With there being no new Shovel Knight content, Aaron had to play a lot of inferior - yet still fantastic - games in 2016. He also got married, which was pretty awesome.
2016 was a pretty good year for me, but your mileage may vary. A number of pretty good games made their way into the world despite all the chaos, many of which I owned. I didn’t play half as many as I should have liked, and liked less than half of them half as well as they deserved.
Here’s where they stand.
- Most Feels
- Biggest Disappointment
- Most Addicting
- Best Early Access Game
- The One That Got Away
- Of Course I’ll Rebuy That!
- That Beat Tho’
- Best Multitask Game
- The Future is Bright
- No Man’s Sky
- Pokémon Sun and Moon
- Job Simulator
- Gears of War 4
- Day of the Tentacle Remastered
- Seasons After Fall
- Destiny: Rise of Iron
- Hyper Light Drifter
First up, the awards:
Most Feels: Seasons After Fall
At its core, Seasons After Fall tells a story about growing up. It soon becomes obvious that the friendly-sounding voice that guides you from the game’s outset belongs to a very immature being. It comments on how old the guardians of the forest are and laments their lengthy lectures, and you come to realize that it specifically isn’t telling you why you’re doing any of the tasks it’s giving you, much in the same way a child will withhold information when they’re trying to get away with something. If you manage to track down the four dream sequences hidden throughout the game, you will gain a clearer picture of the voice’s relationship to the guardians and its motivation for sending you on your journey. It’s a simple story that resonated with me, and where I feel like a lot of indie titles have purposefully convoluted stories in an attempt to manufacture depth, Seasons told a tidy tale that still left room for a bit of interpretation and reflection.
Biggest Disappointment: Mighty No. 9
To quote my article from last year:
Oh, Mighty No. 9, you are going to be my biggest disappointment of 2015 and 2016. I fully regret backing this, and not just because I went overboard and kicked it over $100 (I blame the whisky, which made me think the project would yield a game as good as Mega Man 9 or 10).
Last May, publisher Deep Silver posted a trailer that aimed to pair witty narration with compelling gameplay footage from the side-scrolling, Mega Man-esque masterpiece Keiji Inafune created with the $4,046,579 he raised through seemingly endless crowdfunding campaigns. Unfortunately, they used the actual game to create this trailer, and decided to make the narration equal parts pandering and insulting. “Do you like awesome things that are awesome?” Do you like marketing companies who think that putting a voice to the way people talk on the internet is a good idea? With Mighty No. 9‘s incredibly mediocre character and level designs, rudimentary animations, and pizza-inspired effects on full display, the trailer cemented its place in history by offering players the chance to ‘make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night’. Turns out that isn’t nearly as bad as making them cry like a Mega Man fan on Mighty No. 9 launch night.
On June 21st, 2016, Mighty No. 9 finally made it to six out of ten of the platforms for which it had been promised. It plays like a bad Mega Man clone, looks like the only game jam project not to use pixel art, and absolutely reeks of project mismanagement and a wholesale lack of care for the final product. But hey, that tie-in animated series from Digital Frontier is still due out in… Q1 2016. Huh.
Funniest: Day of the Tentacle Remastered
Humor in games is widely regarded as a very difficult endeavor, and many of the most successful examples of it come from Tim Schafer. Building on Maniac Mansion‘s mad science motif, Day of the Tentacle sends the player on an adventure through time to save the world from a mutant tentacle that has gained super intelligence and vestigial arms by drinking toxic sludge. Three college kids travel through time in an attempt to stop the tentacle from drinking the sludge in the first place, and where that premise alone seems silly enough, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. The game is styled after Chuck Jones-era Looney Tunes cartoons, not just aesthetically, but also in its full dedication to packing as much comedy into every facet of its presentation as is possible. Characters pose, walk, and talk with flamboyant, snappy motions. Everything is a gag in some sense; the time machines, dubbed Chron-O-Johns, are built form port-a-potties and allow for the kids to flush small inanimate objects to each other. The tentacle-enslaved future hosts ‘human shows’, not unlike modern dog shows, and the game even gives a clever nod to the hamster in the microwave controversy from its predecessor. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to give awards to one of my favorite titles of all time. The Remastered edition doesn’t add any story content, nor does it need to, as it holds up extremely well after all these years.
Prettiest: Seasons After Fall
When you make a 2D side-scrolling environmental puzzle game, it’s really important that you nail the environments. Seasons After Fall employs a gorgeous hand-painted art style to create deep forests, open plains, soggy marshes, and dark underground caverns. The game’s main mechanic of changing the current season also dramatically alters the appearance of every area. Colors are vibrant in the summer, a stark contrast to the cold, snow-filled appearance of winter. Spring brings constant rain, and much of the scenery becomes bare in the fall. This game was pure eye candy for me, with its only visual falterings being a handful of stiff animations.
