2016 was a much better year than I remember it being. There were a handful of big games launched that absolutely killed it, a couple that I would rather not think about again, and some that definitely exist. Even though this was the last year where the Wii U mattered, it managed to host one really good JRPG, and I surprised myself with just how much 3DS representation is here. I may not have picked up a NES Classic or VR device of my own in 2016, but this was their year. Here’s my list of the good, the bad, and the...eh.
Dragon Ball Z is really cool, and fighting games can be a lot of fun. In general though, my history with fighting games involves me enjoying one for a few hours than moving on. I gave Dragon Ball Z: Xenoverse 2 the benefit of the doubt but I just couldn’t get into it. The first major hurdle that stopped the fun train is how the game starts: you’re forced to create a character. I can see the appeal in that kind of thing, but when I put on a Dragon Ball fighting game, it’s because I want to beat up Broly as Yamcha.
After you’ve made your character you’re dropped off in the overworld map, and this is another thing I hate about Xenoverse. Scrolling through a menu might not be exciting or sexy, but it gets me into fights much faster than trying to find ‘quick match’ in an overworld map. Mechanically, Xenoverse kind of pulled a fast one on me since this isn’t just a fighting game, it’s also an RPG. fights and challenge-based matches level up your avatar, you gain currency to buy more clothes and attacks, and your character level determines if you can beat an opponent more directly than your actual skill. You also don’t need to worry about complex inputs if you want to execute a combo or pull off a powerful attack. Just hold down one of the shoulder buttons, tap a face button, and you’re throwing energy blasts like a regular Z Warrior!
I’m not sure how long it took for the spell to break for me; what I wanted and expected was a fighting game but Xenoverse 2 is just an obtuse JRPG. Leveling up to do more damage instead of just performing better is a drag, my kamehameha being weaker than the computers because of a level differential is a drag, Bandai-Namco refusing to make the highly anticipated sequel to Attack of the Saiyans is the worst of drags.
(If I had a dollar for every bad Dragon Ball game that's out there, I would have enough for like...at least 2 Dragon Ball manga...)
I usually love JRPGs and turn-based combat in games, but what I remember from the 15 minutes I spent playing FNAF World was an ugly interface, embarrassingly bad attack effects, and a story so impenetrable that not even Game Theory has tried to decipher what the Hell was going on. It’s a free game, but I’d still like some compensation for the time I spent on it.
Pokken Tournament sounds like a great concept on paper: a Pokemon fighting game made using the Tekken combat engine. I haven’t played a Tekken game since the third, but I remember those first three being excellent. Adding Pokemon into the mix should be an automatic win! Unfortunately Pokken Tournament was pretty awful. I played the Wii U version, since I don’t live in a country that has the arcade edition and I won’t be shelling out for the Switch version. In the Wii U version you chose to play as one of 16 Pokemon and I’m sure you’ve already spotted an issue if you’re familiar with Pokemon.
As of 2016, there were over 800 of the things. Realistically it makes sense that you can’t use any of the Pokemon considering that some are Godlike, Legendaries and others are 4 ounce birds or mice. There are a lot of gaps that could have been filled though: You’re telling me Suicune is a playable fighter, but Hawlucha, the Hitmon-trio, and Dragonite aren’t? When you start a new game, the first thing you do is “create a character”. You’re essentially just choosing whether you’re male or female, choosing a skin tone for them, some clothes, and a partner Pokemon. From there, the Ferrum Region opens up to you in the form of a map screen wherein you can choose to train, take on the Pokemon League, do a quick battle, multiplayer battle, check in at town if you want to micromanage your character. In addition to the Pokemon you’re fighting with, there are support Pokemon you can choose who will buff your Pokemon during battles or attack the opponent. Their influence doesn’t seem to be too significant one way or the other but it’s still nice to see a handful of other Pokemon included here.
The actual fighting in Pokken is functional, but I never really got what Phase Shifting was meant to do other than turning the camera slightly from behind your Pokemon’s shoulder to a slightly side-on point of view. When I play fighting games in general I feel a sense of diminishing returns, and Pokken Fighter was no exception. It was fine to watch in motion, but playing the game just felt more repetitive and devoid of strategy than most other fighting games I’ve played in the past.
(I really wish this was good)
Star Fox Zero is an absolute disaster. Announced in 2015, though teased a year before, Star Fox Zero is yet another remake of the original SNES title wherein the evil Andross is threatening the Lylat system. It’s up to Fox of the Star Fox team to repel the invasion with his team of ace pilots and Slippy Toad. There are two unique selling points for this version of Star Fox; this is the first time the series has been presented in HD, and the dual-display properties of the Wii U are fully utilized allowing you to aim and move independently.
During rail-shooting sections of levels the controls are mostly manageable; you’re moving in one set direction automatically and can thus focus on aiming with the Wii U Gamepad. During arena sections though, movement gets chaotic to the point of being potentially overwhelming. Since this is Nintendo, there’s no way to change this control scheme other than to invert the gyroscope controls. I could see how this might work if it was applied to the 3DS because the main viewing screen and the aiming screen would be connected at all times. In order to aim efficiently you need to physically turn the gamepad and more often than not I had to turn away from my TV enough to make it impossible to aim while keeping my ship and surroundings in my sight at all times.
