Greg Miller is the Taskmaster of Kinda Funny Games, a Patreon-funded outfit comprised of some kinda funny ex-IGN guys that allegedly have been known to enjoy video games. Additionally, he might still be the commissioner-slash-owner of quasi-infamous video game wrestling promotion League of Heels, though nobody's quite sure about that. What is certain is that #TeamFAT is strong, and powerful, just like Miller's frequently bare-ass stomach. Join the conversation by bugging him on Twitter.
If you listened to most of my podcasts in 2016, you'd probably think that I didn't like The Division. When it came up randomly over the months, I'd talk about how I liked it but how the grindy endgame ruined it for me, about how, after hitting the level cap, I signed on to find my crew doing the same mission over and over in hopes of high end gear, and I bailed never to return. But that single story distracts from the hours and hours of joy I shared with my buds leading up to it. Signing on and running missions with Fran and Scott, changing my outfit on the daily, and spending my solo time chasing down collectibles, those are among my most cherished gaming memories of 2016. Coming up with strategies to take down baddies like Joe Ferro defined that game for me, and it's one of the reasons the latest patch has me thinking about getting the band back together for a trek through the streets of NYC.
Before I even get into it, I want to make it clear: Kinda Funny partnered with Sparcade for an event this year, so if that disqualifies my opinion on the game in your mind, I get it and you can move on. Still here? Great.
Sparcade is my gaming addiction of 2016. Long before we signed the deal to host its December event, I was in love with Sparcade. If you're not familiar, Sparcade is a mobile App that takes classic games (Scrabble, Pac-Man, etc.) and allows you to challenge friends or randos for in-game currency or cash. You level up, unlock bonuses such as earning in-game currency faster, and build a friends list. I don't play mobile games, but I do love me some Tetris. So, when I found out I could make my Tetris games a bit more interesting by putting money on the line or by challenging Kinda Funny Best Friends, I was in. Sparcade is my most played game of 2016. There are three-minute sessions where I wait for a phone call, and lazy Saturdays where I just play match after match. I'm only playing Tetris, I put in $10 day one and not a cent since, and I can see myself playing well into 2017. Not bad for a free game where--if you're not money hungry like me--you never have to put in real cash.
Here's the thing about Inside: a lot like The Division, I didn't like the ending. No spoilers, but I wanted something more conclusive. Still, that doesn't take away from what a masterpiece it is. The levels taught me their rules without beating me over the head with a tutorial, the puzzles challenged me but never frustrated me, and the story resonated without needing a 20-minute cutscene. Every solution left me hungry for the next scenario, and the game is nothing short of a visual delicacy. To some, Inside might be too short or too artsy, but to me, it was just right on nearly every front. Just give me a real ending next time, Playdead.
I thought my love affair with Ratchet and Clank was over after Sony insisted on shoving the duo into all kinds of different game genres, but 2016’s Ratchet & Clank said to hell with that. I was incredibly late to actually playing Ratchet & Clank, as I was “over it”, but with everyone under the sun telling me to give it a chance, I left it on my PS4 in hopes that one day the mood would strike. One Sunday, it did, and I remember sitting there with such a dumb grin on my face as I played. The interaction between Ratchet and Clank, the return of Captain Qwark, and the simple pleasure of smashing crates to collect bolts--Ratchet & Clank was like catching up with an old friend you hadn't seen in years. I loved that experience of playing it under the perfect circumstances so much that I haven't gone back to beat the last half of the game. I want to wait for that next perfect Sunday to snuggle my wiener dog Portillo and rejoin my two friends somewhere in the galaxy.
