2017 year proved to be a fantastic year for video games. From a mainstream gaming perspective, the best games of the year included some of the greatest video games in the history of the medium, from the stunning open world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild through to moments of such brilliant storytelling as NieR: Automata.
On top of that, however, the independent gaming scene also showed just how impressive games can be outside of the traditional publishing model. Along the way, some games from small studios picked up big followings, such as the likes of Cuphead, but in other instances some indie properties have gained the status of hidden gems.
As such, some of these titles deserve recognition for what they have achieved this year. Here’s Screen Rant’s picks of the best games of 2017 you’ve never heard of.
20. Tokyo 42
Taking on a similar vibe to the original Syndicate but with a pop art twist, Tokyo 42 is a colorful yet brutal tactical shooter. Tasked with committing challenging assassinations, the game is effectively built as a puzzle game with a little bit of violence thrown in.
Where Tokyo 42 really excels, however, is in the desire to try and try again when faced with insurmountable odds. Tokyo 42 is tough but fair, meaning that the frustration of a failed run is never a game-breaker, but instead makes the player keep going until they are successful.
One of the joys of the independent games scene is the ability for studios to explore ideas that would rarely fly within a traditional game publishing setting. One such example in Everything, a game that sits less as an interactive adventure and more as an introspective, philosophical look at the growth of life.
Everything is a little more interactive than developer David O’Reilly’s previous game, Mountain, but it still takes the form of a beautiful yet disconnected game. Jumping from being to being in an artistically-rendered universe, Everything is an experience for players to lose themselves in.
18. Hive Jump
As a single player game, Hive Jump can be something of a lonely affair. Mixing together random level generation with Contra-esque gunplay and grotesque alien sprites to take down, the addition of slight base-building elements does little to stop it from being a little bit on the solitary side.
When playing with friends, however, Hive Jump is an absolute blast. Acting much like a 2D throwback version of Borderlands, it’s a game that thrives in a cooperative environment, and the game’s massive bosses prove to be a huge amount of fun to take down with allies.
Some of the best horror properties call upon unique locations and backdrops, and Detention fits this description perfectly. Set in Taiwan in the 1960s while the country was under martial law, it gives the game an already oppressive backdrop before the real horrors kick in.
When they do kick in, however, they kick in hard. The game brings some true psychological scares akin to Silent Hill, and tells a harrowing story that sticks with the player long after Detention has reached its conclusion. It’s rare that a horror game stays in the memory this strongly.
16. Golf Story
A golf-themed RPG might seem a little specific to be high on a gamer’s list of must-play games, but Golf Story is definitely a game that deserves exceptions to be made. After all, there’s a reason why the game has been making waves on the Nintendo Switch alongside such exciting titles as Super Mario Odyssey.
Offering up a vibrant world full of off-the-wall characters and an extremely fun take on golf, it’s a title that can be enjoyed by players regardless of their interest in the sport itself. Golf Story offers up one of the most compelling stories of 2017, grabbing plenty of attention through cheer and charm.
15. Behold the Kickmen
Golf Story isn’t the only sports-related game on our list, though. Behold the Kickmen doesn’t look like much at first glance, with a style similar to old-school arcade football titles like Sensible Soccer and Kick Off, but the game is actually one of the funniest of the year, thanks to one central theme: it’s made by a developer that claims to know nothing about soccer.
As such, Behold the Kickmen plays fast and loose with the rules and terminology of the sport, cutting through the po-faced bravado that often comes with soccer sims and instead offering up a hilarious take on football as a whole. Definitely one to try for those that are tired of the likes of FIFA and Pro Evo.
14. SteamWorld Dig 2
The original SteamWorld Dig was a darling of the independent scene, winning hearts with its wonderful robot character models and addictive gameplay. As such, fans of the SteamWorld franchise in general were excited to see what SteamWorld Dig 2 had in store.
Thankfully, the sequel built upon the original game in every way. Player character Dorothy is a joy to play as, while the game’s mining-based gameplay is still as compelling as ever. Developer Image & Form has effectively perfected the game style, and the result is one of the most endearing games of 2017.
