Best Games I Played in 2016

Banner year for me in terms of knocking off a few lengthy games, some inarguable landmark classic things, AND some stuff from the last couple years. This list is about as odd as the year in which I played and/or finished the games on it.

List items

  • So full disclosure, I played this on a 3DS and abused save states like a son of a bitch. I'll also admit that there were a few levels involving those ladder and platform creation blocks that vexed greatly. Having said those things, this is a simply staggering game. As SMB is basically everything a NES can do natively, I think this is even more impressive as it manages to take a four screen arcade game, combine it with some of the wisdom of nearly a decade of Super Mario games, and produce over one hundred levels of A+ top tier platforming. There are even some elements of Super Mario 64 in here! Really, there's back springs and hand stands that feel like they're legit from the future! What's more, this is also a game that *almost* justifies existence of the Super Game Boy. Running in color with additional sound enhancements and graphical treatments, it really feels like a labor of love and a swansong to two-dimensional Mario games from Shigeru Miyamoto. Not only is it the best game I played this year, it's also one of the single best Nintendo games ever made.

  • I shouldn't have beaten this game this year. Without going into too many details, I was living on friends' couches for a few weeks early in the year. One of these friends I've known since my first day of college, and we definitely both have acquire some of the other's shit over the years. At some point I poked through a stack of her DS games, and there was a copy of Retro Game Challenge. I booted it, and it was actually *my* old copy of RGC, untouched since 2010 and nearly finished. I was on the "complete every fake game in this game" phase of play, and holy shit did I appreciate having Robot Ninja Haggle Man & Co. to keep me occupied again. I had originally played damn near all of RGC at a point in my gaming life where I was starting to appreciate the finer points of classic video game ephemera. I was only later made aware of the fact that this game is intrinsically tied to the wonderful Game Center CX program in Japan. I also learned of a Japan-only sequel, which I have earnest intentions of playing someday. It was great to rediscover this game at all, but the circumstances made it even sweeter.

  • What do you even say about this game? I think it's the first one I ever really played, as a gift my parents bought for myself and my two brothers in 1992. We were frankly quite poor as a family at that point, and years later my mother would apologize for buying my four year old self a used video game console as a present. I didn't care, and I stil don't. Super Mario Bros. is timeless, and over the years I've probably played it hundreds of times. But this year, I finally sat down to beat it on original hardware. And while the platforming leaves something to be desired (this was also a year I finished Super Mario World, which I enjoyed immensely but lack the nostalgia for, and Super Mario Maker, which absolutely tweaked SMB physics a bit to make them more palatable), this is quite simply mandatory material for anybody interested in the hobby. It's the most the base NES/Famicom could pull off, emerging just as new memory mapper chips allowed games to exceed the platform's natural boundaries. I beat every individual world before allowing myself to use warps, so I have played and beaten every level in the game before using the 4-2 warp. And after pounding away for a day or two, I managed to duck under Bowser one last time and beat the first video game I ever did play, twenty four years later.

  • Maybe it's because I'm late to the Horizon party. Maybe it's because it's the "new" game I got to play on the Xbox One S I bought. Maybe it's just that it's been a while since I played a racer that didn't have "Burnout" in the title. Either way, FH3 is one of the best things I have played this year. The game looks fantastic on the console, and when I build a new PC next year this is one of the first things I'm going to test. The soundtrack is a little EDM heavy, but it's hard to care too much when I'm doing 200pmh in a Lotus Esprit driving into a sunrise on the coast. Major shoutout to individual force feedback on the triggers on the Xbox One controller, it makes the simple act of driving in this game feel visceral in a way that simply must be felt to be understood.

  • As good as SUPERHOT made me feel, getting through the final boss rush of ActRaiser felt like it put some additional hairs on my chest. There's so many things to like about this game, from the world-shattering Yuzo Koshiro score to the strangely ballerina-like jump of the player character, straight up called THE MASTER. I even learned the bullshit where you need to be extremely careful about your city building to not overload the in-game sprite limit on a particular town and thereby prevent the population from growing sufficiently to unlock the last piece of your health bar. And yeah, I'm not going to say that this is Souls level hard or anything, but it was a stiff challenge for myself and I overcame it on original hardware, fair and square. I also found it at a Punk Rock Flea Market event downtown, so that's cool too.

  • So this thing, right? Playing SUPERHOT makes you feel like the coolest motherfucker walking the earth. The metagame stuff is all alright (shoutout to Pony Island for doing it even better in 2016, as far as I care), but the things you do in this game lend themselves to great personal moments of fantasy violence. Punching a dude in the face to make him drop a gun, which you pick up to shoot him and his friend in the face, then throw at a sword man to make him drop his sword, which you grab out of the air to decapitate one guy and murder another by THROWING IT ACROSS THE ROOM AND SUPERHOT SUPERHOT SU

  • In my unending quest to polish off my fucking ungodly Steam backlog, almost 30% of which was bought in Humble Bundles, I think I managed to burn out my joy receptors for physics based platformers. Enter Offspring Fling!, which has less of a "clever physics puzzles what you jump on" schtick and more of a "direct digital controls ala the SNES" schtick. I suppose what kept me burning through this one was the emphasis on...well, flinging my offspring through puzzles than my ability to platform skillfully. The levels are all compact, timed challenges that encourage repeated plays to optimize routes and flings. It's also a brief experience, which I increasingly find myself celebrating.

  • So I guess this is sort of my come to Jesus moment with Fire Emblem as a franchise. I played the firs third or so of the first North American GBA Fire Emblem around the time of its launch, and found the game a little too slow and finicky for my tastes (which at the time were basically GTA, Katamari and Final Fantasy). Yeah, I played Birthright, but I played it on Normal!Classic and let two of my mains die in the final battle because it told a better story that way. Conquest seems like something I might want to do someday, but mostly this got me stoked to back and play that GBA release...and FE:Awakening, which is apparently choice as hell.

  • Jay Tholen is one of the nicest people on the face of the planet, and Dropsy is basically a crystaline distillation of that nice-ness. It's a world that comes to accept a very different looking person who only knows love and acceptance. That sounds corny as fuck, and that's kind of the point; you can come at this game with a cynical outlook, but it's ultimately a game about what I'd call metta, or loving-kindness. It also does that clever "non-verbal communication" trick that other games have done, but I would say it's more clever than that by half as it pulls this off in the framework of a point and click, and it doesn't completely fly off the rails. I love Dropsy.

  • Since nobody else is ever going to give this game any credit (at least anybody not named Stephen Totilo of Kotaku), I'll go ahead and do it. Rogue is not the shiniest AC entry of the last few years, but it is the smartest by a decent measure. The story is brief, the missions are varied and occasionally allow for a surprising range of solutions, and I found the setting to be fantastic. Shay's revenge tale, while a bit ho-hum, is refreshingly straightforward when set against the deep lore of ACIII. You can also almost feel a PS3 buckling under this game, which I believe output natively at 1080p. Just a fantastic time, and doesn't overstay its welcome.