Matt's 16 Most Important Games of ‘16

Matt's 16 Most Important Games of ‘16
 
 

By any account, 2016 has been a wonderful year for games, and the lists my colleagues shared over the past few weeks certainly affirmed that. How they managed to narrow their lists down to just five top games is beyond me. Just cutting it down to the top 16 of ‘16 was a rough task (the fact that I didn’t just do an even 20 goes to show my commitment to stupid wordplay).

In my thoughts on the “top” games of 2016, I couldn’t help but wonder what makes a “top” game. Is it the best game, and if so, by what measure? Is it the game you enjoyed the most? The game you spent the most time with? “The games I liked the most” is vague and subjective. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but I think it’s useful to pin down what exactly a “top game” is, at least from my perspective.

For me, a top game is one that isn’t just fun or entertaining, but is noteworthy in some way. It’s a game that pushes boundaries, challenges expectations, and has some sort of impact – on the medium, on society, on the audience, or on all of the above. A top game is a game that won’t be forgotten as soon as the next big thing comes along, but a game that we’ll be talking about five, ten, even twenty years from now. For me, the top games are the ones that make a difference – the ones that are the most important in some way or another.

Thus, in a deliberately randomised order (praise be to RNGesus), I give you my Top 16 Games of ‘16.

Unravel

“Truly, Unravel is a special game.” That’s what I said when I reviewed Unravel way back in February, and it’s a sentiment that still rings true. This is a game that’s light on overt plot, but instead focuses on deep emotional storytelling – environmental design, music, mechanics, and animations all come together to tell a heartwarming tale about family, love, and loss.

It’s a welcome first step in EA’s newfound embracing of smaller, more niche games. More importantly, it’s one of the finest examples of the power of minimalist storytelling, and the kind of magic that can be made when the different aspects of game design come together as a cohesive whole.

Unravel Review.

Firewatch

There’s been a lot of attention given to Firewatch, and rightly so. It’s a remarkable game that proves the capacity of the medium to tell intimate, interpersonal drama stories. Games have an obsession with putting protagonists up against external threats that can be overcome, and even the games that do a great job of telling personal stories almost always do so within the context of something decidedly “gamey”.

Firewatch pointedly subverts that trend. It has a setup that screams mystery thriller, but it instead tells a moving, tragic story that – importantly – is grounded entirely in reality. I don’t want to give too much away, but the way it plays off expectations of the video game medium is utter brilliance. Fantastic performances from Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer certainly help, too.

Firewatch Hub.

Final Fantasy XV

I know plenty of people were surprised at with how good Final Fantasy XV turned out, after such a troubled development. What really blew me away, though, is just just how successful it is at taking the Final Fantasy series in a new direction, while still retaining that core “Final Fantasy-ness”.

In a lot of ways, Final Fantasy XV is unlike any other game in the series: it’s an open-world action RPG set in a world that’s much more grounded in reality. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s as inspired by classic American films like Stand By Me as it is by its JRPG forebears. Yet it still has all the heart, silliness, and melodrama – delivered to near perfection – of an old timey Final Fantasy game, not to mention its myriad of Easter eggs. If you want to reinvigorate a franchise, this is how you do it.

Final Fantasy XV Review.

Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan

One of the wonderful side effects of the ongoing indie boom has been the growing presence of games from developing nations. Among the most momentous of these is Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan, the first commercial game from Cameroon. The folks at Kiro’o spent the past decade working on Aurion, and despite month-long power outages and a relative lack of reliable communications infrastructure, they managed to develop and release a great game.

Aurion draws a lot of inspiration from the likes of Tales of Destiny, Guilty Gear, and Dragon Ball Z, but it’s also unapologetically African. Everything, from the setting – a fantasy world based on a vision of an Africa that was never colonised – to the outfits and weapons characters’ use are based on different African cultures. It got enough attention that rights to an Aurion film were purchased, so here’s hoping we’ll be seeing plenty more out of Kiro’o in the year’s to come.

Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan Hub.

Dragon Quest Builders

This game could have easily been a disaster – a shallow attempt to cash in on the popularity of Minecraft. Instead, it’s a brilliant fusion of different ideas that come together to form something that’s much more than the sum of its parts.

On paper, it’s Minecraft with Dragon Quest elements. In practice, that means it’s a block-builder with robust RPG elements and a captivating story, giving it a sense of structure and progression that these games often lack (not to mention ridiculously cute monsters). Dragon Quest Builders proves that when well designed, placing constraints on a sandbox can actually encourage design, rather than hindering it. No other game has pushed the block-building genre forward like Dragon Quest Builders.

