In my opinion, 2016 has been a killer year for games. After Overwatch won Game of the Year at the 2016 official game awards, the shop has been buzzing with what their personal favorite title of the year was and I honestly have a very hard time answering the question myself. I feel like for the first time in a couple years I consistently had a game (or 6) in the works, with a constant stream of games to look forward to. Unfortunately, this style of gaming can leave some games unplayed, and there is more then a few games in 2016 I wish I got to play but couldn't due to little things like time and money. Regrets aside, I decided to make a list of my personal top games for the year of 2016 after some serious thinking! I'm happy to present my top 5 games in my top 25 games of 2016! If you missed Part 1 (25-16) or Part 2 (15-6) check them out!

Before I get into it, I'd like to touch on a few things. First off, as I've mentioned a few times, there are a plethora of games that I'm sure may have made this list if I had played them, but unfortunately I am a simple man and I have to do things like sleep and eat. So, to give credit where it may be due and to revel in my deep shame, I decided to add the list of games I didn't get to play, before my top 5. I even own a good majority of these, but I just haven't gotten the time to give them more than an hour or so, if any time at all.

 

2016 Video Game Releases I Didn't Play but Wanted To But I'm Trash

Abzu
World of Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy Explorers
Stardew Valley
Pokemon Sun/Moon
Yo-Kai Watch 2
Hitman 
Civilization 6
The Last Guardian (I purchased this - Just finished by Bossman, check out his full review!)
Inside
Planet Coaster
XCOM 2
The Witness
Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
Warhammer Vermintide
Dragon Ball Z Xenoverse 2
Yomawari: Night Alone
Owlboy
Wild Guns Reloaded (WUT)
The Banner Saga 2
Necropolis
Mirror's Edge Catalyst
Watch Dogs 2
Dead Rising 4
Dragon Quest Builders





I'm hopeful I didn't miss anything, but over time I'd like to say I've given most of these a shot, but I know it's hopeful thinking. The next point I'd like to touch on before the top 5 list is whether or not to include remasters, ports, rereleases etc, etc. Ultimately, I decided that technically a remaster should not count. Sorry Valkyrie Chronicles HD Remaster, you don't get a spot. However, this still didn't fix a very specific problem I was having with a very specific game. I ultimately decided this game should also not be included on my list, but I could not write about my Top 2016 games without talking about it, especially since it was originally my NUMBER ONE game of the year.



Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir



It is important to note Odin Spehre: Leifthrasir is NOT a remaster of the charming 2007 PS2 title "Odin Sphere", Leifthrasir is a remake, overhauling the original title with a multitude of improvements and additions. It's difficult for me to put into words exactly why I love this game so much, but if I was to put in a traditional formula, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir would pull straight 10s in every category for me. The art style is well known (and a bit controversial in the case of Dragon's Crown), with George Kamitani continuously proving he can produce some of the highest quality work in the entire medium. The unique blend of RPG mechanics and hack and slash combat that has been developed to a fine point for Leifthrasir is absolutely perfect. The OST is beautiful and I revisit it constantly (A Fate Accepted is my favorite track). Last but not least, the plot is masterfully written, utilizing nonlinear narrative perfectly and bringing a Disney-esque magic to the story and characters. Even though I have opted to not include Odin Sphere Leifthrasir in my Top 5 games, I can safely say it was my favorite game of the year. I cannot recommend this game enough. I feel like there's something for everyone and I'm ecstatic to see what Vanillaware has next.

    I feel like I could talk about Odin Sphere Leifthrasir for ages, but on to the top 5!



5) Ultimate Chicken Horse


Connorkaze wrote a full review a while back praising the indie party game for its creativity and tight mechanics. UCH combines the classic game "Chicken", forcing players to dare each other into situations, and "Horse", bringing the "I did it so you have to too" concept to life. Also there's a playable Chicken and Horse character. How clever. We've played UCH a whole lot in the shop, playing during lock-ins and a lot during the summer program, and win or lose we always had an absolute riot. The beauty of UCH is you can be "not good" at the platforming but still succeed thanks to well placed traps and smart play, essentially playing spoiler. Cleaver Endeavour Games struck gold with their insanely unique party game, and just like Connor wrote, "The game's simplicity and fast-paced action makes it easy for anybody to pick up and play." 





4) Titanfall 2


I'm not much of a shooter player, besides a small handful of titles throughout the years, and I honestly wasn't all that ecstatic to play Titanfall 2 at first. I originally picked the game up because my good friend (Dictator) wanted to play together, and I couldn't be more pleasantly surprised with the game. Respawn Entertainment has developed one of the most fast-paced, epic multiplayer experiences I've ever played. Titanfall 2 has been compared to Call of Duty a bit around the shop, and while there are certainly similarities, Titanfall manages to have more style and create a more engrossing experience, at least for me personally. Unlike the original, Titanfall 2 is also sporting a campaign, and it's incredibly well-crafted. Titanfall 2 found itself on number 4 on my list, but it easily is the biggest surprise of the year for me. Check out Dictator's full review!





3) Final Fantasy XV


A lot of the world seems to share the same general consensus of "It's really good but...", when it comes to FFXV. I can't help but feel similarly however, the strengths of FFXV far outweigh the game's negatives. While it is certainly true FFXV is strange and not what I necessarily expected, especially after waiting for it for so long, FFXV has a ton of heart and the interactions between the main 4 protagonists make for an insanely memorable experience. Gameplay is pretty solid, combat is fast-paced and the world of Eos has a plethora of things to do. I think FFXV has become more of a controversy than it deserves to be, and it really does a lot right. It's very rare I dump 80+ hours into a game in only 2 weeks, it takes something very special. 





