Best of 2016: Top 5 Gaming Trends

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It’s all good stuff from here on out. Well, in my opinion anyway.

Every year in videogames is eventful, and looking for patterns around these events is something I’ve grown to enjoy a great deal in recent times. Looking at trends – which, for the purpose of this list, are positive or at least neutral – can help us better remember a year in gaming as more than just a collection of months, and maybe even get a glimpse at where the medium is going. Here are five I thought worth mentioning from 2016.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER


This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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5. JRPGs Are Back!

Here’s an easy one; it’s only what I spent most of my blogging hours this year covering, after all. Likely due to a combination of simplified game delivery channels, crowdfunding culture, a YouTube-boosted nostalgia wave, a set of opportunistic smaller publishers stacked with localisation specialists, and the likes of Square Enix/SEGA trying frantically to get their act together, the Japanese role-playing game is currently more prolific than it has perhaps ever been. Players looking for a mechanically satisfying grind with zany characters and a narrative to match are refreshingly spoilt for choice whether they gravitate towards PC, consoles, mobile or dedicated handhelds (especially dedicated handhelds). Want examples from 2016? I’ve got you covered.

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4. Remasters: Remastered

Videogame remasters are a point of contention for some, and certainly when you look at the long list of modest up-res after modest up-res that has padded out the release calendars of current-generation consoles over the last couple of years, it’s not difficult to see why. But while they tend to make far too much money to go away altogether, I really do feel like the vast majority of those that did come out in 2016 had stronger reasons to exist than “It was on PS3 three years ago”. Whether they were initially released a long time ago (Day of the Tentacle), stranded on a platform that didn’t sell (Gravity Rush), had reason to have their gameplay balance tweaked (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess), or ripe for a high-value bundle (Bioshock), it seemed like 2016’s slate of remasters was perhaps a little more justified than that of years gone by.
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3. Console Competition

It’s always refreshing when a two-horse race changes pace, letting the lagging one catch up a little and shaking things up in the process. Despite a very strong 2014 and an even stronger 2015 in terms of exclusive games and OS upgrades, Microsoft’s Xbox One has played second fiddle to Sony’s Playstation 4 almost every single month since both consoles hit shelves in November of 2013. That all changed this year when August brought the sleek and capable Xbox One S, sparking an unprecedented three-month streak of sales superiority over the PS4 as consumers finally found reason to jump into Microsoft’s robust ecosystem in droves. Of course Sony was ready to hit back with the disproportionately powerful PS4 Pro last month, but Phil Spencer’s confident E3 press conference had already dropped the mic with the promise of an even stonger Xbox machine, “Project Scorpio”, next year. It’s all rather theatrical really, and very exciting.
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2. An Anniversary to Remember

Videogame franchise anniversaries only get more plentiful as this relatively young industry grows older, and it’s not only important that we celebrate where gaming has come from, it’s also a lot of fun. The Pokemon Company clearly realises this, because their year-long celebration of all things Pocket Monsters was far and away the most thorough, most energising, most successful anniversary of a major gaming franchise that I have ever witnessed. Starting with this SuperBowl ad, which gets me choked up every time I watch it, the festivities kicked into full swing on the actual anniversary day, February 27th, when Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow were re-released in updated digital form on the 3DS eShop alongside the announcement of Pokemon Sun and Moon. Then in March, the surprisingly competent fighter Pokken Tournament kept things rolling. Throughout the year beyond, each month saw the release of a new mythical Pokemon from the series’ history, in synchronised trading card, merchandise and digital form. The short-form Pokemon Generations anime spread its focus across the full 20 years of games and was a big hit, and as for Pokemon Go, well that was a stratospheric success. It all wrapped up with the release of Sun and Moon themselves, a more than fitting exclamation point. Bravo.

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1. No More Waiting

Now that we have them readily available, it’s easy to forget that there were some minor miracles released in 2016; game projects many thought to be properly dead, and for long stretches of time at that. The lengthy silence on Jonathan Blow’s highly anticipated follow-up to Braid finally ended early in the year when The Witness hit the PS4/PC digital marketplaces, in the process shaking up the accepted norms on what an independent game can justifiably cost. By many accounts, it was worth the wait, receiving shining reviews from puzzle lovers the world over. Then, by some poetic twist of fate, two megaton titles each a decade in the making released within days of one another: Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian. Depending on who you talk to, they were also somehow worth the wait. What a world we live in.

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Honorable Mentions
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Mobile, Nintendo Style

To the alternating joy and dismay of investors, Nintendo finally began to put into action its strategy for the smartphone market, in conjunction with fellow Japanese developer DeNA, and while only two actual applications saw release in 2016 (Miitomo and Super Mario Run Pokemon GO was only loosely attached to them), I can’t help but be impressed by the way they interact not only with eachother, but with Nintendo’s console portfolio via the slick My Nintendo service. They’re certainly trying to stir up the way mobile games typically function and I’m very intrigued to see where the company goes with Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem and beyond next year.

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