R.G. picks his favourite console releases from the year that was. Did your number one make the cut?
In my opinion, 2016 was one of the best years for gaming in recent memory, both in the indie spectrum and in the land of the Triple-A, so it was difficult to narrow down ten. I would probably define 2016 as the year when many games that were in development for a long time were finally released to the public. Some were good and worth the wait, while others were complete and utter disappointments.
Like all lists made by people, this one is incredibly subjective, so don’t take it too seriously. If you have a favourite that doesn’t appear, I probably haven’t played it or didn’t enjoy as much as you did. Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Games of 2016.
Honorable Mention: Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary (PS4, PC)
Since Rise of the Tomb Raider officially came out in 2015, I couldn’t really put it on this list, even if I really wanted to, but since it came out on the PS4 in last year, I want to do justice to an amazing action-adventure title. A sequel to the excellent Tomb Raider reboot three years ago, Rise is pretty much the perfect follow-up that improves on every foundation the original laid out. Finally coming out on the PS4 after its ludicrously-timed exclusivity on the Xbox One, Sony owners get the entire package with this release celebrating twenty years of Tomb Raider with all the DLC packed into it, as well as an extra VR mode if you own a PSVR. With an even more personal story for gaming’s most iconic female hero, a refined mixture of exploration, combat and character building, and breathtaking cinematic action scenes that gives Uncharted something to think about, it is a top tier action game that few can rival in terms of quality.
10. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U)
Let’s face it – the Wii U is dead!
After a delay to 2017 for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the one game that could have been the ultimate swansong for the Wii U and its eventual port to the upcoming Switch, it’s clear that Nintendo doesn’t want to be associated with one of their biggest failures. There are even rumours that Breath of the Wild might be cancelled on the system that it was initially developed for. It’s a shame really since the Wii U is a cool machine that had great exclusives, and in my opinion, was the only system this generation that felt like an actual console rather than a watered-down PC imitator. Granted, from the very rare titles that have been released for it in 2016, we’ve seen a few great ones. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the best out of the minute Wii U output last year. If rumours are true about Breath of the Wild being canned (which I highly doubt), I would probably consider this the Wii U’s last good exclusive.
Intended as a crossover of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei and Intelligent System’s Fire Emblem, Tokyo Mirage Sessions takes both of its mash-up’s greatest assets to deliver a colourful and engaging JRPG. Set in modern day Japan with an Idol theme surrounding it, it is a straight up turn-based JRPG that doesn’t offer much in terms of innovation, but encompasses a solid, challenging experience with a unique style of presentation. It mixes Shin Megami’s elemental weakness system and Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle to give the combat huge strategic depth, and as expected from a crossover title of two franchises renowned for their high difficulty, it is a genuine challenge. Also, the way it presents itself, from its catchy j-pop soundtrack to the easy-on-the-eyes anime aesthetics, it adds a bright, chipper atmosphere to the mix. It is quite disappointing, though, that the story and cast fall into predictable anime clichés, which is surprising since the Shin Megami and Fire Emblem series are known for their excellent narratives and memorable characters. Also, it feels more like a Shin Megami Tensei game as the Fire Emblem aspect of it is the weapon triangle and personalities, while the rest is like a lighter, less depressing SMT. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it would’ve made a bit more impact if it had the same number of features from both franchises. Nonetheless, this is a good time if you love JRPGs, and a great in-between game before Persona 5 comes out. If you still happen to own a Wii U, check this game out.
9. The Last Guardian (PS4)
This game was one of the most famous titles to be stuck in development hell, being initially announced at E3 in 2009 for the PS3 before moving to the PS4 because of hardware limitations. It also coincided with many departures in the development studio Team Ico, where work on the game eventually transitioned to genDESIGN with the same director, Fumito Ueda, and former members of Team Ico as consultants. I am probably one of the few that didn’t care much for the hype surrounding it, as I wasn’t really that impressed with the reveal trailer and subsequent gameplay highlights, so I didn’t have lofty expectations going into The Last Guardian, even though I consider Ueda’s previous work, Shadow of the Colossus, to be a modern masterpiece.
