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Top 10 and 2 runners up, plus 7 games I couldn't play and 3 games I had a weird time with in 2016

This is the second year of GOTY for me, and it’s a scary one. This was the year of precious few gaming experiences with increased intensity. I feel strongly about many games, and depending on the day I may say any one of 4 or 5 games is the best game this year and one of the best in history. 2016 was the year of devotion to singular mastery of games for me, the year I was able to focus on one game until the deed was done many times over. Please know that this list was written over around two weeks as I really considered the order.

Note: I've forgone putting any images in this post because it wound up being... uh... around 4500 words. Grab a cup of coffee.

These are my top 10 games for 2016. Your mileage may vary.

10. Boxboxboy!

Two sets of blocks! TWO SETS OF BLOCKS?! Boxboxboy! (a bad name) does everything that Boxboy did great but gives you TWO SETS OF BLOCKS! So each puzzle is double the deviousness. Your first set of blocks will always be overwritten when you try to create a third, so even the order you solve each puzzle matters. Boxboy remains one of the best puzzle platformers in recent memory and if Nintendo doesn’t bring the Boxboy amiibo over to North America I’ll cry. Do you want me to cry, Nintendo?

9. Abzu

The ocean is a scary place that I would love to go. Abzu is the story of going where you thought you wanted to go and realizing that home was really back where you started. As you meditate and stare at beautifully rendered fish, swim around with perfectly fluid controls, and realize that there’s a sinister force hurting the ocean, Abzu tells you that you may not belong. Abzu tells you that you’re not wanted. And, ultimately, Abzu tells you that you were always home. I played through this game in one sitting with headphones and immediately returned to get all the collectibles and every trophy on the day of release, and then returned again hours later to show my girlfriend all the amazing art and work put into making the fish of Abzu feel alive. I haven’t touched it since the day it came out, as Abzu taught me that I’m happiest on land.

8. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Some games got me feeling really introspective and quiet this year. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (a great name) was not one of these games. TMS#FE is the most pure explosion of pop-music and positivity ever put into a video game. I was real scared about this one, since I love Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, but I’m happy to say it’s a fantastic JRPG. The Idolaspheres are classic Persona 3/4 style dungeon crawling, with each one dealing with a specific theme regarding creativity and the artistic process. The Session mechanic is stylistically beautiful and a great way to get your entire cast of characters involved in every fight even though you just have 3 out at a time. When enemies start initiating Sessions on your team, it’s a scary revelation which immediately demands that you adapt your tactics. I love the extremely sincere story and character design. The pop songs and accompanying cutscenes are well-produced and fun.

The way they integrate Fire Emblem mechanics into the battle system through the weapon triangle, and the appearance of Fire Emblem characters as, well, Personas is sort of weak for a game billed as SMTxFE, though. I haven’t been able to finish this one as I got SUPER busy and then turned my attention to other games, but I’m around 2/3rds of the way through and am planning to wrap it up soon.

7. Picross 3D: Round 2

The Picross boy likes new Picross, big surprise. In all seriousness, though, I love Picross and I love this game. 3D Picross is sometimes even more fun and infuriating than 2D, since if you’re not paying attention you can make silly mistakes like “Oh, that block that’s floating out in space all alone actually CAN be part of this puzzle, I shouldn’t just delete it out of habit”. The possibilities with three dimensions really blows out the Picross experience, and the tools you’re given in this installment really allow for easy manipulation of the blocks. The one thing that I didn’t love about this game were the “tips and tricks” sections which basically spell out some of the more advanced Picross techniques and deductions that I really prefer to chance upon on my own. These aren’t required to progress but… come on, you really think I’m going to leave a puzzle unsolved?

6. Overwatch

Last year, Splatoon was the first online shooter I had really enjoyed and played for a significant amount of time. This year, Overwatch is the first online shooter that I REALLY fell down a hole with. I’ve played a lot of Overwatch, across both PS4 and PC. I’ve probably played around 30 hours, and I’m still playing a few hours per week. The character design is great and extremely smart for a shooter; characters have well defined silhouettes so it’s easy to determine what they can do to you, with the skins smartly not changing characters so drastically as to destroy this quickly available information. Similar to Splatoon, a big part of why I enjoy this game is that it’s not obsessed with telling people how much ass you suck. You’ll know how you stack up with your team via the Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals providing a rough comparison, but mostly Overwatch is concerned with celebrating you and your teams’ victories as opposed to your failings. And your victories WILL be celebrated, provided you play with cool people who are interested in chatting about all the cool shit you’ve done. Overwatch is best played with a group of friends, natch, but even randos tend to act pretty coolly if you’re not AFK. I like to play a bit of everyone according to the situation, but gravitated to Reinhardt, Winston, Soldier: 76, Tracer, Mercy, Lucio, and Mei, which is probably a useful personality test for someone. This game is smart team shooting taken to its seeming peak.

