As always, keep in mind I did not see everything, play everything, or listen to everything, so if you see a notable absence of something, I probably didn't get to it this year. Probably.
The round-up is extra long this year, with more categories than ever. This is the only time I do a round-up like this - the only place on the internet - so you’ll have to sit through my music and movies and stuff. If you don't like it, well, allow me to try and change your mind about that. Enough talk! Have at you!
I would have sworn Mario could never compete with the lineup of champion games I was playing in 2017. I was so wrong. Odyssey is full of the kind of pure joy you get from only the very best games of all time. And it’s certainly the best platformer I can remember. This game loves to reward the player. It’s full of rewards. It rewards persistence, curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. It fulfills the promises of being both a toy for children, to foster their sense of curiosity and wonder, and a test for the hardcore, with several kinds of movement skills and jumps to be combined, and a deceptively high skill-ceiling for the speed-runners. All skill levels have rewards coming to them! Those beautiful moons!
And Easter eggs and jokes are all over the place! And you can possess crazy stuff! Also, so many outfits and no microtransactions in sight! And the post-game is really good. And the level design in out-of-this-world good and the worlds are so diverse! And New Donk City! That’s why Odyssey has, for me, totally upstaged the best Zelda game ever made. Think about that.
Oh yeah, and here’s that amazing song. Probably the best song in a game all year.
I didn’t play much on PC this year, but I’m glad I got to play this. If you like the XCOM series, XCOM 2 introduced more of a story and gave the series a sense of continuity. Now, War of the Chosen introduces real villains and more active and varied characters. Making you care about individuals is the mission statement for War of the Chosen. You now have bonds that develop between squad mates, three factions you can ally with that grant new special soldier types, and persistent villains that even taunt you on the worldmap. There’s also a surprising amount of voicework. You have new ways to get a leg-up on research, new enemies, and new mod-like campaign modifiers. And all this is layered on top of the main campaign, making it better and more complex the whole way through. It’s like a campaign inside a campaign, like a Civ expansion or something, but with its own story.
I’ve raved about Aloy before and I’ll do it again. In Horizon, you see Aloy’s whole life from childhood, and for a long time I didn’t know why. Why did they choose for Aloy to be hated and shunned by her tribe? Why did she grow up with a mentor and nobody else? The answer is simple in retrospect: she’s the only one who can save the world. She’s curious, because she doesn’t buy the religion. She’s strong because she was raised by a sword-master archetype father figure. Her bit gadget lets her see a secret world of ancient technology. Chosen One characters are a very well-worn trope that’s easy to dismiss, but Aloy proves that the classic hero has got plenty of gas left, especially if you deconstruct their origin and justify why they deserve to be the hero.
Here’s Miracle of Sound’s tribute, because it’s also a legit great moment in media:
This game is a legit science fiction achievement. Finding out why is the journey of playing the game. What you get on the surface is already unique and cool. But it just keeps getting cooler from there. Despite what little I can say, it deserves a call-out for creating a sci-fi universe that rivals Dead Space.
I never would have guessed Assassins Creed was even something I wanted to play this year. But man, it really pulled me in and won me over. ACO Egypt is an amazingly well-realized and beautiful world. Several times I caught myself saying, “This game is so beautiful”. That’s more impressive when you consider how it’s mostly small villages, ruins, farm land, rivers, and wild jungles and deserts. In terms of what ACO portrays, it’s very well-worn territory, mundane stuff. But there’s so much thoughtful detail and great lighting. They made Hellenistic Egypt historically real, in a way that feels alive and teeming. It’s both more interesting than any fantasy, while also being grounded and down-to-Earth. It’s a complex mundanity. Reminds me why I liked 2 so much.
I photographed the hell out of this game! Gravity Rush 2 is like a Ghibli movie come to life, but often better-looking. You’ve got a civilization based on flying building technology and the power to fall-with-style by controlling your personal gravity orientation. This world has such vibrant color and such energy. I want to drink it. Especially when you’ve got an easy-to-use and fun camera mode. Our hero Kat’s got several costumes and camera props to use, but the big motivator here is the environments and amazing vistas you’ll see. Even if this isn’t the best-looking game of the year (it’s not), the style of the art is my favorite. Nothing quite matched the level of wonder and joy I got looking at this game. No, not even Persona 5. Not like this. It just…looks like fun all over the place.
