Happy holidays, fellow gamers! With the end of the year upon us, it’s time for everyone to recount the highlights of their gaming year, and it’s no different here at Video Game Tidbits! True to my gaming handle, I’ve been lucky to share my thoughts on games and recent trends with you all. This year has had a lot of surprises and lessons for me to learn in gaming, so to round off this year, here are my favorite games that I’ve played in 2016!
Honorable Mention. Overwatch (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
This is a game you probably expect to see on a lot of top 10’s this year, and I’m sure you’d also expect this game to be a lot higher on the list. The reason this is only an honorable mention for me is that I don’t personally own this game. That said, since the core of the game is its online multiplayer, the dozen-or-so hours I spent playing it with my friends and following its news throughout the year have made enough of an impression to tell me…this game is fun!
While the first-person-shooter genre has been characterized by military-style games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, Overwatch brings a kind of unique and colorful charm and appeal that games like Team Fortress 2, Splatoon, and Paladins have brought to the table. I love how every single hero in Overwatch plays differently, mixing their own unique twist to familiar FPS mechanics, and it motivates players to experiment with them all to find their favorite; not unlike how players find their favorite characters in Smash Bros. or Street Fighter. That said, as fun and addicting as Overwatch was to me, competitive action is still not my genre of choice, so I may not own this for myself anytime soon. I am glad, however, to see more unique and charming FPS games like this for everyone to ease themselves into.
10. Super Mario Run (Mobile)
It may be a little bold to put this on a Top 10 list when it really hasn’t been out for even a month, but Super Mario Run genuinely surprised me so much with how deep and addicting it was that I had to talk about it here. As one of Nintendo’s first official mobile apps, Super Mario Run stays true to the 2D platforming Mario is known for, but also turns it in a new direction. With Mario automatically running and vaulting across levels, progression is now built on chaining vaults, stomping on enemies, and wall jumps in a test of style, flow, and above all, platforming skill. If you’re a platforming perfectionist like myself, you’ll be replaying these levels over and over (and over) again to get every Special Coin and high score; and Nintendo knows that. Unlike most mobile games with stamina timers that refill slowly over time or with an in-app purchase, this has nothing of the sort! You can replay levels to your heart’s content without limits; something I really have to commend in the freemium mobile market.
I may have only played the first 3 free levels and the Toad Rally so far, but even those have been thoroughly complex and challenging as I try to complete them 100%! The game still has a few technical issues like sudden freezes and frame drops, perhaps due to the DRM-requirement of the game always being online, but I’ve still enjoyed Super Mario Run more than most apps I’ve played. Even now, some have probably already beaten every level of the full version and probably working to maximize their Toads and Coins, so who knows if Nintendo will decide to add more to the game. Either way, Super Mario Run‘s already proven to be a lot of fun for me and a worthy step into the mobile market for Nintendo.
9. Shadowverse (PC & Mobile)
Card games may seem as intense or thrilling to some, myself included, but I’ve come to recognize the sense of competition that games like Gwent, Yu-gi-oh, Hearthstone, and Pokemon’s TCG bring to new and experienced players. Now I’ve discovered one of the most popular card games in Japan, Shadowverse, and I’ve fell into that same fascination and intrigue as when I discovered Hearthstone years ago, and for good reason.
On the surface, Shadowverse is exactly like Hearthstone but with different card designs and terminology for its familiar gameplay mechanics. While some would be quick to dismiss it as a blatant clone of Hearthstone, I actually gravitated more toward Shadowverse’s anime-like art style that resembles games like Bravely Default or Final Fantasy. What also kept me into this game was the single-player story that Hearthstone, at the time I was playing it, didn’t have. While the stories are structurally the same across all the characters/deck styles, I’m glad that it’s there from the start, as it really helped me understand how each deck worked as opposed to struggling with online players who’ve played the game longer. Shadowverse probably won’t tear many players from Hearthstone if they’ve already devoted themselves to it, but it’s certainly caught onto me, and with more expansions and cards to come, I look forward to trying them out in one of my new favorite card games.
8. Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)
If this was a list for the most surprising games of 2016, Pocket Card Jockey would probably be at the very top. The core of the game is horse races, but the actual racing is done through solitaire; something unexpected, but “super effective” from the start! The faster you can clear a solitaire set and place your horse against the competition, the better your performance in the race. The races themselves are very simple to understand, but the complexity comes from more quick and critical thinking like the type of horse you’re racing with, the placement of your horse before and after the solitaire sections of the race, and using special cards to turn the odds in your favor. Add a cartoonishly adorable art style and there’s a real game with depth and a “one-more-race” mentality that I found hard to resist for weeks. It’s still surprising to me that GameFreak, best known as the developers for the Pokemon series, could come up with such a simple-looking, but challenging game for the 3DS eShop. As far as digital games go, Pocket Card Jockey should definitely not be ignored if you like a quick puzzle or a long campaign to be the best horse racer (like no one ever was~).
7. Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice (3DS)
Since my high school days, I’ve been a huge fan of the Ace Attorney series and the gripping, memorable stories each new installment brings. As most of the games I’ve played this year have been fast-paced action games or tactical RPGs, it was a nice change of pace to just relax with a simple, but engaging “book” to go through at my own pace. Spirit of Justice brings the same 3D visuals that Dual Destinies graciously debuted with and an engaging story that introduces new characters and reuniting a fan favorite that was long overdue for a return.
Without spoiling any major details, I think I can say that despite the game being officially titled “Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice“, these cases really worked to make you feel like Phoenix Wright, Apollo Justice, and Athena Cykes all have an equal spotlight throughout the story, and I love this game for doing that. This kind of love and investment in the characters, old and new, and figuring out the hidden twists and riding the excitement of each turnabout is all I can ask for in the Ace Attorney series, so it’s great to see all that and more with Spirit of Justice.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U)
Even though it’s an HD remake of a game from ten years ago, I still consider Twilight Princess HD as one of my top games this year because I’ve felt a lot more invested and understood Twilight Princess on Wii U than on the GameCube version I originally played. As an HD remake should, the graphics stay true and similar to the original, but look incredibly crisp and vivid unlike the original’s darker and fuzzier-looking visuals. I also love the art style of Twilight Princess’s world upon seeing how detailed outfits like Link’s are and bringing a more “realistic” art style compared to other Zelda games.
What stops this game from definitely being my favorite Zelda game, however, is the sense of scale of the world of Hyrule. I can only really remember two major towns and small villages in Twilight Princess that only felt serviceable to the game’s objectives, but not bearing many memorable side characters. I compare it to Wind Waker HD, which I also played this year, that felt more like a wide open world with many islands, big and small, and more memorable moments in each of them. Still, playing Twilight Princess HD has been a more memorable Zelda experience to me because the story, the characters, and the blend of stunning visuals and great music made this game feel like a genuine adventure to me in a long time (even more than Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, or Wind Waker); which only makes me more excited for what kind of open world adventure awaits all of us in Breath of the Wild…
5. Monster Hunter Generations (3DS)
While the first games in the Monster Hunter series have thrown players to the wolves with little explanation or tutorial to the hunting action, Generations…is still just as hard and unforgiving, but still makes itself more accessible to newcomers like 4 Ultimate did last year with practice missions, tutorials, and the always-valuable Hunter Notes. New additions to gameplay in Generations are the Hunting Styles, which players can choose to enhance their abilities in flashy, yet practical ways. Some may see them as overpowering, but I still find myself challenged all the time even with the kind of “super-attacks” and maneuvers these Hunting Styles provide. If anything, I say they make finding your own style all the more exciting and memorable when you can land one of those attacks to finish off a tough monster!
My own experience of Monster Hunter is limited to what was released on the 3DS, so I didn’t have the same amount of nostalgia as others might have had upon seeing familiar villages and monsters from the games in the series’ past. Still, it’s cool to see these old places and monsters in what seems like a Greatest Hits of Monster Hunter, making it probably the best introductory Monster Hunter for those uninitiated. I may have spent hours fighting the same monsters trying to make new armors and weapons like I have in 3 and 4 Ultimate, but I never felt bored doing it all because every hunt still demands your total attention and every mission makes you wiser and better prepared for the next. It’s that sense of reward and progression that makes every Monster Hunter feel like a personal adventure in every iteration that you can look back on and be proud of what you’ve accomplished…and then treat yourself to a Well-done Steak!
4. Pokemon Sun (3DS)
What can I say about Pokemon that people haven’t already said? It’s been a part of my gaming and anime-watching life for as long as I can remember, and I continue to learn more with each generation and with every fellow Trainer I meet; which is the best thing about a community 20 years strong! After all these years of an effective, though repetitive, structure to the main series Pokemon games, Sun and Moon mix it up just enough to still be familiar to us, but fresh and new at the same time. The Island Challenge made me wonder how different these trials would be from the standard 8 gym structure, and the removal of HM moves in favor of summoning Ride Pokemon was a truly welcome change to structuring teams and exploration. When I was playing past generations of Pokemon to prepare for this generation, I was surprised with how little I cared about X/Y’s story and characters while the game itself looked great. Although Sun and Moon are still on the 3DS, this generation’s story and characters stood out so much more to me and made me feel like I was a part of this world more than any other Pokemon game out there.
