From returning classics to the Wii U breathing its last (well, last-ish) to a multiplayer-only shooter absolutely taking over everyone’s lives, 2016 was a wild year for video games. Continuing from yesterday’s feature, Part Two features CR’s staff and contributing writers sharing their favorite gaming experiences of 2016–let’s get started!
NATE MING (@NateMing)
Overwatch– Not only is Overwatch a fast, bright, and fun multiplayer shooter, but it’s made people who otherwise wouldn’t play shooters into fans on its style alone. Playing out like an action-packed Saturday morning cartoon, Overwatch‘s wonderfully diverse and larger-than-life cast has inspired people who don’t even play the game, making it go beyond its already-considerable reach as “just” a game.
Dark Souls III– For me, Dark Souls is the game series that best represents life itself: nothing is easy, everything can come crashing down with one bad decision, but every victory is absolutely worth all the pain. Dark Souls III was like coming back home, only home wants to tear you apart and leave nothing left. Every gorgeous new area, every fearsome new enemy, every horrifying discovery–Dark Souls III is a hell of a ride.
Street Fighter V– Yeah yeah, no Arcade Mode, I get it. For the people who wanted to step into the arena and see what they were made of (I’m not made of much, by the way), Street Fighter V dialed back the execution-heavy insanity of Street Fighter IV, making the game more accessible to a new audience by making it about matchups and playing the person instead of worrying how tight your quarter-circles were. For all its missteps on the single-player front, SFV made Street Fighter honest again.
DOOM– In the years since Modern Warfare, it felt like shooters had become too clinical–headshot jousting and drop-shotting had taken away the thing that initially drew me to first-person gameplay decades ago: their rough, literally-in-your-face nature. DOOM drops all pretense with its mandate: RIP AND TEAR. Each fight leaves you nowhere to hide and no time to catch your breath, expecting finesse, knowledge of your terrain, using the right tool for the job, and pure killing efficiency.
Titanfall 2– Almost on the other side of the coin, Titanfall 2 demands a sense of fluidity and keeping an almost constant state of three-dimensional movement–you’re never fighting on a straight line, and it’s not about who makes the first move, but who survives the last. Add in the sheer fun of large-scale Titan clashes and you already have a near-perfect game–the excellent Iron Giant and Big Hero 6-like single-player campaign is just icing on the cake.
Hitman– My favorite stealth series returns to its roots, going episodic and giving you huge playgrounds to stalk. The variety of levels leaves you with plenty of options on how to approach targets, and are already designed so well that Agent 47’s base kit is all you really need to take them out. I was worried about the series after Absolution–consider Hitman‘s sins absolved.
Mother Russia Bleeds– Peter and I played through this whole game on stream, and it was one of the best co-op experiences I’ve had in a long while. Mother Russia Bleeds is rough, difficult, and downright nasty, and it never, ever lets up on you–this is the kind of gaming experience I live for. A twisted sense of humor and a thumping soundtrack only add to one of the year’s coolest, meanest games.
Gears of War 4– I still hold to the belief that Gears of War 3 is a damn-near-perfect shooter, and while the latest game stumbles in some areas, it’s still a total blast. A lighter tone, faster gunplay, and some insane setpieces make this feel more like a cover-based Contra, and I couldn’t be happier. Even my favorite co-op game type–Horde Mode–gets a major overhaul that really brings teams together.
That Dragon, Cancer– Media doesn’t always have to be fun. If there are sad movies, there certainly can be sad games, and going on this interactive journey of a father’s loss is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to willingly go through. Watching Joel–just a boy–steadily grow weaker, and feeling the hopelessness and despair of his parents, and finally coming to terms with it all, is a gaming experience unlike any other for me, and it was 100% worth it.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero– WayForward’s adorable hair-whipping, transforming, belly-dancing genie came back with another fast-paced, this time much-more-risque adventure. Probably the most tastefully horny platformer I’ve yet played, Half-Genie Hero had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in addition to its high-energy platforming and Metroid-like backtracking.