Throughout the course of the game there are a couple of sections where you use different vehicles aside from the Arwing; There’s a tank and a hover-copter type of thing which are both easier to control because of their reduced speeds and lack of full arena sections to use them in. All of my issues with Star Fox Zero begin and end with the controls: this game is to the Wii U what Skyward Sword was to the Wii, a game that would be find if the controls were completely overhauled. Going from the first level to the final boss only takes a couple of hours which would be a hit against the game if it was fun to play, but I see that as it’s best feature. If you want to play the best possible version of this game, Star Fox 64-3D is available and the best version of that game.
(Hail Star Fox! Nintendo Heeeeeeeero. Hail Star Fox! Just don't buy Zeeeeeeeeeero)
Corpse Party isn’t really my genre, but it was interesting enough for me to try out. For the most part it’s a visual novel with multiple endings, but with some exploration and puzzle elements. The story is about a handful of students hanging out at school after hours for some reason when all of a sudden they and their school are transported into an alternate reality. Everything around the school is gone, replaced by a dark void. It’s no longer possible to leave the school and hostile ghosts have begun to murder your peers. The atmosphere is incredibly oppressive, with an unnerving soundtrack to go along with it. I don’t usually care for ghost stories, but from my experience Japanese horror is almost always hopelessly bleak. Conceptually I really like Corpse Party, but this game being so much like a visual novel was a pretty steep hurdle for me to overcome.
(I didn't realize this was part of a franchise)
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a game I really thought I would have liked more given how much I liked Human Revolution. Mankind Divided takes place some time after Human Revolution, and due to certain events from that game, Mankind Divided’s world is one of even more heavy-handed anti-aug sentiment. During the prologue tensions reach a boiling point while you’re at a train station and the results are you being back at square-one when it comes to your augmentations and inventory.
Your goal is trying to figure out who committed the attack and why. Instead of taking place in Detroit, Hengsha, an oil rig, a ship, and a campus, Mankind Divided takes place in Prague. The smaller scale of the story, and the setting made me check fairly early on. Narratively, I feel like Mankind Divided was just retreading what was done before, but on a smaller scale. The gameplay from Human Revolution is still there, but it doesn’t seem to have been expanded on, so being a blank slate again just kind of annoyed me. In spite of how similar Mankind Divided plays to Human Revolution, I just couldn’t get into it. It looks good, and I’m sure things pick up after a while, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
I Am Setsuna has a fairly solid combat system, but nothing else about it really engaged me. It’s a system that uses cool-down timers to dictate when you, your party, or your enemies can attack, but where you are on the battlefield also dictates which attacks you can use and which enemies get hit. Positioning your party correctly can even unlock powerful group attacks, which are satisfying to pull off. As for the plot, Setsuna is a priestess on a pilgrimage, but you play as her bodyguard Endir who was actually hired to assassinate her. That’s all I really remember about the story off the top of my head, everything else is a blizzard of white-noise in my mind.
What I remember of gameplay is walking slowly through tundra, glacial caves, sailing an icy sea, walking again through snowy plains, and trekking through yet more wintry caverns. I Am Setsuna’s plot could have been the video game equivalent of The Count of Monte Cristo, but the settings being variations of the same thing gave me a sense of diminishing returns. I lost interest bit by bit as I slowly realized that nothing was really changing in any significant way. Then I got stuck and realized that I couldn’t really find what to do next in a guide because I had completely lost track of where I was. That is absolutely a weak argument, but talking to NPCs in towns didn’t help, there wasn’t a quest tracker in-game, I couldn’t find any signposts or landmarks...I felt like I wasn’t being met halfway so I stopped playing.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD probably shouldn’t exist. It’s not that I dislike Twilight Princess either, I enjoyed playing through it on the Gamecube a couple of years ago and thought I was ready for another playthrough when this launched on the Wii U. Unfortunately, I see Twilight Princess HD as a waste of potential. A couple of years before this launched, Nintendo launched Wind Waker HD on the Wii U and while it introduced bloom lighting, it also featured a couple quality-of-life improvements. The faster sail, the ability to access your cannon, hook, sail, and wand quickly while sailing, being able to take more than one photo with the pictobox, streamlined Triforce quest; they’re small changes but they make Wind Waker easier to get into while trimming some of the grind.
Twilight Princess HD is just Twilight Princess again, but in HD. I like how it melds the Wii and Gamecube experiences; the layout of Hyrule is the same as it was in the Wii version, but you don’t need to use motion controls or the Wiimote + Nunchuck like in the Gamecube version (though the option is still there, if you want to use the Gamepad’s gyroscope; I chose not to). Twilight Princess HD still has the same lengthy opening, it still has the same bland, sparsely populated Hyrule Field, it still has the same faded, muted aesthetic, and the same incredible companion NPC. I’m counting this as a ‘meh’ instead of ‘good’ though because even though Twilight Princess is a pretty good game, it’s not the kind of game that I liked nearly as much on my second playthrough. I really like Snowpeak Ruins and the City in the Sky, but getting to them ranges from dull to tedious to me.