13. West of Loathing
West of Loathing may look crude thanks to its stick man art style, but this should never be a reason for players to shy away from this game. The title offers up a bizarre look at the Wild West, with plenty of humor that gives the game bundles of character.
It’s this comedic quality that makes West of Loathing such a joy to play. Although the gameplay is occasionally a little on the clumsy side, there’s more than enough here to keep players entertained, and certainly enough to keep users laughing for a long, long time. Given how hit and miss humor can be in games, this is no mean feat.
Developer Supergiant Games has already made itself a strong legacy through previous titles Bastion and Transistor. Renowned for strong role-playing games with impressive visuals, fans of the studio had high expectations for Pyre.
Whatever the expectations, Pyre is sure to have met them. The game is perhaps the most striking of the lot, and the strategic, party-based gameplay has earned the game a rapturous response from players. Although it may feel a little stale with long playthroughs, it’s still a fantastic addition to Supergiant’s portfolio and a game that is definitely worth playing.
Over the years, a number of retired game genres have regained a footing in the industry, from the return of the Roguelike through to retro-style platforming games. Strafe, however, looked a little bit closer to modern day, aping on the fast-paced first-person shooters of the mid 1990s like Duke Nukem and Quake but mixing things up with a procedural generation system.
The end result is an FPS that hooks players and never lets them go. Although it’s not perfect, with some justified criticism over some perhaps unfair difficulty spikes, it’s a game that will keep players entertained for a long time, and even after the initial joy is over it’s still great for short, sharp bursts of play.
10. Hollow Knight
Don’t let Hollow Knight‘s cutesy image fool you: this game has a deceptive level of depth to it. At surface level, the title seems like another explorative 2D action platformer, but the steadily unravelling hints at a larger narrative and the incremental addition of new mechanics makes it a title that video game fans need to take the time to play.
On top of that, Hollow Knight is absolutely gorgeous. Its hand-drawn models are fantastic, and that blend of positively cuddly characters within an often bleak and gothic realm provides a marvellous clash of design choices that consistently makes the game a wonder to behold.
Fullbright’s Gone Home was one of the games that popularized the interactive story revolution, and as a result it gained huge critical acclaim and started plenty of discussions within the gaming community about exactly what makes a video game. As such, many were extremely interested to see what the studio would do next, and the resulting Tacoma is yet another interesting delve into the thoughts and feelings of well-developed characters.
Tacoma‘s biggest triumph is its space station setting, with Fullbright able to create a once lived-in world meticulously. On top of that, the title includes a number of three dimensional characters that the player gets to know very well over its relatively short runtime. Tacoma is unlikely to change the opinions of those that were not fond of Gone Home, but those who appreciate a strong linear story with emotional impact will find a lot to love here.
8. Little Nightmares
Little Nightmares might not be the scariest horror game of the year, but there’s something about its design and characters that sends a shiver down the spine. The game puts the player into the shoes of a young girl named Six, as she tries to escape from the nightmarish confines of The Maw.
From the repulsive Twin Chefs through to the dining guests that Six tries to avoid, Little Nightmares is full of horrifying and powerful enemies, while the hints at a larger lore and a hugely satisfying yet terrifying final boss encounter makes the game pack one of the biggest punches of 2017. It’s easy to see why Bandai Namco picked up the title for distribution.
7. The Mummy Demastered
There is no way that The Mummy Demastered should have been this good. A tie-in game for the much-maligned Tom Cruise vehicle The Mummy, the title launched well after the release of the original film, with its source material already in tatters following a mauling from moviegoers and critics alike.
Nonetheless, The Mummy Demastered is an absolute gem of a 2D platformer. Taking franchises like the Metroid series as a guide, the title offers up thrilling run-and-gun action, while the central gimmick of a player’s dead former avatar becoming an enemy to overcome in the next run is enough to make The Mummy Demastered stand out from the crowd.
