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Game of the Year 2016: Jonathan's PicksGOTY 2016 Kirby: Planet Robobot Pokemon Sun & Moon Owlboy Pocket Card Jockey BOXBOXBOY Creepy Castle Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus Mutant Mudds: Super Challenge Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
I’d love to say I could speak highly enough about Miitomo and Pokémon GO to put them on here. But despite spending a ton of time with them, and the latter reigniting a cultural phenomenon... I don’t consider either to be worthy of my personal praise. I mean, it was fun answering questions as part of my morning routine for several months. And I still find redeeming value from Miitomo when I get to... dress up my Mii character in Kirby clothes. But don’t even get me started on GO. I’m still a daily user, but... it’s gotten me outside less and less over time, especially considering the fact that it reduces background audio (like music & Podcasts) by 50% while the dang app is open. What’s up with that, anyway?
There are also games I started but didn’t finish that would vie for my #10 spot. I know several people reading will give me flack for not seeing the credits of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. I’m genuinely surprised I didn’t complete Dragon Quest Builders either, despite a fondness for the series. I guess my distaste for Minecraft-style games as a genre was too strong, in the end. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and finish it before the year’s done. And then there’s Oxenfree, a game I grabbed around Thanksgiving. It definitely seems like it’ll impress me, but there’s no way I’d get to the end it in time to give it the consideration it probably deserves.
So without further ado, here are the games I feel confident enough giving time to shine:
9) Pocket Card Jockey
I have a wild grudge against card games. I just... don’t like them. No, really. So how is it that one ended up being an exception? “It’s because you like Game Freak, and all that glitters from them is gold.” I’m not going to sit here and pretend I don’t have a little bias against the company. Honestly, my “Game of the Year lists” have started to follow a bit of a pattern. TEMBO made the cut last year. If Giga Wrecker ends up being of a similar quality, it might make the cut in 2017. I might feel like I’m in a daze most of the time, but I’m not too asleep to notice that I truly enjoy Game Freak’s non-Pokémon endeavors.
Pocket Card Jockey... one part horse-racing, one part solitaire... makes its mark for its addictive qualities. It’s not a perfect game by any means — you’ve got to breed horses to even stand a chance at higher stakes races, making even perfect solitaire runs useless at times. But even if some races are an exercise in nihilism, I still felt the need to push forward. Maybe I’m motivated by the cute horsies? The models are very simple & easy to love... kind of similar to other things I like. If you don’t mind some minor timed elements tied to your solitaire gaming, you should give it a chance! There’s a demo to sink your teeth into, still, and the price has always been right.
Speaking of my yearly lists following a pattern... HAL Laboratory knows how to create a fun, smaller project and keep it that way. There’s even a third game confirmed for next year in Japan! So it’ll be interesting to see if BOXBOXBOXBOY, or whatever they end up calling the third game when it ventures West, appeals to me as one of 2017’s greatest games. With the release of the Switch, Final Fantasy’s 30 Year Anniversary, and tons more coming... it’d have to endure against a lot of competition.
The premise behind Qbby’s quests are simple, minimalist fun. Rather than revolutionize the mechanics of the first game, I think HAL just set out to convince everyone that “just more BOXBOY” is never a bad thing. I suppose they achieved their goal of convincing more people than just me, if Qbby’s coming back for one last hurrah! Hopefully they continue to embrace the sentiment behind carrying earned costumes and content from the first game to the second; that really was a nice touch. BOXBOXBOY is a game to remember because it’s consistent fun that’s easy to recommend for everyone.
7) Creepy Castle
Not too long ago, I had this bizarre itch to play The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls. I even went so far as to try and track down a reproduction cart that had the fan translation installed on it! I ended up not going through with it; money’s a little tighter than I’d like right now. Sad times, but at least I still own the Japanese version on my Nintendo 3DS LL.
And then came Creepy Castle... the closest possible match to... that game I really wanted to play. To fall on that word I overused in my review, again... goodness, it’s a quirky adventure. It won me over because it happened to scratch an itch I would have never thought possible. But it’s stuck with me because it challenged me without being overly frustrating, it made me giggle at times, and it even taught me something. I’m not sure if Creepy Castle manages to surpass The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls, if I’m being honest. But it certainly manages to capture the same sense of unique charm, while offering some more modern takes on that game’s philosophy. Definitely give it a try, if quir-- I mean “weird”... is a thing that catches your eye.
6) Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus
The first thing that caught my eye was its aesthetic. Far too many games inhibit their artistic style by aiming to stay consistent with a certain “era”... be it 8- or 16-bit. Games like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge are wonderful examples of design that can break free of these constraints, and Chronicles of Teddy joins them as far as I’m concerned. I contemplated if this game could even be qualified to make the cut, since “Finding Teddy 2” released on PC a ways back. But hey, I’m going to let Aksys Games have their moment in the sun for pushing it onto consoles with a bit of a rebranding; I’d have never known about it otherwise.
Do you like Zelda II: The Adventures of Link? I can’t think of a better game for that crowd released this year. You’ll recognize the lady protagonist’s movements right away; the whole “couch to slash under an enemy’s shield” is a concept I mentioned in my review verbatim. The developers’ efforts to modernize Zelda II honestly left me with more respect for the NES classic than when I started. For being attracted to the game at first due to purely aesthetic reasons, I came away from it with a deeper knowledge as to what “Zelda II-likes” were capable of, and what fans of the NES game found appealing about it. I’m even pushed to try other contemporaries like Eliot Quest, now. Considering the absence of Breath of the Wild this year, Chronicles of Teddy ought to scratch a Legend of Zelda itch for you, and then some.
I miss Disney Interactive. So much of what made their older games for Genesis and SNES resonate with me when I was littler, and the same reason something like the Castle of Illusion remake appeals to me now, has to do with how alive their characters feel. “Immersion” is a popular buzzword this year, especially with the rise of Virtual Reality. But those games proved to me a long time ago that I don’t need complex headwear, or even the world’s most realistic graphics, to truly connect with what I’m playing.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a decent contemporary. Its cast of characters and world are definitely captivating and invoke similar sentiments. I’m even more attached to Otus, and felt more compelled to push forward, because of how out-of-their-way D-pad Studios went to put emphasis on small, otherwise unnoticed moments. When you’re walking past a graveyard for the first time... not only is Otus himself downtrodden, sullen... but your movement is very slow and restricted, to further the meaning behind this unique blend of sadness and respect.
So much about what makes Owlboy worth experiencing isn’t in the mechanics, but in its cast and environments. You won’t feel triumphant in the end — it’ll be more like you just watched a really awesome Disney movie. The folks behind Owlboy put so much meticulous care into their work that it took nine years to make. The end result is absolutely worth your own time and attention.
4) Pokémon Sun
Honestly, no one’s more shocked than me that the new Pokémon game, with my favorite region in the history of the series, didn’t make my “Top 3”. But, rereading my review from a short while ago, plus thinking critically about how I’ll feel about this game when “the next one” comes along... I just had too many personal qualms with the compromises made to make Sun what it is. Some encounter rates are ridiculously low, the Pokédex is smaller than I’d like, most people consider the changes to EVs to be a step backwards… What it boils down to is: my remaining three games didn’t have as many parts that either annoyed me or stressed me out.
But getting the negative stuff out of the way is easy. Alola is an absolutely, positively phenomenal place. Choosing to construct a brand new “Island Trial” over the conventional four-walled path to the Pokémon League is, hands-down, my new favorite thing. I hope future games in the series abolish the “Gym Challenge” in favor of making each new region’s trials be... whatever they want to be. Alola’s challenges were versatile; I’ve never had as much fun with a main story in a mainline Pokémon game. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal; “The Battle At the Summit!” is probably Masuda and his team at their absolute best. Those who know my love of Pokémon music... know I don't say that lightly.
Narrative direction? Superior, bested only by Black & White. Music, sounds, and general ambiance? Also top-tier. I may have my personal problems with these games, but Sun & Moon are easy to recommend to first-timers, or lapsed fans. That’s why I’m including it this time, if not to prove I liked a handful of more games this year... better than Pokémon.
