To anyone out there who play video games for the purposes of reviewing, my hat is off to you. Hell, I review movies which usually take less than three hours to consume, and I can barely manage that! That’s why this isn’t some arbitrary ranking of the best or worst of the year as I didn’t play enough games for this to be comprehensive, and most of the games I played this year I didn’t even finish! I’ve got stuff to do like the aforementioned movie review!! These are just some of the games that I either bought or first played in earnest in 2016, both good and bad, which means plenty of these weren’t even games that came out that year. Hey, what do you want? These things are expensive and I can’t afford to buy them when the first come out!! Also, almost all of my gaming this year has been on the PC; not because it’s the best, but because it is the most convenient as I spend most of my time on one of those anyway. I’ll not when a game is NOT something I played on the PC, but those are definitely going to be the minority on this list. Alright, let’s get started! I can feel your excitement already!!
Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!! (3DS)
Developed by WayForward Technologies
I wouldn’t say this is a GREAT game, but WayForward managed to drill down into what makes Adventure Time so much fun (spoiler alter: it’s the adventure) and crafted a game around that core conceit. Unfortunately, probably due to this being a license game, it feels a bit rushed out the door as the game relies on backtracking and slow over world traversal in order to draw out the game time, and the mechanics never really grow beyond the first hour or so. If WayFowrad were given the chance to put as much development time and effort into an Adventure Time as they do with their Shante series, they might have an all-time classic in the making rather than just having one of the better (if not the best) games based on this series. Then again, maybe they DID have all the resources they needed and STILL managed to do just an okay job with it.
Developed by Free Lives
This game is BRO TASTIC!! Almost all of my gaming is done solo, but this game along with Magicka (which is not on this list because I played it years ago) were the exception to that rule as I played them quite a bit with Arthur Crane. The fast and frenetic gameplay along with the various playable characters made this a hell of a lot of fun in quick single player bursts or long co-op sessions, but looking back there are places where I would like to see improvement if they plan to make a sequel. Maybe not so much IMPROVEMENTS as ADDITIONS, as I would love for this formula and gameplay style to have a bit more depth and nuance to it to go along with the run and gun madness. The levels that focused on a single character were definitely headed in the right direction (MacBrover’s stage is the best) and I’d like it if they expanded on the environmental destruction aspect to give a bit more variety to the way that stages can be tackled. Also, for the next game they’ll need Bro Wick, Brost Rider, Bro-pollo Creed, Bro-shiro, Bro-ku and Bro-geta…
Developed by GalaxyTrail
I don’t know why anyone would be excited for that Sonic Mania game if they’ve already played this. Oh sure, Sega seems to be getting their shit together so that every OTHER Sonic game is an absolute train wreck instead of every single one, but that series has had enough chances to grow and innovate over the last twenty damn years that I’m not in the mood to give them yet another chance to crawl up their own ass and pretend it’s still 1993. Freedom Planet is everything that I would want from a traditional 2D Sonic game and the team behind it deserve my money so much more than Sonic Team does when they make their decent recreation of the franchise’s glory days. This manages to not only recreate the magic of those games, but make some improvements such as a life bar; something you KNOW won’t be in Sonic Mania as making a GOOD game will always be secondary to pandering to nostalgia for that series. Even if you’re still completely invested in Sonic the Hedgehog for whatever reason, I’d still urge you to give this one a shot. It can’t be easy being a fan at this point, so you deserve to treat yourself a little with something that’s ACTUALLY good, right?
Gravity Rush Remastered (PS4)
Developed by SCE Japan Studio
Oh hey! A really good reason to own a PS4! So the first Gravity Rush was a game that caught my attention immediately and was enough to make me want to buy a PlayStation Vita. Not enough to actually BUY one, but it certainly piqued my interest! Thankfully I had a PS4 when they decided to remaster the damn thing for a console people ACTUALLY owned, and for me it’s one of the most interesting games to come out in recent years. It puts me in mind of other PlayStation puzzle games like Exit, Crush, and I.Q., but with the added benefit of an interesting sandbox to explore that takes full advantage of the gravity bending mechanics. Seriously, we can get something like THIS, yet Valve is still dragging their ass on a Portal open world game!? The only real criticism I have is that the mechanics are a BIT clunky; the biggest annoyance being that momentum does not carry when you turn off your gravity defying powers. If you’re traveling away from the ground at any angle other than ninety degrees and instantly stop your momentum, YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO ARC!! You shouldn’t just start going straight down!! Now I still haven’t beaten the game so I probably won’t be able to jump into Gravity Rush 2 when it comes out in a few weeks, but hopefully it will smooth out some of those idiosyncrasies and build upon what made the first game so good in the first place. Seriously, I need to find time to play that some more. WHY MUST I SPEND ALL MY TIME DOING THIS INSTEAD!?