Dragon Quest Builders Review.

Gal*Gun: Double Peace

Gal*Gun: Double Peace is a first-person rail shooter that trades bullets for “pheromone shots” and zombies/soldiers/what-have-you for horny girls. It’s also one of the smartest games released all year, and I am being 100 percent serious when I say that.

For one thing, it’s a great example of how well-established mechanics can be repurposed with a bit of creativity. Shooters are violent by definition, but Gal*Gun turns that on its head. In the process, it puts a spotlight on the odd double standard that society has in its treatment of violence and sex in games.

It’s also a brilliant satire of “pervy anime games” and sexualisation. It’s an unashamedly lewd and suggestive game, but it’s very self-aware and takes every opportunity to chastise its target audience. Moreover, it’s designed in such a way that if you want to do well, you have to look past that sexualisation and see the girls in the game as people. There are some 80 different girls in the game, and getting good scores requires knowing them as individuals – not just where they’re most sensitive to pheromone shots, but their likes, dislikes, hobbies, and so on.

Gal Gun: Double Peace Hub.

My Name is Mayo

One of the most significant works of video game art is a game about tapping a jar of mayonnaise until the lid comes off. It’s a game that costs a dollar, can be “finished” in half an hour, and consists entirely of pressing a single button repeatedly.

In this, it offers up a scathing (and hilarious) satire of the videogame medium as a whole, and the AAA industry in particular. It puts a spotlight on the the fundamental absurdity of games: they’re  abstract collections of mathematical equations and meaningless button presses. Even the most serious games are still grounded in that “gaminess,” and that lack of self-awareness is firmly in My Name is Mayo’s crosshairs.

It also takes aim at our obsession with trophies and high scores, with a pointless leaderboard that some folks have nonetheless committed hundreds of hours to. It lampoons common game plots with a few different stories that play out in trophy descriptions and an assortment of different costumes that you unlock for your mayo jar. In short, it’s a brilliant piece of videogame anti-art, and that’s something this medium desperately needs.

My Name is Mayo Hub.

ABZU

There’s been a bit of a surge in “quiet games” – games that aren’t about overcoming challenges or even about doing anything, specifically. Instead, they just let you exist in a place, with minimal interactivity, as you let the world wash over you. They’re introspective, meditative experiences that offer some welcome respite from the rush of life.

ABZU is one of the best examples of this sort of game. Its stylised, dreamlike vision of the deep sea is a wonder to get lost in, and grabbing hold of a whale’s fin and just cruising the waterscape is among the most serene experiences I’ve ever had in a game. In a medium so obsessed with giving players stuff to do, ABZU makes a point of doing nothing at all, and that’s a beautiful thing.

ABZU Review.

Continue reading on page 2.





 

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Comments Comments (14)

 
Posted by Syn-Ryn
On Friday 23 Dec 2016 3:20 PM
4
Gal Gun was the absolute last thing I was expecting to see on this list.
 
 
 
Posted by Outlaw213
On Friday 23 Dec 2016 3:53 PM
1
Top 16 damn! I'm having trouble putting together a top 5 cause I haven't played enough lol...

Good list - have not played majority of them, like always.
 
 
 
Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
On Friday 23 Dec 2016 4:01 PM
1
Hot damn there's more games in this list than Ive managed to play this entire year. Wish I had the time...
 
 
 
Posted by Nick2016NZ
On Friday 23 Dec 2016 4:12 PM
2
23 December 2016, 03:20 PM Reply to Syn-Ryn
Gal Gun was the absolute last thing I was expecting to see on this list.
Not as surprised as I was to see My Name Is Mayo lol
 
 
 
Posted by emetic
On Friday 23 Dec 2016 6:37 PM
-
Hey this is the best staff list so far.

Gal Gun though haha.
 
 
 
Posted by Paorio
On Friday 23 Dec 2016 7:54 PM
-
My name is mayo goty
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Friday 23 Dec 2016 8:14 PM
-
interesting list.

Is my name is Mayo an actual scathing satire of anything? Or a bad game that was brought to playstation with a plat for easy money? I haven't played it but based on my understanding it seems like you may be reading a bit much into it.
 
 
 
Posted by Coddfish
On Saturday 24 Dec 2016 1:07 AM
1
23 December 2016, 08:14 PM Reply to drunk_monk
interesting list.

