Friday, January 13, 2017

Dale's Top 11 Videogame Experiences of 2016

Greetings! It has been awhile since I did one of these top 10 of the year lists. It felt right to place my list on my long dormant Giant Bomb blog where a few of my past lists reside and because I always enjoy the wealthy amount of game of the year content from the Giant Bomb crew each year. This is not a ‘Top 10 games of 2016,’ but more of a ‘Top 10 Experiences’ of 2016.

As you will see, a lot of my games listed will be from prior years. Also you will definitely notice I cheated on most of my entries and included multiple games on most entries. I tried to make each number on my list a theme for each experience, so I hope that suffices for you. If you take a liking my ramblings, please check out my movie blog where I recently ran down my favorite and worst movies from the past few years. I may post this on my movie blog as well since I have a ‘Top 10’ label there too, so if you are reading this blog there, greetings again!

*Edit* I saw after I finished editing this I screwed up my numbering and actually had 11 items, not 10, but it is too late now to remove an item after working on this for so long, so onward with my top 11 experiences of 2016!

11) Finally acquiring current gen consoles

Yes, that is right, three years they debuted I finally picked up both PS4 and Xbox One. My gaming backlog grew out of control because I do not have nearly enough time to game as I use to so I wanted a few years to get caught before I got the current systems. I first jumped on the Xbox One shortly after they released the S model in September and caught a good sale on the 2 TB version that knocked off $100. It took me six weeks though to get around to hooking it up and playing it however, but I have gamed a fair amount on it since.

The PS4 I got a couple months later on Black Friday weekend when retailers were having big sales on the Uncharted 4 500gb bundle, and I was able to stack a couple other discounts to get it for $190. An awesome friend gifted me a 2 TB hard drive for Christmas shortly thereafter. I have since hooked it up and got all my cross buy games from PS3 and Vita transferred over, but have yet to find any time to play a single game on it because of all the other games I am trying to catch up on. I think one of these weekends I should do nothing but binge on Uncharted 4 because it is one of my favorite franchises and it is a crime that I have yet to play the latest installment.

I also want to squeeze in here two other platforms that kind of meet the criteria of this subject: the Retron 5 and the NES Classic. The games I have tested out on the Retron 5 have worked great on my HDTV, and results in my classic games running flawlessly in HD, with none of the fuzziness that would result from hooking up my classic systems with RCA/composite cables into an HDTV. Like everyone else, I hate the Retron 5 controller, but am thankful the Retron 5 is compatible and works well with my classic controllers.

The NES Classic I lucked into getting one morning right when a retailer opened and I was not even looking for it, but happened to hear the store had them. I brought it over to play with the family after Thanksgiving dinner and it was a big hit that night. My brother-in-law kicked my ass in Tecmo Bowl that evening. Later on I let my six year-old niece, and eight year-old nephew play the system for a bit and took in their reactions to experiencing classics like Bubble Bobble and Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time. I have since busted out the NES Classic a couple more times with my nephew and we made a lot of progress in Bubble Bobble since, and have also had good times playing the original Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong with him. My nephew loves Minecraft and other tablet games, and I feared him playing these older games I grew up with would not jive with him, and I was delighted he took a liking to many of them.

10) Arcade Racers!

I love me some arcade racing games! Racing and pinball games are the perfect way to start off a gaming session. I like to invest about 30-45 minutes and knock off a few races from a career mode before moving on to whatever game I am working on in my backlog. Going through my gaming journal I realized I have invested significant time into five racing games in 2016, and have completed the career modes in three of them. I first finished off Blaze Rush, an excellent downloadable racing game that is essentially the old school Micro Machines games, but with crazy weapons. The career mode is filled with a ton of variety, and while I had a few hair pulling moments trying to win certain races, I very much enjoyed my time with it.

Toybox Turbo is from Codemasters, the same people who made the aforementioned Micro Machines games and this is a contemporary follow up to them from a couple years ago. You still race in crazy environments like kitchen tables and workbenches, and the racing is still as quick and fun as the 8-bit classics. The third career mode I finished in 2016 went to Dirt Showdown, also from Codemasters. This is an arcade spinoff from the sim-heavy Dirt rally racing games, and Showdown is more of demo-derby racer in similar fashion to Destruction Derby and Flatout. I love that style of racers, and they do not make enough of them! Dirt Showdown is a welcomed addition to the genre, and I had a blast doing both races and last man standing demolition derbies! It is pretty fun, but not quite perfect, but establishes a good foundation I hope Codemasters builds on with future sequels.

