To serve as a sort of companion to my music list, I’ve decided to do a series of awards for the gaming side of things. After all, this year was the year that I really got back in touch with gaming properly and there were some games that I feel deserve some praise, not to mention an opportunity to discuss the company that I feel did the best this year and to discuss which company should be grateful that I’m not the sort to petrol bomb their headquarters and dance in the ashes while proclaiming a list of their transgressions at a volume that would make Brian Blessed sound like a baby mouse (only kidding: I wouldn’t use a pipe bomb!).
So, here we go. I’ve decided to list the games based on whether they were games that aren’t part of franchises (or, at least, aren’t part of franchises at the time of writing), were part of franchises I was returning towards from previous years or were part of franchises I hadn’t checked out before this year, so think of each positive section as its own “game of the year” award and each negative section as its own “worst of the year” award.
Biggest Disappointment (Single Game)
Not much point in being coy with this one, as there was only one nominee for this award in my eyes: The Legend of Legacy. Honestly, this isn’t really a bad game: it has some interesting ideas behind it and, while I don’t think the execution of those ideas pays off at all, I could potentially see it getting a better reception as time goes by. The main reason it is being presented the award is merely down to bad luck on the game’s part, as it found itself up against some pretty spectacular competition that would have sunk many far better games. Indeed, I actually feel really bad for having to present the award to this game, because I partially got it in the hopes that it would be better than it sounded from what reviews I saw of it and I don’t even feel that badly let down by it. Unfortunately, against competition like Stella Glow, Bravely Second: End Layer and 7th Dragon, The Legend of Legacy failed to stand out and it has the sad misfortune of simply being an OK game in a genre that had some truly amazing games come from it. Part of me wanted to deliberately get a REALLY bad game so as to spare The Legend of Legacy from having to be presented this award, but, sadly, as the year closes, the only nominee for this award remains The Legend of Legacy, so it has to receive the award. Sorry to everyone who was involved in this game and is a fan of it, but your game was my biggest non-franchise disappointment.
Biggest Disappointment (Returning Franchise)
OK, so this one might not be a major surprise to a lot of people, but, as someone who grew up loving Sonic Heroes and the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Sega Mega Drive, I went into Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice desperately trying to like it. I already knew that it didn’t have the best reception going into it and I was well aware that it was following up two other games that were pretty mixed at best in terms of overall reception, but I hoped that it might turn out to be a surprise gem with some potential to it, as I wanted to return to the franchise to find it was still holding up rather well. Sadly, it did not do that, with the end result that it is the worst game I have played from the franchise to date (taking that honour from previous record holder Shadow the Hedgehog). With an unnecessary addition of fire and ice elements to the franchise, generally pointless minigames, poor graphics and unimpressive level design, there’s not really a lot to commend the game for and, while it is certainly a more faithful game to the franchise’s origins than Metroid Prime: Federation Force is to the Metroid franchise and is better executed than Mario Party: Star Rush, it’s ultimately just a complete bore to play, with no reason to favour over anything else in its own franchise, let alone in the genre. It’s not awful, but it was a crushing disappointment and, for that, it gains the award.
Biggest Disappointment (New Franchise)
Technically, I could have given this game to Metroid Prime: Federation Force, as it was (and still is) the only game in the Metroid franchise that I have played to date, but, when I was replaying it recently in preparation for writing this article, I found myself realising that, technically speaking, the only major flaws with it are the aiming system (which is pretty much a case of “press a shoulder button to enable motion controls for aiming”), a difficulty clearly built with multiplayer in mind on every front (making it a pain to play single-player), the lack of download play (meaning you have to encourage people to buy the game if you want to play multiplayer with your friends) and the fact that it was released at a REALLY bad time. It’s not a GREAT game, admittedly, but it has its moments and I imagine it would have been better received had there been another single-player Metroid game that fixed the flaws in the previous title (which probably would mean erasing the previous title from the canon of the games, from what I’ve heard) released this year instead and this released any other time. No, the game that I think truly has to claim this award is the painfully dull Mario Party: Star Rush. On paper, there was an interesting idea behind this game: take out the turn-based method of gameplay in favour of simultaneous turns, trim down the number of minigames, include boss matches as part of all stages and include a variety of game modes that are based on more than just the map selected. Sadly, the execution lets it down horribly, with factors like no online play hampering multiplayer potential (although, in fairness, if other players download the free guest thing from the eStore, only one player needs the game, so, if you have a bunch of friends and one of you has a copy of the game, that’s not a major issue) turning it into a generally hollow experience that feels like it has gutted a lot of what made the franchise fun and an overall feeling that the intended party stopped ages ago and nobody wanted to tell everyone to get out of their house.
