GOTY 2016: Uli Espejo's Picks

Uli Espejo (@DrMashirito on Twitter) is a Catalan Nintendo Fan who has run his own "Mariothon" that saw a group of friends complete a bunch of Mario games over the course of 3 evenings.

 

I guess I should preface my list of games describing briefly my gaming habits. I play games regularly and I'm aware of new releases, but for some reason the two are rarely related. I seldom play a game shortly after it comes out. I miss/skip quite a few games I know I would like and find myself spending loads of time with random old games while my latest acquisitions wait in shrink-wrap. It doesn't make much sense, but it happens to me all the time. That and the fact that when I like a game, I play it for a long while, weeks normally, makes the list of 2016 games I've played quite short. I picked a handful of them and ranking them was a bit odd, hard to compare some of them to the rest. Well, except my number 1 was clear from the beginning, but I guess I'll get to that in due course.

6 - Mirror's Edge Catalyst

As a huge fan of the original game, I was eagerly awaiting this one. I did start it shortly after it came out. And I went after everything, story first; collectibles, stars, trophies after. I liked it but as many expressed, it was missing something. To me it felt like very good ideas for the re-imagining of the world, just not very well knitted together. I felt frustration as the campaign had me go from one end of the city to the other mindlessly, without much purpose, but I did enjoy a lot the side missions, which I felt were at times better than the main story. At the end of the day, it felt okay, the challenges were cool, but it lacked that something to become an excellent game.

 

5 - Pokémon Picross

I've never played a proper Pokémon RPG, but I played a lot of Picross when it first made it to the West, and as most things Nintendo, it's really good. I think the Pokémon coat of paint was a great idea. I played this game every night for 20-30 mins over the course of around 6 months. It has loads of content. And yes, it's always Picross after all, but there's challenges, abilities, different Picross modes I hadn't been exposed to yet (namely Megapicross or the murals). One of those weird dabbles in the free to play model (with an upper limit), which with patience can be avoided after an minimal initial investment. But still, I would've gladly paid full price for it.

 

4 - Overcooked

I have enjoyed Overcooked A LOT. I've played it with many different friends and everyone always loves how crazy it quickly becomes. In a way it feels like "Didn't we do this with Cooking Mama ages ago?", but it's so frantic you soon realise it's a different beast. The diverse circumstances of each stage, a very well balanced three-star rating system (not easy to get them!) and how well it adapts to any number of players makes the experience always enjoyable. I played a portion of the game single player, and while it's half as fun it still works. Highly recommendable!

 

3 - Quantum Break

One of the few triple-A games I played to completion this year. It piqued my interest when it was unveiled but didn't really follow it much since, then suddenly (a-couple-years-later suddenly) I saw it was out. "Oh, wasn't that the one with a live action series to go with it?", yes, indeed it was. So I decided to give it a shot, and it was definitely worth it. I thought the gameplay itself was solid, the powers worked well, I was intrigued by the time-travelling story and enjoyed very much so the live action intermissions. I was always looking forward to the next one. I meant to go back and see the ones I missed but never did in the end, resorting to reading what would have happened had I made different choices, and I found the little tweaks to the story quite smart. It's been a while now and I seem to recall the grand finale could've been better, but I had a lot of fun overall.

 

2 - INSIDE

I say I normally spend weeks playing games, but not with INSIDE. Two sittings is what it took me. And I'm not trying to criticise its length, I'm trying to say I just couldn't turn it off. I wanted more and more. I decided to go to bed (once) and work the next morning (one has to), but I picked it up again after those chores and finished it. And found the two orb thingies I missed. And looked up what to do after. And that was it, but what a ride. I loved Limbo back in the day, and did not even know Playdead were working on a sort of follow-up, but I read about it the day it came out and dived into it straightaway. The design is brilliant, you either know what to do but can't do it or else find it soon enough, just before you are ready to give up, even though it might make no sense initially. Or you keep trying something until you realise that's not it, there's another missing piece and THAT's why you almost make it past that point but never actually do. How the game conveys that is just fantastic. Then it goes haywire. Maybe a bit too much for me, but I'm still okay with that.

 

1 - The Witness

I had seen some of the early footage and, having loved Braid, was intrigued by what the panels I kept seeing could mean, would they make up a game on par with the mind-blowing mechanics in Braid? Oh boy, did this game deliver for me. I want to say it changed my life, but I guess I'm still a very similar person to who I was a year ago, one thing doesn't have to do that much with the other. I did have one of the best experiences I've ever had with a game as far as I can remember. The Witness is for me one of the best games ever made. I would rank it amongst a couple more masterpieces in my lifetime top 3.

I really like puzzles, but I had never imagined one like this. I mentioned design earlier, this is the epitome of design. I still don't really understand how one Mr. Jonathan Blow was able to teach me the rules of his game while at the same time presenting an endless number of challenges. How he could create a Metroidvania game where the abilities were not unlocked by my in-game character but rather in my brain. And how he always, always, was one step ahead of me. He always knew what I was thinking and presented the next puzzle to toy with me, to doubt myself, to surprise me. The satisfaction of understanding what lay behind a panel. The frustration always compensated by joy after I finally cracked it. And the surprises. There was always one more surprise in store. And when you thought there couldn't be anymore, that must surely be the end of it, there was always one more. Its "final dungeon". Its "actual final challenge". What an end to the whole thing.

I have to admit this clicked with me because it gives me exactly what I want in a game. I think it doesn't work for everyone. It might be too hard, too abstract, puzzle logic works different with everyone, and it's not for everybody. But I like challenges like this, and I think he never went too far. OK, he might've gone a bit too far on that red door panel (the only solution I ended up giving up on), but I admit it fits. I just feel bad it's over and I cannot relive those moments again. Maybe in a few years. I hope I can forget everything I know about it and relive it. As I said earlier, it's a masterpiece. Thank you, Mr. Blow.

 

Other games that could surely have made this list, had I played more of them:

 

Final Fantasy XV: I have barely started it and from what I've seen and heard about it, it's looking really good. But a couple of hours in a game of this magnitude is not enough to consider it.

The Last Guardian: I haven't even touched this one, but I kind of know what to expect from it, and I feel it's right up my alley. The concerns some reviewers have don't normally affect my enjoyment as much, so hopefully I can spend some time with Trico soon.

BoxBoxBoy: I really liked the first one and all I hear is that this one's better. I just haven't found a shop where I can buy time, so that icon on my 3DS dashboard is still waiting for me to open it.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir: I haven't replayed this one yet, and as a remaster, I feel it would be cheating a little bit to add it, although quite a few things have been updated. I know I'm going to love it the moment I get to it.

Uncharted 4: What's not to like about this one. If everybody's raving so much about it, there must be a reason, specially after the previous 3 installments. I just keep leaving it for later. But I'll play it!

 

And finally, an Honourable Mention to Super Mario Run. As an avid Nintendo and Mario fan (I for one play every one of them until the end!), I was both anxious and really uneasy about this mobile experiment. But as I hoped, it has not disappointed me. I still don't think it stacks up against fully-fledged games, hence why I decided to mention it separately, but as a mobile experience I think it's as good as it gets. A great adaptation to the limited input one has on a touch-screen, levels thoughtfully designed to make it worth being revisited, and a great idea in the form of the special collectable coins, with various levels of difficulty. The challenge of gathering all black coins is one few will accomplish! Toad Rally is also a nice addition to keep it going after the main mode is over. As for the business model, I'm looking forward to seeing whether Super Mario Run will change anything. Will we look at it a few years down the line as the push premium priced games needed, or will it sink because of it? Will Nintendo update it with additional content down the line? One can only hope!

 

 

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