2017 is finally here, and we can only pray it’s not as terrible as 2016 was. I’m personally expecting the real shit in 2018 or 2019 myself. But life goes on, we got rent to pay and stuff to enjoy between the moments of realization of the very real possibility of the end of the world crashing down on us. Before I move on, though, I’d like to take a step back and look at a few games I played in 2016 that I feel need some more attention that missed my favorites list. Some of these were released recently, and others were older titles I just got around to. A few have HG101 articles coming, but not yet published, and others I simply never got around to talking about. They’re all well worth a look for different reasons, most for being good games, and others for …well, you’ll see. With that in mind, here are the games I played in 2016 that deserve some more attention, with no real order.
Amerzone: The Explorer’s Legacy
Expect to see Benoît Sokal games a lot on this list. I finally got around to looking at his point and click work this year, and I’m sad I never knew about him before. A popular European comic artist, Sokal moved into game development with Amerzone and really found his calling. While Amerzone is one of the most mechanically simple adventure games I’ve ever played, its story is surprisingly mature and thoughtful, casting you as someone learning of the story of three foolish old men and the country they tried to save or forsake. It’s a very involving little title that just absorbed me once I started playing. It’s a game that really understands the sanctity of nature and just suffocates you in its mysterious mood. There’s a reason this is one of the biggest hits Microids ever had.
I was really surprised to discover how many flash game designers are still making games this year. The Super Flash Bros turning their little Phoenix Wright ripoff into a full-fledged game with an absolutely jaw dropping art style echoing the likes of Samurai Jack and Secret of Kells was something I was mildly aware of for awhile, but just got to this year. Despite the overly simple mechanics that make natural story structure kind of impossible, the sheer charm on display won me over from the opening cutscenes, not to mention the fantastic voice talent. I hope we get a sequel sooner rather than later. It’s dirt cheap, so there’s no excuse to skip this one.
Helen’s Mysterious Castle
This may be one of the most inventive JRPGs I’ve ever played. Helen’s Mysterious Castle only has one playable character in a simple dungeon crawling set-up. However, it makes the most of it by making your equipment central to combat and progression, as only what you carry with you gains experience. Every fight is also based around action meters, requiring you to think out how many attacks you can get out on an enemy before retreating to a defensive position. Add in a rock-paper-scissors system for what item does what to a certain enemy, and the battle system becomes surprisingly involved. A little grind heavy, but incredibly creative. The cute story and characters are icing on the cake.
A little surprised I never got around to talking about this one. Message Quest is an okay point and click that tries to stick out with its stained glass art style, but its story is the more interesting aspect. The main character is an insufferable lazy twat assigned with finding the hero that will save the world, and who that hero ends up being surprised me when it probably shouldn’t have. The game’s commentary on the ideals of heroism was surprisingly thoughtful for such a cheap and short game. Give it a shot, it’s a nice quick play that will leave you with a smile on your face.
Necronomicon: The Dawning of Darkness
Despite the Steam version having a glitch that makes it impossible to complete the game that was “fixed” by distributing a save file that skips over the problem area but doesn’t let you see two plot important cutscenes, this Microids oldie is hilariously bad. This would be the first title to appear on a game version of MST3K. The writing is hilariously bad, the character models are terrifying in all the wrong ways, the acting ranges from cheesy to non-existent, and the game’s story wasn’t even completed properly originally, resulting in the sudden appearance of the game’s actual bad guy out of nowhere in the final area, without a cutscene to explain who they even are. It does have atmosphere at times, but whenever a human character appears, awkward laughs abound. Absolutely a must play if you’re a connoisseur of terrible videogames.
Holy shit, guys. Owlboy took nearly a decade to make, and it was time well spent. It’s absolutely one of the most touching games I have ever played, with multiple moments that nearly got me to cry before the ending just emotionally wrecked me. It’s an absolutely stunning sprite game done in classic Zelda style and a focus on flight and teamwork, with incredible designs and tons of memorable moments, ending before it outlives its welcome (unlike every Zelda game ever made). Otus, Alphonse, and a few I can’t say because of spoilers may be some of my favorite game characters ever. Otus alone is absolutely brilliant, taking the silent protagonist troupe and making it a source of drama by making that an actual handicap. Ultimately, Owlboy is a beautiful story of fatherhood, overcoming abuse and scorn, and finding your way in the world. It’s a story that reminds us that you don’t have to be what your peers what you to be, and can do incredible things in your own way. And damn it, the game earned that cheesy message so hard. It’s pricey, but it got me to cry so yeah, I love it.