Road Redemption is the contemporary take on Road Rash I have wanted EA to make for many years. These guys are getting it right, but it is still in Early Access on Steam so the developers are constantly building upon it. It controls how I would imagine a Road Rash game would evolve into today, and they thankfully took out having to run out back to your cycle so you can get back into the race quicker. I had some friends over for four player couch play, and we had a blast and it convinced them to get it too. If you have played old school Road Rash give it a look! Mantis Burn Racing is another Steam game I put a decent amount of time into that offers up a similar isometric perspective and has a good arcade/sim hybrid feel to it complete with drifts and turbos. It recently hit consoles so give it a look there too. Finally, I have lately been making a lot of progress into Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed. Sega really stepped up their game with their second kart-style racer a few years back. I really dig how the karts morph into planes and hovercrafts during the race and how some tracks transform during the race to keep me on my feet. The roster features a ton of Sega favorites and the racing feels great and is right up there with Mario Kart!

9) Pinball!

Anyone who knows my gaming habits knows I am a pinball nut. Ever since Pinball FX on 360 I have spend countless hours on various pinball games. As I stated in the previous entry this is another one of my go to games to start off gaming sessions with. In 2016 I played a lot of Pinball Arcade, Zen Pinball 2 and a little known indie game on Steam called Hyperspace Pinball. I love nearly the entire Zen 2 roster of tables and spent a good chunk of the year trying to replay each table on my PS3 at least a couple of times. I am all caught up now with the exception of the recently released Bethesda pack that offers up tables based on their Doom, Skyrim and Fallout properties.

Alternatively, the real life translations in Pinball Arcade are also up my alley, and I always find myself coming back to tables in attempts to best previous high scores and knock off all the preset goals for each table. I recently busted out the spinoff Stern Pinball Arcade disc on Xbox One, which offers up a couple exclusive tables that are not yet in the standalone Pinball Arcade hub and have been eating that up a lot too.

Hyperspace Pinball is an under-the-radar game that got buried in the plethora of indie games on Steam and it is unfortunate that it has gone ignored for this long. It features simple-yet-groovy futuristic graphics and a very fitting soundtrack. The primary mode is like a addicting version of pinball-meets-Asteroids and every several levels there are unique boss battles to vanquish. It took several runs before I got use to the physics of this pinball game, but once I did I was glad I mixed Hyperspace Pinball into my rotation.

8) Road Trip gaming!

This past October I went on a week long road trip to hit up some attractions I have always wanted to see and hang out with some friends who have moved out of town over the years. I visited my friend, Dick in the Twin Cities. We have a history of playing many hours of our favorite wrestling game, WWF No Mercy together and we could not resist busting it out again. We had some intense matches where we teamed up against the computer on expert difficulty, and then a few more grueling one-on-one encounters. Later that day, we checked out an game shop that had an arcade machine with a ton of games built in and one of them was for a Japan-exclusive sequel to Saturday Night Slam Masters I had no idea existed until that point. Slam Masters was Capcom’s take on wrestling meets Street Fighter II, but the sequel, Ring of Destruction, is a straight up fighting game that plays as good as any Capcom fighter back in the day.

After that, we traversed to a recently opened arcade in the Cities called Up/Down, which is an arcade bar loaded with arcade and pinball games and has a full service bar. All the hits from 80s and 90s I grew up with were there such as classic brawlers like TMNT, X-Men and Simpsons to the hits Midway dominated the 90s with like NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat I-4 and NFL Blitz. There was even old school Nintendo games like Excitebike, Donkey Kong and a version of Fix-It Felix straight out of Wreck-It Ralph I had no idea was a thing until I saw it with my own eyes. There was also around a dozen pinball tables there, with a good mix of classics like Funhouse, Terminator 2 and Adams Family to more recent Stern releases like Ghostbusters and Metallica. I guess this is a slowly expanding chain, so if you happen to run across one, make sure to check it out as you will be guaranteed hours of fun.

The next destination on my road trip was to visit my brother in a smaller town a couple hours outside of the Twin Cities. I had a great time hanging out with him, and like my friend in the Cities, we also have a history of beating the tar out of each other in WWF No Mercy. After telling my brother about experiencing the awesomeness of taking on expert level AI opponents in tag mode and proceeding to have another close match with the AI where we emerged victorious, we proceeded to take on each other in about 15 one-on-one matches. I consider myself a pretty darn good No Mercy player and can hold my own with any other seasoned player, but for whatever reason my brother has always had my number and is the only one I know that can outplay me (that link is a clip of us squaring off in a tournament final from several years ago for proof!). Of the roughly 15 matches we played, I only had one victory out of them all, and I made sure to savor every moment of it!

