Game of the Year 2016 And Other Additional Viscera

I feel very exhausted. I have spent a long time writing this list after an entire year of not taking the time to write because I've been very exhausted. 2016 has taken a lot out of me and it seems like it's taken a lot out of absolutely everyone else as well.

This year I've been the angriest I've ever felt, the saddest I've ever felt and I've experienced a whole lot of despair but the video games that came out this year... were quite good!

This list is 10 of my favorite games that came out this year (because I'm a sucker for structure) in order and 4 other games that I enjoyed that I also played this year that were not released this year. Those bottom four aren't really in order.

I'm a bit tired of writing about games since I've done so much over the past week or so while I've been working on this. So I'll just say that the game that I played this year that I seriously considered for this list that didn't quite make it were Doom and Overwatch. I've also kept track of the games I played and finished this year that you can check out here, if you're curious about that.

I'm sorry if some of the writing on these entries are really long/aren't very good. I really need to find an editor or something.

List items

  • The aspects of Soft Body that I love exist on opposite axes of each other, perhaps because they sort of exist parallel to each other in various ways. The first is that it’s a beautiful game and, again, this manifests itself in a lot of ways but I think that it’s a very aesthetically pleasing game. Visually, Soft Body shifts the oft-contrasting color palette from level to level as you swim among simple shapes and lines. Musically, everything in the game, whether it is interactive or adversarial, responds to you. Whether it's a series of melodic clicks as you paint empty shapes or it’s the foreboding whirs, chirps and hums of an enemy it’s always in the presence of the gentle ambient drone that scores every level. Both of these elements remind me of the graphic design work work by Guy Featherstone for Diagonal and an audio/visual project called ‘Colour Projections’ by Theo Burt.

    The other aspect is the gameplay and, more specifically, the difficulty. In Soft Body you control two entities (serpents? spirits?) one with the left stick (the Soft Body) the other with the right stick (the Ghost Body). Your Soft Body can paint walls while your Ghost Body can destroy enemies when you touch them, among other things. These are the facts that remain true across all four of the game’s difficulty modes; Soft Game, Soft Game+, Hard Game and Hard Game+. In the Soft Game, and only the Soft Game, only your Soft Body is vulnerable and your Ghost Body can be enveloped by your Soft Body which allows you to pretty much play the entire game with the left stick. At its softest, the game experience could be best described as meditative or peaceful. There is a difficulty curve but it feels pretty gentle.

    In the remaining 3 modes the rules are slightly different. In these harder modes your Ghost Body can be destroyed and it must be moved independently from your Soft Body. To succeed in these modes you have to efficiently divert your attention between both pieces of yourself to stay alive. At its hardest, Soft Body might just be one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. It is extremely difficult but never unfair or frustrating. The levels on Hard Game+ are still fairly simple because Soft Body’s idea of difficulty is not to simply throw an absurd number of enemies or bullets at you. It is instead to take advantage of the fact that you have to independently move two entities to perform different tasks. Soft Body’s idea of difficulty is like that old trick where you ask someone to pat their head and rub their stomach. At it’s hardest, Soft Body requires you to perform what feels like nigh impossible mental gymnastics and requires you to exercise some very serious restraint.

    Soft Body is a beautiful game.

  • One of the key things about Thumper that stuck out to me in the lead up to it's release was that the team behind it described as rhythm violence. Because it is such an apt description of the game and it's style.

    There is an uncompromising speed at which the obstacles approach you on the railway. There is an intense physicality to the way the chrome beetle you control pounds against a note or slams into a turn. The environment and the constructs the live within it are both familiar and entirely alien. The music is largely percussive and establishes an oppressive atmosphere with it’s dramatic swells and constant pulsing. The intermissions between movements instill paranoia as you move about free from any apparent danger. Every element of Thumper is incredibly hostile in every possible way and every action you’re able to perform is like a grand act of retaliation.

    Your collection of moves seems very sparse but the game subtlety hints at techniques you can perform as the number of hurdles increase on your journey through rhythm hell. And as you perform these moves perfectly, rhythmically, in time with the game you can really see that Thumper really nails it as a rhythm game too. It’s made abundantly clear during the last level, where the game subverts everything you expect from the genre. Every sense of pattern or a distinguishable rhythm disappears and you have to purely rely on feel to succeed. Thumper is a game about becoming a part of a punishing soundscape and it feels so, so good.

  • I don’t consume a lot of media that you could call cyberpunk and I don’t drink either but I knew from the moment I saw early screenshots of VA-11 HALL-A that I would love it, and I do! At a first glance I can tell that it draws a lot of inspiration, at least visually, from the PC-98 and other similar Japanese computers that a lot early visual novels came out on. Upon playing it’s pretty easy to see all the winks and nods to other media as it wears them pretty openly on its sleeve. In particular, there are quite a few deep cuts related to iDOLM@STER in this game that I really appreciate but this game is a lot more than a bunch of sly references.

