With 2016 coming to a close, and the Steam Winter Sale right around the corner, I figured it was time for another Best of 2016 list. In no particular order, here's some of my favorite pass times of the previous year.
This farm life simulator sought to take the crown from the historically popular Harvest Moon series, and it just might have succeeded. With it's predecessor caught in licensing issues and creative splits, Stardew Valley was able to sweep in and dazzle the indie gaming scene with mod support, expanded romance options, and an in-game achievement system that kept players invested in trying new things.
A Handsome Doctor Husband / 10
I haven't gotten around to playing many of the popular "walking simulators". It's hard to resist the siren song of Rocket League when I sit down at my computer, but I was able to break away long enough to check out this year's Firewatch.
Firewatch is gorgeous. The game takes place over the summer in the wilderness of Wyoming, with your only lifeline to the outside world being a fellow fire lookout on the radio. The game is a bit more linear and plot driven than other games of it's ilk, so if you've been hesitant to check out the genre, Firewatch is probably the walking simulator for you.
Go Climb A Rock / 10
This year's board game entry practically needs no introduction. Secret Hitler had a wildly successful Kickstarter. The extra revenue let them up their production values and enlist celebrity talent for what otherwise might have been an overlooked hidden roles game in a sea of competitors.
Much like Werewolf or The Resistance, Secret Hitler has a group of players attempting to accomplish a shared goal, with a small set of betrayers in their midsts. Rather than being a straightforward logic puzzle like it's competitors however, Secret Hitler introduces enough randomness, hard information, and special powers to keep the game interesting and tense. Pair that with an instructional app by Wil Wheaton, and you've got the ingredients for a fun night of social gaming.
A Coordinated Liberal Cabinet / 10
Available on Amazon.
If your social gaming nights aren't complete without a controller in your hands, Overcooked is the game for you. It's a collaborative cooking game with simple enough controls for casual gamers not to get intimidated by. Each level has you chopping some ingredients, heating them somehow, dishing them up on a place, and sending it out through the order window. The trick is that there's always more jobs than players, and so you need to develop ad hoc assembly line to respond to new challenges and make sure everything gets done.
What kind of challenges? Well, you're not exactly cooking in traditional kitchen environments. Your work stations are liable to be sliding around on the deck of a pirate ship, split between multiple food trucks, or even orbiting a space station. The game works well with two people, and scales smoothly up to four. If you're a fan of 2011's Monaco, you owe it to yourself to give Overcooked a look.
A Perfectly Executed Hollandaise Sauce / 10
Space Battle Lunchtime
No animated gif this time! Space Battle Lunchtime is a new comic written and drawn by Natalie Riess and published Oni Press. It's a cute lighthearted tale of Peony's unlikely entry in Space Battle Lunchtime, an intergalactic cooking show. Every panel is full to the brim vivid coloring and amusing background details.
An Adorable Intergalactic Pastry Chef / 10
Vol. 1 Available on Amazon.
Free To Play games are a fraught category. Particularly in the mobile space, games with zero upfront cost and paid micro-transactions often just end up being Skinner Boxes for players to sink their money into. The one general exception to this rule is collectable card games. It's a format proven in real world trading card games, and games like Hearthstone have shown that you can make them lucrative and engaging in the online space.
I personally never got into Hearthstone. I was a big Magic: The Gathering player back in high school and college, and I didn't see anything significantly improved from the Magic template to warrant the time investment. When Cool Ghosts recommended Duelyst however, I decided to give these online trading card games a look. Duelyst's innovation in the space is a 9x5 combat grid. The added complexity of having to plan your troop movement and summoning locations helps insure that every turn of gameplay is filled with interesting choices.
One. More. Game. / 10
Pokémon Sun & Moon
The last few entries in the PokÃ©mon series have gotten a bit repetitive, so it was nice to see Nintendo mix up the formula in the latest entry. Rather simply adding another 100+ PokÃ©mon designs, Sun & Moon has gone back and added new "Alola" forms for old PokÃ©mon like Meowth and Exeggutor. The plot forgoes the typical PokÃ©mon gym league, and there's enough small tweaks and niceties to make PokÃ©mon Sun & Moon a good reentry point for lapsed PokÃ©mon fans looking to scratch that itch.
Alola Means Hello and Goodbye / 10
Both the book and the film. Heck, the audiobook was good too. I hadn't heard anything about these works until the movie was already out in theaters, but I'm glad I decided to go see it. Andy Weir's first novel was a fun hard science space story that triumphs science and human ingenuity. The book has a few more events that were cut for time in the film, but the movie is a remarkably faithful adaptation.
Everything Going According To Plan For Once / 10
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Did you like Deus Ex: Human Revolution? You'll like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Despite it's shortfalls, the Deus Ex franchise still remains one of the best examples of an "RPG FPS". Throughout the game you can upgrade your cyborg special agent with a variety of technological enhancement that let you tackle missions in a multitude of ways. Want to go in guns blazing? Upgrade your armor. Favor sneaking? Develop a cloak. Want to bypass sections of the enemy fortress all together? Upgrade your hacking skill and turn the enemy's defense systems against them.