7) Awesome Local Coop!

This is where I will give a shoutout to my local friends in town, Ryan, Derek and Brooke! Last few years we have had recurring couch multiplayer game nights every several weeks! I always look forward to them, and we are constantly rotating in old favorites like Mario Kart: Double Dash, Mario Party and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect with newer games for a constant fresh variety of multiplayer goodness. I will give props to some of my favorite moments I had with them this year. One awesome early multiplayer night in 2016 involved a NES theme night, and me busting out my four player adaptor which led to many hours of Gauntlet II and Super Off-Road fun.

For a couple weeks we were into slaughtering zombies and we played through a couple levels of Left 4 Dead 2. I forgot how awesome and frustrating that game is as I experienced both soaring highs when our teamwork was flawless and devastating lows when we ran into trouble a couple of times. Either way, it was still a blast re-experiencing Left 4 Dead 2 for the first time in years. That led us to a couple days of long sessions of Dying Light. I loved the first Dead Island and this game is from the same developers and plays just like it, but mixes in an awesome parkour system. That resulted in all kinds of crazy running dropkicks and being on the lookout for next great weapon that would turn up in our endless piles of loot.

Just a few weeks ago we had another great session where we played Drawful and Fibbage out of the Jackbox Party Pack. Both are awesome social party/trivia games from the same people who made the also-excellent You Don’t Know Jack. These games make great use of cell phones as controllers so anyone could play, and we had way too much fun guessing at what the heck we were drawing in Drawful. It brought back classic memories of staying up all night in another similar multiplayer game on the DS, LOL!

We followed that game up with a random game I got for Xbox One since I heard so much good buzz about it online called Overcooked. This simple four player Root Beer Tapper-meets-cooking game featured some of the most fun I have ever had in a multiplayer game. When your teamwork is firing on all cylinders it is a blast, when it is not it led to us playfully shouting at each other until one point a few of us had to drop the controllers because we were uncontrollably laughing so hard. It was a moment I will never forget. There was one other multiplayer night between us that usurped these moments, but I will save it for later.

6) Extra Life 2016

Extra Life is the annual 24 hour gaming event where we game for a day straight in order to raise funds for our local children’s hospital! These last two years I traveled down to my friends, Chris and Lyzz’s house to game for 24 hours straight. I always attempt to beat WWF No Mercy’s 100-man Survival mode, and just like all previous attempts, I failed about halfway through. There were two main takeaways from Extra Life 2016. One of them was binging through Gears of War 4’s campaign from start to finish during the 24 hours. I love me some Gears, and Extra Life happened not to long after I picked up my Xbox One, so Gears 4 ended up being one of the first games I played on it. I had to take a break halfway through Gears 4 because I signed up to run a local 10k in the area, which was actually a nice breather to get out of the house and get some exercise and fresh air! I came back revitalized and had a great time playing nonstop until I finished.

Chris and Lyzz were playing their own Gears 4 campaign in split-screen coop and we both did our best to look away from each other to avoid spoilers. Turns out you cannot have a split screen system team up online with another player on their own, but we found a way to get through it on our own without spoilers! Gears 4 turned out awesome as expected, and was a return to form after the experimental game in the series that was Gears Judgment.

The other game I played later on in Extra Life I want to make sure to recognize is Mega Man 2 off the Xbox One Mega Man Legacy Collection. I never gave a Mega Man game a serious chance before. I recall trying to play the first one a couple times long ago and getting frustrated many times and not beating a single stage. In the Legacy Collection however, it has save states which I made sure to exploit to the fullest. I was saving every screen or two in Mega Man 2. I decided to start on that one since I usually hear that is the best, and it had a firm, but fair challenge level to it. I died many times, but wanted to try out different techniques in order to progress and beat each boss. I did not finish the game, but did complete three stages, which will go down as the first three levels I ever finished in a Mega Man game! One day I will return to at least finish Mega Man 2, mark my words!

5) Firewatch

After finishing Dear Esther and Gone Home a couple years ago, I have become a huge fan of the genre that has become known as the walking simulator! Firewatch hit out of nowhere early in 2016 and became a much talked about indie game throughout the year. I finally played it towards the end of the summer, and relished every hour of the six or seven hours it took me to finish. The graphics are superb and perfectly capture the solitude and beauty of being a fire ranger in the vast wilderness. I could get lost out there forever, and spent many moments just pausing in the game and taking in the sublime surroundings. The score is not always present, but knows when to kick in to amplify the moments that need it.

