Gamasutra's Best of 2017: Chris Kerr's top 6 games

Gamasutra's resident UK news writer Chris Kerr runs through his top picks for 2017, and it's looking like a very merry Switchmas indeed.

Chris Kerr (@kerrblimey) is Gamasutra's resident UK news reporter. 

I can't remember how many games came out this year, but looking back it felt like Too Many. As always, I didn't play nearly enough, and it'll probably take me at least another six months to catch up on everything I missed. But that's nothing new, and I eventually found time to tuck in to some of the year's tastier morsels -- which is fortunate, otherwise this would be the shortest list in existence. 

Like many of you, I spent the bulk of 2017 glued to my Switch, and personally speaking Nintendo's sleek slate was a revelation. It meant I didn't have to put down the gamepad when my flatmate wanted to watch guff horror movies, or when I left the house at all for that matter. It's a console that slotted neatly into my daily routine, whether that meant lying in bed for hours playing Zelda or smashing out a few games of Mario Kart on the train home.

My fascination with the Switch meant I spent a lot of time with the indie hits of yesteryear, which have found a new lease of life on the hybrid console. It also meant I gave less attention to some of the year's more bombastic releases, although I still wined and dined one or two. Here's what caught my eye. 

Assassin's Creed Origins by Ubisoft

Assassin's Creed Origins is proof that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. There's nothing wrong with wheeling out the same franchise every year if you can keep it looking and feeling fresh, but waning sales and a decline in quality suggested Ubisoft had finally drained the well dry with it's yearly stab-em-up. Thankfully, the studio read the room and decided to give the series some much needed downtime. 

It was a smart move. Origins reinvigorates the series by marrying the best of games like The Witcher 3 with franchise staples. RPG elements and revised, more deliberate combat add depth and longevity, ensuring you can't become an unstoppable terminator overnight. I'm over 30 hours in, and there are still some foes I have to avoid entirely for fear of becoming hippo feed. Meanwhile, the move to Ancient Egypt feels like another masterstroke. It's somewhere we've yet to really explore in games (unless that's just my age showing), and creeping through a pyramid for the first time with nothing but a flickering torch and a rusty old sickle had me giddier than a mouse smothered in cheddar.

Horizon Zero Dawn by Guerrilla Games

I cant quite remember why, but I wasn't sold on Horizon at first. In fact, I only wound up grabbing Guerrilla's neo-prehistoric adventure because it was on sale, but boy am I glad  I did. It's one of the most original games I've clapped eyes on all year. To call the world of Horizon downright gorgeous would be an understatement. It's one of the only occasions this year where I felt like I'd been thrown into something organic, a place that seemed like it'd carry on existing even if I wasn't there. At times I'd find myself sitting back to take in a sunrise, or hunkering down during a storm to marvel at the world tearing itself asunder.  

Of course, looks aren't everything, so thankfully Horizon delivers the goods across the board. Protagonist Aloy was a breath of fresh air, and after a rocky, somewhat cliched start the story eventually came into its own. The combat system is also a winner, and each encounter with Horizon's more irritable machines becomes an exhilarating chess game that requires thoughtful planning and quick thinking when things inevitably go south. Seriously. You think you know pressure? Try taking down a giant mechanized T. rex with nothing but a spear and a ropecaster, then get back to me. 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild by Nintendo EPD

At this point, there's nothing I can say about Breath of the Wild that hasn't already been written. It achieved the near-impossible by redefining the evergreen franchise and simultaneously supporting the successful launch of an entirely new console. Indeed, the highest praise I can give Breath of the Wild is that it managed to reinvent the wheel without ripping out the series' heart and soul. 

Gone are the predictable temples, familiar items, and linear world progression. In their stead we got gigantic mechanized puzzles called Divine Beasts, a sweeping open world that can be fully explored right from the get-go, and fresh powers that can be combined in marvelous, infinitely surprising ways. At the best of time it feels like an experiment in fun and a shining example of how vertical open world design should be implemented. At the worst of times… well actually, there weren't any worst of times. Let's be real: Nintendo knocked it out of the park and then some, delivering my favorite Zelda game since Wind Waker while yanking a classic into the modern age.

Rocket League (Switch) by Psyonix

Look, I'm well aware Rocket League didn't come out in 2017, but put down your pitchforks and hear me out. Rocket League was great on consoles, but it truly feels at home on the Switch. No, it's not the best port in terms of visuals, but jagged textures don't take away from the pleasure I get from scoring wonder goals while tucked up in bed, or making epic goal-line saves from the comfort of a toasty cafe. 

Rocket League's five minute matches and the instant highs and lows of victory and defeat always made it ideal for burst play, and the Switch port takes that notion to its logical conclusion. Couple all of the above with the joys of cross-platform play, and Rocket League Switch becomes the definitive edition of Psyonix's modern classic.

Snipperclips by SFB Games

Snipperclips probably won't make many end-of-year lists, and that's because it's hardly a groundbreaking affair. It takes a cute co-op concept and executes it flawlessly, providing some memorable moments and giggles along the way, but a genre-redefining title this isn't. So, why is it featured in my round-up? Simple: because Snipperclips was the first game to show me just how magical the Switch could be. 

I know, I know, but what about Zelda? Well yeah, Breath of the Wild was a doozy, but it was a single-player soiree, and when you first pick up a Switch you can't help but wonder how it performs when you slip out the joy-cons and kickback for some on-the-fly multiplayer hijinks. That's exactly what a few friends and I wound up doing with Snipperclips on a flight to Frankfurt, and it was glorious. It was the first time I got to fully realize the Switch's potential, and I'll always have SFB's snippy little puzzler to thank for that.

Stardew Valley (Switch) by Eric Barone

If I'm being completely honest with you, I have absolutely no idea why I love Stardew Valley so goddamn much. I missed the boat when the fantastical farming sim first launched last year, but I remember every single person on my Twitter feed singing its praises. Now, I'm hardly the jealous type, but it's hard not to feel a little bit left out when the entire world is losing its mind over pixilated parsnips and digital dating. 

So, when I heard the game was heading to the Switch, it felt like the perfect opportunity to hop on the bandwagon. And do you know what? Twitter was absolutely right. Stardew Valley is one of the most nonsensically mesmerizing titles I've ever had the good fortune of playing. Why do I enjoy getting up at 6am to milk Sean and Bean (don't worry, they're cows), repair fences, and water crops before hitting the mines? I have no idea. On paper, it shouldn't work, but thanks to some charming, delightfully pure game design, what might've been boring becomes a relaxing jaunt through the pleasures of rural life. It's perfectly executed, portable escapism, and I still cant tear myself away.

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