GOTY 2016: J. Pablo Cozar's Picks

Juan Pablo Cózar (@jpablocozar on Twitter) is a games tester and critic who runs the Spanish-speaking podcast El Bidimensional, which looks at all forms of audio-visual entertainment, from games to comics to TV and cinema. You can find it over at www.elbidimensional.com.

 

When I was asked to write my 2016 GOTY list I had a problem: I have not played that many titles that were released this year since I had tons of games pending from 2014 and 2015, but I have pretty much clear which one is my personal GOTY. Since picking only one game felt to me like a cheap trick, I have also decided to nominate my WOTY (Worst Of The Year) and my DOTY (Disappointment Of The Year). Let's start with the worst one.

WOTY - Mighty No. 9

I want to be honest. Back in summer 2013 I was one of those naive people who gave his money to Keji Inafune’s Kickstarter just for the mere pleasure of slapping Capcom’s face. When finally, after several delays and the con attempts of another unnecessary Inafune Kickstarter, I installed Mighty No. 9 on my PS4. The only way I can describe how I felt was as empty as the soul of the title. Inafune was selling this game as “Mega Man’s spiritual successor.” Well, it did not feel like Mega Man at all. We can speak about the low quality graphics, we can talk about the lazy level design, we can discuss the game’s mechanics, but it’s the entire product that failed.

Mighty No. 9 is an artistic disaster. We can blame the fact that is an intergenerational title, we can point at how it is using an old engine with Unreal 3, but all that makes no sense since Guilty Gear Xrd demonstrated how far Unreal Engine 3 is able to create a satisfying 2D feel in a game that was released on PS3 and PS4. Differences between concept art and the final product has to be expected, but when going from a 2Dish charming design to having a PSP-esque plain boring final result, you cannot be happy. The character design is okay but only in artwork, and the 3D model for Beck, our forgettable cheap clone main character, is not living up to his 2D concept at all, and we can apply that to all the supporting characters. The music is okay, but I am only able to remember one song, and if something was really great not only in Mega Man but in all 8- to 16-bit Capcom games, that was the music.

Not much to say about the level design, the best way I can describe it is as bad fangame created during a bunch of boring Sunday’s evenings while slices of greasy pizza fall over the programmer’s keyboard. Deaths are not earned, they are randomly spread all over the place, dressed with a control scheme and collision boxes designed to kill you even when you are playing the way you are supposed to. The only aspect I can speak positively about is the final bosses, they deliver the only moments that make you feel like you’re playing a classic title.

Mighty No. 9 is in my opinion, and by far, the worst title released during 2016. It does not live up to Mega Man legacy, it is not a good 2D platformer, and it is not able to capture their essence like the latest Strider game did. It does not matter how many TV shows or merchandising Inafune wants to release, Mighty No. 9 is dead as hell.

 

DOTY - Super Mario Run

I spent weeks thinking that my DOTY this year would be Project X Zone 2, a game I have not been able to finish despite my love of SEGA, Ryo Hazuki, Segata Sanshiro and a bunch of other characters, but it was like playing a super extensive DLC. I also never thought that a 2D Mario could disappoint me again since the New Super Mario Bros. 2 fiasco. I spent launching day refreshing the app store, I had €10 ready to spend, until I tried it.

First of all, the always online requirement, also known as DRM, for a mobile premium title is not acceptable, since the nature of the main part of it is single player. There is a lot of ways in the industry to try to avoid piracy and get metadata from users without forcing them to have a permanent connection. Since Nintendo has marketed Super Mario Run as something you can play on the go, with one hand and during your boring trips on the subway, it makes zero sense to require a connection that most of the time you will not be able to reach if you are on the tube or if you want to play during a flight. There are millions of mobile games that do all of their uploading and updating once they obtain an internet connection, there’s no excuse at all for this.

The second problem is the idea per se. Since mobile smart devices are mostly touch screen only nowadays, and the act of replicating a controller onscreen lacks the same feeling of a traditional controller, the auto run idea seems nice. But once you start playing you realize that you are not playing anything that feels like Mario, you are playing a regular auto run mobile game but with Mario assets instead. 2D Marios are about running and jumping, of course, but the level design and the control system is so perfect in most of them that removing the ability to decide where to go with the character makes it feel awkward. I thought that it could be because I am a hardcore Mario fan (I have a Wii U only because of Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World and New Super Mario Bros. U), but as far as I have observed casual players are not thrilled by the game either.

I have not decided yet if at some point I will pay the full price, but Super Mario Run passed in less than a week from my desired to be GOTY to this year’s DOTY.

 

GOTY - Street Fighter V

Okay, Street Fighter V is far from being perfect, but it’s the most fun 2D fighting game I have played since KOF XIII was released. The first month was awful, and the lack of an Arcade mode is still annoying, and it took them almost a year to find a good way to punish the rage quitters… But I have been playing it since it was released back in February, with a little break in between to finish 2015 stuff. We can discuss their business model, if they should go totally free to play or not, but it is the first time in the Street Fighter franchise story that I am not afraid to invest time in the game due to the fear of some “Super Turbo Champion Alpha EX Edition” menace on the horizon.

I love the visual aspect of the game and how Capcom and Dimps have been able to use Unreal Engine 4 to create a cartoonish world closer to Street Fighter III than the plain and generic graphics of the fourth installment. It is not only how the characters have been modeled, with those enormous hands and feet and caricaturesque facial expressions, but the way all of their artistic ideas expess how strong a punch can be, or how explosive a Hadouken can become. You might find some other 2D fighting game with a more impressive visual look, but no other with this “physical contact feeling”. Thanks to one of the latest patches, the backgrounds have reached a level of liveliness forgotten in the genre since Fatal Fury Real Bout was released 20 years ago. And we must not forget that the music and the sounds effects live up to Capcom's standards.

Of course, the fighting system is the core of this title. I don't remember where I read it, but during the tumultuous first week someone said that Street Fighter V was a car with an amazing engine without a body. During the year they have been adding parts to the car, and now we’ve got a strong, solid and fun fighting engine that can be enjoyed by casual, advanced and professional players all alike. Even when Capcom’s focus is on the E-Sports side of the game, anyone can enjoy it and it is easy to find a character that fits your style. It is really welcome to have a diverse roster and not another entry in the “Attack of the Shotoclones” like Ultra SFIV was. Online matches are now fun, the only “but” I can find is that single player modes are not complete yet. Survival mode is super hard and online dependent, and Versus CPU mode is not enough, at some point they must release a proper Arcade mode.

In conclusion, from all 2016 games I have played, Street Fighter V is my favourite one. It’s not perfect, it isn’t even the best Street Fighter, but when you’ve had the same disc inside of your console for months, it must be for a reason. And for sure, 2017 GOTY will be a harder decision, if nothing is delayed I’ll have to pick between Red Dead Redemption 2, Mario Maybe Galaxy 3 and Shenmue III, but that is another story.

 

 

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