I’ve been a big fan of some of the better walking-sims in recent years and Hellblade qualifies as the best one I played this year (Didn’t play Night in the Woods or Observer, I hear good things). Hellblade portrays a schizophrenic and traumatized heroine, who interprets her condition through the lens of her people’s mythology. Unfortunately for her, that also means interpreting the deaths of everyone she knows to Viking raiders, years ago. This makes her apparent medium-powers drown her in a progressively worse waking nightmare. Over the course of the game, that manifests as talking to people she once knew as spirits, having a captive audience of voices around her, reliving events from her past, and other, more terrifying things. It also has some decent, if stiff, combat, that feels satisfying (bullet-sponge enemies, though).
It tells a good story about personal courage and I even rolled a tear at the end. As for sound design: This is something I never notice in a game, but Hellblade was made with surround-sound in mind. You can tell even on a normal TV. Whispers and voices coming from all around you are used to great effect. It’s the best example in 2017 of technical sound design adding to a game in a major way. Also, this could rival RE 7 for scariest game in 2017, at least for parts of it. If you have a headset or surround-sound system, get this game.
This is the best Souls-like I have ever played and I’d wager the best one full-stop. In retrospect, Team Ninja made those super-hard Ninja Gaiden games, which predate the whole Souls-like phenomenon taking off. Nioh is like a Ninja Gaiden RPG, inside the structure of a Souls game. It’s brilliant. It has all the things you like about Souls-likes, but the combat is so much better. It kicks ass. You’ve got actual combos, stance switching (3 per weapon!), parries, and plenty of dirty tricks. The game has several diverse weapon-types, each with a separate skill-tree and an arsenal of combos and special moves. The weapons span a wide of range of feudal Japanese combat styles (plus magic). You can even build a ninja and it’s super-viable. Nioh feels like a showcase of what Team Ninja has learned and honed. It’s their crowning achievement, IMO, and they should be very proud.
It’s hard to describe, to be honest. If I just ran through the plot, it wouldn’t sound very impressive. What makes it great are all the things that make a movie great as an experience. The acting is great all around, with even minor characters leaving a lasting presence in your head. The production, cinematography and sound is all god-tier. There is a persistent sense of there being a subtext to everything in the movie (oh, there is), which sounds like it could be obnoxious, but it’s not. It’s a key part of what makes the movie work, just like the original.
Too many people wrote it off for being 3 hours long, but I said bring it on. I can stand to live in a cinephile-grade cyberpunk movie for 3 hours. I wanted to see it again. Look, I can name funnier movies (Thor: Ragnarok!), more touching (The Big Sick!), etc. But Blade Runner was this immersive experience that felt like a total package. It was a real escape from the world. It’s also the kind of movie where you’ll spend a month piecing together what you think it says about capitalism. I could tell you my theory, but that’s no fun for you. Give it a shot when you can get a chance.
It also has one of my favorite trailers this year:
Just read my Amazon review, so I don't have to do this all again:
“As a metal head, I hear a lot of "concept albums" (rock operas). They tend to be meandering, melodramatic, have weird pacing, focus on irrelevant stuff. They generally feel weird and unnatural. But this is the best concept album I've ever heard. Easily. It's got:
- Consistent style and pacing, but every song is distinct.
- A fun story you'll actually want to follow, with lyrics that let you do that.
- Characters that are cool and not sappy and great songwriting overall.
- A heart-racing Blind-Guardian-on-nitro, hard power-metal style, which is infectious.
- Brittany's vocals and the whole band crushes this thing, really.
- Somebody mentioned "galloping riffs". That phrase really captures the great momentum this album has.
- Some part of each song has been stuck in my head at some point.
If you've read this far, just get the thing. It's fantastic.”
Here's Shadow Guide, one my favorite songs this year:
In 2017, I expanded my consumption of Eps greatly, thanks to Spotify. I could make this a category for once, because I had actual choices to make this time (last year’s best EP was “Emotion Side B”, almost by default). I’d like to mention the runners-up. "When I Was Young EP" by M0, and "VHS Collection" by VHS Collection were both delightful surprises. M0 did something jazzy and fresh, that was both confessional and danceable. VHS Collection made some brilliant throwback synthwave pop, that sounds easy in a way that is clearly cared-for. And then there’s “New Model” by Perterbator, which came very close to taking this when I listened to it recently. It had vision and energy. But only one can be my favorite.