Biggest Surprise (Single Game)
Honestly, I found myself stuck as to which game to present this award to when I came to write it, as Stella Glow and 7th Dragon III Code: VFD are both games that I feel deserve this award together, as they are both very solid RPGs and both (indirectly, in the latter’s case: the first three games were developed by them while this was developed directly by publisher Sega) were the brainchildren of Imageepoch, who sadly become defunct last year due to bankruptcy. The question really comes down which game is the strongest overall and, though both are RPGs, each takes different approaches from each other, making it a rather difficult choice. I will say that Stella Glow is VERY heavy on the cliches, but it’s well done all the same and the cliches actually add some nostalgic appeal to the game, making the end result feels like an old school tactical RPG. 7th Dragon, by contrast, does not rely so heavily on the cliches and nods more towards traditional RPGs like the early Final Fantasy games before Square Enix decided that graphics and hybrid gaming systems were more important than making games with actually good gameplay, but doesn’t quite have the same appeal to me personally as a result. Both are seriously great games that unfortunately haven’t received the attention they deserved and I feel that both deserve the award as much as the other on a purely quality level.
Still, when it comes to presenting this award, I can only quote from Highlander and say “there can be only one”, so I’m going to go with my personal favourite of the two and give the award to Stella Glow. While the story is very predictable if you’ve played more than a few RPGs (or if you’ve played any of the Luminous Arc games that this is a spiritual successor towards), the overall game is really a treat if you like RPG games in general and might also be a good sell towards those who want to play games like Fire Emblem without having ridiculously large amounts of dialogue trees to work through.
7th Dragon trailer included as consolation prize:
Biggest Surprise (Returning Franchise)
I will freely admit, I thought that this was going to be an award I would be giving to Fire Emblem Fates, as I found it to be a highly enjoyable, if flawed, follow up to the excellent Fire Emblem Awakening. While it is the undisputed runner up to the award in my eyes (with Pokemon Moon being in third place), the actual winner was a game that I found to be refreshingly familiar while still being very different from when I played the first handheld game in the franchise almost a decade ago. It was a game that I fully expected would fail to live up to my long nostalgia, yet, shockingly, it not only lived up to it, but actually exceeded my sky high expectations, blowing all of the competition out of the water to produce a game that still occupies my thoughts now. As such, it is with a huge amount of pride that I have to give the award to Monster Hunter Generations. To call this a gem of an action-RPG really doesn’t do it justice: it nails exactly what one would imagine hunting giant monsters would be like (warts and all) and yet provides a satisfying challenge that makes it continue to be incredibly enjoyable right through to the end. With the game still receiving support from Capcom now through (free!) DLC quests and the like, this is a game that you truly have to check out if you’re an action-RPG fan. A truly magnificent game that I will be holding up next year as the bar that all action-RPGs must meet.
Biggest Surprise (New Franchise)
This year actually was my introduction to several franchises. Some of them were big franchises that I simply had never got around to before, but some were smaller name franchises that hadn’t gained a lot of attention (and this will be continuing into 2017, as I plan to finally start playing the Final Fantasy games…may God have mercy on my wallet!). So I figured that I had to give an award to the best game from a franchise which I first played this year.
With that in mind, I actually had a few picks which I struggled over for the award, with the three runners up (Hyrule Warriors Legends, Project X Zone 2 and Azure Striker Gunvolt 2) all being games that I felt deserved nomination and one game (Bravely Second: End Layer) only not making the cut because I felt that I hadn’t played enough of it to fairly give it an award (especially since I spent more time with the game it is a sequel towards, Bravely Default, and STILL haven’t finished that yet, so put the game’s lack of an award down to me catching onto it too late if you feel it deserves it!). However, the winner was from a franchise that I had not only written off when I first heard about it as an absurd idea only to be impressively proven VERY wrong when I actually checked it out, but which made a new installment that might well be one of the best games in the franchise (with the only real point of dispute being that it has a section which could have been cut without making any real impact upon the game while the strongest game in the franchise did not). With several very creative new ideas, an incredibly well written story and more than a few brilliant twists, the award goes to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. Some might argue that the fact it is a visual novel makes giving it an award for video games unfair, but I had far more fun with this visual novel than I did with many far more interactive games and it is one of the strongest bits of entertainment I experienced this year, so to fail to give it any recognition would be a crime!
This is a slot for those games which weren’t released this year, but which I first played this year and love for what they were doing.
Honestly, the award for this one isn’t just for one game, but a whole spectrum of gaming that, up until this year, I had written off as one of those things that just wasn’t for me: fighting games. I’ll go into more detail about this at a future date, but, for the time being, I will say that, up until this year, a fighting game to me was something that I pretty much viewed as something that, while probably a lot of fun, I just didn’t get. Now, I DEFINITELY don’t think like this, as I’m regularly playing fighting games in my free time to just have some fun.
