2016 was a very familiar year in gaming for me. In this context, familiar means that the majority of the games that I was excited for and ended up loving hailed from franchises that I already had a taste for. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. While I’m always up for new ideas and franchises, I would never want my favorite game series to go away for too long.
Before I get into my list of top games, I have to give a shout out to a handful of titles that didn’t quite make the rankings. I absolutely adore the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, and I was super excited for the chance to play Rise of the Tomb Raider on my PS4. While I didn’t feel as connected to the story this time around, I do think that Rise of the Tomb Raider improved on its predecessor in just about every other way.
Pokemon Sun and Moon are excellent installments in the long running franchise, and easily the best since Black and White 2. The removal of Gyms in favor of a region spanning Island Trial, in conjunction with a cultured and colorful Hawaiian setting made Sun and Moon super refreshing to play as a lifelong Pokemon fan.
Shantae Half Genie Hero rounds out my honorable mentions. While I haven’t quite beaten the game, I’ve definitely played more than enough to fall in love with it. Shantae controls like a dream, and the gorgeous 2d art style makes traversing the levels super exciting. Plus, Half Genie Hero does a really good job at getting me addicted to its Metroidvania elements.
I now present to you, in order of release date, my favorite games of 2016!
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4
I’ve been a fan of the Ultimate Ninja games since the first one released on the PS2, and I was extremely excited about Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. It looked like it was going to have everything it needed to be the best Ultimate Ninja Storm game to date, and it mostly succeeded. While I’m not happy with certain things that were done in terms of story presentation, everything else in the game was phenomenal.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 showed that it had learned from everything that the previous games did wrong. The roster is perfect, as every character, major or minor, from the Naruto universe is included. Character switching and jutsu customization are the major new gameplay additions this time around, and they are welcome changes to the fast paced fighting of the Ultimate Ninja Storm series.
It may not have beaten Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 as my favorite Naruto game, but Storm 4 is still an awesome experience. It’s one of the few games I played this year that I was always thinking about when I wasn’t playing it. A great time for Naruto fans, or anybody that just wants to play a high action spectacle fighter.
Fire Emblem Fates
Fire Emblem Awakening was my introduction to Intelligent System’s storied strategy series. The gameplay and characters had me glued to my 3DS for hours, and I can easily say the same for Fire Emblem Fates, the sequel to Awakening. Fates is split into three different stories: Birthright, Conquest and Revelations. At the time of this writing, I haven’t experienced Revelations, but I have played both Birthright and Conquest.
Fates was billed as a game that forces you to make a critical choice at a certain point in the story, and I’m not a fan of the fact that the choice was essentially tied to the purchase of a specific version. Having said that, I feel that the story that unfolds, particularly on the Conquest side, is more than enough to make me get over this sentiment. In addition, the tweaks and balances that were made to Awakening’s Pair system made for a much more challenging and rewarding experience.
Ratchet & Clank (PS4)
The game based on the movie based on the game (this joke is already old isn’t it), Ratchet & Clank on the PS4 was a great source of gaming comfort food for me this year. I always know what to expect when playing a Ratchet & Clank game, and this one even managed to exceed my expectations. The presentation is absolutely stunning. Ratchet & Clank has always been credited as looking like a Pixar movie, and while the PS3 entries came close to meeting this statement, the PS4 iteration totally nails it.
Ratchet & Clank is shooting and platforming gameplay at it’s finest. While the weapon selection is slightly disappointing (the majority of them are lifted from previous entries), I have way too much fun mowing down enemies, collecting bolts and upgrading my weapons to really care about that. Ratchet & Clank for the PS4 is one of the best games on the console, and is definitely the breath of life that this franchise needed.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Uncharted 4 stands shoulder to shoulder with Ratchet & Clank as, in my opinion, the two best games on the PS4 (pretty fitting considering the history between Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games). There’s not much I can say about the game that hasn’t been said already. The story is emotional, poignant and engaging, and I never get tired of seeing the lives of Nate, Elena and Sully.
Sam is a great addition to the cast, and adds an interesting family background for Nate. Uncharted 4 is much more somber than previous Uncharted games, but it never delves into The Last Of Us territory. It is still packed with tons of humor, as well as Nathan Drake’s familiar quips and one-liners. Easily the best story experience I had in 2016, and a fitting send off for our swashbuckling everyman.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus
Estival Versus is probably the most pure fun I had with a game in 2016. It appeals to the arcade loving gamer in me, and by that I mean it’s all about high scores and combos. The game is super fluid on the PS4, with only a few occasional frame drops, and the girls feel really good to control. Playing around with all of the different shinobi and finding which of their fighting styles worked best for me lead to hours and hours of enjoyment.
You can’t talk about Senran Kagura without mentioning the fanservice (good ol’ life and hometown). It’s there, it’s shameless, and it’s basically an essential part of the experience (so much so that it is literally a gameplay mechanic). The fact that there is a dress up component of the game should speak volumes to this, but I had a lot of genuine fun dressing up the girls in different outfits, accessories and hairstyles. I’m all about Senran Kagura now, and I’m super excited for future games in this franchise.
7th Dragon III: Code VFD
Last but not least, we have 7th Dragon III: Code VFD, a 3DS role playing game that literally came out of nowhere for me. I only discovered this game by seeing Sega promote it on Twitter leading up to its release. It ended up being not only one of my favorite games of 2016, but one of my favorite 3DS games in general. The story is nothing new or exciting, but as someone who is a sucker for cliche Shonen anime tropes, I was really engaged during my 30 some odd hours with 7th Dragon Code.
I’m all about player choice when it comes to role playing games, and 7th Dragon Code does this oh so well. Everything from class choices to skill progression is completely in the hands of the player. In the same way that you could dedicate one character to each class, you could also have an entire party of God Hands or Samurai. Even beyond that, two members of the same class at a similar level could have completely different movesets and specializations. If you’re looking for a fun 3DS role playing game, I implore you to pick up 7th Dragon Code.
And those are my favorite games of 2016. I’m really happy with this selection, and would recommend these games to just about anybody (though you should definitely play the first 3 Uncharted games before picking up A Thief’s End). 2016 was a really interesting year for gaming, and 2017 looks to be even better!