Kyle’s Top 10 Country Singles of 2017

A friend of mine recently asked me “What exactly do you look for in a country song?” It took me a while to come up with an answer, because to me there’s no magic list of things that make up the perfect song. (With apologies to David Allan Coe, “mama, trains, trucks, prison, and getting drunk” isn’t always enough.) In the end, I guess I’m just looking for a song to move me in some way (some way other than hurling my radio across the room, of course) and connect on a deeper emotional level. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a deep, thoughtful song—a smile or a laugh can be just as meaningful as a nod or a tear.

These are the songs that moved me the most in 2017.

Honorable Mentions:

Artist, Song Final Rating
#15 Zac Brown Band, “My Old Man” 7/10
#14 Justin Moore, “Kinda Don’t Care” 8/10
#13 Cam, “Diane” 8/10
#12 Midland, “Make A Little” 8/10
#11 The Railers, “11:59 (Central Standard Time)” 8/10

#10: Brett Young, “In Case You Didn’t Know” (final rating: 8/10)

Young’s self-titled debut album was an emphatic statement that country music was living in the post-Bro era. There was no rough-edged production, no trace of hyper-masculine swagger, no gratuitous objectification of the opposite sex—heck, outside of some frustrated mansplaining on “Like I Loved You” (which of course was released as a single because Nashville always finds a way to screw things up), this album featured no attitude at all.

“In Case You Didn’t Know” wasn’t the best song off of Brett Young, but it exemplified what made that disc great: A terrific blend of traditional and modern instrumentation, a double dose of heartfelt, thoughtful writing, and an earnest, charismatic delivery from Young himself. While Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road” relegated this track to being the second-most popular country song this year (Top 20 on the Hot 100!), it more than earned its place on this list. Here’s hoping “You Ain’t Here To Kiss Me” makes an appearance on the charts in 2018.

#9: Brad Paisley, “Last Time For Everything” (8/10)

I jumped on the Brad Paisley hype train back in the Who Needs Pictures era, but after almost two decades, it looks like that train has reached the end of line. Where once his songs breezed to the top of the charts with ease, they now struggle even to make it into the top ten. However, while he’s rapidly losing his mainstream relevance, he hasn’t lost his musical edge.

“Last Time For Everything” is exactly what you’d expect from a Brad Paisley song: Clever writing with equal parts insight and humor, a unique take on an old subject (not every “last time” is a bad thing!), a delivery that exudes empathy and charm (he’s just so darn likeable!), and stellar production with a hearty helping of guitar wizardry. While the song has some minor warts (the verses are the very definition of laundry-list songwriting), they’re masked by the flawless execution of Paisley and his band. If this is really the end of Paisley’s mainstream career (and judging from the cool reception to “Heaven South,” it probably is), at least he’s going out on top.

#8: Luke Combs, “When It Rains It Pours” (8/10)

My first impression of Luke Combs wasn’t very good: His debut single “Hurricane” struck me as just another song by just another singer. Sure, it eventually rose up to No. 1, but there have been plenty of one-hit wonders in country music (anyone heard from A Thousand Horses or William Michael Morgan lately?). If Combs wanted me to remember his name, he needed to convince me that he had staying power.

So…he did.

“When It Rains It Pours” grabbed my attention from its opening note and never let it go, mixing an unapologetically-neotraditional sound with a charming, believable delivery and strong songwriting that was both unique and amusing. Basically, he took Brad Paisley’s early-career playbook and executed it to perfection, and while the result isn’t quite “Celebrity” or “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” it’s pretty darn close. The bottom line: As far as I’m concerned, Luke Bryan is now the other Luke in the genre.

#7: Glen Campbell, “Everybody’s Talkin'” (9/10)

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the degree of difficulty here: While being run down by both Father Time and Alzheimer’s disease, Glen Campbell stepped up to the mic one last time and transformed a dark, depressing song into a bright, optimistic look at his future with an incredible performance that would be the envy of singers half his age. Let’s see Garth Brooks try to pull that off in thirty years!