2) Overcooked


I've written about Overcooked! multiple times in the past, writing a full review for the base game and some of the DLC, as well as praising it in my Top Couch Co-Op Games list. As I mentioned  above, in a way it's uniquely difficult to write about a game you love deeply. It's easy to discuss why gameplay mechanics, art style, soundtrack, etc etc, is "good" but it can be challenging to express why those same features resonate with you personally. Overcooked is genuinely perfect for what it is, a chaotic party experience designed to be played with your buddies...in the same room (a dying trend nowadays). Ghost Town Games is continuing to support their title with DLC and additional content, with the latest holiday expansion being completely free (thanks!). Ultimately, check out my full review for a more in depth look at Overcooked, the best indie game I've played in a very long time, because that will forever be the best I can explain my love for this little gem.       





1) Overwatch


If you've been following this entire blog series this probably isn't much of a surprise. Overwatch had my undivided attention from hello, boasting a very unique cast of characters in a class based "TF2 Esque" shooter. After playing in the beta I was 100% sold on Blizzard's new IP and couldn't wait to dig into the title. There's so many things to praise about Overwatch, its animation style, map design and Blizzard's relation with their community is just a small handful. The most compelling element of Overwatch is definitely the character cast, I cannot think of a game (a shooter at that) with such a wide variety of characters. Overwatch has a genius monkey, a cyborg ninja and a fully armored German man of justice...and those are probably the most normal of the bunch. Not only is the lore and general design awesome, but this blend of characters allows for vastly different play-styles thrown together in the same exact game! Are you twitchy enough to land consistent headshots? Look no farther than Mcree or Widowmaker. Do you fancy yourself a bit more passive? Try out a healer. Overwatch manages to function as a competitive shooter where all sorts of different players with different skill sets are equally valuable. If you haven't played Overwatch you really need to do yourself a favor and get down here and give it a shot. This is the first year since Shadowrun that a shooter got my personal game of the year, I feel that carries some sort of weight, right?!


    2016 was awesome and this list was a stress to put together. I'm going to be playing some of the honorable mentions from above over the next few weeks, but after weeks of struggle I definitely feel like this list is the definitive chronicle for my year in gaming. So what about you? What was your Top 5 Games of 2016? Let us know in the comments! Have a great New Year everyone!    




When it comes to gaming I haven't really sat down and played through a console game in ages.  Part of the reason is time, but part also the fact that I'm old enough to have seen six generations of home gaming consoles come and go. I've completely skipped over the most recent generation of consoles, although I've put plenty of time into them at the shop trying various games.

It was over the summer when we were watching the Sony E3 event where a handful of games caught my eye - one of them being The Last Guardian. The game looked beautifully polished, with serene settings and wonderful music. It also featured Falcor.

FALCOR!
So maybe not by name, but the resemblance with Trico is uncanny. As a somewhat nerdy kid growing up in the 80s, The Neverending Story was one of those movies up there with Ghostbusters and Star Wars as staples of my childhood. When I saw The Last Guardian trailer it immediately brought back those warm fuzzies and I remarked to the others that this was one game I'd really like to try.

Fast forward six months and Sage has done the awesome favor of lending me his copy to play through, so I've set aside Adventure Capitalist for a few days to play this through to completion.

Disclaimer: my vault of modern console gameplay is empty, so I don't have many games to use as a barometer.  If you imagine a college bro falling out of a time machine from 2005 when Halo 2 on Xbox was the rage, you'll have a rough idea of where I'm coming from when reviewing The Last Guardian.

Man have video games come a long way.  Where are the loading screens? The save spots? Why does this feel like I'm so naturally and instinctively exploring this universe, without really feeling like I'm playing a game? There are no advanced mechanics to deal with, no cluttered HUD. I'm just moving through this beautiful world and it all flows together so nicely. I had a weapon at one point but now even that's gone, and it's just the boy and the beast ascending the levels.

Still I've had an incredibly hard time at points, and this is more me being awful at video games than anything else. I imagine a Zelda fan would tear through this game at three times the rate I'm moving. I'm slowly starting to calibrate to the game style and move through the levels easier, but this game absolutely makes me feel every year my age and then some.


This is how The Last Guardian makes me feel.

My biggest disappointment so far is I haven't had that awesome flying scene with Trico, but I'm holding out hope the more barrels I feed this beast (which I imagine are packed full of fairy dust and Human Growth Hormone) the faster those wings of his will grow.

I've put a few hours a night into the game, which has followed the same pattern of making progress (for a while) before I faceplant on some tricky jump or puzzle.  There was a jump sequence in the sky that would end in a fall to a terrible death, and then a dark cave where I could see nothing around me but bats. The answer almost every time I'm stuck is just keep exploring, and eventually the path forward reveals itself.

I've also learned how to train my dragon a bit. I can issue commands and Trico (sometimes, if he's in the mood) will follow them. I trust the beast will save me in those "Oh Shit" moments when I'm falling somewhere in his vicinity, and it's made for some excellent mini-cut scenes where the boy is literally free-falling and Trico will snatch me out of the air. 

There are some frustrating moments though when Trico just doesn't seem to know what to do. Like when I'm hanging in a tree by my shirt collar and can do nothing but wiggle, and scream for him to jump for ten minutes before he FINALLY listens.

I've struggled with motion sickness throughout playing this game, especially with the scenes where Trico is flailing about and I'm hanging on to his tail for dear life.  This is mainly due to the camera jerking in different directions, and a problem I've had with other games. The result is me shutting the game down after only 30 minutes or an hour of play and coming back to it the next day.

