Warp Zoned’s 2016 Golden Pixel Awards: A Look Back at the Year in Video Games

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In a very real way, the game industry wiped the slate clean in 2016.

After nearly a decade of development difficulties, Square Enix unleashed Final Fantasy XV on the world. Fumito Ueda and Sony Japan Studio overcame similar troubles to finally release The Last Guardian. Id Software shook off the past and was reborn after the launch of the fourth game in the Doom franchise. Blizzard closed the book on their failed “Titan Project” with the release of Overwatch. Naughty Dog said goodbye to Nathan Drake, but gamers said hello to altered realities that were both “augmented” and “virtual.” Nintendo found new kingdoms to conquer with Super Mario Run. And the launch of No Man’s Sky taught us that while the hype machine sometimes fails to deliver, the chance for a brighter tomorrow is always there.

But before we venture off into that great unknown, let’s look back at some of gaming’s highlights from 2016.

The Apocalypse List
The bombs have fallen, the economy has collapsed, food is scarce, the zombie hordes are scratching at your door, and you’ve boarded yourself up in a bunker that’ll stand for a hundred years. What better way to spend your time in “The Vault” than by playing Warp Zoned’s favorite games from 2016? If there were no developers around to make new games, these are the games we’d keep playing if we had all the time in the world…

I spent most of a month engrossed in a slow progression through the world of Dark Souls III, fervently celebrating when I manage to defeat a boss or pass an area that claimed my life 100 times over. So Hidetaka Miyazaki’s masterpiece has to be on the list, because even though I have yet to finish it, it would haunt me for eternity if I did not finish linking the flame. And besides, it probably has more secrets hidden in its shadows than I could ever hope to find. – Andrew Rainnie

Doom 2016 is a throwback to the game we all thought we played back in 1993… a fast-paced splatterfest that’s packed with guns and ghouls. But the original Doom was never this fast nor this inventive. Even the addition of Glory Kills, melee-style finishers that make enemies erupt in a shower of ammo and health kits, makes perfect sense in this world. With a seemingly contradictory emphasis on pure mayhem and strategic thinking, the 2016 reboot redefined the shooter and we’re all luckier for having got to play it last year. – John Scalzo

Do you like the RPG elements of Dragon Quest? Do you like building elements of Minecraft? Well then have we got a gem for you! Dragon Quest Builders, a spinoff to the Dragon Quest franchise, plays like a Dragon Ball Z-esque fusion dance of those two games. The goal of the game is to restore peace to a land overtaken by monsters by rebuilding civilization for the last remaining humans. You’ll gather materials, craft weapons and armor, and battle waves of classic Dragon Quest baddies as they try to destroy your towns. I was immediately sucked in by the fan service… especially to those who played Dragon Warrior to death. The music is all updated versions of classic tunes, the characters are cartoony and bright, and the battle mechanics are fast and fun. If there ever was a game that I would take with me to the end of time, it’s this one. – Mike Ryan

Final Fantasy XV has been gaming’s Holy Grail for more than a decade. But even after undergoing a platform jump and a name change, it still managed to cultivate the same epic sense of wonder that the series is known for. After all this, the question becomes, what can Square Enix do for an encore? – John Scalzo

My hype levels for Hyper Light Drifter were through the roof. I was beyond excited to play the game, and when it finally arrived, I was not disappointed. There are four main areas to the game, each one with its own unique setting, monsters, and secrets. And, of course, each area has its own intense, unforgiving boss fight that brought me back to my Titan’s Souls days. While the gameplay and story were both incredible, Disasterpeace really stole the show with the score. The game’s parallels to another favorite of mine, Fez, were tangential but visceral: I had the same feeling of loneliness and immersion. And as I unlocked more and more abilities, I was able to go back and find more and more secrets. This is definitely a game I could play well past the end of society. – Nicole Kline

Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is the third entry in the Championship Edition series, and fans expected to see gorgeous neon-lit mazes and high-speed Dot chomping. Bandai Namco delivered, but the publisher also added a few new moves to Pac-Man’s repertoire for CE2… along with boss battles. Perfection is an almost impossible goal, but Bandai Namco nearly made it with Pac-Man Championship Edition 2. I think I prefer the more precise pathfinding found in Championship Edition DX, but this sequel is still a tremendously good game. I’ve already sunk dozens of hours into it, and I’m sure I’ll return to it again and again in the coming weeks and months. – John Scalzo

I got a late start on Pokemon Go… I started six weeks after everyone else because, to my horror, I had a phone that couldn’t run it. We were due to upgrade anyway, and the first thing I did with my new phone was to download Pokemon Go. I’m at level 30 now, pushing level 31, and every day it’s a new adventure, especially since they introduced the Gen 2 babies. While I’ve never had the urge to sincerely “catch ’em all” in a normal Pokemon game, Pokemon Go has me considering it as a viable option. I’m looking forward to the full Gen 2 unlock! – Nicole Kline