I would rather play this than Skyward Sword or Majora’s Mask again, but I just don’t have fun playing Twilight Princess compared to say, Breath of the Wild or Link to the Past. Wind Waker HD and Majora’s Mask 3DS made small improvements to those games, but I don’t think Twilight Princess did when it could have. At least it didn’t make objectively bad changes like Majora’s Mask 3D...
(On the plus side, Twilight Princess had the best waifu material at the time)
Mighty No. 9 is, for all intents and purposes, a Mega Man game. It was developed by Keiji Inafune, who spearheaded the Mega Man series back in the day, and made deliberately in the style of those old platformers. You play as Beck, one of multiple robots, and it’s up to you to defeat a rogue faction of hostile robots before they can do too much damage. Every time you beat one of the other Mighty Numbers, you unlock access to one of their weapons and all of the Mighty Numbers are specifically weak to one of their peers' weapons. You’re free to take on the levels in any order you’d like, with a final stage opening up after you beat the other Mighty Numbers, and a climactic boss fight against an evil scientist at the very end. This may sound like a dismissive summary, but the Mega Man and X series are structured like this too and most of those games are great.
What sets Mighty No. 9 apart from the Mega Man and X series though is a distinct lack of polish and an ugly art style. The level layouts look fine, but controlling Beck, your player-character, feels a little off. There seems to be a little bit of a delay when inputting commands, which makes the more difficult obstacles more difficult to get through than they should be. I’ve also noticed hitbox issues with some enemies. In order to beat a boss, it’s not enough to widdle their HP down to zero, you also need to dash into them once their energy has been depleted. This works for the most part, but some bosses (like the final boss) were able to damage me during this point in the game, which shouldn’t have been possible. I really don’t think Mighty No. 9 as people made it out to be at launch, but I wouldn’t say it’s as good as most of the entries in the Mega Man or X games that it takes its mechanics and gameplay from. It was good enough that I played through it once, but I don’t feel compelled to actually play it again.
(I feel like this is an unfair representation of Mighty No. 9...the game is never this exciting)
Mini-Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge is a free download that relies on the player to own at least 1 amiibo figure. By scanning an amiibo you can change your player character within levels. Each of the 11 mini-figures you play as have unique abilities, but the levels you play can be beaten no matter who you’re playing as. What you can’t do is collect every collectible or enter character specific doors if you’re not playing as the correct character. By entering an amiibo door with the corresponding character, you’ll unlock a series of themed levels which match that character. This effectively locks you out of content if you haven’t purchased every amiibo.
Each of the levels in Mini-Mario are simple puzzles, the point of which is to collect all of the coins, and enter the flag door as quickly as possible. Your characters are all depicted as wind-up toys and as such move independently. Tapping them with the Wii U stylus will make them perform their special action (Mario for example will hop), but there’s no other way of controlling them. What you do have control over however is the environment. You can tap or draw lines to form or take away bridges or blocks so as to keep your little lemming from hurting themselves. It’s a simple enough puzzle game, and it’s free to download, but if you don’t have amiibo you’ll be missing out on most of the content. This game is part of the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series, but I haven’t played any of those other games so I’m not sure how it stacks up compared to the core titles. It doesn’t really make me want to try them out, but I’m sure this is the only one that requires me to buy amiibo to play it.
No Man’s Sky is a very different game today compared to what it was on launch, but I haven’t played it in its current form because the original version just didn’t engage me. The goal is to explore a massive galaxy, both in-space and on planets, until you’re able to make it to the center of the Universe. Every planet is procedurally generated, with plants and wildlife that are said to be unique. Flying through space wasn’t terrible, and transitioning from space into atmosphere and back was fairly entertaining the first few times I’ve done it. I like how you can leave your ship and wander around on foot both on planets and on asteroids too, but I never felt compelled to do any of it unless I needed to top off my fuel. Conceptually, I love the idea of just trucking through space, but this isn’t Elite Dangerous.
Star Fox Guard was bundled with Star Fox Zero. It’s a very simple point-defense game where you need to defend a point in a map from slowly approaching robots. To protect that point, you have control over an array of surveillance cameras, each one equipped with laser blasters. As you progress through the levels, you’ll be assaulted by greater numbers of robots, robots that need to be blasted more than once, and robots that move slightly faster than the usual rank and file mecha-grunts. You can aim using the Wii U Gamepad’s built-in gyroscope, or with the right control stick if you, like me, loath motion controls. That’s about all there is to this game; it’s perfectly functional, but it doesn’t really ramp up in any significant way. It’s a really brief, small-scale experience, but since it works and is mildly entertaining, it’s the most valuable portion of the Star Fox Zero bundle.
