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The Best Games of 5 Years Ago: 2016

This is the third and, for now, final part of a series I started on Monday and Tuesday to take a look at the best games from years gone by. Today we're looking 5 years ago to 2016, a year that's often overlooked on account of the incredible bonanza of games that was 2017. Sure, many of the games I'm going to highlight here have more niche appeal than the blockbusting hits that came a year later, but 2016 still has something for everyone. Weird platformers? Mega 4X games? Stealth? Visual novels? 2016's got it.

If this is the first of these articles you've seen, each entry has the date I first finished the game (so we can see how much I'm biased towards games I play right before making my list each year), a link to its entry on my top 100 if applicable, and a list of platforms it released on.

This series will return in December with 2012 and 2017, but for now, let's go out on a high note. To the games!

Look at all these people coming to read my post!

10. Inside (4/28/2017, #96, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)

Inside kind of defies description. It's a 2.5D puzzle platformer in which you are almost always moving right. It is also a horror game, and the puzzles absorb more and more of the horror energy as you play until the mechanics, and pretty much everything else, have morphed into something truly bizarre. I don't really know what happened in the ending, but I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Stop losing your underwear, Marnie

Then: Stardew Valley (5/29/2016, #26, Literally everything)

While this game's great placement on my top 100 makes it seem like this was another one that I got horribly wrong, a lot of Stardew's rise is down to the incredible amount of post-release content added by both the developer and modders. SV at release was a game I happily sunk 50 hours into doing just about everything you could do in one playthrough, but now it's a game where 50 hours isn't even close to enough for one run, and which has enough variations and systems to make it worth playing more than once.

This is the most honest promotional screenshot ever taken

9. The Away Team (2/12/2017, #76, PC)

The Away Team is more of a fancy Choose Your Own Adventure book than it is a traditional video game. You will easily spend five times longer reading text than you will doing anything else, but that text is very well written and conjures up fantastic alien planets for you to explore. Like any good CYOA book, the consequences of your actions are sometimes obscure and unfair, but not so much so that it's hard to reach some kind of ending. As long as you can put up with not always being completely in control, there's a great exploration game here.

Mission Accomplished

Then: Pokemon Moon (12/15/2016, 3DS)

Moon was the first Pokemon game that I ever completed the Pokedex for, which gave it a lot of personal significance considering that I've been playing this series for basically my entire life. Would it have made the top 10 without that connection? Probably. I love Team Skull and all the little quality of life changes to things like HMs, plus ditching gym leaders and having variable Elite 4 Champions were brave changes in a series that is famously static.

Unfortunately, GameFreak basically forgot this game, and that's robbed it of any real staying power. Sword ditched many of my Gen VII favorites with Dexit, reverted to the classic 8 gym leaders, and also tossed out mechanics like Z-Moves and Ultreabeasts that, to be fair, probably weren't even going to be that memorable to begin with. That leaves Moon feeling like some weird sideshow rather than part of the main series, and it doesn't help that White 2 overtook it as my favorite Pokemon title when I finally played it a few years later.

What did we just talk about, Marnie?

8. Stardew Valley (5/29/2016, #26, Literally everything)

If it seems like a game that was #26 on my top 100 list should rank higher here, it probably should! But Stardew is a game that I like a lot more when I'm playing it, and I haven't played it in about a year.

You underestimate my ability to ignore things

Then: VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action (9/19/2016, PC/PS4/Vita/Switch)

A visual novel with a unique core mechanic about mixing drinks for customers that also has great writing and pixel art. My opinion of it honestly hasn't changed much since 2016, but its memorability has been hurt by how long the sequel is taking.

Eat your heart out, Tales of Arise

7. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (10/10/2016, #48, PC/PS3/PS4/Vita/Switch)

CSII ditches the Persona-like school life of the first game to instead tell a story about fighting back against a coup. This is still a fairly light-hearted JRPG, so you're not going to get any heartrending tales of the horrors of war, but the increased scale of the story allows for bigger conflicts and deeper exploration of Falcom's surprisingly deep worldbuilding. It's very much a "that, but more" kind of sequel, and while the adding another 60 hours to this story definitely exposes some of the weaker characterization, it also allows for some very satisfying buildups and resolutions to long-running plot threads.

This would be ranked much higher in my current estimation except that, unfortunately, it has no idea how to end. It has the perfect ending, mind you, but that scene comes 10 hours before the credits actually roll. Everything after that is either unnecessary or actively stupid. This was the first game I ever finished after permanently moving out on my own, and I distinctly remember laying on my bed asking "why won't you just end!?" as it kept introducing more epilogues.

I'm not insane, you're insane!

Then: Oxenfree (8/18/2016, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch/Mobile)

You can paste the last description here if you changed "mixing drinks to customers" to "really deep and reactive conversation trees." Oxenfree is a very impressive idea that forms a solid, if short story. I have high hopes for this eventually being the basis of a bigger game, but the studio's second game wasn't at all to my interests and Oxenfree 2 isn't out yet.

The automobile roller coaster looks pretty, but has almost zero relevance in game

6. Dishonored 2 (1/2/2017, #39, PC/PS4/XBO)

Dishonored 2 got to be my favorite stealth game for a few weeks, and it's still my favorite first person stealth game. It retains the incredibly detailed environments and fun extra challenge of playing pacifist that made Dishonored a classic of the genre, but the real reason I love it is a decision you have to make in the first level: what if you reject the Outsider's superpowers? What if you were just a normal person instead of a magic ninja making a mockery of the laws of physics?