JOSEPH LUSTER (@Moldilox)
Final Fantasy XV– I can’t think of another recent game that had me so skeptical prior to its release, only to have it thoroughly entertain me and kill pretty much all the time I had left. FFXV isn’t just a great Final Fantasy game, it’s a fantastic role-playing game that really puts an emphasis on the role-playing. From the moment Noctis and his hott boiz put gas in the tank I refused to fast travel, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
7th Dragon III Code: VFD– If you told me I’d be including THIS on my list of top games of 2016 I’d probably have to stop and ask you what the hell 7th Dragon is. The latest installment of Sega’s series launched in Japan in 2015, but didn’t make its way to the west until summer of 2016. While we covered it on Crunchyroll News quite a bit leading up to its release, I never thought I’d actually bother playing it. Turns out I would have missed out on one of the most low-key enjoyable dungeon-crawlers of the year. Do yourself a favor and fire this one up on your 3DS once you’re done clearing that nasty backlog.
The Last Guardian– I don’t know what to tell you if you didn’t expect a Fumito Ueda game to feature a hard-to-control boy and a stubborn NPC. Time will tell how The Last Guardian measures up against Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, but I was thoroughly moved throughout the 8 to 10 hours I spent with Trico. Sure, the cat-bird beast in question will occasionally have you screaming at the screen, but no one builds worlds and develops molasses-thick atmosphere quite like Ueda and co.
BRITTANY VINCENT (@MolotovCupcake)
Final Fantasy XV- As a lifelong Final Fantasy fan I wasn’t entirely sure I would love this entry, but I came away so appreciative of the new battle system, the “road trip” narrative, and the characters themselves. I greedily lapped up the expansion media like Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and everything that went with it because I just couldn’t get enough of this world. From Cindy to Noctis to the familiar Final Fantasy mainstays peppered throughout, I lost count of everything that made me smile throughout my journey through Eos. I can’t wait to see what the future of Final Fantasy holds.
World of Final Fantasy– If Final Fantasy XV was all about delivering the most polished narrative it could with all the fixings, World of Final Fantasy was a massive love letter in the vein of Pokemon that combined the best of both worlds. Hardcore fans could appreciate the nuances and cameos of games prior, and newcomers were able to bask in the hilarious writing and heartfelt story. It’s a world I would happily live in, especially when you get to frolic with so many heart-rendingly-cute characters so much of the time.
Amplitude– The fact that one of my favorite entries in the PlayStation 2’s library was given new life shook me to its core. I’m still annoyed I can’t purchase the banging’ soundtrack, but Harmonix’s updated Amplitude was rebooted with a story, ridiculously awesome new tunes, and graphics that really punched up the synaesthesia factor. It’s like I never stopped playing the original game and just saw the difficulty ramp up a little.
PETER FOBIAN (@PeterFobian)
The Witcher III: Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine– Irrefutably the best game to come out of 2015, The Witcher III is returning to my list to also take the top spot for 2016. CD Projekt RED has released two major story expansions, Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine which over double the length of the game while providing access to huge new locations with all the narrative depth and density of Novigrad. These two expansions are everything that DLC could and should have been, actual enhancements to a game that provide content above and beyond getting what we paid for on the original pricetag.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End– This game felt like a movie, packed with small moments like novel mishaps and character interactions that were both humorous and organically contributed to the narrative. The action sequences were tremendous, from some immensely dynamic car chases to absolutely insane escapes from crumbling structures. The world is beautiful and composed of diverse environments possessing fine detail and impressive verticality. Then there’s Nadine fights, which felt like a battle simply to survive rather than defeat a boss.
