Tonight, the Oscars of Video Games officially kick off awards season in the industry. Geoff Keighley’s star-studded Game Awards will come with the usual suite of big names, big reveals and a whole bunch of awards for everything from visuals to storytelling. Like with the Oscars of movies, however, all the awards can feel like they pale in face of the one coveted title that supersedes the rest. In this case, it’s Game of the Year. And this year, it feels like a contest between two titles that dominated the critical landscape in 2017: Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s a little like the video game equivalent of a subway series, and Nintendo has got to be feeling good.
Looking at review scores certainly reinforces the two-game contest. The other nominees are Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5 And Player Unknown’s Battleground’s, which come in at Metacritic scores of 89, 95 and TBA, respectively. That 95 from Persona 5 is far from chump change, of course, but both Odyssey and Breath of the Wild come in at a towering 97, putting them both on the shortlist for the best-reviewed game ever. It’s a list they share, not coincidentally, with series brethren like Ocarina of Time and Super Mario Galaxy. Both games also dominated the conversation in 2017 both because of their role in reinventing classic franchises and in selling the now-ascendant Nintendo Switch. You’d be hard-pressed to find many ill words written on either title.
At this point, I would be surprised if any games supplanted either of these titles for the coveted Game of the Year award, either at the Game Awards or with any other major publication or award show. For me, PUBG is the only real competition, but the game is janky enough that I doubt the game’s undeniable cultural phenomenon can make up for the trials of Early Access. PUBG‘s inclusion is important for the way it demonstrates shifting attitudes towards the idea of “release,” but it’s hard to imagine a win when the competition comes in the form of two complete, polished titles. There is also the remote possibility of a Persona 5 upset, but it’s hard for me to see that right now.
It’s hard to overstate what a massive accomplishment this is for Nintendo, especially in the wake of the underwhelming Wii U era. For a long time, the company has had a reputation as a company that made excellent, impeccably finished games that nonetheless didn’t quite have the spark of newness or excitement. That’s all turned around now. Nintendo still has the same reputation for meticulous craftsmanship, but it’s managed to completely revitalize two of its most valuable franchises within mere months of each other: not a bad plan if you’ve also released new hardware in the same year.
I don’t know which of these games will take home the prize tonight, but I imagine that they’ll each take trophies as publications start to dole out honorifics — Forbes will have our choice in the coming weeks. But I don’t think Mario will begrudge Link’s successes or vice versa. Whatever happens, this year is already a colossal win for Nintendo.
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