But my very least favorite part of the game are the scenes where Trico is being attacked. This isn't a failure in game design but more in my own terrible skill at this style of game, as I'm usually stumbling around for an extended period trying to figure out what to do, all while Trico screams in pain. What should be over in 15-30 seconds can last 10 minutes or longer. It's so bad that I feel like I should report myself to the SPCA for crimes against digital animals.

Those negatives out of the way, what's left is an amazing experience. The cryptic way of story-telling through minimal dialogue and flashback cut-scenes slowly fills in the story gaps, and it's never quite clear until the very end what your purpose in the game is. This makes the game feel more like an immersive adventure, where you're climbing your way around exploring with Trico doing something really awesome every now and then. The flow between cut-scenes and gameplay is often seamless in a way that it's hard to tell one from the other. The artwork, soundtrack, and ambience make for some serene settings.


Meditation by gaming

I often wondered while playing through if I could have altered the storyline by making different decisions, or if the path through the game is more linear. If it's the former I may pick it up again at some point to see if I can change the outcome, otherwise I'm happy to retire this genre for me for another decade. This game was made for younger, fresher minds than mine!

Thanks again to Sage for providing game access and being patient while I slogged my way through the game. For readers: what has your experience been with The Last Guardian? Did you experience alternate storylines on replay?
NieR: Automata is a game I've been watching very closely since it's reveal in 2015. Automata is a spin-off of the 2010 action RPG titled "NieR", which was a spin-off of the PS2 series - Drakenguard. Before I continue I want to note, if you haven't played the Drakenguard series or NieR, Automata is still playable and understandable. Don't think you have to run out and try to track down the entirety of the Drakenguard series - it'll be okay. So the conception of Automata wasn't very simple, and it took director of the original NieR, Taro Yoko and the game's producer Yosuke Saito contacting a studio they believed worthy of taking up the NieR world - Platinum Games. So with Platinum Games working in tandem with a huge majority of the original NieR team, Automata is shaping up to be one of my most anticipated games of 2017. To add to my hype, SquareEnix and Platinum Games released a demo on December 22nd.




Right when the demo starts off, players are introduced to one of the main characters, android 2B. Wasting no time, player's get to control 2B in combat, making it obvious very quickly that she is incredibly skilled. After some tutorial combat 2B meets up with 9S, a reconnaissance android. While the demo is relatively short, it gives decent insight into the post-apocalyptic world that Automata takes place in, referencing the past and the lack of humanity in the world. Environments are beautiful but incredibly stoic and somewhat barren, further emphasizing the setting. The demo culminates in a pretty intense boss fight, which I won't ruin for anyone, just download it and give it a try!

 2017 is looking like a really good year for gaming already, and while it's certainly hard to play every game that releases, Automata has spiked it's way up my personal list. After playing the demo I just can't wait to dig my teeth into the full game come March. 
 



Once in a blue moon, I'll throw my weight around to get people play a game I enjoy. Most of the time it's because I think it's something they'll enjoy based on what I know about them. This time however, it was out of greed. In particular, I managed to get a group of four newbies into HOTS. Since they played Overwatch, I figured some of them would want a cool skin for Genji, thanks to the Nexus Challenge. I saw it as a way for me to get my recruit-a-friend mount, refer 4 friends and have them reach account level 10. They also were looking for a new (free) game to play as a group. GGEZ, right? I think it's because of the people I surround myself with but I didn't expect my group of newbies to have little to no experience with MOBAs or RTS games. The concept of classes and different roles were not foreign to them, thankfully, as they've played a lot of "Hero Shooters" like Paladins and Overwatch. Luckily, one person in that group played a bit of SMITE. I relied on this individual when my experience clouded my reasoning behind doing things. When everyone was free,we spend the night as a group "gittin' gud" as we got ready for the chase for Oni Genji.


From the Top


With my cute little newbies on hand, I had them run through the tutorial to get used to Heroes of the Storm's mechanics. We had rough start in the beginning. I wanted them hit the ground running, so I advised the group to run through the tutorial on "Veteran Difficulty". All but one chose to do Veteran, that one accidentally picked beginner and we couldn't figure out how to switch to the other tutorial. It worked out for us in the end because the rest of the group were having a hard time with the last scenario in the veteran tutorial. The last scenario has you playing Zeratul, a stealth assassin hero, with the task of reaching level 10 before the enemy team without dying. To do this, you have to set up ganks or 2v1 scenarios with your other lanes, with you playing as the initiator. Zeratul is permanently stealthed when not in combat but as a trade-off is fragile, so you have to be careful when you engage. It wasn't until after we completed this scenario that I remembered some of my friends experienced in MOBAs had a hard time with this. Overcoming that, they grouped up to tackle some beginner level bots. What came as news to me, you are limited to playing on one map until a number of matches before you are queued into other maps. This was a good move on Blizzard's part. I recall back when I was starting out, the concept of unique maps with unique objectives was hard to get used to. I hovered around until they unlocked more maps to play on before I jumped into the fray.

