Phoenix Wright games have a very easily distguishable MO; "crazy cases, crazier characters, and crazier twists". Spirit of Justice not only keeps up the tradition, it steps it up so many notches. Putting name puns aside (how can you not love the name "Manov Mistree"?!) the game is as silly as ever and it's wonderful. The stakes are high as Phoenix and the gang are thrown into a country where lawyers receive the same punishment as their clients if they lose, and usually that punishment is death. The odd mix of "you're probably going to die" while defending someone named "Ahlbi Ur'gaid" works surprisingly well. -- Julia Lepetit
Darkest Dungeon is equal parts BDSM-oregon trail, Lovecraftian Texas Hold-em and Hellboy inspired risk-reward party management sim. You play as the heir to a cursed estate, hiring wave after wave of doomed adventurers to purge the corrupt darkness that envelops your lands. This unique dungeon crawler is a must play for any gamer tired of stale rpg-tactics archetypes or Tolkien/WOW worldbuilding tropes. The world -- a grimdark low fantasy renaissance setting with hefty doses of memorable voiceover ("Prodigious size alone does not dissuade the sharpened blade...") and plenty of nods to Mike Mignola -- is dark, immersive and meshes seamlessly with the unique mechanics that comprise its gullyworks.
You'll guide your party through various labyrinths littered with traps and fiends, constantly walking the razor's edge of an ever-running risk reward algorithm. Do you descend with fewer supplies to maximize your profits? Do you allow your torches to burn dim in order to face more difficult foes? Do you press on to the end, even though half your crew is bleeding out and on the verge of crippling madness? Darkest Dungeon is ultimately an exercise in managing a table of grim and unpredictable variables (Morale! Sanity! Supplies!) while stoically watching your most prized characters get irrevocably ground to bloody mince. Fun, right? -- Eric Bruenner
There's an endless amount of indie pixel platformers out there and sometimes it's hard to distinguish one from another, so let me say this up front: Owlboy is like a Super Nintendo game made by Studio Ghibli. Granted, the lovely visuals and stunning audio far surpass what could have been done on a 16-bit system, but you get the gist.
Aside from the music and the graphics, the charming characters are the real stand-out. The game itself is a fun Zelda-ish "platformer" wherein you explore almost exclusively in flight mode, but the way Owlboy uses its cast is so smart that it's kind of strange it hasn't been done do death. You don't get items in Owlboy, not really -- instead, you gain companions to your party that you carry throughout the world, each with their own ability set. A handy teleporter allows you to switch friends at will (and avoid any annoying babysitting), and gives a decent excuse for the characters to actively react to the events in the story, sort of like something you might see in a JRPG. Games that take 10 (ten!) years to make are rarely this good, but Owlboy was worth the wait. -- Tristan Cooper
Oxenfree is not only a ghost tale. It's about grief, too. Developed by Night School Studio, Oxenfree takes a charming coming of age tale and pulls two young women -- Alex and Clarissa -- to the forefront, each grappling with death. It's been a year since Michael, Alex's brother and Clarissa's ex-boyfriend, died unexpectedly.
The paranormal aspects of Oxenfree -- of which there are many -- are used as a frame for Alex and Clarissa's respective coming of age tales. For much of the game, however, Alex's story takes the lead; after all, it's the blue haired teenager who opens up the frequency (and essentially causes all the problems) on the abandoned military island the group is staking out. Through cleverly used dialogue trees, Night School manages to untangle Alex and Clarissa's relationship, emphasizing the complexity in the ways of which they've both dealt with loss. And this is all the while a bunch of crazy shit is happening; events that will not only change the future, but the past, too. -- Nicole Carpenter
There are a lot of games on this list that are designed to put you on edge, testing your mental endurance and quick-thinking skills. VA-11 Hall-A is not one of those games. At no point in VH do you frantically bounce around a room blasting demons or carefully make your way through a mansion full of armed guards. All you do is sit in one spot, serve drinks, and talk. And it's wonderful.