Most Addicting: Overwatch
I think it’s safe to say that your objective-based team game is pretty well balanced when your forums explode with threads about how every single character is overpowered at launch. When we talk about a ‘Blizzard-level of polish’, we’re referring to a state of stability and playability that other competitive games need many years to reach. Everything about Overwatch just feels good. Controls are fluid and consistent, the HUD is easy to read and non-intrusive, and characters’ special abilities are easy to understand, yet require practice to master. Blizzard rolled out a ranked mode a few months after launch, so whether you’re looking for casual matches or to get really upset because someone isn’t playing your ‘main’ exactly how you’d play them, the game delivers. Rounds are also usually over quickly enough that you’ll find yourself saying ‘just one more match’ even though it’s 4AM and you’ve been playing for nine straight hours.
Best Early Access Game: Space Pirate Trainer
When we gathered at Nanners and Kay’s to put the Vive to the test, the event opened strong with Space Pirate Trainer. There are many VR games that have you stand in place while shooting at approaching enemies and dodging or deflecting projectiles, and the premise seemed so thin to me that I wrote most of them off as being glorified tech demos. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had with this game. There’s an impressive variety of weapons and defensive tools at your disposal, which you can switch on the fly by reaching a controller over your shoulder. That mechanic works amazingly well, and feels so natural to pull off while trying to dodge incoming fire and shoot at incoming drones. There’s a shield you can swap in, and a baton that casts a sort-of tractor beam with which you can hook a target and fling it around. You also dodge by physically moving, which is flawless thanks to the Vive’s remarkable head and body tracking.
The One That Got Away: Bravely Second: End Layer
I loved what I played of the 2012 3DS hit Bravely Default, but I never finished it. It had wonderful art and music, a familiar but not unwelcome story with enjoyable characters, and gameplay that I found to be a really fun remix of classic RPG mechanics. I was very excited when Bravely Second: End Layer was announced, but wanted to finish the first title before diving into its sequel. I was unsuccessful at making further progress in Bravely Default after restarting it midway through 2016, so when my wife gave me End Layer for Christmas I had to let it sit on the shelf.
Of Course I’ll Rebuy That!: Day of the Tentacle Remastered, NES Classic
I was most excited about the new high definition art for Day of the Tentacle Remastered. I played the original game in its native 320×200 resolution back in the 90s, which heavily pixelated the Maurice Noble-inspired backgrounds created by Peter Chan. This was part of the charm back then (and even now, from a nostalgia perspective), but seeing everything redrawn and presented in 1080p was really exciting. I’m glad that they aren’t just running a filter over the game’s assets and calling it HD for these remakes, too. Some people seem to think that throwing on Super2xSAI in ScummVM is ‘just as good’, and they’re wrong. I actually tend to hate most graphical filters in emulators, so knowing that DoubleFine recreated much of the art from original sketches acquired from Skywalker Ranch and with consultation by Chan and Larry Ahern made this all the more appealing to me. And while the art really is the number one reason to rebuy this game, its updated audio presentation is fantastic as well.
As for the NES Classic, I couldn’t wait to get ahold of one. Even though I actually have the NES I got for my seventh birthday hooked up to a CRT TV, the novelty of the miniature console and the prospect of a newly-built classic controller really had me interested. Plenty of people hate on Nintendo for repackaging and reselling games, but we’re in an era now where multi-platform ports and HD remakes / ultimate editions are all the rage, so it’s really not just Nintendo. What’s most intriguing is that while there are many other products that emulate classic games, all of which have much more functionality than the NES Classic, there was still such high demand for it. It’s a fun little device that I continue to enjoy, and don’t regret buying it (but I also didn’t pay over MSRP, which is an important note).
Shame: Super Mario Run
I certainly did play a lot of Super Mario Run. I maintain that it’s a good mobile game featuring Mario, but not a good version of a Mario game. If you read between the lines on that statement, what I’m getting at is that mobile games aren’t great by nature, so saying that this is a good mobile game is by no means saying it’s a good game. That being said, I think it’s really not bad, and perhaps I would have liked it better if I’d taken more time playing it rather than rushing to complete its challenges. Complete them I did, though, through hours of consecutive play.
That Beat Tho’: NES Classic
I realize I’m cheating on this one, but I love chiptunes, and growing up with the NES is the primary reason why. Some of the best music in video game history came from many of the 30 games built into this little system. There are all three original Super Mario Bros. titles, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man 2, Castlevania… Even the less popular Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest still had amazing tunes.
