I definitely did not play as many old releases in 2016 as I would have liked, and I hope to rectify that in the upcoming year. However, I enjoyed most of the ones that I played. These are the five that stood out to me the most, and what it felt like to play them in 2016. For a game to be on this list, it has to meet the following criteria:
- This game did not release in 2016. Games released on December 31, 2015 would be eligible if there were any.
- Games that were ported from one platform to another this year without any major changes qualify.
- Old games that got significant upgrades in the form of a remaster would be eligible for Game of the Year and not this list.
- It’s a game that I played for the first time in 2016. I went back to games like DOOM, Shadow of the Colossus, and Shovel Knight this year, but I had also played them all before. These are all games I first experienced this year.
That’s about it, and it results in this final list of 5 games, most of which are actually fairly modern.
Downwell came out in 2015 and ended up being the only 2015 release that I put significant time into this year. The game is simple in concept and is a great fit on PlayStation Vita. The game is a roguelike where you play as a man falling down a well. You can shoot, but your bullets are limited. You regain bullets by landing on the ground or an enemy. However, landing on the ground also ends your combo. The action is fast and fun, and its a game I bust out occasionally when I want to pass the time. It has completely replaced Nuclear Throne as my short-burst roguelike of choice.
Vanquish is the first of two Platinum games appearing on this list. I got about halfway through writing an OOT for Vanquish before getting side tracked, and if I ever want to finish it I’ll probably have to revisit the game. However, revisiting Vanquish is a pretty appealing proposition. While I have some small gripes about the way certain mechanics work (honestly, the weaknesses of melee attacks are baffling), Vanquish is a game that was kind of ahead of its time. These days a lot of developers are trying to break the mold of third person shooters. Just this year saw attempts from genre stalwarts Naughty Dog and Remedy to add more mobility to the standard cover based affair. However, that’s an easy sell after the glut of Gears of War clones. Vanquish came out in 2010, right in the heart of this trend. While every other developer was trying to imitate the success of Epic Games, Shinji Mikami and his team went in an entirely different direction. There is still no game in the genre that is as fun to play as Vanquish, and it makes me disappointed that these ideas were never expanded upon.
I’m a big fan of the Metal Gear franchise, but I had always been intimidated by the character-action genre. After playing Revengeance this year, I’m more than ready to explore the genre further. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is what would happen if all the absurdity of the Metal Gear games was condensed into a 5 hour, over-the-top action game. The boss fights and the bosses themselves are all epic. The mechanics are incredibly satisfying even if a bit exploitable. And the music is just the most perfect, cheesiest thing you could ask for. It’s the embodiment of videogame absurdity, and I had a blast with it. OOT
I couldn’t choose between these top two games, so they’re going to share the honor as co-Old Games of the Year. Persona 4 is a game that spoke to me on a very personal level. It was my first real introduction to JRPGs, and I have been hesitant with the genre since because I feel like every other game in it will just let me down. Persona 4 is not a perfect game. The dungeons are bad, the final revelation is lame, and there are some other dumb design decisions reminiscent of its time. However, what this game gets right is practically unmatched. Persona 4 is a masterpiece when it comes to character and tone. The small town of Inaba is an incredibly well realized and intimate setting, and the people within it are believable and memorable. The core cast of characters are incredibly endearing, and I grew attached to them in a way that I rarely do with games. After playing the game furiously for a week and getting sucked in, I purposefully pulled back on how much I played it. I knew that once the credits rolled I would have to say goodbye to those characters, and I didn’t want to do that. I dragged out my playthrough to make it last as long as I possibly could. When I finally did beat it, it felt like I was leaving behind real friends. And while I can’t text these friends to catch up, I do still have the memories we shared together. Persona 5 looks to be a better game in every way, but I honestly doubt it will mean as much to me as Persona 4 did. OOT
I’m not even sure what to say about ICO. I played Shadow of the Colossus a couple of years ago, and thought it was the best game I have ever played. I revisited it this year, and yeah, I still think that it’s as good as I could ever imagine a videogame being. But this made me incredibly nervous about playing ICO. I thought there was no way that I wouldn’t be disappointed with Fumito Ueda’s debut game. But with The Last Guardian approaching, I finally decided in November that I should probably get around to a game that has proven to be so influential. I approached the game with trepidation, but ICO blew away all of my expectations. The aesthetic choices are flawless. Everything from the interwoven and believable architecture of the castle to the calculated use of music. The story is poignant. Despite not being able to speak to each other, Ico and Yorda form a true bond. The puzzles are challenging, but they all have an inherent logic and are well designed around that logic. They are also diverse in their challenge despite relying on a limited number of mechanics. A lot of this works because of just how damn well animated ICO is. Ico doesn’t just hold Yorda’s hand, but he drags her along like a little kid excited to show something to his older sister. And he clambers around during combat, because of course this little boy wouldn’t be able to actually fight well. The current trends of minimalist story telling and environmental puzzle solving can be traced back to ICO, but I’ve yet to play a modern effort that tops this 2001 masterpiece.