Whether you were glued to your PC playing “Playerunknown’s Battleground” or sitting on the C-Route shuttle immersed in “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” 2017 produced myriad hit games. The Nintendo Switch was without question one of their best ideas in years, serving as a novel yet useful convenience for people to play endlessly fun games like “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” On other consoles, we got “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard,” a fresh coat of paint for a beloved franchise, with its creepy atmosphere blending perfectly with its fun gameplay and forming what is arguably the franchise’s finest offering in 10 years. “NieR: Automata” and “Persona 5” were also fantastic RPGs, with rich overworlds and nuanced character development, aided by ambient soundtracks that elevate their more cathartic moments.
All said, the aforementioned triple-A titles with their large budgets and star-studded development teams are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of 2017’s hits. What often generates hype among game aficionados are the indies; the games that, free from the expectations of a large company, focus on a few unorthodox concepts and produce something genuinely different. This list aims not to rank but to describe some of the most interesting hits of 2017.
Inspired by 1930s anti-communist propaganda videos, “Cuphead” is a gorgeous game that is more than just a novel recreation of cartoons from the era. Beneath the cutesy exterior is the most difficult video game I have played in years, featuring boss fights that made me rip my hair out, and enemies that made me cry in my sleep. As frustrating as it can be, the reward of beating a boss is satisfying. Points to its soundtrack as well, with its jazzy barbershop quartet nods adding so much to its Great Depression era atmosphere. You can get it on Steam (Windows only) or on the Windows store for $19.99 — a good price for a birthday gift to someone you simultaneously love and hate.
Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club is a vanilla visual novel — until it isn’t. If you have no idea what this game is, don’t let the generic-looking anime girls on the cover put you off. There’s a reason the game’s introduction begins with a trigger warning. It is difficult to describe in detail without spoilers, but the game thrives because of its well-written dialogue, excellent artwork (despite not being native to Japan) and its unique twists, as it is both a visual novel and a criticism of the genre as a whole. If you have zero interest in anime and feel repelled by a game of this nature, I advise you to think again. In fact, I would argue that your feelings make this the only novel in the genre that you would like. This game is available for free on Steam for both Windows and Mac, so hurry up and buy it.
I reviewed “Rakuen” earlier this year and gave it a near-perfect score, and for good reason. Creator Laura Shigihara’s first venture into making her own game results in the biggest tearjerker of 2017, with its dialogue shining as an honest exploration of dealing with loss and tragedy, artfully juxtaposed with an over-the-top, fairytale world. Shigihara’s own connection to music translates beautifully into the game’s objective of collecting songs, which accents inquiries into the nature of a good life and the value of loved ones. “Rakuen” is available for $9.99 on Steam for both Windows and Mac OS.
If “Metroid II” and “Dark Souls” had a baby, it would be “Hollow Knight.” Set in a creepy, insect-infested underworld, you control a knight on his journey through the Hallownest, in a challenging platformer that forces you to make the most of every little bit of the game’s intricate mechanics. The plot isn’t revealed immediately — you learn what you can from exploring the world’s interconnected environment, the plot acting as the reward for venturing the unknown. If you like platformers but dislike the bullet-hell elements of “Cuphead,” explore this instant classic by Team Cherry. Buy it on Steam for any OS at $14.99, or wait for the port to the Nintendo Switch that is expected to release by early 2018.
This is Where’s Waldo but in a video game. The black-and-white style might seem like a poor man’s alternative, but playing it reveals a wacky, zany world that doesn’t need color to feel expressive. You are required to spot certain objects or people in a large, somewhat animated picture, tapping on nearly anything will trigger further movement and — adding to the weirdness — prompting one of many sound effects made only by the game developers’ mouths; even the soundtrack is a compilation of humming. If you played point-and-click adventures as a child, this is the perfect nostalgia trip. It’s available on both Google Play and iOS for just $2.99, so give it a try on your way to class. Alternatively, you can purchase it on Steam for any OS.
If you have played exclusively mainstream titles, any game on this list offers a unique experience that will subvert your expectations. The next time you impulsively think of dishing out $60 on a triple-A title, save yourself at least $40 and give one of these games your attention.