If I had to give the award to one game in the whole spectrum, though, it would have to be Skullgirls. Originally released in 2012 (so yeah, I’m WAY behind on this one!), the game is basically a fighting game that has cartoony graphics and a (mostly) female cast (so, kind of like Dead or Alive via Looney Toons), but with a surprisingly dark story to it. Serving somewhat like a transition between the more traditional fighting games like Street Fighter and the competitive gaming fighters like BlazBlue, Skullgirls is pretty much the fighting game that turns you from a casual gamer into a truly hardcore fighting game fan thanks to a steep learning curve (how steep? I had to resort to the tutorial just to start working out what I was supposed to be doing, which I’ve not had to do for any of the other fighting games I’ve played!) and a truly complex fighting system, but, once everything starts to make sense, you find a truly fun fighting game that, despite being inspired by the BlazBlue system for combat, plays VERY differently from pretty much any fighting game out there. It’s the sort of fighting game that fills all of the possible niches for fighting game fanatics (want to play it like King of Fighters and have 3 vs 3 teams? You can do that! Want to play it like a 1 vs 1 fighter in the vein of Street Fighter? Can do! Want to play it like Tekken Tag Tournament 2? Yep, that’s possible too, and you can even mix things up by having battles like 1 vs 3 battles if you want!) and, once you get used to it, it really comes alive.
You might want to play a few other fighting games before you dip into Skullgirls, but I can guarantee that, if you are already a fighting game fan, this game will fit pretty much every niche you can ask for it as a fighting game fan!
Best Company of 2016
Quite a few video game companies have been in the news over the last few years for doing stupid things to piss off fans, but I feel that I should praise the gaming company who I feel made the best decisions of the year.
Being honest, the winners of this are probably going to be a controversial choice, as they have made several bad decisions in the past and one would be forgiven for not trusting them any more. However, with the exception of the rather stupid decision to launch Street Fighter V as merely the online mode and patching in everything else later (and their handling of the Fantastic Four in the upcoming Marvel Vs. Capcom game, but that’s technically a next year thing and probably isn’t their fault, so I’m not going to count it), I honestly feel that Capcom have had the best year out of many other companies: they’ve produced some really solid games, they’ve (mostly) avoided courting any real controversy or done anything really dumb and basically feel like they’ve been just trying to make solid games and win back gamers. While their refusal to drop several controversial business decisions that have spread across the whole games industry still aggravates me (the DLC practice in particular springs to mind), I honestly feel that Capcom have done really well this year, even managing to come out looking better than Nintendo (who, despite avoiding a lot of modern games industry practices that I dislike, shot themselves in the foot with their policy on Let’s Plays and their deliberately low runs of several products that they should have known would have been big sellers).
Congrats to Capcom for a great year! Just please promise me you’ll make a new Mega Man or Darkstalkers game if Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite is successful, I think the fanbases of both franchises will probably murder you if you don’t!
Worst Company of 2016
I’m actually going to disqualify Konami from being presented the award this year because I think that giving it to them twice in a row is too predictable. Plus, the actual winners went above and beyond merely insulting gamers and burning bridges in the industry: Digital Homicide.
My god, where do I even begin with these guys? Well, here’s basically what happened this year from them. Grab a cup of coffee, this might take a while…
Having spent at least two years constantly going after Jim Sterling (including hosting an “interview” with him where they constantly flung accusation after accusation at him in anger), taking down negative criticisms of their awful games and banning users for criticising their work, they finally went full retard (side note: I normally don’t like that word, as I myself am on the autism spectrum and find it very distasteful to use under any circumstances, but the Tropic Thunder reference was too appropriate to pass up!) and not only filed a lawsuit against Sterling for $15 million in damages (because, apparently, a reviewer saying an awful independent game that most people would have never heard of anyway is awful is damaging to sales…) while also basically forcing him into silence towards them under threat of further litigation if he even MENTIONED them again, but even filed a lawsuit against 100 Steam users, claiming personal injury for $18 million, and followed it up with a subpoena against Valve to release the names of the users on the service.
I just…wow. How stupid do you have to be to not only silence criticism that is from someone whose job it is to criticise work in your choice of media, but outright try to take people who are part of your potential audience to court over negative criticism for millions which you would have never earnt anyway?
Valve’s response was to remove every single thing produced by the company from Steam and the latter lawsuit was dropped, though the lawsuit with Sterling appears to still be ongoing (at the very least, I’ve not seen anything confirming it has been outright dismissed and my attempt to get a clarification from Jim Sterling did not get a reply). However, I feel that I have to give some words of my own on Digital Homicide’s actions for this year, because what they did was ridiculously stupid, motivated by delusional levels of self-worth that they had no right to experience for the awful quality of the work they were making and greed that is downright sickening. They say their studio has been destroyed by the lawsuits (although I’ve not seen any indication of them actually having become defunct yet), but, frankly, they brought their own demise upon themselves and they have nobody to blame except for themselves for their behaviour. That they thought they could get away with it is disgusting and highlights the absolute worst sort of independent games developers out there: those who refuse to listen to any criticism, attack and silence those who dare to suggest that their work isn’t perfect and have egos that would make Seto Kaiba look like a person with crippling self-confidence issues.
