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…
10. Pokemon Sun and Moon
Starting off the list is a very divisive choice for me. Sorry for the length of it, but I need to say my piece about this game somewhere. I saw so many reviews praising Pokemon Sun and Moon as the best Pokemon games in years. The games switch up so much of the formula that they can certainly be seen as the biggest step the series has taken in a long time. While overall I had an enjoyable experience playing Pokemon Moon, as I expected, there was a lot holding the game back from being truly great in my books.
The improvements to the game are truly noteworthy. I think it’s interesting to shake up the 8 gyms and make them island trials. Placing the region across many separated areas also is unique, and a lot of complicated things like HMs are streamlined. The characters are also the funniest and most compelling the series has ever had, and almost all of the new Pokemon are incredibly unique and interesting with special abilities and moves that make them stand out. I loved finding new Pokemon in this game more than I did in past generations, and the game truly felt like a new adventure as I went into this game knowing little to nothing.
However, I honestly feel the bad outweighs the good with these games. First, the island trials are extremely forgettable and underwhelming compared to the gyms of past games. They felt like a series of battles, rather than a true challenge. Z-Moves are also a very boring replacement for Mega Evolutions. Megas allowed players to strategize slight tweaks to their team’s abilities and stats, but Z-Moves are just a one-shot Final Smash that either knocks the enemy out or doesn’t, and it depends entirely on typing. Routes no longer feel like a challenge to get through, as Pokemon Centers are plentiful and very rarely do players have to enter tall grass if they avoid it. The difficulty also does not ramp up until close to the end of the game, and it is out of no where. I liked not having to grind, but forcing me to grind randomly at the end of the game seemed out of place. The story is also incredibly overbearing. The freedom and adventure of past games is gone, replaced with a story that funnels you across the region and constantly interrupts you with cutscenes. While some may say it is more immersive or similar to other RPGS, the reason I play Pokemon instead of other RPGs is because it is so different from the traditions of the genre.
Overall, I enjoyed Pokemon Sun and Moon a lot. There was so much new to see that I felt like a kid going into Gold and Silver again. However, a lot of the changes that were made drew me out of the experience, and I finished the game simply on principle rather than enjoyment.
I’ve said a great deal about Superhot before in my analysis of it, which you can find here, but I’ll quickly praise it yet again, because I truly enjoyed every minute of this game. The main mechanic of time moving when you move has probably been done somewhere else before, but clearly it was not notable enough if I hadn’t heard about it before Superhot. It’s quite honestly one of the most innovative game mechanics I’ve played in years. Every second of this game feels action-packed and entertaining. Seeing everything pan out in slow motion and then watching the real-time highlight afterward makes you feel like a total badass. It’s tricky at times, but empowering throughout. If I had to complain, I would say that it is much shorter than I’d hoped it would be, as I could have played a few more hours of that game with pure enjoyment still in my mind. Overall, an incredibly memorable experience that, gameplay-wise, should be played by gamers.
Inside is probably the biggest indie release this year, garnering perfect scores from many reviewers and creating a multitude of theories across the web about its subject matter. Playdead worked tirelessly for years after the release of LIMBO to bring a game as well-designed and enjoyable as its first hit, and it completely surpassed everyone’s expectations. The immersion and atmosphere of the game is expertly crafted to always keep the player curious and motivated to move forward. The art style is beautiful for what the game is, with a color palette that evokes LIMBO‘s monochrome aesthetic; it is extremely reminiscent of the team’s first release but all its own at the same time. The presentation overall is artful, and never overstays its welcome.
The game is also one of the best examples in modern games of how to create simple gameplay that still feels rewarding. The player is only given a handful of actions to use, but the way these actions are used throughout the game consistently evolves. Players are constantly introduced to new ideas, but they build easily off of previously-established ideas that players naturally know how to react to.
Everything about Inside is innovative and surprising. Going into the game blind is the best experience possible for the game. I felt genuinely refreshed after finishing the game, knowing I had just played one of the most well-made games of the last couple years. LIMBO may be remembered as one of the first big hits to drive the indie movement, but Inside is the new benchmark for quality in indie games.
As with Superhot, I have already discussed Firewatch in this piece, so I won’t fall too much into repetition, but credit needs to be given where credit is due. Firewatch set out with a purpose and it accomplished that purpose in its entirety. The art style of the game is beautiful and is the main draw. The vistas in the forest are too beautiful to keep yourself from taking a few screenshots. The lighting and use of color is simply unforgettable. The real meat of the game, however, is the story, and Campo Santo does a fantastic job of enticing the player into their thrilling story. Conversing with Delilah in your own way makes it personal, while still following the storyline that is set. Speaking of Delilah, the performances for Delilah and Henry are phenomenal. The characters are convincing and personal, and I genuinely saw myself growing attached and invested into the wellbeing of the two of them. The main gripe people had with the game was the ending third of the game that felt significantly underwhelming and out of place given how the game led into it, but I believe Campo Santo sacrificed excitement for a moral. The story tried to tell something, and the way the game ended, no matter how unsatisfying it was, was realistic and fit the message the team was trying to convey. Overall, I loved my time with Firewatch, and I think due to its short nature that anyone who is interested in a good story should spend an afternoon with their headphones on playing the game in one sitting like I did.
6. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
From an objective point of view, Uncharted 4 is probably the best game released this year. Every single aspect of it is an example of how to make a good game. The graphics are most likely the most realistic we’ve ever seen in a game, let alone on a console. The realism in every facet of the game is unbelievably crisp. The story is also masterfully told, with amazing performances from the entire cast and a compelling story that puts a satisfying end to Nathan Drake’s story. The gameplay, while standard in comparison to the high marks given to the rest of the game, is a great example of how to build on a previous game’s strengths with tightening of the current mechanics and the addition of new ones like the grappling hook. It’s easy to debate if the game is really a game due to the amount of cutscenes and the ratio of those in comparison to actual gun fights. However, no one can deny the fact that Naughty Dog is among the best in the industry, consistently releasing polished, brilliant games that tell stories we can’t feel as much of in other mediums. I had a blast playing Uncharted 4 and have since gotten close to Platinum-ing it to show my love of it. While it might be the “best” game of the year, I still had a bit more fun with the 5 higher entries on this list.
5. Dishonored 2
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Dishonored 2 personifies this mindset perfectly, and is easily one of the most enjoyable gameplay playgrounds in years. I absolutely loved the first game and how open it was. While I prefer to sneak around because I find it more of a challenge, I love how well-crafted the levels were to fit multiple playstyles, as well as a world and atmosphere that was interesting and tangible. The sequel takes that same spirit and reinvigorates it to be the same, but more of everything. Instead of just Corvo, you can now play as Emily Caldwin, empress of Dunwall, who has a multitude of powers that are insanely creative and fun to use. She feels fresh and exciting to maneuver through the levels, which have also seen a bit more variety in their designs. There’s somehow more openness to playstyles, and each area feels unique and alive. There are also some notable levels that mix up the formula, such as one where you time travel back and forth in a mansion without your powers or one inside a whole mansion that has rooms that move and switch around. Karnaca is very distinct from Dunwall, but also holds familiarity. The story is as lackluster as the last game’s, so I was not invested in playing for the ending. I simply was having a blast finding the secrets and hidden passages of the levels. Fun was in the essence of this game’s mechanics, and putting those first almost always yields a better product.
4. Hyper Light Drifter
Transistor was a game that I became fully enthralled with when it came out for its atmosphere, soundtrack, enigmatic story, and enticing gameplay. When I played Hyper Light Drifter, I felt that exact level of involvement from the opening animation. Everything about the game drew me in. My favorite facet of it is the art style and atmosphere. The desolate and lonely world is brought to life in one of the best pixel artstyles I’ve ever seen. that meshes the isolation of Metroid with the colors and style of 80’s anime, and the soundtrack complements this feeling of solitude with subtle electronic ambiance by Disasterpiece. The gameplay takes on a very Zelda-esque style, with lots of exploration and sword combat. However, the game is very difficult, so a lot of practice will be needed to get through some of the tougher bosses, which all feel unique, challenging, and fair. The design of everything from the enemies to the world itself is just incredible. I will never forget the moment in the opening with the titans, for example. I was fully enthralled with Hyper Light Drifter upon release, and I’m really glad I got to play it. I am happy to call it one of indie gaming’s most immersive and stylistic games that I’ve played.
3. The Last Guardian
Easily one of the most divisive games I’ve seen in years, The Last Guardian is a game I have not yet seen anyone simply be okay with. I have seen a lot of people dislike the game, and I have seen a lot of others who absolutely adored the experience. I happen to fall in the latter category, at least for now. I only just finished the game, but I look forward to Platinum-ing it and I am extremely pleased with my experience with the game. I think the reason I am able to overlook the game’s many flaws is because Fumito Ueda’s games are notorious for these kind of technical issues, with Shadow of the Colossus running absolutely atrociously on PS2. I also understand that the game isn’t going to objectively be that exciting if I don’t try and connect to it. However, the experience I pulled from the game is one that I will never forget. Trico is probably the greatest companion I’ve ever had in a game. The relationship I formed with Trico as he went from untrusting, independent beast to caring partner is something you cannot form in other mediums. The game is the most gorgeous game I’ve seen on the PS4 (even better than Uncharted 4). The gameplay may be a bit frustrating because of how dependent the player is on Trico, but that’s… the point. The gameplay is meant to simulate actually dealing with an animal, and while that for sure is not fun for everyone to play in a game, I loved its realism and I will treasure every minute I played in that world. There’s nothing quite like Ueda’s games, and I’m glad it was finally able to come out.
When I was originally drafting this list, Overwatch was on the top of my list. It simply made the most sense. I’ve put almost a hundred hours into the game, I am heavily invested in its world, its characters are some of the most diverse and well-designed I’ve seen in years, and its the first game to get me back into competitive shooters since I quit Team Fortress 2 a couple years back. Blizzard did basically everything right with this game. I have spent countless hours pushing the payload and capping points with friends, and I still do to this day. It’s a satisfying game with such innovative ideas as Play of the Game and not showing K/D that make it one of the few I’ve actually seen do teamwork correctly. I don’t know what to say about Overwatch that hasn’t already been said besides the fact that I love the game and its culture, and I can’t wait to see where Blizzard takes it.
1. The Witness
As I wrote the list, however, it became clear what my true favorite game of the year was. The Witness is quite honestly my favorite puzzle game that I have ever played. Portal and its sequel are clearly lauded as some of the funniest and most creative games ever created, but something about The Witness really connected with me from the moment I slid through the first puzzle. The game is genuinely smart. Nothing is unreasonable. Each puzzle builds on one that you have the ability to see before. If one area gives you trouble, you can go to several others and return when you have a better idea of how the puzzles may work. The puzzles don’t just stick to a few rules on the screen, either. The best puzzles in the game are the ones that bring the game world into it. Every area of the island felt smart and unique, and the feeling of isolation while playing put me in a better mindset to think about the tougher puzzles. Everywhere I explored, there was something to find. It’s one of those puzzle games that truly gives off a rewarding feeling when progress was made, and I am tempted to go back and replay this game every time I think about it. It is a master class of game design and Jonathon Blow has a lot to live up to with his next game.