Super Mario Run represents Nintendo’s exciting introduction to the world of Mobile Gaming! Super Mario Run wasn’t Nintendo’s first mobile title, but unlike the Mii app it was designed to closely emulate the New Super Mario Bros. experience. The main difference between those games and the Run app is that Super Mario Run is an autorunner, so the main challenge is jumping or ducking at the right time to maximize the number of coins you collect or the number of enemies you smash. Something that I really appreciate about this app is how the first few levels are free to play, but if you want to play the entire game you’re going to need to shell out $10 to unlock it. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not; on the one hand I don’t see myself spending $10 for a phone app, but on the other I understand that some apps would ask me to spend hundreds or thousands through microtransactions.
Ultimately, I was fairly impressed by Super Mario Run, but I’m the kind of person who still carries my 3DS with me every time I go out. I still have access to New Super Mario Bros and New Super Mario Bros 2, not to mention the classics from the eShop, and there’s just no comparison for me. I like having complete control over Mario or Luigi, I like the tactile feedback of using a D-pad and buttons, I like knowing that I haven’t spent money on any of the phone games I’ve played. Super Mario Run isn’t bad, but NSMB2 is better.
I really want to like XCOM 2, but it does some things that I just can’t stand. XCOM 2 takes place on an Earth that’s been taken over by the aliens who invaded in the previous game, which I highly object to given how many times I’ve seen playthroughs of XCOM: Enemy Unknown that were comically stacked in favor of the humans before the half-way point. The new ruling party have set up a system that seems fine on the surface, but behind the scenes the aliens are experimenting on humans and closing in on a means by which to subjugate us permanently. Thus is introduced a ticking clock mechanic as the ruling Government ADVENT close in on perfecting a new form of technology that may or may not have been inspired by the film Surrogates.
Like in the previous XCOM, you’ll need to build up a resistance force, maintain and expand a base of operations, capture and study aliens, research and develop upgrades, and try not to swear too loudly when you miss an attack with a 95% chance to hit. The oppressive atmosphere, the bleak premise, and the ticking clock kept me from wanting to play this game. I liked Enemy Unknown for the most part, but I didn’t like how easily the RNG could come out of nowhere to ruin an otherwise successful mission. XCOM 2 plays so similarly to the original that I had some fun with it. For the most part though my time with XCOM 2 was just unrelenting tension and anxiety.
(That face is made of the skulls of humans who thought a 90% chance to hit was worth taking the shot)
Dark Souls III is Dark Souls but played at the speed of Bloodbourn. You play as an Ashen One who wanders the dying land of Lothric, a Kingdom built on the ruins of Lordran. Once again, the age of fire is winding down and by the end you’ll have chosen whether or not to extend it or plunge the world into an age of Darkness. In addition to the usual health and stamina management, Dark Souls III brings back the magic meter from Demon’s Souls and an Estus flask that can restore it. It’s really interesting too, because the amount of charges your Estus and Ashen (or magic) Estus flasks can have are shared, so if you have 6 total charges, you can split them evenly or prioritize one over the other.
Certain bosses in Dark Souls III are multi-stage, and a couple feature multiple targets to deal with, but these gimmick encounters never felt too overwhelming. The Abyss Watchers for example is an encounter where you have multiple targets and a second phase, but some of the Watchers fight alongside you. The second stage of the boss fight is one-on-one too, so you’re fighting a stronger variant of the boss, but you don’t need to worry about being backstabbed or blindsided. There’s not too much more to say about Dark Souls III: You can build your character to be a strong fighter, a powerful mage, or something in between, like in previous games. Out of the way hallways that seem to lead to secret areas actually take you to major sections of the game, like in previous entries. When you or an enemy fires an arrow or crossbow bolt, it flies through the air at a speed you may expect for those projectiles which is new to the series, surprisingly. Dark Souls III is a great addition to a fantastic series.
(Wait, is this ripping off an old spice commercial?)
Devil Daggers is a game wherein you use magic to shoot an infinite stream of knives at an infinite hoard of skulls. There’s a timer which illustrates the amount of time you lasted before inevitable death took you. What we have here mechanically is a first-person arena shooter. If you exit the boundaries of the arena, you’ll fall to your death, and if any enemy or enemy attack touches you once, you die. Your score is the amount of time you were able to survive, and to show you the game isn’t messing about, there’s only one achievement that unlocks if you survive for 500 seconds. The enemies you need to deal with are skulls. Some fly, some spawn more skulls, some are giant spiders, but everything is built around skulls, and they appear in overwhelming numbers.
Holding the left mouse button sends a steady stream of magical knives at them, but tapping the button shotgun-blasts a spread of several knives ahead of you. You move quickly on your feet, but everything around you moves just a bit faster, so while you’re very maneuverable, you can easily be outflanked if you lose track of your surroundings. The soundtrack is incredibly minimalist too, the only sounds you really hear will be the clash of your knives on skulls, and the clicking of enemies. Each round of Devil Daggers can go by incredibly quickly, and in the few hours I’ve played I can’t say just how many runs I’ve been through. It’s hard to call this a cool-down game because of how frantic it can get, but if you only have a couple of minutes free you could easily run through several rounds. Tons of fun, definitely worth keeping on the hard drive.