One of the most interesting games to come out in 2016, The Last Guardian is a showcase of breathtaking aesthetics and an imperfect yet innovative approach to gameplay. You are a boy who befriends a giant dog-bird thing called Trico, and together, you solve puzzles in cooperation to progress. Its main mechanic and star, Trico, is both the best thing about the game and the worst. Trico is as realistic an animal as you can get in video games, from how he’s designed to his behavior, the ridiculous amount of detail creating him, and the way every puzzle is fittingly designed around him. It’s like having a giant dog beside you. Of course, like an actual mutt, he doesn’t listen 100% of the time. Trico’s realism is like a double-edged sword. He will usually follow your commands as intended, and if he does, it’s an amazing feeling, but there were times when he will just meander about, not doing what you are telling him, which makes progress slow and a sheer test of patience. Also, controlling the boy feels like your skating on ice without actual ice skates, making the platforming fidgety. Thankfully, the puzzles and platforms themselves are simple enough not to be too frustrating against the slippery controls and Trico’s inconsistent AI, but cryptic enough that they will make you think twice. Despite its obvious flaws, what I appreciate about The Last Guardian is that it has an admirable vision that you rarely see in Triple-A games these days. Akin to Ueda’s previous works, the title is all about conveying emotion without showing off too much. There’s rarely any dialogue, background music comes in once and a while, and for most of the playthrough, it is just you, Trico and a desolate land full of mystery. Trico is quite possibly the most engaging video game companion I’ve met since Midna from Twilight Princess (kudos to the people who designed and animated him). While his occasional cluelessness and meandering is frustrating gameplay-wise, it also strangely adds a sense of endearment to the character in addition to his believable bond with the boy. Ueda’s less-is-more approach to its execution of gameplay, and the presentation of its environments, gives the game an otherworldly atmosphere that I would like to visit again. It’s a title that is not made for the impatient but it is worth giving a go just for how unique it is.
8. Kirby: Planet Robobot (3DS)
The Kirby series is one of Nintendo’s most underappreciated franchises. Yes, it sells well but it doesn’t have the same cultural impact in comparison to its fellow Nintendo brethren. Like previous Kirby games, it is a straightforward and very easy platformer that emphasises how its titular character is the incarnation of death and destruction, but it’s utterly solid in its overall execution and fun factor. Kirby’s copy abilities are still the main pull and the most fun aspect of the game, allowing you to devour enemies and steal their powers, giving you numerous approaches in beating a level. It also provides a variety of gameplay styles that are incredibly distinct. The gimmick this time is that, in addition to Kirby being a remorseless, unstoppable being of doom that will eat anything without any morality, he can now ride giant mechs that will do more devastation to the land. Even if it still uses the same engine as its 2013 predecessor Triple Deluxe, the game looks fantastic in terms of Kirby’s seemingly happy and approachable presentation. One of the few titles that is enhanced by the hardware’s 3D capabilities, the level design is based on using the hardware’s main gimmick, where background and foreground is an important aspect of how a level is presented. I can say without a doubt that Planet Robobot has the best selection of levels I’ve seen in the series so far, brimming with endless imagination and chock full of ways to navigate through them. If you are a fan of Kirby and platforming games in general, Planet Robobot is a must-have.
7. Pokémon: Sun/Moon (3DS)
Here we are again with a brand-new generation of Pokémon. Regardless of what people say, Pokémon is a monster of a franchise loved and hated by a lot of people, with 2016 being its most successful run in years thanks to a little mobile app called Pokémon GO. Sun and Moon are another solid addition to the long-running series, and while it isn’t as impactful or memorable as X and Y, the new elements it introduces and the numerous improvements are very welcome indeed. Intended to shake up the formula of the series, it adds and removes a lot of features that were utter standards for Pokémon before this game came along. Doing away with the structure of going from gym to gym collecting badges, you instead perform Island Trials where you undertake certain quests to progress. This ranges from collecting a specific number of items to beating a Pokémon boss known as the Totem Pokémon, with the Trials ending in challenging the Island Kahuna to a battle. Hidden Machines are completely non-existent as you can just page a rent-a-Pokémon to fly to a destination or cross a body of water. Using a revamped version of the engine used in X and Y, it is the most cinematically-presented title in the main series to date, with cutscenes that make it look like the actual anime, and its character and world designs have much more proportion than previous incarnations. Of course, the main draw of Sun and Moon is the same as its predecessors – the addictive gameplay where you catch and train Pokémon and be the very best. Like in X and Y, the online is still the best feature of the game. It is easy to use and incredibly streamlined, with many fun additions like the Festival Plaza. Overall, it’s another solid, consistent entry to an enduring franchise that is showing no signs of slowing down.
6. Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xbox One)
I didn’t really imagine a mainline Final Fantasy game getting into my Top 10 list. The previous entries, XIII and XIV, were such colossal piles of crap, along with other stupid decisions Square Enix made with Final Fantasy, that I pretty much lost faith in the franchise entirely. Even if they rebooted XIV into the much-better A Realm Reborn, and improved some things with the XIII sequels, I felt completely betrayed by the series I once loved. I am happy to rekindle my broken relationship as XV is the best Final Fantasy game Square Enix has made in a decade.
