Felix Kramer does PR and production for a bunch of indies, helps organize a slew of events, and generally enjoys video games (except when killing them). Follow @legobutts on Twitter and wish them a happy birthday, which is today, the day you are reading this list.
My 2016 New Year's Resolution was to go to fewer games shows. It was going to be a quiet year, I said. A year to spend with my new cats, my partner, maybe even play some games I wasn't working on. A year to relax. Things would be good, I said. And while I did manage to take the first real vacation I've had in five years, attend only six shows total, and work on the launch of some incredible projects, 2016 was sort of a garbage fire. No matter how hard I try to forget it, Shit Happened this year. So when I was asked to do a 2016 top ten, I viewed it as a therapeutic exercise. Alex came to me in a twitter DM dream like some giant Mufasa head in the night sky. "FELIX. REMEMBER. Remember some of the good you felt. At least some of it. Okay, okay, I know it was a trash year but you played some good games. Talk about them." Listen, Mufasa-Navarro is a realist in my dreams, all right. He doesn't sugar-coat. He gets it.
So, friends, here is my top ten list of 2016: Games to Remember This Garbage Fire Year By. Or, as my therapist would probably say, "Felix's Coping Mechanism: Some Good Video Games of 2016"
You know what? Destiny is good. It's just a good game. And I know I've shied away from listing it in the past, but I'm beyond that now. I shamelessly love this game and everything it's about. I love my stupid purple energy bow, my duck-quack sparrow horn, the dumb particle effects I can add to my respawn. I even love the once-horrible light grind that they've made SO MUCH EASIER over time. But my favourite thing about Destiny (apart from my MIDA multitool) is the genius concept of opt-in multiplayer chat.
I know everyone wants me to play Overwatch, and I understand and recognize how good a game Overwatch is. Believe me. If I could run around as Mercy and never hear or see another player's opinion, I would do it. But as I understand it, thats just not an option. and while I do relish in Blizzard's way of dealing with things like “GG EZ”, I'm just not willing to bash my head against the public chat wall of PvP anymore.
Destiny deals with this in a way that works for me: no visual chat, and voice is opt-in only. You start a PvP match by default with nobody hearing anyone else. If I wanted to, for some reason, assault my ears with the opinions of self-proclaimed hardcore gamers, I'd have to press a series of buttons to do so. I've never done it, or course, but it wouldn't shock me if part of the process included a pop up screen that said "Wait, what. Are you sure? ...Why? Are you absolutely certain you want to join party chat with a bunch of randos?? OK! That's your prerogative I guess! Have fun!" before adding you to the voice chat. The concept that I log on and the worst I have to deal with is an emote of a stranger tapping their foot waiting for me to catch up is, well, a rare treat. Suddenly, I'm free to mess around my first time through a strike. Suddenly, in team PvP, if I place last, I don't have to hear a rando scream at me. They've even focused on multiplayer game design that relies on unspoken cues/signals--the co-op multiplayer assumes you're not on voice chat and guides you with mechanics and visual cues that don't require team communication. AND, to boot, I STILL GET REWARDS FOR PLAYING, even if I lose in the Crucible. A game that rewards you for having fun. Destiny is by default welcoming, and that's new to me. I hope I see more of this in the other games in the future.
I've always gotta include at least one local multiplayer game, and this year it's Overcooked. This Mayhem Simulator is pure fun at its core, and actually ends up feeling a lot like what working in an actual kitchen would be if nobody had any training at all in how to handle a busy dining room. You're guaranteed to be screaming over each other so best to designate roles before you start a level: who is prep, who is cook, who runs around in circles holding the fire extinguisher in case of a massive earthquake that splits your kitchen in two...you know, standard kitchen roles. Play with four players. It's harder that way, but infinitely more fun.
I've played Uncharted 1-3, but never managed to finish one by myself. I've always grown frustrated and passed the controller to someone else in the room once it pulled out a pseudo-supernatural twist or got too combat-heavy. That's not to say I don't love them, they've just proven to be more enjoyable as a movie experience than a playable one for me. But I finished the crap out of A Thief’s End. The story focused on character emotions and motivations that I believed and empathized with. The signature Uncharted scripted action scenes were seamless. Sully was less of a jerk. There was that one lemur. And every time I looked out over a city, I whispered "so much money, so much work”. The team’s attention to detail is just phenomenal.
In fact, the worst part about Uncharted 4 is the fact that Naughty Dog still insists on making Nathan Drake shoot guns. I don’t understand why killing a thousand randos while hanging from a cliffside is a thing in this series! If I had an option to make every combat scene a cutscene instead, I would have taken it. Uncharted benefits from the details, the chase scenes, sneaking past traps, the meaningful interactions between characters. I just want a whole game of that stuff. It might not be what some people call Uncharted anymore, but it's a game I'd sure as hell play.