Doom was rebooted in 2016 and it is absolutely phenomenal. Mars is being invaded by the denizens of Hell and you, the Doom Marine (or Doom Slayer), have woken up in a demonic holding cell. You break your chains, grab a pistol, and shoot undead within a few seconds of taking control. Escaping from the holding facility and reaching the surface of Mars is framed as a tutorial. It was efficient in helping me come to grips with the controls of the game, get a feel for how the Doom Slayer moves, and introduced me to the glory kill mechanic. Filling demons with enough bullets will absolutely make them fall, or splatter them, or shatter them, but they can also be stunned depending on how many times you shoot them. While stunned enemies will glow blue and take a knee. If you’re able to get close enough to them before they snap out of it, they’ll change to yellow to indicate that you can Glory Kill them.
The kill animation varies depending on where you’re positioned, which direction you’re facing, what the specific demon is, but once you hit that melee button the kill itself usually only lasts a second or two. It’s always worth pulling off a glory kill on an enemy since this makes them drop ammo, health, and armor. As you play through the game and find new weapons, you’ll also find that The Doom Slayer can be leveled up in a way: the weapons you find can be upgraded up to twice and by completing rune challenges you can apply buffs to yourself. Weapon upgrades can be chosen as soon as you find them, so if you want to prioritize getting micro-missiles for your Heavy Assault Rifle then you can select it as soon as you find your first upgrade robot. Unlocking Runes is a bit more linear though as each rune is associated with a specific challenge, and you can only have up to 3 active at any time.
The overarching plot of Doom was somewhat familiar to me; it’s the future, an energy crisis was solved by a massive corporation, but that powersource is literally coming from Hell and now Demons are invading. Rather than pull the plug, the evil corporation is trying to study the energy, the demons, and Hell itself in a very Wayland-Yutani sort of way. It’s very easy to ignore the story though because the Doom Slayer doesn’t give a damn. You can tell by how he violently destroys PC monitors and speakers whenever someone tries expositing at him for more than 5 seconds. During those times when you’re in Hell though a voice will boom all around you, speaking of how you are prophesied to fail one moment, but every time you find a collectible the same voice says more or less the opposite: you are an unstoppable, unkillable blight that seems capable of destroying Hell itself. As many demons as you take on and overcome throughout the course of the game, it's easy to believe that the Doom Slayer can destroy all of the demons of Hell, but none of the hoard or bosses stand out in a way that a Devil probably should.
That’s probably my biggest criticism of Doom; there are a couple of Cyberdemons, and a Spider Mastermind in it but nothing new that go beyond them. I don’t remember an equivalent to the Summoner in any previous Doom game, but other than those it seems like every other creature from Imps to Barons of Hell and beyond return from previous games. It’s not at all a dealbreaker of course, it just would have been great for there to have been more enemy variety in each of the arenas. As it is though, Doom is one of the best games not only of 2016 but of the decade.
(Demons Order Our Munchables)
Final Fantasy XV is the one and only mainline Final Fantasy game on the 8th generation of consoles (unless you could that MMO XIV which I realize I should, but don’t want to). The plot is very straightforward; Prince Noctis is journeying from his home, the Crown City of Insomnia, to the city of Altissia to marry his betrothed and secure peace between Insomnia and Niflheim. Accompanying him are his bodyguards and friends; Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. On the first day of the journey, your car breaks down and this is how the story introduces hunting to the game. Sure, you’re literally royalty so having your Dad’s car repaired should cost you one snap of your fingers, but since it’ll take the mechanic time to get your car rolling again it’s suggested that you begin hunting as a way to pass the time. For the rest of the game you’ll be able to sign up for hunt missions which have you explore the world looking for a specific creature.
Hunting is an ever-present activity that you can almost always engage with while you play through the main story. As the game progresses you’ll find other time sinks too, like fishing, finding photo spots, a mystery map side-quest, and Chocobo racing. Once you get your car back, you’ll quickly learn that there are no ships headed to Altissia, a coup has taken the life of your Father, the King, and the Empire of Niflheim wants to kill you for the sake of amassing extreme, celestial power. You still need to find a way to get to Altissia, but the plot pivots after the invasion. Noctis needs to appeal to the Gods of the world to lend him their power, there are royal weapons that you can find in shrines hidden around the world, and there are Niflheim installations that can be subverted. Like every other Final Fantasy since arguably XI the combat system is something completely different; You see enemies on the map and can avoid or antagonize them at your will. Once a fight begins everything is real time. Using the command cross, or D-Pad, you can instantly swap between your equipped weapons. Holding the top face-button (triangle, Y, X) lets your warp either into enemies or into a safe-spot. Holding the left face-button (square, X, Y) allows you to dodge attacks at the cost of MP. You can jump, though in combat that’s not useful, and that leaves the right face-button as the attack button. Once you get far enough in the plot, there’s a chance that a summon will assist you in battle, but this is completely random.