5. Pokemon Sun & Moon

Pokemon sometimes iterates in millimeters, adding just another hundred or so monsters and changing the world-ending gang. This year, Pokemon iterated in kilometers, both in mechanics and story. Team Skull is the best Pokemon enemy in the series, due to how incredibly on point the comic relief from them is. The actual enemy is a truly deranged woman who seemingly has no understandable goal, making her pretty scary and threatening. Nintendo FINALLY took advantage of the 3DS hardware to create a game that is visually stunning, and gives us for the first time full-size characters in the game. No more miniaturized versions of your characters walking around top-down or isometric worlds, this game makes the new region of Alola a character in and of itself. The new Pokemon are all pretty great and fun to use, and the Alolan variants of old Pokemon are a fresh and fun way to make reusing these old monsters again excusable. It’s the best time ever to play your first Pokemon game.

4. Dark Souls 3

I’m shocked Dark Souls 3 is this low on my list. Soulsborne (the shitty “Metroidvania” term for From games) is one of my favorite gaming series in history, and I’m sad that my two GOTY lists so far haven’t been topped by a From game. Dark Souls 3 is a love letter to all fans of the series, with tons of callbacks tucked away (and some more in your face) for fans to discover and relish. Nostalgia is a weird word for a game that came out in 2011, but the moment I realized I was in THAT particular city of the Gods made me pause. The underlying story is at its best here, with many cool characters getting up to some nefarious shit. The “way too many fucking bosses” thing from Dark Souls 2 is all but gone here - there’s only a few clunkers. This game also sports some of the tougher bosses and areas in the series, which gave me plenty to cut my teeth on over my long hours of gameplay. I finished all the secret areas in this one and played a larger amount of co-op than ever, ushering tons of newer players through early bosses with joy. I haven’t had a chance to jump into Ashes of Ariandel just yet, but I’m very excited to see what else Dark Souls 3 has in store for me.


I’ve never beaten a Final Fantasy game. I put 10 hours into IV, 15 hours into VII, 4 hours into VIII, 12 hours into IX, 25 hours into X, but have never completed one. This year, I beat Final Fantasy (like, the first one) and Final Fantasy XV. In the coming months (years??) on this blog you’ll see posts for every Final Fantasy game as I play them all in order, and this all started because Final Fantasy XV reached through the universe and wrapped its deeply flawed fingers around my neck. The bromance, the road trip, the love interest, the ancient enemy, the anime, the movie, I’ve seen it all. I watched Kingsglaive and Brotherhood before starting the game. I’ve been frog collecting, I’ve hunted, I’ve Armiger Chained, I’ve fished, I’ve listened to Prompto sing the victory music. I played 35 hours before initiating chapter 9 and barreled through the final 6 hours of the game and saw the ending, before jumping right back in for more road tripping. I have a deep, all-consuming love for this game even though it has some of the biggest warts as I think a piece of media could have.

The story is solid, but the storytelling is extremely poor, meted out through a full length film, a five episode anime, and then a ton of in-game radio sequences and scattered notes/environmental hints in the worst dungeon/sequence of any game this year. Setting all that aside, though, the emotional core of the boys relationship with each other is what really stands out. Chapter 10 was especially gut wrenching for me, after I recovered from the whiplash of Chapter 9. I don’t want to get too specific (since this is a really fresh one), but I felt for that certain member of my party and walked slowly as he stumbled and missed his weapon attacks. At the end of the game I just wanted to spend more time with that party, so I’m glad there is still hours of dungeons, hunts, and sidequests ahead of me.

The combat engine is deceptively simple, but once you get a handle on how to use the analog stick to control which attacks you use, and liberally disperse blindside links, warp strikes, armiger attacks, and techniques you’ll dominate the battle with relative ease. Plus, if a boss or fight gives you trouble, just swap to your incredibly overpowered magic grenades. The summon system, while controversial, is fucking AWESOME. These are capricious, fickle gods that only assist you when THEY want to and fuck shit UP when they do. Your only interaction with summons is to accept the assistance they offer or not, and when you do accept it is quite the event. A lengthy, gorgeous animation shows the god grabbing you and utterly DEVASTATING the battlefield. As an aside, I find it hilarious that your party is presumably in the danger zone, getting crushed under huge rocks or drowned due to the nepotism of being the Chosen King when a god decides to provide some divine intervention.

