From puzzlers to JRPGs to, uh, more puzzlers, this was a good year for video games. And my top 10 list will probably not surprise any of you.
In no particular order, here are the best games I played in 2016:
If I were to tell you that the best video game of 2016 is a game where you solve the same exact puzzle 600 or 700 times, you would probably call me a liar. Yet! The Witness, a Metroidvania in which the items are all in your mind, is a spectacular achievement and the game I’ll remember most fondly from this year. It’s smart, satisfying, and challenging like nothing else I’ve played. It finally answers the question “what if Myst were good?” It’s a masterpiece.
BoxBoy was a perfect video game. For its sequel, Nintendo added more challenges, ramped up the difficulty, and—naturally—added another box. BoxBoxBoy is also a perfect video game.
You might think, when watching or reading about Dragon Quest Builders, that it’s nothing but a Minecraft clone with a slime-colored coat of paint. This is wrong. Dragon Quest Builders is an incredible RPG more akin to Actraiser than it is to a sandbox. By adding goals, secrets, and a rudimentary storyline to the block-building formula that Infiniminer pioneered many years ago, Square Enix has made a game way better than Minecraft could ever be.
The pacing is a mess. Giant chunks appear to have been ripped out of the story, leaving nothing but incoherent cutscenes behind. Important plot points happen off-screen. Cindy exists. Yet somehow, against all odds, Final Fantasy XV managed to resonate with me more than just about anything else this year, all thanks to the four lovable BFFs pictured above. Love you, Noctis.
Few moments are as satisfying as that “aha!” feeling when you narrow down the tricky parts of a 3D Picross puzzle, and Round 2 is full of’em. Late at night, when my fiancee rolls over and tells me to turn off the fucking light, it’s probably because I’m playing Picross 3D 2.
Here is a recollection of the thoughts I had while playing Inside, in order: 1) Oh, hey, this is cool. 2) Super pretty, too. 3) Interesting puzzles. 4) Where am I? 5) What exactly am I doing here? 6) Cool puzzles! 7) This is terrifying. 8) This is wild. 9) Hmm, this is dragging on a little too long. 10) WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED?
You should play Inside.
I have not yet finished Dishonored 2. The reason for this is that every time I get caught by a guard, I feel bad, so I run into an electric fence and then reload an old save. One day I will finish Dishonored 2, even if it takes me several hundred hours to do so. Because Dishonored 2 is an excellent video game.
I’m not sure why some fans have turned on the third Zero Escape game. It’s just as surreal, cerebral, and satisfying as its predecessors. The final twist feels deserved, and the puzzles are as good as they’ve ever been. Zero Time Dilemma might leave some plot threads dangling from the rest of the series, but it’s an incredible storytelling achievement and a fantastic game.
It’s not just that Uncharted 4 is the best game in the series, fixing the clunky shooting mechanics of previous entries and bringing subtlety to a genre best known for hamming it up. It’s not just that it’s the prettiest game we’ve ever seen. It’s that Uncharted 4 has the courage to spend an entire chapter making Nathan Drake do nothing but shoot a water gun, eat noodles, and play video games with his wife.
Every new Phoenix Wright game comes with a new set of gimmicks, and it can be hard to keep them all straight, but who cares? Spirit of Justice, like every other Phoenix Wright game, tells a great story and introduces characters that it’s hard not to care about. Some of the plot twists are foreshadowed a little too heavily, and others get a little too deep into the realm of the spiritual, but Apollo Justice remains the best.
Honorable mentions: I Am Setsuna, Civilization VI, Stardew Valley, Super Mario Run
Games I haven’t played enough to properly judge but might be contenders for this list: Trails of Cold Steel II, Steins;Gate 0, World of Final Fantasy, Mafia 3
Games I haven’t had time to play yet that might be contenders for this list: Tyranny, Watch Dogs 2, The Last Guardian, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, XCOM 2, Hitman
Game I’ve spent the most time playing this year: Threes
Game that’s phenomenal but not really my type: Overwatch
Games I delayed: No Man’s Sky, Final Fantasy XV, Persona 5, Uncharted 4
Games I wish had been better: Bravely Second, Fire Emblem Fates, Star Ocean V