Wow, where did 2016 go? It feels like I was just writing a —
Haaaaa… Just kidding. 2016 has been regarded by many as a kind of rough year, from a personal or historical perspective. It was a perfectly good year for video games, though. Let’s start off with a few obvious picks, then a few not so obvious, some runners up, and finally, in the spirit of 2016, a few complaints.
Multiplayer Game of the Year: Overwatch
2016 marked the first time in a long time I’ve gotten invested in a Blizzard game. Generally I don’t play them, just for genre reasons. I’m not all that interested in MOBAs or online collectable card games or real time strategy. But make a colorful and fun team shooter, and I’m So Very There. This one even has girls in it!
The first time my cursor hovered over Roadhog, the bloated hit-point-sponge tanker with a pig-styled belly tattoo, I said to myself, “Huh, I can’t see getting into this guy, but I’ll give it a shot.” Then he loaded up and choked out “I’M A ONE MAN APOCOLYPSE” and I said “Scratch that, I will be doing this forever.”
Look at his adorable Christmashog belly look at it
Indie Game of the Year: Stardew Valley
I spent more hours in Stardew Valley than any other game this year. Sometimes you just need to leave reality and get away to a beautiful, tranquil world. Then you feed chickens and make peach jelly and sit on a dock fishing in a quiet rainstorm. It’s just lovely, and a great reprieve from everyday stress.
The fact that this game is a one-man-show from a development perspective is icing on the pink melon cake. Everything is done with so much love and care. The game got a massive content patch midyear that made returning to it a pleasure all over again. It also handles diversity of romantic options in a way I sincerely appreciate. The structure of the game, where it only saves at night, is very addicting, though, so approach with care unless you feel ready to lose several nights of your life. I couldn’t even just take a screenshot without feeling the urge to play another round.
Handheld Game of the Year: Pokémon Sun/Moon
2016 was also the first year I got genuinely invested in a Pokémon game. That game was not Pokémon Go (more on that later), but the full entry in the series, Pokémon Sun. Sun is the version that I bought, but other than a change in Legendaries I couldn’t really tell you much about the difference between the versions. I got into gaming a bit too early to get sincerely into the Pokémon games as a kid. I did watch a bunch of the TV show, and developed a huge nerdcrush on Team Rocket, so that should count for something. Nevertheless – and this is true – I never actually played a mainline Pokémon game until well into the 21st century, where I finally borrowed Pokémon Blue from an incredulous student who loaned it to me just because she couldn’t believe I’d never played a Pokémon game. It was all right, I guess!
But I finally got Pokémon Sun because a lot of my friends were getting Pokémon Sun and/or Moon, and I like it a good deal. It’s repetitive, sure. More or less you just catch Pokémon and fight Pokémon trainers with your Pokémon and then catch more Pokémon to train to fight trainers etc. But it’s really cute, and I think I may like Team Skull almost as much as I like Team Rocket. And I have a Muk and his name is Gloop and he is my Gloop.
Maybe the actual theme of 2016 so far is my love of adorable gross things.
Xbox One Game of the Year: Quantum Break
In my day job, I work for Microsoft. I try not to neglect to mention this whenever it’s relevant. In this case, I’m saying I work for Microsoft so that you’ll understand why I get basically every game that’s published by Microsoft but don’t always write about them. Of the games that were published by Microsoft for Xbox One, Quantum Break was my favorite this year. I feel like I didn’t hear that much in games press about Quantum Break after it was released. The primary reason it came up at all was that it was originally a console exclusive, then it got added to Windows 10 crossplay. Some people were mad and said they weren’t going to buy a console because of that, and I get it, I do, but, like, what about the game?
So I played the game, and it is ballsy. I loved it. Did you like Alan Wake? I thought it was okay, but too easy to compare to the (to my tastes) superior Deadly Premonition. Nonetheless it was a favorite here at Tap-Repeatedly in general, so if you did like Alan Wake, play Quantum Break. Quantum Break is like Alan Wake on speedballs.