Pokemon Sun and Moon, like all main storyline Pokemon games I’ve played, won’t be leaving my 3DS anytime soon. There’s so much to do in the game (beyond just normal JRPG grinding) that I have tons to do. Even after the bombs hit, I’m sure I could put in another hundred hours or more! – Nicole Kline

Superhot is a shooter that can be whatever you want it to be. The puzzling aspects of each level are very cerebrally challenging, and the action bits create the perfect moments for superheroic setpieces. And after finishing the game, players can even unlock an Endless Mode to battle wave after wave of Red Guys and Challenge Levels to perfect their Superhot skills. I’m in love with Superhot’s Red-Black-White world, and the tricky mind games it plays with you to solve its many puzzles. While not a typical shooter by any stretch of the imagination, I think it’s safe to say that Superhot is one of the most innovative shooters to come along in a long time. – John Scalzo

I didn’t want to like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End for so many reasons. The main reason was that it wasn’t Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which isn’t really fair. But no matter how hard I tried, I still ended up loving the game, and like other Uncharted games before it, I would absolutely replay it again and again. With its stunning graphics, super intuitive gameplay, and (as always) a delightful storyline, it’s a game any fan could come back to and replay… especially to get their mind off the apocalypse. – Nicole Kline


The Post-Apocalypse List
Because sometimes ten isn’t enough.

It feels wrong to complete our look back at 2016 without also talking about Overwatch… because, come on… it’s Overwatch. No other game captured the imagination of the gaming community last year quite like Blizzard’s shooter, but it just missed the cut-off for our Apocalypse List. – John Scalzo


The Participation Trophy
The Participation Trophy is awarded to a game that wasn’t necessarily great, but it was great that we got to play it.

Winner (Tie): The Last Guardian
There was much speculation on whether or not The Last Guardian would ever come out. It was in development for nearly a decade, started on one platform and moved to another, and was the victim of much internal strife at Sony, with Fumito Ueda leaving and becoming a consultant. I didn’t want to believe it until the game was physically in my PlayStation 4. Sadly, the game was as much of a mess as you’d expect… the worst Team Ico camera yet, frustrating gameplay, and an AI that listened to your suggestions but rarely followed them. Despite all of the complaining I had about it, I am still glad – and grateful – that I got to play it, and finish out this beautiful series. – Nicole Kline

Winner (Tie): No Man’s Sky
Because it provides such a personalized experience, the real question is, is No Man’s Sky worth purchasing? Well, that all depends. If you want to enjoy a relaxing time exploring the galaxy, and are a bit of an introvert, this will be a great fit for you. If not, you may want to look elsewhere. Due to the scope of No Man’s Sky’s universe, it will naturally feel empty at times, and that may be a turn-off for some. But I suppose that’s what exploring the galaxy is like. The game is definitely not for everyone, but if you want to just unwind and sightsee without any real objectives or goals, then I recommend it. – Mike Ryan


Best Game Where an Alien’s a Demon’s Head Pops Like a Grape
Spaceships, little green men, giant mecha… the world of science fiction will always have a place in video games. This is our favorite game where an alien/robot/mutant gets an RPG to the face in 2016.

Winner: Doom
While the Imps, Cacodemons, and Barons of Hell that populate Doom aren’t technically aliens, their invasion of the UAC Facility is just as terrifying as anything cooked up by John Carpenter or Ridley Scott over the years. Thankfully, the Doomguy has an arsenal of bigger and better weapons that’ll make them go squish just the same… The shotgun is a perennial favorite, and the chainsaw has received an upgrade, but it’s the BFG that really packs a punch in the Doom 2016. It’s super-dense ball of pure “Hell Energy” cuts through even the toughest foe, and creating a cloud of ludicrous gibs in the process. Doom’s return will most likely inspire a whole slew of sci-fi/horror games in the future, but accept no substitutes in 2016. – John Scalzo


Jason Voorhees Memorial Award
The rotting corpse of Jason Voorhees has shambled his way through 12 movies since 1980 and horror fans can always be counted on to return to Camp Crystal Lake. The hockey mask-wearing slasher is so perennially popular that the “Memorial” part of this award will always be in question. And so it is with video games, which often manage to get better after the 11th or 12th iteration of a series.

Winner: Pokemon Sun and Moon
I know what you’re thinking: another Pokemon game? Aren’t they all exactly the same? Usually, they all follow a similar formula… catch Pokemon, grind, beat gym leaders, fight the Elite Four, lather, rinse, repeat – but Pokemon Sun and Moon are a little different. They’ve broken out of these time-honored traditions in favor of a new system where you work your way through Hawaiian-esque islands and take trials, earning Z-crystals that help you power up your Pokemons’ moves. As always, it’s full of colorful new Pokemon, different ways to collect and plant berries, and lots and lots of fighting that starts with pummeling preschoolers. And, as always, I’m hooked, and will be playing this for another hundred hours. – Nicole Kline


The “Great Scott” Award for Best Trilogy Ender
Everyone loves a trilogy. And no one loves a trilogy more than game publishers. Getting three games out into the marketplace that can sell, sell, sell is a publisher’s dream. Thankfully, a few people still take this trilogy business seriously as we look at 2016’s favorite finale (until the inevitable fourth entry).

