One of these things is not like the others…
I am a gamer with a particular set of tastes, and by now I’d wager that most of you know what those tastes are. I can almost predict what my games of the year will before the new year has even started (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be my GOTY 2017, calling it now).
But this year, an oddity snuck onto my list of familiar faces, a beautiful swan among the ducklings. One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong here. Can you tell by the time I finish this song?
Bravely Second: End Layer
You would almost be forgiven for forgetting that Bravely Second also came out in 2016. Almost, because you’d be withholding your love from one of the best JRPGs in recent memory.
Bravely Second is simply Bravely Default, but better. It keeps all of the things that made Default great: the mixing and matching of Jobs and skills, the unique Brave/Default system that had you banking or taking an advance on future turns, and the many JRPG quality-of-life upgrades such as turning off random battles and speeding up fights. Second keeps all of that, and gives us better characters, a better story, better music, more unique and varied Jobs, and no horrendously tedious endgame that nearly ruined the original.
If you like JRPGs in any capacity, Bravely Second deserves your attention, because it is everything that makes the genre great. Fun all the way through, and ends with one of the most memorable and gloriously cheesy twists I’ve ever seen.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions#FE
Speaking of gloriously cheesy JRPGs, Tokyo Mirage Sessions. I didn’t know what to expect when I went into this game, but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with it. This game will only work for you if you can at least tolerate the J-Pop and idols theme, but if that holds true for you it’s likely you’ll get sucked in by this game in a big way.
Because while the J-Pop theme permeates throughout the entire game, there is a very solid battle system underneath the surface with a huge number of variables. Weapon crafting, learning regular skills, learning combo skills, learning team-up skills, getting used to the weapons triangle, class changes; there’s a lot of stuff here to sink your teeth into.
There are certainly things that could be improved about Tokyo Mirage Sessions. But while I was playing it, I didn’t mind any of its minor faults. Instead, I was optimizing my battle strategy while waiting for another opportunity to hear “Give Me.”
A Metroid 2 Remake
The Metroid series has not always been treated kindly over the past few years. Prior to 2016, the last Metroid game was released in 2010, and it ended up being extremely divisive. There was Metroid Prime Trilogy the year before that, but I’d say that the last universally beloved original Metroid game came out in 2007. A real shame, since these games have always been some of the best on their respective consoles.
In 2016, fans themselves heeded the call and finally released A Metroid 2 Remake. Taking the Metroid game that time forgot and essentially rebuilding it from the ground up, they brought us exactly what we needed in this anniversary year.
While the original NES Metroid hasn’t aged very well, Metroid: Zero Mission showed us how great it could still be if updated for modern audiences. A Metroid 2 Remake did that just as well, and I would’ve paid good money had Nintendo made this itself. It’s the Metroid I’ve been wanting to see for years, just from a slightly different source.
Paper Mario: Color Splash
If there ever was a surprise this year, it was Paper Mario: Color Splash. Like most people, I was not a fan of Sticker Star. When the first trailer for Color Splash hit it, just looked like more of the same and my confidence plummeted. I ended up buying it anyway, on the basis of “Who knows, it’s bound to be better at least.”
And better it was. So much better, in fact, that I’d probably call it my favorite Wii U game of the year. All of the faults of Sticker Star have been addressed this time around, and on top of that Color Splash went all out with the paper theme and the character dialogue. Few games this year were as beautiful, and few games made me smile as much.
I still want the original Paper Mario formula back as much as anyone else. But if this is what we can look forward to in the meantime, that’s alright in my book.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Another Mario RPG that was a major step up from its previous iteration is Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team ended up being one of the most annoying and tedious entries in the series, with a nasty tendency to dangle a carrot in front of your face only to pull it away at the last second. Paper Jam has a much more straightforward progression system, broken up only by short Toad-collecting minigames and the occasional robot battle.
But what really stuck with me about Paper Jam is how neat it was to see its blend of paper and 3D. For example, it’s a lot of fun to see Paper Peach meet the ‘real’ Peach, sharing stories about their respective kidnappings. But this mixing of the styles is also evident in battles, as most of the enemies have two different iterations with different attacks.
Paper Jam is a solid Mario RPG with a neat gimmick. It’s not the most shockingly great game of the year, but it does what it has to do and improves on its predecessor by leaps and bounds.