    VA-LL HALL-A is not about anything you would immediately assume a cyberpunk story would be about. It is a game about people trying to survive in the world as best they can, the people just sometimes happen to be augmented, genetically enhanced, artificial humans or talking dogs. The characterization and world-building takes place almost entirely through dialogue and occasionally through bespoke user interfaces. The entire vibe of the game is like being around a group of friends who know each other very well and it is incredibly pleasant. Although, it’s not all entirely pleasant.

    There is a point about a little over halfway through the game (here’s a quick SPOILER WARNING so avert your eyes if you’re sensitive to that sorta thing) where a someone very close to the protagonist, Jill, dies suddenly and unexpectedly. I also lost someone very, very close to me earlier in the year before I played this and that moment hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. I thought that I had made peace with what and that I had gotten over it (I’m still not quite over it, honestly) but the similarities that I saw between Jill’s situation and my own made me realize that I hadn’t even allowed myself to grieve or even cry about it.

    It took me a while to gather myself and finish VA-11 HALL-A but I’m really glad I did. Jill picks herself up, holds her head up high and makes peace with her situation and although I’m not quite there myself, I think I’m slowly getting there!

  • I haven’t played as much of this game as I would’ve liked to, I’ve only finished it once so far, but I felt like I got a pretty good impression of Ladykiller in Bind from that single playthrough. From that single playthrough one of the ideals that seemed to exist of the center of it is respect. There is an explicit, spoken respect for the limits and desires of The Beast and The Stalker who are both sexually and romantically involved with each other over the course of the game. I can only assume this is also true for The Beauty but I haven’t played through her route so I can’t say for sure. That aside, there is also a similar sense of respect between the game and the player. Every choice you make that has a mechanical consequence is presented rather clearly as is the tone and intent of each choice. The game tries to establish ‘the line’ together with you, instead of simply assuming what the line might be. It is incredibly thoughtful and Ladykiller does it all while simultaneously being very a funny, sexy, flirty and wholly self-aware game. I wish I had played more of it but even the single playthrough I did was really impactful. I will definitely make some time next year to finish up all the other routes!

  • I actually don't really have much to say about the Witness despite it being so high up on this list, embarrassingly enough. I think it's a very impeccably designed game and that the true nature of what the game tries to say, or rather what it tries to say philosophically, isn't really something I engaged with during my time with it. Solving puzzles and simply being on that island is a very calming experience. As I mentioned, it's a very intelligently designed game and you can definitely feel where are all the development time went into it when you play it.

  • I’ve tried many times to get into SFIV, giving it more chances whenever another upgraded version was released but it never really clicked with me. Most of my time with that game was spent watching it being played in tournaments or messing around in training mode to experiment with characters. When Street Fighter V first launched it lacked many features and felt very rushed. The gameplay was more or less the only part of the game that felt complete and, much to my surprise, was incredibly fun! Not that I was expecting it to be bad but after bouncing off of SFIV so many times I wasn’t expecting it to feel so fluid. Since then, I’ve mostly stuck to ranked matches and it’s been my current fighting game of choice. I’ve been able to apply all the knowledge I’ve slowly absorbed from watching so many streams and it’s made losing an opportunity to learn where I can improve. Watching tournaments has become an even more exciting experience now that I have a deeper connection to one of the biggest games in the FGC at the moment. I cheer harder when someone plays one of my favorite characters and I try to take notes when I see some interesting tech being used. Despite the game's rocky launch (and continued missteps and mistakes post-launch) the game's slowly getting better now that Season 2 has started. I don’t see myself getting tired of it anytime soon either!

  • For as long as I've known about it, The Binding of Isaac (and Rebirth) has been not only one of my favorite games but one of my favorite action roguelikes.

    In the years following there have been tons of games that have existed in the same space as Isaac that have either failed to capture my interest or have paled in comparison to it.

    Enter the Gungeon is the first game to come even close to touching the crown that Isaac has held for me. Which isn't to say that I can't like them both (because I do) but Gungeon might have become the new standard by which I judge these sorts of games.

  • SUPERHOT looked very cool when it first came out of the 7 Day FPS game jam and 3 years later, SUPERHOT turned out even cooler than it initially seemed to be. The super slick look, the over-the-top meta narrative and the ephemera that exists outside the gameplay. It’s just all really cool, I can’t really think of a better descriptor than that.

  • Devil Daggers is a game with a clear focus; stay alive as long as you can on a dark, isolated platform whilst hellish creatures emerge from the darkness to try and end your life. The game measures all sorts of stats after your run ends, such as enemies killed and gems collected, but time is the most important of these.

    How long you survive determines your spot on the scoreboard and you can compare your times to your friends or the entire pool of players. Devil Daggers is a leaderboard game, a style of where and it's a pretty good one of ‘em too. For some reason though, I’ve totally soured on this game compared to how I felt when I first started playing it. I remember the earliest runs I had, the tangible sense of progress when I managed to clear my previous best time and encounter a new wave of enemies. I remember somehow being the 9th best person in the world at this game (even if that only lasted for a day or two). I remember feverishly spending entire days trying to best myself. It was all so exciting but now I can only really look back at Devil Daggers in spite. I’m not quite sure what happened between then and now but I do remember those few good moments, even if they didn’t last very long.

