Tuesday, 20 December 2016

LogicButton's Best Games of 2016

This year has been a mediocre year for games releases. So much of what we’ve been expecting for this generation still seems to be on hold, as both Sony and Microsoft put energy into releasing “improved” hardware before even justifying the hardware that people purchased just under three years ago. If there was phrase to sum up 2016, it would be “still loading”.

All that being said, there have been some solid releases this year. Covering games is different to movies and music in the sense that it’s impossible to cover everything that comes out. Two or three RPGs will take up more time than a handful of smaller games, so it can be difficult to get a conclusive overview of the whole year.

Choosing a top five list is kind of strange in a way because you have to decide on a criteria to base it on. If I did it purely in terms of the game I’ve spent the most time with, that’d be Street Fighter V, and I’ve had a ton of fun playing that game, despite my myriad of issues with it. However, there’s no way in good conscience I can put a game like Street Fighter V on my best of year list, considering it still feels like a game that’s being developed as it goes along.

So I suppose you could say my top five games of this year are the games that I genuinely feel brought something fresh to gaming, or at least made me remember why I love games so much. It’s not been the best nor the worst year for game’s releases, and there’s still been a few gems to pick out of all the chaff.

This list comes with the caveat that there’s still a handful of 2016 releases I’ve not had the chance to play yet; Stardew Valley, Pokemon Sun & Moon, Dishonored 2, Dead Rising 4, Telltale’s Batman and The Last Guardian. So keep that in mind.

With that note out of the way, here’s my picks for the top five games of 2016.

The bathed-in-acid visual style and unsettling “is it an adventure or a nightmare” is what made me put this on the list. There were so many games that were good and could have gone in this spot but I think it was the no-frills attitude of Hyper Light Drifter that made it what it is.

The gameplay is crisp and simple, but layered with little elements of strategy. There’s so many upgrades and weapons that you’re not going to feasibly acquire them all in one playthrough, and they’re all good enough that there’s no clear best upgrade/weapon to take at any one time.

Beyond the core mechanics, there’s the world design and an interesting spaced-out soundtrack that ebbs and flows from mystery to adventure. There’s a distinct melancholy tone to Hyper Light Drifter that I think is what makes it so impressive. It doesn’t dole this out to the player in a heavy-handed manner but rather lets them pull together their own interpretation of what’s happening.

After Hotline Miami,  retro-wave visuals have become more and more popular, and I think Hyper Light Drifter is a great example of taking that influence and doing something novel with it.

I still can’t get over how terrible that title is but it doesn’t change the fact that this game is so much fun. Multi-player shooters are not my thing, at least in terms of the kinds of games I have a tendency to gravitate towards, and yet, I can’t get enough of Overwatch.

The character design/selection is what makes this game. It works in the same way that a good fighting game does: the characters draw players in. I said it in my review, but “maining” character in Overwatch makes little sense; it’s a game about reacting to various team compositions, but I totally understand why players talk about maining characters. The designs themselves draw players to particular characters and it’s this aspect, along with the simple to understand mechanics, that make it so damn addictive.

Aside from the production design, I was thinking, in terms of its gameplay, what sets Overwatch apart, and I think I’ve cracked it. It cherry-picks the best parts of online FPS games (the core shooting), fighting games (the character designs) and Pokemon (reacting to friendly and opposing team compositions) and distils the best from all three genres.

Basically, Blizzard concocted some gaming form of alchemy.

Doom has a map screen. Doom has a map screen that I actually had to use on multiple occasions to orient myself about a level. That alone puts the game on an entire different plane to most other modern shooters.

The level design, the weapons and the monsters, they’re all great. The big kicker though, was that it didn’t pander to fans of the original games. I’ve played Doom and Doom II, I don’t need reminding of what made those games so good, I want something new, fresh and original. Sure, Doom gives obvious nods to the previous games, even the third instalment, but it does it without indulging in shameless nostalgia-pandering.

Dark Souls 3 left me a little disappointed by how much it relied on its own sense of series nostalgia to make sequences more memorable. Doom of all games was the one to avoid that.

Oh, and the map editor. Doom meets Harvest Moon. This is a thing and it is glorious.

The sheer creativity of this game is astounding. I went into Planet Robobot expecting good things. Triple Deluxe was a solid platformer, but that was it. Solid, dependable and conventional.

Planet Robobot just has ideas. No single level of this game is filler, it just hops, glides and floats effortlessly from one stage to the next, doling out more power-ups and more funky concepts one after the other.

The robot suit could have been a gimmick, but by building it into the levels so well it elevates Kirby’s core transformation mechanics. All of a sudden there’s tons of more forms to play around with, and each has their own unique qualities and advantages. It’s like playing through a platform game with a bevy of Super Smash Bros. characters.

And I'm pretty sure that the final boss was meant to be a parody of Donald Trump. That’s an automatic bonus point.

If  we’re going on the game I enjoyed playing the most this year, this is it, bar none. This cross-over really shouldn’t work. It’s Pokemon, it’s Tekken and it’s Street Fighter and those really shouldn’t all manage to blend together so well.

My Machamp is a beast in this game. Ok, probably not any more because I’ve not played in a while but damn if that command throw wasn’t so darn satisfying. It’s rather hard to pin-point what worked so well in this game, but I think what makes it click is how it balances its accessibility with its depth.

More than that I think that the fact that it plays with both 2D and 3D game space simultaneously, and also makes that a game mechanic in and of itself with the phase shift mechanic is what, makes it so ingenious. Pokken Tournament is a game that just about anyone can pick up and play, but it also manages to have oodles of depth and smart design beneath its surface charm.

If there’s one game that the Nintendo Switch needs to get a port of, it’s this.

Those are my top picks for 2016. As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s been a middling sort of year for new releases on the whole. Despite that, there have been plenty of gems. With Sony and Microsoft hopefully getting their (somewhat pointless) mid-generation reboot out of the way with the PlayStation Pro and Scorpio, we can get back to focusing on what matters; games.


Post a Comment