The ID@Xbox program continues to grow in scope, passing well over 500 games on Xbox One this past year. This isn't even to mention some of the gems that we cover outside of that program such as PUBG and Little Nightmares. We've stayed on top of every single indie release this past year and can promise you there were some truly special ones. This year's award winners are fantastic games, but it's nearly impossible to highlight every single game that deserves attention.
It was a real challenge for our staff to whittle down the list to a small group of favorites each year, but lists must be made. It's the internet after all. Here are some of the best indie games from 2017.
Nathan Bowring, Senior Staff Writer: This should come as no surprise – it arrived late on Xbox One and is still in an incomplete state, but there’s no doubt of the impact PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds had on 2017. Its massive popularity has charted a new course for competitive multiplayer shooters. Not long after its released, pre-established entities and brand new titles were adding new modes mimicking the title. While we definitely got to see a few copycats, Xbox One players didn’t get to experience the real deal until December. The transition from PC wasn’t pretty (it’s currently chock full of bugs that are slowly being ironed out and the game currently lacks the new desert map), yet it’s still racked up 3 million players in its first month on consoles. This goes to show just how strong the actual concepts in this game are. Even in its (incredibly) unfinished state, the brilliance of the game shines through.
PUBG is built on a standard set of gaming rules, and gameplay ideas are easy to pick up and understand. But where this game stands out is that it taps into a tense survival instinct that makes it feel unlike any other competitive shooter. Every match begins with one hundred players airdropped onto an island with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Everyone must fend for themselves as they scavenge for supplies and try to remain in the ever-shrinking play area. The ultimate goal is to be the last one standing. The map is huge, varied and full of interesting opportunities for survival strategies. But you always need to stay on your toes because everything can go wrong at a moment’s notice. Death can be swift and unforgiving, but you’ll more than likely learn a good lesson you can use in the next match. Just getting into the top 10 is a feat worth celebrating. But pulling it off is going to be a stressful endeavor because, with every death, the tension stacks up exponentially. You only have a 1% chance of coming out the winner, but every new match will feel like the one where you will finally obtain that delicious chicken dinner.
Author’s note: The best I’ve done thus far in a singles match is second place with eight kills. Afterwards, I had to stop playing because I was shaking so much. Getting first place will probably kill me.
Honorable mention: Fortnite
John Laster, Editor-in-Chief: Well Cuphead and his pal Mugman, they like to roll the dice. And any gamer who decided to follow suit taking a chance on Cuphead were given one of the most impressive visual and audio experiences in 2017 and quite possibly on Xbox. Everyone talked up the graphics. The hand-drawn art looks amazing. It had a gorgeous retro style that looked like it played straight from 1930's cartoons. The musical cues hit every single right note pairing perfectly.
I've quite possibly listened to this game more than I've played it, which is honestly an impressive feat for such a high-quality game. While boss rush games aren't always going to be everyone's cup of tea, the soundtrack is infinitely catchy and genuinely worth listening to even if the game's difficulty scared you away.
Honorable mention: Sonic Mania
John Carson, Contributor: We certainly had a year full of visually impressive games from AAA to indie, though I believe that nothing comes close to Cuphead. StudioMDHR’s 2D platform-shooter is heavily inspired by 1930’s Disney and Max Fleischer era cartoons. Characters, backgrounds and damn near everything else was impressively hand-drawn and painted to give that authentic look. Just about every boss has multiple form changes making every minute of action a visual event. There are times when the hand-drawn art is dropped for filmed diorama backgrounds and even those feel aesthetically in-sync with the rest of the game. Everything about its art is impressive, to say the least.
I’ve personally been a fan of Cuphead’s style since it was shown at E3 over 3 years ago. Now that it’s been released, I show it off to friends who aren’t necessarily interested in games. It’s so actively fun to look at and watch that no matter who is playing, everyone in the room is having a great time.
Honorable mention: Night in the Woods
John Laster, Editor-in-Chief: There was no question in my mind that What Remains of Edith Finch was the most unique narrative experience I played in 2017. Edith Finch breaks away from traditional walking simulators, finding unique ways to tell individual stories that encapsulate gameplay beyond just walking from audio log to audio log. Each of these stories plays like a well-crafted mini-game and none are the same, which helps add depth to the overall point the story is making.
Even if you've sworn off walking simulators or never understood their appeal, Edith Finch makes a strong case to give them a chance. It's well written, well designed and insanely charming. Every aspect of this game is executed to near perfection, and it is a work of art that needs to be experienced.
Honorable mention: Thimbleweed Park
John Laster, Editor-in-Chief: Candleman marries a simple concept with a fairytale-esque setting and excellent level design. Players take on the role of a candle traveling throughout dark environments where they must burn themselves in order to see and progress through the game. The difficulty curve is wonderful and the game is charming and engaging throughout.
It's genuinely impressive to see developers take such a basic concept and flesh it out into such an exceptional product. Every aspect of the puzzles and the levels have been balanced around this core gameplay mechanic in a way that results in something truly special. The game is deeper than expected and full of rue enjoyment. It's something special that should be celebrated.
Honorable mention: Snake Pass
Van Fitch: Contributor: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus took 2017 by storm, taking no prisoners as it charged straight through the usual boundary between videogames and current events. With advertisements that caused controversy around punching Nazis in the face and in-game content relating to current real-life conflicts, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus showed players the seriousness of a Nazi-controlled America and the negative impact that comes with it. Whether you are the type of person who runs in with dual-wielded guns blazing or someone who likes to take the stealthy approach with silenced weaponry, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has a playstyle to fit everybody’s needs. Combine that with the overwhelming amount of firepower BJ Blaskowitz is able to carry and the many upgrades you’re able to unlock, and it turns any player into one lean, mean, Nazi killing machine.
The game shifts between the past and present day. In the past, we see a man who will do anything to achieve his father’s acceptance, while in the present, we are met with a tattered, broken man, crippled and forced to move around a submarine using a wheelchair. Despite his situation, Blaskowitz is destined to push forward in an attempt to save the ones he loves from the oncoming Nazi scourge and reignite the fight for freedom in the American people. From the beginning, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus makes you feel uneasy. The game quickly confronts the racial bigotry of the past while the present is stained with the emotional impact of things like the loss of friends and family. When face-to-face with Frau Engel, the antagonist of the story, you quickly feel angry at her motives and motivated to stop her at all costs. The story is a roller-coaster of emotions – tissues not included.
Honorable mention: Assassin's Creed: Origins
Christine Mitchell, Senior Staff Writer: This was possibly one of the strongest years to date for Game of the Year contenders. The top slot could have easily gone to any number of terrific indie games released in 2017, so choosing a winner amongst the incredibly high standard of games this year was no easy task. And yet, there was one release took us a little by surprise.
Probably flying under the radar for most gamers, we've awarded Game of the Year 2017 to The Sexy Brutale, one of the most charming, original and entertaining games to hit the Xbox One. Set during a lavish masked ball, players take on the role of Lafcadio Boone, who seems to be stuck in an endless time loop as he witnesses a series of grisly murders. Almost like Hitman in reverse, you'll need to use stealth and cunning to discover a way to save each victim before time resets.
With it's eye-catching, jazz-age look and beautiful soundtrack, The Sexy Brutale is certainly one of the most stylish games of the year, but its ingenious puzzles, emotional plot and clever gameplay is what really sets it apart. Great games were in abundance this year, but this one stole our heart, and that earns The Sexy Brutale our game of the year.
Honorable mention: Little Nightmares
XBLA Fans' GOTY image designs by Jennifer Sewill