Favorite 15 Video Games of 2017 From foul-mouthed clowns & cow-punchers to hereditary psychosis & Sisyphean metaphors

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Thimbleweed Park

Developer: Terrible Toybox

[Xbox One, Android, Windows, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Linux, Macintosh OS]

The 1990s were the golden age of the point-and-click adventure game, largely due to companies like LucasArts and Sierra Entertainment. But the genre has persisted over the years and even thrived with the recent popularity of tablet devices. Indie developers of all stripes have embraced these casual (and sometimes frustrating) games, often applying a pixelated aesthetic in homage. Thimbleweed Park, from the creator of Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, was this year’s standout example. All the aspects of the classic gameplay were there: the crosshair cursor, the blocky verb actions at the bottom, the humorous dialogue, and of course, the bizarre use of objects to advance the story. Thimbleweed Park gave us control over two secret agents plucked right from The X-Files, a female video game programmer, a foul-mouthed clown, and a ghost, all humanized with superb voice acting. And at its core, the game’s logic was pleasantly goofy, much like its predecessors.


Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy

Developer: Bennett Foddy

[Windows, Macintosh OS, iOS]

Part B-game, part Sisyphean metaphor, part pop psychology, tough-love therapy, and meme generator, QWOP mastermind Bennett Foddy’s latest absurdist platformer carved out an unexpected niche in the 2017 zeitgeist thanks to the revival of tired conversations about difficulty in games sparked by Cuphead’s punishing, retro-style gameplay. But Foddy’s incredible, impossible, holy mountain-climbing abstraction brought new life to old discourse by challenging the nature of simulated obstacles in gaming, testing the player’s perseverance by delegitimizing itself as just another emblem of gamer credibility, and actively questioning why we’re even playing. Foddy created a game that could’ve used its quick novelty and high meme potential to cash in on a voracious Twitch and YouTube market. But with theming that blends a delightfully clumsy control setup, slapstick physics, and existential horror/psychological torment courtesy of Foddy’s alternatingly abusive and encouraging voice-of-God commentary, the game also proved to be one of the most unique interactive experiences of the year. As for my own quest up the mountain, I still haven’t hit the top, and I honestly probably never will. But I’m fine with that. I think Camus would understand.


NieR: Automata

Developer: Square Enix

[PlayStation 4, Windows]

A tree in the vastness of a broken future, its many branches varied and reaching toward an open-ended sky. It’s these visuals in the bleak fast-forward of NieR: Automata that best exhibits how rich and entrenching the storytelling was with the latest in the series. And though the multiple endings and perspectives (and the chase therein) were the top-level canopies of NieR: Automata, it was the interactions and revelations drawn by 2B and 9S that truly stripped you of your own cynical bark. There were plenty of post-apocalyptic games littering the gaming market, each fitted with its own emotional gimmick, yet it was the lack of a gimmick that set NieR: Automata apart. The branches of its storytelling reached into the futuristic ether, a towering coniferous that brightly blossomed the higher you climbed it. Much like that tree, NieR: Automata shouldn’t exist in this prophetic space of humanity’s not-so-distant landing spot — and yet it did. And I’m glad it did.


Night In the Woods

Developer: Infinite Fall

[Windows, Macintosh OS, Linux, PlayStation 4]

Here’s an Indie Game Mad Lib: Night In the Woods was a self-aware, slice-of-life adventure game with an ironic sense of humor about millenial social fatigue, set in a 2D cartoon world populated by morose talking animals. The game also mercifully swam against the rushing currents of contemporary gaming culture. While the industry at large continued to thrive on unquestioning nostalgic dogma, Night In the Woods sought out the true value of reminiscence in an era of profound disconnect; while most games took on social issues with a myopic perspective and a heavy hand, Night In the Woods was, if anything, too muted in its depiction of the communication breakdowns plaguing a generation buckling under the weight of modern strains of anxiety, depression, and socioeconomic disenfranchisement. The game was stocked with authentic characters whose stories you learned gradually through awkward encounters and halted conversations, all simultaneously desperate for something meaningful to happen and terrified of making themselves even the slightest bit vulnerable. It was either an empathy machine for a society automating itself into isolation or a quirky little story about how we’re all just confused idiots floating directionless in space. The result was the same.


West of Loathing

Developer: Asymmetric

[Windows, Macintosh OS, Linux, iOS]

The Western is America’s answer to European medieval fiction. Both genres are essentially fantasy that romanticize the unwritten reality. Both possess a certain character that reflects ideals for each location. Some would argue they whitewashed the truth, a claim for which there is some validity. However, what truth it hid was more mundane: These times were actually boring. In Europe, knights were spoiled rich boys, marriages were political and financial transactions, and the life most people had was tending to a farm. The American West was not full of gunslingers, cowboys, and prospectors, but immigrant farmers, bored Civil War veterans, and cattle ranchers just getting by. Sometimes it’s important to reflect on the absurdity of these fictions in subtle ways. Meat as a currency. A necromancer raising dead saints and antipopes — taking back their “holy relics” in the process — only for them to be instantly killed by a lady with a bone saw. Crowded trains waiting for the continental railroad to finish. A ghost town’s bureaucracy denying cow-punchers a shot of whiskey. A great cataclysm occurring when The Cows Came Home. It was all so goofy. But when you think about it, aren’t Westerns just as ridiculous?

Welcome to Screen Week! Join us as we explore the films, TV shows, and video games that kept us staring at screens. More from this series

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