Hitman- Releasing Hitman as an episodic title turned out to be a perfect formula for a title that is composed of a series of sandboxes missions encouraging an individualized approach. Each new area had a strong concept and an orchestrated feeling that really communicated that Square had been able to unhurriedly direct their entire attention toward its development. For the fans this meant either buying a season pass or buying the levels piecemeal. The episodic metaplot and special events like hunting down Gary Busey or the bandits from Home Alone are just icing on the cake.
Dark Souls III– The twisted takes on the environments from the original Dark Souls were a really satisfying return to the series origin (not counting Demon Souls and earlier titles). I don’t know if there is a way to really perfect Dark Souls gameplay, but Dark Souls 3 managed to introduce even more variety while keeping that immensely simple and streamlined feel. The NPC storylines were maybe my favorite part of the title and the best they’ve ever been, the quests with Irina of Carim and Anri of Astora will probably be how I remember the franchise for the rest of my life.
Titanfall 2– The three-dimensional movement is so clean and intuitive it makes me feel like I was born to fly. The inclusion of titans as stand-in for killstreak rewards is one of the best ideas in modern competitive FPS, giving you a powerful tool that can still be defeated with good counterplay. It didn’t need it, but man did they create an awesome single player campaign with some epic environments and boss fights that give the setting some new dimension.
The Last Guardian– I’m a bit torn about this one. I found the emotional narrative of The Last Guardian to be an immensely satisfying experience, elaborating upon the player’s relationship with Agro in Shadow of the Colossus while raising the stakes by portraying both partners as adolescents. My only major problem is the game just didn’t feel connected to the rest of the continuity the way SotC did, even if the ending was a nice moment as a standalone. For all that, the game probably got me more involved that many other titles I’ve played this year.
INSIDE– Perfectly walking the line between forcing you to remain intellectually engaged to figure out puzzles without ever feeling lost by their difficulty, each delivering that “aha!” moment without the accompanying frustration. It has a bunch of novel ideas and manages to find a few different ways of using each of them so the game’s mechanics never feel stale. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt as uncomfortable playing a game as maybe the last 20 minutes of INSIDE and it was great. Still not sure what the hell is going on in that world, but it was definitely an experience.
Mother Russia Bleeds– Using a side-scrolling Streets of Rage style in lieu of Hotline Miami’s top-down perspective, Mother Russia Bleeds has all the dark themes and brutality of its spiritual predecessor. This game is bad acid trip turned multiple homicide with an amazing soundtrack. A highly refined brawler with some boss fights that are memorable both for their difficulty and because of how absolutely gruesome they all are. Also, in keeping with with Hotline Miami traditions, the soundtrack is worthy of its own vinyl.
Hyper Light Drifter– No game has succeeded in making me feel as profoundly alone as I did playing through Hyper Light Drifter. The haunting synth soundtrack, unspeaking protagonist, and unique visuals all work in concert to create this intensely pure emotional experience. The overall world structure and gameplay had the feel and sense of discovery as A Link to the Past, running with a lean number of highly flexible gameplay options.
Furi– This game came out of nowhere for me and I’m happy to have happened upon it. It does what I most love about indies by taking a good component found in many AAA titles and condensing it down into its purest form. Furi is a series of intense duels against the residents of a floating prison that looks and feels like it was created by Moebius. The game taps into multiple genres to accommodate some insane forms of combat and just feels like a pure experience.
KARA DENNISON (@RubyCosmos)
Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright: Spirit of Justice– I started playing the Ace Attorney series during a long hospital stay many years ago, and I was hooked immediately. I didn’t think anything would wow me as much as Dual Destinies did, but Spirit of Justice is really something special, in terms of both plotting and art. The sprites are gorgeous… like sinfully so. And it’s getting increasingly cinematic, with the case formats bending to the plot. Also, if you play it and want some serious nostalgia, do yourself a favor and buy the DLC case.
