It was a good year to be a gamer with the launch of new hardware and innovative games that dared to try something new from scratch or to mix up the formula for some beloved franchises. While there were some hiccups along the way, 2017 was a solid one for gamers. These were the top 10 developments in the industry this year.
10. Cuphead‘s visuals and challenge take gamers back
Cuphead is a 2D running shooter, but it is easy to forget that’s how simple of a game concept this really is. The visuals are truly one of a kind with hand-drawn animation like classic Disney and Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons of the original animation era. With so much attention devoted to the scenery and animations, it is understandable why Cuphead took so long to go through its production. After the game was announced for the first time in 2014, it finally became available in late September on the Xbox One and for PC gamers.
But the game doesn’t just look great. Cuphead is quite a challenge that had some gamers calling the game NES-hard. For those who remember how difficult it was getting through a game like Contra or Gradius on the old NES, Cuphead falls right in line with the degree of difficulty. In the initial months of being on the market, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive by reviewers and fans, and talk of more Cuphead has been heard already.
That is great news for StudioMDHR, an independent game studio in Canada which made its debut with Cuphead. The game began development back in 2010, but the studio was forced to leave out some content because building a game with this animation style was complex. Here’s hoping we see a “Cuphead 2” in the future. With more resources behind it — and perhaps with the helping hand of Microsoft, now that the studio has proven to be capable of building a hit — we won’t have to wait another seven years for it.
9. Sonic Mania returns to Sonic’s roots to great praise
Sonic the Hedgehog has never faded from gaming existence, but the simple 2D style of Sonic gameplay has been difficult for SEGA to maintain while keeping things interesting and fresh. The release of various Sonic games in recent years had few positive results, and Sonic 4 wasn’t exactly the return to the game’s roots that fans of the franchise had been hoping for. Fortunately, Sonic Mania managed to get it right with an all-new adventure that brought back everything fans loved from the original games and still offering something fresh with plenty of fan service from start to finish.
Sonic Mania was developed by Headcannon and PagodaWest Games after SEGA saw what the retro engine developed by Headcannon was capable of doing on a mobile port of Sonic CD. The same company created mobile ports of the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games before getting the opportunity to create a brand new title that strikes all the right chords for a Sonic game that can be replayed over and over.
Finally, a new Sonic game that feels every bit as enjoyable as when we were playing Sonic games on a SEGA Genesis.
8. Capcom’s Mega Man 11 tease was a pleasant surprise
This year provided an anniversary celebration for a video gaming icon, with Mega Man turning 30. Capcom’s little blue bomber made his debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, leading to a large number of sequels and spinoffs over the years. But in recent years, Capcom treated Mega Man like an afterthought while continuing to turn out Street Fighter titles on a regular basis. As more time has passed, it seemed as though Capcom had given up on Mega Man, which led the game’s creator to launch a Kickstarter campaign and create what was hailed as a spiritual successor to the classic Mega Man platform franchise fans have been wanting.
To put it simply, Mighty No. 9 was a complete disaster and shall never be recognized in the same light as Mega Man. Despite the massive failure of the Mighty No. 9 franchise, it appears Capcom was at least keeping tabs on the effort. While it may not have ended well, the buzz and anticipation for Mighty No. 9 showed there is still an interest in Mega Man. The recent success of bringing back classics from the NES era to a newer generation like the New Super Mario Bros. franchise on Nintendo consoles and the previously mentioned Sonic Mania provided further confirmation.
During a marathon stream for Mega Man‘s 30th anniversary, Capcom showed a video of Mega Man through the years, with a nice little tease of a brand new title in development that has been received very well by longtime fans of the franchise. We’ll still have to wait until later in 2018 to get our hands on this new Mega Man title, but it looks like we’ll finally get the sequel the beloved game deserves.
7. SNES fans finally get Star Fox 2, officially
Nintendo’s big year continued with had itself quite a year with the release of the SNES Classic Edition, the follow-up to the popular NES Classic Edition. But this console came with the inclusion of a game that has never been officially released: Star Fox 2.
Nintendo scrapped its plans for Star Fox 2 as the company focused more on the Nintendo 64 and moved on from the Super NES. Some elements of Star Fox 2 led to features in Star Fox 64, but the completed Star Fox 2 was largely left in isolation as a 16-bit mystery. The game eventually made its way to the online community in prototype form through various methods, but the official complete release was left locked away in Nintendo’s vault for a rainy day.