Backed by a traditional, banjo-centered mix, Campbell takes a song first performed over fifty years ago and absolutely owns it, making it feel like it was written just for him. His voice is surprisingly strong, and the charm and charisma he rode to stardom are no worse for wear decades after his peak. I still contend that Campbell could have gone toe-to-toe with the Sam Hunts and Luke Bryans of the world had this song been an official single instead of just a promotional one.

Rest in peace, Rhinestone Cowboy. Like Maxwell House coffee, you were good to the last drop.

#6: Danielle Bradbery, “Sway” (9/10)

Years after Danielle Bradbery’s win on The Voice, my parents still talk about “that young girl” and how successful she’ll be in country music someday. What appeared to be a preordained route to success, however, ended up being a road to nowhere, as Bradbery’s initial singles failed to resonate with country listeners. In response, Bradbery took a hard left and struck out in a new direction to regain some of her old momentum, and the result is perhaps the grooviest song I heard all year.

“Sway” is not a particularly deep song, and all the traditional trappings of her previous songs are nowhere to be found. Bradbery herself is still here, however, and she throws down a strong, soulful performance that would catch peoples’ attention on the Hot 100, let along the country charts. This effort is backed by excellent production that establishes a relaxed atmosphere while also providing the sort of groove that even inspires a dance-hater like myself to bust a few moves on my kitchen floor. It’s a track that moves you both emotionally and physically, and charts a promising path for Bradbery’s career going forward.

#5: Thomas Rhett, “Marry Me” (9/10)

The massive success of “Die A Happy Man” allowed Thomas Rhett to survive the collapse of Bro-Country by giving him an identity as a pop-country balladeer whose material is packed in positive energy. Rhett went to this well several more times with success (“Star Of The Show,” “Unforgettable”), but for the third single from his Life Changes album, Rhett surprised us by deking in that direction again before pulling a complete 180 with “Marry Me.”

The production sold the fake perfectly, coming across as a standard wedding mix before taking a bittersweet turn and slowly cranking up the song’s energy and urgency. Rhett’s impressively-earnest delivery proved he had the chops to handle a song like this, and the writing provided the necessary level of detail to properly set the scene. It’s easily Rhett’s best work to date, and while it might not reach the heights of “Die A Happy Man,” it’s an emphatic declaration that Rhett has the flexibility and charisma to maintain his A-list status for a long time to come.

#4: Trace Adkins, “Watered Down” (10/10)

As an artist, Trace Adkins is surprisingly polarizing: For every listener who adores his golden voice and can’t get enough of his most powerful material (“Every Light In The House Is On,” “Help Me Understand,” “You’re Gonna Miss This”), there’s one who will never forgive him for his occasional heel-turns and bizarre single choices (“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”). What’s undeniable, however, is that when Adkins sets out to make an old-school country song, there are few in the business who can do it better, and “Watered Down” might well be his best one yet.

As a veteran artists who has reached some dizzying heights and troubling depths during his career, Adkins is the perfect artist to sing a song like this, as his experience gives him an extra layer of authority and gravitas on the subject of aging. The production here harkens back to Adkins’s early-career neotraditional style, and sets a thoughtful, reflective mood that nicely complements the writing. Finally, Adkins’s voice is positively ageless: When I play this song back-to-back with “There’s A Girl In Texas,” I don’t hear any difference in his delivery at all.

When the history of the 90s/00s country music is chronicled decades from now, I hope the writer saves a few kind words for Adkins’s legacy, because with song like this, he deserves them.

#3: Easton Corbin, “A Girl Like You” (10/10)

I feel like I’ve been second-guessing my review of this song ever since I wrote it back in January. Yeah, maybe that opening drum beat turns some listeners off. Yeah, maybe the writing is more meatheaded and less clever than I gave it credit for. Yeah, maybe I was blinded by my fandom and gave the song a score it didn’t deserve.