Unlike my friend who helped get me into HOTS, I'm not that great at the game. In short, I don't have confidence in my ability to rally my team for objective control. I can't correctly judge when to get mercenary camps or who should stay in lane in favor of soaking XP versus everyone scrambling to secure the objective. Not to mention, I have the tendency to get hard on myself and others if mistakes happen. Though, I've been trying to go from a "Play to win" mentality to a "Play for fun". If we win, that's great. If we lose, that's okay too... as long as we aren't trying to sabotage the team. Took the playing for fun mentality to heart as I queued up with these guys. We played on slightly higher leveled bots and everyone had a good time. I made a secondary account to play with these guys just so I could put myself in their shoes. Also took this as a moment to buy/try heroes I've never played before, like Murky or Xul. Our objective control wasn't that great but we were slowly getting better with judgement calls as time went on and did alright in team fights. By this time, everyone had a character they really enjoyed and wanted to get to see how high they could get their character to by the end of the night. If I recall correctly,everyone received the portrait reward for their character at night's end.


Now we're ready for some real games?


Before we ended the night, the group wanted to try quick match games against actual people. Before then, we played a few games with veteran difficult bots to work on our coordination. Other than me directing one or two people to mercenary camps, these group of newbies were doing quite well. I was happy at how well they picked up the game. We played about 4 or 5 quick match games and they were all very close. A fondly remember playing on Braxis Holdout where one of the newbies were playing on Tyrarel and they were left uncontested in bot lane for most of the game. When we were pushed back to our Nexus,the Tyrael stayed with our zerg swarm and pushed to victory while we were under siege with < 20%  Nexus health remaining.

In conclusion, I was surprised everyone enjoyed themselves as much as they did. It made me happy that they enjoyed a game I recommended. At first, it was about getting my recruit-a-friend mount no matter what but it quickly turned into making sure they enjoyed the game as much as possible. The mount was just bonus in this instance.

I've always been a theorycrafting geek when it comes to the games I love. Maybe it's because I've worked as a coder in some fashion for the better part of the last 16 years, but I'm constantly trying to optimize my gameplay in order to maximize my own (or my teams) chance of victory. This could be character choice, item build, or talents chosen. A small 1% edge here and there may not be apparent in a single game, but over the course of a lifetime of games these add up.

One lesson I learned from my years of playing poker was how important and vital the brain is to gaming. The decision making apparatus located between our eyes can make or break how well we perform, and we should treat our mind & body as just an important piece to optimizing our gaming. Here are a few areas that should be considered when optimizing the brain:





Rest


Humans have varying needs for rest based on age & geolocation, but REM sleep cycles are vital to flushing out and revitalizing our brains. This is what's considered "deep sleep" and the sleep cycle where dreaming happens, but accounts for only 20% of our overall sleeping. To reach REM sleep requires you set aside a period of undisturbed time (6-10 hours) to allow your body to go through cycles of light to heavy sleep. A well-rested mind will give noticeable improvements to gaming through a clearer head and sharper decision making.


Diet


There are a few things you can do with diet to improve your gameplay. Avoiding eating foods that make you feel awful is a start. Generally foods that are heavy to digest (red meats, complex carbs, or large meals in general) are going to have some short term effect on your brain as your body enters a temporary hibernation mode and diverts resources & energy to breaking down and storing the excess. Small to medium sized meals will do better to keep your mind sharp, as well as sticking to lean cut meats and vegetables that digest easier. Some foods will even have a positive impact on the brain - lean fish for example has been proven to provide temporary boosts to brain performance.


Exercise


Just a short 20-minute workout will get the blood flowing and endorphins flooding, and the effects can last for up to a couple days afterwards. It's also a great way to calm the mind and expel nervous energy. I wouldn't recommend exercise immediately before gaming, but if you can fit this in a couple hours before you're competing this will have a positive impact on the body & brain.


Distractions


Communicating with teammates is crucial, but any other outside distractions can tug on vital brain resources and you may miss a key play. This could be someone not involved in the game trying to talk to you, or even in 1v1 matchups like SSB4 conversation can be used as a weapon to distract and disrupt your gameplay. You'll see many Smash players using headphones & music for this reason. Back when I used to raid heal for WoW I had a cat that would constantly jump on my keyboard demanding attention - "my cat messed me up" became my go-to raid wipe excuse. Distraction can take many forms and is often a necessary part of life and casual gaming, but when it comes time to get serious you need to find a place where you can be distraction-free.


Substances


There have been crackdowns on professional players using certain prescription drugs to improve their play, and it's only a matter of time before we see regular drug testing become the norm in e-sports. We should be mindful of anytime we ingest a substance into our system. Caffeine, nicotine, or any other drug can have varying effects on our brains and our gameplay.


Emotions


While we all would love to be cold-blooded competitive gamers, the truth is our emotions often get the better of us. If you're in a rough emotional state when you sit down to game you're likely not to fare well. Take some deep breaths and try to get a grasp on what's bothering you. Is it out of your control? Can you put it on hold for a little while and just focus on the gaming? I've found meditation helps me personally when I need to sort my emotions, and many use prayer or talking with a friend or loved one to get their minds in a better place.

New emotions will also pop up while gaming. Recognizing in the moment when you're frustrated, angry, toxic, defeated, pessimistic, or any other negative emotion is an important first step. The trick is not to let the emotion control you, nor to shut the emotion out, but to accept it. Recognize how it's affecting your play (and the play of those around you), and try to correct course and move past it.


Stay warm


Last season LCS saw teams like TSM introduce long-sleeve hoodies worn over the traditional short-sleeve gaming jerseys. There are physical reasons for this - chilly gaming arenas make for cold arms & cold hands, which reduce blood flow to the fingers and as a result reduce CPM. In a competitive arena like LCS even a few CPM drop-off can have a huge impact. If your hands are cold when you're playing, consider wearing extra layers or long sleeves to improve your circulation.


