Hey, all: Bob here. I’ve been cataloging my favorite games of the year on this very Internet since around 2008 or so, and, because Tumblr isn’t the best place for text-heavy posts, I figured the Retronauts blog would make a good home for 2016’s list. (The other lists have been lost to time and 1UP’s utter disappearance, but you can check out 2014’s here and 2015’s here.)
Now, since I’ve already blurbed about plenty of these for my job at Fandom, I’m going to keep my write-ups somewhat short. If anything, this list exists to remind me how I chose to spend 1000-or-so hours of free time in the waking nightmare we called 2016.
That said, I’m happy to present my favorite 10 games of this year, listed in an extremely loose least-good-to-most-good order that’s tainted with my personal biases. Enjoy!
10. Dragon Quest Builders
On the surface, Dragon Quest Builders looks like the most cynical video game concept on earth. Thankfully, its attempts to fit the anything-goes world of Minecraft into the rewarding restrictions of Japanese game design resulted in a highly addictive and worthwhile experience. Granted, it did let me lose a vital key and essentially made 20 hours of play pointless, but the scars have healed over the past few months and I’m now able to look back on my time with DQB fondly. (And I may even start a new game in 2017.)
9. Dark Souls III
Dark Souls has lost a tiny bit of its luster since it bowled us over way back in 2011, but III isn’t a huge step down for From Software—especially when you consider they’ve been working on massive RPGs back-to-back for nearly a decade. This one may not be my favorite of the series, but it brings a lot of new stuff to the table, and looks absolutely gorgeous after finally breaking free from the restraints of last-gen hardware. Bloodborne kinda spoiled me with its more interesting world and Lovecraftian overtones, but Dark Souls III is still Dark Souls. And I like Dark Souls a whole bunch.
8. Rhythm Heaven Megamix
Plenty of folks probably missed its digital-only 3DS release, but Rhythm Heaven Megamix amounts to the best take on the series to date. Megamix presents the Rhythm Heaven you know and love, all while eliminating the unnecessary tedium and frustration that made the previous entries less whimsical and welcoming than they aspired to be. Sure, more new songs would have been nice, but it’s still pretty cool to have this ideal version of Rhythm Heaven on my 3DS at all times.
7. Monster Hunter Generations
Monster Hunter has essentially been tinkering with the same basic formula for over a decade, and Generations makes for the smartest iteration yet. From its big, huge changes, to the countless granular ones only apparent to series veterans, Generations sets out to be the most approachable take on the series yet—all while keeping the impressive complexity that still pushes most folks away. By the end of 2016, I played more Generations than any other Monster Hunter game to date, and that’s really saying something.
6. Stardew Valley
I used to be a big fan of Harvest Moon, despite the fact that it’s kind of been floundering for the past decade. Instead of sticking with one formula and continually refining it—as Natsume did from the series’ debut to the GBA’s Friends of Mineral Town—every new year brings a reinvention of the Harvest Moon wheel, with the promise of “it’ll be good this time, we swear!” Meanwhile, Stardew Valley came out of nowhere in 2016, greatly expanded on the Friends of Mineral Town experience, and ended up being so addictive I forcibly put it on hold so I could actually play other stuff. Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons still soldier on, but they’re going to have to try a lot harder if they ever want to dethrone this indie upstart.
5. The Last Guardian
We’ve seen a handful of games enter development hell, only to come out the other side a total wreck. *cough*Too Human*cough* But, miraculously, Sony gave The Last Guardian all the time it needed to come into being as a fantastic game. With AAA releases only becoming more homogenized and safe since 2005’s Shadow of the Colossus, director Fumito Ueda’s choices have struck some as more baffling than idiosyncratic in 2016. But if you accept frustration as a natural part of the experience, The Last Guardian does the impossible by getting you to love a collection of polygons and AI routines as if it were a real animal. And yes, it will make you cry—but not for the lousy, manipulative reasons most games do.
4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
Phoenix Wright games are basically Bob Mackey catnip, but they’re not all at the same level of quality. But, after 10 years of trying to find its way, Spirit of Justice finally puts the Ace Attorney series on the right track. Really, Spirit of Justice amounts to Apollo Justice Part Two, as it mainly devotes itself to tying up many (but not all) of the loose ends left lingering at the end of his original 2008 game. Still, Spirit of Justice follows the tradition of 2013’s Dual Destinies by being an ensemble piece. Every character gets a chance to shine, and the writers know when to pull back from fan service just before it gets annoying. Legal reasons may prevent us from seeing the Ace Attorney/Phoenix Wright crossovers, but these core sequels put out by the series’ “b team” have finally recaptured the original trilogy’s magic.
3. Final Fantasy XV
Full disclosure: I never thought I’d end up liking Final Fantasy XV, and I was pretty sure it’d end up being pretty bad. As of this writing, though, I’m currently 70 hours in and only on chapter 3, so you could say I had a change of heart. What really makes Final Fantasy XV sing for me are the smart restrictions placed on its massive open world: unlike most games of this type, you can’t just go anywhere and do everything whenever you want. The result is a highly addictive loop that has you making the absolute most of your in-game day to reap the experience-multiplying rewards by sunset. I can’t tell you much about the characters and story, but my god could I just dick around in this game forever.
I’ve been trying to find something to hit that multiplayer sweet spot since I stopped playing Left 4 Dead 2 regularly, and Overwatch has finally done it. (Even though it’s a completely different type of game.) Kudos to Blizzard for bucking conventional wisdom, since their smart choices have made Overwatch the multiplayer game of the year—and for several more to come. There’s no single-player campaign to mess with, and no characters, weapons, or abilities to unlock: Simply start the game, and it gives you a multiplayer toy box, with all the action figures available from the start. Whenever I want some quick, no-bullshit fun, I turn immediately to Overwatch. And I don’t think that’ll change anytime soon.
I didn’t really play the Hitman series before, so I had no idea this soft reboot would rank up there as my game of the year. But here we are. Though some had reservations about its episodic nature, Hitman’s emphasis on replaying levels made this distribution method ideal. Each scenario provides a fairly large and incredibly dense “murder sandbox” of sorts, with plenty of opportunities to explore, items to find, and increasingly ingenious and absurd assassination methods to discover. Each time you replay a level, you get to know it and the schedules of its residents a little better, making it all the more rewarding—unlocking costumes, weapons, items, and new starting locations certainly helps, too. All in All, Hitman amounts to a rich, rewarding, and hilarious experience that emphasizes experimentation in a way that makes it absurdly replayable. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
Games That Didn’t Make the Cut
Since I write about video games for a living, I don’t have time for everything, so I thought I’d mention a few conspicuous omissions below my top ten list. I really wanted to play through Dragon Quest VII after suffering through the PlayStation version 15 years ago, but I only started it literally yesterday. Other RPGs I couldn’t find time to play or finish: Bravely Default, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Darkest Dungeon, and Fire Emblem Fates—thankfully I only purchased two of these! Deus Ex: Mankind Divided also seemed pretty cool, as did Doom and Hyper Light Drifter. Sadly, not many indie games stood out to me this year, but I will always remember how The Witness sent me on a long tour of Puzzle Hell I will remember for the rest of my life. (Despite my best efforts.)
I guess there’s no other place to put this, so I’ll also add that I finally played through The Evil Within and really loved it despite a whole bunch of bullshit difficulty spikes and unfair deaths. Something pushed me to the end, though, and while I enjoyed The Evil Within, it’s not something I could possibly recommend.
That’s all from me this year. Take care of yourselves, and get ready for a whole new year of Retronauts stuff! …We’ve got some work to do.