by Matthew Thompson
There was plenty to remember about 2016 in gaming beyond my five favorites that I covered last week, so I’m back to talk about some of the other things that stood out to me from games last year. Here are some more of the best and worst things I encountered while playing in 2016.
Favorite Downloadable Content
To be honest, the best DLC that released in 2016 was The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine expansion. It dwarfs many full games in terms of quality and content. While I preferred 2015’s Hearts of Stone, Blood and Wine is yet another feather in the cap of one of this generation’s best games. I won’t argue Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Blood Ties DLC was objectively better, but I just loved this return to Lara’s family home so it was my personal favorite DLC of 2016. For years, I have been asking to head back to Croft Manor and Blood Ties delivered a lovely mix of exploration and light puzzle-solving while taking players on a trip down memory lane delving into the famous heroine’s family history as well as the series’ past. It was a wonderful and welcome return to a gaming location that will always have a place in my heart.
Runner-up: The aforementioned Blood and Wine for The Witcher 3. It delivered an insanely beautiful new region to explore and one of the game’s best – and most imaginative – quests in “Beyond Hill and Dale.”
Most Disappointing Game
Disappointing doesn’t mean bad. Based on what I have played so far, Watch Dogs 2 certainly seems like a good game and I could see why some prefer it to the first. But as one of the rare people who seemed to enjoy the original, I find this sequel to be a bit of a letdown. They have thrown the baby out with the bath water here. I guess due to the generally poor reception of the original, they made the decision to basically start from scratch as opposed to building on the strengths of the first game. Gone are the genre-leading third-person shooter, movement and stealth controls that made enemy encounters such a joy to play. Out are most of the unique side missions that entertained me when I wasn’t moving the story forward. And while on paper many of the new options seem like a good thing, I don’t find the mission and scenario design to feel as tight this time around. I can’t blame them for going in a completely new direction with the story, switching to a more vibrant setting or some of the other changes made in Watch Dogs 2, but I wish they hadn’t thrown away so much of what I enjoyed about the original game in the process.
Runner-Up: ReCore. With more time in the oven and perhaps a bigger budget, this could have been a real gem. I still enjoyed it, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been.
The term interactive movie is thrown around a lot to describe games, more often erroneously than not, but it feels pretty apt for Virginia. And it doesn’t seem to be something the developers themselves would shy away from with its liberal use of jump cuts and DVD-style menu complete with a Scene Selection option. Adding to the film-like quality of Virginia is a beautiful stirring score that would feel right at home if you heard it in the theater. Ultimately, the game wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but the music, composed by Lyndon Holland and performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, was amazing and easily my favorite thing about Virginia. Feel free to listen to some of the soundtrack for yourself over here!
Runners-Up: I may like both Uncharted 4 and Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst’s soundtracks about as much as this one, but neither were quite as good in the music department as in their previous installments and I wanted to use this blog to give some games not in my top five some love, so Virginia gets the nod.
Most Disappointing Moment
Quantum Break’s final confrontation is evident from early on in the game. You know what is coming and you look forward to it because going toe-to-toe with another guy that can manipulate time in the ways you can should make for an incredible final battle. Should being the key word. While this fight does happen, Remedy seems set on cutting down its potential in every way possible. You barely square off against your intended foe instead dealing with minions for most of it. You get thrown a new unexplained mechanic to wrestle with during the fight. And the pre-boss checkpoint is set to make sure you have to do a bit of walking and watch a cutscene every time you need to restart. I really enjoyed Quantum Break. The combination of different mediums – including a live-action TV series – to tell various aspects of the story works better than I expected while the combat is fun especially with the way it urges the player to not use cover – a nice change of pace from your typical third-person shooters these days. And bonus points for telling a time travel tale that doesn’t completely fall apart under further scrutiny. But the final showdown is a letdown and a frustrating one to play at that.
Favorite Handheld or Mobile Game
After liking Tales from Outer Space: Mutant Blobs Attack (a fun little LocoRoco-esque platformer) and loving Guacamelee! (one of my favorite takes on the Metroidvania subgenre), I had my eyes peeled for what developer Drinkbox Studios would do next. That turned out to be Severed and it would be a bit of a departure from what I’d played previously. Drinkbox’s trademark art direction remained intact for the new title, but the sidescrolling gameplay was traded in for first-person dungeon-crawling. I was a bit wary of the touch-based combat at the core of Severed, but Drinkbox once again proved they know what they are doing. They have packed a ton of depth into the slash ‘em- up battles reminiscent of Fruit Ninja, adding new layers at every turn and requiring a ton of strategy by the player to best the toughest foes. Meanwhile, exploring the dungeons with their sharp level design and light puzzle-solving helps break up the swipe-heavy encounters. It comes together to create a wonderful handheld package and I once again find myself looking forward to Drinkbox’s next project.
Runner-Up: Kirby: Planet Robobot. Kirby in a mech suit is just awesome and the way it breathed new life into some of his classic copy abilities was delightful. Between this, Titanfall 2 and Gears of War 4, 2016 had some great mech action.
Worst Game of the Year
My expectations for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan weren’t exactly high. I was hoping for something along the lines of Platinum’s Korra game: a middle-of-the-road licensed product with a typically fun Platinum combat system. Instead, I got this mess where you aimlessly wander around its barren open-world dealing with its who-gives-a-fuck encounter design before moving on to an overly long, obnoxious boss fight each stage. The combat system – forgettable even compared to some of the developer’s lesser outings – doesn’t deliver either. No local co-op means I couldn’t even use it to bring back nostalgic memories of the Turtles games of my youth with a buddy. I only rented it, so I don’t feel like I wasted my money, but I still wasted my time with the few hours I put into this.
Favorite Non-2016 Game I Played for the First Time Last Year
I thought Tales from the Borderlands had this award wrapped up for a good portion of 2016, but in came Shantae to sweep me off my feet in the last week of the year. This is a retro-throwback done right and I was reminded of many old 2D favorites as I played. Shantae’s penchant for whipping skeletons and candles alike recalled Castlevania – she just uses her hair instead of the vampire killer. The structure and item progression is very much in the mold of a Metroid – with animal transformations (like an elephant!) and pirate weapons (like a hat that acts as a paraglider!) granting access to new areas. And the dungeons feel a bit like a sidescrolling Zelda – the bosses are even captioned in a similar way. The old-school gameplay is joined by a vibrant world full of colorful characters and hysterical dialogue that had me laughing from beginning to end. Oh and the sprite animations are so, so good. I loved Risky’s Revenge, but Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse managed to top it with a bigger, funnier – and slightly less obtuse – adventure. This is now one of my favorite 2D series and the my favorite old gaming discovery of 2016.
Runners-Up: Shantae: Risky’s Revenge and Tales from the Borderlands. As mentioned above, Risky’s Revenge just isn’t quite as good as Pirate’s Curse, but I still loved it. Tales from the Borderlands is the first Telltale game I have wholeheartedly enjoyed and I think I’d even put it ahead of Life is Strange as my favorite of that type of game. I’d gladly play a second season.
That will do it for my look back at gaming in 2016. Later this week, I plan to talk about the games I’m most looking forward to playing this year. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read, like or comment on my year-end posts for 2016. They are my favorites to write each year and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to check them out!