It’s high time I stopped looking for flaws in this song and starting accepting the fact that I love everything about it.

I love how the production fuses together traditional and modern elements to create a fun, catchy sound that perfectly straddles the boundary of country and pop (and I admire the audacity of whoever decided to take this risk in the first place). I love how the writing subtly subverts the typical “Metro-Bro” tropes, using all the objectifying buzzwords yet coming across as respectful towards the opposite sex. I love Easton Corbin’s earnest, effortless delivery and the positive energy he injects into the song.

Normally I frown upon songs that hang around the airplay charts for 40+ weeks, but as far as I’m concerned, this one can hang around as long as it wants to. Now when is Mercury Records going to get around to releasing that new album?

#2: Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” (10/10)

Did I say Trace Adkins was polarizing? Let’s talk about Mr. “Truck Yeah” for a moment.

Chris Janson seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place with respect to country music. He’s capable of releasing powerful songs like “Holdin’ Her” that earn him hosannas from the traditional country crowd, but they get nothing but crickets from mainstream radio. When he pivots to shallow-but-mainstream-friendly material like “Buy Me A Boat” or “Fix A Drink,” he achieves commercial success but gets ripped to shred by me and the rest of the critical community. What Janson needs is a song classical enough to draw praise from the Saving Country Musics of the world, yet raw and emotional enough to capture mainstream attention. With “Drunk Girl,” I think he’s got exactly that.

By themselves, the piano-driven production or the “Marry Me”-esque head fake or Bro-repudiating lyrics or Janson’s charismatic delivery would be enough to make the song interesting. Together, however, they generate a wave of raw power that sweeps up the listener and demands their attention, painting a vivid picture that places them in the bars and the dwellings beside the song’s protagonists. Even though I knew the deke was coming, the way the song laid out the narrator’s choice was so compelling that I was still enraptured when it happened.

So what’s a song this powerful doing at #2? Well…

#1: Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem” (10/10)

Midland hit country music like a tidal wave earlier this year, and if I did album reviews, their debut disc On The Rocks probably would have earned my #1 slot. While there’s been a fierce debate over the group’s “authenticity,” I think the discussion misses the main point; namely, that Nashville is capable of making a darn good traditional country album when it really wants to.

Much like “Drunk Girl,” “Drinkin’ Problem” is an immersive song, whose excellent harmonies and old-school production put the listener at a table in a 1975 dive bar. (Of all the songs I’ve heard this year, this is the one that would sound the least out of place on an oldies station.) While it lacks the strong social message of “Drunk Girl,” the mix’s melancholy mood and Mark Wystrach’s exceptional vocals do a great job transmitting the narrator’s pain to the listener, to the point that it makes him or her question their own recreational habits! It’s a hauntingly beautiful track that made Midland the new face of the traditionalist movement currently rising in the genre.

The battle between “Drinkin’ Problem” and “Drunk Girl” was a complete toss-up, with both songs worthy of the “song of the year” crown. How was I going to make a decision? In the end, it comes down to the “moving” comment I made 2000+ words ago: Both songs moved me, but only one of them moved me to make this:

While perhaps a bit unfair to Chris Janson (I only learned that his song even existed a few weeks ago!), “Drinkin’ Problem” and its narrator’s relationship with alcohol mirrored my own relationship with Splatoon so perfectly that I was inspired to write and record a half-baked parody! Splatoon may have lost this year’s gaming crown to Miitopia, but in an ironic twist, it’s what convinced me to keep “Drinkin’ Problem” at #1 despite Janson’s strong challenge.

Congratulations Midland, you three have earned my “song of the year” award for 2017. I look forward to seeing them and everyone else on this list continue to push the genre to new heights in 2018.

Kyle’s Top 10 WORST Country Singles of 2017

Country songs fall all over the quality spectrum, but only a chosen few can earn the dubious distinction of sitting at the bottom of the barrel. Through a special combination of poor production, subpar songwriting, and vacuous vocals, the songs presented below are the sorts of headache-inducing tracks that move listeners to plug their ears, turn their dials, or just run screaming from the room.