Get out of your own head


The last piece of advice I can give is to not over-analyze higher level strategy when in the moment of competitive gaming. Gamers in particular really struggle in this area because our minds are always moving. You should head into any tournament or competitive gaming environment with a strategic game plan in place, and try to stick to it with only minor deviations. Under pressure our brains can make strategic decisions that don't necessarily make logical sense, and the very best gamers know this and will try to pressure you into poor decision making. I've seen many teams fold in competitive play after just one loss, altering their strategy in a major way and then getting absolutely steamrolled.

Your original plan may not work out, but there will be plenty of time afterwards to analyze what went wrong or could have gone better, and plan to make adjustments for the next competitive play. By having your strategy in place beforehand and roughly sticking to it, you're removing the potential for your emotional brain to step in and really mess things up.

Have any tips for improving the mind-body gaming performance? Superfoods that turn you into a Pentakill god? Lucky pair of socks? Post in the comments below!



In my opinion, 2016 has been a killer year for games. After Overwatch won Game of the Year at the 2016 official game awards, the shop has been buzzing with what their personal favorite title of the year was and I honestly have a very hard time answering the question myself. I feel like for the first time in a couple years I consistently had a game (or 6) in the works, with a constant stream of games to look forward to. Unfortunately, this style of gaming can leave some games unplayed, and there is more then a few games in 2016 I wish I got to play but couldn't due to little things like time and money. Regrets aside, I decided to make a list of my personal top games for the year of 2016 after some serious thinking! Keep in mind, this is a list of MY personal top games, as I mentioned, there's so many games I missed out on (I don't even have Pokemon Sun yet!!). So without further ado, I'm happy to present my second 10 games in my top 25 games of 2016! If you missed Part 1 (25-16) check it out here!



15) Pokemon GO

Never in a million years would I expect a mobile game to be one of my "top games for the year". I think everyone can agree Pokemon GO could have been much better, falling short in a lot of ways, however, Niantic Labs is continuously working on new content and improvements. While the game isn't perfect, the summer of 2016's Pokemon GO craze is something I will not soon forget. Slooze, Connorkaze and myself spent many late nights after work at the fort, and Bossman was our valiant leader in keeping Lee's gyms on lockdown. It's not easy for technology and nature to blend, but Pokemon GO did a pretty good job. Since Summer I don't play anymore, but I keep my eye on updates and additions, plotting my return.



14) Furi

We wrote a full review for Furi a while back, praising the larger than life boss fights and incredible soundtrack provided in the small package. Furi is one of those highly stylized games that drips flavor from almost every facet. Furi is challenging, consisting of exclusively boss encounters as the only combat, making every clash memorable and tense. I'd recommend Furi to anyone looking for a decent fast-paced challenge. It also reminds me a lot of a neon Afro Samurai!




13) Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

I'm a huge fan of couch co-op games, in fact I even wrote up a Top 10 post a while back listing some of my favorites. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime would definitely make that list now that I've played it pretty extensively. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (LDS) originally came out LAST year, but it dropped for PlayStation 4 in February of 2016, so it made my list. LDS drops you and up to three of your friends in the vast expanse of space, piloting a giant ship together with the sole purpose of saving...small creature things. The beauty of LDS lies in how players move around their ship, bumping into each other while they race from station to station trying to react to the dangers. I definitely recommend gathering a group of time travelers and working through LDS, it was one of my favorite co-op experiences, managing to be unique in almost every facet.



12) World of Warcraft: Legion

We've written a ton of blog entries about World of Warcraft in general, but Legion was one of the first times I feel like I wasn't playing catch up in the Blizzard MMO. Legion had a lot of very cool new additions and was pretty widely accepted as one of the "strongest" expansions, adding a lot of genuinely fun content. I wrote a blog post about the Monk's campaign, which was one of my favorite quest chains in the entire game. It's hard to tell somebody to play an MMO, especially if they are already playing another one, but if you're looking for a solid MMO experience, WoW has never failed me and Legion continued to improve it.



11) Salt & Sanctuary

Ska Studios, consisting of a whopping 2 team members, has been one of my favorite indie development studios since I played the original Dishwasher game. I've played everything the studio has to offer, really using them as a golden standard of indie games and what they are capable of. When I learned the same studio responsible for Dishwasher: Dead Samurai and Charlie Murder was creating a "souls like" I was absolutely ecstatic. S&S definitely didn't disappoint, integrating the souls formula perfectly into a game dripping with true Ska Studios art style and frantic yet precise combat. 



10) Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

We're finally in my Top 10! What better way to kick it off then with something super Japanese! Where Pokemon is a household name, Digimon seems to be more of a hit or miss, but personally Digimon was a huge part of my childhood. That being said, Cyber Sleuth was the latest addition to the game series, and explores the same narrative themes present in a lot of Digimon media while offering some quality party based combat and monster raising gameplay and management. As much as I loved Cyber Sleuth (I put in over 100 hours) it's one of those games I have a hard time recommending to most people (unlike The Witcher 3, which everyone should play regardless of anything ever). It's a very niche game aimed at fans of the previous Digimon series, however, if you ever felt like you wanted to play a Pokemon-esque title but with deeper emphasis on evolution and fusion I'd say give the game a shot. It has a surprisingly tense storyline as well! 


