It’s the end of the year so it’s time for lists from everyone. I honestly don’t remember playing too many games from this year, but I played a fair few for the first time and feel that’s enough to mention them. Like wise, “best” is a pretty subjective thing that seems pretty pointless to drag into the equation. So, in no real order, here’s my “Games I played in 2016 that I thought were pretty cool” list. (It’s a bit long, sorry.)
From 2016 – This is obvious: games I liked from this year!
An obvious one, but at the same time, not so much. I’m not really a fan of FPS games given the usual pro-military/macho nonsense that a number of popular titles trend towards. Likewise, not really into online multiplayer either. But Overwatch is different. It might be the roles that players can fulfil (you don’t have to gun down everyone, or anyone) or the general gameplay goals, or the overall aesthetic, but it feels nice and reminds me of Splatoon, something I fell in love with last year. Also team chat isn’t really needed as long as you STAY ON THE PAYLOAD.
This might be contrary to some of the stuff above, but bear with me. DOOM is fun, it plays really well and feels great. It’s visceral, yes, but fantastical and over-the-top in the best way. It encourages movement and always pushing forward, over some games which are more about popping out from cover when enemies take a break. And it’s not all about gunplay. The level design is reminiscent of Metroid Prime with its platforming, labyrinthine layouts and wealth of secrets scattered around. The soundtrack is one of the few instances of metal being used in a game that hasn’t made me completely cringe. It’s a labour of love that shines, and you can fistbump little Doomguy dolls. So a win here.
Darkest Dungeon will make you hate. It’ll make you hate the darkness. It’ll make you hate bad rolls. It’ll make you hate the person you’ll become when you start treating the characters you’ve spent so much time raising like just another resource. But its core loop is compelling enough to drag you back to creep around the rotting mazes and hope that your troupe makes it back out in one piece, if not much else.
Something lighter now. I’m mentioning Picross games on the whole because I played my first one this year and loads thereafter. Like any good puzzle game, they’re simple to pick up but have that “just one more” hook to them. Not to mention that they can be completed fairly quickly (to start with at least) that causes them to gobble up so much time. Hell, my girlfriend’s been powering through Picross 3D Round 2 for the past few days. The only minor blip with my foray into the genre was Pokemon Picross, which was sadly tied to some free-to-play mechanics that make the game more frustrating than it should be. At least there are plenty of alternatives though.
I even imported a Picross game. Such are its tendrils. Credit: VGJunk
Fire Emblem Fates
Let’s get it out the way: the story is as anime as it comes, and breaking it up into three(!) separately purchased chunks is a bit crap. But gameplay wise Fates went all in with changes to the series’ core: upending the weakness triangle and removing usage limits, combined with tweaks to Awakening‘s Pair Up to make it less broken. While some have decried this as “ruining the strategy” I think it’s opened it up a lot more. Valuable, unique and specialised weapons become a lot more useful than dumping Steel gear on everyone because you can bulk buy it easily. It lets you try out new strategies more easily, or specialise units to do x things. The new unit types are pretty interesting, even if a number of the Hoshidan units are reskins of the originals. Also units have feet again, which is nice.
Paper Mario Colour Splash
The Paper Mario series have taken a bit of a tanking from people who want each successive game to be a repeat of The Thousand Year Door. And while Sticker Star was a big departure and a little clunky, it was a nice enough game. Colour Splash remedies a lot of that. Yes, a lot of the characters are still standard Toads, but the dialogue is a lot snappier and they are surprisingly quite memorable. The battle system has been overhauled and is less of a drag, but can be avoided with some skill if you really want to. The game on the whole feels like a big adventure, both the noun and the genre. People may decry the latest Paper Mario because of something it’s not. It also looks and sounds beautiful though, with Nintendo’s dalliance in textiles with the Yoshi and Kirby games returning to roost here.
Overcooked is a wonderful co-op game that takes a seemingly obvious team based activity and compact all the stress of team, time and “oh god the level’s moved again where are the dishes” management into 3 minute chunks. The game play and controls are simple to the point that you can co-op with one controller, and it has that “one more go” stickiness to it that is a perfect combo for anyone looking for something a bit different. I have no idea how anyone would manage the game solo though, as it gets pretty intense! But it’s cute and it’s quick and you can be a cat chef.
It’s Pokemon. As with Fire Emblem, this latest entry shook up the core foundations of the series. No gyms (sort of). No more HMs and useless Pokemon in your party . More story and character development. It’s nice, and a lot of the changes have improved the overall experience. It’s also Pokemon’s first jump into a fully 3D space and it looks great. There are a few niggles that crop up: so many old Pokemon even if they’re in new forms, a currently small Pokedex, one of the best QoL features from Gen 6, the Pokenav, being AWOL, but I still was hooked enough to plough through the whole thing. The game is also challenging at points too. Really! The not-Gyms-honest Trials can be nasty early on, with the Water and Grass trial causing me some bother, and the post-game Battle Tree gives you a chance to face off against some stronger, almost competitive foes.
Also IGLOO SANDSHREW OMG
I’m a sucker for Vanillaware games and Odin Sphere is no exception. Like Platinum, they have a signature gameplay style as well (brawler/beat-em-ups) that vary just enough between games, with their amazing art and animation work tying the whole thing together.
What? Not everything needs to have a wall of text.