Just as with my mid-year list, these songs will be presented without comment because a) I’m lazy, and b) I’ve wasted enough words on this junk already in my prior reviews. Without further ado, I give you my least favorite country singles of 2017!

Dishonorable Mentions:

Artist, Song Final Rating
#15 Lindsey Ell, “Waitin’ On You” 4/10
#14 Lady Antebellum, “You Look Good” 4/10
#13 Morgan Wallen ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Up Down” 4/10
#12 Jason Aldean, “They Don’t Know” 4/10
#11 Adam Craig, “Just A Phase” 4/10

#10: Jake Owen, “Good Company” (final rating: 4/10)

#9: Kip Moore, “Last Shot” (3/10)

#8: Florida Georgia Line, “Smooth” (3/10)

#7: Shania Twain, “Life’s About To Get Good” (3/10)

#6: Josh Turner, “All About You” (3/10)

#5: Reba McEntire, “Back To God” (3/10)

#4: Dustin Lynch, “I’d Be Jealous Too” (3/10)

#3: Walker Hayes, “You Broke Up With Me” (3/10)

#2: Dustin Lynch, “Small Town Boy” (2/10)

Okay, I’ll make one remark here: Lynch may not earn my “worst song of the year” award, but landing two singles in my bottom five deserves its own special mark of shame.

#1: Jordan Davis, “Singles You Up” (2/10)

Congratulations Mr. Davis, you’re the inaugural winner of my “worst song of the year” award. On behalf of country listeners around the globe, I humbly ask you (and everyone else on this list) to make better single choices in the future. I don’t want to see any of you people on this list again next year.

Kyle’s Official 2017 Country Single Rankings

So a few weeks back, a crazy thought popped into my head: Everybody has a best/worst song list. Why don’t you take your list a step farther and rank every song you reviewed this year?

After a few weeks of deliberation, I’ve concluded that “crazy” doesn’t even begin to describe the idea. I wrote 120 song reviews this year—is it really worth breaking out a spreadsheet and ordering them all? I mean, does anyone really care what you thought the 61st best song of the year was? How exactly do you justify ranking #45 over #46? And do we really need a long, comprehensive list to tell us that Thomas Rhett had a great year and that Dustin Lynch songs are a waste of radio airtime?

Still, I was curious to see where certain artists and songs fell in a general sense. Which songs were above and below average? Did artists improve or regress over time? And really, doesn’t every year-end list have some degree of subjectivity to it?

So I fired up Microsoft Excel, dumped in my data, and began a long process of observation, calculation, and intense song-to-song combat. The result is the list below.

The only rules for this list are as follows:

  • A song must have been reviewed during the 2017 calendar year to be eligible.
  • No song released before 2016 is allowed (sorry, Rick Astley).
  • Rankings are not strictly tied to my review ratings, as my opinion of a song may have changed between now and the review date.

That’s enough blabbering for one year. Let’s start counting ’em down already!

 

