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In recent years, it has become a cliché for us to say just how hard it is to narrow down an entire year of video games into a list of the 20 best titles everyone should play. That said, I'd still argue that 2017 was more ridiculously packed with quality releases than pretty much any year in the past decade. While single-player adventures dominated our rankings this year, the full list encompasses everything from traditional shooters and throwback platformers to indie puzzles and narratives, plus a few VR experiences for good measure.
Without further ado, our favorite games of 2017 are…
Studio MDHR, Xbox One/Windows
Judged purely for its gameplay, Cuphead is perhaps too much of a throwback to the 8-bit era. The game's practically unbroken series of boss fights each proceed in its own basic pattern every time, and Cuphead artificially extends its length through some unforgiving difficulty. Even on "easy" mode, it's the kind of game likely to appeal only to a certain kind of reflex-focused gaming masochist who enjoys throwing controllers.
But Cuphead still claws its way onto this year's must-play list almost exclusively because of its presentation. The screen-filling, hand-drawn bosses look like they were pulled directly from a 1930s cartoon, with expressive and lifelike animation that's literally like nothing we've ever seen in a video game before. The music and sound effects, too, capture the throwback feel of early animated film shorts in a way that seems like it shouldn't be interactive.
Even if you're not in the mood for a tough-as-nails, run-and-jump-and-shoot boss-rush experience, you owe it to yourself to watch some video of Cuphead being played well. Your childhood self will appreciate the artistry and technical wizardry of it, if nothing else.
19. Statik: Institute of Retention
Tarsier Studios, PSVR
For all the pros and cons of virtual reality, one of its strongest features is its ability to make you feel trapped in a virtual world. You can't look over at your friend sitting next to you on the couch or bring up your phone for a quick Twitter break. It's just you and the fictional world encompassing your senses in every direction.
Statik leans into this feeling by literally trapping you in a seat in a sterile laboratory with a blurry-faced scientist guiding you through ill-defined tasks. With your hands trapped in a puzzle box, you have to fiddle with every single button on the PS4 controller to simply figure out what is possible in each unique box, then use careful observation of your surroundings to figure out just what's expected of you.
The puzzles themselves can be remarkably clever and are never so obtuse that the solution feels unreasonable once it's found. More than that, though, Statik does an amazing job of creating a creepy, horror-style atmosphere without relying on jump scares, grotesque imagery, or dim lighting. In VR, being trapped with only your own brain to rely on can be the scariest thing of all.
Tequila Works, PC/PS4/Xbox One/Switch