I stepped back from the regular review churn at KP this year. This was primarily because between multiple jobs and a book out next year, I just didn’t have time to play games we had for review.

You know what: I really didn’t miss them much. Using the play time that I did have to enjoy the cream of the year without being  pressured to play something just because it was a touchstone for conversation made my gaming a good deal more enjoyable; quality instead of quantity. These games are quality.

Game of the Year: Fire Pro Wrestling World

fpww big

Yes my game of the year isn’t actually out yet, but I don’t have to bow to rules now so shut up.

The announcement that Fire Pro Wrestling was coming back after a 12 year retirement was the year’s nicest surprise; that the game goes hold for hold with the best in the series was a revelation. After years of the at best stodgy and at worst atrocious WWE outings, Fire Pro Wrestling World finally provides wrestling fans with a modern game with in ring action that feels like a wrestling match and not like mashing plastic figures together.

Yet it isn’t just the dramatic matches that make FPWW worthwhile. By democratising the powerful Fire Pro creation tools through Steam Workshop, the game has allowed for pretty much any wrestler you could possibly remember or conceive to be created and freely downloaded. No mere palette swaps, through the attention the community pays to tweaking AI logic, these characters play as their real life counterparts do (and how you’d imagine anthropomorphic wrestling bears would if that’s your thing).

Fire Pro Wrestling World is already a fantastic package, but it’s one that continues to grow. Balance tweaks, new moves, an expanded creation suite and the ability to control entrances have all been added in weekly updates since Early Access release. Early 2018 will see a promotion management mode that will allow players to control the fate of an entire promotion. From there, a PS4 release. Mixed emotions abound with FPWW, because it single handedly has made wrestling games interesting again, and single handedly made everything out or on the horizon obsolete. It isn’t for everyone perhaps, but for me, it’s game of the year.

Runner-Up: Super Mario Odyssey

252

Tricky one, this. Super Mario Odyssey was surrounded by a ludicrous level of hyperbole on its release. Actually sitting down to play the game meant it had to not only live up to the legacy of 3D Marios, of 64, Galaxy and, eh, what the hell, Sunshine. It had to live up to the early reviews that called it better than all those put together.

It was a recipe for disappointment, and indeed, Mario Odyssey only betters its forebears as a result of evolution rather than revolution. Early on, it’s hard to really appreciate the things Odyssey does well because it doesn’t knock you on your backside in the same way. You aren’t suddenly experiencing the freedom of 360 degree motion. You aren’t suddenly running around on the underside of planets and jetting through space. You aren’t, um, cleaning things. You’re platforming in both two and three dimensions, and the possession hook isn’t the revelatory one it’s cracked up to be, even when you are a dinosaur.

Yet after a bit more play you start to realize that a lack of macro invention is fine in the face of the little things that Odyssey perfects. Its worlds are small and ludicrously dense, constantly with something new to do , and none of it feeling like a grind. Exploring its sandboxes, sometimes working around their small footprints with the perspective puzzles of the Lost Kingdom, or with the dizzying verticality of New Donk City, is a pure joy, and the perfect handheld game. Whether playing for ten minutes or ten hours, you’ll have something to do, and you’ll have a blast doing it.

Odyssey exists not only as the perfect refinement of Mario, but of Nintendo’s early output on Switch. Odyssey is informed by Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the same way that Ocarina of Time was informed by Super Mario 64. Yet this reflection is one that plays to their respective format’s strengths. Mario 64 presented minute but open environments and encouraged revisiting previous areas to uncover their secrets. Ocarina would take that philosophy and write it large, connecting its sandboxes with an open field and a broader storyline that fit the home format. Odyssey, meanwhile takes BotW’s open world feel, of always seeing something on the horizon and wanting to check it out, and compacts it. Like BotW, the joy in Odyssey is indeed in the journey rather than the destination, but that journey is brief and challenging rather than expansive and romantic. Bad motion controls and half hearted local co-op aside (both can by and large be ignored), this is the perfect advertisement for its host platform and a worthy entry to any GoTY list.

Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Also fun: setting wooden weapons on fire.

Mario Odyssey may feel like a refinement of Breath of the Wild when it comes to Switch, but that isn’t to undo everything BoTW does so well.

Yes, it’s awkward at times. That’s the result of being built around a system in WiiU that ended up not being its primary platform, making for fiddly inventory management. Yes, it’s takes a while to get going. That’s a complaint that plagues almost every Zelda game but one that feels particularly irritating here; as all the talk about the game was of how free and liberating all this is supposed to be, the first two or three hours are a staunchly linear experience.

Yet once you’re turned loose, the irritations fade away. Breath of the Wild is a wonderfully romantic journey across a stunningly beautiful land, one which manages to avoid the traps of the open world genre so effectively as to redefine it. This isn’t a game of trawling back and forth across a map filled with icons, checking items off like a giant list of chores. There’s plenty to do of course, so much that it’s arguably too easy to lose sight of the main quest. Yet the game doesn’t harry you, doesn’t make busy work. Instead, it reveals its map to you but not what lies within. It shows but doesn’t tell. It allows you to just enjoy being in its space rather than being too concerned about doing the tasks that populate it. It’s the most relaxing game I’ve played in a stressful year, and that gives it space in this list.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)