 Rank Artist, Song Final Rating
#120 Jordan Davis, “Singles You Up” 2/10
#119 Dustin Lynch, “Small Town Boy” 2/10
#118 Walker Hayes, “You Broke Up With Me” 3/10
#117 Dustin Lynch, “I’d Be Jealous Too” 3/10
#116 Reba McEntire, “Back To God” 3/10
#115 Josh Turner, “All About You” 3/10
#114 Shania Twain, “Life’s About To Get Good” 3/10
#113 Florida Georgia Line, “Smooth” 3/10
#112 Kip Moore, “Last Shot” 3/10
#111 Jake Owen, “Good Company” 4/10
#110 Adam Craig, “Just A Phase” 4/10
#109 Jason Aldean, “They Don’t Know” 4/10
#108 Morgan Wallen ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Up Down” 4/10
#107 Lady Antebellum, “You Look Good” 4/10
#106 Lindsey Ell, “Waitin’ On You” 4/10
#105 Tyler Farr, “I Should Go To Church Sometime” 4/10
#104 Granger Smith, “Happens Like That” 4/10
#103 Aubrie Sellers, “Liar Liar” 4/10
#102 Keith Urban ft. Carrie Underwood, “The Fighter” 4/10
#101 Chris Lane ft. Tori Kelly, “Take Back Home Girl” 4/10
#100 Kristian Bush, “Sing Along” 4/10
#99 Chase Rice, “Three Chords And The Truth” 4/10
#98 Drew Baldridge, “Guns & Roses” 4/10
#97 David Lee Murphy ft. Kenny Chesney, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” 4/10
#96 Dan + Shay, “Road Trippin'” 4/10
#95 Kenny Chesney, “Bar At The End Of The World” 5/10
#94 Morgan Wallen, “The Way I Talk” 5/10
#93 Brantley Gilbert, “The Ones That Like Me” 5/10
#92 Parmalee, “Sunday Morning” 5/10
#91 Chase Bryant, “Hell If I Know” 5/10
#90 Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “The Rest Of Our Life” 5/10
#89 Frankie Ballard, “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” 5/10
#88 Brandon Lay, “Speakers, Bleachers And Preachers” 5/10
#87 Brooke Eden, “Act Like You Don’t” 5/10
#86 Sam Hunt, “Body Like A Back Road” 5/10
#85 Brothers Osborne, “It Ain’t My Fault” 5/10
#84 Little Big Town, “Happy People” 5/10
#83 Dylan Scott, “Hooked” 5/10
#82 Florida Georgia Line ft. The Backstreet Boys, “God, Your Mama, And Me” 5/10
#81 Kane Brown ft. Lauren Alaina, “What Ifs” 5/10
#80 Chris Young, “Losing Sleep” 5/10
#79 Runaway June, “Wild West” 5/10
#78 Todd O’Neill, “Love Again” 5/10
#77 Miranda Lambert, “Tin Man” 5/10
#76 A Thousand Horses, “Preachin’ To The Choir” 5/10
#75 Chris Janson, “Fix A Drink” 5/10
#74 RaeLynn, “Lonely Call” 5/10
#73 Devin Dawson, “All On Me” 5/10
#72 Brett Young, “Like I Loved You” 5/10
#71 Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” 5/10
#70 Kip Moore, “More Girls Like You” 5/10
#69 Brad Paisley, “Heaven South” 5/10
#68 Charlie Worsham, “Cut Your Groove” 5/10
#67 Lindsey Ell, “Criminal” 5/10
#66 Michael Ray, “Get To You” 5/10
#65 Gary Allan, “Mess Me Up” 5/10
#64 Billy Currington, “Wake Me Up” 5/10
#63 Big & Rich, “California” 5/10
#62 Luke Bryan, “Light It Up” 5/10
#61 Kelsea Ballerini, “Legends” 5/10
#60 Jon Pardi, “Heartache On The Dance Floor” 5/10
#59 Old Dominion, “Written In The Sand” 5/10
#58 Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “Speak To A Girl” 6/10
#57 Keith Urban, “Female” 6/10
#56 Rascal Flatts, “Back To Us” 6/10
#55 Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos” 6/10
#54 Zac Brown Band, “Roots” 6/10
#53 Lee Brice, “Boy” 6/10
#52 Kane Brown, “Heaven” 6/10
#51 Taylor Swift, “New Year’s Day” 6/10
#50 Brett Eldredge, “The Long Way” 6/10
#49 Darius Rucker, “For The First Time” 6/10
#48 Jerrod Niemann, “God Made A Woman” 6/10
#47 Mo Pitney, “Everywhere” 6/10
#46 Cole Swindell ft. Dierks Bentley, “Flatliner” 6/10
#45 Blake Shelton, “Every Time I Hear That Song” 6/10
#44 LANco, “Greatest Love Story” 6/10
#43 Garth Brooks, “Ask Me How I Know” 6/10
#42 Chris Stapleton, “Either Way” 6/10
#41 Jerrod Niemann, “I Got This” 6/10
#40 Thomas Rhett ft. Maren Morris, “Craving You” 6/10
#39 Stephanie Quayle, “Winnebago” 6/10
#38 Maren Morris, “I Could Use A Love Song” 6/10
#37 Drew Baldridge ft. Emily Weisband, “Rebound” 6/10
#36 Eric Church, “Round Here Buzz” 6/10
#35 Aaron Watson, “Outta Style” 6/10
#34 Lady Antebellum, “Heart Break” 6/10
#33 Ashley McBryde, “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” 6/10
#32 Russell Dickerson, “Yours” 6/10
#31 Kenny Chesney, “All The Pretty Girls” 6/10
#30 Old Dominion, “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” 6/10
#29 Little Big Town, “When Someone Stops Loving You” 7/10
#28 Dierks Bentley, “What The Hell Did I Say” 7/10
#27 Rascal Flatts, “Yours If You Want It” 7/10
#26 Jon Pardi, “She Ain’t In It” 7/10
#25 Scotty McCreery, “Five More Minutes” 7/10
#24 Walker McGuire, “‘Til Tomorrow” 7/10
#23 Blake Shelton, “I’ll Name The Dogs” 7/10
#22 Brett Eldredge, “Somethin’ I’m Good At” 7/10
#21 High Valley, “She’s With Me” 7/10
#20 Carly Pearce, “Every Little Thing” 7/10
#19 William Michael Morgan, “Vinyl” 7/10
#18 Lauren Alaina, “Doin’ Fine” 7/10
#17 Thomas Rhett, “Unforgettable” 7/10
#16 Cole Swindell, “Stay Downtown” 7/10
#15 Zac Brown Band, “My Old Man” 7/10
#14 Justin Moore, “Kinda Don’t Care” 8/10
#13 Cam, “Diane” 8/10
#12 Midland, “Make A Little” 8/10
#11 The Railers, “11:59 (Central Standard Time)” 8/10
#10 Brett Young, “In Case You Didn’t Know” 8/10
#9 Brad Paisley, “Last Time For Everything” 8/10
#8 Luke Combs, “When It Rains It Pours” 8/10
#7 Glen Campbell, “Everybody’s Talkin'” 9/10
#6 Danielle Bradbery, “Sway” 9/10
#5 Thomas Rhett, “Marry Me” 9/10
#4 Trace Adkins, “Watered Down” 10/10
#3 Easton Corbin, “A Girl Like You” 10/10
#2 Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” 10/10
#1 Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem” 10/10

