Best of 2016: Top 15 Games

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Now for the home stretch.

2016 was ultimately a much better year for videogames than it might currently feel like it was. No really, I mean it. Some of the latter-year triple-A releases may have failed to hit the mark with large enough audiences, and the pacing of the videogame release schedule in general was super weird (What on earth happened to the trend set over the last couple of years that June/July/August can be a smart period to release games? Why was Ubisoft the only company releasing anything big in the first three months of the year?). Yet when you look at a list of all the titles that hit over this bizarre 12-month period, there’s a hell of a lot of quality there. The indie and JRPG scenes in particular had phenomenonal 2016s, multiple games with years upon years of hype delivered on at least some of it, and there were plenty of surprising hits that came seemingly out of nowhere. Welcome to this countdown of my favourite 15 videogames of 2016.

The letters in parentheses after each title indicates where I played that game.

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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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15. ReCore (XBO)

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At the start of the year I might have expected I’d soon play a 2016 game with 3D platformer collect-a-thon roots, but never would I have thought I’d find it inside that Xbox-exclusive Keiji Inafune/Armature game announced at last year’s E3. It turns out that ReCore is more of a platformer at heart than any retail 3D action game released this decade, and its airborne control mechanics feel wonderful. It also packs a massive world that encourages exploration and plenty of colour-coded shooting boss battles that aren’t afraid to get difficult, with customisable robots thrown in for good measure. Some confusingly restrictive systems and a lack of environmental variety may weigh it down as it plods through its latter stages, but ReCore is still one of the year’s most pleasant surprises for me.

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14. Oxenfree (PS4)

Fast-paced it ain’t, but Oxenfree‘s carefully constructed creepy-island tale is deeply engrossing if you’re in the mood for it. Not only does it tell a story with unsettling visual imagery that is wisely restricted to a tiny section of the screen at all times, making protagonist Alex feel small and powerless while maximising the effect of some of the story’s most dramatic moments, but it simultaneously presents the player with a dynamic conversation tree system that behaves realistically, awkward pauses and all, crafting a set of inter-character relationships that can end up completely divergent over different playthroughs. The game also sounds simply phenomenal, evoking the old-timey radio at the game’s mechanical centre via haunting analogue synthesisers. I played Oxenfree all the way through three times. So yeah, it’s pretty good.
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13. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U)

Far more than merely a game to play while waiting for Persona 5 – as was summarised by many an RPG commentator this year – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE may well share a lot of Persona’s character, structural quirks and ultimately development talent but it is very much its own electric-lime-green beast. Yes, if you’re a Persona fan it is highly likely to scratch that itch for you, but its uniquely memorable art style, insanely over-the-top characters, performance-focused narrative, level-up system and inconsequential-yet-consistent Fire Emblem series references help it stand out as not only one of the year’s best RPGs, but one of the Wii U’s best games overall. It’s a shame that its chances of getting a sequel were hampered by the fact it launched in this barren desert of a year for the near-obsolete console.
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12. Titanfall 2 (PS4)

Finally adding a campaign – and a mechanically watertight one at that – seemed to be just the ticket for the vast majority of critics who embraced Titanfall 2 with ravenously open arms this year. Within what I played of the campaign myself back when the game came out, I found nothing to complain about. But as a big fan of the first Titanfall, I’ve always seen the series as a multiplayer-first one, and boy does Titanfall 2 deliver in that area. Parading smooth visuals, highly varied titan-class playstyles with appropriate visual flags, cleverly constructed modes and rock-solid map design, this is a game that deserves far more attention than its relatively meagre launch sales would suggest. I was more than happy to play it until my friends moved onto something else, and was rather sad when they did.
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11. Severed (PSV)

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Coming from the studio responsible for the wonderful GuacameleeSevered launched as that all-too-rare beast – a Playstation Vita (timed) exclusive – back in April before eventually hitting 3DS, Wii U and smartphones. So you have no excuse not to give it a look. A carefully constructed, touch-based first-person dungeon crawler with colourful yet unsettling artwork and an equally disturbing Aztec-themed story told in that minimalist Drinkbox Studios way, Severed also draws from the Metroidvania well that Guacamelee employed so successfully, offering up just enough rewarding optional upgrades in out-of-reach areas to give it the feel of a fully-featured RPG, albeit one you can finish in less than ten hours and still feel satisfied.
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10. Quantum Break (XBO)

