“Why” you ask, “did you choose to list twelve games?”
The answer is simple. Because sixteen (for 2016) seemed too many, and ten is too cliché.
“But doing a Top X Things of Year list is in itself too cliché!”
(You should know my Top Video Games rules by now: Any game that I beat in 2016 is fair game, regardless of what year it was actually released in. No remakes or remasters allowed.)
The Cat Lady
It was tough to whittle down my list of 36 nominees by two thirds, but I managed to get it done after a lot of deliberation and tearful rejections. The most difficult choice was the very last one, wherein I opted to include The Cat Lady over Pokémon Sun.
Did you hear that? That was the sound of minds blowing all over the world.
So how did I come to this final conclusion? I think that Pokémon Sun is a terrific game, and I very much appreciate how Game Freak tried to refresh the series by changing up the formula. This generation easily has my favourite roster of new Pokémon since the series was on Game Boy Advance. But at the end of the day, it’s still… just Pokémon.
The Cat Lady, on the other hand, was a completely new and unique experience. It hewed close to the typical adventure game style, but tweaked it enough to make it feel fresh. The story was excellent and kept me engaged the entire way through. The characters were interesting and I really did find myself caring about and relating to the main character, Susan.
I wrote a whole lot about this game already, which I think is a good indication of why it belongs on this list. The best way to sum it up, though, is that both the gameplay and narrative truly excited me, and is seems to me that fewer games are able to achieve that with each passing year.
I played roughly seven hundred Legend of Zelda games in 2016, but the only one that met all of the nomination criteria was the My Nintendo reward exclusive My Nintendo Picross: Twilight Princess.
I almost feel bad about including Twilight Picross on my Best of 2016 list, because at its heart, it’s just another picross game. But what makes it special is that it’s exactly what I’ve been wanting from the Picross e series the whole time: themed puzzles. All seven of those games are just filled with puzzles of random things, and while the fun of picross is solving the puzzles, it’s boring when the solutions are the same chairs and flowers and salarymen over and over and over again.
The downside to Twilight Picross is that it has fewer than 50 unique puzzles. Sure, you can play them all in both Normal and Mega modes, but there is a lot of content in Twilight Princess that is not represented as a picross puzzle.
What really seals the deal here is that while there is a very long and slow tutorial (how very Twilight Princess of you), it is completely skippable! Hooray!
FNAF: Sister Location
If there’s one game on this list that made it in because of franchise bias, you would likely point out Sister Location as the most obvious choice. And while that may be more or less the truth behind the choice, I do think that Sister Location deserves the small victory.
First and foremost, Sister Location is considerably different than the last four Five Nights at Freddy’s games. You’re still playing a first-person game inside a creepy building with living animatronics out to kill you, but it plays much differently than before. For one, each night is radically different from the last. One night has you simply visiting each room and pushing buttons as your AI guide tells you to. One night asks you to shake off monsters while keeping springs wound to keep yourself from being crushed to death. There’s even a secret stage that plays out like a stripped down version of the earlier FNAF games.
Oh and it’s the only FNAF game that I’ve been able to play from start to finish without feeling like I’m risking a heart attack, so that’s a point for the Pro column.
Sister Location also tells a new story. Or so it wants you to think. If you make it all the way to the end and dig around a bit, you might start to realize that it may be more connected than you think. It may even connect the FNAF series with the FNAF novel, which was apparently a separate continuity. Of course, that’s just a theory – A GAME THEORY. Thanks for reading.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The point is, just like all the previous games, there are story bits and pieces scattered about, and its up to you to put them together and fill in the holes. I love stories that leave some blanks for you to ponder; they’re much more fun to talk about than stories that tie up every single loose end. Of course, it would be even more fun if actually I had someone else to talk to…
Okay, I’m pretty sure you know about Dark Souls. The game that flew under the radar at first but ended up being one of the most beloved and influential games in the history of games.
It took me a long time to beat Dark Souls. It was released in 2011, and I didn’t buy it until 2012. I only started playing in 2013, but quickly dropped it to move onto something easier. After being encouraged by my brother to keep trying, I picked it back up near the end of the year, and got so into it that I started a weekly log of the progress I was making. A little past the halfway point, I got distracted by newer games and let it drift to the wayside yet again.
Only in 2016, after I had moved my Xbox 360 to my parents’ house so that we could play Rock Band on the weekends, did I finally resolve to complete the game. And over the course of several Saturday nights, I did just that. And then I immediately started a New Game+.