In most games, the answer would either be that the game doesn't work at all or that it's almost impossible because the game wasn't designed for normal humans. But not here. Somehow Arkane made a game that works whether or not you have powers, and while it's certainly much harder without them, it is so incredibly satisfying when you perfect a level made for superheroes with your bare hands.

Did OSHA okay this?

Then: Overcooked (8/16/2016, PC/PS4/PS5/XBO/XSX/Switch)

Overcooked isn't on my top 100 anymore, but that's 100% down to the fact that Overcooked 2 exists. The first game is still some of the best co-op there, requiring careful coordination with your partner(s) and constantly tossing in new gimmicks and mechanics that make you change your approach with each level. But Overcooked 2 is better at all of that, and there's so much of it that you really don't need both games. I guess you could say that this game ran so that 2 could sprint.

A Zen murder garden

5. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (2/11/2017, #37, PC/PS4/XBO)

This is what stole the best stealth title from Dishonored 2 after just a month, but the gap separating them is very small. ST is a blend of stealth and squad strategy, which in practice means that each level is an intricate lock you have to pick through meticulous planning and precisely timing each of your character's abilities. Every level looks impossible at first glance, but then you see a spot where a guard can be lured out using a distraction ability and then killed by another hidden character, which frees up space to sneak through with a disguise and unlock a door that lets in your other characters, and so on.

Most of this game is staring at your screen for three hours desperately trying to find the tiny hole in the enemy's defenses, but if you've got the time and patience for it, there is no better sneak-em-up.

The car roller coaster is still not very relevant

Then: Dishonored 2 (1/2/2017, #39, PC/PS4/XBO)

From this point on, the games that have dropped a little have done so just because I played even more amazing 2016 games later on. I still love them as much as I did back then.


4. OneShot (12/31/2016, #30, PC)

OneShot is a surreal adventure game/RPG, which is a genre I usually seem to hate. I think the difference here is that this, instead of focusing on negative emotions or trauma, is really about the childlike wonder and mystery of being trapped in a new world. Niko's journey to fix the sun isn't a metaphor for bullying or an exploration of guilt. Niko is just a kid who wants pancakes, and the weird characters you'll meet along the way are all right out of a kid's book. Sometimes it's good to have a game that's just warm and fuzzy.

You can also trigger an S-Break by pressing the S key really hard

Then: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (10/10/2016, #48, PC/PS3/PS4/Vita/Switch)

I still think this is a really good game (obviously, it was #48), but man, that ending is unfortunate.

Should old acquaintance be forgot/and never brought to mind?

3. Duelyst (8/8/2017, #16, PC)

Nobody can play this game anymore, so all I'm accomplishing by bringing it up is making both of us sad because it's gone. Duelyst was a mashup of a card battler like Magic with a TRPG like Final Fantasy Tactics which managed to preserve the strengths of both genres. Clever deckbuilding was an extremely important part of winning, but hand management and board control were just as critical. Every faction had multiple generals with their own abilities on top of a handful of faction-specific mechanics that you could build a deck around. I've heard of a few projects to make a successor, so hopefully our time without it will be over soon.

Then: ???

My #3 game from 2016 comes from a company that doesn't deserve even the modicum of free publicity this list would give it. Have a radio-friendly edit of a Cee Lo Green song instead.

Return of the Sid-i

2. Sid Meier's Civilization VI (10/23/2016, #8, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)

This is a strange game to rank on a list like this, because while Civ VI as it exists in 2022 is a top 10 game for me, the game that existed in 2016 was missing two expansions and countless mods. Does that mean I should rank it lower on this list? Maybe, but personally I'd rather rank based on how enjoyable games are today. Even the ones that don't exist anymore, somehow.

Anyway, VI takes a lot of flak in some circles for not being balanced, and maybe it isn't, but I don't play competitive multiplayer and thus don't particularly care. However many game breaking strategies the game makes placement and terrain much more of a focus than ever before, which keeps city building interesting even when you're on your 400th hour of play. Mods have patched up any remaining quality of life issues and added depth to all the major systems, creating a game that's bursting at the seams with options.

Can you spot the (0) differences between this image and the last copy?

Then: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (2/11/2017, #37, PC/PS4/XBO)

If I liked this game less than I did back then, I might say that my opinion of it was a Shadow of what it once was. But I like it exactly the same amount, so that pun wouldn't make any sense. Alas.

It's fun to stay at the WHY EM SEE AYY

1. Zero Time Dilemma (8/31/2016, #2, PC/PS4/Vita/Switch/3DS)

Then: Zero Time Dilemma (8/31/2016, #2, PC/PS4/Vita/Switch/3DS)

It will surprise exactly no one who has ever heard me talk about ZTD that it was my #1 game of 2016. It also won't surprise anyone that it's still my #1 of that year. It's a premise that just shouldn't work at all: a mystery game in which there is no protagonist, in which most of the characters never interact, and which takes place out of time. You have a set of scenes available to play from the start and will unlock more of them as you play, but the game will not tell you what order they take place in. Maybe you've started with something that happened near the end, or maybe that really was the beginning. Initially, there's no way to know.

Add to that all of the plot complexity that the twists of 999 and VLR allow for, because you're assumed to have played those already, and you get a story that twists itself into a knot and is largely uninterested in explaining the smaller details if you miss them. It is a game for a very specific audience and kind of player, but that player is an exact match for me. It's #2 overall, but it is a close #2.


Only 5 of my top 10 retained their spots on the list, but that's almost entirely due to just playing even more good games from 2016. The whole list now has spots on my top 100 despite one of the original games being ejected into the sun, and I'd still happily play any of the other 4 games that lost their spots. Not many years can claim that kind of quality.

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