Video Games are weird, wonderful, and ridiculous and this game is just...it's just all those things. I'd explain more but what I really want you to know is that it delivers 100% on its title and is made by people who eventually patched in an inverted y-axis but called me monster for making them do it. Listen, you play a goddamn one hundred foot tall robot, okay!! And you're golfing! Against friends! And the McElroy brothers run soft, gentle, classic golf commentary juxtaposed with you smashing a 40 story tall building in half in order to get a clear shot to the green!!! This game has its priorities in order. A plus, video games industry, ya did it. Ya birthed truly perfect nonsense.
There’s something about point-and-click games that will always be appealing to me. A childhood of LucasArts games probably sealed that in at an early age. But point-and-clicks that can pull off entire experiences with no written language are particularly magical in my mind, and Samorost 3 scratches that itch perfectly. Amanita are the masters at mystery and world building--the characters, puzzles, and music in Samorost 3 are all equally charming and the environment design has a command of scale second only to Ghibli movies in my mind. A must-play this year.
I've been searching for the words to describe Thumper for two months now and still haven't quite found them. Most people I know think of Thumper as a beat game, but I just can't get away from the feeling that Thumper is the closest thing to an Earthbound-like as I'm going to get for a while. I know it isn't Undertale--and doesn't have that line-by-line dialogue charm--it instead focuses deeply on a part of Earthbound that is just as memorable for me: the feeling of dread. Of being impossibly tiny in the face of enormous evil, of being insignificant but continuing your journey because it's your inexplicable fate. The sheer sense of scale and inferiority that Thumper evokes reminds me so deeply of the hopelessness that coming up against Giygas felt like at the end of Earthbound.
I won't say too much more because I just don't know if this translates for anyone else, but would love to hear your thoughts. Of course, if you're not familiar with Earthbound, my buddy Garret described this game as “being about a guy who is trying to stop a bug from flying into his mouth”. Which is also accurate. Whatever floats your beat-matching space-beetle.
MUDs are super ambitious games to start, being a type of MMO, and an accessible hacker MUD is even more so--I wouldn't know where to start with this but Sean Gubelman went for it. I thought the tutorial was thrilling, but being thrown to the sharks and having to figure stuff out on my own is sort of my jam. It doesn't quite glorify hacking as much as other hacker sims I've played; instead it really is just a lot of you guessing passwords and typing things until you get locked out of systems, then trying another way in. I love it. The personality Gubelman manages to get out of a few lines of text from characters you never see is frankly impressive, and the soundtrack is spot on. I’m really excited to see where this game goes in the next year or so.
So. I love speed runs. I'm going to AGDQ in January just to watch people show off how good they are at playing games quickly. So of course I love games that are made with speed running in mind. Celeste is made by the minds behind Skytorn and is all about gaining mastery of tight controls while performing platforming magic. I was really into Super Meat Boy when it came out and I think the world is always ready for more games that make me wanna play them forever while simultaneously smashing my controller against the wall. Celeste is available now as a Pico 8 project but is getting a full PC release version release in the near future, and I can't wait to watch videos of this game played way faster than I'll ever dream of achieving. Ah, the joy of living vicariously through those with more time for games than I. Thank you, live streaming speed run communities.
Beat games are essential to my life in that I crave a good one at least once a year. Previous titles in the Rhythm Heaven series have been so special to me--the Wii's Rhythm Heaven Fever being a staple still, in my home. But this new release just floored me with how much sheer content it has. Callbacks to older games, spins on previous remixes, entirely new beats--every time I thought it was going to end, it faked me out and just continued to give me challenges. I'm still no where near 100% in it, even though I've completed the main story line. I even bought really expensive noise cancelling headphones to be able to play it on planes, and they were totally worth every penny just for this game. Rhythm Heaven Megamix is LIFE. Seriously. If you're into beat games it's an absolute essential. Plus...it's super cute. Like really cute. Like really really super cute. Play it.
If I had to choose, absolutely HAD to choose a game of the year, because, say, you were withholding a toy from a puppy, and it was the puppy's favourite toy, and you just refused to give it the toy, but instead just dangled it close enough for the puppy to smell and see it but not be able to reach, I'd have to say it was the eerie, perfectly paced, incredibly stunning Inside. From start to end, in just a few hours, Inside managed to take me through a range of emotions that left me completely speechless. I'm not even sure how to tell you more about it without giving it away, so I'll just leave it at this: Playdead nailed the visuals, the twist, and the empathy in such a flawless manner that they made it look easy. It’s the perfect emotional follow-up to their first title, Limbo, and I cannot emphasize enough how perfect the art direction is. Okay! I said it. It’s my GotY. You can give the puppy the toy now, you monster. God.
Some footnotes to clarify a couple things. If you're familiar with me as a human, you're probably wondering why I haven't included a few obvious games on this list. I was on vacation when The Last Guardian and FFXV came out, and I'm not done the previous Ace Attorney title so I haven't played Spirit of Justice yet. So. Let me just say that I'm 100% confident that all those games would have made this list had I had the chance to play them before the deadline. All in all, 2016 was brutal--but I’m glad I spent the time thinking about these games. In fact, I’m going to go make time right now to play some Destiny. It’s the Dawning event, after all. Happy Holidays to everyone, and may 2017 be better to us all.