Doom. Hitman. Uncharted 4. These are just a few of the big budget, triple-A games everybody is talking about right now. But you already know how great those games are, so I have a different idea. Instead of repeating the same batch of titles you've seen on countless Game of the Year lists, we're going to count down the Top 10 Games You (Probably) Missed in 2016. These are some of the best games nobody is talking about. So let's change that. Here's what you missed.
Escape: Close Call
Escape: Close Call is a perfect example of what I'm going for with this list. It's a game that has enough problems to keep it off of my best of the year list, but fun enough to keep me engaged long after I finished the review. It has the kind of simple premise that makes you wonder if it will be fun after a few plays. But it is, and it seems to only get better the more I play it. You basically just drive around an overhead map escaping the police. You get points for every near-miss and close call, and the game quickly ramps up the difficulty, making it hard to keep a run going for more than a few minutes.
In that sense, Escape: Close Call reminds me of the rows of games that used to line the arcades before fighting games took over. It's all about speeding around and taking chances in order to earn a new high score. It also has a great retro look and fun premise that makes it nearly impossible to put down. Unfortunately, it's dogged by some technical problems that occasionally get in the way. They are minor, though, and pale in comparison to the fun you get out of Escape: Close Call.
If you ever wished Wonder Boy would come back as a sexy bunny rabbit who teams up with a scantily clad fairy, then Rabi Ribi is the game for you. It's an admittedly silly set-up that somehow works. This anime-inspired Metroidvania-style action game is overflowing with personality. Well, that and teenage girls. Actually, it's mostly teenage girls. It's a whole island filled with them, and they seem to have it out for our bunny hero. Thankfully we're carrying a giant mallet.
Rabi Ribi was published by Sekai Project, a company best known for their long line of visual novels. This adventure game has as a lot of dialog, but the focus here is on the fast-paced action and exploration. There's a lot to see and find on Rabi Ribi Island, and I really enjoyed the retro look and diverse stages. It's not always original, but Rabi Ribi is a great time with a fun sense of style. Hopefully this is a sign Sekai Project will continue to expand their line-up beyond pervy visual novels.
Who knew that one of this year's most intense thrillers would be a game played on a fake cell phone? Replica may look like a mobile experience, but it's actually a clever graphic adventure where you have been captured by the government and forced to search for clues of terrorism on a stranger's locked phone. It's a killer concept that constantly made me feel uneasy, in a good way.
This $3 game is played entirely from the screen of a stranger's phone. The whole thing is you searching around, learning about the owner's life, friends, relationships and hobbies. We use apps and call people for more information. That's it. And yet, that's all it needs to be. The simplicity helps this thriller, keeping it on track and focused. Best of all, there are a lot of different endings, so you can play through Replica in all kinds of ways. This is one of the year's best thrillers.
Hyper Bounce Blast
In an era when everybody expects 2D shoot-em-ups to look and act a certain way, Flump Studios is a breath of fresh air. Between last year's Horizon Shift and now Hyper Bounce Blast, it's obvious that this is a developer bursting with great ideas. Here we're given a clever idea that mixes Space Invaders, Geometry Wars and a little Super Mario Bros. It's an action-packed exercise that sees you bouncing off of enemies, jumping off walls and shooting everything that comes close.
The reason this works is because the gameplay feels natural. There's nothing forced about the platforming and shooting, it all flows together seamlessly and creates something truly original. In fact, the concept is so good that it's a shame Flump didn't go even more over-the-top. There's so much room for power-ups and new weapons, something I would love to see in a sequel. I can't wait to see what Flump comes up with next.
For as much as I dug it, I will freely admit that The Way is not for everybody. This is a game made specifically for those of us with nostalgia for old rotoscope games, like the original Prince of Persia, Another World and Flashback. While it doesn't put the same emphasis on silky smooth animation, The Way does transport you to an alien world filled with puzzles to solve and weird creatures to kill. It doesn't hold your hand or constantly tell you what to do, it expects you to explore these alien worlds and figure it out.
Of course, the reason all this works is because of the emotionally satisfying story and constantly diverse locations. There are some truly breathtaking moments, which is not something you can always say about pixel graphics. Best of all, many of the issues I had in my initial review (including a particular puzzle that completely kills the momentum) have been addressed. Some may take issue with the slow pacing and old school controls, but The Way left an impact on me. Especially in a year marked with so much death.