Kyle’s Top 5 Games of 2017

2017 hasn’t been a great year for a lot of things, but it’s been a banner year in gaming, especially when it comes to Nintendo. The company went all in on their new Switch console, and while the system had a lot of potential, no one really expected to blow up the way it did. The console is now the fastest-selling console in Nintendo history, and is projected to sell 14 million units in its first year (in comparison, the Wii U only sold 13.5 million units during its entire lifespan).

A console is no good if there are no games to play on it, however, and after the Wii U failed to take off, Nintendo took that lesson to heart and put together an incredible first-year lineup for the Switch, including some titles that will likely go down as some of the best of all-time, not just the best of 2017. Unlike the last several years, Nintendo brought their best to the party this year, and the gaming community is better for it.

But I’ve filibustered long enough—let’s get to the list already! Without further ado, here are my top five games of 2017:

(Note: Only games that I actually played this year are eligible for this list. In other words, I owe an apology to Pokémon Ultra Sun.)

#5: Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)

The fact that perhaps the most critically-acclaimed Mario game of all-time just barely made this list is a testament to the quantity and quality of games this year. Recent Mario games leading up to Odyssey were perfectly playable, but felt a bit uninspired (especially the New Super Mario Bros. series), to the point where Super Mario Maker, a game in which users built their own levels, was by far the best of the bunch.