Like The Last Guardian, this was a title that was stuck in limbo for a long time – ten years in fact. XV is the most drastically different title in the series to date as it goes out of its way to radically change the foundation which made Final Fantasy a staple of Japanese Role-Playing games. Gone is the turn-based combat, random battles and grinding for levels that the franchise revolutionised, and instead opts for an open-world, action-oriented sandbox that emphasises exploration and side quests. It is so left-field in terms of its identity as a Final Fantasy game that, at times, it doesn’t feel like one at all. The combat, while it does take a while to get used to, is akin to a hack-and-slash that imitates the flashy fights from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, but keeping with its roots, still retains a sense of strategy about it. The cast of characters are the most likeable I’ve seen since Zidane and his crew in IX, and a far cry from the painfully dull and insufferable cast of XIII. Not only that, it is gorgeous to look at, with its scenic, photo-realistic world, incredible attention to detail, and the jaw-dropping larger-than-life boss battles. Of course, it isn’t without its flaws and the title does show signs it has been in development for a long time with different directions, with its story feeling a bit jumbled and incomplete. Some points require you to watch two related films just to fill in the holes. There are a few instances in the game where the plot grinds to a halt or feels like you’ve skipped something. The battle system, while fun and strategic, can be frustrating thanks to its wonky camera, especially in narrow areas. Still, it’s great to see a franchise return to form after many years of disappointments.
5. Overwatch (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
If you look back through 2016, there is one game that pretty much ruled the entire year in terms of popularity and cultural impact. Okay, maybe two because of Pokemon GO, but that was more of a fad most folks have forgotten already. With Overwatch, though, people are still playing it since it was released many months ago. Overwatch took the gaming world by storm, and while it has its fair share of detractors, it’s undeniable how fun, accessible and refined this colourful mulitplayer shooter is. Taking the class-based system that Team Fortress 2 popularised and team work in the style of a MOBA game, what you get is one of the most exhilarating multiplayer first person shooters since… well, Team Fortress 2. While light in overall content and questionable in terms of being a £45 retail game at launch, the accessible yet polished gameplay mechanics, fascinating lore, and incredibly memorable characters just does it for me. Every single playable hero has their own personality, highly recognisable design, interesting backstory, and completely different playstyles that I guarantee suit anyone, be it someone who plays shooters casually to hardcore players in it for the glory of competition. Nothing much else to say other than it is an addicting, gleeful multiplayer experience – possibly the best of its kind in 2016!
4. Doom (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
While Overwatch was the best multiplayer shooter I played in 2016, the same feeling goes for Doom in the single-player category. Hearkening back to the FPS games of the 90s, Id Software rekindled the no-nonsense, no mercy, non-linear, balls-to-the-walls kill-a-thon they revolutionised for the genre back then. While this type of game has existed many times before, it is incredibly refreshing to see one that is totally the antithesis of what the genre has evolved into. There’s no reloading, no linear corridors, and you can carry a lot of weapons and switch them out at will; the iron sight is pretty much scrapped.
The goal of the game is to navigate a research facility on Mars and kill as many demons as possible. Doom excels in highlighting fast-paced, bullet-dodging gameplay, non-linear level design that indulges on exploration, and a no-holds-barred approach to brutality. There’s a unique variety of weapons and features, like glory kills, to add to the carnage. Every maneuver you can do to avoid incoming attacks, and every demon you brutalise via a shotgun or chainsaw, is a feeling that transcends satisfying. I was also surprised by how your silent character is portrayed. Despite keeping his mouth shut during the entire game, the guy shows a lot of personality and charisma through his actions alone, from aggressively shoving a communication screen to the side while someone is talking to him, to remorselessly ripping out a fragile piece of equipment after being told to remove it with care. Even when surrounded by a ton of demons and being ordered around by a pretentious android via speakers, his one aim is to massacre all of hell’s inhabitants, and he couldn’t care less about fixing up the research facility. If you are sick of the standard shooters that have marred the industry for the past decade, Doom is the catharsis you will need.
3. Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)
Fire Emblem‘s rise to prominence is possibly one of the most fascinating tales of success I’ve seen in video games. The franchise has been around since the early 90s but it only stayed in Japan until Hal Laboratory’s Masahiro Sakurai decided to add two Fire Emblem characters to Super Smash Bros. Melee. After that, interested soared for the once Japan-exclusive, and The West finally got its first Fire Emblem game in 2003. The 2000’s weren’t too kind to the brand as dwindling sales and loss of interest almost ended the series until the release of Fire Emblem Awakening, which was intended to be the last one. Developer Intelligent Systems put everything they could into the game, and in the end, single-handedly saved the IP and took Fire Emblem from an obscure cult series to one of Nintendo’s most highly-revered and bestselling properties.
