With the smouldering remains of 2016 finally laid to rest we look back upon the year in which every famous person you ever loved died. Or rather, we look back at the games because the whole rest of it’s too concerning to talk about right now and we’re looking for easy fun entertainment to distract us from the inevitability of death. Hooray for video games!
Emma’s Top 3 Games of 2016
I’ll be honest, I’ve not really played many video games this year. I’ve kind of gone off them mostly due to lacking any kind of systems to play them on, or just straight up not feeling like playing them. In fact, most of the games I played this year are older ones, which made this list increasingly hard to compile. So I buckled down, and thought intensely about the ones I played this year which I particularly enjoyed. Without further ado, I present to you my Top 3 Games of 2016 (in no exact order).
Let It Die
Picture the scene: you’re fast asleep in a coma, attached to a life support system on a speeding train travelling into a dark and dystopian looking city, landmarked by a huge tower known as the Tower of Barbs. Suddenly, the train stops and you wake up. You exit the train and look around the lit-up platform, not seeing or hearing another soul. You take a few steps. Suddenly, a cloaked figure bursts out from behind you, riding in on a skateboard. He stops just mere inches from you, and it’s revealed that he’s a skeleton. He gets closer, looking at you and opens his mouth. “Senpai!” he shouts.
The sheer beauty of Uncle Death’s character aside though, Let It Die is (so far) an excellent example of how to do free-to-play games right. The game itself bares a striking resemblance to Bloodborne in terms of gameplay, but don’t let that fool you. Beneath it’s hack-n-slash gameplay lies not only a multitude of different mechanics but also some of the most gorgeous presentation and graphic design I’ve ever seen in a video game since Persona 5. The F2P functions mainly come in the form of the game’s premium currency, the excellently named “Death Metal”. Death Metal allows you to instantly revive should you die at any point in the game, at the rate of 1 DM per revive, as well as some other, less important functions. Should you die and not revive, however, you lose all of your items that you’ve collected in that run. In the words of Uncle Death himself, the game is sort of a hack-n-slash-roguelike. My only pick I have with the game is that it doesn’t seem to prevent higher level players from intentionally dying on early floors to fuck over new players. Hopefully Grasshopper will add in something to prevent such things from happening, otherwise the game will quickly become unplayable.
I’ll be honest, I had completely forgotten that Devil Daggers was even released this year. Then I remembered. Hoo boy.
Devil Daggers is another one of those wave shooters where massive waves of enemies come flying at you and it’s your job to shoot them down with a big gun. Except in this case, it’s in first-person, the arena you play in is incredibly small and every enemy is bigger than you. You’re timed based on your length of survival, of course, and with each passing second the game gets tougher and tougher, adding new enemies into the mix and completely swarming you with them. So far, my average playthrough has always lasted about 60 seconds, but I’ve seen people get upwards of 500 seconds and it’s absolutely awe-inspiring how well these people play. Yes, Devil Daggers is very much one of those “one more go” games, but it’s one that has been executed with some awe-inspiring style, thanks to its low poly 3d models and demonic art style. To top it all off, it’s pretty damn cheap and runs on every operating system that can run Steam, so hats off to the developers there.
Picross 3D: Round 2
I know I said this list was in no particular order, but just for those keeping count at home, this game is definitely in the #1 spot. Now, I’m currently borrowing Mark’s spare 3DS, which (thanks to me) has a pretty decent variety of games installed on it. But ever since I installed Picross 3D: Round 2, it’s practically become a machine built purely to play the aforementioned game. And yes, while this game came out on October 2015 in Japan, it took almost a full year before it even hit western shores, being released on September for US territories and December for EU territories. But I tell you now: the wait was worth it.
Picross 3D: Round 2 feels more or less like a complete re-do of the first Picross 3D game released back in 2009. The core gameplay is still very much there, but it’s improved so much over the original that it gets put to shame. Apart from the obvious graphical improvement, the game adds new mechanics such as color coded numbers. Blue numbers are your regular coloured blocks, whereas orange numbers turn into varying shapes once a line they’re on is filled in completely. Not only does this allow for progressively harder puzzles, but it also means a massive variety of new shapes and objects are now able to be made from chipping away at those grey cubes. Also new to the game is an extended tutorial that properly goes through every mechanic with you, and then double checks to make sure you fully have it, which is a feature I greatly appreciate since I was never able to fully grasp the original due to its incredibly short tutorial. This game has kept me happy for many an hour, and is incredibly fun to play. You’ll be doing yourself a massive favour to pick this one up.
