hours of gameplay and some of the best (docked) visuals on Nintendo’s new console, this is a highly ambitious adventure hat largely lives up to its glorious potential. If you’re after a lengthy and immersive escape to a beautiful world, Monolith Soft’s latest delivers in spades.
It may not be getting the attention of Nintendo’s other first party releases, but make no mistake, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a Switch game that’s definitely worth your time and money.
The poor old rhythm game genre hasn’t exactly had the best run of it recently. With both 2016’s Guitar Hero and Rock Band 4 failing to find an audience, its once again fallen to indies to keep the pulse-pounding, rythmic action alive. Or in Ode‘s case … indie-ish. Developed by Ubisoft Reflections, (the team that brought gamers the brilliantly bizarre platformer Grow Home) the studio’s latest project has once again flipped a well-worn genre on its head.
Doing away with flashing icons, rhythm meters and any other user interface you’d rightly expect from a video game, Ode takes the musical platformer back to basics. Playing as an adorable marshmallow-esque creature trapped in a ball, Ode sees you joyously bouncing into everything around you. As you bombard your surroundings, a pleasing little rhythm section beings. Yet its when you collect items that the real fun starts. As you roll into glowing orange orbs or fallen stars, the game world transforms into your very own interactive orchestra.
It’s a game that can’t help but put a grin on your face, leaving players in charge of amassing more orbs and conducting their very own masterpiece. If you own a PC, this little gem is definitely worth a download. Once again, Ubisoft Reflections has proved that when it comes to fun, less really is more.
2017 has been a good year for indie darlings Devolver Digital. Making its name with breakout hits like Hotline Miami, the last twelve months saw the sassy and subversive company release the unique 3D fighter Absolver as well as a mind-bending VR remake of The Talos Principle. Yet, for our money its best game this year was criminally overlooked — Ruiner.<
Ditching the 2D side-scrolling of Hotline Miami, this neon-soaked nightmare takes the top down shooter and drags it kicking and screaming into 3D. Set in a predictably nasty post apocalyptic city called Regnkok, this unforgiving action game takes its visual cues from Akira and Blade Runner.
Thanks to some unique teleport mechanics and its wonderfully seedy sense of atmosphere, Ruiner takes an old genre and pummels it into an experience that feels entirely its own. If you’re not afraid of a game that challenges you, Devolver’s latest perfectly blends fast and frantic gameplay with a compelling dystopian setting. Mindless violence doesn’t get much cooler than this.
7. Golf Story
There are some age old combinations that just work. Chocolate and peanut butter, whiskey and coke … and now it seems you can add the blend of golf and old school RPG to that list. For those who are wondering, Golf Story is a Switch exclusive indie game that relives the glory days of the 90s with Camelot’s Mario Golf series.
These beloved handheld golf games saw players attempting to rise up through the ranks and become the greatest golfer in the mushroom kingdom. Yet, with recent entries sadly lacking the RPG elements that made the series so well-loved, developer Sidebar Games has decided to pick up the putter and put the genre back on course.
With some brilliant writing, suitably charming retro visuals and more angst-fuelled gold than you can shake a wedge iron at, Golf Story is a brilliantly nostalgic game. If you’re looking for an indie game to play in bed while you watch crap TV, you could do far worse than this wonderfully endearing sporting adventure.
Imagine a game where the AI not only watches you, but learns from your every move too. That’s the premise behind ECHO, a tense sci-fi stealth-em-up from Danish indie studio — Ultra Ultra. Created by ex Hitman developers who branched away from IO interactive, this developer’s debut title took the stealth genre into new and surprising territory.
In this sci-fi adventure, players are tasked with exploring a mysterious AI-controlled palace that watches their every move. As the game takes you deeper into its eerily abandoned passages and elaborately decorated hallways, you soon discover an almost infinite number of AI apparitions waiting for you.
The twist? These disturbing robots look identical to the player’s avatar. If that wasn’t bad enough, thanks to the ever watchful eye of the palace, these replicas slowly begin to mimic your actions too, learning from your every move.
While this may sound like little more than a gimmick, ECHO’s core gameplay loop is actually as alluring as it is terrifying. Every time you enter a new area, your disturbing doppelgängers are initially fairly harmless as you scout out the room before you. While they can grab you if you get too close, they can only walk very slowly, lacking any kind of ranged weaponry or an understanding of how doors work. You’d almost feel sorry for the dopey bots, if they weren’t watching intently, waiting for you to slip up.
This 2017 gem is one of the most original and intriguing releases we had the pleasure of playing this year. In a time where graphics are looking their best but AI hasn’t made that next-gen leap, avoid this ambitious gem at your own peril.