That success and sudden burst popularity in the series led to Fire Emblem Fates. Split into three campaigns running over twenty hours, it’s the result of the developers getting ahead of themselves since Awakening is now considered a modern classic; they had to deliver. While I still prefer Awakening on a personal level, Fates continues the streak of excellence which the series always delivers. Following in the footsteps of Pokémon, Fates has three different versions – Birthright, Conquest and Revelation – which cater to different audiences. Birthright is more like Awakening – an easy entry point for beginners and players who just want a casual experience. Conquest serves the veteran players and anyone who wants a good challenge. I can testify that Conquest is one of the most cruel and brutal video games I have ever played in my life. Finally, there’s Revelation, which is the middle ground in difficulty between the other two versions. It still retains the nerve-wracking intensity and depth of its grid-based strategy where careful planning and sheer luck is essential, as well as keeping its support system where you can pair your soldiers for additional characters and stat bonuses. Fates is as good as any of the Fire Emblem games before it, with a good story, beautifully presented interface, a memorable cast of characters, and tons of content. My only disappointment for this entry is that the support system doesn’t have much of an impact in comparison to Awakening where the mechanic was an essential part of the story. If I would pick which version is the best, it would be Revelation as it has the greatest story and gameplay style, but since all three pretty much complement one another, the entire Fates package deserves to be recognised.
2. Dragon Quest Builders (PS4, PSVita)
I would not have thought to put this title on the list ordinarily, but Dragon Quest Builders completely blew me away with how ridiculously fun and addicting it is. It didn’t come out with a huge fanfare like its Square Enix sibling Final Fantasy XV, but this game really deserves more attention. Call it a Minecraft clone if you will but Builders takes what works from it and gives it all a unique spin. Plus, Builders is much easier and more streamlined than Minecraft. Builders takes a more goal-centric approach to its otherwise open-world building and crafting gameplay, since more features are unlocked the more quests you undertake. Still, it has so many options in how to develop your character and how you create your town that you will never run out of things to do, regardless of doing the quests. Like all the games in the Dragon Quest franchise, Builders is blessed with Akira Toriyama’s distinctive and iconic art design, and the overall experience of creating whatever you want is just plain fun and absorbing. The difficulty being too easy and the plot being generic are the only negatives I could find. Dragon Quest Builders is the hidden gem of 2016, and I am always looking forward to going back to my hand-crafted town once again.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)
The Uncharted series has been a shining beacon of quality for Sony for years, and to see it finally ending its almost decade-long story of the loveable, smack-talking adventurer Nathan Drake is something to be remembered. My rule for number one is that it should be a game that I had the most fun with and/or had made an incredible impression that has continued throughout the year. 2016 was an excellent year for gaming and, as with my 2015 list with The Witcher 3 and Super Mario Maker, it was another tug of war between Dragon Quest Builders and Drake’s final adventure. You can call me predictable or biased since the franchise is so close to my heart, but since its release, Uncharted 4 still resonates with me as the most fun and emotional gaming experience of last year.
Pulling every refinement they could and pulling no punches with how it progresses to the climax, Naughty Dog pretty much worked the PS4 (a console that is underpowered in my opinion) to its absolute limit, making 4 the most responsive and the most technically marvellous entry in the entire series. The visuals look beautiful, the animation is almost flawless, and the action segments finely choreographed and executed, with the cutscenes being rendered in-game, making each transition seamless. Influenced by Naughty Dog’s previous work on The Last of Us, 4 is the most dramatic and somber Uncharted of the bunch but still retains the charming, tongue-and-cheek nature, endearing characters, and pulse-pounding action which made the franchise so loveable to begin with. Nathan Drake and his merry band of thieves embody where the heart of the series is and Drake’s arc in this title comes full-circle with his first official adventure in Drake’s Fortune nearly a decade ago. While its overall hook is looking for hidden treasures in lost cities and escaping death-defying situations, the series has always been about Drake’s obsession with treasure hunting and how he tries to balance that with the people who care about him. Gameplay-wise, it controls like a dream as it offers the best combat and platforming out of all the Uncharted games, showing how far Naughty Dog has come with the franchise. If you have a PS4 and don’t have this game, I’m going to question why you have a PS4 in the first place. The best game I played in 2016, and by far the PS4’s most definitive title, Uncharted 4 is an essential.