Mark’s Top Three Games of 2016
Unlike my colleague, I played a lot of games this year. More than I can actually remember, in fact. I mean, I’d check my history to make sure, but unfortunately my computer has idled so many games for Steam cards this year that I’m on my own with this one. So here’s the best three games of the year (in no specific order) that I’m pretty sure I actually played and enjoyed.
Stardew Valley combines Harvest Moon inspired gameplay with a more westernised style of accessibility, resulting in a product that both has the compelling rural setting and openness of the classic farming series but also a more relaxed and outright comprehensible to the way in which that world operates. The result is a relaxing yet moreish piece of entertainment that quickly settles into a compelling day-to-day gameplay loop in which the player first tends to their farm and then uses the rest of the day exploring, mining, fishing, chatting up the locals and just generally making their way through the day to day life of their character.
It’s well-written, utterly charming, and the game only ends when you want it to end meaning that even if you haven’t completed all of the game’s various tasks by the arbitrary, barely-signposted end date, life just continues on after that point anyway. There are also separate and slightly mechanically different branching routes through the game depending on whether you take the side of a multinational corporation or local businesses, and a dozen potential paramours to chat up in the town, meaning that there’s plenty of reasons to start a new save file once you’re done.
It’s hard to talk about Firewatch without spoiling Firewatch, so I’m going to have to tread carefully and only touch around the edges of the plot that strings this gorgeous little hiking game together. You play as Henry, a normal, middle aged man from Boulder, Colorado. Something has recently happened in your life (as told in an incredibly well-written little twine-esque introduction sequence), and as a result you have fled it in order to take up a summer job with the Forest Service, living in a tower and watching for forest fires. From this point the game becomes, mostly, about the friendship that you strike up with Henry’s Supervisor Delilah, an experienced fire-watcher whom you only ever contact over walkie-talkie.
Between the game’s absolutely stunning presentation (the game contains some of the most colourful and striking representations of natural splendour in modern media) and hours worth of wonderfully crafted branching radio conversations voiced by Mad Men’s Rich Sommer alongside Jobbing (and PAINFULLY underused) video game voice actor Cissy Jones, there’s a lot to love about what is, essentially, a logical evolution of the Walking Simulator. It’s deep and wonderful, packed with such well-crafted and excellently paced content that you may not even realise that it’s literally a game in which the main mechanic is walking. A Hiking Simulator, if you will.
Watch_Dogs 2 is far better than it has any need or right to be. Ubisoft’s open world action games have long been hailed as being pretty but dull affairs that take interesting settings and then leave them a bit empty and vague with generic open world busywork scattered all over the place. Whilst the busywork is still here for Watch_Dogs 2, it’s presented in such a fun way and in such a vibrant and detailed manner that it’s easy to ignore Ubisoft’s tired template and just focus on just how incredibly, unexpectedly enjoyable this game turned out to be.
You play as Marcus Holloway, a young hacker with a vendetta against big technology giant Blume and their ctOS infrastructure. Unlike the generic thirty-something white guy protagonists most Ubisoft games seem to ship with (this is the company, lest we forget, that didn’t have a female model for Assassin’s Creed Unity’s multiplayer because it would be ‘too expensive’), Marcus is a fun and charismatic protagonist that the player can’t help but root for, and the game does a great job of treating and presenting the game’s supporting cast not as mere allies, but as actual friends.
This is not to say the game doesn’t have massive issues. As much as people hate the term ‘Ludonarrative Dissonance’, there’s a severe gap between the light and jokey group of hackers fighting against corporate oppression and the potential to play as a gun-toting punisher style figure, mowing down gangsters and cops alike, Played optimally, however, it’s a game in which dorky geeks joke about Aliens vs. Predators then hack into facilities using silly-looking remote control cars, which is pretty much what you want from an open world hacking game in 2016.
And now: something completely different!
The Mostly Kobolds Game Awards 2016
But this isn’t just about the games that we enjoyed, or even the games that we actually remembered playing. The Mostly Kobolds Game Awards are given out to things that we just found interesting or annoying or which just generally grabbed our interest some time over the course of 2016. We may be being a little facetious in some cases here – though we genuinely mean the bit about Jeff Minter.