Video games have always been the perfect place to explore cyberpunk stories, with the medium’s technological groundings proving ideal to discuss themes of perception versus reality and the disturbing notions of dark tech to come. Observer continues this tradition well, with a troubling and sometimes horrifying look at how reliable our own memories can be.
Taking on the role of the titular Observer, the player jumps between investigating the game’s dystopian take on Krakow and leaping into the disturbed minds of other characters, tormented and twisted following a digital plague that destroyed much of the world. It’s in these surreal and shocking moments that Observer really shines, although it’s also worth praising Blade Runner‘s Rutger Hauer for his excellent performance as the lead character.
5. Torment: Tides of Numenera
Torment: Tides of Numenera gained a lot of traction prior to its release, and that’s because it did something that computer RPG fans had been requesting for a long time. The game acts as a spiritual successor to Black Isle’s cult classic Planescape: Torment, a title that fans claim never quite received the recognition it deserved in comparison to peers such as Baldur’s Gate and Fallout.
Nonetheless, Torment: Tides of Numenera proves that Planescape: Torment was not just a flash in the pan. That traditional RPG gameplay is still as engaging as ever, and the title’s no thrills approach to storytelling instead allows players to fully immerse themselves in the game’s world. Torment: Tides of Numenera is yet more proof that traditional RPGs still have lots to give.
4. The Sexy Brutale
Equal parts Groundhog Day and an occult version of a Hercule Poirot mystery, The Sexy Brutale is one of the most original games of the year. Attending a masked party at a mansion-cum-casino, the player is stuck in a time loop and is tasked with stopping the deaths of the party’s various attendees.
This game isn’t about rushing in guns blazing to save the day, however, and instead the player must save the lives of the masquerade ball attendees in other ways, subtly manipulating the surroundings in a style closer to a traditional adventure game. With a unique style and some of the best location design of the year, The Sexy Brutale is easily one of the most memorable games of 2017.
Although Cuphead has been making waves with its fluid character models and art style, it’s far from the only platforming title to make such excellent use of animation this year. Another example is Sundered, a brilliant Metroidvania title with some of the most graceful animation seen in 2017, along with some of the best character models to boot.
Although the game is a marvel from a design perspective, the gameplay also makes Sundered worth playing. Procedurally-generated enemy hordes means that play sessions are never the same, while the game also hosts some of the fiercest and most satisfying boss battles of the year. Definitely one for those after a beautiful challenge.
2. Stories Untold
The indie gaming scene has been the lifeblood of the horror genre for some time now, and Stories Untold shows exactly how unnerving a game can be on a small budget. The title acts as an anthology of sorts, and is made up of four short games set firmly in 1986. With a strong leaning on 1980s text-based gaming and the aesthetic of the era, Stories Untold works well alongside other popular retro horror vibes that have proved popular this year, including IT and Stranger Things.
However, Stories Untold‘s vibe sits in a much darker place, from mind-bending homebound horrors through to isolated research stations, fusing together to tell a heart-wrenching story with one of the smartest narratives of the year. Delivering some clever scares given its limited interactivity, Stories Untold is a short and punchy snapshot as exactly how well video games can deliver genuine chills.
1. Night in the Woods
Possum Springs might be one of the best video game locales of the year. The setting of Night in the Woods feels like a living, breathing place, complete with a perfectly balanced cast of characters. Taking on the role of Mae, a cat and college dropout, most of Night in the Woods is spent exploring this dying town and talking with its inhabitants, and it’s one of the most enchanting gaming experiences of 2017.
Bojack Horseman proves that anthropomorphic animals can provide a major emotional gut-punch, and Night in the Woods is another property that seamlessly blends humor and a zany world with the exploration of serious themes and ideas. Don’t miss out on this incredible game.
That brings us to the end of our rundown of the best hidden gems of 2017. Given the sheer number of games released over the course of last year, however, there’s bound to be a few more that deserve a shout out. What games of 2017 do you think need a mention? Let us know in the comments.
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