Final Fantasy XV is a flawed game, but I find it incredibly fun and have a large amount of affection for the story despite it being told poorly and having some glaring issues. I could probably write pages and pages about this game, and I definitely will be writing up a more in-depth reflection as part of my journey to play every Final Fantasy. Looking forward to the story patch to see, uh, what the fuck is up with Ravus.

2. Doom

I’m sure that my story about Doom will be the same as many this year. After Doom 3 I was pretty disillusioned with id’s ability to make a new Doom game which hewed closely to the tenets of the first and second. I don’t really want to reload, I’m not interested in being scared, and I want to listen to good music while exploring a weird maze and shooting demons. That’s what I and many others come to Doom for, so the first e3 trailer was heartening. Afterwards, there were more stories of the game’s tumultuous development, the multiplayer demo, no review copies, and so on. Suffice to say, my expectations were low. After seeing the quick look and hearing basically the entire Internet explode with joy over the game, I was suddenly very interested. And then, right when I had a bunch of time, Amazon put the game on sale for just $20. I jumped in and didn’t look back, loving every level and moment in the game.

Doom 2016 brings back the classic Doom feel while expanding on it in the smartest ways to keep it playable and interesting in the modern context. Doomguy is treated as a wrecking machine of pure carnage that can’t really exist in the futuristic nightmare world of Doom, so he’s resurrected from a sarcophagus and is later sent back to Hell simply because not-Optimus Prime can’t figure out what the hell to do with him. During the Hell segments of the game you run across audiologs which seem to be demon fairytales, cautionary stories told to young Imps and Mancubi about the horrible monster that ran roughshod through Hell an untold number of years ago and caused all manner of bad shit for Demonkind. The demons are really afraid of Doomguy, it seems, and the Mars characters-cum-antagonists also keep him at arms length in fear of his destructive power and prowess. The fact that I’ve talked this long about the characterization of Doomguy is something of a metaphor for the way this game willed itself into being against all odds.

To shorten this up: Glory kills are a great way to keep you moving forward, colored skulls in Hell are great, Doomguy punching through the story beats is smart, and the soundtrack is a master class in teaching a player how to play a game through audio. You don’t use cover while that soundtrack is playing.

I didn’t touch the multiplayer. The campaign is near-perfect. In fact, some may say only one single player campaign this year surpassed it…

1. The Witness

I don’t want to be pretentious, and I don’t want to say things I’ll regret. I’m going to avoid being hyperbolic, and I’m going to say only things that I really mean after considering this game for months. Upfront, I will say that this game has faults and it is an unapologetic thing that a person will either love or abhor. I could only recommend the Witness to someone I knew VERY well.

Some statements: The Witness is the purest form of a game. The Witness is a textbook on perception and education. The Witness is art. It’s all of these things simultaneously, and I’d argue that the game ranks highly in each one of these categories.

Statement 1: The Witness is the purest form of a game. When I say something like this, please understand that I don’t mean that other games are lesser. What I’m really saying is that The Witness is really taking place somewhere between the controller and the television screen. When you’re playing the Witness and you walk your character up to a panel with a puzzle on it, you examine the puzzle and try to solve it. When you do this the first time, the puzzle is a simple line maze. You’re going to use past experience with line mazes to solve that first puzzle, and you’re going to continue to do that until you reach the first set of puzzles with symbols on them. This is the real moment that the Witness begins, because it’s the first moment you don’t have any past experience to draw upon and have to begin learning through action, which is the thing that games are best at doing. Teaching through example is the thing that “play” can do uniquely, and by creating a game that is ostensibly about learning the Witness becomes an examination of all games and how you learn to play, as well as the most pure form of learning through mechanics only. In some ways, you could consider the Witness as something of a deconstructed meal; each part which makes up the greater whole is presented in their most distilled forms.