So today StarFox2 got announced to be released at last today! I'm now out drinking with Imamura-san reminiscing ! pic.twitter.com/vRHnyRqiZ7
— Dylan (@dylancuthbert) June 27, 2017
This year, that rainy day came as an incentive to buy the Super NES Classic Edition. It was a nice perk of the otherwise gimmicky retro-themed piece of nostalgia for a current generation, and time did not treat the final release of the game all that well. But it was cool to finally get a chance to play the game and this leaves the door open for other forgotten games that could help give consumers a reason to dip their toes in the retro craze with similar products.
If nothing else, the inclusion of Star Fox 2 in the SNES Classic Edition meant the team that spent their time developing Star Fox 2 finally got a chance to celebrate their hard work finally being shared with the masses.
6. Horizon Zero Dawn takes open-world gaming to new levels
One of the biggest hits of the year for the PS4 was the action-RPG open-world adventure fans had been dreaming of. Finally released in late February, Horizon Zero Dawn took gamers on a breathtaking adventure full of detail, wit, and challenges. A world overrun by robots is a fairly played-out theme in various forms of media, but Horizon Zero Dawn did so in ways never quite realized before, with giant dinosaur robots. And who doesn’t love a bunch of dinosaur robots?
If there is just one flaw in the launch of the game, it was the timing. Horizon Zero Dawn was released just 72 hours before the launch of another highly-anticipated open-world video game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If not for Nintendo’s release of Zelda, Horizon Zero Dawn likely would have had more of a chance to take home some game of the year accolades.
5. EA shuts down Visceral Games and botches Star Wars Battlefront II
EA has a long history of shutting down studios taken under its wing, and Visceral Games joined that list in 2017. The timing of the announcement in October was a shock, given the company’s history as an EA development studio and the work being done on an upcoming Star Wars game.
The team had been working on a linear Star Wars adventure, but EA decided to change the approach and assign development on the game to another branch of their development armada. The branch continue revising the gameplan while moving members of the Visceral team to other projects and shutting down the individual studio. The game was not expected to come out until 2019, but recent internal changes have frozen the project in carbonite until a release date to be determined. And this was just the first bit of rough news for Star Wars fans.
The release of Star Wars Battlefront II was plagued from the start when the implemented loot system made it painstakingly taxing on gamers to unlock everything they wanted in the game without having to pay a few extra bucks on top of whatever amount was paid for the game in the first place. The outrage spilled over to a full-blown revolt from gamers and EA ended up shutting down the entire loot box idea until it could create a better plan that was less demanding on customers.
It didn’t help that the game was just so-so, receiving just a 68 on Metacritic. In a year with a brand new Star Wars film and content designed to tie-in with the new movie, this was a big swing and miss from EA that shakes the confidence in future Star Wars games under EA’s leadership.
4. The Loot Box concerns hit critical new highs
The Star Wars Battlefront II loot box issue was a tipping point for a problem that has been slowly growing over time. The idea of downloadable extras for a game is nothing new, but the glaring issues with Star Wars Battlefront II raised awareness of this practice to new heights. Games were designed to be fully enjoyed only after purchasing the game and then DLC packages that are scheduled or available as the game launches.
Want to power up your weapons? Looking to improve your player’s skills and abilities? Better get a good loot box. Or five. Or 39.
The whole concept has led some politicians to openly question if purchasing loot boxes with random items should be considered a form of wagering. This is actually a valid point, as the contents of a loot box are purely determined at random. If a player is paying for those loot boxes, they risk getting items they do not want or need and may be pressured to purchase more until they win what they seek.
As Kotaku explained, loot boxes are designed with the intent of taking advantage of a player’s desire to get all of the best content possible in order to fully enjoy a game. Gone are the days when a video game studio would pack a game with all of the content available right out of the package.
The idea of paying for items in a game makes sense, especially if it opens the door for content that could not be crammed into the initial release or had to be scratched for one reason or another. But paying for the chance to get an item you want? That’s just lazy game design being bailed out by revenue streams that continue to rise in common game design.
3. Microsoft focuses on a hardware upgrade with Xbox One X
Microsoft once again upped the hardware game with the unveiling of the Xbox One X. The latest advanced version of the Xbox One had gone under the code name of Project Scorpio and ended up being the next step in the evolution of the console, rather than a brand new system. The hardware brings to life a true 4K gaming experience to keep in line with Microsoft’s long-time strategy of being able to deliver the most advanced gaming visuals to its audience.
The Xbox One X is also aimed at the future of gaming with the capabilities to handle advanced VR features that continue to evolve. Meanwhile, Microsoft VP of Gaming Phil Spencer has used the Xbox One X to further draw a line in the current generation of console wars by suggesting Sony’s PS4 Pro is more of a competitor to Microsoft’s previous version of the Xbox One hardware, the Xbox One S.
