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Spencer’s games of 2016

It’s Cane and Rinse contributor Spencer Saunders’ turn to look back at the videogames of 2016 upon which he wishes to bestow awards

We’ve reached that wonderful time of the year where the lists and recap article chipmunks come out of their hibernation burrows to make little list and recap babies.

I won’t bore, disturb, and/or excite you with the details of such things. Rather I’ll toss my own pair of chipmunks into the word processing meadow so that you may revel in the product of their merriment.

I present to you, the ‘Rinsies’:

For Most Outstanding Use of Licensed Music Since Scrubs: Life Is Strange

Life Is Strange

Early this year I sat down with a good friend of mine and over the course of a month we played through Dontnod Entertainment’s second title. From the opening scenes the music and sound design set the mood.

I mention Scrubs in the award title, because like the early 2000’s sitcom, Life Is Strange uses its music to reinforce its powerful emotional and dramatic moments. Beyond just the music, the game plays to its strengths; it keeps puzzles simple, and there’s rarely a dull moment happening in the story.

For Showing Up at the Wrong Time: The Witness

the witness

I wrote about The Witness in February. I gave its puzzle design and beautiful world high praise. Yet I still have under two hours of time spent in it. “Fraud!” you may be yelling at your computer screen. How could I write such great things about the game and then barely play it afterwards?

Life, mostly. Classes and such nonsense. It is still installed on my laptop, and sits among a handful of other games in my ‘Need to Play’ folder on Steam.

As is the case with many people, once I am away too long from a game, especially one that requires as much thought as The Witness, I have trouble going back.

For Being Really Gosh Darn Innovative and Cool: SUPERHOT

superhot

Much like The Witness, SUPERHOT was a bit of an impulse buy. There was a fair amount of buzz around it, and it seemed like it was just the sort of thing I would enjoy. Unlike The Witness, I played through a fair chunk of SUPERHOT, completing the campaign in the first night, and diving into the challenge modes.

The game gets away with being so short by being well, really gosh darn innovative… and cool. Each level, no matter how simple, feels carefully hand-crafted. SUPERHOT captures the thrill of action movies better than almost any other videogame. In my mind it stands among peers like Max Payne 3 and Far Cry 3.

For My Favourite Co-op Campaign Experience: Salt & Sanctuary

Salt and Sanctuary

Salt & Sanctuary could win so many awards. Unfortunately, the strict governing body of The Rinsies – me – does not allow for any one game to receive more than one award.

I found the game fantastic to play alone; all of the monsters and bosses posed a challenge that I hadn’t faced since probably hours before, when I was playing Bloodborne. Couch co-op is a feature sadly lacking in many modern games, which makes it all the more refreshing here.

From Software obfuscates co-op so much in their games that I’ve barely attempted using it. While Salt & Sanctuary isn’t immediately clear on how to initiate co-op, it can easily be found online, and can be done within minutes of starting the game.

The only issue is finding someone willing to brave the challenges and frustrations of Salt’s mysterious world.

For Not Sticking With Me Like LIMBO Did: INSIDE

inside

Playdead’s follow-up to Limbo was on my radar since it was announced, whenever that happened to be. While playing the game, I loved it. I played through it twice mere days apart, the second time to show my cousin how interesting it was.

For reasons that I’ve yet to put my finger on, it hasn’t stuck with me like LIMBO did. Perhaps the fact that it is so close, some may even say identical, to LIMBO mechanically.

Or maybe it was the art style that threw me off; while I think that it is stunning, to me it doesn’t feel as unique to the time as what LIMBO did.
Whatever the reason, I still think it’s certainly worth giving INSIDE a go.

For Being Neat, But Not All I’d Hoped That They Would Be: Journey, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

brothersjourney

This summer was pretty great for me in terms of game consumption. In addition to INSIDE I completed Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Kentucky Route Zero and the two games mentioned above. We’ll get to one of those others in a minute, but first Journey and Brothers.

I won’t deny that these are both beautiful games in their own rights. Brothers has a fairy tale magic that captures the wonders and horrors of youth, and Journey creates an experience that couldn’t be had outside of an interactive medium.

The first time I found a friend in Journey was a wonderful gaming moment. And the scene in which you must hide from the giant serpents was an excellent piece of both sound design and, to some degree, horror.

In Brothers – and I’ll remain vague to avoid spoilers – there was a scene that, because I failed and couldn’t just retry, had a much greater impact on me than if I had reset or succeeded.

I can see pieces of wonder in these games, but neither as a complete package gave me the revelatory experience that they have done for others. This isn’t a bad thing. It just makes those experiences even more special when they do come around.

For Excellence in, Specifically, Science-Fiction Narrative, without all that Pesky Gameplay: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody's Gone To The Rapture

Wow, that is a really specific category to have an award for. Good luck to future games I guess. I feel like whoever wrote the guidelines for The Rinsies was just making up categories to fit what he or she wanted to talk about regarding this year in gaming. Oh well!

For me, Rapture captured what I imagine many people got from The Chinese Room’s previous release, Dear Esther.

For me, Esther was too on-rails, and I had a difficult time following what the narrative was about. The people who did ‘get it’ though seemed to really love it.

Rapture takes the same traversal mechanic, walking, and opens it up to a whole English town. The story is told through small snippets that you can piece together on your own.

