Before I focus on my favorite games of 2016, I’d like to give a little summary:
2016 began with the realization that I have a bad habit of not finishing games, so I vowed to break that habit by holding off on playing new games until I finish my current game. I can’t recall during what month I broke that vow, but I’m happy to say that I did complete a number of games, including Uncharted 3 and 4, Pokémon Y and Omega Ruby, and Dishonored. The total number of games completed is around 10. Not terrible, I think.
I also dragged myself through Uncharted 2, coming to the conclusion that whatever led me to love that game had apparently shriveled away. I also concluded that your standard first-person shooters no longer appeal to me. The thought of simply shooting is almost repellent, which may be a major reason why I loved Dishonored. I do want to give the new Doom a try because it’s different enough from your Call of Duty and Battlefield that I think I’ll enjoy it.
Anyway, enough of that. Onto my favorite games of 2016!
I can’t recall the last game that built a convincing and enjoyable relationship between two characters we never physically see, yet Firewatch manages that while including a mystery that caused me to question the handful of people in this game. Is this woman who I’ve been chatting with telling the truth? Is this an elaborate joke by those teenage girls who owned the stereo I tossed into the lake? Or is this one big conspiracy? The answer is unfortunately less exciting, and it doesn’t help that the entire reveal feels far too rushed. Firewatch is 95% amazing, but stumbles at the conclusion.
Headlander is a “Metroidvania” game that fights against that label. Few upgrades are discovered, but instead temporarily gained by latching your disembodied head onto robot bodies. Unlockable upgrades do exist, but they’re less important than the adventure around getting the correct colored robot body to specific colored door. Most bodies are fragile with limited mobility, especially compared to zipping around as just a head, so there’s a difficulty in reaching destinations safely and quickly since only a handful of shots will reduce you to a largely defenseless head. Not quite the power fantasy of gaining a powerful and permanent power-up in Metroid, and I love that.
For more about how Headlander played with being a”Metroidvania” game, view my post “Headlander, or How a Head Became the Biggest Badass Ever“.
I was not exciting to play Uncharted 4 after slogging through the second and third games a few months prior, but credit given to Naughty Dog for implementing rudimentary stealth that’s preferable to the combat I complained about too often. It’s little surprise that the times where I yearned to shatter the PS4 disk happen in the encounters without any possibility of stealth. Slowly whittling down the number of enemies by snapping their necks and leaving them in tall foliage made all the difference, and an enjoyable story (the best in the series) doesn’t hurt.
There’s something almost cathartic about removing the on-screen UI and driving down the California highway with a real-life radio station in my ears. The concept of simulating the truck driving profession doesn’t sound appealing, but it’s really relaxing. Which I already knew because American Truck Simulator is basically Euro Truck Simulator 2 set in the States. That sounds obvious, but when even the menu is identical, you might confuse the newer game with being a mod for the older game. I really can’t complain when the developers are working to possibly include the 48 continental states. Hopefully they’re successful.
Thumper is a weird mix-up of F-Zero and music/rhythm games, brewed somewhere in the higher levels of Hell. The stages are bathed in dark colors and metallic surfaces, the soundtrack is cold and bassy, but for as unwelcoming as Thumper appears, it’s difficult to stop playing. Each level is composed of almost thirty smaller segments, so playing just one more section quickly becomes five, ten, or the entire level. The sensation of speeding down this foreboding track, barely able to remain in control as obstacles come hurtling towards you in quick succession, is also a huge component.
Rune Factory 4, the only farming game I ever played, was too stressful. I mean, it was probably more lenient than I realized, but I frustrated myself by carefully managing crops, exploring nearby dungeons, and cultivating relationships with NPCs without allowing any of the three to suffer. Stardew Valley features all of that, but I discovered early on that you’re not punished for leaving two alone to focus on the one. That revelation largely removed any stress. Who cares if I ignore the mines to spend the entire day fishing? My friends won’t dislike me for chopping down trees instead of hanging with them.We’ll hang out, which is already today because the days are crazy short and just one more day before I shut off the game.
I love Stardew Valley, but I was surprised by the characters. Want to read more about that? Check out my post “Characters and Romance in Stardew Valley“.
HAL Laboratory’s outstanding take on Picross arrived fashionably late, but brought over 300 puzzles and a decent chance of being the only thing I play on my 3DS for years to come. Every Picross game (2D or 3D) manages to tap into the addiction center of my brain, and Round 2 is no different. Well, a little different. I can’t stop myself from replaying puzzles until I gain the perfect result, rewarding me with the maximum amount of points. Those points unlock more puzzles that I must perfect, granting me more points. It’s a vicious and wonderful loop.
What I appreciate more than anything is Game Freak’s attempt to portray Pokémon as living creatures. I’m able to pet and feed berries to my Pokémon after battles (which isn’t new to Sun/Moon), creating a sort of pet/owner relationship between us. Best of all, that extends into battles. I’m told that my Weavel is relaxed because I’m there, and Kommo-o wants praise for getting a critical hit. When Crobat takes a big hit, I’m told that he’s about to cry (which probably means I’m coddling them too much). They’re able to survive attacks that would’ve otherwise knocked them out because I spent a minute building this strange friendship between me and my fictional monsters, allowing me to think of them more as pets with little personalities that I happen to fight with other pets and now I feel shitty about making them fight. (Not really.)
Want to read more about Pokémon? Visit my post where I discuss Pokémon and the lack of mystery, “Pokémon and the Unknown“.
Dishonored proved that I have the making of an awesome assassin that uses badass superhuman powers, and Dishonored 2 is basically more of that. That’s only a complaint because I played the first game a handful of months ago instead of four years ago like most, but I still really, really dig it. Karnaca is a brighter, more sunny location than the depressing Dunwall, and the number of moves and magical abilities available increased. They still haven’t nailed the whole compelling story thing, but I still like this world when I’m not being reminded that everything sucks for everyone. And the Bloodflies. Bloody hell, why can’t someone call an exterminator to remove them from every other apartment?
With 134 hours spent playing through the Birthright and Conquest, Fire Emblem Fates is currently my second most-played Nintendo 3DS game (behind Fire Emblem Awakening). So, y’know, easy pick for favorite game.
Like Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, the Birthright and Conquest paths are distinctly different takes on Fire Emblem with almost completely unique units and levels. Birthright is the follow-up to Awakening, allowing endless grinding and an overall easier adventure — except for those last two bullshit chapters. Conquest follows the sensibilities of older Fire Emblem games by offering more varied map objectives and being frustratingly difficult by the tenth chapter. Given the popularity of difficult games like Dark Souls, I’d hope that people wouldn’t shy away from Conquest. Regardless of which, they’re both great strategy/RPGs, despite what the Serenes Forest forums might argue.
(What about Revelation? I haven’t started it, although I still intend to whenever I finish the last handful of chapters I have left in Conquest.)
Whether I consider them two games or two parts of a single game, I loved Fates. I mean, the story was predictably mediocre in both version and the in-game reason for children units was horrible, but they’re excellent games. Fire Emblem Fates is/are my favorite game(s) of 2016. (Ugh. No wonder most Game of the Year lists consider Fates a single game.)
June 15, 2017: Added a new banner.