The episodic format of the game is very similar to Alan Wake, though it is a sci-fi action thriller instead of a horror thriller. But Remedy took things a step further this time: interrupting gameplay periodically to present a half-hour, live-action story segment. This TV show, which I must repeat is acted out with live actors in a throwback to the old FMV style (except, actually pretty good) streams through your online service and changes slightly in response to choices you made in the game portion. Then, the process starts all over again, with a story-heavy shooting bit. The game also lets you make choices as the game’s villain during some story segments, which causes minor changes to the TV show segments. Structurally, it’s just fascinating all the way through. A surprising experiment.
Game of the Year In Mixed Reality: Fragments
I also loved a very obscure game this year. It’s unlikely that anyone else reading this has had the chance to play it. In fact, I’d be surprised if there was more than a handful of people in the entire world that has played this game all the way through. Fragments is a full-length detective adventure game – about six hours of play, by my clock – for the Microsoft HoloLens.
Now if you’re thinking: well she got to play the game on HoloLens because of course she was given a HoloLens because Microsoft, that is where you are wrong. I bought a HoloLens. And you can too, since there’s no longer a waiting list… keeping in mind that the pricing reflects the fact that this is a development kit and a full PC, rather than a consumer edition of a dedicated gaming device (eg, $3k for the Development Edition). So I’m not saying to buy a HoloLens just to play Fragments. But if you happen to have one handy for the span of a day, absolutely play Fragments, because it’s wonderful.
In this game, you are a detective who scours people’s memories to reconstruct crime scenes. The crime scenes then appear all around you, in mixed reality, in whatever room you happen to be actually standing in in the real world. A virtual rat scurries across your actual floor as you search the rafters in your living room for digital pigeons. Later, a woman is drowning – in your living room – which is now full of water and bubbles and a shark swimming in front of your face. And while that probably seems gimmicky and it’s easy to get lost in that, the game also has characters and a story and proper puzzle-solving. It was delightfully designed to push my happy buttons in every way. I hope someday lots of other people get to check this one out.
Now that I’ve listed my Top Five for the year, here’s some other stuff worth mentioning…
Honorable Mention for Action: DOOM
I really loved the DOOM reboot, which was a super fun game to play. But I don’t feel right about giving it full GOTY honors because I didn’t complete it. I got distracted by Overwatch. Sorry.
Honorable Mention for Most Improved Writing: Watch_Dogs 2
I didn’t actually play Watch_Dogs 2 at all, so I also can’t crown it honestly. But I did watch my husband play it, and I enjoyed it from the point of view of an interested spectator. Compared to Watch_Dogs 1, which I did play a little but absolutely could not stand, Watch_Dogs 2 is a huge improvement. Since I can’t say anything firsthand about the action, I’m just talking about the writing. The dialog in this sequel is fresh, full of actually funny jokes and believable characterization. The game cast is diverse, and the game is self-aware about that but handles this with warmth and care rather than giving you a browbeating about its importance.
Sadly, the sales for WD2 were much lower than for the first game. I can’t tell you why it didn’t sell as well. What I want to believe is that gamers just found the first game disappointing, and it wasn’t a strong launch to a franchise, so audiences didn’t bite on a sequel. However, UbiSoft may come instead to believe that having a black protagonist on the box is what sunk it, and investing in sharp writing wasn’t worth the effort. I’ve always felt that a strong script, though an investment, is still a lot cheaper than tons of art and effects, which is why the Deadpool movie (all my love to that, by the way) did so well on a small budget. But who knows what really happened to lower the sales on WD2. I hope it won’t discourage the developers from trying this formula again.
Honorable Mention for Last Minute Addition: Frog Fractions 2
This isn’t likely to show up on many 2016 lists because it was literally announced yesterday. My own list was already drafted, and this snuck up on me. Technically, Frog Fractions 2 came out earlier in the month, hidden in a fairy town simulation game called Glittermitten Grove. I almost wrote this paragraph all coy telling you to buy Glittermitten Grove for vague reasons, but I’ve seen enough people being cute about that already and it’s only been a day. So, screw that: get Glittermitten Grove because you want to play a fairy town simulation game. Fairy Town Simulation Game is already a game type I wanted! As a bonus, Glittermitten Grove also comes with Frog Fractions 2: a larger and more mysterious game based mostly on parodies of other game genres. If self-aware parody is not to your taste, I wouldn’t blame you for giving it a pass. But if the above screenshot charms you, you should know that there’s also a Carmen Sandiego parody hidden in this title that kiiiinda blew my mind just a little. I’d place the experience in contrast to Retro City Rampage, a parody that ultimately didn’t work for me because it contained a bit too much spite. Frog Fractions 2 is all about the love, even for fairies.