Statement 2: The Witness is a textbook on perception and education. I touched on this with the last statement, but the Witness is really a game about how humans learn and perceive the world, and the different ways that certain people excel at disparate types of learning. The fact that you can finish the Witness with only 7 of the 11 beams activated is not because the dev team was afraid you would become bored of solving puzzles, but because some people may struggle intensely with areas that other people are able to breeze through. The oft-maligned audio area, where the player must use bird chirps to solve puzzles, was extremely easy to me and also was one of my favorite areas. I say this not to brag, but because I was a musician for many years which may have given me an edge to this area, and contributed to my quick learning of the mechanics of it. Since I’m colorblind, I had great difficulty in the “easy” greenhouse area, and spent hours sussing it out before getting my girlfriend to assist me with the color based puzzles. The secret FMVs and audiologs in the game are not meant to be considered individually, but instead are to be taken as a whole. The “deep meaning” behind them is this: humans perceive the world differently, and always will. We can look at a problem, an object, or even a puzzle and derive wildly different meanings and solutions based on our past experiences, learning style, heritage, etc. This is what the Witness is about.

Statement 3: The Witness is art. Look no further than the very beautiful island than justification for this. Any screenshot of the Witness could hang on my wall. There is a better justification for this than the art design of the game, though. The Witness is something that you experience in a way that is unique to you. I’m the type of person that would say that modern game design has some flaws in that it is very linear and puts you into a box. Most people will have the same experience in something like a Call of Duty game which puts a guy in front of you to follow. That’s not a bad thing, but to me it’s not really art. I get frustrated when the artist tries to tell you what to think of their art; this happened to millions of Harper Lee fans when Atticus Finch turned out to be a racist in the posthumously printed sequel to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. They felt betrayed, and that they could no longer enjoy Finch in the original book due to his actions in the sequel. The Witness is a way of saying you don’t have to feel betrayed; The Witness is art that you can do whatever you want with. Your interpretation of The Witness is what you make of it. If Jonathan Blow walked up to me and told me that my interpretations of his game were completely wrong, I’d tell him that his game is evidence to the contrary. The Witness is a game which teaches you how to solve line puzzles, sure, but it also teaches you how to feel comfortable with your own perceptions and learning patterns.

The Witness slowly teaches you how to play it and its rules through a series of increasingly difficult puzzles over a large set of rules, and also combines many of these rules to ensure your mastery of the game’s mechanics. It is unabashed in its identity and offers you no explicit guidance or rules. When playing the Witness you need to be able to focus on what the game is communicating to you through its puzzles and examples, and if you feel you don't have an understanding of a ruleset your best bet is to return to the puzzles that taught you how to interact with it and learn them again. I didn’t realize that Tetris pieces didn’t need to be on the block that showed you the piece, but simply needed to be contained with that piece with a line, and had to go back and relearn that. If a tooltip had popped up telling me that fact, I’d feel that I hadn’t learned it on my own. If a tutorial had made that explicit not just through a puzzle but through text, I’d never have had the experience of misunderstanding, getting frustrated, and learning again. People say that we learn from our failures; the Witness is teaching you to learn healthily, and without fear.

I’d also like to address two common complaints about the game. The first is that the movement speed is too slow. I would normally agree with this, but considering that there are puzzles hidden in the environment, this feels like a deliberate choice to allow you ample time to discover them. The second complaint is that the Witness has no reward system. I can’t really contradict this; the Witness doesn’t reward you with anything but more puzzles, most of the time. The audio logs are strewn about the island randomly. The only real rewards for puzzles are the FMV sequences which many players find to be more puzzles. However, when the Witness rewards me with more puzzles, I’m happy. After all, we’re playing a game to play a game, right? I’m rewarded for beating a stage in Megaman with a boss, and I’m rewarded for shooting well in Doom with more shooting. In the Witness, I explore and find puzzles to solve, and that’s what I want to do. If you don’t, that’s fine, but the game is rewarding you with exactly what a person who solves puzzles wants, more puzzles. To be very reductive, no one would buy a jumbo puzzle book that had three puzzles and then a novel about the story which contained the puzzles.

Hooooo boy, that was a lot. Sorry about that. I feel pretty strongly about this game. There’s a lot of puzzles, and I think they’re really fun to learn how to do. I find the game gorgeous, and I love how the island’s layout becomes familiar over the many hours it will take for you to play it. I love the FMV, I love finding hidden puzzles, and I love learning from the game. I’ve lit up all 11 beams on the island and found many hidden puzzles, and all of the FMVs. I really want to delete my save and start again. Maybe in a few years when the game’s teachings have left my mind, I’ll boot it up and start again in that dark tunnel.

