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2016 was a bad year in many respects, but I generally had a good time. It was the first time I was able to make a living as a writer, finally went to Evo (and Capcom Cup!), got hired at Game Informer, and played a lot of great games.
Although I think most would agree we had a slam-dunk, standout phenomenon in Overwatch, I do think the year had something for everyone. Whether you like big-budget shooters (especially if you like big-budget shooters), action games, fighters, indie games, or even stuff Nintendo eventually takes down for copyright infringement, I can say with confidence that you probably found something that spoke to you. These are the ten games that spoke to me most this year.
10. Another Metroid 2 RemakeI talked about this game on the GI Show, and it's stuck with me since. It's far more than a remake, too; what makes the game stand out isn't the way it modernizes one of the most obscure games in the Metroid series with a modern look and feel, but the ways in which it blazes trails of its own. The layout of the map is slightly different, and some of the rooms have been moved around. You can tell creator Milton Guasti took care not only to let new fans play a classic game, but make sure they enjoyed themselves too.
With all these tweaks, Metroid II ends up being one of the best games in the series. It is superbly paced, not the least of which because there's a counter on-screen telling you how many metroids there are left to kill (which constantly propels you to kill just one more of them before doing something else), and because it shows off how the layout of a room can affect a fight by reorienting the way you fight the same boss over and over. It's a shame Nintendo has made it so difficult to play, because if it were an official release, it could have made so many more year-end lists, which it deserves.
9. The WitnessI don't jive with The Witness' philosophical angle most of the time. It's a little to "Be A Reasonable Person 101" for me, and the way it presents some of its ideas as enlightening or revolutionary rung a bit hollow for me. That said, the way it plays with a single idea of moving lines around a screen made for some of the best puzzles of the year. I think everyone who plays it has at least one moment they can recall as their biggest mental breakthrough, but I have several; the one where you solve six puzzles at once, the one where you solve a puzzle within another puzzle, and when you find out you can draw outside the lines.
The best puzzles take several of the disparate concepts (like perspective, math, and sound) and layer them all together, and it introduces all of them so well that it's an incredible exercise in teachable game design.
8. OwlboyI won't reiterate a lot of the points I made about Owlboy in my review, but I'm still kind of floored by how it was able to seamlessly blend action, adventure, and shooter elements so well. Better than that, though, is that it's confident enough in its premise to keep throwing new ways to play around with its systems, then quickly discarding them in favor of another cool trick or setpiece. And some of those setpieces feature some of the best 2D sprite animation I've ever seen.
Although it's one of the most highly-regarded games of the year, it feels like not enough people played it simply because it didn't come to console. That is a shame. It doesn't take a monster of a rig to run, so if you think it's up your alley, go for it. You can thank me when the game comes to consoles and people start raving about it again.
7. Dark Souls IIIDark Souls III is going to get a bad rap as a "me-too" entry that doesn't really do anything the series hasn't done before. But I think that, over time, it's going to be the defining entry point for a lot of players. If you want to get into the series, this is the most accessible one, not only because it's easier, but because it removes some of the tedium of previous entries and makes co-op play a lot more approachable. We'll see whether history proves me right.
I'd also argue that this is the tightest, most even game in the series. I got to experience the highs of a terrific boss fight (The Nameless King) without the frustrating lows of a Blighttown. Veterans might scoff at how this game doesn't innovate, but I think everyone else will be pleasantly surprised by how much, and how well it refines.
6. Pac-Man Championship Edition 2It's a bold claim for those of us who loved the previous game, but I think Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is better than DX. I know! It's crazy to think so. But I recently revisited that game after playing this one, and I don't think I can go back. The speed is too slow, the pacing is a bit uneven and a little too aimless now. CE 2 is faster, harder, and offers more ways to get better at Pac-Man than any other game in the series.
5. Anatomy I've made my case for why Anatomy is the strangest and best horror game of the year a couple of times, and that holds true now. The retro aesthetic is spot on, but it's more than a clever look; it plays into the concept of decaying memory, the way the game deteriorates as you play it like a VCR tape you've watched one too many times.
I don't want to say much else about it because it's a game that wants to surprise you, so if you're into playing weird games no one else will probably like, give this a shot. It's the kind of horror game I want more of: something that mingles with the unease of tension and refuses to relinquish that fear for a jump scare that will startle you, then leave as quickly as it came.
4. The Witcher 3: Blood And WineBlood And Wine continues the Witcher 3's tendency to put Geralt - its Fabio-lookin', romance novel cover art lookin', Solid Snake soundin' protagonist - in new situations, and propping up the writing, characters, and plot over how cool it is to kill a monster and take its head (though, yeah, you can that too).
When I think back to the best quests in the expansion, they're the ones where I don't fight a single enemy with my sword. The quest where you have to fill out a series of paperwork sheets and deal with bureaucracy is hilarious; the one where you realize the Big Bad Wolf is an alcoholic and The Little Match Girl is a drug dealer are playful and fun. But it can also speak to more serious themes like political corruption, men turned into monsters, etc. (stuff the Witcher has already done and been rightfully praised for). Not much else captured my love of a good story quite like The Witcher did this year. Again.
3. Street Fighter VLook, I know. "Street Fighter V is a bad game! It doesn't have an arcade mode! Eight frames of lag! This other game has more content! CONTENT!!!" And yet it's still the best fighter of the year.