While it’s been a long and troubled journey, I found that in the end, I deeply enjoyed Dark Souls. Will I ever finish New Game+? Or move onto the sequels? Only time will tell. And probably a lot of time, if my history with the game is anything to go by.
Picross 3D Round 2
More picross! Hooray!
This one was one of those awesome out-of-nowhere eShop games that are announced at exactly the same time they’re released. I mean, we knew it was probably coming, because it had been out in Japan for like a year before the North American release, but it was still a fun surprise.
Anyway, Picross 3D differs from normal picross by being, well, 3D. Instead of chiseling away at a flat tablet of tiles, you’re breaking blocks off of a larger cube. It’s a little difficult to explain exactly how it works in so many words, but rest assured that it’s a very satisfying puzzle game! It’s also actually pretty tough, too. I played the entire game on the Hard setting, and there were more than a few puzzles that had me stumped for some time.
The one thing I did not care for is that to earn the best score on a puzzle, you have to clear it without making a single mistake. And making a mistake is pretty darn easy if you aren’t laser-focused at all times. Why do you care about getting the best score anyway? Because earning top scores contributes to unlocking more puzzles, of which there are three hundred. So yeah, best to go for the perfect games, because it enables more picross!
Another really nice feature is that a number of Amiibo figures can be swiped to unlock special themed puzzles. These Amiibo puzzles are some of the trickiest ones in the game, and they’re a ton of fun to solve. Only eight or nine Amiibo are compatible with the game, which is a darn shame because they open up such excellent content.
Paper Mario: Color Splash
There is so much to say about Paper Mario: Color Splash. Most importantly, it is very different than the first two Paper Mario games, which are generally beloved. It has a lot more in common with Paper Mario: Sticker Star, which is generally despised. I didn’t mind it myself, but it was certainly not at all what I was expecting.
Unlike normal RPGs, you don’t have any standard or special or magical attacks in Color Splash. All of your attacks come from cards that you buy or collect during your adventure. Sometimes they’re greyed out, as well, and touching them up with a splash of color will significantly increase their power. These come in many flavours, from different kinds of jumps and hammer attacks, to fireballs, to enemy summons. And these enemy cards are the closest that you’re ever going to get to having a partner in battle. It’s not the simplest system, but it works and it forces you to consider every move you make instead of just mashing attack until you win.
So what does Color Splash really do right? Mostly, the story. Yes, we live in an unfortunate timeline where Nintendo forces about 95% of the NPCs to be generic Toads, but at least the Toads in this game are absolutely brimming with personality. The enemies have plenty of hilarious lines as well, and Mario’s paint can pal, Huey, is one of the most endearing characters in any Mario RPG. The writing is on point and excellent for the entire duration of the game, and even the digital manual is packed with humour and personality, making it a very worthwhile read.
Let’s also not gloss over the fact that the game is friggin’ gorgeous. Maybe the best-looking Wii U game. Maybe the best looking video game of this generation, period. The graphics are so sharp and colourful that the game is a constant treat to look at. In most games, your focus on the visual quality eventually fades and you stop noticing how the game looks, but I was constantly in awe of the beautiful papercraft world that Intelligent Systems has crafted. The soundtrack to Color Splash is an absolute treat as well; absolutely the best soundtrack in a Paper Mario to date. The way that the world map music adds new instruments after Big Paint Star you find is my favourite thing, and the tune itself is so catchy that I was happy to just sit on that screen and groove to it for a while. Don’t believe me? Have a listen!
While it’s maybe not the perfect game when it comes to the core gameplay, Color Splash’s vibrant personality more than makes it worth playing through. Exploring the game’s world and interacting with its people is where the game really shines. Those battles are mostly there for the sake of tradition.
Her Story is kind of a weird one. There’s barely any game to it, and you will be completely baffled when you first boot it up if you don’t go in knowing what to expect. This is an FMV game of sorts. Actually, there’s barely any game to it at all. Really, it’s just a series of six interview videos, which have been chopped up into little snippets.
What makes it into a game is that these snippets are all in a big, un-sortable database, and you have to search said database with keywords to try to find new video clips. So it’s your job to try to follow the story and discover every little snippet, and then try to piece together exactly what the story is that they’re telling. If it sounds weird, it really is, but it’s also unbelievably compelling. So invested in Her Story was I, that I “played” through the entire game in a single sitting.