 9) Enter the Gungeon


Enter the Gungeon was developed by a small indie company called Dodge Roll Games, made up by 4 former Mythic Entertainment employees. Inspired by games like Binding of Issac, Spelunky, Nuclear Throne and even Dark Souls and Metal Gear Solid, Enter the Gungeon is essentially a bullet hell shooter with rogue-like elements like procedurally generated floors and monstrous boss fights. The plot is cryptic but there is a rough one, and a colorful cast of characters to help develop the world. While Enter the Gungeon is definitely a strong game in almost every aspect, one personal aspect that is impossible to account for is the memories and great times I had playing Enter the Gungeon. I think I'll always look back on Gungeon in an incredibly nostalgic way and I'll miss the late night runs with Slooze. At least I can listen to the entire soundtrack on YouTube over and over and over and...



8) Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2

I think PvZ GW2 was my first true addiction of 2016, and I kind of peddled it hard around LAN Mob when it released. GW2 manages to cram an insane amount of content into it's bright and cartoony world, and is a surprisingly complex and tactical shooter. Essentially GW2 is a third person, class based shooter but thanks to it's style and fun atmosphere, it continuously pulls me back in even when I feel like I'm done playing and stands out among the genre. Each class is unique with a plethora of sub-classes, maps are well designed and the game even supports split screen. If you're looking for a light hearted and genuinely fun shooter that doesn't take itself too seriously, look no farther then GW2. Just expect yourself to develop an addiction to opening sticker packs, the in-game loot system. Lots of sticker packs.



7) Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 is honestly GOTY material. The expertly crafted level design and immersive world building is only matched by its original entry, and the stealth gameplay revolving around choice is as potent as ever. Dishonored 2 has an insane amount of replayability thanks to allowing players creative freedom and giving players a choice between 2 very different characters. If you're on the fence about diving into the world of Karnaca, check out our full game review.



6) Dark Souls 3
 
In my opinion, the "soulsborne series", as the fandom calls it, has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the gaming culture. However you may feel about Dark Souls, From Software or Hidetaka Miyazaki, creating new waves and essentially an entirely new genre in a well established media is very difficult, especially one as mastercrafted and artistic as the Souls games. For me, Dark Souls 3 was no exception, and a perfect example of why these games are as "hyped up" as they are. I could rant on and on about this and maybe someday I will, but the important thing to note is Dark Souls 3 lives up to what makes the series so legendary. Cryptic and eerie story telling that rewards those who pay attention, incredibly tense and thoughtful combat and epic boss fights that players won't soon forget all work in tandem to create a spellbinding experience. If you have never played a Dark Souls game you have probably heard they are extremely difficult, and they can be to an extent, but the adventure and glory of success is worth every minute of potential frustration.



To anyone who has read both parts so far, thanks! Part 3 will be coming soon. My top 5 games of 2016!      
 
To me, music can make or break a video game. I usually find myself listening to soundtracks all the time. The song could just be catchy or it can help make a heavier impact on a certain scene. There's plenty of games that have phenomenal tracks (I may do a blog later on about that)...then there's some that are just terrible. There's for sure more out there and I'm sure some of you know of these. For those who don't though; get ready for the best music in video games history.


1. 1942 - Stage Theme (NES)
Nothing gets me more pumped up than this song right here. It's truly ahead of it's time and what it was able to pull off with the NES hardware is nothing short of incredible. 




2. Cruis'n USA - Main Menu (N64)
Honestly this shouldn't be on the list. CRUSSSINNNNNN YEAHUHYEAHHHH




3. Doom - E1M1 (Sega 32x)
When you booted this bad boy up and selected your difficulty you were greeted with one of the most intense songs at the time in a video game. You were ready to kill everything. This version however, makes you want to get killed so it stopped.




4. Taz-Mania - The Whole Game (Game Gear)
Beautiful is the only word I can use to describe this. It truly is a masterpiece. 



5. Resident Evil: Director's Cut Dualshock - Mansion Basement 
(PS1)
This is kind of a sad story? The composer of this Soundtrack's name is Mamoru Samuragouchi. He started losing his hearing and eventually went "deaf". He was dubbed a "digital-age Beethoven" with his ability to create beautiful compositions. Though it was found out he wasn't actually deaf and that all the music since 1996 that was attributed to him was actually written by a ghostwriter Takashi Niigaki. So it's actually Takashi's fault this exists. At least the Onimusha soundtrack he wrote is good..






6. Sonic Chronicles - Central City (DS)
As a YouTube comment says "I'm in the Discomfort Zone now".





7. Blue Dragon - Eternity (360)
Instrumentally this song isn't bad at all. It's Ian Gillan's voice (Singer from Deep Purple) that ruins this for me. 

*Alola!

I made it to Akala Island, the second island of the Alola Region! I managed to from fresh off the boat to completing the first captain's challenge. I'm continuing with my blind run through Pokemon Moon. I won't be looking up any information ahead of time, so no knowing where certain item are ahead of time or any major fights to be wary of. With the eastern route blocked by some dog-like Pokemon, I have to head up north by the giant hotel. Before I could make my way to Route 4, I was challenged to a battle by a fabulous looking trainer by the name of Sina. Fighting her made me wish I peeked at my encounters ahead of time.

                                     
*Sina! She means business.

Her Glaceon nearly swept my whole team. Goodness, I was not prepared at all. Barely escaped with my life thanks to my starter, Brionne. To be fair, I had Petilil and Oricorio in my party and no one that was strong vs. ice types. I spent a good amount of time training possible substitute Pokemon to better round out my party.  After beating Sina, I was given a Zygarde Cube and tasked with finding cores and cells scattered across the region. You know when a cell is present when the ground sparkles. It sounds ridiculous to say but you'll definitely know it when you see it. I have reason to believe the some of the Zygarde Cells will only show up in the daytime/ nighttime. When backtracking for TMs and training my B-team, I found Zygarde Cells in spots that I am certain I combed through. I'll have to make a mental note to explore islands once in the night time and then again in day time.