Runners Up:

Gears of War 4

This is a great game that I really don’t have much to say about. If you asked me what I loved about comfort food like Macaroni & Cheese, I don’t know that I could really articulate the particular feeling that it evokes in me. I could say something about the perfect joy of the Torque Bow, or that cool shotgun that shoots twice that I can’t remember the name of. The story was very Gears of War; the small scope of the story frustrated me in its specificity to a small group of characters when I’m more interested in how Sera works and the politics of the Gears 4 world. How, exactly, did we get to the crazy robotic future-Sera? Gears 4 isn’t really interested in answering that question, which bums me out. This is a pretty negative way to say that Gears 4 is a great Gears game that is flawed in a lot of ways, but is still worth playing.

Kirby: Planet Robobot

I haven’t finished this game but thus far it’s a very pretty and joy-filled Kirby game. That’s not very revolutionary, but that’s totally awesome. I really like that you can get powers for Kirby AND powers for your ro(bo)bot.

Old Game of the Year:

Final Fantasy

More about this in a forthcoming blog post.

The Weird Stuff:

Fire Emblem Fates

I loved Fire Emblem: Awakening but I played it in two big chunks: Right after it came out and years later. I played a bit of this game and shelved it for months. I kind of wonder if I’ll ever come back to it. It seemed completely serviceable but also sort of bored me intensely. I haven’t bounced off a game that I anticipated like crazy before, so something weird is going on with this one.

Street Fighter V

I bought a fight stick and played around 15 hours of this game before getting wrapped up in other stuff. I’m still unsure if I’ll ever be able to REALLY get good at a fighting game since I like to play way too many disparate genres, but someday I may come back to this one. Hey, next time they should probably release a full game.

Let It Die

I really want to like this game but I don’t think I fully understand how to play it? I need to get more de-attached from my characters and just… um… Let It Die

The 2017's 2016 Games to be Played List:

Stephen’s Sausage Roll

Quadrilateral Cowboy



Hyper Light Drifter

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

World of Final Fantasy

Firewatch (with me)

Dishonored 2

Worst Game:

Pokemon Go

Fuck this game. I hate this game. I was fully bought in to Pokemon Go pre-release. It sounded like a very smart way to introduce Pokemon mechanics to a wider audience and give current fans something fun to do on their phones related to their favorite monsters. I was happy they were starting with just the original 150 and looked forward to catching the entire pokedex on my phone. I was pretty surprised to find that Niantic had fucked up every aspect possible of Pokemon. It’s not fun to catch Pokemon since once you’re over level 20 it feels like they REALLY want you to buy more Pokeballs. Even a Rattata or Pidgey jumps and swats so often that I often spend 5-7 Pokeballs on them, forcing me to find more stops to avoid spending money. The gym system is how you can get the currency without paying real money, but Pokemon battles are so stupid and shitty in this game that I never want to do it again after doing it two to three times, so I’ll never gain currency for free. Even the tracking is terrible, giving you no way to really search for Pokemon that you want, forcing you to randomly catch whatever is around you.

I still boot the game up every time they put in a new update out of sheer curiosity, and continue to be disappointed in ways I hadn’t expected. Without a doubt, this is the game that made me feel the worst this year. From broken servers to broken tracking, shitty battles, exploitative free to play tactics, artificial catching difficulty, and the sheer lack of things to do, Pokemon Go handily wins Worst Game of the Year from me.

Alright, I think that about wraps up everything. If you read this far I sincerely thank you for your interest in my opinions and for your patience in reading what turned out to be a very self-indulgent list of games. This year, I spent a lot of time with games that other people hated or were disappointed by, so I wanted to make sure I said my piece on these less than perfect games.

2016 was a great year for video games, and 2017 is shaping up to be just as insane, so I'm hoping to see you all again for GOTY in twelve months. If you're interested in continuing to read my writing, though, stay tuned to this blog for The Finalest Fantasy, where I play and talk about every game in the series.


Top 10, and then 5 runners up and 8 games I wish I'd had time for in 2015

Hey all, I thought I'd make a GOTY list for the first time ever this year. I've always loved listening to the GB list and reading user blogs on the subject so... here goes!

First off, I'd just like to observe that it's been a damn great year for games. I started compiling my list and was surprised at how many legitimately awesome games were released this year. I'm excited to clean up my 2015 list and move on to what 2016 will bring.

Top 10


The feeling of sliding along a box-bridge...
The feeling of sliding along a box-bridge...

When I think of a handheld game, I really want something that's engaging and fun without requiring hours of investment each sitting. BOXBOY! is a game that manages to shepherd the player through its challenges both swiftly and smoothly. The speed with which worlds in this game fly by continues to astound me. Each world has its own gimmick that is taken from zero to sixty in space of four to seven stages, all while feeling fresh and not too devious. It's a near perfect difficulty ramp, until you beat the game and unlock the bonus worlds which may make you tear your hair out. I always felt like I was some kind of super genius when I derived a solution that used less boxes than the par on a level, and the art packs a lot of punch into a minimalist style. This game is fantastic fun.