To mitigate the tedium of searching by random words for hours on end, there are some clever ways to work around the whole keyword thing, and you can tag clips so that they’re easier to find again later on. Eventually, smart players will be able to easily pull up whatever clip they want, and even put them all in order so that they can be watched chronologically, which will really help to make the story easier to understand.
I think the most telling thing about how good Her Story is, is that when I played it, the video clips wouldn’t play properly, so I was only getting the audio out of them, and I was still completely hooked. I didn’t even properly realize that I was missing the video until I was reading about it online. In hindsight, it seems pretty obvious. But I knew nothing at all about the game before I booted it up!
And finally, of course, the most important piece of the Her Story puzzle is, of course, the story. That’s all the game is about, and it is incredibly interesting. Told entirely in six segments from the perspective of the interviewee, it’s a fabulous tale of love, deception, and maybe mistaken identities? Like all good stories, it leaves you with a few lingering questions at the end, and half of the fun is going online and digging through all the conflicting fan theories. I really enjoyed reading this massive dissection, in particular, but I would definitely urge you not to read another word about Her Story if you have any intent to play it. And you should! Just avoid spoilers at all costs, as that would rob the game of a great deal of what makes it so wonderful.
While the picking the games in places 12 – 6 was a harrowing, deciding the top five was actually very easy. They were the ones I knew before I even made up the nominee list, and rounding out the bunch is the sequel to one of my absolute favourite eShop games: BOXBOXBOY!
I’m not going to keep spelling it in all caps, though. I find that quite obnoxious.
BoxBoxBoy! takes the simple premise of its older brother and more or less just delivers another huge bundle of levels to solve. If you aren’t familiar with BoxBoy!, the premise is that you play as Qbby, an adorable will cube with eyes and legs, who can create boxes out of thin air to help him traverse the levels of the game. He can only create so many boxes at a time, and they all have to be connected to one another. If Qbby creates a second instance of boxes, the previous set will disappear.
BoxBoxBoy! ups the ante by allowing you to create two instances of boxes, allowing for more complex and more devious puzzles. It’s still a very simple basic concept, but when you come up with the solution to a difficult puzzle, or discover a more advanced trick, it feels oh so good.
I don’t know how a character as simple as Qbby can have so much charm, but a lot of it comes from the extra materials that you can unlock throughout the game. The little comic strips give Qbby and his friends a ton of personality, and they’re often actually very funny. Being able to dress Qbby in any of several dozen costumes is so much fun in itself, and most of these costumes alter Qbby’s animations ever so slightly, making him all the more lovable. Some costumes even impart bonus skills, like high jumps or being able to create a box over any stage’s limit. Of course, us hardcore players don’t use such extra gimmicks because they take away from the purity of solving puzzles in the intended way. But they can sure get you out of a pinch.
For an unassuming little eShop game that came out of nowhere, BoxBoy! won over my heart and mind in a flash. BoxBoxBoy! is really just more of the same, but I can absolutely respect that, as its exactly what I wanted. Messing with the formula too much would have stolen some of its charm, but this iterative sequel fits just right.
Resident Evil Revelations 2
While the main series of Resident Evil games just kept getting more action-focused and more and more detested by fans, there was a little team somewhere at Capcom that decided it would be their job to return the RE franchise to its more survival- and horror-focused roots. And that little team created the game we know as… Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
Just kidding. It was Resident Evil Revelations, which had the most goofy-ass plot that you’ve ever seen. It was an otherwise strong effort to bring RE back down to something a little less In Your Face, and a little more traditional RE. Also, it was the prettiest 3DS game for the longest time. I really loved it, despite a number of glaring flaws.
Years later, a sequel pops up. On next-gen consoles slash PC. And also as an episodic game. Both made me grumble a bit, as I prefer one-time purchases for my 3DS. However, the platform and multi-purchase gripes were quickly forgotten when I actually played the game, because it is phenomenal. Its not quite classic RE, but its very close, and I can only assume that the co-op mode makes for a great time. RE5 was a blast to play with a friend, so there’s no reason that this game wouldn’t benefit from the option.
So what makes it so great? Well, it’s a toned-down Resident Evil 5, for starters. RE5 is a vastly underappreciated gem, and what makes it shine is that it manages to have that spoopy RE atmosphere while maintaining a solid pace. While I do love the adventure game elements of the classic RE games, there’s no denying that they can come to a screeching halt if you can’t find that one blasted key, or the last door that it unlocks. Revelations 2 gives you a few larger areas to explore and solve puzzles in, but the episodic nature of the game forces it keep moving forward, never leaving you to get stuck or bored.
