To the majority of people, 2016 sucked.
We saw the death of superstars such as Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, Carrie Fisher, Carrie Fisher’s mom Debbie Reynolds… and I’ll just stop there. In addition to that, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America, while thousands of others voters put in “Harambe” to show their lack of confidence in the presidential candidates.
No matter where you stand with the horrendous stuff that’s going on, there’s no denying the fact that 2016 was a heck of a year in gaming. We saw some disappointment in the form of both Scalebound, Persona 5, and Zelda suffering delays, as well Star Fox Zero, Mighty No. 9 and No Man’s Sky coming nowhere close to anybody’s lofty expectations. We’ve even seen the release of a new way to play with PlayStation VR as well as updated consoles with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, so it’s not like there’s been a shortage of systems to buy… unless of course you were hoping to get your hands on a NES Classic Edition before reading this.
My Top 10 list this year is bookended by a popular series phenomenon making a hell of a comeback and features games in genres I don’t typically play. It’s all about keeping an open mind, and I hope you do the same as you read this list.
10. Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon (3DS)
In a year that was a renaissance for Pokémania, Pokémon Sun and Moon proudly represented the biggest changes in the series. The game features what’s probably the most realistic depiction of local and tourist life in Hawaii in its new Alola region, while a new method of going on your Pokémon journey without the existence of badges features situations never before seen. With both new species of Pokémon and region-specific variations of some of the popular creatures we’ve come to love over the years, this is one Pokémon game fans and former fans don’t want to miss.
9. I Am Setsuna (PS4, PC)
It has to be made abundantly clear that I Am Setsuna has quite a bit of faults. While most of us will say we’re huge fans of Tokyo RPG Factory, a sometimes flat narrative with a soundtrack that becomes dull as it lacks variety heavily weigh the game down. I actually quit the game as I was playing but found my way back to it and eventually liked what I played enough to put it here at #9. Maybe because it’s winter and it matches… I don’t know. My biggest complaint now is the fact that we didn’t get a Vita version, because this would’ve been a fantastic handheld experience.
8. Tumblestone (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Let me be the one to constantly push the existence of this game. I’m not saying it’s the second coming of Tetris, but the simple yet intense gameplay of multiplayer Tumblestone features an experience that I don’t think will ever be matched. The single player also has its woefully difficult courses that make me liken it to a simpler version of Sudoku… you know, without numbers and stuff. This game would be insane fun on mobile should the developers go in that direction.
7. Watch Dogs 2 (PS4, Xbox One)
I was not a fan of the first Watch Dogs at all. It felt like it tried to be too much like Grand Theft Auto during the same year Grand Theft Auto V came out, and that didn’t do it any service. Watch Dogs 2 is everything the first game should’ve been, with strategic hacking really being the foundation of the game in a world I’m very familiar with as a San Francisco Bay Area resident.
6. Firewatch (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
I first got my hands on Firewatch after watching Danny O’Dwyer get a kick out of the game at Sony’s press box at the PSX 2015. As I like to admit with every opportunity, first-person games typically aren’t my thing, but Firewatch was different. There’s probably some bias here as I’m a parks person, but getting lost in Shoshone National Forest while knowing you had somebody to talk to really left a lasting impression on me, and when you provide a memorable experience, you’ll probably make my list.
5. Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)
Fire Emblem Fates is really three games, so anybody who has Fire Emblem Fates in their Top 10 list is cheating, but with how good all three of them are — who can blame them? This is the one franchise that Nintendo has taken no prisoners with, as its challenging yet addictive gameplay keeps players like me coming back for more. I can’t wait to see what DeNA and Nintendo do with the mobile game supposedly due out next year.
4. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PS3, Vita)
Had the first Trails of Cold Steel come out a few weeks earlier, it easily would’ve made my Top 10 Games of 2015 list, but since we got its direct sequel a few months later, I’ll put it here now. With Persona 5 delayed to 2017, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II was far and away the best RPG of the year. Featuring a politically driven story that really makes you think about foreign relations today, while also keeping things grounded and more open-ended than the first game—Falcom definitely hit another one out of the park, and Cold Steel II is definitely a must-own on the PS3 for gamers that consider themselves hardcore RPG players.
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)
Uncharted was, without a doubt, my favorite gaming series last generation. I was a busy college student, but when I got my hands on a new Uncharted game, it wasn’t long before the game was finished. Uncharted 4 was no different. Naughty Dog’s mastery of visual storytelling in combination with fantastic writing, voice acting, its signature gameplay, and its utter beauty easily make this the best PS4-exclusive available.
2. Overwatch (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
This is gonna be on the greater majority of GOTY lists. With everything it has going for it, I’m not supposed to like Overwatch. Of course, I love it. Its team-based gameplay caters to both newcomers and FPS veterans alike while keeping everything fresh with seasonal modes to really keep players involved. I am now sold on whatever Blizzard wants to do with this IP. Give each of Overwatch’s likable characters their own single player adventure. I don’t care. I’ll buy it. This is more likely than not the IP of the generation right here. Any other year, Overwatch would’ve been my Game of the Year, but something bigger happened.
1. Pokémon GO (iOS, Android)
This year, Pokémon GO will be nobody’s underdog when it comes to mentioning the best games of 2016, despite the fact that it’s on a mobile platform. There’s no denying the success it had, and while people will believe it was short-lived, it was long enough to make the mobile gaming sphere (and the world) take notice. It’s a game that encourages you to go out and be active without shaming you for it and even though the premise of the game is beyond simple—the metagame within Pokémon GO is something that mobile developers will probably never emulate and I’m sure this is something we’ll never see again, at least to this magnitude. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for everything it’s done, this is a game that defines an era.
And that’s my list. I just wanted to thank everybody who read the piece, showing their support for SmashPad. At midnight tonight, we’ll be unveiling our final overall Top 10 Games of 2016, and I’m sure you’ll all understand why the choice we made was definitely the right one.