Goddamn does it suck that Episode 5 of Batman: The Telltale Series is so messed up because the game has been so good. If you're just meeting me, I’m a DC Comics fanboy, so mashing up one of my favorite storytellers with one of my favorite superheroes is pretty much a dream come true. But saying that sells Batman: The Telltale Series short. First and foremost, Telltale grabs the wheel and takes the Caped Crusader in some radical directions. The story isn’t just a play-through of a tale you know; villains and comrades aren't necessarily who they've always been, and Telltale twists the lore in ways I've never seen Batman’s story bent. Beyond that--BEYOND!--the game allows you to be the Batman you believe in. For me, that's the hero that put Gotham above all and wants to be a shining example for her people, but if you see Batman as a creature of vengeance born to strike fear into all who know his name, you can do some truly brutal stuff here. Layer on the decisions where you pick if you're going to handle a situation as Bruce or Bats, and you have a Telltale game that feels personal and oddly foreign when you talk to someone going down a path you didn't. Now, if they could just fix the damn game engine…
A long time ago, I reviewed The Unfinished Swan for IGN and described it as “a storybook for you to open up and get lost in.” Song of the Deep was that to me in 2016. A simple game that flew under most people’s radar, Song of the Deep is all about a young girl named Merryn and her search to find her father. An Irish woman with a beautiful voice narrates the story as Merryn descends into the sea and we play a gorgeous, 2D Metroidvania title. Song of the Deep isn't all that challenging, and might overstay its welcome just a bit, but the combination of visuals, score, story, narration, and so much more made it a title I couldn't get out of my head. As lame as it might sound, this was akin to my mother reading me a story as a child. There's something comforting about the whole experience that makes it so much more than the sum of its parts.
4. Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs 2 was a game I kept forgetting about. We'd be talking on podcasts about the games of the fall, and after droning on and on, someone would finally go “Oh, and Watch Dogs 2.” After playing at a preview event, I was confident the gameplay was fun, but I had no idea if the story and world would be one I'd want to spend hours in. Now, holding my Platinum Trophy, I can tell you it sure was. Watch Dogs 2’s San Francisco is bright, colorful, and fun. You're an almighty hacker, and you're allowed to laugh, hang with friends, and watch the latest movie trailer. The upgrades to your abilities are interesting and, more importantly, lead to you building your own version of the main character Marcus. I was horrified--HORRIFIED--when I chatted with some friends and found out that they were shooting people in their play-throughs. Each and every mission to me was a puzzle that began with Marcus sitting down right on the edge of the restricted zone and deploying his drone or RC car to scout the area and complete the mission without Marcus ever having to get his hands dirty. If he did need to go in, it was hacks on phones and distractions that I used--never bullets. It's a game that allows you to tackle things your way and build your own narrative; I love that.
A first-person dungeon crawler touch game: that's Severed, and honestly, there's nothing much in that boilerplate description that would make me want to pick it up. However, toss in that it's a Drinkbox Studios game--the folks that gave us Mutant Blobs Attack and Guacamelee--and I'm interested. Severed just works. It's just challenging and long enough to feel perfect. Swiping is responsive, the map is great about pointing out secrets you can't access now and what power you'll need to do it one day, and the story of a girl out to avenge her family keeps everything moving. Severed won't take you long, but the memories--and that art style--stick with you.
I wanted to love Overcooked from the moment Colin read its description on PS I Love You XOXO. A cooperative game where you're a short order cook with a friend on the same couch? I'm sold, but thankfully for me and the rest of us, Overcooked is so much more than that. Your first game is cute, but the time it takes to go from having a good time to calling out that you need onions or someone’s got to get the steak off the burner is the real story. Overcooked does that delightful thing where it makes success easy but perfection seem obtainable. When I play with friends, we do a trial run of every level, breakdown what went wrong and how we can turn orders faster, and then dive in for that three-star run. Chopping three tomatoes to make a soup might seem simple, but hours slip by and you're making burritos on a space station while screaming in your living room. Overcooked is a work of art.
I'm a sucker for Uncharted, and a Thief’s End delivered the conclusion I always wanted to Nathan Drake’s story. The gameplay I love is here, but it's the moments between Nate and Elena, Nate and Sam, and even Nate with himself that steal the show. I guess, in my heart, putting Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End at the top of my list almost feels like a cheat as it's the payoff to a story that began so long ago, but it's what I've always wanted. There's a moment when Nate and another character put off an important conversation like they have so many times before but then finally go, “You know what, let's address it right now instead,” and I cheered in my living room. I love these characters. I've been around them for a decade or so. Seeing Nate tie up the loose ends, evolve as a character, and take on another adventure is what matters to me. And that Epilogue--are you kidding me?!