Like most of the other games on this list, it’s also absolutely brimming with personality. Claire and Moira make a wonderful team, and I desperately want to follow more of their adventures. Despite her bratty nature, Moira is a much better character than all of the new characters from the first Revelations combined. Barry is as charming as ever, and even little Natalia brings a lot to the table, being one of the most fearless little girls ever depicted in media. The story on the whole is much more grounded than the absolutely ridiculous Revelations, but it does have its share of laughably bad moments and at least one totally insane plot twist.
And most importantly of all, we cannot forget Raid Mode. An evolution of the Mercenaries mini-game that was refined over many years and iterations, Raid Mode is where you go when you need an addictive action fix. With a massive slew of levels and tons of unlockables to customize your characters, this is easily one of the best secondary modes ever included in a video game. If it were fleshed out a little more, it could easily be a standalone game. I know that I would buy it in a heartbeat.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force
Possibly one of the most reviled games of all time, at least before it was released. But why? Because it was not what Gamers wanted. The game turned out to be phenomenal, but I think that it still doesn’t get the love that it rightly deserves. Because Gamers are an entitled and awful bunch, and I am often embarrassed that I ever called myself one of them.
So what is it, if not the Metroid game that the masses wanted? It’s a cooperative online multiplayer shooter. Nintendo’s Destiny, if you will. While you would most certainly think that this sounds nothing like a Metroid game, Federation Force still feels exactly like Metroid Prime. And while a lot of that is in its unique control scheme, there’s a certain undeniable Metroid atmosphere about it that really only evokes the feeling of the mainline Metroid Prime games.
I do adore those old Primes, but I think that one the whole, I’ve had significantly more fun with Federation Force. It’s not often that I’ll admit it, but playing with other people can be a much more enjoyable experience than going it alone, and Federation Force proves it. Of course, I say that having only played with someone of a similar skill level. I might have a different experience if I were to hop online and join up with a bunch of kids who haven’t got a clue.
Like any Metroid game, exploration is a key part of progressing in Federation Force, even though it’s divided into a number of shorter missions. Your first run through any stage will be a learning experience, whether that means figuring out the lay of the land, or how to best deal with the waves of Space Pirates that you have to fend off. It is not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, and my brother and I died many times while working our way to the end. Expert players can opt to shoot for high scores on each stage, which are earned by completing the missions quickly, and fulfilling a bonus goal somewhere along the line. Earning top marks in some stages is incredibly difficult, and absolutely requires a certain commitment and probably a full complement of four players.
Federation Force isn’t the Metroid game fans wanted, but it’s a darn good game that is set in the Metroid universe. It expands the franchise and shows that Nintendo can build an excellent online shooter. Nearly every stage has a unique objective or twist, which keeps the action fresh, and there are plenty of reasons to keep playing. It’s a terrific game on the whole, and I hope that the poor reception from “fans” doesn’t discourage Nintendo from continuing to keep doing unexpected things.
Speaking of Nintendo making an excellent online shooter, how about this one? In what may be the Wii U’s most surprising success, Splatoon is a brand new type of game that took the world by storm, and continues to be loved by fans almost two years after its release.
It’s no stretch to say that the video game industry thrives on online shooters. It makes me sad, but them’s the breaks. For whatever reason, that’s the dominant genre, and you really have to struggle against the current to make it big with pretty much anything else. Nintendo had basically no experience with the genre before Splatoon, and yes somehow they knocked it right out of the park on that very first try. The key, of course, was to freshen up the tired old point-and-shoot formula by giving it a brilliant twist and a cool coat of paint.
And paint, that’s the whole point. Splatoon is a four-on-four arena shooter, but the actual goal of any match is territory control, not kill count. You go about this by coating as much of the arena’s floors and other surfaces with your team’s color of ink. Every weapon is a paint gun or roller, which is perfect for covering the playfields in colour. Splatting your rivals will also cause them to pop and be sent back to the starting point. I think that what really drives the point home and makes Splatoon stand out is that it is a shooter that isn’t focused on violence. Yeah, you shoot other players, but it’s with ink. Nobody dies. There’s no blood. There’s no melee option. It’s a very refreshing take on the tired genre.