The characters of VA-11 Hall-A have their own exciting, FPS-worthy lives, but they come to you to chill out and decompress. Hard to blame them, since there's a futuristic dystopia going on outside. Getting to know everyone from the jaded hacker to the boisterous livestreamer to the android sex worker is pretty much the entire game, so it's fortunate that each of these characters is unique and endearing in their own way. You do serve drinks (the game IS subtitled "Cyberpunk Bartending Action") and that can affect one of the several endings you get, but you're really here to have a stress-free chat with people who have slightly worse lives than you. -- Tristan Cooper
Hitman is a game about button prompts. Getting within three feet of any NPC in the game triggers a prompt that reads "SUBDUE," a psychic whisper that dares you to choke out every person you come into contact with. Should you find a quiet spot to do your dirty work, your options expand while you look over the unconcious body of your victim. Do you DRAG the body and drop them in a laundry basket or off a cliff? Do you DISGUISE yourself in the victim's clothes, using their access to get closer to your actual target? Do you give into your basest impulses and hit the SNAP NECK button, instantly neutralizing someone who could compromise your mission?
The possibilities seem endless when you begin your first few missions. But as you explore each of the densely-packed levels, you start to learn cues, common vulnerabilities and techniques that can be relied upon in any situation. Once your senses acclimate and your assassin's heart begins pumping cold, quiet blood, you'll start to see the tracks running around the environment. The people that were once chaotic humans become low-end androids, puttering around in predictable, exploitable loops. When you approach mastery, you'll feel less like a hitman and more like the only guest in your own personal Westworld. One that lets you occassionally become a supermodel. -- Tristan Cooper
Tokyo Mirage Sessions: #FE might be in the running for Least Comprehensible Title of 2016, but don't let that fool you. This game is full of familiar ideas and faces from both the Shin Megami Tensei series of JRPGs, and Nintendo's own Fire Emblem. It did start life as a crossover game between the two, after all. As such it's a mishmash of ideas found in both franchises, wrapped in a pastel art style and an extremely Japanese shell.
The game's squad of supernatural, super-heroic teens in modern-day Tokyo doesn't get up to quite the same level of Real Shit as, say, the cast of a Persona game. But that's like saying BBC's Planet Earth isn't as emotionally harrowing as a Werner Herzog documentary. There's still plenty of emotional impact, as the crew navigates their burgeoning careers as professional entertainers -- dealing with the stress of performing, being role models, and resolving their public image with their personal desires.
The team turns that creative power, or "Performa," into magic with the help of dimensionally displaced Fire Emblem characters. The performers by day fight paranormal evil by... later day. Which manifests as one of the best turn-based RPG combat systems in recent years.
Together, the mechanics and characters make for a game that, while quite the revelation other Shin Megami Tensei games have been for the genre, still puts Tokyo Mirage Sessions into instant cult classic territory. If you're one of the 27 people in the world with a Wii U, it's absolutely worth adding this to the meager collection of must-have games for that console. -- Steven Strom
Furi is a beautiful action packed and difficult game with one hell of an awesome soundtrack, and it needs to be played.
The game follows a mysterious man escaping from a prison thanks to the help of a man wearing a rabbit disguise named the Voice. As he heads down ten islands floating above the planet's surface, He must battle and kill a series of bosses (known as jailers) in order to fully escape and be free. The main character never speaks while The Voice accompanies you on your journey and does most of the talking throughout the game, very similar to Afro Samurai & Ninja Ninja in the anime. In fact, Takashi Okazaki (the writer and illustrator of Afro Samurai) is one of the artists behind this unique and colorful game.
The gameplay is a combination of a hack & slash and shoot em' up. You have to dodge, parry and attack the bosses with both melee and shooting. You're not giving anything throughout the game so you have to use these tools to beat all the bosses. The difficulty is very reminiscent of old NES games where the difficulty is really freaking high & dying can be extremely frustrating, especially when you're about to win and then die because you weren't paying attention. But as weird as it might sound, dying is a necessary evil in this game. It allows you to learn what works and what doesn't. Each boss plays completely different from one another so you will need to adapt to each one. Some might require more melee attacks, some require you to predict their moves on the fly and some require more shooting and distance. Some bosses could take a few minutes to beat while some could take hours.