Even in comparison to them, though, Digital Homicide went beyond stupidity and they will receive no sympathy, respect or kind words from me for as long as their name lives on. They have set a new low for the games industry that will never be forgotten and proven to be a shining example in the future of how not to operate a business of any sort. If anyone from the company is reading this (which, frankly, I doubt), then this is the last bit of politeness I have for you: I honestly would advise you to drop the lawsuit against Jim Sterling, sincerely apologise for your behaviour to Sterling, Valve, gamers and the games industry as a whole and promise to be far, FAR better than you have been in your entire career so far. Your name is currently mud among pretty much the entire games industry and you are the highest profile example of the absolute worst of independent video game developers, so, if you wish to continue, you HAVE to turn things around and you can start by apologising for your awful behaviour, acting professionally from now on and putting in the time and effort necessary into making a game that is worthy of people’s attention. You won’t turn things around overnight and some people will never forgive you, but, with luck and effort, you can start to win people back over by showing that you’ve truly learnt from everything and won’t pull the same crap that you became known for.
Or you can continue in your old ways and forever languish in the bowels of the video game industry, serving only as an eternal reminder of the absolute worst depths that independent games developers can sink to. Frankly, I know which option I’d pick if I was in your shoes and it sure as hell isn’t option number 2…
Gaming Hopes for 2017
Well. that’s the main awards out of the way, so let’s talk about what I’m looking forward to in the world of gaming that is coming out next year.
- Dawn of War III being good: I’m pretty sure my retrospective on the franchise from late 2014/early 2015 makes me saying this unnecessary, but I am a huge fan of Dawn of War as a franchise, so I’m really, REALLY looking forward to seeing the franchise return with Dawn of War III, because it looks set to be a really great combination of what made the franchise great in the past while adding some new elements to keep things interesting. Although I don’t doubt that I’ll need to get a new gaming system before it comes out before I can even play it (although I kind of need to do that anyway!), so I might well be basically living on rice for the first half of the year to pay for it all…
- Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite not sucking: while Capcom have already made a bad move this year with their own fighting games due to the disastrous decision to launch Street Fighter V as only its multiplayer mode and there are hints that this game will only include characters from the X-Men and Fantastic Four comics as DLC (although, to be fair, this seems likely to be a decision from Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter rather than by Capcom), I’m actually really eager to play the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom game, as it combines characters from Capcom franchises which I’m interested in (Mega Man, Street Fighter and Darkstalkers) and features Marvel characters in it that I’m interested in (Iron Man, for one). However, Capcom had a REALLY bad hit to their reputation for Street Fighter X Tekken due to their DLC practices and the barebones launch of Street Fighter V has not helped them much, so the launch of this game could easily be the thing which either redeems them in the eyes of gamers or finally causes frustrated fighting game fans to jump ship. Mixed signs at the minute, but bringing back Mega Man and having him as the first character confirmed for it was a good start, so hopefully, things will pay off from there…
- Yooka-Laylee succeeds: 2016 has been a pretty mixed year for Kickstarter-funded games. On the one hand, we’ve had disasters like Mighty No. 9, but, on the other hand, we’ve had great surprises like Shantae: Half Genie Hero that proved that not only can Kickstarter games be good, but they can be REALLY good! Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise, is due out in April 2017 and, while I am personally skeptical that it will meet that deadline, I will admit that I’m curious to see whether it can deliver the goods.
- Oddworld: Soulstorm succeeds: I’m pretty fond of the Oddworld franchise, in spite of the fact that creators Oddworld Inhabitants seem to have a habit of being all talk and little else these days (seriously, guys, it’s nice to hear your ideas, but can you actually start MAKING those ideas some time soon and stop hyping them up while they’re still only in the conceptual development stages?). They are due to do something interesting with their planned remake of Oddworld: Exoddus, though, as it will also be a retelling of the original story while also fixing things that didn’t make it into the original game. While I will admit that I’m looking at those words with some degree of trepidation because I’m pretty sure the fanbase is going to be furious at Oddworld Inhabitants for ruining their nostalgia, I am curious to see what this remake has to offer.
- The Nintendo Switch: this one is more a general statement than anything else, but I will admit that the Nintendo Switch has caught my interest, as it looks set to basically do what the Nintendo Wii U did, but done right. A few weird decisions do leave me scratching my head a bit (I fail to see why they’re making the system a cartridge system, for one thing), but I’ll admit that I do want to see what the system will offer once it comes out and I definitely want to try to get one if I can.