Tagged: Top 5

Of 2016: My Top Five Games

Here's my five favorite, most special games of 2016!

Even making an unordered list of my five top games of 2016 feels really hard this year. I don’t have a thread to tie them all together or any point to make. Maybe it’s the Retro Effect, spending a lot of meaningful time playing, recording, sharing and investigating old stuff. Nevertheless, here are my Top Five most special games of 2016, meticulously ranked… in alphabetical order.

Dragon Quest Builders (PlayStation 4)
I played the Japanese demo early in 2016 but it was Katy who actually picked this one up. After she bounced off I got totally sucked in by the combination of Minecraft with a Quest Log. There are still some glaring oversights that will hopefully be smoothed out in a sequel but giving purpose to the block-placing and crafting was ingenious.

With the NPCs requesting new rooms and personal favors it almost felt like Animal Crossing. Suddenly it wasn’t just “build this room out of dirt”, it was all about building and decorating a room and the town to feel like a real place. Pushing the game’s limits and trying to outsmart the frequent monster invasions only kept me building for hours and hours on end.

Inside (Xbox One)
It’s not flashy or loud or even very long but if you stop for a moment while playing Inside you can tell why it took nearly six years to make. Almost every step of the way has a unique mechanic that makes you feel like you’ve mastered its nuances by the time you move on.

It may look simple and flat shaded (the characters don’t even have faces, I hear you say) but there are so many miniscule details in the environments, the physics and the animations that subtly sucked me in. The final stretch was also a huge, shocking surprise that had me playing with one hand while the other clasped my gaping mouth below a wide eyed stare. All this without diary entries to explain the story or even spoken dialog.

The Last Guardian (PlayStation 4)
Had this come out on the same schedule as its predecessors (which would put it around 2009) it would’ve been my Game of the Year without doubt. But so far removed from its original time and place it’s hard to fall totally in love with it. The Last Guardian is exactly the combination of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus and nothing more. In fact, it’s missing a few things. There’s no villain which made ICO’s finale so memorable and what is here is more confusing than emotionally resonant.

Still, I found myself in love with Trico for most of the game, talking to it in the same way I would a pet. Questioning where it’s going, chiding it for making perilous jumps and giggling at its antics were all reactions I never expected to feel from a game. Not even my beloved Preston from Petz Hamsterz elicited a real reaction like this. What dulls these amazing moments with Trico are the times when you can practically see the AI routines running. I tried to convince myself it was acting naturally and that this was a “real” creature but I couldn’t help being resigned at times to wait for it to finish its equations.

I may sound down on it but The Last Guardian is absolutely a Top Five for me. Its luster may diminished after all the years in mothballs but it’s still totally unique, memorable and special to me.

Starbound (Steam)
Similarly long in development was Starbound, a spiritual expansion of Terraria which I already loved to pieces. There had been plenty of alpha and beta builds over the years but I really wanted to wait for a 1.0 release to jump in. Like so many other games I’ve enjoyed in the last few years, it’s the mystery of how Starbound works and what sights there are to discover that satisfied me so much. Now that I think of it, it’s also a little like Dragon Quest Builders in that it adds a loose structure to the otherwise directionless crafting that’s typical of the genre.

It was made all the more special by playing it with Katy at my side. There are a few quirks to it but the way Starbound manages everyone’s unique, randomly generated universes across multiplayer is downright elegant. We were able to establish a shared planet where we built a home and farmed our crops while venturing out on quests, delving deep into dangerous otherworldly depths. Hilariously, we found ourselves robbing these quest locations blind, “shopping” for new decorations and materials while rescuing NPCs and fighting bosses.

Being a cute and colorful “2D Minecraft” made the soundtrack hit even harder. Curtis Schweitzer’s score makes even mundane farming feel meaningful and while it looped a lot for the 90 hours we were playing I couldn’t bring myself to turn it off. It was my Soundtrack of the Year for good reason and makes the game feel even more alive.

The Witness (PlayStation 4)
It’s hard for me to call this one as I’m writing this almost exactly a year after I last played it. Right at this moment I can’t recall playing The Witness very clearly but I remember the way it made me feel. Smart! Sure, I stumbled at understanding plenty of its mechanics and had to look up hints and ultimately some naked solutions. But there are hundreds of puzzles to unravel in the game and I sussed out the majority of them on my own, with my own brain. Just like Jonathan Blow’s previous game, Braid, The Witness has a way of making your head feel swimmy in the most empowering way. It’s like turning your head sideways and seeing something that wasn’t there before.

One of the defining moments — which I really hope you’ve had for yourself if you don’t know where this is going — is realizing that the puzzles aren’t contained to the little panels where you draw lines and shapes. Perspective is the key to the game and it is almost narcotically mind altering the first time you see it. Like everyone else I was seeing shapes in real life for weeks and spent hours reading theories and explanations on reddit when I wasn’t able to play.

Who knows, maybe it really did expand my mind as 2016 has been enlightening for me in so many ways, in and out of gaming. I may not be able to recall a lot of it right now but those feelings haven’t left me and for that it deserves to be a Top Five.

Of 2015: My Top Five Games

of2015-top5

Just as I was mellow on proclaiming bad games, so to am I chill on my favorite ones. Maybe with age my emotional reactions have settled or maybe my brain doesn’t catalog “Best” and “Worst” like it used to. There’s just one new pile in the middle of my mind palace labeled “Good” and everything falls near it. If that is what my brain looks like then these are the five games sitting closest to the top of the pile.

of2015-top51

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PlayStation 4)
Duh! Anyone who caught anything I said about games this year should’ve seen this one coming. While I have decided that Peace Walker is a more authentic Metal Gear game, Phantom Pain takes most of its gameplay concepts and blows them out to bewildering proportions. Building up Mother Base, developing hundreds of items and stealing everything and everyone in sight with Fulton balloons remained immensely satisfying. Kicking around the open world could’ve used more variety after the first 100 hours but I was still there at 200 hours replaying missions and finding new things to do. Then there’s the soundtrack which was one of my favorites of the year, the harrowing one-on-one FOB infiltrations and even the class-based multiplayer mode that I spent a dozen hours with.

of2015-top52

Spelunker World / Minna de Spelunker Z (PlayStation 4)
Duh again! This game was the major reason I wanted a PlayStation 4 to begin with and it has not disappointed! I’ve loaded it up almost every single day since April, I’ve been through all the levels on the Japanese version and I’m doing it again now that it’s available in English. The music is infectious and catchy, the gameplay is daunting like platformers used to be, and the slow progression is satisfying to surmount. Playing the Japanese version alone, despite my evangelizing for friends to join, also added to the mystery about how things work and what does what. I really can’t explain my fascination with this game any further.

of2015-top53

Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PlayStation 4)
EDF 4.1 was an absolute shameful joy to experience the first time through. Why shameful? It’s really just a remix of 2014’s EDF 2025, but the minor changes and improvements kept making me grin. Things like new NPC dialog, a spider robot and light sourced explosions mean nothing to you. To me they stack up like layers of icing on a cake I already loved to eat. We also bought a second PS4 so Katy and I could play online together just like we did with EDF 2025. Where boring couples play World of Warcraft together, we destroy giant insects and protect the citizens together.

of2015-top55

Fallout 4 (PlayStation 4)
Nothing could have prepared me for the shock of wondering if I even enjoy playing Fallout 4. I was super excited when Bethesda finally showed off the game’s features at E3 but digging into it myself… *crickets*. Having logged hundreds of hours with Fallout 3 and Skyrim within the last four years, I may not have had nearly enough time to rekindle the excitement.

As I continued to play and explore I finally found my enjoyment in the richly detailed world and encounters. The interactions with NPCs still fall flat but the writing and delivery are better than ever. It’s not every quest but several of them have tugged at my heartstrings, in concept if not execution. The settlement system, the crafting and base building are all fun to interact with even if they seem pointless at times. I’m nowhere near finished with the game so it’s hard to guess how I’ll feel when I’m done. It may sound mostly negative in this post but it makes the list because the impressive, endearing and fun stuff has, so far, outweighed the repetitive and flat moments.

of2015-top54

Rocket League (PlayStation 4)
It’s been well established here on GameLuv that I am not a fan of multiplayer or sports games. I’m not competitive and I’m not driven to win. Rocket League took that ethos and threw it right out the window. For two months it was practically all I played. From spastically chasing the ball to sternly playing my role, from free-for-aller to team player, I got deep down into it and it was a little scary. I didn’t join a clan or anything but I was motivated and frequently shaking from performance anxiety and narrow saves alike. Oh yeah, it’s got a fantastic soundtrack too and it was the first PlayStation game I ever got a Platinum trophy in!

My Top Five of 2014

of2014-top5

No other game in 2014 could touch the sprawling, bewildering sense of amazement and discovery of ArcheAge. Yes it’s my first real MMO experience but it’s far more than just a Warcraft clone. Katy and I spent straight weeks playing with new revelations every day about how crafting works, how farming can be more efficient, how to build vehicles and more. I reached the level cap largely from gathering resources and farming while dodging PvP ambushes. It went on and on until I finally hit the limits of what I could do without a guild or large raid group. Three hundred hours in and I practically quit, cold turkey. I’ll never forget some of those stories I’ve told here on GameLuv and others that were so much more mundane and special.

For those who still don’t understand the obsession with Earth Defense Force, let me sum it up like this: It’s my Borderlands. EDF is all about the next loot drop; the next gun that may be the best thing in the game but is probably something really silly and useless. Earth Defense Force 2025 mixes up the 2017 campaign and adds its own arc for a ridiculous total of 85 missions. New enemies, bigger playfields and character classes that are absolutely unique are what kept Katy and I coming back for over 170 hours. … I kinda can’t wait until we decide to play some more!

I’m not a big fan of mobile games but I am a big fan of Trials so when the free-to-play Trials Frontier hit Android I installed it but didn’t expect much. Yes, it’s full of mobile game “features” like limited energy and repetitive grinding but it’s such a great and massive Trials game I didn’t really care. I was at it every day for months, racing new and unique tracks, setting faster lap times and, yes, grinding for mats to upgrade bike parts. It also has a bunch of NPCs that give you quests and while that was weird at first I kinda miss it when I play other Trials games now. I eventually ran up against the infamous Trials difficulty curve and gave up the struggle but it was months of fun up to then.

How is this so captivating?

How is this so captivating?

Watch Dogs was never going to live up to the next-gen hype that was piled on its shoulders. I was let down too by Ubisoft’s mish-mash of Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto but there were some parts I found captivating. The hacking mechanic enabled me to play like a poltergeist setting up “accidents” while watching from an invisible vantage point. It also revealed the personal lives of Chicago’s populace through simple, touching and sometimes disturbing little vignettes. It made for a unique open world feel and it kept me going right through the abysmal story to keep hackin’ around for about 80 hours.

I didn’t put these games in ranked order this year but I did limit myself to five so the fifth slot is just as important as the first. As such, I’ve been debating with myself for weeks now over the winner. Sunset Overdrive is genuinely funny and plays like combat-Tony-Hawk but SpinTires is a wholly unique experience and in the end, it wins. It’s the digital equivalent of playing with toy trucks as a kid, turning the simple act of getting stuck in the mud into an imaginative and open ended challenge. I’ve felt more accomplishment in moving a truck 100 feet than I have in completing entire other games. It doesn’t hurt that it’s gorgeous to look at and simulates terrain deformation and water unlike any other game.

My Top Five of 2013

It was a crap year in my own reality but in gameland I was able to solve some much bigger problems. Herniated disc? Try scavenging enough supplies from zombie hordes to keep a group of survivors together. Diverticulitis? At least you’re not battling yourself to save the daughter you kidnapped from yourself. These are my five favorite games from 2013 that helped me escape, empowered me, confused and delighted me.

of2013-top5

5. Bioshock Infinite (PC)
Thinking back on it now I’m really not all that fond of Bioshock Infinite. It’s gameplay is simplistic, the world is narrow and the majority of its interactions play out like a carnival ride. But in the first few weeks of its release it couldn’t have been more magical. Why are these sky people in the 1900’s singing The Beach Boys? What are these “tears” that open gateways to mid-80’s France? What’s up with Elizabeth’s finger and Booker’s tattoo? I only got more invested as the story unwound and I explored the wondrous setting of Columbia.

of2013-top4

4. The Stanley Parable (PC)
I came to The Stanley Parable pretty late in the year after more and more hype had been piled on it. I knew what was going to happen and went in not expecting much of a reaction but the thing still floored me. It’s genuinely funny, charming and twisted. Jumping through its hoops and defying the unreliable narrator led to some of the most hilarious and inventive conclusions I’ve seen in a game… and about games.

of2013-top3

3. DmC Devil May Cry (PC)
I was never much of a fan of the original Devil May Cry games so I had no investment in this reboot. I appreciated Ninja Theory’s new direction but it wasn’t until I got to playtest the game in July of 2012 that it hooked me. I came out of the focus group grinning and dying to play more. The final product sees Ninja Theory’s most accomplished gameplay yet with intricate and interchangeable combat systems that are used for more than just fighting.

It’s light on the story compared to Enslaved but its style more than makes up for it. Seeing Dante’s reality bastardized as he’s pulled into Limbo never ceases to amaze me and most of the boss stages are unforgettable. Yup, even now I’m reliving them in my mind and — oh gross, that is one ridiculous Succubus!

of2013-top2

2. State of Decay (Xbox 360)
State of Decay isn’t your typical, warmed over zombie slay-athon. Sure, there’s loads of them to kill and lots of ways to do it but what sets this game apart is its emphasis on survival. Like an Animal Crossing from Hell, the game progresses even when you turn it off. You may come back to find your resources dangerously low, survivors infected, a construction project on hold or someone gone missing.

