Now that that pesky best game design tidbits list is out of the way, let’s get right to the main reason you’re all here: to read yet another best games of the year list. I’ve played a lot of fantastic games this year, and I personally had a harder time narrowing down a list to just ten games than I have in previous years. In fact, I’m starting off with four honorable mentions before we even get to the list. For most people that keep up with the industry, you probably will not be surprised with the inclusions on this list. However, the order of them is what may shock and appall some, so be sure to let me know what you agree and disagree with. Without further ado…
It feels like every year for the last few years, it’s been fairly easy to say, “This has been the best year in games!” With a market that’s filled to the brim with releases weekly, it’s no wonder that we see more great games coming out now than a decade or so ago. Amidst a sea of microtransactions, lootboxes, and games as services, developers have been crafting truly remarkable and innovative experiences, and it’s a great asset to look at these creative bits of design and learn from them. This isn’t a list of my favorite games of the year – that will be coming towards the end of December – but all of these games are ones I would wholeheartedly recommend.
Slight spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ahead. Please play through most of the game before reading. You will regret not playing the game whether you read this or not.
If you have been even remotely in tune with games media in the last month, you probably have seen a multitude of headlines regarding Nintendo’s latest entry in the acclaimed The Legend of Zelda series. Somehow, this series has become even more acclaimed with the latest entry, garnering the most perfect scores ever for a game on Metacritic and sitting comfortably at an average score of 97. The game features the same charm and adventure that have become attributable to the success of the series, but this game turns every staple of the series on its head while still revitalizing that feeling of wonder and excitement that made the original game on the NES so popular. However, when you look at it from the outside, Nintendo is simply years behind the industry in seeing that open-world games have value to them. So why is this game a critical success? No, it isn’t because the reviewers were paid. Zelda games clearly get a bit of a pass if we look at the scores for Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess, but that’s a debate for a different day. Let’s talk about how Nintendo watched from the sidelines for years, tested the waters, and then stuck the landing on their first real open-world game, as well as why Breath of the Wild‘s Hyrule is the best open world that gaming has probably ever seen.
Video game genres are numerous and multi-faceted. There are a staggering number of them, and so many of them share characteristics and can be mixed and matched to make truly unique experiences. Recently, I watched a video by Barry Kramer of Game Grumps explaining, as a smaller part of the video (which you should totally watch anyways), how video games are different from other forms of media because there is an advanced vocabulary used to categorize them. Gamers can understand a bit about a game without even playing it or researching it simply by knowing a few terms like “platformer” or “roguelike.”
In the last year, I’ve spent a good amount of time being enthralled in visual novels. I always enjoyed a great story in a game, and puzzle games are some of my favorite games to play, so it seemed only natural to be drawn in. However, as I played more and more, I begin to see a lot of similarities with a genre I was not as fond of: adventure games. I became curious as to why I enjoyed one type of game over the other, but it soon became clear that visual novels are simply the adventure games of a new generation.
Let me preface this entire piece by saying I pre-ordered a Switch already. Through every disappointment I had with that presentation, I knew that eventually I was going to get that console for some game or another, and that I’d rather have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in its premium form. I am completely sold on the Switch as a concept, and I think Nintendo’s innovation has finally reached a key make-or-break turning point that they’ve been approaching in recent years. This piece is meant as a quick analysis of what Nintendo did right and wrong overall, with an actual thesis and discussion of one possible fault.
Here I am again. While school and inspiration has taken its toll on my writing for this blog, I still keep track of games and enjoy sharing my opinions about them. This year, as I did last year, I kept track of my favorite games and why I loved them. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are my top 10 games of 2016. This year, all of them will have been released in 2016, unlike last year. This year, I’m looking to balance my picks between how good of games they actually are and how much fun I had while playing them. Without further ado…
“I cant believe I’m about to say this – I’ll never work in this industry again – but in the mainstream space I really haven’t seen a whole lot of progress. It seems like we’re getting more finely-tuned, prettier versions of games we’ve been playing for years.” – Warren Spector
Ingenuity is rare in the world of video games in this age of sequels and rehashes. When the NES rolled around, gaming was in its Genesis and ideas were plentiful. As Mario became a hit, companies followed the popularity and platformers flooded the market. The Super NES came out, and RPGs flourished with the extra cartridge space. Square and Enix dominated the market as platformers were still being refined into perfection, and soon companies jumped on the latest trend.
With the introduction of 3D gaming from the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, every previous genre had the chance to have a new start, for better or worse, in the third dimension. Adventure games especially exploded as collect-a-thon platformers were released in excess as a way to establish a mascot for Sony’s new console. Following that generation up was, again, an era of improvements. The graphics looked better, and suddenly action games became huge. Platformers, RPGs, adventure games, among the rest, had already made the jump to 3D, so now was the time to perfect things, as well. Finally, last generation spawned the flood of shooters, open-world games, western RPGs, simulators, and about everything else you can think of. It’s not like any of these genres were new this time around; it was just that the basic ideas from years before had been redefined over and over, and the surge of gaming into mainstream entertainment caused a lot of old ideas to become.
However, as Warren Spector said, nothing today in the industry is new. Almost every game you see today, especially from AAA companies, is just the same old game with a new coat of paint. The Witcher 3, while a great game, is the same open-world RPG that you’ll find on the skeleton of Skyrim and Watch_Dogs. These games on the surface, and even deep down, are radically different and it may seem blasphemous to even think that they are similar, but at the true core, all of these games are open-world RPGs where you travel around, level your character up, and complete quests. True, untouched ideas are hard to come by today.
The exception to this, though, is the indie scene. Last generation was the first generation where the people that were raised on video games were old enough to create their own games, and with the breakthrough marketplaces of Steam, PSN, Xbox Live, and Nintendo eShop, developers were given extremely easy ways to get their game out to the world. In some aspects, this is just continuing the problem of over-saturating the market with games everyone has already played in one form or another. On the other hand, wading through these waters will reward players with some truly unique experiences. Last year, a small game called Undertale came out of no where and redefined the RPG genre, causing surprise universal acclaim overnight and holding a place on many Game of the Year lists. This year, the FPS genre has received the same treatment. After unfathomable amounts of Call of Duty and Battlefield, a game like Superhot proves that you can breathe fresh air into anything.