Is my name is Mayo an actual scathing satire of anything? Or a bad game that was brought to playstation with a plat for easy money? I haven't played it but based on my understanding it seems like you may be reading a bit much into it.
I never said it's a bad game. It's not a bad game at all. Even if you just take it at face value, it's a hilarious game that's a great way to spend half an hour.

The satire stuff is always open to a bit of interpretation, but there are too many things about Mayo's design for it to be coincidence. The stories and the way they unfold, the game's self-awareness of the pointlessness of its trophy chase, the use of leaderboards all point to a very deliberate critique of the medium. And even if it's not intended, that critique is still there. Art is interprative; you can't "read too much into it".
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Saturday 24 Dec 2016 7:44 AM
-
Sorry I wasn't saying you thought it was a bad game, I'm just going by what I have heard and read elsewhere, it seems like a bad mobile game that was brought to PlayStation to get easy cash with a cheap, no work required plat.

"Art is interprative; you can't "read too much into it".
Reply "
Totally but not everything is art, surely there has to be some intention to it.

Like paintings are art, if I paint my house blue because it's practical and someone says it's a satire of societies use of house colours, I'd say BS, it's because it's aesthetically pleasing, you are reading too much into the cans of paint I got on special. If that makes sense. Just because video games are art, that doesn't mean every one is IMO

As I say I haven't played it and am just going by what I have read elsewhere, this just seems like such a starkly contrasting opinion I just wanted to know more.
 
 
 
Posted by Coddfish
On Saturday 24 Dec 2016 9:31 AM
1
24 December 2016, 07:44 AM Reply to drunk_monk
Sorry I wasn't saying you thought it was a bad game, I'm just going by what I have heard and read elsewhere, it seems like a bad mobile game that was brought to PlayStation to get easy cash with a cheap, no work required plat.

"Art is interprative; you can't "read too much into it".
Reply "
Totally but not everything is art, surely there has to be some intention to it.

Like paintings are art, if I paint my house blue because it's practical and someone says it's a satire of societies use of house colours, I'd say BS, it's because it's aesthetically pleasing, you are reading too much into the cans of paint I got on special. If that makes sense. Just because video games are art, that doesn't mean every one is IMO

As I say I haven't played it and am just going by what I have read elsewhere, this just seems like such a starkly contrasting opinion I just wanted to know more.
All games are art by virtue of games being an art form. If I paint really bad stick figures, it's still art – arguably bad art, but still art. Even I didn't intend any particular meaning in them, if other people find some meaning, that's great. They're not "reading too much into it" – they're subjectively interpreting the piece, which is how art works.

The house painting example is a false equivalency because that's something purely utilitarian, which games aren't. Even so, if someone does see your choice of colour as satire of something or other, that's their take on it. Even if that wasn't your intention, their reading isn't invalid.

My Name is Mayo is anti-art, so it's obviously going to be disliked by many. Without getting into too much of an art history lesson, anti-art deliberately subverts conventional standards as a point of critique of those standards, so it's always going to be niche and misunderstood.

People criticise Mayo for minimal "gameplay" and easy trophies, but that's exactly the point. It's a critique of our obsession with meaningless achievements, which comes through in how the trophy progression is structured and their descriptions. It's a critique of the obsession with arbitrary "gameplay" that often hinders a game's narrative rather than enhancing it, by paring "gameplay" down to its most basic element and tying narrative progression to that. It critiques of the lack of self-awareness in so many Very Serious Games with a series of stories that poke fun at common game narratives like daddy issues and brooding broodyman looking for meaning in life.

Also, the idea that a game that costs 99 cents is a "cash grab" is bizarre.
 
 
 
Posted by CoffeeAddict
On Saturday 24 Dec 2016 9:31 AM
-
24 December 2016, 07:44 AM Reply to drunk_monk
Sorry I wasn't saying you thought it was a bad game, I'm just going by what I have heard and read elsewhere, it seems like a bad mobile game that was brought to PlayStation to get easy cash with a cheap, no work required plat.

"Art is interprative; you can't "read too much into it".
Reply "
Totally but not everything is art, surely there has to be some intention to it.

