The best games you might have missed in 2016
There have been so many amazing games this year, but some of the best didn’t get as much press as the big AAA titles. Read on to discover why these games are too good to miss out on
18 Jan 2017
(Image source: Owlboygame.com)
Call it nostalgia, but we’re a sucker for Owlboy’s retro-style graphics and gameplay. With echoes of old-school Metroid and Castlevania, Owlboy feels very much like it could have been at home on the SNES or Megadrive.
Owlboy puts you in the role of Otus, a young mute boy with a special owl cloak that allows him to fly. Otus and his best friend, Geddy, set out to find a way to protect their village against sky pirate raids. It’s a familiar plot that starts off simply but gradually pulls you in as things start to get more serious.
A game like this lives or dies on the strength of its level design and, for the most part, Owlboy’s creators have done a stunning job. Each section of the world feels unique and well realised. You’re taught key gameplay mechanics at a steady pace, but the game also contains secrets designed to reward those who explore and experiment. It’s very rare that you’ll be confused as to which way you should head and the majority of boss fights are satisfying and just challenging enough.
While there are certainly a few rough edges here and there, Owlboy is a labour of love and a retro treat well worthy of your time.
(Image source: Thumpergame.com)
One of our favourite music games is Audiosurf, where complex rollercoasters in the sky are created by tunes in your music library and you speed along a track that sways, turns and dips along to the soundtrack.
Thumper is what we imagine Audiosurf would be like if it was made by the devil himself. Instead of your favourite tunes, you move along the track to a pulsating and relentless beat. Rather than the neon-chrome psychedelic rollercoasters of Audiosurf, Thumper’s are more industrial with strange Lovecraftian ornaments. And Thumper’s tracks are dangerous, suddenly whipping around to force you into a wall or throw you onto spikes. This isn’t the happy clappy singalong world of Audiosurf.
Gameplay becomes faster and faster until you’re the visuals alone don’t give you time to react – audio cues hint at hazards moments before you reach them, letting you get in the zone with Pavlovian responses to each sound. There’s a real treat in store if you’re lucky enough to be able to play Thumper through a VR headset – the game becomes a terrifyingly immersive sensory overload.
Thumper is nightmarishly addictive and the blending of soundtrack and gameplay has rarely felt as perfect as this.
(Image source: Steam)
How much information do you give up on Social Media? What would happen if someone was monitoring every post you make, every text or phone call, to see if you were a potential threat?
Orwell puts you in the morally terrifying position of monitoring the communications of a group of people to see if they are terrorists or not. You sift through blog posts, social media profiles, phone calls and more looking for potentially relevant information and report it all to the government.
It’s utterly chilling and utterly compelling. It’s very clear from early on how important your actions will be, as your government handler frequently has a much more sinister interpretation of data you give him than you may have expected. Words posted in jest or when angry can take on a whole new meaning when taken out of context, or when an outside agency is looking for evidence to justify their agenda…
There’s some great writing in Orwell. The main characters are complex and well rounded, with hidden depths and motivations. The game feels increasingly tense as the real-world situation around them becomes more dangerous, and you realise that your choices could have very major ramifications for a large number of people.
And choice you do have – key events in the game can change dramatically depending on the information you choose to share or hide, lives can be lost as you head towards three radically different endings.
This is a short but thoughtful game for the mature player that rewards multiple playthroughs.
Dragon Quest Builders
(Image source: YouTube)
Taking a break from the epic main series of RPGs, Dragon Quest Builders sometimes feels more like Minecraft than Final Fantasy. Set in an alternative version of the Dragon Quest 1 world, this sees you having to pick up the pieces and very literally rebuild the kingdom after the hero from DQ1 failed to beat the Dragonlord.
You’ll be doing plenty of building and plenty of fighting as you seek out resources to complete your latest masterpiece, and it all feels much more focused than Minecraft. Add to this the friendly, anime-inspired visuals and the game’s sense of humour and even menial tasks don’t feel like a chore. You always feel like you’re working towards a goal and that what you’re doing has purpose.
Of course, you can just ignore the storyline and get creative. DQB’s building tools are comprehensive and easy to use, letting you shape everything from a huge castle to giant statues of your favourite monsters from the series. Great stuff.
(Image source: Oneshot-game.com)
This is a very hard game to write about, because giving too much away will spoil the experience. This is a game about taking time to explore, talk to characters and discover a world where the characters believe you, as in the real you, are actually a god and are guiding them to their destiny.
This is a game that does some quite unexpected things. Like the similarly lo-fi game Pony Island, OneShot’s opening sections barely hint at the truth of the game and its not until you scratch the surface that the things that make this so interesting start coming to light. One thing we’ll recommend – do play this in the recommended windowed mode.
Although OneShot is only a few hours long, the game packs in more imagination than many full-price titles. Well worth seeking out if you fancy something different.
(Image source: Steam)
After two games you could play through in an evening each, here’s something that can give you dozens of hours entertainment. Stardew Valley is a heartwarming sandbox game where you quit your boring office job to take over a run-down farm. As you explore your land and the surrounds, you’ll discover a small town full of people you can befriend and help.
Clearly inspired by Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley lets you play at your own pace, create the farm you want and even fall in love and get married. It’s a gentle, kind experience that feels like a soothing antidote to the glut of explosive, frantic shooters.
(Image Source: Steam)
Ever dreamed of owning your own theme park? Planet Coaster lets you create amazing parks, rides and rollercoasters and adjust to your heart’s content. Oh, and you can also have a go on every ride you create, seeing exactly how it looks in first person. Wheeeeeeeeeee!
One of the best things about Planet Coaster is how simple it is to get started. The user interface is extremely intuitive and you can have a very basic layout of your park finished within minutes. From landscapes to rides, editing your work is a simple process that hides the depth of the results you can achieve.
This is very much a game where you’re given the freedom to create your dream park. It’s not hard to make money, and it’s rare you’ll find yourself unable to afford to make the changes you want. The idea is to create something, see how it works and then polish to perfection.
Even better, there’s a huge and very talented community for Planet Coaster. It’s simple to share designs for rides or parks, and you can download some absolutely stunning content for free. That’s to say nothing of the updates provided by the developers themselves, including a huge free winter update with new rides, scenery and features.
Along with Cities Skylines, Planet Coaster has given us more accidental late nights than any other game this year.
(Image source: Playstation)
Slow, sprawling and complex, The Witness places you on a seemingly uninhabited island filled with strange devices. As you explore, you’ll discover hidden clues that unlock both the puzzles and the hidden mysteries of the island.
This feels very much like a next-generation Myst, where paying careful attention to what you see and hear will reward the patient. The game gives you a great degree of freedom to explore, so you’ll normally be able to work your way through several different areas even if you get stuck on one particular puzzle.
The Witness rewards your intelligence and slowly reveals its secrets as you complete more and more of its well-designed puzzles. It’s a contemplative experience that leaves you feeling richer for having played it.