Kirby: Planet Robobot
Kirby is an odd series to me. They’re always very easy games and at the end of the day there isn’t all that much to them, yet I love them all the same. Kirby: Planet Robobot is no exception. It’s an easy platformer which doesn’t have much unique to it, but I love it all the same.
For the most part, this game earned its place in my heart because it seems to have brought back all of my favorite powers and even gave them an extra trick or two. Mirror, Jet, Leaf, Archer, even Smash is back! The few new powers also proved to be fun additions, with a sly reference to EarthBound in the ESP ability description to seal the deal.
And then there’s the robot. Once again it doesn’t amount to all that much, but damn is it fun. The levels with the robot were easily the best in the game, and it was a lot of fun to discover which powers the robot could inherit. Even one of the new powers is supported! It all reaches its logical conclusion during the final boss: if you never thought Gurren Lagann could mix with Kirby, think again.
Pokkén Tournament was a game I didn’t know I wanted until it was announced. Sure, we’ve all at one point fantasized about how cool it would be if we could have Pokémon battles like they do in the show, where “Pikachu, dodge it!” is a valid command. But I never thought I wanted a full-fledged Pokémon fighting game.
Pokkén sold me with its unique take on the fighting game genre, its focus on strategy and timing as opposed to memorizing lengthy button combos, and the neat take on each Pokémon’s abilities. Having Suicune and Chandelure go toe-to-toe with Gengar and Charizard is a joy, and this game is nothing if not creative with its fighters and their moves.
Really, the only way I could’ve enjoyed this game more is if it had more playable Pokémon of a greater variety. Some excellent additions, such as Scizor and Empoleon, have already been introduced in the arcades in Japan, and the game can only benefit from inclusions like these. I can only hope that we’ll get Pokkén Tournament 2 soon, or at least a Pokkén Tournament: Mega Edition. There is a truckload of potential in here, and I’d love to see it harvested.
Pokémon Sun & Moon
GameFreak’s business strategy must be an easy one:
1. Make Pokémon game
2. Get money
But really, who can blame all the people still playing Pokémon after all these years, when the games are so consistently great? Pokémon Sun & Moon provide some of the most significant updates to the series yet, but at the end of the day it’s still the same Pokémon we all know and love.
Give me some new creatures to cram into tiny balls, ditch HMs, give me a visually appealing locale to explore and a new evil team(TM) to fight, and I’m yours. That’s exactly what Pokémon Sun & Moon did. While the new creatures aren’t all winners, there are enough good ones here that I am fully on board having to collect them all again.
Going through my list, you might notice a certain element that all my picks have in common. Namely, Nintendo. From games exclusive to Nintendo’s platforms, to a game based on Nintendo’s IP, to full-blown Nintendo games, it all ultimately comes back to the big N.
Except for my game of the year.
Game of the Year: Overwatch
I’ve always been interested in Team Fortress 2-style games; team-based shooters that are more about accomplishing certain objectives than K/D ratios have always appealed to me. I’m not a great shot by any stretch of the imagination, so the idea that I can be credit to team as a dedicated healer or as someone who simply lays down suppressive fire is an attractive one. I was never able to get into Team Fortress 2 itself though, because the community had already crystallized itself and I had missed that train.
The first time I ever got into contact with Overwatch was when someone linked me the newly released character overview for Mercy, and I was sold in an instant.
“So it’s like Team Fortress 2, but I can play as this beautiful angel woman who can bring her team back from the dead?!”
In the months following that, the game rested idle in the back of my mind, and I almost forgot about it. Then it finally came out, and that sense of awe came rushing back.
I absolutely adore all of the Overwatch characters. Not only for their personalities and design, but also for what they bring to the gameplay. Tracer is cool not just because she’s peppy and fun, but also because she can rewind time on herself. Winston and D.Va aren’t just interesting as characters, they are also the first Tanks I’ve seen in any game that have the most mobility of the entire cast. Zenyatta is not just a robot monk, he’s also a DPS healer. This holds true for the vast majority of the characters, and it’s what makes Overwatch such a blast to play.
Overwatch is imaginative, colorful, littered with attention to detail, just plain fun, and it grabbed me like no other game has in a long time. So with apologies to Nintendo, I have to break with an age-old tradition and give my GOTY to Overwatch.