Like paintings are art, if I paint my house blue because it's practical and someone says it's a satire of societies use of house colours, I'd say BS, it's because it's aesthetically pleasing, you are reading too much into the cans of paint I got on special. If that makes sense. Just because video games are art, that doesn't mean every one is IMO

As I say I haven't played it and am just going by what I have read elsewhere, this just seems like such a starkly contrasting opinion I just wanted to know more.
I'm not the greatest fan of modern art but when i was forced to go to the Tait Modern in London I started ridiculing a piece where the artist has made a single straight cut into some package paper. This was shown pride of place across from a complex work by Picasso and that made me annoyed. An attending came up to me and said 'Art is anything that causes an emotional response'. In that case rage. Though i still don't agree with him, its an interesting point which may be valid for My Name is Mayo.

It does however seem like a cynical money grab of a game for trophy hunters.
 
 
 
Posted by WaltzIT
On Saturday 24 Dec 2016 10:14 AM
2
24 December 2016, 07:44 AM Reply to drunk_monk
Sorry I wasn't saying you thought it was a bad game, I'm just going by what I have heard and read elsewhere, it seems like a bad mobile game that was brought to PlayStation to get easy cash with a cheap, no work required plat.

"Art is interprative; you can't "read too much into it".
Reply "
Totally but not everything is art, surely there has to be some intention to it.

Like paintings are art, if I paint my house blue because it's practical and someone says it's a satire of societies use of house colours, I'd say BS, it's because it's aesthetically pleasing, you are reading too much into the cans of paint I got on special. If that makes sense. Just because video games are art, that doesn't mean every one is IMO

As I say I haven't played it and am just going by what I have read elsewhere, this just seems like such a starkly contrasting opinion I just wanted to know more.
"Like paintings are art, if I paint my house blue because it's practical and someone says it's a satire of societies use of house colours, I'd say BS, it's because it's aesthetically pleasing, you are reading too much into the cans of paint I got on special. If that makes sense. Just because video games are art, that doesn't mean every one is IMO"


Before play acting as an art critic you should read Death of the Author, so that you understand that an artist's intent is largely irrelevant to the meaning a person derives from an art work.

Furthermore, your lack of understanding of a game (and given you haven't even played it, that lack of understanding is extensive) does not render the artistic value of a work invalid. I don't like Hip-Hop and derive no value from it. I would never be so crazy as to claim Hip-Hop is not art.

Similarly anti-art games like My Name Is Mayo will only make sense to people who are particularly attuned to postmodernist thinking and artistic philosophy. You're clearly not an example of that.

And yet you are arrogant enough to argue that your lack of understanding translates to a lack or artistic value within the work itself.

Not cool dude.
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Saturday 24 Dec 2016 5:20 PM
2
24 December 2016, 09:31 AM Reply to Coddfish
All games are art by virtue of games being an art form. If I paint really bad stick figures, it's still art – arguably bad art, but still art. Even I didn't intend any particular meaning in them, if other people find some meaning, that's great. They're not "reading too much into it" – they're subjectively interpreting the piece, which is how art works.

The house painting example is a false equivalency because that's something purely utilitarian, which games aren't. Even so, if someone does see your choice of colour as satire of something or other, that's their take on it. Even if that wasn't your intention, their reading isn't invalid.

My Name is Mayo is anti-art, so it's obviously going to be disliked by many. Without getting into too much of an art history lesson, anti-art deliberately subverts conventional standards as a point of critique of those standards, so it's always going to be niche and misunderstood.

People criticise Mayo for minimal "gameplay" and easy trophies, but that's exactly the point. It's a critique of our obsession with meaningless achievements, which comes through in how the trophy progression is structured and their descriptions. It's a critique of the obsession with arbitrary "gameplay" that often hinders a game's narrative rather than enhancing it, by paring "gameplay" down to its most basic element and tying narrative progression to that. It critiques of the lack of self-awareness in so many Very Serious Games with a series of stories that poke fun at common game narratives like daddy issues and brooding broodyman looking for meaning in life.

Also, the idea that a game that costs 99 cents is a "cash grab" is bizarre.
Thanks for responding, it's always great to see opposite ends of the scale of a games reception.

I did try to buy it out of curiosity but had issues with getting the US PSN to accept my money, so maybe next time I'm buying something else I'll stick it in the cart, or if it becomes available on our store.

The cash grab idea is it being super cheap, super short and with a plat appealing to trophy hunters, it may not sell anywhere near as many at 120 bucks and not get as much cash if that makes sense.

Either way thanks for taking the time to elaborate on your views.
 
 
 
Posted by Zolen
On Thursday 29 Dec 2016 3:12 PM
1
Wow this is a great list !! Agree with most of them ;) (I'm not telling which I disagree on)