9. Stretchmo

I'm kind of surprised at how many fantastic puzzle games have come out in the last few years, but none of them have grabbed me like the 'mo series. Pushmo and Pushmo World are both incredible games which have sapped hours of my life, but Crashmo felt like a bit of a misstep. Something about the ability to completely deform the levels was too much power; Crashmo allowed a sort of chaos that doesn't belong in a puzzle game. That said, Stretchmo feels like Nintendo has once again found its stride for this series. This game gives you even more control over the levels than Pushmo and still manages to be challenging, due to the quality design of each stage. There's also a wealth of content, with over 200 levels available.

8. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Yeah, these guys. You know what I mean.
Yeah, these guys. You know what I mean.

The time was right. I'd never played Monster Hunter before, but always poked at the periphery of the series via forums and articles about this impenetrable game. There was a Souls-esque veil of mystery surrounding Capcom's gigantic hit franchise that many people were unable to see through, myself included. I expected to boot up this game and run into a Tigrex shaped brick wall, cowering in fear of embarking on a hunt which would surely see my ass thoroughly kicked. Imagine my surprise when I entered an incredibly weird and whimsical world full of Felynes, something called a Guildmarm, lots of delicious meals, and the most intense gameplay on a handheld system I've ever experienced. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a world you inhabit through your character, more so maybe than any other game I've ever played. The feeling of eating the right meal based on your opponent, carefully collecting bugs, ore, and monster bits to craft powerful new equipment, and spending half an hour tracking, trapping, and subduing a giant animal is so immersive, I feel I could recommend the game to anyone. The systems are numerous but well explained, although the online mode intimidates to this day

7. Xenoblade Chronicles X

Speaking of systems, Xenoblade Chronicles X takes a complex series and ratchets up the craziness. This is a game that I feel suffers under the weight of itself. I'm now 30 hours in and about to take a test to become licensed to pilot a Skell (giant mech), so the systems will be piled even higher for me in a few hours. And yet, even though I haven't beaten it, even though I'm maybe only a third of the way through the game, the game poking its head from under those systems is one that I'm in love with. There are warts: the writing waffles between middling JRPG to unbearable, some of the characters feel one-dimensional, and Ma-non voices make me want to burst my eardrums with an icepick. However, this game is gorgeous, earnest, and the combat is addictive. I didn't think I'd enjoy the MMO style combat, but between soul voices, secondary and tertiary cooldowns, and positioning, the combat in Xenoblade is more engaging and active than any JRPG I've played. The art is beautiful in this game, with expansive zones that don't feel large for the sake of it, but large because this is a large planet. There is also a tremendous sense of struggle in Xenoblade; humanity is on an alien world struggling for survival, and it feels that way. I'm excited to continue my adventures in the world of Mira.

6. Splatoon

Squids... Kids... Octolings... Can we not all co-exist?
Squids... Kids... Octolings... Can we not all co-exist?

I'll spare you the squid puns, and just flat out say that this is the best online shooter of all time. Splatoon has incredible music that now lives in my iTunes library, a cohesive visual style that supports the narrative of a world of fashion obsessed sea-life, and is generally a low-impact but deep and rewarding multiplayer experience. My girlfriend doesn't play games that aren't Mario Kart, but seeing me play Splatoon made her want to give it a shot, and she had a wonderful time despite it being the first shooter she'd ever played. By downplaying the K/D ratio, Nintendo has created an experience that always feels fun. I never feel like an untalented schmuck while playing Splatoon, because even if I get quickscoped by some lunatic squidkid in a gasmask from across the map, I'll be right back inking the dirt with my trusty .56 Gal Deco in a few seconds. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Nintendo's top-notch post-release support, adding many varied levels, gear, weapons, and modes to a game that desperately needed it. I wish I could pick what map to play, and that there was a better local multiplayer mode, but these are minor quibbles. As an aside, I'm colorblind and hell and I appreciate the intelligent choices for team parings. I never have a hard time differentiating between my team's and the opponents' colors, so good on ya' Nintendo.