All that said, after the main story is done, raising competitive teams is pretty much all that’s left, and I’ve never really been a fan of that metagame. To me, it breaks the immersion when I think of hatching dozens of eggs that all look the same just to find a “perfect-natured” specimen, but I don’t resent anyone who is going competitive into this new generation, especially with the new IV Judge to expedite their breeding and team-building. That aside, this seventh major generation of Pokemon feels like the most advanced in terms of story, characters, and overall worldbuilding for me, and it makes us all wonder what could possibly be next for the Pokemon series on a storytelling and technical scale…
3. Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits (3DS)
You may wonder why I’m ranking Yo-kai Watch over Pokemon in this list. The reason for this is that while I’m really enjoying Pokemon Sun, I really had no doubt that I would. On the other hand, Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits was my first experience with a game in its series. Even though I’m a big fan of the Yo-kai Watch anime, I still wondered if this game would be as fun as my friends who enjoyed its predecessor said it would be. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Yo-kai Watch 2 may mimic the dual versions and monster-collecting gameplay Pokemon has established, but I still remember it for its own adventure filled with charming and relatable characters and Yo-kai, a wide open world full of detail that breathed life to it, and the engaging, real-time battle system that truly feels like its own. In a month’s time, I’ve put about 110 hours into this game (more than the 85 hours I’ve currently clocked into Pokemon Sun) simply because even after the main story’s done, there are still lots of new Yo-kai, quests, and little secrets to uncover all over the game’s open world. Throughout my time with this game, I’ve also gotten to know some of the Yo-kai Watch community, exchanging tips and Yo-kai to help aid each other in completion bonuses, and all of that assured to me that Yo-kai Watch really is as popular as I believed it to be, and I think it’s only getting started.
As I’ve said in my review for this game, there is no replacing the 20-year-old series of Pokemon as the primary monster-collecting game, but that’s not what I want for the Yo-kai Watch series, nor do I want this series to be discounted and ignored. There’s real potential in Yo-kai Watch through its games and the anime, and I’ll continue to support this whimsical series so that it can be enjoyed by audiences everywhere.
2. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (Wii U)
Tokyo Mirage Sessions may only be remembered as an underselling niche RPG at the end of the Wii U’s life, or worse; only known for the endless localization complaints and trashy “anime was a mistake” memes, but I absolutely loved this game in spite of all that. As someone who has spent years studying Japanese traditional and pop culture, this game’s blending of modern Japanese life (that Shin Megami Tensei is known for) and epic heroes of fantasy (that Fire Emblem is known for) made me feel like this was the perfect RPG for me.
While the main characters’ conflicts and personal stories don’t go as deep and dark as most Atlus RPGs I’ve played, they feel real enough for me to relate with and continue to follow as they develop from up-and-coming entertainers into heroes in their own right. The battle system was also a nice blend of SMT and Fire Emblem elements in terms of outsmarting enemies that can exploit weaknesses and knock characters out just as skillfully as you can, making fights easy to read into but rather difficult to master. To top it all off, the amount of J-Pop style this game has is incredible, from the colorful designs of the heroes and villains to the stellar soundtrack that I can’t stop listening to even after I’ve stopped playing. Now I won’t pretend that this game can really appeal to everyone (as no game really can), but I think fans of Persona, Fire Emblem, or JRPGs in general won’t be disappointed with Tokyo Mirage Sessions. I’m only sad that after finishing the 50-hour story once, there isn’t too much to come back to, but I want to be optimistic that these heroic idols and their iconic Mirage partners will return someday. Until then, I’ll keep rocking out to “Reincarnation” in every Smash fight I play~
1. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation (3DS)
Fire Emblem Fates was a real journey for me early this year; a journey not only in the game itself, but also shaping my perspective on gaming that led me to writing and sharing my gaming thoughts here on this site. Like Sun & Moon for Pokemon, Fates takes the SRPG elements Fire Emblem is known for and changes the formula just enough to be familiar, but also fresh. Some of these changes were either highly praised or highly scorned by the gaming community; the most obvious being the localization and the game having three versions. I would be lying if I said all the criticism amplified throughout the Internet didn’t make me despise the community and keep me from sharing my own thoughts for fear of being labeled a fanboy. But in spite of all that…
I still played all three storylines at least once, experimenting with character pairings, strategies, and discovering every possible secret; and that amounted to over 200 hours spent playing. I wouldn’t spend that much time on any game if I didn’t like it or let all the criticism get to me. I’ll admit, however, that the characters and dialogue are numerous, but sometimes flat and jarring, and while Birthright and Conquest are their own complete and unique story, they certainly compel players to want to see the whole picture for an extra $20-$40. But I still cared enough about the story and the characters to see their plight through to the end, and I was left satisfied and had gotten my money’s worth at the end of all things. Like Tokyo Mirage Sessions, some people may only remember this game for the controversies that will never die down on some parts of the internet. I, on the other hand, will always remember Fire Emblem Fates for its ambitious and gripping story, the crushing challenges across all three versions, and a truly life-changing experience for me, for both my feelings in the game and outside of it, and that is why it’s my favorite game this year.
Thank you for reading about my favorite games this year! I know a lot of them came from Nintendo but that’s simply because those are the only gaming systems I have and I genuinely enjoyed them; as much as I still want to play a lot more of this year’s releases on all platforms. I ranked all of these games based on my own personal investment and enjoyment throughout the year. Some of you may have other opinions on these games or other games not mentioned here, so I encourage you all to share some of your favorite games this year and keep the excitement strong for whatever awaits us in 2017!