The game's soundtrack is outstanding with artists like Carpenter Brut & The Toxic Avenger lending their badass-ness to give each battle an epic and grand feel. Even with the extreme difficulty, the soundtrack will get you pumped to try again and fight to beat each boss. You'll be listening to the soundtrack long after you're done with the game (IF you can beat it). Furi is a game that makes you feel accomplished once you beat a boss and move onto the next one. The feeling of pure joy knowing you beat a boss after hours of trying feels amazing. If you want more difficulty in your games with a kick ass soundtrack, & unique looking characters & stages, for only $20, you can accept the challenge to kill the jailers. -- Trenddi Alexis
It would be unthinkable that a new Pokemon game wouldn't make a Best Of list, so this entry should be of no surprise to anyone. Being that as it may, Pokemon Sun & Moon earned it's place this year not because it is a safe retread of past Pokemon games that have gone strong and remained popular for almost 20 years, but precisely because it wasn't that. After a few entries to the main line of games that felt a little samey despite steadily improving game mechanics, extras, and graphics, 2016 was the year Gamefreak grew some Pokeballs and took Pokemon in an exciting new direction.
Pokemon Sun & Moon is packed with changes that breathed new life into the series, including regional variants to older generation Pokemon (something the fan community had been creating fanart of for a while now), a deviation from the core Pokemon Gym system with the introduction of island challenges, and a set of villains too awkward and goofy to NOT fall in love with. Not to mention Gamefreak totally leaning into long standing complaints that new Pokemon designs look less and less like natural animals by adding FRIGGIN' ULTRA BEAST POKEMON FROM AN ALTERNATE DIMENSION.
Pokemon got weird, and Hella good. -- Justin Hall
Dishonored 2 is like the best of Christmas presents stolen weeks before regularly staged festivities. For anyone who loves FPS stealth games, incredible art direction, and engaging Steampunk worlds, Dishonored 2 delivers immersive entertainment. The level of detail of the varied environments, buildings, furnishings and NPCs will make players want to take their time and soak it all in. Little things like the numerous taunts of adversaries and overheard conversations are a few of the many flavors of icing on this cake. I enjoy movies and games where the directors add superfluous details for pure enjoyment even when it affects the overall cost of the production.
One example in D2 is when I accidentally dropped an unconscious guard over a balcony rail into a canal. From my third story vantage point, I could see the guard's body being slowly rendered limb by limb by piranha-like gold fish. Playing as Corvo, I swam in this same canal earlier and was not attacked. Clever wee fish. Do yourself a favor and get D2. Even with the technical problems on PC, it's worth upgrading your box. -- Chris Cooper (Tristan's Dad)
You can probably tell we're fans of brain-benders in this office, but Quadrilateral Cowboy has a little more going on in the periphery than the typical puzzle game. The missions themselves are these neat little boxes that you literally have to hack your way through with a laptop. You spend most of the game on these heists, learning rudimentary code to control doors, switches and little robots. Each job is challenging but not impossible, and success often rewards you with a strange feeling of accomplishment. If QuadCow was just these levels, it would still be fantastic.
But when you complete a set of missions, you're treated to vignettes of the women living this life of crime. It might be as simple as a game of badminton on a roof, or rooting through a friend's tiny apartment. You could easily skip these moments and get to the rest of the action, but you'd be missing some lovely wordless storytelling that you don't see often in other games, much less other mediums of art. For a game that relies heavily on logic, data and code, Quadrilateral Cowboy feels human. -- Tristan Cooper
It feels like it's been a while since a shooter nailed both the campaign and the multiplayer, but Titanfall 2 pulled it off for the first time in years. The original Titanfall was pretty much an exclusively online competitive affair, and while it did what it did extremely well, the volume of content just wasn't there. TF2 (no, not the one with the hats) managed to expand that multiplayer suite, building on the rock-solid foundation of the original and blowing it out to meet the extremely high standards of today's AAA FPS. But that's not what's so impressive about Titanfall 2.