5. Assassin's Creed Syndicate

Wow. If you told me at the beginning of the year that I'd enjoy an Assassin's Creed game that came out after Brotherhood, I'd have laughed in your face. I didn't play Black Flag because I'd played every other Assassin's Creed game up to that point, and I felt so burned by Revelations and 3 that I had sworn the series off entirely. So when I saw the Quick Look and emotion stirred within me, I was surprised to say the least. When I got home with the game and put it into my PS4, I asked myself what the hell I was doing. And when I hit the 100% completion rate on the game, with only a few grindy trophies to mop up, I really was confused. What did this game do so right that felt so fresh? Well, the assassination missions are incredible. Really, just fantastic. These missions feel like playable Hitman (sorry Hitman fans). The characters are interesting and well-written, and I actually cared about the historical story for the first time. I'm one of the weird ones who is in it for the metanarrative stuff, which was kind of fumbled in this game, but the Juno moment makes up for it so I'm okay. The collectables are all on the map which is great, and the zipline makes the traversal feel like less of a chore as in past games. The fighting animations are incredibly well done, and there are precious few irritating mission types, i.e. tail this guy/escort this person/eavesdrop on these people. The combat feels less reactive than in past series as well, and I feel like this is the first time the stealth element of being an assassin shines through. Big ups on the developers for creating a great Assassin's Creed boss fight, as well.

4. Life is Strange

The true Moment of the Year 2015.
The true Moment of the Year 2015.

Okay, now we're getting into the big leagues. This game is great. This game is Teenage Angst Simulator 2015. Contrary to some, I adore the writing in this game, if only because lines like "Go fuck your selfie", "Kate twerks for God", and Chloe's incessant use of the word "hella" sneer out at the world just as we sneer at those lines. Life is Strange is a game about feeling like the world is a shitty place, so it makes sense that as the player we should feel a certain dislike for the social environment Max Caulfield tries to navigate through. Max is generally a likable character, who has believable reactions to situations and tends to behave like a person would as opposed to a video game character. This makes it very easy to care about her and the world she inhabits, which makes it all the harder to deal with when you begin to realize that there isn’t a happy end in sight for her. At the end of the day, Life is Strange is a game where you make the best of a series of very shitty situations, which isn’t all that far removed from most teenage experiences. The adventure gaminess sometimes thrusts itself in the way (One “fuck collecting bottles” in the last episode does not begin to make up for how shitty that sequence is) but at the end of the day the game is just engrossing. Being able to rewind and see how suggestions land is a super power I wish I’d had in High School, so the satisfaction of getting to say “Actually, let’s try a different approach” is extreme.

3. Super Mario Maker

I’ve never created a level in a video game before December 2015. Every time I booted up a level editor, I almost immediately closed it due to not wanting to deal with learning a whole new type of Calculus just to get proficient. Mario Maker is sublime in its simplicity. It feels like a cop-out to say that it all just feels natural but… it does. Shaking to modify things, using mushrooms to make stuff big, dragging tiles on the gamepad screen to create terrain; these are natural actions that speak to people in a simple way. The language of Mario is one that everyone knows, so Nintendo has an advantage in the creation of this engine. I’m not so sure a Zelda or Metroid maker would have the same magic, because not everyone is as acutely aware of how things interact in those games as in Mario. This, of course, has nothing to do with the quality of the game, but it is an undeniable fact that Mario is the closest thing to a universal language in video games, so creating Mario levels for your friends and the world to play is a very fun and rewarding novelty. As long as they keep the tools coming, I’ll keep creating.

2. Bloodborne

Uh... I feel like we can talk this out.
Uh... I feel like we can talk this out.

It’s hard to put into words just what I love about Bloodborne. The story and atmosphere is so rich and wholly enveloping that I continue to be shocked at just how many questions there are to pose. The environments are so detailed and rich with secret passages and hidden items that matter that I felt compelled to explore every nook and cranny. Discovering the arcane weapons that allow your character to cast forbidden magics was a fantastic feeling, and finding a trick weapon that I loved was rewarding as hell. In Bloodborne, your class is more flexible than ever, as everything about your approach changes based on the equipment you choose. I mainly used the Holy Blade, but when I got Logarius’ Wheel and equipped it, I felt a much more vicious fighting style emerge in my play. I mostly used the Holy Blade in its two-handed mode, dancing around my enemies at a distance and carving them up with the tip of the blade, so as not to put myself in harms way. But the ability to greatly stagger and crush my enemies with the Wheel incentivized me to get in the face of that werewolf or celestial terror and literally pound them into the ground before they could rebuff my assault. The DLC is also the best I’ve ever played, adding many varied and interesting weapon types to experiment with, and expanding the game’s lore and boss repertoire with some of the best content the Souls series has ever seen. On top of all this, the game controls like a dream and has a more finely tuned difficulty curve than other Souls games, if it still retains some issues like camera woes and some framerate jittering. There is also a regression in the form of blood vials, which is a linearly worse solution than the Estus Flask in every way imaginable. At first I struggled with some of the very tough bosses in Bloodborne. From’s design has evolved, and as a result the tactic of sticking to the ass of the giant boss has disappeared. Many bosses sweep around and punish you for trying to exploit them in that way. At first this frustrated me, but I adapted and came out a better player for it. The three hunter boss fights are also fantastic, pitting you against powerful foes that feel insurmountable, until you’ve slain them. Bloodborne is a great game.