No other fighter does quite what SFV does this year. The King of Fighters XIV was fun, but didn't really do much XIII didn't and looked worse doing it. Guilty Gear was still good this year, but Revelator is more of an update than a new game. Pokkén did a lot to introduce new players to fighting games, but gave them little reason to continue on after the tutorial. SFV changes the flow of Street Fighter dramatically, makes counter-hits (one of the most obscure parts of fighting games) more visually appealing with Crush Counters (which also acts as way to tell new players "hey, you really got 'em good with that one. Hit them again for a combo!") And gets the most out of its 22-character roster by making them all distinct.
You don't need a story mode to make a good game. A great multiplayer experience can stand on its own. And while SFV wasn't there at launch, it is now, and I've put more time into it (about 240 hours between the main game and the beta) than I have any game with a story mode. As a dedicated player I'm as frustrated by what this game lacks as much as anyone (let me keep my training mode settings, Capcom, I beg you!) but a single-player isn't one of them.
But it does leave me thinking about what people want from single-player fighting games. Pokkén's story mode lasted a while, but was an utter slog of CPU battles mashed into one another that did nothing to sell its fighting system. NetherRealm tells fun stories with their games, but these modes make the fighting an afterthought. Killer Instinct took a great shot at doing something different with its new campaign, but it doesn't have the history or characters to make me care about its world. So I'm not sure what would make for a better fighting-game single-player, what I and other fighting game players want the single-player fighting experience to be. While the industry figures it out, I'll play more Street Fighter V.
2. Overwatch RoadhogYou can read about all the reasons Overwatch is amazing on any gaming website on the internet. So I'm going to tell you why I love Roadhog instead.
At first, I hated Roadhog. "Great," I thought. "Another fat character who encourages lazy stereotypes, barely speaks, and has very little personality." That stuff's all still true. He's not the most unique character in the game's roster. But that hook. It's some of the most fun I've had all year, reeling people in and finishing them off. Catching a Pharah as she unleashes her ultimate. Killing a D.Va as she climbs into her dumb mech suit. No second life for you, D.Va. Not if I can help it. Enjoy the nerf.
But see, how good Roadhog's hook is becomes especially meaningful if you're familiar with its inspiration. The "hook" character is a mainstay of competitive games, from Dota's Pudge to League of Legends' Blitzcrank to Heroes of the Storm's Stitches (Scorpion, I guess, started this whole "reel people in" thing, too). And I think Roadhog is the best distillation of the "hook" character of all time. In those other games, you have to worry about things other than landing hooks, like for your farm, combos, where the lanes are getting pushed, and team fights. Late in the game, none of these characters can really kill off a hook combo alone and need their team to help them. But in most situations, if you play it right, Roadhog can with just his spread gun and his hook. He is 90% landing hooks, 10% getting on the payload. That sounds about right to me.
1. Dota 2Oh hi! Yeah, I didn't think this would make it on here either. For most of the year, Dota 2's support had been pretty tepid. We got one new hero, a few medium-sized patches, and pretty good tournament year. But all of that changed in December, when the new hero everyone was excited about ended up being the least interesting part of the game's enormous 7.00 patch. The patch has upended the game, adding something akin to Heroes' of the Storm's talent system, moving important parts of the map around (and adding healing shrines that make the game a bit faster), altering the level curve, and so much more. It's reinvigorated the game for me.
Best of all, they reworked my favorite character in the game (Techies), and made them not only more effective, but much more fun to play. They're more active on the map than they've ever been, and the new suicide ability means you can contribute to fights more easily without a lot of forethought. Pro tip: build Force Staff on this hero.
It's hard to relay the impact of a patch of this size to people who don't keep up with competitive games on the regular. "Imagine if one of your favorite games of all time got a lot better this year," doesn't really work in an industry where companies constantly sells remasters and remakes under that exact premise. It's not quite a Final Fantasy XIV-level turnaround (Dota 2 was already an incredible game), but it's up there for me. They've made one of my favorite games of all time much better in 2016, and I've had more fun with it this year than any other game. The Monkey King's pretty fun, too.
Honorable MentionsDishonored 2 and Pokémon Go were fighting for the #10 spot before I was told I could include Dota 2 on my list (thanks for establishing precedent, Andy!). I hadn't finished Dishonored 2 when I finalized my list, but now that I have, it's the clear winner. But Go is still a fascinating game, one I can' stop playing but would have a hard time recommending. I can't deny how much fun I've had walking around Minneapolis with it as a guide, and it's gotten me to run more regularly, too.
Tumblestone is a incredibly addicting puzzler that almost made the cut as well. It's got all the systemic layering of Japanese puzzlers like Puzzle Fighter and the fun campaign architecture of a PopCap game. I'm hoping it eventually gets released on 3DS or iPhone, so you can all see how fun this game is.
Dead By Daylight I almost got on the Top 50 list, but alas, it was not to be. It's like Evolve, but good (justkiddingwhatIplayedofEvolvewasactuallyprettyfunbutmannooneplayedthatgamehuh). The way it turned the tension of a multiplayer match into a horror flick is effortless, and learning how to play each side (both the killer and the survivors), is a ton of fun and worth getting into. It's also surprisingly popular on Twitch, which tempts me to get back into it sometime this year, assuming some cool updates are on the way.
Of all the shooters that came out this year and weren't called Overwatch, Titanfall 2 hooked me most. I didn't dabble too much in its multiplayer, but the campaign (I know, I know, hypocrite that I am) packed an immense amount of variety into a short runtime. I thought its story was kind of lame and the characters were okay, but its high-speed gunplay was so refined, fresh, and fluid that I didn't have time to think about that stuff too much.
That was my year in video games! I'm hoping 2017 tops 2016 in every respect. Fingers crossed.
Email the author Suriel Vazquez, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.