I could not help but get immersed in the narrative between the two fire rangers, and the mystery that the two found themselves in as the summer unraveled. Reading other game of the year reactions in recent weeks I found myself in the minority that liked the twist towards the end and was not thrown for a loop by it. I really loved the final days in the game, and it all culminated in an impactful moment for me when I could tell my summer with Firewatch was coming to an end. I got lucky and managed to get in on the Limited Run release of the physical copy of the game on PS4, and look forward to replaying it sooner than later with the newly added developer commentary.

4) Objection, dedicated handheld gaming is here to stay!

I try to dedicate a couple hours a week to traditional handheld gaming. I am not talking smartphone games, but good old fashioned DS/Vita/3DS gaming! I grew up playing a ton of my various versions of the GameBoy and still try to cram in a little bit of the current stuff too. I am a huge Ace Attorney fan and spent a good chunk of my 2016 handheld gaming getting caught up in the series. I finished off Ace Attorney Investigation: Miles Edgeworth early on in the year, and spent a good chunk of 2016 gradually chipping away at the first 3DS entry in the series, Dual Destinies. The last couple weeks I finally put my first few hours in the most recent release in the series, Spirits of Justice.

If you have played one Ace Attorney game before you know what to expect, and that is a ton of crazy over-the-top characters you meet investigating crime scenes and cross examine on the witness stand as you try and clear innocent names from murder cases. There is a ton of reading involved in these games which is why they take forever to get through at my rate, but they are worth it in the long run to me since I find myself craving what kind of adventures the Wright Anything Agency are getting themselves into next.

There was one other non-Ace Attorney game I snuck into for a few hours at a time in-between my travels in and out of the court room. That game was the PSone version of Final Fantasy VII on the Vita. I have started FFVII a couple times before, but never made serious progress in it, and I guess I did not make a ton of progress in it this year either, but barely set a new record for time and progress! I originally was trying to keep up with Game Informer when FFVII was a part of their Game Club feature, but quickly fell behind. I came back around to FFVII in December for a few more hours, and am glad to say that I finally got out of Midgar and into the overworld for the first time in FFVII! I went on to get through the portion of the game in the village of Kalm, and then failed a few times at trying to kill off that big serpent by the Chocobo farm outside of Kalm. I think I need to grind by there for a bit in order to proceed. While I know I am nowhere close to finishing the game, I plan to periodically pick it up and eventually beat it in 10-15 years!

3) Nintendo Sixty-Fourrrrrrr!!!!

If you have somehow stuck with me through this dreadfully long top 10 blog, you might recall that I stated I had one other awesome local coop gaming night I wanted to elucidate on later. That brings us here to where my brother was visiting from out of town and he joined me, Derek and Ryan for an N64 themed night of gaming. I knew Derek and Ryan had a bunch of N64 games, and I brought a bunch of my favorites to play also. I was a little taken aback when Derek asked me to bring the N64 wrestling game I loved so much because I did not associate Derek and Ryan to be much of wrestling game fans before. Turned out that WWE 2K16 was a recent Xbox Live Games for Gold free game of the month and both of them spent a bit of time suplexing and powerbombing the heck out of each other in recent weeks and wanted to give the N64 game I raved about the most a whirl as a result.

Derek and Ryan picked up the controls for WWF No Mercy in no time and we spent at least a good hour tearing each other up in intense tag team and Royal Rumble matches. I am still befuddled that Derek and Ryan had a legit good time playing wrestling games that night, and it will probably be the only night that will ever happen with them, but I will forever remember it! The night did not end there because we went on to spend hours in other four-player hits like NBA Hangtime and New Tetris. I was surprised New Tetris went over as well as it did, but the timeless puzzle game was the right breather we all needed after some heated rounds of basketball and wrestling. It would not be an N64 night if we did not bust out the Giant Bomb favorite, Mario Party 2, and we proceed to complete a 20 turn game where everybody won!

The highlight of the night however was breaking out the original console FPS multiplayer hit, Goldeneye 007. I have read many times online how this game does not hold up in modern times, but I beg to differ! Play it on a big TV and play for at least 10 minutes, and trust me, you will be conditioned to like it was 1997 all over again! That is what happened to us that night. Sure the graphics are obviously last-century, and there is a bit of slowdown in four-player split screen when the explosions start rolling, but if you are on a big screen TV after about 10 minutes, you get use to it because the core gameplay is still that damn good. We played all kinds of variants including old favorites such as Grenade Launchers in the Temple, Rocket Launchers in the Complex, Proximity Mines in the Archives and a random map incarnation of Slappers Only with Golden Gun rules so that each slap meant instant sweet death! These five games for about five-to-six hours that magical night combined for nonstop greatness and hands down my favorite multiplayer game night 2016!

