These Games Didn’t Make My Top Ten, But They Were Great
I played a lot of Game Of The Year contenders in 2016. These titles all earn honorable mentions.
But I have even more games that I wanted to give proper honors to, even if they didn't grace my "official" list. Some of these are awesome, but I didn't play enough of them to feel comfortable giving top billing. Others are worth noting for unique approaches to design problems, aesthetics that are just my thing, or worlds that I simply loved getting lost in over the past year.
These are all games that I found special enough to give a place in my honorable mentions. There's no order here, because I used all of my math skills last week. I'm also including links, since many of these are on the smaller side.
The Last Guardian
I didn't actually play The Last Guardian in time for consideration. But I think it's a perfect honorable mention either way, for reasons I outlined in a piece about it's very good (and not-so-great) frustrations. It's a bold and beautiful game that—at least when I'm not fighting the controls and camera—gives me exactly what I want in a large scale adventure/puzzle kind of game.
It offers exploration in beautiful, mysterious, impossible spaces. Environmental puzzles that are fun to solve by experimentation. A special je ne sais quoi in the form of the bond you create with Trico, your fantastical animal companion that feels like an actual being with a mind of its own.
The Last Guardian is a very special experience, and for its faults, I'm glad that I'm playing it.
The Final Station
We discussed this small story-based apocalypse thriller on Monday's Waypoint Radio, so I won't go on and on here. What I will say is that I was pleasantly surprised by the somber tone and evocative art of The Final Station, which has you shuffling survivors through battered, zombie-infested lands on your train in order to bring them to safe (or rather, important) stations on the map. The shooting mechanics were perhaps less successful than the spare narrative, but I appreciated the ambition and storytelling, and the game stuck with me long after I played it.
Zombie Night Terror
Sporting the opposite tone of The Final Station, and released around the same time, this goofball 50s sci-fi throwback is all about about taking your movie magic syringe and infecting as many people as possible in each "scene." Zombie Night Terror is addictive in the way good Tower Defense games are, making me manage just enough elements at a time to keep me interested and on my toes throughout.
GoNNER came pretty much out of nowhere for me, but since I was really into Kingdom, publisher Raw Fury's previous game, and their general vibe, I picked it up. I'm glad I did, and equally glad we played a bunch of it on-stream during my first week at Waypoint.
It's a weirdly gorgeous (think Space Funeral or a crayon version of Downwell) Spelunky-style platformer with plenty of rogue-lite mechanics (and shooting corn! I call it corn, anyway) and really wild creatures to dodge and blast. I'm not very good at GoNNER, but I really like its vibe and world.
Hyper Light Drifter
I have only just barely dipped my toe into actually playing Hyper Light Drifter. But I watched my girlfriend play a good chunk of it, and back when the game first came out, well, I edited a boss guide video for every segment of the game, so I have at least seen most of it in action.
So, while I wasn't comfortable putting it on my official list based on that criteria, I still want to give this beautiful, captivating title a full-throated honorable mention. Games set in bizarre, sometimes ruined worlds are a particular favorite of mine, as are action games that favor momentum and grace. I need to play more, but I am intrigued and excited by every part of this game that I've seen and touched.
Small Radios, Big Televisions
This was my favorite chill puzzle game of the year. I adore games that feature puzzles as a primary point of interaction (my love/hate relationship with The Witness also explains that), and Small Radios, Big Televisions is a relaxed, pretty, low-poly exercise in playing with environments and figuring out what to do. Nothing bad ever really happens, and exploring and poking around just so gives you these glimpses into 3D dioramas of outdoor scenes. It's a little weird, evocative, and stress-free.
Speaking of stress-free puzzle, I like Dustmop's (disclosure: he is a personal friend) NES-style demake of The Witness better than The Witness. It stripped out the terrible rationalist rhetoric, favoring pure puzzle-solving in a pretty space. It also made me smile and didn't cause any splitting headaches, or mild tantrums.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
Austin covered this beautifully in his own list, and I agree with his reasons for enjoying it. I love that it is so weird and happily low-fi and sort of joyous, while simultaneously hitting salient points about being down and out in a big city, prey to bigger, or meaner, or ever-more privileged citizens of your spaceport. Our systems suck, nothing is fair, and yet, still, there is beauty and comedy to enjoy, community to be a part of.
It was exciting and fun to play an FPS that really changed the rules in a creative way. SUPERHOT came out of a prototype made in a game jam, where folks often feel encouraged to get playful with established rulesets and conventions, and the finished game felt like an intelligent, well-curated package of that sort of creativity at work.
Next to the Jackbox Party Pack (volume 2!), this was my most-played party game of the year. I brought it with me on a girls' weekend trip up to a cabin on the north border of Lake George, NY, and we hiked, watched horror movies, and played Overcooked for like two days, cackling as we inevitably screwed up orders and reveled in the controlled chaos of a busy kitchen. It's a goofy, lovable, tightly designed co-op rush, and I love it.
Even when an extremely drunk friend insists on playing one level over and over until we get it perfect.