Super Mario Odyssey, however, was anything but uninspired. The developers returned to the open-world, exploratory style of Super Mario 64, expanded the levels to sizes previously unimaginable in Mario games, and tossed in the fresh-and-fantastic “capture” mechanic to enhance Mario’s abilities without the need for power-ups. The graphics are superb, the controls are tight and responsive, and the player has the ability to play the game however they wanted—you can follow the story path or just wander around for a while. Oh, and Mario has a bunch of cool and/or weird costumes he can wear, because sometimes you don’t need a reason to add something awesome.

So what’s this game doing down here at #5? As crazy as it sounds, Odyssey is here because it could have pushed the envelope so much further. The story is the same old princess-kidnapping tale we’ve known for decades, and the worlds feel a bit empty in spots, as if they were just expanded for the sake of expansion. In a way, Odyssey is a victim of Nintendo’s success, as they set an obscenely-high bar for open-world games in…

Ugh, is this really the only BotW snapshot I have?

#4: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Wii U/Switch)

Whereas Super Mario Odyssey harkened back to the franchise’s N64 heyday, Breath of the Wild calls all the way back to the game’s NES roots, allowing the player to progress through the game’s dungeons and puzzles in any order they choose (or even skipping them entirely and taking on the final boss right away!). Nintendo has been dangling this game as a carrot for gamers for several years ago, and despite years of waiting and sky-high expectations, Breath of the Wild delivers on all counts.

Hyrule has never been this big or looked this spectacular before (even the Wii U version looks amazing!), and the sheer geographical variation (paired with Link’s climbing ability and paraglider) means there’s always somewhere to go and something to do. The story is much more engaging than Super Mario Odyssey, aided by the well-produced cutscenes and exceptional voice acting. It’s a much harder game than usual, and the game forgoes most of the typical handholding and tutorials in favor of letting the player learn through discovery and trial-and-error. Above all, I was most impressed by the puzzle design: Nearly all of them (and there are a lot of them) felt intuitive and logical, and moments of complete confusion were few and far between.

The game is not without its shortcomings: The weapon durability mechanic just lead me to hoard weapons and avoid combat whenever possible, and fighting enemies didn’t have the payoff it should have. (Its status as a highly-anticipated single-player title also hurts its ranking, perhaps unfairly, by limiting its replay value and surprise factor.) Overall, however, Breath of the Wild is a fun, immersive title that deserves a spot on this list.

#3: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Nintendo Switch)

When word of this game started leaking out, the reaction was mostly repulsion: Rabbids? With Mario? How could this possibly be any good? As an RPG fan, however, I held out hope that this would be at least be an interesting take on the Mario franchise. What we got, however, was an XCOM-style tactical RPG with outstanding character design, and a game that was so immersive that it was the only game this year that I played to 100% completion.

This game does a lot of things right, but its biggest achievement is taking generic, aggravating, one-trick characters like the Rabbids, and infusing them with enough personality and depth that they become likeable, even amusing! (The team at Ubisoft also does a nice job fleshing out Luigi and Peach as characters, making Mario feel a bit flat and boring in comparison.) Here, the player character Rabbids feel unique and useful, to the point where the “no more than two Mario characters in a party” restriction feels unnecessary. You’d be crazy not to use the Rabbids!

The game was sold as a very difficult one, but my experience was that this concern was overblown, as the game gives you more than enough tools (attacks, movements, special moves) to get the job done. Furthermore, the dash attacks, special effects, and team jump ability lets you chain attacks together for devastating effect, and leads the player to spend several minutes plotting out their strategy before they even start to move! Not even Breath of the Wild’s many puzzles makes you think as much as Kingdom Battle, and it’s beyond satisfying when a plan comes together A-Team style.