Five Night’s at Freddy’s: Sister Location– Prior to 2016 I was terrified of anything FNaF because I am a jumpscare loser. But thanks to let’s plays, brave friends, and far lower anxiety than previous years, I’ve been able to engage with the franchise. Considering I’m a sucker for childhood nightmare fuel, the games are already tailor made for me. And this in particular — a new spin on the old formula — was fascinating. The lore has my head spinning and I need to know more.
World of Warcraft: Legion– WoW expansions are getting a bit like Star Trek movies, aren’t they? Where they alternate good and bad? I was interested enough in Warlords of Draenor, but it didn’t quite ping all the buttons I thought it would. Then along comes Legion, with demon hunters and artifact weapons and class halls. The storytelling is becoming progressively more cinematic, the DH’s are SO fun for a tank like me, and everything is just looking cooler and cooler. I’m a loner on MMOs, and this got me caring so much about endgame that I did a dungeon with a bunch of strangers just because I was that invested in the plot.
EVAN MINTO (@VamptVo)
Overwatch– I tried the Overwatch demo on a whim, and fell in love pretty quickly. I’m very bad at it (as is the case for most games), but what makes it such a rewarding experience is the wealth of play styles it presents, from a twitchy traditional FPS character to a melee-centric tank to a passive healer. On top of the fun of playing these mechanics against each other in team-based match-ups, Overwatch also has a giddy, cartoonish visual style and a diverse cast of vibrant, memorable characters representing all sorts of countries, body types, and yes, sexual orientations. I’ll be playing this one for years to come, along with the rest of the world.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday– The Iranian Revolution is a relatively recent historical event, but its implications for the Middle East and the world were massive. I’m surprised it took so long to get a video game about it! 1979 Revolution uses the mechanics and even the visual style of Telltale’s critically acclaimed adventure games to tell the story of a photojournalist caught between a brewing revolution and his own loyalist family. The game is full of documents and historical notes to read, but its elegance lies in its ability to showcase political ideologies through moments that feel like urgent personal struggles rather than distant historical details.
Oxenfree– Ever since I first played the Telltale Walking Dead series, I’ve been on the hunt for great story-based adventure games. Oxenfree doesn’t just copy Telltale, though. Instead, it’s a side-scrolling adventure game with some platforming and puzzle elements, centered around a group of teenagers who find themselves trapped on a haunted island. The navigation and puzzle-solving is dead simple, but genuinely funny, likable characters, timed dialogue choices with real impact, and an atmospheric, occasionally psychedelic visual style more than make up for it.
Firewatch– Probably the greatest video game about walking around in a Wyoming national park ever made, Firewatch is a fantastic example of indie games’ potential to create really unique experiences. You play as a fire lookout, communicating via radio with your boss in a far-off tower via timed dialogue choices, but Firewatch isn’t really about changing things via your choices as much as it’s about spending an extended period of time with a character and a location. And boy oh boy, is that location beautiful! The devs at Campo Santo create a world that feels alive, with dying sunlight playing across painterly mountain backdrops and trees that disappear day by day as a wildfire burns across the forest. And then there’s the story itself, which uses the lonely environment to present a sinister mystery. “Walking simulators” ain’t so bad after all.
Fire Emblem: Fates– I absolutely loved Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I still haven’t even finished my first run through Fates (Birthright). Still, it has a lot of the elements I loved about Awakening: a cast of likable warriors, simple RTS mechanics that get more complex with time, and web of statistics and relationships to manage both on and off the battlefield. Birthright’s somewhat boring level design knocked this one a couple places down my list, so maybe one day I’ll finish and move on to Conquest!
SAM WOLFE (@_Samtaro)
A lot of great games hit the scene in 2016. We saw the releases of long awaited games like Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian, as well as the release of breakout hits like Overwatch. I, however, didn’t play any of these games because Hearthstone released three expansions this year, and unfortunately for you, Nate has given me a platform to gush about them on.
