According to my “2016 completed games” tag here on Grinding Down, I finished 83 games in 2016. That’s…a lot. Certainly the highest amount I’ve seen since I started tracking all this nonsense. Yes, yes, many of these games one might consider tiny and small and not worth counting, but it’s my life, my mind, and anything that sparks my attention and holds it for more than a minute or two is worth calling a game, as well as worth seeing through to completion. Now, many of these games that I beat in this year of the monkey were not released in the last twelve months, such as Final Fantasy IX, Read Only Memories, and Costume Quest 2. Also, of the five below, I’ve only actually beaten numbers five through three, but that won’t stop me from lovingly praising the top two entries. Can’t stop me now.
Before all that, some honorable mentions. Gears of War 4: You are all right, a bit straightforward, and I’m finally getting better at the multiplayer, but I really don’t like how serious everyone takes the game, which often makes it not very fun to play (see, I like playing games to have fun). If you want something weird and artsy, give Karambola a bite. Devil Daggers is cool as hell, probably because that’s where it was spawned to begin with, but I’m total rubbish at it. Shout outs to Earthlock: Festival of Magic, a throwback RPG that I’m surprisingly spending a lot of time with this last week. Lastly, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is a great freebie that will likely resonate with those that suffer from social anxiety, like me. Remember, it’s an honor just to be nominated.
If you’re wondering why something is missing below, some dear game you hold close to your heart and swear up and down made 2016 all the better by existing, chances are I just didn’t get to play it this year.
Here we go. The last list of the year…
5. Tom Clancy’s The Division
Tom Clancy’s The Division is a game I never expected to find myself playing. Honestly, I picked it up because a friend from work was getting it and wanted to play together. This is a rare happening, where I get to play a videogame with another human being that I know. I couldn’t resist. It’s a cover-based shooter with loot in a snowy, disease-laden New York City, which, despite that, looks amazingly pretty thanks to all the Christmas decorations left up. Getting through the main missions and to the endgame stuff was pretty easy, and I found myself obsessed with collecting all the collectibles, which had its ups and downs.
Unfortunately, that endgame stuff, as well as the Dark Zone in general when not safely traveling in a group, were not entertaining to me and didn’t keep me around for long afterwards. Nor did the Underground DLC. However, Ubisoft and the game’s developers have seemingly been working to fix a lot of the game, and my few attempts at the Survival DLC so far have brought me back into the fold, excited to craft a scarf with better cold resistance. It’s not a perfect game, but there’s something to it, a looty loop I can’t turn down.
4. Even the Ocean
For many this year, the biggest surprises were things like Doom and Hitman, old games made new and modern. Well, I didn’t play those. For me, the biggest surprise of the year was Even the Ocean…mostly because I had no idea what it was until I saw a trailer and then immediately contacted the developers for a review copy. The story is grand, telling the struggle of Aliph and her quest to fix a bunch of power plants to stop the foretold invasion of flood-bringing monsters.
The game is a mix of narrative sections and platforming sections, with each area highlighting a new twist on Aliph’s abilities and the ways to balance her energy levels. What’s super amazing about the whole thing is its openness–you can tackle most of the power plants in any order, and you can play the game just for the story, just for the platforming, or a combination of both. There are even further options in the menu if you find the platforming too challenging and need some extra help. There’s a lot of love and care in Even the Ocean from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka (y’know, Analgesic Productions), and it more than shows in every character interaction, design choice, and piece of music.
3. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is glitchy and broken in a few spots, but that never stopped it from being fun. Frustrating, for sure, but always fun when it was working. I guess that’s something that can ultimately be said of every LEGO release from Traveller’s Tales. This is a game that I mostly played with Melanie, and we ate it up in pieces throughout the year, finally completing all the DLC add-on missions and last remaining Achievements back in November 2016. As always, there’s a ton to do and collect, and the cutscenes are more enjoyable than ever, full of the usual charm and goofiness, but even show off some details not explained in the film. That said, I still hate racing side missions in these games, and throwing in floaty spaceships didn’t make them any better.
2. Stardew Valley
I have not experienced a full year yet in Stardew Valley, having last played somewhere in the middle of in-game winter. Winter is rough. There’s less to do when it comes to your farm, and I didn’t prepare ahead of time for this. The good news is, one, that it doesn’t matter, because the 31 hours I’ve played on Steam leading up to this standstill were amazing and some of the most addicting gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Two, I plan to restart the game very, very soon on Xbox One, keeping the incoming winter season in mind from the start, but otherwise doing much of what I did before, such as wooing Maru and focusing heavily on digging deep into the mines for rare gems.
Stardew Valley is the epitome of the “just one more…” mantra, with the unit here being day. In this open-ended, country life RPG, you have inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot and given up working in a corporate office. That’s the start of the game, and you decide where to go from there. You can attempt to fall in love and marry a local villager or work to restore the community center. Do not support the Joja Corporation. There’s also events every season to partake in, or you could simply wake up every day, water your crops, pet your cat, and hang out on the farm until the sun sets, doing it all over again the next day. It really doesn’t matter how you play, as it is all rewarding. This is backed by a stellar soundtrack that perfectly matches every time of day, every season. Also, the sound effect when you collect an item is pure bliss.
Even the Ocean was made by two people, and Stardew Valley was made by one, Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe). I find this beyond impressive, to the point that it hurts my brain. Everything you’ve heard about Stardew Valley is true; it’s a game you play now to remember fondly later.
1. Disney Magical World 2
This might seem like it is coming out of left field, or it may be no surprise at all to those that know me, but yeah, Disney Magical World 2 is my favorite game of 2016. Naturally, I’ve had a post in the works for this one for a couple months now, but haven’t had the chance to put all my thoughts into words and hit the publish button. You also might remember that my favorite game of 2014 was Disney Magical World.
With the sequel, not too much has changed, and I’m more than happy about that. Since getting the game in October, I’ve put over 40 hours in it and have no plans of stopping now, despite only having three more stickers left to acquire. You still move between themed worlds, tackling missions for specific Disney characters and collecting a vast number of ingredients/materials, all of which feeds back into making food for the café, creating ace ensemble outfits, and crafting countless amounts of furniture. There’s also a garden to tend to, and your own house–really a single room–to decorate. Mine’s mostly green. Gone are the collectible cards full of nostalgic art, replaced with pieces from a larger picture puzzle that allows you to interact later in a special area for bonus “like” points…I’m not a huge fan of this switch, but it is a minor element that can be nearly ignored if desired.
Disney Magical World 2 is a fantastic portable game. I pick it up and play for twenty, thirty minutes, and always have something to do. I don’t follow the same pattern each time, but it usually goes like this: run to the café, collect money, load it up with more food to sell, run to main street and see what the lady with the stall is selling (it changes multiple times throughout the day), purchase a new outfit or make some furniture, run around the map and collect puzzle pieces or see if there are any quick material-gathering missions to do, accept a story mission or two, and, lastly, return to the garden to pull up any finished crops and then plant new ones. Phew. This is not the same every time, but more or less my plan of attack. I have some story missions left to do in the Alice in Wonderland, Little Mermaid, and Lilo and Stitch worlds, but I’m trying to save them, really make this last. Besides, even after all the time and work I’ve put into it, I’m only at 33.51% completion.
So far, the in-game world of Castleton has changed for Halloween and Christmas, with the next scheduled event happening on April 1. I was hoping to see something earlier than that for either Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, but, regardless, I’m looking forward to spending more time with Disney Magical World 2 in 2017. I wonder if I’ll have rung it dry of content by the end of the year.