The beauty of the storytelling is that it is, in my opinion, about the people, not the event happening around them.

In a lot of sci-fi, the event, whatever it may be, is the focus of the story, oftentimes at the expense of deep characters and emotional connections. Here, the event is part of the setting; a backdrop that brings out the best and worst in these people.

For Being My Favourite Game of All Those That I Played in 2016: The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle

Much like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, The Talos Principle’s biggest strength is that it is barely about the event that has taken place, but again about the people affected, and how they deal with it.

Unlike Rapture’s completely vocally driven narrative, Talos introduces text and audio logs, a voiced character, and interactive text-based characters. Each variation of storytelling is bringing a different perspective, not only to the events that have and are unfolding, but on life and philosophy.

For most people, however, the story is not where the majority of time will be spent. Thankfully the puzzles and world design are on par with the level of writing. The puzzles teach by doing. In some ways almost every level is a tutorial, and at the same time none of them are.

There wasn’t a mechanic that overstayed its welcome, and again, like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, I believe you will likely get out of the story whatever you’re willing to put in.

For The Most Fun I Had Playing Co-op Party Experience: Overcooked

Overcooked

Many arguments were had as to whether Overcooked is more of a party or campaign experience. There are set levels, and an ending to the game, but the mechanics and simplicity ooze of Mario Party and its ilk.

Because of the simplicity of the game, it’s hard to really pin down what shines about Overcooked. The whole package is just… good. I’ve played the game with five different people. Every one of them is hooked and understands how to play within the first couple levels.

Much like the first time you step out of Vault 101, there is a magic that comes with the first time of playing Overcooked. I envy every new person that I play with, and at the same time feel bad for playing with them, as, and I don’t mean to brag, I know exactly what I’m doing.

If you have even one person to play games with, give Overcooked some consideration. The process of going from chaos to order in a kitchen is something rather special.

For My Favourite Bit of Hardware Purchased in 2016: Nintendo 2DS

Being a proud resident of Vita Island, I’m very late to the 2DS/3DS experience. I had a DS and DSi, so I knew some of what they had to offer, but now that I can have 2 different Mario Karts and Donkey Kong Jr. available to me without swapping cartridges is a miracle.

This whole ‘Rinsies’ awards shtick is (blatantly) just my year in review in a very poor disguise, and I couldn’t cover my year without giving a shout-out to a fantastically affordable handheld.

For Being My Favourite 21st Birthday Present: Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

DARK SOULS II: Scholar of the First Sin

I know I’ve already given my ‘GotY’ to Talos Principle, and I stand by that, but Dark Souls II, Bloodborne, Overcooked, and Salt & Sanctuary were all also in the race for it.

When compared to Bloodborne, Scholar does a lot of things that get on my nerves: the enemies disappearing after so many kills feels too hand-holdy, the loss of health with each death feels too punishing, and not being able to move and heal really just ruins my groove.

Other things aren’t bad, but feel a bit off after coming from over a hundred hours in Yharnam: weight limits change my play-style and invasions seem more common (though this could be that I played a lot of Bloodborne offline).

All this being said, there is a lot that I love about Dark Souls. Perhaps I’m just thrilled to be in a new ‘Soulsborne’ world, but it feels like there is more to see and do. If I’m lost and don’t know where to go, I can work on lighting torches or explore an area that I previously neglected. The NPCs are actually friendly instead of rude or disturbed, and the fast travel feels far more fluid.

I have no idea what is going on, and no idea how much more I have left to do, and I absolutely love it.

For having a Photo Mode, Bots, and Map Creator: very DOOM

doom

I played the demo for very DOOM on Steam very briefly earlier this year. Beyond that I haven’t touched it. Recently however, I have been able to, through completely legal means, acquire two free copies for me and my brother for Christmas. Because of my limited play time with it, I’m awarding it for things I’m glad it has done outside of normal gameplay, and am really hoping has done well.

If there is anything I wish more games have, it’s a photo mode. The inFAMOUS games of this generation, Second Son and First Light, have wonderful photo modes, and I find that to be almost as enjoyable, and sometimes more so than the actual game. If I could disable trophies for Souls games and set up elaborate shots, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

As for the bots, well, I grew up with bots. Timesplitters 2 still sits among the top five FPSs in my list, mainly because the bots allowed for an online-like experience without actually needing to deal with the plethora of issues that I have with playing online.
My love of map editors also comes from TimeSplitters 2 as well as the Tony Hawk franchise. Being able to create not only excellent capture the bag levels, but also mini story missions, was a joy.

The quality of both bots and map creators has changed throughout the years along with my patience for such things, but here’s to hoping that it, along with the coming year, is good.

If you enjoyed this, you can check out Spencer’s writing on many of the winning games here, or you can check out his mostly silly stories here.

2 Comments

  1. A very interesting list. After having played it during a mild case of the flu last January, The Talos Principle is one of my most intense and favourite gaming experiences ever. It’s one of the few games where the logs are interesting to read and follow. Combined with the challenging puzzles and existential themes it’s a game I’ll never forget.

  2. Thanks Mark! I didn’t have the flu or anything like that while playing, but there were some late night spent with The Talos Principle. It is definitely among my favorite games because of how great the writing was, and how well it was integrated with the gameplay.

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