No Man’s Sky (The “Best Addition to Jeff Minter’s Twitter Feed” Award)
— Jeff Minter (@llamasoft_ox) December 18, 2016
Whilst the pleasant but underwhelming No Man’s Sky was critically described as being anything on the scale from ‘a bit disappointing’ to ‘a betrayal not seen since the days of Judas’, that hasn’t tempered one man’s wholehearted enjoyment of the game. With its propensity for the creation of trippy, unique visuals, No Man’s Sky seems to have become a favourite of Tempest 2000 and Space Giraffe dev Jeff Minter, who can often be seen uploading his weirdly-named discoveries on his Twitter feed between footage of his beloved sheep and regular visits to the curry house.
Reigns (The “Best Card Game That Would Never Actually Function As A Real Life Card Game” Award)
Look, no, I’ve been thinking about this. There’s no way that you could possibly get it to work. I mean, sure, there’s this whole deck expanding mechanic going on as the game progresses, but there’s just too many factors that aren’t actually possible in a real life card game. Timers affecting your points in real time, for example! And cards that only appear depending on responses to previous cards! It’s just not feasible. Let me just play it a few more times to be sure…
Mighty No. 9 (The “You Tried” Award)
It was difficult to decide which mess of 2016 deserved this award, but I think when it truly comes down to it, Mighty No. 9 wholeheartedly deserves this award. While it was initially being promised as the return to classic Mega Man styled gameplay, the game got delayed countless amounts of times before being ejected out from Deep Silver’s puckered asshole on a variety of platforms, and getting completely panned by critics in the process. Not only that, but the launch trailer showed that the game was clearly still not in a fully completed state, as the graphical appearance overall made it look more akin to an early Playstation 2 title than anything else. To put the icing on the proverbial cake, Keiji Inafune, the game’s director, had the nerve to start up a second Kickstarter for a Mega Man Legends styled game, two years after the MN9 kickstarter and before it had even been released! Needless to say it didn’t get funded, but it was announced that a Chinese company known as FUZE was to fund the games development anyway, thus removing the need for the kickstarter in the first place. Mighty No. 9 is truly a tale to behold when it comes to horrifically managed crowdfunding campaigns, but at least it actually released.
Battleborn (Runner up for the “You Tried” Award)
Oh Battleborn. Ohh, Battleborn. How horribly mistimed your release was. To think that, if you weren’t released 20 days before Overwatch came out, you might not be stuck in the death gutter of nothingness that you’re currently in. I don’t know anything about Battleborn, other than it’s another class-based shooter (much like Overwatch) and that it’s available on multiple platforms (again, much like Overwatch.) However, there is one distinct difference between the two games. One still costs full RRP in stores. The other costs £5 for a new copy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a video game launch and fail this quickly before; Gearbox clearly misunderstood what they were up against and failed to hit the mark.
Scott Cawthon with FNAF World (The “Pretty Solid Dude” award)
FNAF World was a bit of a mess, wasn’t it? Aside from the fact that it was released way too early, it was just an outright poor game that was flawed to its core. Happily, Five Nights At Freddy’s creator Scott Cawthon is a pretty solid dude, and so rather than weathering the disappointment of fans he simply gave out refunds, made the existing Steam build of the game free and then released updated versions of the game as freeware. Good on you, Scott!
Pac-Man 256 (The “Best Use Of A PS4 Pro” Award)
So, you’ve finally scraped together the money to buy yourself a PS4 Pro. Knowing that it is currently the most powerful console on the market, and the fact that it has 4K support, what should be your first pick for what to play on it? Well, I decided on Pac-Man 256, a sort of endless-runner inspired retooling of Pac-Man designed primarily for mobile phones. Basically it is to Pac-Man what Crossy Road is to Frogger (and by the same developers, no less), and it is perhaps one of the least taxing things that a Playstation 4 can possibly be asked to run. Still, that hasn’t stopped it from being the go-to game whenever the PS4 is booted up. And yes, it was worth the money, thank you for asking.
Va-11 Hall-A & Super Dungeon Bros (The “Best Worst Promotional Slogans” Award)
So, you’ve just produced your first game with your indie studio and are seeking to get the name of your hard work out there and noticed by the masses. Step one for sure has to be a catchy tagline. After all, some of the more infamous games like Daikatana are remembered in the minds of millions thanks to its excellently written slogan that adorned it’s advertisements. So surely, something along the lines of “#BrosBeforeFoes”, a parody on the (frankly somewhat misogynistic) phrase “Bros Before Hoes”, is a great idea! 10 points to Super Dungeon Bros there. Next up, you need that memorable URL to make sure everyone can show the game off to their friends to rack up that sweet profit margin. Why not take a leaf out of VA-11 HALL-A’s book and display with full throttle that you’re a game as produced by a bunch of 4channers, as they did with the URL “waifu bartending .com”? Because nothing makes me want to play a video game more than the overt presence of most of the developers being from one of the internet’s many cesspools. I mean, I’m sure the games themselves are great fun, and I’m not at all judging them by this at all, but jeez. Good job to both of you, and let’s hope no one bests you for this award next year because I really, really don’t want this to be a running trend.