But Microsoft’s heavy focus on providing the most state-of-the-art hardware diverted attention away from beefing up its software offerings. Crackdown 3 was a letdown for some and the anticipated release of Scalebound was tossed aside entirely. Cuphead did quite well, however, as mentioned above. And there was at least one notable exception to Microsoft’s exclusive gaming library in 2017.
2. Winner, winner, chicken dinner for PUBG Corporation’s debut smash hit, PlayerUnknown Battleground
The concept is fairly simple, and that may be what helps make PlayerUnknown’s Battleground so compelling. 100 random strangers are airlifted to a remote island, where they must fight to the death until just one sole survivor remains in the ultimate battle royale FPS game on the market. As you parachute into the island without any items, you must find weapons in the open and plan your strategy on the fly in an attempt to stay alive and take out the others competing to be the last one standing.
Every game will be different, and that has led to PUBG becoming a smash hit that is equal parts unpredictable and unique every time you play.
Making this title even more of a surprise is that this is the first title put out by the studio that developed it, PUBG Corporation. Because the studio is new to the scene — although with some experienced minds involved with it and with the helping hand of Microsoft along the way — the studio relied heavily on pre-release distribution for receiving critical feedback and helping raise awareness. It was a brilliant strategy that continues to pay dividends for the studio.
What started out as a PC gaming hit that gained popularity through streamers on Twitch finding the joy in the game’s unpredictability will continue to rise in 2018 following the recent release of the game on Xbox One. The game was originally planned to eventually make its way to the PlayStation 4, although that seems to be up in the air as 2018 arrives.
1. Nintendo’s big 2017 highlighted by Switch, Zelda, and, of course, Mario
It’s been a long time since Nintendo had a year like this. 2017 may go down in history as one of the best for Nintendo, even if it got off to a shaky start. The year started with the last days of shortages of the NES Classic that carried over from the holiday season. That quickly bled into the next hardware shortage issue Nintendo would combat with the launch of the brand new Nintendo Switch. But the Switch proved to be a major reason why Nintendo is heading into 2018 as strong as ever.
Let’s start with the Switch. Released in early March, Nintendo’s latest home console offering took gamers everywhere Nintendo wanted to with the WiiU but never could. The Switch was a piece of hardware that carried plenty of questions out of the gates, but as the months went by and more games became available for the system, the feedback gained positive momentum and helped lead to a financial boom for Nintendo by the end of the year.
What the Switch lacked in initial game offerings, it made up for in quality. Forget about 1-2 Switch and ARMS, because the Switch had Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a long-awaited title that was initially supposed to be released on the WiiU years ago. It’s worth asking if Breath of the Wild could have saved the WiiU, but delayed production of the game came at the best possible time, becoming a highlight of the Switch library in 2017.
Winning game of the year honors proved Nintendo is still a master game developer that knows how to max out the potential of their hardware. The first open-world Zelda adventure that strayed from the linear approach of the franchise’s long-used mechanics pushed the Switch to the limits. Gamers continue to stay involved with the release of two DLC packages that offer a brand new challenge to the game for those who haven’t tired of searching every inch of the massive land of Hyrule for every Korok seed and shrine.
As if releasing a brand new Zelda title that may be the best in the franchise was not enough, Nintendo closed out the year on the strength of Super Mario Odyssey. If not for Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey would have been Nintendo’s game of the year. But instead, Nintendo can boast having two of the best Zelda and Mario games in their respective franchises’ debut on the Switch in Year 1. And that’s just the start for Nintendo, with the Switch continuing to build a solid game library, thanks to some good third party support and independent developers.
Landmark franchises like Doom and Skyrim are available on the Switch. Ubisoft successfully merged the universes of their Rabbids characters and Mario in Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. New titles like Snipperclips and revamped upgrades of past hits like Mario Kart 8 and L.A. Noire have been brought into the fold, while Nintendo carried over the Splatoon franchise from the WiiU and welcomed aboard ports of games like Rocket League to get more connected to the world of online gaming.
There was also the release of the Super NES Classic Edition, a tease for Metroid Prime 4, a new Metroid game for the 3DS, so many amiibo, and new details about a theme park at Universal Studios. The year was not without its flaws, though, even with the Switch. We will move into 2018 still without a virtual console for the Switch and the unveiling of Nintendo’s own online account system similar to Sony’s PS Plus and Xbox Live is still pending after initially being targeted for a fall release. And third-party support could still use a little more effort from some of the big names in the game, most notably EA.
Nintendo enters 2018 on solid footing for the first time in a long time.