Rabble rabble rabble, 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year and I'm glad that it's over.
Ok, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I'd rather focus on the positive, because the fact of the matter is that on a personal level, 2016 was actually a pretty great year for me. Not perfect, of course, but one in which I did some travelling, including a nice long vacation to see some family in Phoenix I haven't seen in years, and some road trips for concerts and other things. I had an unexpected career change that has so far turned out to be a wise and vindicating move. I was able to find the time to read a lot more in 2016, which is definitely my other great love aside from games. And finally, I bought a nice, new gaming PC and have been loving falling victim to more Steam sales just to see what games I already own look like on a big, beautiful monitor. I didn't get nearly enough time in for gaming as I was hoping for this year (as I seem to say every January these days), but continuing the trend from 2015, there were a ton of fantastic games released in the last 12 months. As I look over the list of games I had the most fun with this year, there's plenty of older titles not listed here that I only just recently discovered for the first time, and even more that I hope to catch up with in the next few months.
The last thing I think is important to mention is that 2016 was, at least for me, the year VR finally sold me. The software is still trying to catch up a bit in terms of making fun, compelling, long-term experiences, and the high price point isn't quite enough to make me shell out for anything more than a Gear VR just yet. However, between my own limited experience and what I've heard and seen from people I've come to trust, the concept of VR in 2016 is finally coming together. It truly can be as immersive and believable as people say, all we need now is that killer piece of software and a tad more affordability to bring it all together, and I can't wait to see where things go from there. So without further ado, let's celebrate some great games!10. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Traveller's Tales
I never thought I'd be putting a Lego game on my top 10 list. The more I think about it though, there wasn't much else I played enough of to give a fair shot at the last slot, and to be honest, I had a ton of fun with this game. Before I played this, I'd been burned out on the Lego games for a while. I really enjoy them, but they don't change all that much. Maybe it was the right game at the right time for me and I was ready to let Lego back into my life, but playing this brought back my fond memories of the first few Lego Star Wars
games, and the gameplay changes they integrated changed things up just enough to keep it from getting too monotonous. It's unlikely I'll play to the point of getting 100%, but it's rekindled my love of the genre and I've been searching out copies of the rest of the Lego catalog in case I want to dabble in other Lego worlds.9. Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog
I don't know how Naughty Dog does it, I really don't. I had no desire for another Uncharted
game. The trilogy was awesome, but it had run it's course and I wanted the house of Crash to move on to something new. And then, I actually played Uncharted 4
, and holy crap did they knock it out of the park! Say what you will about the frustrating combat with bullet sponge enemies and cliff climbing mechanics that are wearing out their welcome something fierce. Those criticisms are still perfectly valid. But when it comes to jaw-dropping graphics, seat-of-your-pants set piece action scenes, and enthralling motion capture acting, the wizards and witches at Naughty Dog quite simply blow every other studio out of the water. All it took for me was watching one of the first cutscenes in the new game, where Nate and Elena are simply talking and sharing dinner together as a couple, and I was sold on a new Nathan Drake adventure. The performance is so lifelike and down to Earth that I believed in them not just as actors or even characters, but as people
, and while I really, really don't want an Uncharted 5
, I can't deny how impressed I ended up being with the fourth entry.8. The Witness, Thekla, Inc.
I'll probably never finish The Witness
. Maybe if I took a month off work and dedicate myself to it full time. That said, I absolutely love and respect The Witness
. Jonathan Blow is one of the smartest people I've ever seen, and his latest game is like Braid
blown up to a massive scale. A great big open island to solve puzzles is a wonderful thing, but the really impressive thing here is the way it teaches you the rules without any dialogue or text of any kind. I've never seen a puzzle game that gets so difficult but has such a gentle and intelligent learning curve. It teaches you the most basic of rules through examples and hands-on training, and gets more and more complicated with each new puzzle panel. This iterative learning style is both a great way to ensure you're never able to get too far ahead of yourself without genuinely understanding the rules, and is incredibly rewarding the further you get. The only downside is when you hit a point (and you will) where you think you know how to solve a puzzle but have been banging your head against it for an hour without solving it. You're convinced that you're doing it right, but too frustrated and stubborn to go back to previous puzzles and re-learn what you thought you learned correctly an hour ago.
7. AM2R, Milton "DoctorM64" Guasti
Oh Nintendo, how you frustrate me so. It's a crying shame how you're letting the Metroid
series flounder. You know what we want, and yet you refuse to give it to us. Thankfully, there are people like Milton Guasti out there. Sadly, AM2R
can't be bought legitly as a fan project, but the Internet being the Internet, looking in the right places to track this game down is not too difficult. Like Nintendo's own Metroid: Zero Mission
's re-imagined world of Metroid II: Return to Samus
is just familiar enough to trigger all those nostalgia centers of your brain while overhauling the graphics, music, items, enemies, and overworld to the point that it's effectively an all-new 2D Metroid
game. And that makes me ridiculously happy.6. Picross 3D: Round 2, HAL Laboratory, Inc.
Yay for more puzzles! There are tons of Sudoku and Picross-like apps and games out there, but if you haven't tried Picross
in 3D yet you don't know what you're missing. It literally adds a whole new dimension to the fun. I put dozens of hours into the first Picross 3D
game when it was released in 2009, and this new entry adds yet another layer to things by introducing a color mechanic. Of all the games on this list, this is the one I put the most hours into, and it remains my go-to game for when I want something to play while doing something else. If I'm watching an internet video, a movie, TV, or just listening to a podcast, I'm also playing Picross 3D: Round 2
. I'm hooked, and with hundreds of puzzles still left to go, I'll be playing it for a long time to come. 5. Thumper, Drool
Leave it to a couple of Harmonix defectors to make something like Thumper
. If you've ever played Amplitude
then you kind of know what to expect. There's only one lane and the object is to match the curves and obstacles on said track to keep rocketing down it without exploding. What makes it so thrilling is the presentation. The dark, spacey environment feels other-worldly and futuristic. Your character looks like some kind of cross between a metallic beetle and sci-fi spacecraft. The music literally THUMPS and pounds its way through your veins as the speed and difficulty ramp up more quickly than you're comfortable with, and the bosses it has to show you will haunt you in your dreams, especially as you find yourself trying over and over to defeat them. My only complaint with Thumper
is that the music could have a bit more variety to it, but with action this intense and penetrating, it never became enough of an issue to bother me while I was actually playing.4. Furi, The Game BakersFuri
makes a great impression right off the bat. It's aesthetic feels like some kind of anime, cyberpunk, Tron world that's immediately striking. The music fits this setting perfectly, switching between ominous ambiance and fast-paced electronica that's good enough to make you want to listen to it independent of the game itself. The story is minimal and vague, and there's very little actual gameplay in between battles. Furi
is basically a full game of boss rushes, with each battle taking place in a closed arena, each boss has a unique look and tactics that will keep you on your toes. It's tense and difficult, the bosses have a lot of health, and whittling them down will take time, patience, and precise skill. Fortunately, like any good game of this nature, the controls are responsive, and paying attention to the reactions and phases of each fight will prove that you can persevere. If you're looking for another one of those really hard "Dark Souls
-like" games with a cool and original presentation around it, this is another one I can highly recommend.3. Salt and Sanctuary, Ska Studios, LLC
Last year, Bloodborne
finally opened my eyes to the joys of the Dark Souls
formula, and I fell for it hard. I tried to get into Dark Souls III
this year, but I'm disappointed to say it didn't capture me in quite the same way. The more defensive-focused gameplay was less appealing and more difficult for me than Bloodborne
's focus on aggressive counter attacks and "visceral attacks." Enter Ska Studios, developers of The Dishwasher
and its sequel. They set out to make a Dark Souls
game in 2D, and it's amazing at how close they came to doing that. The difficult, back and forth combat that forces you to learn your enemies' weaknesses and play intelligently is totally in tact. The large, interconnected world is fun to explore and finding shortcuts is exciting. The visuals and enemy design are haunting and impressive in a way that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who's played either The Dishwasher
or Dark Souls
. I fell in love with Salt and Sanctuary
in a way that I was so ready for, and I'm looking forward to getting to the later areas. 2. Inside, PlaydeadLimbo
was such a tight, creepy, intriguingly ambiguous game, I couldn't wait to see what Playdead made next. I don't think I could explain Inside
any better than Limbo
but expanded by several orders of magnitude. It's still only a few hours long and isn't connected to its predecessor, but the look and feel of the game will be instantly familiar. As you navigate your character from one puzzle and obstacle to the next, you witness things that imply a disturbing story about who you're running from, what sorts of experiments they're conducting, and what's going to happen when you get to the end of....whatever or wherever you're going. This is another game I'm disappointed to say I haven't finished yet, but every second I've spent with it so far has been riveting, and it's been nagging at me more and more lately, especially since it's getting more and more difficult to avoid spoilers.1. Doom, id Software
. I'm trying to think about what I could possibly say about it that hasn't already been said by so many others this year. There's no reason it should've been any good, and I had absolutely zero expectations. All it took was the first five minutes of playing it and I was grinning ear to ear, and I still haven't stopped. This is without a doubt the best example I've ever seen of a studio taking what worked about an old game, modernizing it for a new era (and most importantly, doing so without crapping on all the things that made the original so great), and merging it all together into a package that is the best of both worlds, better than the sum of its parts, and better than it has any right to be on paper.
From the very start, your Doom Guy makes it clear why you're there, tossing aside the monitor trying to fill you in on the story and emerging on crowds of demons with a shotgun in his hand and thrashing nu-metal music running through his head. No weapon reloading, no auto-regenerating health, fast run-and-gun combat that lets you dodge Imp fireballs, and large, well-designed maps that encourage exploration and constant movement, all hearken back to the days of Doom
games past. The gun and armor upgrades, challenge goals, glory kills, jumping, and changes to the chainsaw mechanic made me skeptical at first. Shockingly, none of these additions get in the way, and instead, prove to be ingeniously-implemented ways to give the game more depth, strategy, and balance. The difficulty is tweaked just so, that you're forever on the verge of death. Every medpack you pick up is a calculated risk and the demons keep on the pressure so brutally that only through constant movement are you able to stay alive. The metal soundtrack borders on ludicrous at times, but takes everything to another level of intensity and gels it all together wonderfully. Even the lore they give you is well done! It can be ignored if you don't care, but if you actually read the logs and enemy descriptions, it's clear that Id had a lot of fun crafting the irreverent story. Also, listening to the demon logs refer to you as the "Doomslayer" is deeply satisfying.
I've had no desire whatsoever to play Doom
's multiplayer, and know I'll never touch it, but the single-player campaign is long, deep, and downright fun enough that this isn't just my favorite game of 2016, it's my favorite game in several years. When I'm not playing it, I'm thinking about it, and to top it off, it looks phenomenal in ultra settings on a nice PC. I don't know how they did it, and if you'd have asked me how to make a great new Doom
game in 2016 I'd have said I have no idea, but somehow, someway, Id pulled off what I would have thought impossible.