I like Metroid. This is Metroid as hell (plus Bionic Commando and a few other NES games). The whole aesthetic in Axiom Verge is brilliant, channeling ’70s and ’80s sci-fi (it’s very Giger) with its NES+more colour palette and an excellent soundtrack. It feels great too, giving the player a lot of options in terms of movement and fairly unique weaponry, like the glitch gun. In a year where Nintendo disappointment Metroid fans a few times over it’s good to have something that still captures what made the series feel special.
Credit: Axiom Verge
Not from 2016 – You can guess this one too.
Thunder Force IV
I mean, this one was a given as I started a mini-blog series thanks to it (which will start again in the new year!) It’s a spectacular intro to the shmup genre, and a showcase of what the Mega Drive can do in the right hands. You can read more here.
Sharing this again because I can.
The Neo Geo Pocket Color library
As above. I’m not going to list every game I played on the NGPC as there were a fair number, but none of them were bad and a lot of them are very, very good. I’ve written about some of them already, and will no doubt talk about more in the future, but shout outs to Samurai Shodown! 2 and The Last Blade. I’ve also seen a number of people talking about the handheld recently, not to mention prices beginning to rise too, so hopefully more people jump in!
Etrian Mystery Dungeon
According to my 3DS I started playing this on 01/01/16 SO IT COUNTS. Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a combo of two of the most vicious but rewarding series going, yet is somehow more accessible than both and an excellent jumping in point for Mystery Dungeon games. It has all the layers of party development and customisation from the Etrian games, and instead of having a solo adventure taking on the random dungeons you lead a party of four, giving you an even wider array of options. It’s just one of those games that is nice to drop in and out of without having to worry about massive amounts of story or clutter outside of the gameplay.
Etrian Odyssey 4
This year also saw a few Atlus titles drop in price on the eShop, so I also picked up an actual Etrian game too. As above, I just really enjoy the core loop: sneaking about dungeons barely surviving, escaping with enough materials to make new weapons, leveling up enough to tank everything then jumping to the next floor to repeat the process. It’s quick and at this stage very well honed. It’s balanced enough so that first timers won’t find it too punishing, which the original DS games could be up front.
…Look this is just a list of things I enjoyed even if the reasons aren’t great, alright?
Mini Metro is another puzzle game that has a simple premise and just runs away with it. I think my favourite thing about the game is the sound implementation, how the backing audio builds and develops depending on what you’ve done or how well you’re coping. (You can even grab the samples here). Everything about the game is clean and crisp, and when you get a good system worked out it just feels so calming, watching your trains shuttle little passenger shapes to and fro with siblime efficiency.
Things I only played recently – Sometimes it takes a while to jump into something you’ve had an eye on, and sometimes you get hit with a little surprise that just sticks with you. That’s this lot.
I’ve only had an hour or two with the game and it’s great. It’s one of those things that nails its look and feel perfectly, with its neon hues and the music, Christ the music, so bloody good. But the main meat of the game is in conversation, and the writing is stellar. It hits all the right notes with the “bartender as a therapist” player role and the clientele you deal with, bearing in mind you work in a dive bar in a dystopian future city.
GoNNER is cute. GoNNER is weird. GoNNER is full of mystery. Behind its bubbly artstyle lies a mean game, full of secrets and it doesn’t want to give any of them away. It’s also pretty slim, which is sometime a boon for roguelike games. I really enjoyed Enter the Gungeon for example, but it felt bogged down with a lot of Stuff and playthroughs could last a while. GoNNER is snappy, nice for just dropping in and out of.
Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator
Oh Guilty Gear, I should never have left you. I’ve enjoyed the very little time I’ve spent with you more than the hours I’ve sunk into Street Fighter 5 over the past year. The latest Guilty Gear revision is quick and a treat for the eyes. It’s so fluid in motion and even if you don’t fully understand it the GDC talk on how they made the characters look they way they do will be something you’ll want to check out after playing the game.
Yay boardgames! Patchwork is kind of like Tetris, but with wider variety of shapes and… a board game. It’s very unassuming at first glance, but it’s a tightly designed game that has a number of layers beyond “fit pieces good on your board”. SU&SD put it better than I could, but if you’re in the market for a little two player game that is very quick and replayable with lots of strategy underneath then give it a go.
Bonus Mention – Super Metroid
Okay so confession: until a few weeks ago I’d never finished Super Metroid. I’d always get to a point and never work out where to go, usually after Kraid. Coming from the GBA games I always felt Super Metroid was stiff and sluggish, yet the game’s atmosphere kept drawing me back in. But this year I was given a Super Famicom copy and determined to actually finish the thing. And oh boy, did it change my opinion a lot. Finally learning how to wall jump properly is a great feeling. Finally working out where to go after Kraid and experiencing all the places and bosses that speedruns show you, and the bits they don’t, for the first time was extraordinary. A better understanding of how the series moved on from that point to the GBA games has made me enjoy them even more. Hell, I even got a 100% run in Fusion this year too.
It’s an odd sensation, finally completing “The Big Game” in a series I really love, but I’m glad I did it. And I definitely enjoyed doing it this year.
And that’s that! Lots of games I probably should have played that came out this year but didn’t, hence them not being here.
Edit: Bonus “Aw crap I knew I forgot about something” Mention – Pony Island
Just go in blind, okay. Steam page is here.