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The best action game ever has been made, and everyone else can pretty much pack up and go home. I had played bits and pieces of MGS2 and 3 back when they were released, but mostly found them difficult for my 11 year old mind to wrestle with. However, as a full-grown adult, I decided to play every main series Metal Gear game in 2014 in order to prepare myself for MGS5. And I did. And the result of that was being able to experience the purest hit of Metal Gear I’ll ever be able to experience, which was MGSV on release day. Before all the FOB insurance bullshit, before getting your GMP tied up in escrow because the servers went offline, and before losing a bunch of fuel resources because some dude took them all. The MGSV that existed for two months was a beautiful, beautiful thing. I might say perfect, if you caught me on a good day. The original and curated soundtrack is astounding, the mechanics and controls are exquisite. Every time I distracted a guard with a blow up doll monotoning “Kept you waiting, huh?” only to run up behind him and choke him out, or instructed my dog to stun knife an enemy so I could strap a balloon to him and let Revolver sort him out, or crawled through the mud as Quiet loaded soldiers full of tranquilizer darts, I had a smile from ear to ear. Sahelanthropus is an intimidating and awesome looking Metal Gear, and is probably the best boss fight against a Metal Gear in the series. I loved hating what a douchebag Huey had become, and was very glad to literally ship him out of Mother Base late in the game. I think the relegation of most of the story to cassettes was a brilliant idea, as instead of sitting while codecs played the player had the option of diving into that stuff while playing Side Ops or not at all. I personally just listened to them while idling in Mother Base to fully absorb their content, but more player choice is always the best option. I haven’t booted MGSV to clean up the Side Ops yet for fear of what Konami has wrought upon the game, but I’ve made my peace with these changes and will head back to Kojima’s insane world of espionage soon to finish everything. This game was apparently too beautiful and pure to live, which is a damn shame, but I’m glad I got what I needed while the getting was good.

See you later, space cowboy.
See you later, space cowboy.

Runners Up

5. Fallout 4

I was really excited to play this game, but it’s currently shelved in favor of more fresh experiences. I may come back to it, but after 20 or so hours of gameplay that felt just a bit stale, and some very inexcusable performance issues and bugs on the PS4 version, I’m not sure it will entice me back. Sorry, Nick.

4. Galak-Z

I love the aesthetic and I love the tight controls, but this game can feel punishing in an unfair way. I also wish that episode 5 was out.

3. Dying Light

Another game I rebounded off. I miss the characters and insanity of Dead Island, and the loss of the analog combat felt like a huge blow. I’ve played around 40 hours and may come back to it, but the boring open world and endless fetch quests may have destroyed my enjoyment of this game.

2. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

I love the story of this game. I’d never played the Wii release, so getting to know the Monado boy and his band of weird ass friends has been a fun and eye-opening experience. I didn’t know I could enjoy a JRPG in 2015, but both this game and Chronicles X are great fun. The port has serious problems, however, from seaming issues on nearly every texture to audio loss bugs which necessitate a reboot of the game and a lack of the scale of the original. I wish this was a Wii U port.

1. Pokemon Picross/Pokemon Shuffle

Oh boy. If this was a list of which game consumed the largest amount of my time, these two would be on top. I’m a picross fiend, so when I found a game where you could play picross and enlist captured Pokemon to assist you in these puzzles through innovative power ups, I was hooked. Similarly, Pokemon Shuffle is an extremely fun and at times frenetic take on the match 3 format. I just wish these games weren’t marred by free to play mechanics, which really hamper progress through the levels and suck the fun out of the games by the time you near the end of them.

The 2016’s 2015 Games to Be Played List

1. The Witcher 3

2. Cibele

3. Undertale

4. Her Story

5. Grow Home

6. Yoshi’s Wooly World

7. Yo-Kai Watch

8. Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition