In contrast to the platformers and rhythm games I indulged in last year, 2016 saw me getting back into fighting games in a big way, with bullet hell and hack ‘n slash games on the side to keep my thirst for action quenched. I had the pleasure of playing some absolutely fantastic games this year, and the five games on this list captivated me for countless hours and reminded me just how much fun video games can be.
#5: DEAD OR ALIVE 5: LAST ROUND
Dead or Alive 5 is an absolutely ridiculous fighting game. Every punch is a shotgun blast. Every kick hits like a truck. Little girls do powerbombs and people in Santa outfits get dropkicked off of buildings. In the heat of battle your opponent might get hit by a stray bazooka shot or get launched fifty feet into the air from an exploding floor. It’s bananas. And that’s why it’s so great. Dead or Alive 5 is determined to give you the nuttiest, most high-octane battles it can muster, and it pulls out all the stops. With a huge roster of characters, interactive and destructible environments, and hundreds upon hundreds of moves and combo strings, I found myself captivated and delighted by the madness.
Learning a character in DOA5 is just straight-up fun. Characters have long lists of moves to string together into flashy and satisfying combos, and pulling these off at crucial moments in battle will make you feel awesome. Dead or Alive 5 is the kind of fighting game that everyone can enjoy. There’s plenty of depth and complexity here to please veterans of the genre, but even non-fighting game fans can figure out how to tornado kick people off of 20-story buildings after mashing buttons for a bit. My biggest beef with DOA5 is the fact that you can’t play through Tag Team Arcade mode with two players. What’s up with that?!
#4: RESIDENT EVIL ZERO: HD REMASTER
I became absolutely obsessed with the Resident Evil games in 2007, and played through Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, and 4 while eagerly awaiting the release of RE5. However, I heard mixed things about Resident Evil Zero from many online sources, giving me the impression that the game wasn’t really worth checking out. As such, RE0 flew under my radar until this year, when it and the Resident Evil 1 Remake got HD re-releases on PS4. I picked these up a few months ago to build up some self-hype for the upcoming Resident Evil VII, and I’m incredibly glad that I did.
Resident Evil Zero is pretty much exactly what I want from a Resident Evil game. It’s some good looking, tightly designed, old school Resident Evil, with some fun new mechanics to keep things feeling fresh. You now have two characters to control and juggle items between, and items themselves can be dropped on the floor for later retrieval. The environments are fun to explore, the puzzles are neat and get pretty tricky near the end, and some enemies are absolutely ruthless (MONKEYS!!). I died a lot during my playthrough of RE0 but I never got frustrated. I felt like I had to work to survive, and I had to do a bit of strategizing and fight through some brutal battles to keep my dynamic duo alive. It felt like survival horror, and made for a very satisfying experience. If you enjoy the old school Resident Evil games, you should absolutely play Resident Evil Zero if you haven’t already.
#3: RUNE FACTORY 4
I’ve always loved the concept of the Harvest Moon games, but my short attention span has prevented me from really getting into their relaxing farming experiences. Fortunately for me, Rune Factory 4 gets your attention quickly by dropping your character onto a giant dragon and putting you in charge of a strange town at the very beginning of the game. Rune Factory 4 is basically an action-packed Harvest Moon: farming and swords go hand in hand, sheep and dinosaurs occupy your pens, and you and your neighbors might either engage in friendly conversation or embark on an epic quest.
RF4 contains countless systems and mechanics, but does a great job gradually opening them up for you and teaching you as you go. Before long you’ll be mixing strange medicines and maximizing profits like an old pro – and possibly starting an adorable relationship with one of your fellow townsfolk in the process. What really sold Rune Factory 4 for me was its cast of characters. The townsfolk are all goofy and fun in their own unique ways, and jam-packed with unique dialogue and events. Each day I’d get excited at the simple prospect of seeing what new dialogue my neighbors had for me. Altogether, Rune Factory 4 is a deep, delightful, highly polished life sim that stole huge chunks of time from me this year. Easily one of the coolest 3DS games I’ve played.
#2: NITROPLUS BLASTERZ: HEROINES INFINITE DUEL
Nitroplus Blasterz is a fighting game starring characters from various Nitroplus media. I have not played through any Nitroplus visual novels, and I picked this game up on whim this past summer because it was fairly priced and looked cool in the screenshots. Little did I know how fantastic this game would turn out to be. It has been a long time since I’ve gotten addicted to a game the way I did with Nitroplus Blasterz. Before long I found myself waking up early so I could play it before work, and I lost entire weekends just goofing around in training mode. Nitroplus Blasterz strikes that perfect balance of depth and accessibility, and gives you a big toolbox of moves, throws, cancels, supers, and assists to play around with and construct mind-blowing combos. Never before have I felt so much creative freedom in a fighting game.
The great thing about Nitroplus is that if you ever find yourself asking the question, “I wonder if it’s possible to combo into [insert move here],” the answer is almost always “yes” – you just have to do a bit of experimenting to figure out how to do it. As such, I lost countless hours this year just exploring this game’s possibilities and learning new things. What’s particularly interesting is that most of Nitroplus’ characters are fairly simple – it’s a 4-button fighter, and some characters only have 3 or so special moves to work with. The engine is so free and limitless, however, that you will start finding countless ways to link these moves together and incorporate assists, supers, and all sorts of fun stuff. Nitroplus Blasterz achieves depth not through complicated mechanics or long movelists, but through endless possibilities and experimental freedom. It helps that the characters are super cool, too. (Ouka!!!)
#1: CHILD OF LIGHT
Child of Light was actually one of the first games I bought this year – I wrote a full review of it back in March. In spite of all the other great games I bought and fell in love with since then, Child of Light still remains #1 on my list for 2016. Child of Light is a turn based RPG game, and it’s quite rare for me to enjoy this kind of game as much as I did. One of the reasons I rate this game so highly is how much it surprised me: at the beginning of this year I was all but convinced that I was incapable of truly enjoying a turn-based RPG. I had started thinking very critically about why I enjoy video games, and I had a sinking feeling that Child of Light, in spite of its gorgeous art and presentation, would not be a very enjoyable experience for me. I was prepared for a mouthful of dirt, and I got pumpkin pie instead.
This game is very, very well made. The battle mechanics, while technically turn-based, operate on a sort of real-time timeline which opens things up for plenty of strategizing and exciting battles. Enemy attacks and weaknesses must be learned and exploited, and bosses bring their own special abilities to the table which may require you to fundamentally change your gameplan to succeed. I felt like I won battles because I learned, adapted, and strategized, as opposed to winning through item spamming or overleveling. Much like Nitroplus Blasterz, Child of Light achieves depth not with complex mechanics but with grade-A design and great potential for player freedom. The game also happens to be absolutely gorgeous and has a great soundtrack.
Child of Light is a work of art, plain and simple, and I am truly pleased to have experienced it this year.
SAMURAI WARRIORS 4 – for letting me knock down 100 people by pressing the triangle button
SILENT HILL 3 – for being a fun Let’s Play and for greatly disturbing me
DEATHSMILES – for getting me interested bullet hell games
BLUE REVOLVER – for cementing my interest in bullet hell games
HATSUNE MIKU: PROJECT DIVA X – for giving me an excuse to listen to more Vocaloid music