Best Multitask Game: Pokémon Go
My favorite local bar is a Pokéstop, and that’s about all there is to this one. While I’m there, I can spin the marker every five minutes to bank pokéballs. Then I have to be very careful about how I spend my hard-won inventory after I leave, since the game is pretty much impossible to play if you don’t live in a city.
The Future is Bright: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Shovel Knight
I can’t stop watching this trailer. From everything I’ve seen about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it just looks… perfect. As the Switch itself seems to be a combination of all previous Nintendo consoles to date, this game looks to combine the best parts of the titles that preceded it. They’ve nailed the open exploration aspect of the very first Zelda game, carried through gameplay elements like epic boss battles with giant monsters from Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, and continued to evolve the graphical style that started with Wind Waker and transitioned into Twilight Princess. I can’t believe how beautiful this game looks, from its character and environment designs to its stunning use of color. If I don’t play another Switch game until Super Mario Odyssey at the end of this year, I’ll still consider my purchase of the console fully justified for Breath of the Wild.
Yacht Club Games is in the home stretch on the content they promised during their Shovel Knight Kickstarter, and I just can’t way to play it all. Spectre of Torment is due out this spring, and will let players take on the role of Spectre Knight in what’s apparently going to be an all-new prequel campaign. Then, King Knight’s campaign will launch sometime later, and the whole game is being re-packaged as Shovel Knight Treasure Trove with the main original campaign renamed Shovel of Hope. I’m fairly certain I’ll end up with this on the Switch, making that my fourth copy of the game.
On to the list!
- No Man’s Sky
It might be that the only people who talk about No Man’s Sky in any sort of positive way are the ones who didn’t follow its hype. Appearing at the VGX awards in 2013 and then at Sony’s E3 presentation in 2014, its promise of infinite exploration across procedurally-generated worlds in a massive universe shared by players was downright unprecedented. It seemed too good to be true, and that was unfortunately the case. Once gamers got their hands on the finished product, the backlash was overwhelmingly negative. It became clear that during demonstrations given by Sean Murray on various occasions, like his interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the game was largely misrepresented – either that, or at least half of its features were jettisoned prior to launch.
That being said, I played a ridiculous amount of this game. I didn’t see anything else about this game after its trailer during Sony’s E3 presentation, and not knowing what I was missing from all of the features promised by the developer allowed me to have a more positive experience. Although its inventory system was cumbersome and finding materials to craft the game’s myriad tech upgrades could be tedious, the prospect of cataloging all of the animals on each new planet was… compelling. I found that I could spend hours a night just exploring a random planet, trying to spot every different species to complete its fauna checklist, then fly off to the next one and do it all over again. It called to my inner completionist, and triggered that thing in my brain that makes me want to complete all of a game’s challenges and hunt for its achievements. No Man’s Sky is not a great game, and certainly not the game Hello Games promised, but it was something I couldn’t put down for a while. We’ll see where DLC takes this one.
- Pokémon Sun and Moon
Jon and I have talked on the Fuchsiacast about this game being tedious and feeling like a chore to play, and, well, it is. The added ‘call for help’ mechanic where a wild Pokémon you’re battling can bring in a second monster over and over in a single fight is, in a single word, terrible. The Z-Moves seem like an unnecessary addition, and it’s odd that they’re the new hotness when Mega Evolutions had just been a thing. Still, I’m having fun with it, and I’ll have a much easier time now that it’s compatible with the Pokémon Bank application. I did appreciate all of the attempts made by Game Freak at shaking up the stagnating formula followed by every other entry in this series; the region in which this game takes place hasn’t developed its own Pokémon League yet, so gyms are replaced by Island Challenges, Kahunas stand in for gym leaders, and you work to accumulate Z-Crystals instead of badges. I’m determined to finish it, and then I’ll have to find a way to complete my Pokédex again.
- Job Simulator
As with Space Pirate Trainer, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this game. The premise is brilliant: in the year 2050, robots have replaced all human jobs. You enter a museum and select an interactive exhibit in which to experience one of the jobs man used to do manually, each of which are explained to the best of a robot’s understanding. This means that some things are absurdly oversimplified, or maybe a bit too literal, or just not quite entirely correct altogether. Brady fixed cars in the automotive mechanic mode, swapping engine batteries made of potates and filling headlight fluid reservoirs. My first couple of real life jobs were all retail, so I had to try the convenience store clerk mode. It was somewhat surreal in just how well it captured the feeling of manning a cash register, even with the products having silly names and the customers all being robots (which may be more of a comment on what it’s like to work retail). I will admit that it was so immersive that I was actually trying to step over virtual objects on the store’s floor as I moved about Nanners’ basement wearing his Vive.
