my experience with videogames in 2016

i didn’t actually play too many games this year, but i feel like for all the ones i did they were noteworthy experiences

Pokemon Sun/Moon – its strange how i haven’t even played too much of this yet despite it maybe being my favorite pokemon game so far? that feels like a tall order for something like pokemon, something that’s enchanted me and been a huge fixture of my life since i was a kid. there’s so much i could say about this game! i don’t want to say the things everybody says though, you’ve probably heard them six times over. the menus absolutely enthrall me, i love every single aspect of the UI in this game from the subtle flourishes to the perfect layouts to the amazing aesthetic sense of it all and how it brings the whole game to a level it wouldn’t have been otherwise. for a long time UI in pokemon has been hit and miss, so seeing the fantastic job they did in this game won me over. i still find myself frustrated with the transition downtime when going into and out of battles and found myself dreading random encounters for that reason, however it’s definitely a product of the hardware and with everything else in mind i was more than willing to forgive!! a fantastic game. it also definitely has some of my favorite pokemon designs thus far.

Owlboy – having Owlboy just, exist is a weird experience for me. i remember it seeming like yet-another starry eyed indie project fated to be vaporware in 2006/7. then suddenly it’s 2016 and Owlboy is out! i haven’t played through this one fully yet, but i’d like to. it’s as much of a well-oiled, polished and no-nonsense experience as you’d expect from an indie game in 2016, and Owlboy was a lot more than just that too! its writing charms me and i appreciate how much the game puts into developing all its cute characters. it does some things that really surprised me as a designer, and that’s always a nice feeling. i come away from Owlboy with only one question… when’s Iconoclasts?

Botolo – gosh, this game. it was just released by local pal Ian Snyder and it’s really hit me somewhere special. it feels like “competitive local multiplayer indie game with abstract graphics” is a genre now–one i’ve participated in even– and even among that crowd Botolo really stands out. it captures yomi in a very simple, fundamental way while offering its own deep complexities that aren’t as intimidating or opaque as a fighting game, and the tension and fanfare the scoring system naturally lends itself to is brilliant. i’m looking forward to playing this game a lot more over the next year and would love to see a local scene for it grow.

Street Fighter V – this game’s launch might be regarded as one of the messiest in recent memory and unfortunately the game might never totally recover from the stigma that came from it. hoooowever, it’s absolutely my favorite SF so far and it’s the first that’s clicked with me so well. it has a really good aesthetic and it feels really snappy and nice to play and the V-trigger is a very nuanced mechanic that added a lot to the game, especially as a sort-of successor to Ultras. also, RAAAASHIIIIDOOOOOOO (i really like the soundtrack)

Pieces – this is a cute little puzzle game for the SNES that totally caught me by surprise. i love poppy little puzzle action games so when this was shown to me i got really excited!! it’s a game about competitive jigsaw puzzle solving, successful combos in placing pieces right gives you access to special moves that either power you up or sabotage your opponent, it’s really interesting and i love it.

Dragon Quest VII – the 3DS remake of this game saw a localization of this year, so i finally got around to trying this game and Goodness. i’ve always appreciated the simplicity and whimsy of dragon quest that come hand in hand, once the series was described to me as comfort food and it’s always felt really apt. to me dragon quest has always been about appreciating the simple qualities of videogames, it’s such a humble and modest thing for all the cultural cache around it and i think that really speaks volumes to how effective it is at what it does! but, okay, this game. DQ7 does a unique thing by, through a magical plot device, having your heroes adventure through independent vignettes rather than march through a grand plot arc. all the small stories gave the game a range and brevity that felt refreshing. it wound up feeling like a fairytale anthology, and aside from that being something i love it felt incredibly fitting for a dragon quest game.

Groove Coaster/Musica/Sound Voltex – i tried these three rhythm games recently and they really carried me away. the way groove coaster creates a synesthesia by moving you through different visual compositions of the track you’re playing, the way musica is so tactile and makes my whole body feel like it’s dancing, the way sound voltex is this perfectly oiled machine that occasionally makes you feel like a cool ass DJ. it’s good. i haven’t had enough rhythm games in my life and i wanna play all of them a lot more.

Persona 4 Dancing All Night – SPEAKING of rhythm games, wow this game. persona is very dear to me and its music has been stuck in my head for over a decade now, so for a rhythm game to come along with remixes by a lot of DJ’s i really like??? i’ll take it.

Pokken Tournament – Pokken is really weird, and i appreciated that even if it landed a bit off the mark for me. a lot of my issues with it came down to a sense of kinaesthetics, which is bizarre to me seeing as it was made by the tekken team, tekken having some of my favorite kinaesthetics in videogames. i loved that braixen (one of my favorite pokemon) got to be on the roster alongside a bunch of other unexpected picks.

Dark Souls 3 – it’s weird, dark souls is one of my favorite games and bloodborne (also now one of my favorite games) felt like the next step. so seeing dark souls 3 come afterwards felt awkward, it was coming back to something i didn’t need more of. a lot of the cultural fanfare around dark souls came from how different was, so now that these games are sequelized and canonized like hell it’s wild having a dark souls game come out and have it feel normal. there are impossible expectations that come with following up on what dark souls did for videogames, it was kind of a place-and-time thing, and in that light there’ll never be anything that’s quite the same. dark souls 3 felt like a game that had accepted that. it’s just more dark souls, it’s fine. it really emphasized to me that what i’m really looking forward to is the next new thing the creators do.

Hyper Light Drifter – oh god. okay. here we go. i saved this for last for a reason. this game very quickly became one of my all-time favorites and its likely to stay there. its ethereal surreal quality made playing it feel like existing in an altered state of consciousness, a turbulent place that frequently slips between dream and nightmare, a grand adventure that’s truly just an introspection. the sense of apocalypse and tragic heroism felt personal. the overarching sense of encroaching death, terminal illness that holds you back at every step, being reduced to a helpless mess but persevering through it anyway. it hit me on a very personal level, and it gave me a sense of strength that i feel still follows me. it hits my aesthetic buttons on every level and it captured my sense of imagination and mystery on every level. i could play this game like breathing air, even if it makes pins and needles fill my throat. it’s everything i wanted a videogame to be for longer than i could imagine. honestly, i played this videogame and felt “thank goodness, someone did it. i can rest easy now.” it might’ve been the crucial thing that helped me let go of videogames as a career, even if it’s a videogame i never would have made. i cried a lot throughout playing Hyper Light Drifter, either through how happy i was it existed or how deeply it hit me. this is a very important game to me, to a point where my hesitancy to associate so personally with a game is entirely surpassed. i’m so glad this game exists.

thank goodness for videogames in 2016 honestly. i feel like its a year of things i’ve mostly missed all the big beats of, yet at the same time its a year in which videogames have meant a lot more to me than they have in a while, even with how good 2015 was. i dunno, i’m feeling pretty good about videogames, i’m looking forward to whatever 2017 brings.

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