Magic in Final Fantasy XV is completely different compared to how it works in every other entry in the series too; There are stones near campsites and certain objects in dungeons from which you can draw Ice, Fire, or Electric magic. With the magic that you draw you can fill up Magic Flasks (an rare item, but an item that you can find several of) that you can then give to Noctis or any of the other party members who will use them in combat. The magic can be mixed for spells that do multiple types of elemental damage, you can add items or monster components while crafting magic to increase its potency, or add additional effects to the magic. At its base a full Magic Flask can use a spell 3 times, but with the right character buffs and items you can eventually craft powerful magic that can be used nearly a dozen times before you need to craft more spells. Using magic has a dramatic effect on the battlefield too, freezing over grass, or causing static storms, and it’s without the right item equipped you can hurt your allies just as easily as you can the enemies around you. Noctis can equip just about any weapon that you pick up, and he can use magic, but the other party members have their own preferred weapons which they can’t really deviate from.
The thing is, unlike other Final Fantasy games, your party members feel more like damage-dealing enemy distractors than archetypes. Ignis prefers spears for example, but he’s not a Dragoon. Gladiolus uses massive swords, but he doesn’t really draw agro any more efficiently than anybody else, or hit harder than anybody else. Prompto uses guns, and I don’t know enough about Gunbreakers to comment further. DLC was launched later on which fleshes out the characters of Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto, but it isn’t necessary to complete the base game or understand who they are in general. Final Fantasy XV left an incredibly positive impact on me, and as new as it is I’ve had such a great time with it that I easily count it as one of my top 3 in the franchise. The plot is really down-to-earth and easy to digest, the real-time combat is satisfying, there’s a lot to see and find in the world, the side quests and mini-games are really good too. I’m not sure if I would call this my favorite game from 2016, but it’s a game that I adore.
(The Windows version would launch a little bit later)
Job Simulator is one of the few modern VR games I’ve played and I can see the appeal. Job SImulator, on the PS4, takes place in either a robo-eutopia or a far-future dystopia where you play as a robot tourist in a job museum. You’re provided with cartridges that load you into one of several work environments, and from there you perform related tasks. The workplace environments are varied, from a cubical farm in an office, to a food stand, to an auto shop, there’s a lot to be done and multiple ways to complete each task. In the office for example, while you’re at the water cooler, you can pour out hot water infinitely, or instead of eating donuts toss them at your coworkers.
That’s essentially what all of these jobs are; they’re toy boxes that give you a lot of things to interact with and people to throw the interactable objects at. As an introduction to modern VR gaming it was a lot of fun and made me curious for what else is on offer. On its own though, I don’t know if I would say it’s remarkable. When you’re working at a convenience store and your task is to make nachos, it’s satisfying to put chips in a tray, drizzle with cheese, and hand it off to the customer. It’s funny to put chips, a hot dog, sunglasses, and loose change into the nacho tray and still get credit for a job well done. It’s a really laid back experience, and while it wasn’t enough to get me to buy my own VR setup it’s going to be one of the first bits of software I get once I am VR ready.
King’s Quest (Chapters 3 - 5) is a great example of episodic gaming being viable. The first two episodes launched in 2015, but the final 3 were released throughout 2016, fleshing out the story of King Graham, his family, and his legacy. The gameplay is still very much the same: as Graham you’re presented with an environment to explore, puzzles to solve, items to collect, and characters to talk to. These quests are framed as stories the elder King is telling to his grandchildren Gwyndolin and Gart (mostly Gwyndolin). Chapter 3 sees a Graham who has finally gotten used to his role and responsibilities as King, but is now feeling very alone. The quest at hand sees him climbing a tower where a Princess is said to have been taken whom he hopes to save and ultimately wed. Chapter 4 takes place many years later and shows King Graham losing his son to the evil sorcerer Mannanan. After 18 years pass Grahams lost son returns out of nowhere, but the core of this quest is actually a family vacation. Graham is a very family-oriented person and his quest to strengthen familiar bonds with his wife and daughter becomes an opportunity to get to know his son. The final chapter of King’s Quest puts you in control of a much older King Graham as he tells the tale of his last adventure and appeals to his magic mirror for one more.
It was really emotional for me, but it left things open for another King’s Quest that probably should have happened by now. Looking back on the later 3 chapters of King’s Quest, I don’t think any of them are as lengthy or in-depth as the first chapter. For the most part, Chapter 3 is set in a tower except for a couple of quick excursions outside of it. Chapters 4 and 5 have a heavy emphasis on puzzles, but the areas you complete those puzzles in are an ice palace and the familiar outskirts of Daventry. There are decisions you can make in Chapter 3 and 4 that change things in Chapter 5, but the narrative as a whole doesn’t seem to change drastically however you choose to play. For the most part your choices determine how you’re remembered as King Graham: Are you King Graham the Brave, the Compassionate, or The Wise? I’m only now on my second playthrough so I’m only now seeing just how many differences a wisdom run will have verses my initial compassionate run. It’s rare that I’ll play through a game twice in a row, especially a game with such a heavy narrative focus, but King’s Quest endeared me greatly.