Whispers of the Old Gods (Hearthstone Expansion)- Whispers of the Old Gods was the first set released in Hearthstone’s “Year of the Kraken,” where the standard format got its foundation. As the mechanized minions of Goblins vs. Gnomes were swept into the wild, corrupted versions of our favorite minions took center stage, and with them, their ancient Old God masters. One of the best promotions for this set was that everyone who logged in received C’thun, an iconic creature from Warcraft lore, for free. This was a great move, as it gave beginners a powerful creature with a fun mechanic right from the start.
One Night in Karazhan (Hearthstone Expansion)- Things took a turn for the funky with the release of One Night in Karazhan, the fourth Hearthstone adventure. Set in a reimagined 70’s version of the magus Medivh’s tower, the set brought balance to the game with several new cards, all served in a stylish disco package, and introduced some very creative creatures (a silverware golem? That’s hilarious!). A special shout out should go to Prince Malchezaar, a card that shuffles 5 random legendary cards into your deck, allowing new players to try out some powerful cards that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
The Mean Streets of Gadgetzan (Hearthstone Expansion)- The most recent expansion, The Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, took us to the Goblin city on the coast of the same name, where three factions are fighting for control: the Grimy Goons, The Jade Lotus, and The Kabal. With each faction having a unique mechanic, as well as introducing multi-class cards, the meta was once again turned on its head, and two months out people are still waiting for the dust to settle. While every faction has something to offer, I have to put my lot in with the Kabal; Raza the Chained is one of the craziest cards I’ve seen, and he gets along great with our old friend Reno Jackson.
NICK CREAMER (@B0bduh)
Overwatch– This game loomed large for me this year–in fact, I’m pretty sure I played more hours of Overwatch than all my others put together. I’ve always been a fan of asymmetrical cooperative/competitive games, with Left 4 Dead standing as one of my all-time favorites, and Overwatch’s diverse gallery of heroes has made for an endlessly entertaining experience. From its attractive aesthetic to its competition-ready depth, Overwatch offers a steady curve of delights as you slowly gain familiarity with its intricate working parts. Here’s to finally hitting diamond in season three…
DOOM– I’m honestly not that big of a shooter fan, at least relative to other genres – if I were doing this list last year, I’d be gushing about Undertale. But the shooters were good this year, and so I gotta hand it to DOOM. This year’s rebirth of the franchise embraced and elevated everything that made the originals fun, bringing back not just the monsters and weapons, but the gameplay feel of constant movement, intimate encounters, and steady mastery of each level’s winding maze. DOOM wasn’t beloved just because it got there first, and this year’s remodel demonstrated there’s still a lot to love in the game’s classic formula.
The Witness– After a year as tumultuous as this, it was almost hard to believe that The Witness actually came out this year. But yes, The Witness finally arrived, and yes, it was wonderful. Jonathan Blow characterized his work on The Witness as attempting to capture and iterate on that elusive “a-ha” moment of personal revelation and discovery. While I wouldn’t say every segment of the game succeeded, the overall product was a consistently rewarding and just fundamentally beautiful getaway, a spiritual successor to Myst that tempered its fiendishly difficult puzzles with a consistently inviting atmosphere.
And that’s a wrap for Part Two of our three-part series! Be sure to check out Part One if you missed it, and tune in at the same time tomorrow for PART THREE: EVERYTHING ELSE, featuring movies, music, food, and more! And if you’re still in the mood for past CR Favorites, check out the previous years’ features here:
Crunchyroll Favorites 2015 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll Favorites 2014 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll Favorites 2013 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll Favorites 2012 Part One Part Two Part Three
Crunchyroll News’ Best of 2011 Part One Part Two
What were your favorite video games of 2016? Remember, this is a FAVORITES list, not a BEST OF list, so there’s no wrong answers–sound off in the comments and share your favorites with us!
Nate Ming is the Features and Reviews Editor for Crunchyroll News, creator of the long-running Fanart Friday column, and the Customer Support Lead for Crunchyroll. You can follow him on Twitter at @NateMing.