When I’m not eating snacks or playing with toys, I like to relax with some video games. Through a careful selection process that mainly involved me staring at at a large list, shaking my head and swearing, I’ve managed to narrow the games I played in 2016 to ten favorites.

I started off with a list of my definitive top ten games of 2016. Then I went through a list of games released during the year, realizing I had somehow missed months January through July in my initial assessment. The list, not nearly as definitive as I’d first thought, swelled to two dozen. Then the swearing began.

The rest of the process is unimportant (darts were involved, but not in the way you’re thinking). What’s import is I now have a really definitive list of my top ten games of 2016, listed by mouth feel. Enjoy.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Wayforward Technologies cut it very close with the fourth game in its 2D platforming franchise. Released on December 20, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero wouldn’t have made this list if it weren’t good enough to keep me playing through the hustle and bustle of Christmas with two five-year-olds.

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But I played, slowly collecting Shantae’s various forms, unlocking new areas of exploration and just basically reveling in one of the best-looking 2D platformers ever made. Half-Genie Hero was worth waiting for.

Except for that last slide-y bit. Screw that last slide-y bit in its slide-y face.


Titanfall 2

Addressing one of the biggest complaints with the Xbox One exclusive original, Respawn Entertainment crafted one of the best single-player first-person shooter campaigns of all time to complement the solid multiplayer mech action of the sequel.

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At this point I don’t remember what I expected from a single-player Titanfall campaign when I started playing Titanfall 2, but I am certain falling in love with a robot wasn’t anywhere on the list.


World of Final Fantasy

While most Final Fantasy fans were looking forward to a road trip with the XV boys, I was falling in love all over again with franchise favorites reborn in chibi form. World of Final Fantasy is a delightful trip through Final Fantasy history, packed with familiar faces, creatures and encounters.

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I was expecting a light game with a hastily thrown together story to explain the confluence of game worlds, but Lann and Reynn’s tale is a strong one, and the various characters drawn from series history play pivotal roles.

Plus it’s so damn cute.


The Last Guardian

We waited a long time for The Last Guardian, and not everyone was happy with what we wound up getting. The frame rates aren’t perfect, it hasn’t changed much since first announced for the previous generation, et cetera. Bah, I say.

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What I wanted was a boy and a cat beast bonding as they traveled through a massive fortress, and that’s exactly what I got. Clever puzzles, plenty of perilous climbing, and the sort of love that forms between a young person and their pet, no matter the size ratio between the two.


Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone

Not the Hatsune Miku game North American fans of the Japanese virtual idol’s rhythm games expected to see on this list. Project Diva X was a nice change of pace and structure, but its 30 or so songs are nothing to the more than 200 in Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone.

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Released in Japan for PlayStation 4 over the summer, it’s been a while since I went to as much trouble to procure an import game as I did for Future Tone, creating a Japanese PSN account and purchasing $110 worth of Japanese PSN cards to purchase the game’s two parts.

It’s blissful Hatsune Miku rhythm game overload. The arcade style controls take a bit of getting used to, but I’ve worked my way from Normal to Hard level for most songs, and now I’m getting used to Extreme (with the aid of an imported arcade controller from Hori.)

Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone arrives in North America in early January, meaning it might make this list again next year. Here’s a sneak peek at the U.S. release.


World Of Warcraft: Legion

Just when I thought I was done with Azeroth, Blizzard changes the game and drags me right back in. This year’s Legion expansion was a game-changer for World of Warcraft, redefining progression in the 12-year-old MMO and dropping exciting new content on a class-by-class basis.

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While I love making alts, I’m normally a one character sort of MMO player. Legion’s Artifact Weapons and new Class Order Halls had me leveling and loving classes I’d never considered before. While regular play isn’t sustainable for me at this point in my life, Legion and its follow-up content makes me wish it was.


Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

This is basically Persona meets Digimon. Or maybe Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Monster Collector. Every time I write about how much I love Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, I wind up loading the game on my Vita or PlayStation 4 and playing for a couple of hours instead of whatever it was I writing for in the first place. Luckily, this time I was prepared and pre-allocated play time. Back in a couple of hours.


7th Dragon III Code: VFD

Yeah, I’m using official wallpaper for a top image in this entry, because nothing is quite as ugly as a beautiful 3DS game blown up 800 pixels wide.

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7th Dragon III Code: VFD was a game that was not on my radar at all prior to release, due in part to the silly name. If I hadn’t been actively playing something else on my 3DS when codes came around, I might have missed out on one of the best role-playing games of the year.

7th Dragon III Code: VFD is a time-hopping tale of the final days of humanity (among other sentient life). Plagued by dragons in the past and present, a band of player-created heroes stand as the world’s last line of defense.

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I played this game obsessively in 2016, tearing through its dungeons, mastering its flash turn-based combat, reveling in its delightful micromanagement of party members, skill points and equipment. Turns out 7th Dragon III Code: VFD was exactly the portable JRPG I was looking for in 2016.


Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I fought Uncharted 4 every step of the way.

I didn’t want to play another Nathan Drake game when Uncharted 4 released earlier this year. Having seen the trailers and demos and the shooting and stunts and blah whatevers, I felt absolutely no need to play. The review came and went, everyone raved over how good it was, and I was not swayed.

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I didn’t play Uncharted 4 until it came under discussion as one of our top games of 2016. Only then, earlier this month, did I acquire a copy of the game and load it up on my PlayStation 4. I started playing on a Saturday morning. I finished playing on Sunday afternoon.

It wasn’t the action. It wasn’t the swinging. It wasn’t the impressive machine physics. It wasn’t the plot between Nathan and his long-lost brother, the twists of which I saw coming from a mile away. It certainly wasn’t the Scotland level, because fuck the Scotland level, slippery bastard.

It was the screenshot above that kept me playing. Wondering where the relationship between Nathan and Elena would end up after being pushed to its breaking point. It’s about the pain in voice actor Emily Rose’s performance during a pivotal post-action-sequence scene. That’s what kept me playing, and the payoff at the end is perfect.


Steep

As much as I enjoyed Forza Horizon 3 this year, Ubisoft’s Steep quickly surpassed it as my go-to dicking around while doing semi-realistic things game.

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I’m sure the level structure and playing against other folks is lovely, but for me it’s all about owning a massive mountain-scape and being able to drop in anywhere I want at any time. I’ve spent hours exploring the countless ways to descend from a single point, reaching the very bottom, warping back to the beginning and trying a different route.

Sometimes I snowboard. Sometimes I ski. Sometimes I fall down the mountainside in a wingsuit. All of those times are very good times indeed.


Honorable Mentions

Games that were on my list until I sat and stared at it for several hours: Battleborn, Dragon Quest Builders, Epistory, Pokemon Moon, Pony Island, Stories: Path of Destinies, Tokyo Mirage Sessions

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Games that are probably really good but I just can’t get into them: Final Fantasy XV, Overwatch

Favorite VR games I’m not quite ready to call all-round favorites yet: Audioshield, Eve: Valkyrie, Eagle Flight, Lucky’s Tale