The puzzles weren’t as obtuse as in the classic series, but there was one that I seriously detested: it came up in chapters 1 and 4. It’s a sort of board game arrangement where you move and then an opponent moves. You can either move yourself or one of four knights. After each turn, your figure or your opponents will fire an arrow which can bounce off of the knights in one of two ways. In chapter 1, you just need to hit your opponent with an arrow, but in chapter 4 you’re navigating a specific path while also trying to avoid crossbow-based death. It’s the kind of game that seems to be asking you to think a few moves ahead, but after consulting an FAQ I found that there was a definitive trick to conquering it and those puzzles just left a horribly bad impression on me. It wasn’t enough to turn me away though; as I said, I was very invested in Graham’s stories and throne-based politics. The first chapter of King’s Quest is free to play, with the season pass usually costing about $25. I would recommend waiting on a sale especially if adventure games aren’t your thing.
(This is an absolutely must play. I'm surprised this isn't talked about as often as other modern adventure games!)
Kirby: Planet Robobot plays a lot like the previous 3DS Kirby game Triple Deluxe, but unlike that game Kirby can no longer use a Godly hyper-suck ability. He does however have access to a mecha which he uses to break, lift, and throw certain obstacles. Planet Robobot is actually Planet Popstar, which is being invaded by a massive ship that destroys Dedede’s Castle, Meta Knight’s ship, and has unleashed a grey-goo type of infection on the world, causing it to slowly mechanize. As Kirby, you need to find and destroy five bases before you can infiltrate the mothership and learn that the true enemy all along was hostile corporate expansion. Even though you have access to a mecha, there are new abilities that Kirby can use by swallowing enemies such as Doctor, Poison, and ESP.
Amiibo functionality is featured, allowing you instant access to abilities. If you scan Marth for example Kirby will become Sword Kirby, Dr. Mario for Dr. Kirby, and on and on. The levels are presented in 2D, but some have multiple planes so you can jump forward or backward at times, and hidden through the levels are puzzle cubes which can unlock mini-games and customization items for your Robobot. The Robobot varies too, and like Kirby there are multiple variants. The most commonly seen in promotional material is the brawler type, but there’s also a sword type, bomb type, spark type, and many more. Like with Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot was really entertaining to me, and it’s one of the many 3DS games that I recommend.
(Apparnetly Kirby is a Newtype)
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is probably the last time we’ll see Paper Mario in something resembling a traditional JRPG. While trying to patch a hole in attic of Peach’s Castle, Luigi accidentally knocks over the book that contains the entire Paper Mario world, thus releasing him, Paper Bowser, and a horde of other paper people into the Mario & Luigi variation of the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario & Luigi team up with Paper Mario to get all of the denizen of Paper Mario’s book back into the book, but unfortunately Paper Bowesr, and Paper Bowser Jr, team up with their non-Paper versions to kidnap Peach (Paper and non), and engage in their other usual shenanigans. The Mario Bros then do the usual thing of traveling between the usual biomes in order to save Paper Toads, learn new abilities, and engage in giant cardboard-mecha fights.
Like in previous Mario RPGs, the combat system is turn-based but demands your full attention at all times. Pressing the action button at the right time can reduce the damage your team takes, or else deal the full amount of damage your attacks are capable of dealing. Then there are the giant, cardboard, mecha fights which are very different. You have free control of a cardboard model of Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Peach, or Fire-Mario, and are set loose in an arena. Ramming into enemies will damage them, and jumping on them will finish them off. I say “jumping” but in the context of this mode of play, your giant papercraft facsimile is launched through the air by the toads who are carrying it in the first place. Giant Papercraft Battles are such a major part of the game that there are even boss encounters from time to time, and the whole reason you’re collecting Paper Toads is to power up your giant papercraft. Paper Mario plays more or less the same as the Bros but has the unique ability to spend a turn copying himself, so as to deal more damage and absorb damage that comes his way. One of the main reasons to play Paper Jam is the writing.
The Mario RPGs usually have fantastic writing in general, and Paper Jam is no exception. Bowser and Paper Bowser are constantly at each other's throats, but in a juvenile, petty sort of way which is juxtaposed by Bowser Jr. and Paper Bowser Jr. becoming friends almost instantly. The Koopalings are back and while it’s funny, it’s also somewhat sad when they realize that there are no paper equivalents to them. The Kameks seem like they want to take power for themselves, but they’re too afraid to actually rise up against Bowser. Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario don’t speak, but they make up for it via liberal use of visual and slapstick humor. The character models for Mario and Luigi are highly expressive as always, and the humor isn’t trying to break the fourth wall as hard as future titles will. I had more fun with Paper Jam than I did with Dream Team, the previous Mario & Luigi RPG, and would recommend this one over that one. They’re both fine, but the gameplay of Paper Jam kept me more engaged and the concept of teaming up everybody with otherworldly counterparts is a theme that I’ve always really liked in fiction.