I could only play for a few hours before I’d get overwhelmed by managing everything only to turn it off and stress out wondering what I’d come back to. It was a terrifyingly intense experience and a unique angle on zombie games that I won’t soon forget.

of2013-most1

1. Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360)
Nowhere else in 2013 did I spend so much time, put in so much work or have so much fun as in GTAV. It was nearly 100 hours before I’d finished playing out Michael, Franklin and Trevor’s stories and exploring their world. Then Katy and I went online and found a crew of international friends to screw around with for another 250 hours. Figuring out Rockstar’s strange rules, maximizing our efficiency in missions and Survival maps, and then blowing our earnings on car parts and clothes was infectious fun.

My Top Five of 2012

Some were short, some lasted months and some of them I still haven’t seen the end of. Here it is, in no finer order than an alphabetical listing, the five games I think most highly of from 2012.


I had longed to play Fez since the first time I saw it, literally five years ago. At the time I was simply excited by its bright, bold pixelart style and what looked like classic platforming. The revelation that the world rotates on sharp 90-degree turns, making for four levels in one only excited me more. But nothing could prepare any of us for the cryptic secrets hidden in almost every screen of what we initially thought was a disappointingly simple platformer. Suddenly the race was on to decode an ancient language that had been staring us in the face for the entire game. The conversation quickly turned from “how do you make it over this gap?” to “did you find the cipher yet?”. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of as the answers were unraveling and a moment in gaming I won’t ever forget.


So strong is the emotional reaction to the events of Faster Than Light that Katy came to hate when I would play it. Of all the games I played this year FTL was the most effective, the most terrifying and satisfying. Despite its tiny, minimal graphics it often left me shaking as resources are slim, an encounter can turn at a second’s notice, and much of your success is dependent on your ability to manage a dozen functions at once.


It’s really hard to think back on Mass Effect 3 before the internet blew its ending out of proportion. Streamlining the game boiled quests down to eavesdropping conversations in another tiny section of the Citadel. The phone-a-friend stuff near the end felt like a cheesy way to get more closure on the game’s menagerie of cast members. The planet scanning was whittled down to a map of boring click-and-run repetition. Meanwhile, you’re supposed to be fighting for Earth and the universe but I spent plenty of time running down my space hamster in the basement of the Normandy.

All that stuff did dull the experience but there was nothing else this year that had as much personal meaning or impact as seeing out my Commander Shepard’s story. I didn’t take offense to the ending but appreciated the exposition that the Extended Cut added and can rest easy knowing no matter what they do going forward that this was a pretty great trilogy. It’s also worth noting that this was the first multiplayer experience I’ve enjoyed since Unreal Tournament 2004 and that’s a triumph all on its own.


Rhythm Party earned a special place in my heart this year. It came along after we moved and found our beloved Pump it Up to be poorly represented in this town. It picked up the slack for dumb dance fun, it reminded me of how much I love Eye Toy Groove and it turned out to be one of the best Kinect games yet. Its crowning achievement is that it gets the tech out of the way and simply lets you dance. There’s no ‘Simon Says’ like Dance Central, all you have to do is make sure you hit the markers that appear on screen with some part of your body.

The music selection in the base game covers the basics well. Oldies, 80’s and modern pop choices are limited but good, there’s plenty of signature Bemani sounds and even the tracks featuring Vanilla Ice are fun to play. It was one of the few games this year that was purely fun and I came back to it repeatedly for entertainment and exercise alike.

A lot like FTL, Trials Evolution twisted my emotional screws in unexpected ways. Also like FTL, Katy hates when I play this game. I mostly gave up on Trials HD but stuck with Evolution long enough to experience the spiritual enlightenment of ‘perseverance through pain’. With instant restarts I was able to struggle through precise maneuvers the game was trying to teach me. Meanwhile, ghosts of my friends racing alongside let me see how they passed certain areas and gave me a goal to shoot for. It’s a brilliantly designed physics puzzler that had me loving and hating it for weeks on end with some memories of triumph that I’ll never forget.

And if anyone was looking for a full-on Top Ten of 2012, here’s a quick list of my second top five favorite games:

  • Tokyo Jungle
  • Spec Ops: The Line
  • Dishonored
  • Don’t Starve
  • Mark of the Ninja