3) Mutant Mudds Super Challenge
Years after its initial release, I can still confidently say that Mutant Mudds is among my Top 5 favorite games on the Nintendo 3DS. And Max’s newest adventure picks up right where that one left off — in terms of design philosophy, more than anything. It really does feel like Renegade Kid’s take on “The Lost Levels”. Max doesn’t learn any new tricks, but anyone who plays it might have to adapt if they don’t want their death counter above 500. Every once and a while, I’ll pick it up and start a new file, trying for a No Death run. No such luck. Have y’all seen their "commercial" for the game?
Games six through nine on this list were pretty easy to write about and rank. But when you start getting up to the top five, or even top three... it’s been pretty difficult for me to determine what exactly it took for one game to rank above the previous one. What gives Super Challenge that “oomph” to best other games here? Here’s the deal: I argued whether or not certain choices that Renegade Kid made were “fair” or not in my review. But ultimately, it could go either way. I’ve thought critically about it; I really can’t recall any level in this newest venture where I thought, “Well, thank Heavens that’s over.” It’s quite the contrary. Even when I was cursing out loud at some cheap shot a Muddy or some friggin’ spikes would take at me... I knew I’d be back. I’m going to play over and over again, whether it’s on Nintendo systems or PlayStation, too.
I know Renegade Kid is no more. But I’m genuinely happy that this turned out to be their finest hour as well as their final one. And I’m excited to see what Atooi does next with Mudds, sometime down the line. There is more than one allusion to Xeodrifter in the final levels of MMSC, after all.
2) Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
And here’s a game that’s definitely a “super challenge” in a completely different way. This tale of quite literal world-building is like no other in the Dragon Quest series: a very long, involved endurance test. It’s not a game I can honestly recommend to everyone; you probably gleaned that from my review. But it’s absolutely a game that I feel is best suited for me, in many ways. It's my new second favorite Dragon Quest, bested only by V (and here’s your disclaimer that I haven’t played VIII before & won’t until January 20th; I’m keeping an open mind). The only real “fault” I’d give my 80+ hour journey was the new encounter system. Besides that, the feelings it elicited when I saved a piece of the world — and the elation that beamed from me when I finally saw the credits, were more rewarding than any Final Fantasy I’ve played through since IX.
DQVII isn’t this high up “just because it’s a Dragon Quest game”, while my bias is undeniable. I’m not spoiling anything beyond the first ten or so hours here but... there’s a whole town where every person has been turned into an animal & every animal into a person. I have never bought a weapon from a chicken, who clucked at me just like it was any other written dialect in an RPG... and then moseyed onto my next adventure inside a painting clearly inspired by Salvador Dali with my friend Ruff — the wolf cub who was turned into a boy & spends the entire game on his caretaker wolf’s back, riding it like a horse. Giant run-on sentence or not, I just can’t deny that level of obnoxious charm.
It’s not something I can “demand that everyone play”, like last year’s runner-up Axiom Verge. I’m not going to be screaming from the rooftops about it for a long time to come. My “top 2” are here for very personal reasons. When I saw those credits roll, I definitely felt a sense of personal triumph. The blaring, victorious overture helped.
1) Kirby: Planet Robobot
I have not shut up about Robobot for quite some time. So many people could have easily predicted it’d take my #1 spot, months ago. Just take a look. For those keeping score beyond Twitter: I bought the game in both Japanese and English. My Import Review is actually more of a companion piece to an impressions thread, as well. I didn’t just beat the English version, I 100%ed it... which involved toppling the first True Arena I’ve ever toppled in Kirby History. I spent over nine hours of a random Saturday absolutely determined to prove to that game mode I was better than it... and I won, in the end. I have so many freaking stories about this game! It will fuel my love for Kirby well beyond his 25th anniversary; that celebration is already underway.
It’s so delightfully over the top. If you dig the modern mechanics of familiar entries like Return to Dream Land or Triple Deluxe, this newest game stacks Robobot Armor... think “mechs”... on top of it. It’s the natural evolution of the “animal friends” from Dream Land 2 & 3, and it feels as essential to the evolution of Kirby’s movements and capabilities as the transition from Super Mario 3 to Super Mario World. It’s bigger, better, faster, stronger. And it’s filled with so many fan allusions that I could write a full-on spoiler post. There are so many surprise returns, or twists reminiscent of almost every game in the series. It’s goofy that we’re heading right into the 25th anniversary immediately after the release of a game that I think successfully celebrates everything Kirby is, in almost every way.
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