  • We're living in a post-Dark Souls world, we have been for a while now. You don't have to look hard to find things being called 'the Dark Souls of X' or games being compared to it for even being even little bit more difficult than your average game.

    I feel as though those sorts of games only focus on the mechanical aspects of Dark Souls (when the comparison is apt, that is) and pay little heed to the other elements; the lore, the exploration and the mystique, all of which I consider to be part of the series' appeal.

    Dark Souls III is certainly the full package. The combat is as engaging as it's ever been with the addition of the weapon arts and lore-wise it's maybe the most interesting entry in the series for me.

    It felt pretty nostalgic seeing so many familiar places, names and people again and in even worse condition than they were the first time I saw them. Part of me wonders if this feeling of nostalgia is a clear sign of decline.

    That same part of me wants to believe in the finality I felt in the final moments of Dark Souls III. From Software has said as much about this being the last proper Dark Souls game and I really hope they keep to their word.

    As much as I enjoy these games, the genuine articles that they are, this third time around the fire isn't burning as bright as it used to.

  • Flywrench has been on my short list of games that I really need to check out since it released last year and I really regret not playing it last year. If I had it would've definitely been on my top 10 list because it's one of my favorite games of all time.

    There are a myriad of things about Flywrench I could point at to convince someone that it's a good game but I think I've narrowed down what makes it one of my favorites.

    I can't quite tell whether it's intentional or not but everything about Flywrench, from the way it looks down to how it feels to play, meshes very well with jungle/hardcore breakbeat.

    The original soundtrack (which is also good) definitely brings a similar vibe to the table but I've found that listening to anything that heavily features breaks greatly enhances the experience.

    It's gotten to the point where it's become almost impossible to listen to any jungle (and I listen to A LOT) or anything with a similar 'ardkore vibe without also thinking of Flywrench.

    Not like that's a huge problem though, I've beaten this game dozens of times over the course of the year and I'm sure I'll finish it dozens of more times from here on out.

  • Coming off of XIII-2, which I consider to be worse than Final Fantasy XIII in a lot of ways, Lightning Returns is such a welcome breath of fresh air. Not in the sense that is a return to form but that instead of iterating on mechanics that pretty much worked the first time around they decided to just do something different.

    And it's quite different! Lightning Returns ditches traditional leveling, switches to a more active battle system and has a very interesting countdown timer mechanic (think Majora's Mask or something along those lines).

    That's all well and good but the schema system (the dress up stuff) is legitimately my favorite thing about this game.

    I don't own a lot of clothes, the clothes I do own aren't particularly fashionable and I'm too broke most of the time to afford nice clothes. So I'll gladly embrace any game that allows me to seriously engage with fashion on some level and Lightning Returns allows me to do that... for whatever reason.

    It's a game that kinda just lets you wear whatever you want while you're trying to save a doomed world. It's very weird but also extremely cool, I've put about 40 hours in it and I've felt like I've just barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. I hope I make some time in the future to get back to it!

  • Before I picked up Dual Destinies it had been quite a while since I played a Phoenix Wright game. Trials & Tribulations was the last one I played and the came out 9 years ago!

    It had been so long that I had actually forgotten how much I love this series and Dual Destinies hit all the familiar beats of an Ace Attorney game without feeling like a total rehash of old ideas.

    The eccentric characters, punny names, gotcha moments and courtroom drama are all present and believe me when I say it all just puts a big smile on my face when I think about it.

    Plus, the switch to 3D models for the characters and backgrounds instead of sprites is a real noticeable improvement. The existing animations for returning characters translate well and I found myself being consistently impressed with the animations and visuals as the game went on.

    I've actually purchased Spirit of Justice and that HD Trilogy collection a few days ago effectively making my 2DS a Phoenix Wright machine, and I couldn't be more excited about that!

  • When I first starting playing euphoria I didn't expect this game to be in GB's wiki, thus enabling me to write about it right now, and I certainly didn't expect to play it for 40 hours.

    Trust me when I say that euphoria is probably as, if not more, disgusting and reprehensible as the description of it on this site makes it out to be. There is actually quite a bit more to this game than what it initially appears to be. I don’t think I can accurately or expeditiously explain what it does right and wrong because that requires a lot of nuance and I just don’t think this is really the best place for it.It’s a tough thing to talk about, if there were a single game I regret not dedicating a lot of time to write about it’s definitely euphoria. I will say that it never really tries to glorify the abhorrent things that take place over the course of the story and that it tries to have its cake and eat it too. When it gets away with it (for lack of a better term) it’s really impactful and incredibly saddening and when it doesn’t it’s kind really bad. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy most of it when it was all over though. euphoria isn’t really recommendable but it certainly is memorable.