In a year that’s arguably been dominated by flagship Nintendo franchises its easy to forget that 2017 also saw the Big N launch its first new hardcore gaming IP in two years. Just like it did with its squid-based shooter, Splatoon, this time the Japanese giant has decided to take apart the fighting genre and reassemble it into something equally fresh.
Created by the team behind Mario Kart 8, ARMS is (unsurprisingly) another game that’s almost overwhelmingly colourful. Thankfully though, this game is more than just a looker. Bringing back motion controls with a vengeance, Nintendo proves that the Switch’s Joycon are a far cry from the inaccurate waggling that plagued the Wiimote.
Initially, you’d expect motion controls to reduce this unique-feeling brawler to little more than a basic flail fest. Yet, surprisingly, ARMS intuitive control scheme actually offers players a fairly extensive amount of tactical options. With the Switch’s joy-con able to accurately read precisely how you choose to curve your fighter’s stretchy limbs, playing locally or online makes each battle a delightfully tense reading of player tells.
Unfortunately though, it lacks the meaty single-player component of a game such as Splatoon, which combined with its dubious looking motion controls led to many Switch owners giving this fighting gem a mess.
In short, ARMS lives and dies on local and online multiplayer, but with Nintendo churning out more free DLC content than you can shape a floppy arm at, there’s thankfully an arm-full of multiplayer fun to be had here.
While most games delight in immersing us in fictitious worlds, when it came to RIME’s fantastical setting, developer Tequila Works decided instead to take inspiration from its own backyard – The Mediterranean. Boasting a gorgeous cel-shaded art style, RIME’s sun-soaked vistas feel immediately evocative of Spanish beaches, with the game’s massive island oozing colour from every pixel.
Waking up on this strange but alluring island, RIME sees players exploring its beautiful and mysterious locales. Taking cues from games like Journey and The Witness, this puzzle-heavy exploration game drops dialogue and combat in favour of immersing players inside an atmospheric adventure. If you’re looking for a calming game to play after a long day, this is the perfect interactive stress buster.
To reveal more about what makes this touching tale so special, however, would be spoiling the experience. If you’re after a more laid-back, Team Ico style gaming experience, this indie gem is just the ticket. The less said about the terrible Switch port, however, the better.
3. Little Nightmares
At first glance, Little Nightmares looks like a nice side-scrolling adventure from the team that brought you Little Big Planet Vita. Look a little closer and you’ll discover that things aren’t quite as sickly sweet in this terrifying world of Tim Burton-like horror.
Putting players in the shoes of a nameless protagonist, you awaken to find yourself trapped in an unfamiliar and giant world. It doesn’t take long to realize how dangerous and twisted these bleak new surroundings really are.
Feeling like Coraline, the video game, gorgeous visuals, spine tingling sound effects and brilliantly implemented puzzles make Little Nightmares a wonderfully atmospheric and unique experience. With an intriguing new DLC released for the game a few months back, and the main game currently on sale on STEAM, now’s the perfect time to brave this brilliantly chilling adventure.
It’s not every day that a game developer manages to combine atmospheric action with a poignant look at mental health. Yet, somehow, that’s exactly what DMC creators Ninja Theory have pulled off.
Inspired by Norse mythology, Hellblade puts players in the shoes of Senua, a warrior who is determined to rescue the soul of her dead partner from the goddess of Hela. Yet, while her journey to Helheim would be difficult enough with just the dangerous foes that stand before her, at the same time she faces another equally deadly enemy – psychosis.
Made in combination with British mental health charity, The Welcome Trust, Hellblade effectively and respectfully tackles mental illness in a harrowingly effective way. With each of your in game actions scrutinised by a cacophony of arguing voices, and your brain often warping the environment around you, Hellblade leaves players in a constant state of stress. Are the demons Senua is facing real? Can you trust any of the voices that are guiding her?
Hellblade is a game that’s brave, beautiful and utterly unforgettable. If you’re looking for a game that feels great to play and simultaneously gives you insight into a difficult topic, then there are few better examples than Hellblade.
1. Night in the Woods
Following in the footsteps of our favourite college-dorm adventure, Life Is Strange, Night In The Woods is another cleverly written tale that swaps arcade thrills for real-life struggles. Put in the shoes of struggling 20-year-old Mae, players find themselves suddenly returning to her quiet home town after a mysterious incident sees her dropping out of college.
What starts off as a quirky adventure slowly unfolds into a surprisingly moving tale that tackles everything from depression to existentialism … all while letting you eat pizza with your pals and slap some mean bass lines along the way.
Thanks to a beautiful hand-drawn art style and its (at times) painfully relatable dialogue, you’ll soon find yourself invested in Possum Springs’ loveable cast of animal characters. To be honest, we’re still not sure why this story about the hardships of being human is full of animals, but it looks stunning, so who cares?
If you’re after an easy-to-play and moving adventure, this well-written and charming little indie is one of the most intriguing games you can play this year.