I played a lot of great games this year. Despite all the shenanigans around single-player games and loot boxes, the gaming industry put out several great works of art. Since the best part of December is end-of-year lists, I rounded up my favorites.

Take notice- these are not the best games that came out in 2017. Frankly, I can’t afford to play every new game. These are the best of the ones I tried during the last 12 months. Presented, in no particular order…

Pyre

You might not think you need a fantasy sports RPG in your life. You might think to yourself, “I don’t need to play a cross between an adventure game and NBA Jam.” You might think that, and you’d be dead wrong.

Supergiant Games surprised everyone with a gem of a game. Pyre utilizes the strengths of the creators of Bastion to their fullest extents. It drops you into a fully realized, mysterious and compelling world. It mixes familiar gameplay in new ways. And best of all, it makes you care about the characters involved.

Pyre is a game with heart, a game so specific and lovingly built that it can’t help but be worth loving. It cares so deeply about its characters, rendering them so well you can’t help but care too.

Pyre is weird and thoughtful and beautiful. It is the rare game that I couldn’t stop thinking about as I played it. For something unusual and powerful, don’t skip this one.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

It’s rare to see a big corporation acknowledge its mistakes and fix them, before the franchise has crashed and burned. With Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Capcom did exactly that. It ditched the Michael Bay antics of Resident Evil 6 in favor of a stripped-down experience focused on scaring players.

The opening hours of Resident Evil 7 are some of the most terrifying I’ve experienced in gaming. Running around the Baker house, desperately trying to stay alive against horrors I won’t spoil here, all of it was amazing.

I love this game for what it is, but also what it’s not. In a year where too many games embraced boring open worlds and grindy multiplayer crippled to push loot boxes, Resident Evil 7 was a focused and powerful single-player journey. It knew what it needed to do and did it. Sure, the last 20% of the game drops off some, but the overall package is a lean, scaring machine.

Cave Story

It’s hard to explain what’s great about Cave Story. After playing the opening minutes on-and-off for seriously 10 years (this game was released in 2004), I finally buckled down and finished got into it. What an experience it was to get into.

Cave Story is anime Metroidvania. You are a robot, a small part of a magical world, and you need to save your friends. From that simple premise grows a lovely tale of friendship and sacrifice. Cave Story is a good Metroidvania from a strictly gameplay perspective, but the story is what made me love it.

It feels weird to have this on my best-of–2017 list, in a year where we got a new 2D Metroid. However, I’d still give the award to this over Metroid: Samus Returns, an enjoyable game that feels lifeless at times. Cave Story is free on PC and has been ported to many platforms. Please, play this if you haven’t.

Super Mario 3D Land

Holy cow, it has been a while since a Mario game has obsessed me this deeply. Super Mario 3D Land is another old game, having come out years ago near the 3DS’s launch. I only got it this year, but it stunned me.

Super Mario 3D Land takes the fun parts of 3D Mario games and distills them down into short, punchy levels. Every area feels hand-crafted, and Nintendo’s grasp of how to shrink Mario down to his handheld platform is remarkable.

This game is easy to approach while also hiding an impressive amount of secrets within it. Granted, too many of those secrets are locked behind annoying time trial levels where you have to outrun Shadow Mario, but nobody’s perfect, right?

Super Mario 3D Land is a must for anyone with a 3DS or an appreciation for good platformers.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a decent shooter at best. Decent. The cover system is weak and fighting enemies with hitscan weapons sucks. After 2016’s Doom revolutionized the single-player FPS, it’s hard to go back to a system this antiquated.

And yet Wolfenstein II earns its place on this list based off its superb writing. It is amazing to experience a game so intensely aware of itself, its story, and that story’s place within America’s political culture. A story about Nazis ruling America in 2017 is dynamite. It is to Machine Games’ credit that they pick up that dynamite and hurl it exactly where they want it to go.

Wolfenstein II is a game that is furious about Nazis. It despises them. It pulses with a venom I haven’t felt since reading Native Son. I have never seen a video game so thoroughly excoriate American culture for its nativist and racist (Nazi-friendly, in other words) tendencies.

In a year that has seen a literal Nazi literally murder someone, people have debated whether it is acceptable to use violence against Nazis. Wolfenstein II screams “YES! God, yes!” as it sinks a hatchet into a Nazi skull. To speak any political message, but especially that message, so boldly is remarkable.

Wrapup

That’s about it for my list! Honorable mentions for these great experiences:

  • Hearthstone: Knights of the Frozen Throne
  • Bloodborne
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
  • Persona 4

And congratulations to Mass Effect: Andromeda, which earns my prestigious Golden Poo award for being the biggest pile of crap I played this year. It took the focused storytelling and interesting world of the original trilogy and swapped them for a terrible open world and garbage “alien” races. Andromeda was so bad EA put the franchise on pause and shut down the studio that made it. Yeah.

So what were your favorite games this year?