Thumper (The “Best Punch I’ve Ever Received” Award)
Get it? Because it advertises itself as a “Rhythm Violence” game. Heh heh. I crack myself up.
N++ (The “Best Comeback” Award)
When N came out back in 2004 as a simple little flash game, it was a big hit. The simple controls of just moving and jumping, combined with the expertly tweaked physics f the game made for an incredibly enjoyable experience, to the point that I’d honestly call it the best flash game in existence. Fast forward a few years; N+ comes out on PSP and DS. While it didn’t attract as much attention as the original flash game did, it still provided an excellent way to enjoy the game on the go. Fast forward some more and suddenly, out of the blue, N 2.0 is released. The game enjoys yet another explosion of popularity as everyone either goes to play it for the first time in their lives or to re-experience the nostalgia they had. But that’s not all. With it, a teaser for a new entry in the N series is teased: N++. It came out a couple of years later, but I had completely forgotten about it at the time due to it being PS4 only. Not soon after it’s initial release, it was ported back over to PC and released on Steam. And holy gosh, is it good. It introduces a gorgeous new flat visual style, tons of options in the menus to make sure your experience is smooth as possible, and a massive set of brand new levels to jump around in along with the original level sets from the flash game as well. Cue the rejoicing, for video games had temporarily became good again.
Virginia (The “Most Undeserved Shit Flung At A Game” Award)
I’ll come clean: I’ve not played Virginia yet. It interests me for sure, but what with setting up this website and all, I’ve simply not had the time to get into it. What I will say though, is that it got a huge amount of criticism over literally nothing. As in, half of the internet imploded, decrying Virginia as SJW filth, all because the game’s player character happens to be a woman of colour. There’s no kind of skin colour based politics in it, no gender politics, literally nothing that normally nets the “SJW” tag on video games. It literally netted the tag, purely because the group that were going nuts over it are massive bigots. As such, I’d like to personally apologize to the developers of Virginia. I’m sure the game you’ve produced is lovely, it certainly looks that way at least. Shame about the internet being a toxic hellhole.
Gal*Gun: Double Peace (The “Why Does This Even Exist” Award)
While one could argue that this game had come out as early as August 2015 in Japan, the game didn’t hit Western shores until 2016. Initially being released on Vita and PS4, The game literally involves you as a faceless protagonist going around and shooting high school teenage girls with the “pheromone shot”. I’m not even joking, that’s actually what it’s called. And yet for some inexplicable reason, this ridiculously creepy atrocity of a game received a PC port in September and currently resides on Steam, thus further highlighting the horrific lack of quality control on that platform. If for whatever reason your curiosity truly murders you to the point that you wish to see gameplay footage of it, I recommend you watch the videos Giant Bomb have done on the series so far, as it features some stellar acting on Jeff Gerstmann’s part. Cue the creeper cam, lads.
Rollercoaster Dreams (The “Did you just Remake a Remake of a Dreamcast game, But In VR?” Award)
This game is an upgraded port and remake of a PS2 game called Rollercoaster World. It is almost exactly the same in how it plays and its features except for some fancy new graphics and also a bonus VR mode. And technically, one could also say that Rollercoaster World itself is a remake, as it’s essentially the Dreamcast game Coaster Works, except this time you get to build a park around the coasters you make as well. While having this game in HD and VR is all well and nice, I can’t exactly remember World being all that great when I played it as a kid, not to mention the fact that it’s the third rehash of the same game over the course of 17 years. In fact, all I remember is the game’s camera being stuck on the floor after using the jetpack in the game’s park view mode. Good job, Bimboosoft.
Steam (The “Worst Game Awards” Award)
This year, Valve decided to have some very nice statuettes made and then gave their general audience a bunch of nebulous categories in which to nominate games from their entire catalogue. The result was, as you can imagine, a completely meaningless popularity contest in which 5-year old games dominated the ‘Test Of Time’ category and Grand Theft Auto V won every category in which it was nominated. Well done, Steam. Somehow you were worse than a show with very few actual awards, and anthropomorphic razor. 10 points.