Developed by Ubisoft Reflections
I didn’t play this one for too long, but it was a lot of fun and very relaxing in its own way. It’s really nothing more than a climbing simulator with procedurally animated physics (a fancy description that I don’t fully grasp but can understand in the game itself), but it’s quite enjoyable to just sit back and work on an uncomplicated yet consistently rewarding goal of going high and higher up this beanstalk to various floating rocks. I never fully understood all the mechanics in play (there’s some number that I keep needing to reach that I’m not sure exactly what it’s in reference to), but other than that it’s just a good way to unwind for a few minutes whenever you need something to take your minds off things.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number / Huniecam Studio
Hotline Miam 2: Wrong Number Developed by Dennaton Games and Abstraction Games
Hunicam Studio Developed by Ryan Koons
I happened to play both of these games around the same time, and they create an interesting dichotomy in how gameplay can be integral to the theming of a game. Now to be fair, Hotline Miami 2 isn’t really doing anything ALL THAT different from the first one, but the ideas at play are just as interesting the second time around. Okay, maybe not QUITE as interesting since they changed the player character from a blank slate to a series of clearly defined individuals, but I’m going for something here!! Hotline Miami is a series about encouraging reprehensible and erratic behavior simply through its design. Everyone moves fast and you die even faster, so you need to be unwavering in your commit to bust heads open as even the slightest hesitation will give your enemies an opening to take you out. To push this even further is that on top of dying quickly, you respawn just as fast so the penalty of death isn’t waiting to get back in the game but to make up lost progress, perfecting your run each time and making it easier to experiment with risky and unorthodox methods. All of this does just as much to put you in the psycho killer’s shoes as much as the fantastic art style and music, and that’s a really impressive trick to pull off. Hunie Cam Studio similarly is a game where its gameplay says a lot about what kind of game it is. It’s a tycoon game, but I prefer to call games like this efficiency games where the end goal is to get as many pieces moving at the same time as possible and producing the most resources in the process. The genius here is that this kind of steady buildup in micromanagement leads to an overall sense of dehumanization as the characters you are ordering around to do A B and C are reduced more and more over time to simple numbers and stats in the effort to maximize the yield of each action, and this is kind of brilliant when juxtaposed against a game about sex work in an industry that already has a problem with objectifying female characters. Here’s where the two games veer in very different directions. As much as the Hotline Miami games are all about getting you in that head space and enjoying the rush of killing all these people, it knows to give those who are playing it a chance to come up for air. The backtracking through the end of each level as you see the end result of your actions with no more enemies to fight and no more bad ass synth tunes to underscore your rampage. It gives you a chance to take yourself out of the experience; not in a judgmental way as the game doesn’t try to SHAME you for having so much fun, but just gives you a chance to think. Hunie Cam Studio though? Yeah, there’s no ACTUAL message that the creators here wanted to impart, and frankly that makes the game REALLY come off as super skeevy. Now that’s not much of a shock considering how Hunie Pop turned out which had awful stereotypes and rewarded you for getting women drunk (among other tasteless design choices), and that same attitude permeates every aspect of this game too; especially the use of STDs as status ailments. You CAN make some interesting connections in Hunie Cam Studio, but the game designers clearly didn’t intend that; lest they’d have given the audience SOME sort of clue to point out its themes the same way Dennaton Games did with the Hotline Miami games. The Hotline Miami games are ABSOLUTELY worth playing, though they can be a bit much for some, and while I’m really not a fan of Ryan Koons’s view of… well ANYTHING, at least his new game managed to ACCIDENTALLY fall into something halfway interesting.
Lisa / Undertale
Lisa Developed by Dingaling Productions
Undertale Developed by Toby Fox
Look, I don’t get Undertale, alright? I mean, I GET IT, but I don’t GET IT get it, got it? From what I played of it (I think I got as far as fighting some sort of dummy after a chase sequence) it seemed perfectly fine and well executed… but I just didn’t connect with it. Sure, Papyrus is awesome, but that whole puzzle section went on WAY too long, and was never all that engaging. Maybe some of it has to do with the main character himself being such a blank slate that I didn’t really fell all that much about his journey through this wacky world. Now Lisa on the other hand seems to fix a lot of that with the main character being wonderfully fleshed out without losing any sense of choice on the part of the player. Now I haven’t played this game all the way through either and I’m instantly annoyed at any game that goes THIS dark (are you seriously telling me there’s NO WAY to NOT set a group of children on fire?) which means I’m not even sure if I have the stomach to finish it, but what I’ve played so far is incredibly engrossing and does a great job of investing you into the protagonist. Maybe if you combine the character development from Lisa with the themes and well-crafted world of Undertale, you’d ACTUALLY get the greatest game of all time! I’m sure we can find a way to lock Toby Fox and Austin Jorgensen in a room with a laptop!
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PS4)
Developed by EA DICE
Look, I don’t care what ANY of you say! Not only was Mirror’s Edge one of the best games of the last generation, this… reboot? Sequel? Remake? Whatever the fuck it is, it’s STILL a damn fine game and absolutely worth playing! The only thing about this game is that while it DOES feel like a natural progression for the series, it really feels like it needed to come out a lot earlier than it did. Mirror’s Edge SHOULD have been a bigger franchise in the last console generation, but not enough people realized its brilliance and so any sort of forward progress for the series was halted for nearly a decade. Of course there are some kinks to work out; especially with such a radical change in game design. Simply going from linear stages to an open world is a HUGE challenge, especially with a series that is all about creating level designs to complement the gameplay. This time, they had to make sure the levels worked forwards, backwards, sideways, ALL OF THE WAYS, and that clearly was not an easy task. I really do hope that this gets at least one more sequel (preferably within this console generation) to work on expanding the concept because this is still one of my favorite franchises out there… even if we’ve only gotten two games so far.
And that’s gonna do it for part 1! Stay tuned for when I get around to finishing part 2!