Apparently 2016 was the year of the rabbit, because here's yet another game starring a bunny on a mission. Far away from Ribi Rabi Island is Dr. Banfield, a treasure-hunter who was cursed to live the rest of his life as a rabbit. This sets up a surprisingly engaging and gorgeously realized adventure game with a likable mascot hero and diverse selection of stages. It's the kind of game that is constantly pushing us forward, constantly showing us something new. And best of all, it's not afraid to go completely over-the-top, often aping things you might see in Metal Gear.
A lot of the reason all this works so well is because of the cast, which the developers take time to develop over the course of the game. It also helps that the gameplay is fast-paced and constantly evolving. And I like that the stages aren't connected together, like most games in the genre. We're given a bunch of large stages to explore, with plenty of reasons to revisit them throughout the lengthy adventure. This is the way to make a 2D mascot game in the 21st century.
Leap of Fate
Not to be confused with the Steve Martin movie Leap of Faith, Leap of Fate is a cyberpunk action game that mixes elements from board games and roguelikes. What starts out like a standard dual-stick shooter quickly turns into something deeper. We're given fun super-powers to play around with and abilities to unlock, leading to a similar role-playing-style experience we saw in last year's Hand of Fate. This takes the genre-swapping antics in a completely different direction, and players are treated to dozens of action-packed shoot-em-up stages.
While we've certainly seen some of these ideas before, Leap of Fate pieces them all together in an immensely satisfying package. It's a lot of fun controlling the four characters, and I like that each of them feels unique. They have different powers and fighting styles, which kept me coming back. I also liked that we're given a lot of back story, something that helps flesh out this world and made me care for the characters. That's rare for a dual-stick shooter, and just one of the many things about Leap of Fate that surprised me.
The Count Lucanor
These days, it's all too common for games to launch broken. It's not every game, but enough of them debut with game-breaking bugs to poison the water. Sadly, that was the case with The Count Lucanor, a bold and surprising adventure game that is equal parts Legend of Zelda and Silent Hill. You explore the surroundings, run away from bad guys and make choices that will change how the story develops. It was an immediately likable game with just one problem -- it was completely busted when it launched. I couldn't even launch the game after a while.
Thankfully, all that is in the past and The Count Lucanor finally works properly. This is one of the few times I've decided to go back to a game after running into so many technical problems, and I'm glad I did. This is a twisted little fairy tale that was completely overlooked by its target audience. I'm a big fan of the pixel graphics and the way the story unfolds, especially when it comes to how violent the castle can be. There's something special about The Count Lucanor, and more people need see for themselves.
In a year that often felt like a dumpster fire, Tadpole Treble was just the thing I needed. It's not only the most delightful game I've played all year, but has the best original soundtrack. The game manages to seamlessly jump between musical genres and create a collection of songs that range from funny to scary to sad. There's a lot of heart in every song, and I love how every stage looks and plays a little differently. I know it looks cute and simple, but there are some genuine surprises sprinkled throughout the harrowing adventure.
More than anything else, Tadpole Treble understands that every song needs to be memorable. Like a good musical, I should go away humming. And that's exactly what I did. Rhythm games can learn a lot from the music in Tadpole Treble, and I hope to hear more songs in future BitFinity releases. If you felt 2016 was a dark and dreary year full of disappointments, then Tadpole Treble will perk you right up.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human
No game was better at world building than The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human. By combining elements from Shadow of the Colossus and Super Metroid, YCJY has managed to create something truly special. The 2D retro-inspired world you explore is painstakingly detailed and filled with incredible enemies. It perfectly captures that melancholy feeling of seeing the world you once loved dead and buried under an ocean of water, all while delivering a fun and exciting action game you absolutely must play.
Much like Shadow of the Colossus, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human centers around a bunch of lengthy boss fights. These encounters are all completely different, and you never know what you're getting next. That's the fun of a game like this, and I can't imagine anybody being disappointed with the variety and ambition of these bosses. I also love how much the game conveys without writing. It's a haunting world I loved exploring and couldn't stop thinking about. Twelve months later and I'm still thinking about The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human. It's that good.