Note: I have yet to encounter an actual frog.
Most people seem to be regarding 2016 as a pretty bad year in a general sense, so I think in the spirit of 2016 I need to discuss some games I have problems with. So now it’s time for
Games That Have Issues, But Which Nonetheless Exemplify 2016 In Some Important Way Or Another, So I’m Going to Talk About Them
Let’s start with
Mobile Game With Issues: Pokémon Go
Holy crap, remember Pokémon Go? This was a huge fad for a few minutes. I dunno if you recall. It feels like just yesterday that I was catching Pokes on the subway and chatted up a random stranger who asked me what team I was on (Mystic, because I own a blue hoodie, it’s popular, and I guess I am a joiner). Pokémon Go was bringing us all together! I heard some people talk about how it was going to literally change society.
But the servers were always touch and go. The game was constantly getting hacked by overeager players, forcing developer Niantic to constantly put out fires instead of work on the core game. The interface was never good; Hell, the Pokémon tracker stuff was flat out broken for a long time. And when you did find a Pokémon, nine times out of ten it was another disappointing Rattata or Pidgey or Zubat until you just couldn’t stand their faces anymore.
It did get me and a lot of other people to buy Sun and/or Moon though, so as to play an actual Pokémon game. Likely that was Nintendo’s nefarious plan all along.
Indie Game With Issues: Read Only Memories
I’m probably going to piss off friends over this one, but I played Read Only Memories this year, and I did not like it. The internet tells me that this game came out in 2015, but it’s a pretty 2016 kind of game. I’m going to say some words about it way down here at the bottom of a year in review where no one will ever find them.
Read Only Memories is set in the Queer Cyberpunk Future of 2064 Neo San Francisco. Its graphics are cute, but the story is chatty and hippie-dippie. It’s kind of what I expected out of Undertale last year before being pleasantly surprised by its wit. I read an interview with someone asking the devs of ROM how they managed to make the politics in this game so subtle, and I wondered what alternate dimension the interviewer tumbled out of. The politics in this game are not subtle. If you’re not a hundred percent on board with them, the game isn’t likely to convert you. Look – hey – it’s possible I’m way out of touch here, and replacing the familiar old gender select option screen with a character that asks you “What are your preferred personal pronouns?” is really the wave of the future. But when I saw this, I did a full body cringe, bought a MAGA hat, and installed HuniePop.
I was really surprised, because it got a lot of critical acclaim. I guess what I’m really saying is that this title just isn’t for me. Also, don’t freak out; the above paragraph is not literally true. I already owned HuniePop. Seriously, have you met me?
Multiplayer Game With Issues: Street Fighter V
Sweet Christmas, what the Hell happened here? Don’t characterize this as a Microsoft employee breathing salt about a wanted title being a PlayStation exclusive. I love Street Fighter. I wanted to love Street Fighter V. In some ways, I do! But I bought it on PC, and then I had to deal with the fun of massive security breaches, unfinished game content, and bizarrely timed confusingly released overly expensive DLC character packets. Yeah, I mostly play this game with other people at conventions, and yeah, I’m real bad at it. But I also cosplayed Rainbow Mika this year because fuck yeah Street Fighter. I clearly have an abusive Street Fighter relationship.
I have a full-length editorial about Street Fighter V in the can for 2017, so hold onto your barely-covered thong-wearing wrestler butts for that one. In the meantime, will someone at Blizzard please contact someone at Capcom about the proper way to design Christmas DLC costumes? I mean, Sexy Santa is fine, really. But I can only take so many variations on Sexy Santa. I believe it was Sid “BeamSplash” Long Time Commenter that suggested “Reindeer Mika” and good lord I’m still hitting myself in the face over this incredible pun idea that literally took a minute to come up with, obviously less time than Capcom spent on their Christmas costume ideas.
Thanks everyone and have a Happy New Year! Looking forward to seeing what others thought of this year in games.
Email the author of this post at aj@Tap-Repeatedly.com.