The campaign starts off fine enough. The expansive levels use the parkour in creative ways that weren't really feasible in environments suited for multiplayer. Then you start building up a relationship with your Titan, who has a dry wit that stops short of the wackiness of Portal. Then the mech encounters start getting more intense. Then you get to the shifting factory and start thinking "Hey, this is pretty alright." And then you get the wristwatch.
I won't spoil what it is this wristwatch does, but it fundamentally changes the gameplay in a way you would have never guessed if you didn't know beforehand. This relevatory gameplay mechanic is not only shockingly seamless, but it has so many fantastic applications and incredible potential for combat, traversal and puzzles. I'm not the first one to say that I want a whole game based around the wristwatch. And that I also want that wristwatch, on a personal level. The rest of the game follows through on that momentum, but that level is probably the peak of the campaign and maybe 2016. -- Tristan Cooper
There's a lot of instances where a game series has gone on and ruined a great game with an awful sequel. Uncharted is not one of those series. A Thief's End continues the series trend of making excellent adventures that really throw us to a completely new land. Possibly the best game of the series, Naughty Dog really hit it out of the park. The writing is excellent, the level designs are comfortable, the characters are wonderful, and then tension is somehow perfect. -- Julia Lepetit
Some games go out of their way to make sure you're really ready to engage. Stephen's Sausage Roll has a ton of barriers to entry; the graphics are abstract and hard to decipher, the controls are tough to master and the asking price is much higher than you'd expect. Hell, the baffling official trailer tells you absolutely nothing about what you're getting into. (For the record, the game is about pushing sausages around a game board and cooking them on grills.)
If you commit to spending time with Stephen and his Sausage Rolls, you'll find yourself neck-deep in one of the best puzzle games in years. Eventually you'll discover that the awkward controls are integral to the puzzle-solving, and while you still might goof up here and there, the rewind feature is as quick as it is handy. Even the primitive PS1-era graphics will grow on you, especially because the simple visuals allow you to better assess each map. Best of all is when you discover something you never, ever thought you could do, and it makes you rethink every move you've made to that point. Never has the act of rolling meat around on the ground before cooking it been so euphoric.
Are you in a loving, committed relationship? Would you like that lifelong bond to be shattered in an instant amidst a torrent of insults and hurled household objects? Overcooked is for you!
Don't let its exceedingly cute exterior and light premise disarm you -- this game wants you to forsake your friends and disown your family. On a surface level, a Diner Dash-ish game about co-operating to cook and serve meals seems like a fun time for everyone. But then the levels shift mid-game, or rats emerge from holes to steal food that you put down for just one second god dammit, or there's a floating glacier between you and a kitchen that's currently on fire. Screwing up means screwing over your team, and the only way to avoid that is to constantly communicate/berate the people around you. Pulling out a three-star win by the skin of your teeth is as thrilling as any other moment from a game this year. I didn't need friends anyway. -- Tristan Cooper
It's 2016. Did you know you can watch VR porn now? And you can film your grandparents watching it and put it on YouTube? It's officially the future, you guys.
So, how did I choose to spend my time gaming in this wondrous era of technological innovation? By doing maze puzzles. Yup, my favorite game of 2016 was The Witness.
Jonathan Blow's most recent game promises no monsters, no guns, no awkward sex scenes. There is only you alone on a peaceful island, attempting puzzle after puzzle. It's hard to believe this if you haven't played it, but The Witness consumed most of my waking thoughts and dominated most of my conversations. My obsession became so intense that my co-workers banished me to my own slack chat. I got into grad school in 2016, but my proudest moment of the past year remains when I finally solved the missing twig puzzle in the Tree Temple.