The only major drawback to Splatoon is the exact same flaw that every other competitive online game has: a month later, the game is entirely dominated by people who only play that one game and have gotten really good at it. So scrubs like me can still hop in, but we’re totally helpless against all the thirteen-year-olds who have devoted their entire lives to it. At least it’s still a ton of fun, even when you can’t win a match to save your life.
Splatoon also comes with a criminally short single-player campaign, and while it doesn’t have quite as much draw as the main game mode, it’s pretty stellar. Functioning as a boot camp for the online portion, it teaches all the techniques you’ll need to succeed and throws you into a few mock battles to let you test your mettle. It also has a fun overworld that throws in some environmental puzzles, and a handful of really, really fun boss fights. I honestly don’t know why it took me over a year to finally finish it. Probably because I knew I’d be left wanting more. The Splatoon Amiibos unlock alternate weapons for the single-player stages, which change the game significantly, but it’s not the same as entirely new content.
Moving forward, I’m very excited for Splatoon 2, and it might just be my second-most wanted game on the new system. I just need more Splatoon in my life. It’s the perfect way to get me into a genre that I will usually ignore with extreme prejudice. I just love those inklings! They’re so cool!
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Could it have ended any other way? Of course XenobladeX is in the top spot. From the very first teaser, I was excited for this game beyond belief, and while it was very different from Xenoblade Chronlicles that came before it, I absolutely believe that the changes were for the best.
I know many people who prefer the first game because of its focus on characters and story, but at the end of the day, when you provide me with a world like Mira, gameplay is going to come first. Monolith thought so too, because the story in XCX seems like more of an afterthought than anything. The world is so vast and so detailed that it’s obvious that they wanted more than anything to create and even more impressive world than the Bionis, and I believe that they succeeded. I have spent so much time simply traveling around Mira, constantly stopping to look at both minuscule details and gigantic landmarks. Fast travel in other video games is a lifesaver, but in XCX it seems like a waste of the most beautiful virtual world ever created.
One of the most important things about XCX is its perfect sense of progression in regards to movement. When you being the game, you’re dropped into this massive world, where you’re allowed to go anywhere. But you have to go on foot. You get a very generous jump, and your guy can run pretty quick, but it’s still a long trek to get anywhere. About 15 hours in, when this slow pace starts to wear you out, you’re gifted with your first skell: a giant suit of mech armor that can transform into a car. Not only is it faster to dash around in your skell, but the car mode is super fast and is great for covering long distances quickly. The one drawback here is that it’s really tough to control the vehicle mode. Finally, around the 30-40 hour mark, your skell is fitted with a flight module. At this point, Mira is yours. You can go anywhere, lickety-split. A tiny, unmarked island out in the middle of the ocean. That mysterious chain of floating masses above Oblivia. The entire Cauldros region, which is blanketed in deadly lava. Enjoy Mira however you like. Just watch out for the titanic dragons that will destroy your skell with a single blow.
You know, looking back, I only now realized that I ranked Xenoblade Chronicles as my #1 game of 2012. And I stand by that. As smart as I try to be, and as cultured as I like to appear, I love this dumb anime crap. Maybe it’s because this is almost literally all of the anime crap that I consume, but it doesn’t seem overwrought or clichéd to me. It’s just silly, over-the-top fun. But this time, with awesome mech suits that you can paint to look like Ninja Turtles. That was really the exact moment that I realized that XCX would be my game of the year. Maybe game of forever. Even almost a year after beating it, I still load up the soundtrack on YouTube to help get through tough days at work. I still think about flying over Mira. The game absolutely has flaws, but I still cherish the memory of taking down my very first lepyx.
Maybe it’s kind of pathetic to admit, and maybe it says too much about how empty my life is, or maybe it’s just the liquor talking, but Xenoblade Chronicles X was an important life event for me. No video game has drawn me in quite as deeply. It was a truly transcendent experience, and one that I don’t think has been replicated by any other game. Make fun of Wii U all you like, but no other games machine has a game quite like XCX.
And so our story comes to a close. I played a heck of a lot of video games last year, and judging by how January has gone so far, I’ll be playing a heck of a lot of video games in 2017. I guess there’s no escaping it; video games are just my thing. The only question that remains is whether or not the games I play this year will end up being impactful enough that I write another 5000-word essay on them. Who knows!? 2017 is starting off with Resident Evil 7 and the Dragon Quest 8 remake though, so I’m going to give it a provisional “you bet.”