"The Solace System" by Epica is a B-sides EP of unreleased material from recording "The Holographic Principle" in 2016. It's a bit like Carly releasing "Emotion Side B" last year. And like Side B, Solace System is a bite-sized, more concentrated version of a much larger album. Personally, I felt Holographic Principle was high quality, but overlong and bloated. Solace System, by contrast, is punchy, quicker and short. It gets right to the good stuff in 6 tracks. You get the Holographic Principle sound in a travel-size, for the metalhead on the go.
BTW: The deciding factor was Epica’s acoustic guitar re-recording of “Immortal Melancholy” which I loved. It adds something to Solace System that New Model just doesn’t have. New Model does have a romantic-ish song, “Vantablack”, which is creepy and cool. But it loses compared to “Immortal Melacholy” for me.
There were so many great moments in media this year that made me choke up. So many that I can actually make a list. There was the end of Horizon, the end of Logan, the very end of The Big Sick, even the end of Gerald’s Game and Stranger Things on Netflix. But nothing rocked my face harder than the last few episodes of Orphan Black. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it feels like the end of Lord of the Rings. They just worked so hard and basically fought a war, just to not have to. It’s such a release of tension. People being normal and boring has never been so gratifying. It feels like such a victory. It really hits you with how special a sense of security and normality is.
I could say Legion expanded what a comic book show can be, but that’s an oversimplification. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve seen on TV anywhere. Remember the cool psychic stuff from X-Men 2? Imagine if that was better, more interesting, and contained a horror mystery inside a guy’s mind. And that mystery got a season of TV. And it’s in the 70s, so people can have a fun wardrobe for no reason. I love this show so much. It truly doesn't waste its shot.
Basically, a mutant team of Not-X-Men recruits a new guy (David), by saving him from the government. And then they jump into his mind with a psychic, as part of their onboarding process, to look around. But his previous captors are coming for him hard, and his mind is a fucking horror movie, so any plans they might have had for a stable status quo get derailed immediately, and it’s a giant rolling disaster that is maybe the best X-Men universe thing ever put to screen. It’s honestly tied with Logan in my mind, for best X-Men adaptation.
I kind of hate this category, because I read a lot of established IP comics, as most comics fans do. It can be hard to enumerate the new stuff, especially by year. For this year, it was Crosswind. Crosswind hooked me immediately because of it’s strong, detailed characterizations, with each character able to narrate part of each issue in their own voice. Crosswind is a body-switch story, like in a goofy comedy movie. But it’s a dark, violent drama instead.
Because of mysterious magic stuff, a meek, bullied housewife and a brutal mafia hitman switch bodies. It goes about as unfairly as you’d except, and they have to adapt. I especially love the story of the mobster-housewife. He/she’s a good mother, in exactly the rough way this house of assholes needs. This stuff wouldn’t work so well for me, but for those characters.
Look, Jim’s been great for a long time. But 2017 has been a huge year of growth and vindication for him. His site and YouTube channel have exploded. He has the Jimquisition as always, 2 podcasts, a Boglin show, a least a few new personas just this year, Commentocracy, and more. He’s becoming a damn network onto himself and it’s amazing. Also, he’s secured an actual wrestling event in Mississippi for his Sterdust persona. It’s hard for me to argue with the amazing amount of growth and change in Jim’s domain and how entertaining it’s all been to see. He calls himself the greatest showman in gaming and he's really lived up to that in 2017. He also introduced me to Gav and Laura, through his podcast. Gav (Miracle of Sound) did that Horizon song above.
I learned a new word this year: incels! Now I wish I didn’t know that was a thing.
There you have it, my favorite media moments of 2017. I left out the Super Bowl, the best one I can remember, because you probably saw it, and because I have no great insights on it. It was as a Super Bowl should be, full of drama, suspense, and surprises. I'm very glad I don't care who wins these things. Also, Lady Gaga impressed my mom, who is tough to impress.
Good stuff. Until next year, folks!