If you want to examine why you enjoy the fraught process of intricate problem-solving AND you want to seriously compromise all your friendships, then this game is for you! If not, there's always watching boobs on the Oculus Rift. -- Chloe Cole
Stardew Valley is nothing short of a miracle - created and developed by a single person (Eric Barone), it took the basic premise of Harvest Moon and built it out in a way the franchise had desperately needed for years. Lapsed fans of the Harvest Moon series will attest the series had been on a long, strange downward spiral for a long time, never effectively building on the premise of a new farmer trying to find their way in a small town that probably peaked with Harvest Moon 64. The series kept getting lost on awkward diversions and gimmicks that never really felt right - but Stardew Valley did what every frustrated fan of Harvest Moon had always dreamed of doing: making Harvest Moon fucking WORK.
The most essential problem in most Harvest Moon games is that there simply isn't that much to do on a day-to-day basis. Stardew Valley has the opposite problem - there is CONSTANTLY way too many things to accomplish, turning each day into a mad race to tend crops, clear the field, do some fishing, visit the local townspeople, do some mining, and deal with an endless amount of sidequests. Stardew Valley can be whatever you want it to be - a simple farming simulator, a dating sim, or a jack-of-all-trades game that does both of those things and more.
Every aspect of the game is a delight -- the music will be playing in your ears long after you've turned off the game, the inventory management system is simple and intuitive (no small feat, particularly in comparison to lots of Harvest Moon games), and the graphics are just the right level of cutesy. Playing Stardew Valley is like sinking into a warm bath - relaxing, calming, and putting you into a state of panic about trying to flirt with the cute girl who lives by the beach*. -- Andrew Bridgman
*note: I thought Elliott was a girl for a long time (the gender-neutral name and long hair, I guess?). Eventually I realized Elliott was a dude, and that my character was gay. Didn't see it coming, but me and Elliott are very happy together now.
It's pretty hard to sum up what playing the 2016 DOOM revival is like in one sentence. But it's thrilling to roll into an empty room and see a throbbing flesh obelisk because you know when you take the bloody orb thing out the guitar will start shredding and demons will teleport in from nowhere and chase you to the ends of the earth and you have no choice but to keep on the run while you decide the best way to pick apart each annoying imp and OH GOD a Hell Knight just jumped in from out of nowhere and there's no escape except you can glory kill this guy for some health and finish off that other bastard and this music is so brutal and it propels you forward until every last piece of devil trash has been smote with searing hot metal and then you can take your time exploring and finding plush dolls and man this game had no right to be this good. -- Tristan Cooper
There's an irritating trend in a lot of games today -- tacking on an unnecessary multiplayer aspect to what clearly should just be a single-player game. It's the nature of the business; a robust multiplayer will extend the life of a game and prevent players from turning it back in to GameStop, but it's rarely successful, since games that try to do everything end up doing all of it half-assed. That's why it's so refreshing to have a big game that is so laser-focused on one tiny kind of gameplay and do it so well.
Plus, it's just SO fucking fun.
Overwatch is just plain FUN. It's Team Fortress 2 mixed with the character variety of a MOBA, with incredible balance and a million ways to play. And, perhaps most incredibly in today's modern online gaming scene, it's remarkable in its ability to NOT have a toxic community. Maybe it's just that they don't give you your teammates' stats, maybe it's that the gameplay is designed to be team-focused over individuals, maybe it's that they replace the phrase "ggez" with phrases like "I'm trying to be a nicer person. It's hard, but I am trying, guys.", or maybe it's because matches are relatively quick, painless, and still pretty fun EVEN IF YOU'RE LOSING.
It's the kind of game you can play for a few minutes a day or hours on end - the kind of game you can delve deep into the lore and fan community of or just marvel at the surface details of the character designs - the kind of game that is always evolving and changing in subtle, amazing ways.
It's a game that's brimming with joy and creativity and care - the kind of game that you can't help but love, even when you pay $80 and STILL DON'T GET THAT BADASS WINSTON YETI SKIN. -- Andrew BridgmanGames we loved but didn't have room for: Firewatch, The Last Guardian, Inside, Hyper Light Drifter, Final Fantasy XV, King's Quest, Pony Island, Superhot, Tyranny, Dark Souls 3, Enter the Gungeon, Your Favorite Game From 2016