- Gears of War 4
Both the best and worst thing you can say about Gears of War 4 is that it’s just more Gears of War. It brings virtually nothing new to the table in terms of gameplay and story, and the levels felt very similar to those in the first game, but these are only negatives if you don’t like Gears games. Since I do like them, I had fun. Jon and I have played through most of the Gears games co-op, so we were destined to link up on this title as well, but this time we were able to play from our Xboxes and PCs together thanks to Microsoft’s surprisingly functional Xbox Play Anywhere feature. Just be ready to free up 80GB of space to download the game if you’re playing on PC.
- Day of the Tentacle Remastered
You’ve truly made something special when your game tasks players with tricking Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock into adding a clause to the Constitution of the United States that requires every American household to have a vacuum cleaner in order to have access to one four hundred years in the future. With art inspired by Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble, clever design that has players solving puzzles in three different time periods, and top-notch humor, Day of the Tentacle is one of the best games of all time. Its Remastered release updates its presentation without negatively impacting any of the original game’s quality, and lets you switch between its new HD graphics and original art at any time with the press of a button. I’m really happy that Double Fine is managing to get the rights to these classics and are putting so much care into their translation to modern systems, and fully expect for Full Throttle Remastered to be in my Top Ten list for 2017.
- Seasons After Fall
Seasons After Fall is just a gem. Its beautiful art and charming music and sound design really create a game world that’s wonderful to explore. The puzzles are challenging but not frustrating, and solving them always feels rewarding. I really liked how it mostly avoided reusing puzzle mechanics in the exact same way throughout the game, so that each time you encountered a familiar element there would be a twist on it from the last time you saw it. For example, early on you must unlock a path by guiding fireflies, which are tethered together by strings of light, into slotted stones to form a particular pattern. Fireflies appear again much later in the game, but this time there are many more of them, and the patterns into which you must arrange them also require that you change the appearance of the strings of light tethering them together. It’s all so very well done, but isn’t higher on my list as it suffers from a handful of minor technical issues and somewhat stiff controls.
- Destiny: Rise of Iron
Unfortunately, Rise of Iron just wasn’t quite as good as last year’s The Taken King. Its story is a bit uninspired, and told over the course of a surprisingly small number of missions. The nonstory quests were also very grind-y in nature, sending players off to complete a number of time-consuming objectives rather than giving a single goal per bounty. Still, Destiny is a lot of fun, and I was grateful just to have more of it to play. Bungie finally dropped support for last gen consoles, at least, which gave them the ability to realize some even more impressive designs over the series’ previous content. With Destiny 2 on its way, I’m hoping we get just a bit more out of the current title before closing the book on it.
- Hyper Light Drifter
Another gem of 2016, Hyper Light Drifter seemed like it just appeared out of nowhere (but that might be because I now actively hide from Kickstarter, thanks to Mighty No. 9). The pixel art style and neon color palettes employed by Heart Machine create visuals that are just absolutely spectacular. The moody, atmospheric soundtrack is a perfect reflection of the game’s mysterious world, and just melds with it so naturally. There is no dialogue or text; when characters interact with you, the information they give you is conveyed through a series of still images and nothing more. The game’s story is left entirely up to your own interpretation if you don’t read the synopsis on its Steam page, which I really liked. It is an action game that is brutally unforgiving, but not for any lack of a competent combat system; you can upgrade weapons and learn advanced techniques – if you manage to find the money hidden throughout the world.
Overcooked! takes such a simple concept and executes it really well. Up to four chefs work together in a kitchen to cook food and deliver it in a timely fashion. You chop ingredients, drop them in a pot or on a pan to cook, then combine them on a plate and send them out. The challenge comes from the many different kitchens in which you must prepare food; some have shifting tables that change where the chopping blocks and stoves are, while others are surrounded by lava or water. Several stages lock players into an area where they can reach some of the tools but not others, making it so that you and your partner(s) have to really communicate and work together to keep on top of the orders. My wife and I played this game to completion and then some, managing to get three stars in every kitchen from the main game and both DLC packs. If Team 17 would add Steam Workshop support to allow for custom kitchens and recipes, we might never stop playing it.
Overwatch is a rock-solid objective-based team game with really well-balanced characters and superb map design. Its best, and probably defining, feature is that it allows players to change characters during a match, meaning that offensive and defensive strategies can evolve as a team’s needs change. And you do need to work as a team and pay attention to objectives, at least in the game’s original modes, otherwise objectives are going to get missed and your team will lose, no matter how many kills you got. Matches are also usually so quick that even if you’re in a terrible one, you’ll be on to the next in a matter of minutes. I will definitely be playing a lot more of this one in 2017.