The game isn’t without its warts: The beauty of the overworld masks the fact that there isn’t a lot of exploration allowed, and the between-battle puzzles are a far cry from those in Breath of the Wild. (Also, unless you want to fork out more money for the DLC, there isn’t a whole lot of replay value here.) Still, what is here is excellent, and Kingdom Battle is easily the best gaming surprise of 2017.

#2: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch)

The surprise isn’t that Splatoon 2 is this high on my list. It’s that Splatoon 2 isn’t higher.

I loved the original Splatoon game, and Splatoon 2 delivers a very similar experience: The unique battle modes, the special weapon classes (rollers, buckets, etc.), the character customization, the Miiverse-esque community, the commitment to ongoing content rollouts, and so on. The result was a colorful, engaging take on the shooter genre with infinite replay value.

Had Splatoon 2 just been Splatoon DX, that probably would have been enough to make this list. What truly pushed the game this high were the additions, both structurally (hey, you can finally change gear without leaving a lobby!) and in terms of game modes (Salmon Run is incredible, and even the single-player mode has more replay value thanks to the variation of new hero weapons). Splatoon’s key to success has always been more Splatoon, and the game has delivered this in spades.

So what kept Splatoon 2 from being #1? The problem is the game’s reliance on the Internet: When I had a consistent, unlimited network connection, this game was incredible and I spent untold hours playing Turf Wars. When I lost that connection, however, the game lost a lot of its appeal, simply because I couldn’t play it the way I wanted to. Even with the expanded single-player content, there just isn’t a lot to do here if you don’t have a reliable network access point. Additionally, Splatoon 2 doesn’t have Nintendo’s undivided attention like the original game did, leading to fewer community events like Splatfests.

Splatoon 2 is still an awesome, awesome game, and with any luck I’ll eventually be able to re-establish my network and rejoin the Splatoon community. Its Internet reliance, however, opened the door for a plucky little game from the Switch’s older brother to swoop in and claim the title for my favorite game of 2017.

#1: Miitopia (Nintendo 3DS)

Yes, the game basically plays itself. Yes, the battles can be incredibly repetitive. Yes, the story (while longer than you might expect) is boilerplate and not terribly deep. And yes, it’s on the other Nintendo handheld, one that appears to be in the twilight of its life.

Simply put, Miitopia tops my list because it is the customizable, character-driven RPG that I’ve been looking for since I finished playing the Baldur’s Gate series. It’s a fresh take on the classic fantasy adventure trope, and it positively oozes with Nintendo’s customary charm and polish.

The game is equal parts traditional and progressive, with a wide variety of class choices (warrior, mage, pop star, cat, etc.), a set of personality options that can affect your battle strategy, and a relationship system that can lead to crazy combo attacks when the mood is right. The story makes up for its unoriginality by continuously expanding its world in defiance of the player’s expectations, and the random missions of the Traveler’s Hub give the game a surprising amount of post-game content and replay value. The game isn’t in the same visual class as the other games on this list, but the environments are lively and colorful, and the 3DS has enough horsepower to make everything look great.

The big draw, however, are the Miis themselves, and the game’s Mii Central functionality lets you access the limitless creativity of the 3DS user base. You want to cross over Kirby, Spiderman, and Gravity Falls? There are Miis for that. You want to take on the Dark Lord with Ariel from The Little Mermaid and the cast of GameXplain? Go for it! (You may have to make your own Derrick and Ash Miis, though.) The amount of cool Mii designs I’ve seen while playing this game has been mind-blowing, to the point where I really wished they hadn’t been minimized for the Switch.

Despite some strange design choices (why can’t I control my entire party?), this is the game that’s been getting the most screen time lately, simply because it’s a better fit for my lifestyle and gaming habits. It may not for everyone, but it was definitely the game for me.

Break it down, gang. You earned it.

On the whole, though, 2017 was an incredible year for gaming, with Nintendo’s push to make the Switch a success translating into a historic year of success. 2018 can’t possibly match this success, but I’m excited to see them try.