Past Route 4 was Paniola Town. Ran into Hau and was challenged to a battle. I think from being traumatized from the last scripted encounter, I went and over prepared for this fight. He surprised me with a Pikachu in his team (which was strong against my Brionne) but that was the only addition he made to his team.Certainly an easier battle compared to Sina. Just outside Paniola Town was Paniola Ranch, I ran Mallow, one of the captains,  and was given a new Ride Pokemon! The new Pokemon, Stoutland, acts like the Item Finder. You can ride it around normally but when you hold "B", the Pokemon walks slowly and starting sniffing the ground for items. A blue exclamation point will appear above your character's head and will turn red when you are right next to the hidden item.

                                                       
*Hanging out with my new Ride Pokemon while wandering through Paniola Ranch.

After getting my fill of the ranch, I head out to Route 5 as I get ready to take on the trial. Mental note: There's a nursery I passed but I was too caught up exploring to bother check it out. I'll visit it on my way back. Before I could enter the trial grounds, I had to defeat all the trainers along Route 5.Ran into another scripted encounter where I was introduced to another interesting looking trainer by the name of Gladion. When I arrived at the waypoint it looks like he already beat Hau and was just full of sass. Ya know, he looks a bit like Lillie.

                                                         


Being overeager made this fight a breeze as well. He had a Pokemon that I've never seen before by the name of Type:Null. I ended up having to brute force it because I couldn't figure out its type with the Pokemon I had available. Before I move on to Lana's trial, something bugged me.Not sure what type of reputation I've built after completing only one Grand Trial but either way, he did not look impressed. I don't know why but I feel irked about that.After roaming around, I made my way to Brooklet Hill, home of Lana's Trial.

                                                         
* I feel mocked.

Brooklet Hill is a mix of tall grass and small bodies of water,  with a healthy mix of bug,water and the occasional grass Pokemon. When I rendezvoused with Lana, I was given another Ride Pokemon, gaining the ability to Surf on a Lapras! Lapras is one of my favorite Pokemon so I was excited to see it once more. Excitement aside, for this trial I had to investigate splashes in the water at Lana's request. Lana kept trying to trick me with fish tales and how the splashes might be Swimmers in duress. Nope, only found Wishiwashi. I was surprised to find the Totem Pokemon to be a larger variant of Wishiwashi. Similar to how you'd see a school of fish, the Totem Wishiwashi was a school of Wishiwashi in the shape of a large fish!

                                                         
* Totem Wishiwashi in it's "school form"

I was lucky enough to gain a new grass Pokemon, Bounsweet, from an in-game trade. It was a great addition to my team, as it came with an Adamant nature, having the potential to be the physical attacker my team sorely needed. With that said, I didn't have too difficult of a time with this Trial, as I had type advantage with the new addition to my party. I took a gamble on Bounsweet and luckily it paid off. I choose not to swap out any of my party before taking on the trial, though that was because I was more concerned with exploring the new area. 

                                                        
*Trial Complete!

I was awarded the Water Z-Crystal and a Fishing Rod for completing her trial. . After choosing to be escorted back to the Pokecenter (which was a nice way to save time) , Lana informed me my next trial would be taking place at a volcano. I doubt I'll reach the third form by then but I think my starter's final form will be Water/Fairy. I learned a few fairy moves early on which leads me to believe this is the case. Similar thing happened when I had a Combusken but I believe it was already a Fire/Fighting by that form. In any event, I am certain the Fairy-type is weak to Fire-type moves, so I should definitely carry another water type Pokemon just to be on the safe side. Whelp, off to go fish a bunch. Maybe I'll try my hand at raising a Wishiwashi, seeing as how the Totem Pokemon looked kind of cool. Then again, in one of the Pokecenters I was asked to find a Feebas. If their spawn rate is anything like in previous generations, I might have to dedicate the entirety of next week's blog on my fishing adventures. Maybe I'll be as lucky as Lana and catch a red Gyarados?

                                                       

*Lana trying to trick me one last time





In my opinion, 2016 has been a killer year for games. After Overwatch won Game of the Year at the 2016 official game awards, the shop has been buzzing with what their personal favorite title of the year was and I honestly have a very hard time answering the question myself. I feel like for the first time in a couple years I consistently had a game (or 6) in the works, with a constant stream of games to look forward to. Unfortunately, this style of gaming can leave some games unplayed, and there is more then a few games in 2016 I wish I got to play but couldn't due to little things like time and money. Regrets aside, I decided to make a list of my personal top games for the year of 2016 after some serious thinking! Keep in mind, this is a list of MY personal top games, as I mentioned, there's so many games I missed out on (I don't even have Pokemon Sun yet!!). So without further ado, I'm happy to present my first 10 games in my top 25 games of 2016!

25) One Piece: Burning Blood




I'm a pretty big fan of One Piece in all of its forms (manga, anime, games, etc) so I was pretty hyped for Burning Blood for a while before its release in April. At its core Burning Blood is a surprisingly complex fighting game with some pretty cool mechanics. However, due to the lack of content (especially if you don't have a buddy to play with), it's hard to recommend this game to anyone outside of the One Piece fandom, but if you are a fan, Burning Blood it is definitely worth playing.


24) Pokken Tournament



I wish we lived in a world where I could put Pokken even higher on this list. I had pretty high expectations for Pokken - I mean on paper a "Pokemon fighting game with Tekken gameplay elements" sounds like the stuff of dreams. Unfortunately, Pokken fell short in a few places, however, this didn't stop me and my friends extracting a lot of fun out of the title. In fact, I got pretty addicted to playing the online Ranked mode, grinding away with Sceptile. I'd probably still play a bit here and there if I still owned a Wii U. Overall, I played a good amount of Pokken and I think it's not terrible for what it is, but it's hard not to imagine what it could be.