This game costs two bucks and takes about thirty minutes to beat, and that’s a great price to content ratio for the quality on display. Rot Gut is a simple but well done action platformer about gangsters and steampunk robots that relaxed me a bit when I needed that most. It’s worth a look alone for the black and white art style and fitting score, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun with the gunplay and hoppin’.
Yet another Sokal game, Sinking Island really shocked me by how genuinely good it was as a game. Sokal’s work seems uninterested with gameplay for gameplay sake (even this game breaks hings up with odd design decisions for the narrative over game, like your character warping away from an investigation for lunch at set moments), but this game he made when he owned his own studio for awhile makes great use of its detective theme and really focuses on players investigating their hearts out to catch the killer. Unlike Detective Grimore, even when it’s clear who the killer is, the need to prove it keeps the tension there, especially as the entire setting is being destroyed by a hurricane. It also has some fantastic performances, a stunning art deco building to explore, great little twists and turns in the story, and some great use of Sokal’s nature humbling man themes. This might honestly be his best game to date (though I still need to play Paradise).
This is a Chinese developed raising sim that was translated entirely through Google Translate, with no further thought. It is one of the most hilariously terrible and baffling games I have ever played and I think I would love it if it didn’t plateau so fast. Actual celebrity likenesses are tossed in everywhere (and you can tell because the artists clearly just traced over publicity photos), there’s a whole mess of bare titty awkwardly strewn about at random moments, and while the game itself is dirt simple and easy to break with an item that halves amount of time used, it’s just addicting enough to keep you glued for a few hours as you take in the sheer audacity of the developers. If Cinderella Escape didn’t pop out of nowhere, this would have been the single most baffling game I have ever seen.
The Dark Eye: Memoria
While I think Chains of Satinav is the better looking game, Memoria is the far more thematically interesting. It breaks apart of the hero’s journey narrative for a more interesting reflection on the nature of myths, story, and truth, with one of the most intriguing main characters I’ve seen in years. Memoria looks at its played out fantasy setting and lore, and decides to do something about a million times more interesting with them. I always have a soft spot for stories about stories, but Memoria is so brilliantly realized and written, with easily one of the most clever twists I’ve ever seen, that it deserves far more praise than it has. Now if only they could do something interesting with Nuri for once.
The Tower of Archeos
Now here’s something really interesting. The Tower of Archeos is a beautiful sprite puzzle game that combines rouge-like elements and dungeon crawling with match three. It works far better than you’d think. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s a game I can keep coming back to again and again, and it truly has some fantastic sprite work. It’s also hard as hell and pretty tense at times, as every move you make results in being attacked. The goal is to get enough gold to level up and regain health, so everything is centered carefully around resource management. The amount of thought it takes to succeed is surprising, making it an easy to play and hard to master affair. Absolute must get during a sale.
This Is The Police
If I had gotten it earlier, it would have jumped high on my faves of the year list, and I barely started it. This Is The Police is a beautifully gritty, reflective story of a morally questionable police chief forced into a no win situation as he inches closer to retirement, with management mechanics that stress how ridiculously broken our system of laws are when its filled entirely by the corrupt, greedy, and xenophobic. The cutscenes really stand out, though, through the beautiful and oddly haunting minimalist art and John St. John’s incredible performance as the chief. It’s so weird to see the voice of Duke Nukem actually acting, just running circles around the large majority of commonly used AAA voice talent (which is no easy feat). Expect a lot more gushing on this one as 2017 goes on.
This was a neat little surprise that I really want more people to be aware of. This South Korean themed retro fighter has a good few neat ideas mixed in it, like the handcuff and bomb grabs, not to mention some beautiful sprite work and a fitting color pallet. I also kind of love that one character’s story is just her looking for her dog and stumbling onto a crime ring, and another where an FBI agent keeps getting randomly shot at while looking for an alien. It’s like the perfect distillation of Street Fighter II, with some modern touches and speedier gameplay to give it some kick. Verdict Guilty is dirt cheap and a whole lot of fun, look it up.