(Paper Mario and RPG gameplay is a novel idea, Nintendo should do it more often)
Pokemon Go! was a massive deal, and it still seems to be incredibly popular. Pokemon Go! is a free to start, free to play game that gives you the chance to be the very best like no one ever was. No matter where you are, starting up the game will give you a chance to catch one of the 3 Kanto starters or Pikachu if you refuse to go for them. To find Pokemon you’ll need to physically get up and walk around your neighborhood or your nearest shopping center. It seems like the more people there are around the more likely you’ll be to find Pokemon. When you find them, tapping on them will send you into an instance but instead of battling with your own Pokemon all you do is throw Pokeballs at the wild ones. To throw a Pokeball, you swipe from the bottom of your screen up or, from the bottom up and to the side for a curved throw. You can throw berries to either make them stop moving or to make them easier to catch. To collect more Pokeballs or berries, you’ll need to walk to Pokestops.
Any shop, landmark, or point of interest in your town could be a Pokestop, and you’re able to interact with them once every five minutes. Some Pokestops are larger and act as both Gyms and Raid locations. During a Raid, a special Pokemon will appear and you’ll need to team up with other Pokemon Go! players to beat it. Once it’s beaten, you get a chance to catch it as well as a substantial EXP drop and potentially rare items. As for Pokemon Gyms, they’re headed by either teams yellow, blue, or red (Instinct, Mystic, and Valor). If your team is running a gym, you can leave one of your Pokemon to defend it (unless there are already 6 Pokemon there). If your team isn’t the one in charge of whichever Gym you’ve walked to, you can attack the defending Pokemon for EXP. If you knock out all of the defenders then you can leave one of your Pokemon to defend the gym, thus changing its team. Pokemon Go! is by far my favorite mobile game; it got me and millions of other people to get out of their homes and get in a lot of exercise.
You can spend money on microtransactions to get more Pokeballs, but there are so many Pokestops around that even when I lived in rural Georgia I never felt the need to do so. I haven’t played Pokemon Go! in a few months, but it looks like new content is being introduced all the time in the form of new raids, new Pokemon, and new events. The next time I upgrade my phone I’m going to get back into it.
(Go...as in Outside)
Pokemon Moon/Sun are the flagship releases for the 7th generation of the Pokemon series. These games take place in the Alola Islands, a region that’s essentially Hawaii. Unlike previous Pokemon titles, there’s no Pokemon League or gyms to worry about, instead you’ll be taking on Island Trials and facing off against Totem Pokemon to prove your worth. Like in X and Y, Moon and Sun let you customize your trainer by choosing a gender, skin tone, hair color/style, and clothing with more options becoming available as you progress through the game. In addition to having Pokemon that can Mega-Evolve, Moon and Sun introduce Alolan variations of familiar Pokemon. An Alolan Pokemon takes a familiar Pokemon and changes their appearance and type. Vulpix for example is a cute, red, fire-type fox Pokemon. Alolan Vulpix however is a white ice-type fox Pokemon. Only first generation Pokemon were given Alolan forms, but Pokemon from several generations were given Mega Evolutions to supplement the few from X and Y who were introduced with the ability.
What stuck out to me when I first played Pokemon Sun was the massive variety of Pokemon available to catch this time around. I remember spending well over an hour in each new route to see just which Pokemon were available to catch and for the most part it seemed like every area had a ton of potential encounters. I had a diverse lineup of Pokemon very early in the story which I greatly appreciated. The story of Moon and Sun focuses on the establishment of a Pokemon League in the Alola Region. While that’s going on though, the Aether Foundation is researching legendary Pokemon and extra-dimensional Ultra Beasts (Legendary Pokemon, but they aren’t referred to as such).
There is an antagonistic team who will harass you on your journey, but Team Skull aren’t taken seriously by the story or any of the characters in the game. It was kind of weird to see NPCs openly mock and ridicule Team Skull grunts so soon after they were introduced. They’re mostly a joke to fight against too, so at least there’s some consistency with the story and gameplay this time around. Island Trials and Totem Pokemon are introduced in Moon and Sun as replacements for gyms, and gym leader battles. The funny thing is, each trial has a trial captain who you need to battle with in addition to the Totem Pokemon, There are also Grand Trials which have you battle Grand Trial Leaders. This makes Pokemon Moon and Sun feel very similar to the previous games despite the new names everything has.
The Totem Pokemon I keep mentioning are essentially boss battles. They’re wild Pokemon but with specialized buffs to their stats and moves that other Pokemon of the same type don’t usually have. It’s a bit different from the usual, and some of them can offer a challenge if you’re not prepared, but it’s so easy to earn EXP and level up in this iteration of Pokemon that there didn’t seem to be a difficulty curve at all. I enjoyed playing Pokemon Sun, I’ve started a new game in Pokemon Moon, but there isn’t enough new to keep me engaged in that second playthrough. I’m still playing casually, and I see myself playing more of this than other entries in the series, but it could have been great. It’s good though, absolutely.
(I really like these Legendary Pokemon, but they get lost in the mix)
(To be concluded in Part 2)