23) Mafia 3


I wrote a full review on Hangar 13's open crime game back in October, so if you're interested in a more thorough examination please check out the post! Overall, Mafia 3's world building and character development are definitely it's strongest assets, but its willingness to explore and touch on social issues makes it a game I'll remember for a long time.



22) Fire Emblem Fates


 I had a ton of hype for Fire Emblem Fates, in fact possibly a bit too much. The previous game in the series - Fire Emblem Awakening was one of my favorite tactical RPGs of all time. Fates improves on the series in a lot of mechanical ways, but I think the characters of Awakening will always be a stronger point for me. Fates was an excellent time sink, and a lot of fun to discuss with fellow players, but it didn't hit the same highs that Awakening did back in 2012. To anyone who was not aware, Fates was released kind of in the style of a Pokemon title - with multiple varying editions. I was pretty engrossed in the plot of Conquest, but I wish it allowed to grind a bit, where I felt the exact opposite about Birthright.



21) Darkest Dungeon
   

Darkest Dungeon is one of those games that quickly enters you in a love-hate relationship, and is at its best when you're getting your ass kicked. This game is brutal and sometimes feels downright unfair, and was easily the most difficult game I've played all year. This isn't necessarily due to game mechanics, but due to the mental strain of staying positive and not deciding to quit while trying to maintain your party. Darkest Dungeon is an old school dungeon crawl style game utilizing multiple systems, with the most stressful one ironically being maintaining the stress of your party. Darkest Dungeon is an excellent singular experience but I couldn't recommend it to anyone not looking for a challenge.  



20) Grand Kingdom
Probably the last game people would expect to see on this list because..well nobody knows about it. Grand Kingdom is a tactical turn based JRPG that pulled some really positive reviews in Japan, praising the game's combat depth, art style and online capabilities. However, Grand Kingdom suffers from some of the problems a lot of these titles have - it's a total grindfest. If that's your thing, Grand Kingdom awards you with end game god units and gear to match. I would recommend Grand Kingdom to fans of the genre, even if it may wear a bit thin after a while. 



19) Gears of War 4


Ironically enough, I went out and bought an Xbox One almost exclusively for this game, being a massive fan of the original trilogy. Like I said, in my opinion, 2016 was such a great year for games and with that being said, Gears landed in the 19 spot for me. With The Coalition picking up the franchise, I expected a multitude of changes, and sure enough there are plenty. Some of these are welcome but unfortunately some new mechanics/gameplay elements are simply frustrating, especially in multiplayer. Horde mode proves to be a ton of fun (check out Enrique's Horde Guide), just like always, despite the new (and pretty oppressive) loot system. Multiplayer tends to be a gnasher-filled romp of toxicity, which honestly isn't much of a change either. The campaign is an action filled thrill ride with a lot of highs, which is fantastic. I was glad to see The Coalition is capable of picking up this world where it left off and creating a story that manages to not be an awful experience for the fans of the original games. I can see myself playing a lot of Gears in the future, but honestly mostly just for Horde mode with my buddies. 



18) I Am Setsuna


Oh boy, I Am Setsuna's development diary is almost as intriguing as the game's plot. So back in 2015 Square Enix revealed they created a game development studio entitled "Tokyo RPG Factory" with the sole purpose of "reclaiming the legacy of JRPGs that had once made Square a beloved household name." I Am Setsuna is the debut title from the development team at Tokyo RPG Factory, published by Square Enix. The bad news is Tokyo RPG Factory reported a 244 million yen deficit, but the good news is I Am Setsuna is actually a very well crafted title. I Am Setsuna explores the theme of sadness and sacrifice and shows a great understanding of what made Square Enix so successful at one point in time. While the game is heavily inspired by games like Chrono Trigger and early Final Fantasy titles, I Am Setsuna is unique enough to stand on it's own, with an unforgettable art style and master-crafted characters. I think the reason I Am Setsuna was not as successful as it could have been is due to the mainstream audience simply not being interested, as well as sub par marketing. I only hope to see Tokyo RPG Factory create more fantastic titles in the future.  



17) Battleborn


We have collectively touched on Battleborn multiple times over the year, and I honestly feel like I've said everything I need to say about the game in a past article. Battleborn is a blast, characters are dripping with personality and the PVE maps are a refreshing break from this year's multiplayer focus. However, it feels like Gearbox set themselves up to fail, trying to go head-to-head with Blizzard's titanic fanbase and hype for their own FPS Overwatch. Despite the games' differences, players made a choice and that choice was Overwatch. I still implore you to give Battleborn a shot, as I wrote in my above post, the community can be incredibly welcoming. They just want to play their game!

 I seriously can't even talk about this game without talking about the intro cinematic. Best Intro 2016.
   

16) Kirby Planet Robobot   


Planet Robobot is everything that a Kirby game needs and then some. Nintendo's cute little pink ball...creature's latest game is full of 3D puzzles, colorful and spirited level design and pretty awesome boss fights. The introduction of "mechs" into the world of Kirby seems odd but it's perfect, taking Kirby's trademark absorption ability up a notch by allowing his mech to do the same. Planet Robobot is incredibly easy, but sometimes that's completely fine.  



My next post will be 15-6 and I'll probably end up writing a bit more for each. Thanks for reading and look our for Part 2! 
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