Mankind Divided lets you build out your character however you want, but unfortunately it is a bit lacking in the role playing and story aspects. Your choice of missions amount to little more than a binary choice of which spiffy item you'd prefer. The game's story focuses on the growing tensions between natural humans and cyborgs, but your characters is never made to feel any affects from this. Even when you strictly disobey police officers, you treated with nothing more than a brief time wasting cut scene. The series is obviously building towards what I assume Ubisoft hopes is more frequently releases, so hopefully future games will address these issues.
A Robo-Apartheid / 10
Boom! Studios' has been on a tear recently. After the runaway success of their all female-created full female-cast Lumberjanes, they're hoping that lightening will strike twice with The Backstagers. Taking place at an all-boys school, the comic follows a group of self identified misfits as they manage the behind the scenes for their school's drama club performances. Both Lumberjanes and The Backstagers feature approachable and identifiable stories for young readers, as well as positive representations of a full spectrum of LGBT characters without every issue devolving into a "very special episode". I'm eager to see the series' conclusion, and have my fingers crossed that, like Lumberjanes, it will be picked up for an ongoing series.
Forget The Cute Score Please Just Go Read This Series / 10
Currently only available in individual comic floppies. Go visit your friendly local comic book shop, or wait for an anthology trade paperback.
Star Fox Zero
Star Fox has always been Nintendo's experimental franchise. It's been used to test 3D technologies, rumble features, and the chops of 3rd party development studios. In that sense, Star Fox Zero is as close everything Star Fox fans could have ever hoped for, and everything they should have expected.
Following the 3DS' Star Fox 64 HD remake, Star Fox Zero is a faithful spiritual successor. The opening level of Star Fox Zero is nearly identical to Star Fox 64, right down to the, "We're entering Corneria City now" dialog. The latest entry takes liberal inspiration from the franchise's past, while still introducing enough new levels and vehicles to feel fresh.
Unfortunately, Star Fox Zero stays faithful to Nintendo's history of experimentation and comes with their latest gimmick: The Wii U Gamepad. The gamepad's display shows a cockpit view, while the TV screen shows the traditional third person vehicle view. The targeting reticule nows moves independently, making the Arwing a bit harder to fly. It simulates the difficulty of aiming while flying a fast moving vehicle a bit too well, but I personally didn't have much trouble with it. Once you get a hang of it, you feel like you've actually gained mastery of a complicated system, rather than gaming's typical numbers-driven "avatar strength" improvements.
Available on Amazon.
A Tricky Barrel Roll / 10
Star Trek / Star Wars
I just realized how many entries on this list are Sci-Fi related. 2016 was a good year for action-heavy science fiction films. Star Trek: Beyond and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were both dazzling spectacles if nothing else.
Star Trek: Beyond Available on Amazon.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Currently In Theaters.
A neat CG explosion / 10
Talk about your sign of the times. Disney made a children's movie about prejudice. The metaphors get a bit convoluted if you try applying them too directly to specific issues like racism or institutionalize discrimination, but Zootopia remains a fun romp through an imaginative world that both kids and adults will enjoy.
A Bunnies Are Good At Multiplying Joke / 10
Available on Amazon.
This was another game with years of development that came out of nowhere for me. Owlboy is a stunningly gorgeous pixel art game. The gameplay straddles the line between platformer and twin-stick shooter, but the story and world building are really what take center stage. The game does a great job of making you emphasize with the mute owl Otis, and the story has a nice emotional arc that should feel familiar for fans of games like Undertale.
It's A Hoot / 10
There have been a few games that have tried to capture the feeling of a badass dramatically typing on a command line. Games like Uplink and Hacker Evolution have come close, but usually either stuffer from having too simplified an interface, or being so complicated that they're not approachable. Duskers is the first game that I think successfully straddles the line.
Rather than playing as a hacker, Duskers thrusts you into the role of a salvage ship operator in a post-disaster galaxy. You hobble through space, docking with derelict ships and sending a team of remotely operated drones to collect salvage and attempt to figure out just what happened to the world. The interface is surprisingly antiquated, with CRT monitor glow, scan lines, and most importantly, a command line interface.
Your drones are equipped with manual arrow-key movement, but the most efficient form of movement is to type in a series of commands to your drones. "d3" opens the ship's third door. "navigate 2 r4" moves your second drone to the ship's fourth room. The commands are easy enough to learn and memorize, but when things start going... wrong, you suddenly find yourself acting on instinct, hastily typing out a long string of commands you didn't even know you knew in a desperate attempt to rescue the drones you can, and seal off those that are clearly a goner. There's nothing out there quite like Duskers, so it's definitely worth a look.
set score d1 10 / 10
That's it for this year's list. Hope you enjoyed it!