This one is a touch divisive. To enjoy Remedy’s Quantum Break and its left-field approach to storytelling I feel you need to be playing/watching it in multiple short sessions, otherwise its odd half-videogame half-TV-show is liable to feel jarring. Perhaps I was lucky on this one, because multiple short sessions is essentially how I play all my games. As a result I couldn’t help but love Quantum Break. The TV show may not win any awards but it’s perfectly competent at fleshing out the sci-fi conceit driving the time dilation gameplay, not to mention its oddly fascinating side characters. The gameplay sections feel great to play in an Infamous kind of way, and they put you into plenty of both enjoyable combat arenas and truly breathtaking action set-pieces. If you have an Xbox One or decent PC and ignored this one in 2016, I implore you to give it another look.
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9. Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)

The first Fire Emblem game I’ve played for any longer than an hour, Fates turned out to be a fine entry point into the suddenly very popular series for both myself and several friends. I may have only played one of the three separate parts making up Fates as a whole – specifically the beginner-friendly Birthright (I can feel the glares), but the 61 hours I put into raising my Hoshidan army, their castle dwellings, their relationships and my own tactical understanding were as fulfilling as any strategy RPG experience I’ve had. The three or four separate graphical engines running in tandem within the game vary drastically in quality, but the personalities of the battlefield participants at every junction during Fire Emblem Fates shine right through. I can’t wait to see what Intelligent Systems does with the series on newer hardware.
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8. Zero Escape 3: Zero Time Dilemma (PSV)

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If you thought The Last Guardian was under pressure to deliver an experience, you should meet some of the members of Operation Bluebird, the Zero Escape series fan movement that aimed to help Zero Time Dilemma get made. The first two games in the acclaimed visual novel/puzzle game series, 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, floored players with memorable brain teaser rooms built around the concept of escape, as well as twisty time-skipping narratives that kinda-sorta connected to each other but left several holes open for a third story to fill. Said third story, developed under heavy Spike Chunsoft supervision by relatively unknown studio Chime, arrived to shouts of joy from the community, and while ultimately the way things resolve within has caused its fair share of disagreement among fans, ZTD has for the most part managed to do its narrative job, taking players along on a sufficiently gruesome ride on the way. And that’s cause for celebration.
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7. Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U)

Well well well, wasn’t this a surprise. Prior to its release Paper Mario: Color Splash was one of those games that appeared to bring out the worst within Nintendo’s diverse fanbase, not quite on a Metroid Prime Federation Force level, but close. Plenty of vocal commenters across multiple online communities could not fathom the gall of Intelligent Systems for daring to bring back the bones of the consumable-based battle system last seen in the 3DS’ much-maligned Paper Mario Sticker Star. The lack of any more exciting character designs than your standard Toad/Shy Guy/Goomba squad did not help matters. And yet none of the most highlighted returning problems seemed to matter, because it was in fixing Sticker Star‘s other problems – its disjointed world, its obtuse puzzle requirements, its dull script – that Color Splash‘s development house really lifted the curtain on what was possible with the Sticker Star formula. Seriously, this is the funniest game I’ve played in years. And it’s challenging. And it’s gorgeous. And its music rocks. Who would’ve thought.
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6. Inside (PS4)

Six years after launching their disturbing mega-hit indie start Limbo, the dedicated developers at Playdead have arguably produced an even better follow-up in the form of Inside. Though the ultimate value of the game’s enigmatic story – which is wide open for interpretation – is bound to sit differently with different people, there can be little doubting the supremely detailed quality evident within every precious minute of playing Inside. Few side-scrolling games make better use of subtle lighting and camera techniques to direct players’ actions without making them feel directed, few puzzle games hit as sweet a spot between difficulty and intuitive design, and few games of any kind animate as dynamically or beautifully as Inside. And all those insanely narrow escape sequences! Brilliant.
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5. Overwatch (PC/PS4)

Surely a candidate for the position of the most all-encompassing first-person shooter phenomenon of all time, Overwatch is a testament to just how unfairly Blizzard hogs development talent. A perfect storm of diverse, memorable character designs, a drip-feed of lore extending well beyond the game’s release window, a game design philosophy aiming to reduce the desirability gap between damage-dealers and less popular character archetypes – It’s all genius. My time with the game across two betas and about a month of post-launch play, dominated by thrilling matches in a support role as Lucio, is something I will always cherish, not only because of how enjoyable it was, but because it removed the intimidating barriers in my mind to objective-based competitive games (leading me directly to League of Legends, incidentally). It also tore down similar barriers for people all around the world, and for that it deserves just about all the accolades it gets.
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4. Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

I would have lapped up Final Fantasy XV in whatever form it ended up taking, but the sheer amount of non-franchise fans the huge JRPG has managed to attract is astonishing. Somehow Square Enix has put together a sprawling multimedia experience spanning a movie, an anime series, a prequel demo, a side-scrolling beat-em-up and at least two mobile games in addition to the main game, and it hasn’t felt unwieldy, overindulgent or daft. I’m kind of in disbelief here. Whatever you may think of the way Hajime Tabata makes videogames, the fact that he has managed to ship a game as competent – even great – as Final Fantasy XV is nothing short of a Houdini-esque feat. The game is just so much fun to play, it looks and sounds amazing, and its principal characters are some of the most fleshed-out in RPG history. And it’s popular. We waited a decade for this game, and not only does it not suck, it’s one of 2016’s best. Fancy that.
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3. Pokemon Sun (3DS)