2) MGS 2/3/Peace Walker

Since the fall of 2015 when Metal Gear Solid V released. I swore to myself I will get around to playing through all the Metal Gear Solid games in order. Up until that point I only finished MGS4 and gave up on MGS2 after just a couple hours. I somehow have found myself still determined to meet this goal as I plugged away and finished The Twin Snakes GameCube remake of the original MGS by the end of 2015. Throughout 2016 I managed to finish MGS2 and MGS3 and got through around the first 15 story missions of Peace Walker off the HD Collection on PS3. I even dabbled a bit with the first hour of Portable Ops through backwards compatibility on the Vita, but decided to stick to playing on consoles and moved on to Peace Walker instead.

So what do I make of the series thusfar? I have absolutely enjoyed the core three games immensely so far. I am probably playing these games completely wrong, but I played through all three MGS games on very easy difficulty. I have no shame, but for what it is worth I try to play stealthy, and if I blow my cover and fail to retreat that is when I bust out the AK-47 and go guns blazing. That works OK most of the time for me in very easy. In Peace Walker there is no difficulty setting so that involves a bit more trial and error, but thankfully that game’s missions are shorter since it was originally designed for the PSP so failure does not mean a ton of backtracking there.

I really enjoyed my time with the first MGS, and the updated graphics on the GCN made it much more pleasant on the eyes. By the time I finished it, even all these years after its release I could tell I finished something special. Playing as Raiden did not bother me in the sequel….unless it came to saving which sometimes resulted in a few raised eyebrows. It still had the same unique, great gameplay as the original, and managed to tell another memorable chapter in the MGS universe. That said, I still rank it at the bottom of the core trilogy I liked the least, but not by as much one may think.

I am probably going to give the slight edge to MGS3 to being my favorite so far. The gameplay seemed to have hit its stride there by finally giving the ability to move and shoot simultaneously, and I actually did not mind the healing/wound treatment system in MGS3 either. The Cold War-era story is probably what I will give the nudge to me liking MGS3 the most. Each MGS game got to gradually become more bonkers in nature, and wrapping the Cold War narrative around it seemed like a perfect fit. I also loved the boss battles the most in MGS3, especially the final battle with ‘The Boss’ and the beauty with how it is presented in MGS3 will easily rank as one of my favorite moments in videogames.

1) Oxenfree

When it came down to it, I only finished three games in 2016 that were released that calendar year, and Oxenfree was one of them. It is a walking simulator like Firewatch, and also like that game the small development team at Night School Studios has members that worked on the critically acclaimed first season of The Walking Dead from Telltale Games. Unlike Firewatch though, Oxenfree has far simpler 2D graphics that are watercolor-esque in nature. Do not let these simple looks deceive you, because the narrative that surrounds these four coming-of-age teens out for a night of fun on an island quickly transforms into a night of sci-fi spookiness that I will never forget and left me wanting a sequel ASAP.

I am heads over heels for the script and dialogue that unloads throughout Oxenfree. One moment the cast is trying to come together to figure out the grand mystery of this island, then the next they are taking quick asides to find out more about their personal lives that encapsulates the everyday life of teenage drama. Night School Studios make tremendous use of certain camera tricks and jump cuts that do not necessarily equal out to jump scares, but sure as hell something close that had my skin crawling with goosebumps as the adventure played out.

There are several pivotal decisions that will affect gameplay, so naturally I had to play the game a second time telling myself no matter what I am going to play the game differently. A lot of the dialogue choices in the game have positive, neutral and snarky response options so I spent a good chunk of my second playthrough being a snarky jerk and it was fascinating seeing the responses I would get in return. When it came down to bite the bullet in the end and make one of the big game-changing decisions, I had to pause the game and step away from it for a few minutes to think it over. Even after doing that, I could not go back on my natural instincts and I went with my original decision in one of the most frantic moments I had in playing videogames.

Shortly after I finished Oxenfree a second time I was caught off guard by the developers patching in a remixed mode for people who have finished the game that offers up a slightly new gameplay experience. These changes were minor, but they did add a few new wrinkles throughout gameplay and the dialogue would unexpectedly change at random intervals to keep me constantly alert to see what tricks Oxenfree had up its sleeve next. I think it goes without saying if a game can manage to convince me to finish it three times within a year, especially at a time when I have just a fraction of the time to game than what I use to, then Oxenfree easily walks away from 2016 as my favorite videogame experience of the year! Limited Run has a physical release for PS4 set for later this month, and you can bet your booty that I will be attempting to pick up a copy and experience this game a fourth time!

No comments:

Post a Comment