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I thought I’d left behind the days when a new Pokemon game would automatically go to the top of my list, but every time I came back to this draft Pokemon Sun would climb a place. At the time of writing I have put more than 80 hours into it, making Pokemon Sun easily my most played 2016 videogame. But it isn’t just the fact that the series has its hooks in me yet again; not this time around. Pokemon Sun (and Moon) brings real, meaningful changes to the main Pokemon games, removing gyms and HMs entirely and improving just about every tiny aspect of the Pokemon loop with small quality-of-life changes that really add up (Destination choice upon capture? Visible IVs? Learnable moves at the point of level-up, no matter when? Thank you!). But perhaps the most underappreciated change – and one I believe is causing several of my more casual friends to not only pick the game up but actually finish it – is the way the seventh generation headliner approaches story. Pokemon Sun tells a tale that’s much more concerned with fleshing out its characters than whatever grand scheme the villainous team is up to, and when you think about it, that tale is really about the beautiful and ugly sides of family. Phenomenal work all around from newly-promoted director Shigeru Ohmori and his team at Game Freak.
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2. Uncharted 4 (PS4)

You won’t be able to go far without meeting a Playstation fan who has an opinion on Uncharted 4 – positive or negative. For me it is quite simply one of the best narrative-focused experiences I’ve ever had in gaming, representing developer Naughty Dog right near the absolute peak of their powers. And it’s not even as good as The Last of Us. Uncharted 4 cleverly invites newcomers into its world via the character of Nathan Drake’s estranged brother Sam, and then proceeds to take you on a world-spanning journey with more varied gameplay than the series has ever seen, resting less on generic shootouts and more on traversal of some of the most jaw-droppingly spectacular environments in this medium. The action set-pieces are magnificent, as are the game’s beginning and ending sequences, and the pirate-themed sub-story is engaging to the last. Uncharted 4 is the most engrossing time I spent with a single-player game all year.
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1. Overcooked (PS4)

Local multiplayer on console seemed to be alive, kicking and thoroughly dominating gatherings among my friends circa two years ago, but seemed to go out of vogue somewhat in the time since. So when Overcooked hit the PS4 in the middle of 2016, it was exactly the thirst-quenching bounty we needed to reignite the couch sessions. What’s more, after so many great competitive games in the local multiplayer space, the game arrived as a timely reminder of the potential of tight co-operative game design and efficiently incentivised gameplay. It caused plenty of tension, yelling, cursing and pushing among many a friend group in my life throughout the second half of 2016, but the feeling of joint-achievement when you clear each Overcooked level with three stars is so, so sweet, and I didn’t get to taste it quite enough. I’m already wondering when I’ll next have the opportunity to dive back in. Overcooked is teamwork-focused gameplay at its purest, one of the best videogame surprises in recent memory, and my 2016 game of the year.

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Honorable Mentions
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Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PS4)

Consider this Number 16 on the list. I struggled to find a way to put the game in the main section but alas, it couldn’t fit. Nonetheless, too many people slept on this exhilarating, often unforgiving parkour showcase with a unique take on the mechanical purpose of an open world, strikingly coherent art direction and a sensational soundtrack.

–Bravely Second (3DS)

I may have reached the end of 2016 with Bravely Second still left unfinished, but you don’t put 46 hours into a game without enjoying it immensely, and that extensive time with Yew, Magnolia and co. was certainly worth spending.

–Pokemon Go (Mobile)

As a standalone game Pokemon Go‘s problems have been well-documented, but I couldn’t keep off this page a phenomenon that so cleverly brought a thrilling new type of gaming experience into the world spotlight. My time wandering parks with a gang of friends and staring down strangers will not be forgotten in a hurry.

–Pokken Tournament (Wii U)

So it turns out the one-on-one Pokemon-themed fighting game made by the Tekken guys wasn’t all that bad. In fact it was actually pretty good, despite its odd cast and relative lack of long-form content. Even the net code held up well enough to play online! On the Wii U! What a time to be alive.

Firewatch (PS4)

The striking Olly Moss art style made Firewatch one of the most visually attractive games of 2016, but it’s the game’s tackling of some very human issues that elevates it to something worth playing – even if the ending isn’t crash-hot. Hot. Like a fire.

One response to this post.

  1. I have played Inside, Overwatch and Final Fantasy XV. Oh yes Uncharted 4 as well. I had a great experience playing the latter.

    Reply

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