Winner: Dark Souls III
I have yet to finish Dark Souls III (I needed a break from a long-running series of merciless deaths) but so far, two-thirds into the game, it perfectly balances the unknowing mystery of the first entry, and the linearity of the second.

Now a veteran of the Souls franchise, I find myself exploring more, hoping to find the many secrets hidden therein, but also to understand the story though the brief insights we uncover by reading the stories or backgrounds of certain weapons and items. – Andrew Rainnie


Al Gore Award for Best Use of Environment In a Game
Ever since games moved beyond being about a simple character moving against a black background, they’ve used the environment to help tell their story. Who can forget the unique playground of Super Mario 64 or the hostile terrain of Half-Life 2? And because sometimes you just want to stop and look around at the world.

Winner: No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky truly is quite amazing when you leave your first planet. I rocketed through the stratosphere, watching the colors change from blue to green and then red. Eventually the clouds gave way and I stood in awe, looking at the chasm that is the universe. It’s really a memorable experience. Even more impressive is when you turn around and see the size and scope the planet you just left.

You can honestly spend months inspecting one planet and not even scratch the surface. – Mike Ryan


Miles Dyson Memorial Award
AKA “The One Step Closer to SkyNet Award.” Video game technology is advancing at a lightning fast pace and now that next generation consoles have practically reached the limits of photorealistic graphics; the only other place to go is to make the game world as realistic as possible. There’s no fate but what we make and no limit to what a talented developer can do with the right piece of new technology.

Winner: Virtual Reality
We’re going to cheat a bit and declare “Virtual Reality” the winner this year. Whether you’ve got an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, or Samsung Gear VR, it is an interesting time to be a gamer. Especially after I got a taste of the technology this past Halloween.

A friend gave me the chance to check out his shiny new PlayStation VR headset, and we took it in turns to try it out. As it was Halloween, he had all but the most squeamish of us try out the demo for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. I found the technology incredibly immersive; when I stood up I nearly fell over. By the end of the brief introduction, when hands started crawling over my face, my heart was pounding, trying to escape. While I’m still not jumping to get one, primarily because of the price tag, I think that Virtual Reality is definitely the way forward for some genres of games. – Andrew Rainnie


Thrifty Time-Reversal Award
Maybe you missed it the first time around. Or maybe it was your favorite game back in the day and you want to play it again. Whatever the reason, it’s back in 2016 with eye-popping 3D or a high definition makeover or some other update. And you can’t imagine not parting with your money and playing it all over again.

Winner: Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
It’s hard to believe that 16 years have passed since the original Dragon Warrior VII graced our presence, and we were overdue for this remake. Everything that you loved about the original game is back, and this time it’s portable. The classic (and hard to find) PlayStation title was remade for the 3DS this year, and with it came many improvements. Square Enix took the criticisms of the original version to heart, and updated the game to make it more accessible.

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past felt less “grindy” and brought the experience to an entire new audience with updated graphics and a brand new translation.. You’ll still sink a ton of time into it, up to 100 hours, and the stories will keep you coming back for more. The puzzle elements and fragment hunting shake up the variety of Dragon Quest VII, and at the same time don’t become too monotonous or frustrating. The remake does enough with the original to bring back the nostalgic feeling, and at the same time adds enough to make it feel fresh and exciting. Even if you played the original to no end, the 3DS version will bring you right back into the mix in no time at all. – Mike Ryan


The “This Game Rocks” Award
Games need more than a good story and gameplay sometimes. Sometimes they need to rock (or pop or jazz or what have you). This award honors the game with the best music of the year.

Winner: Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy is one of the few game franchises that’s able to support its own concert series, and Square Enix managed to produce yet another bombastic and orchestral soundtrack for Final Fantasy XV. Yoko Shimomura’s sweeping score rears back and captures the adventurous feeling of four friends on their own for the first time, along with the sorrow of a young prince out to avenge his father. And I even liked Florence + The Machine’s cover of “Stand By Me” and the rest of their three-song mini-soundtrack. – John Scalzo


The “Shoeless” Joe Jackson Award
“If you build it, he will come.” Most games are victims of overinflated expectations, but sometime there is no hype and no warning. Sometimes a game just completely surprises you. Like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson emerging from the corn, this game came completely out of left field to thrill you.

Winner: Pokemon Go
I really wasn’t expecting a whole lot from Pokemon Go, but when I downloaded it, I was hooked. In fact, I ended up getting a new phone purely because of this game (as the game ran so slow on my old phone). If that wasn’t reason enough to earn this award, I don’t know what is. There’s just something so satisfying about getting that notification when a Pokemon you don’t have is scurrying somewhere nearby. On top of that, it’s become a real family affair in the Ryan household. On more than one occasion my son would run up to me and excitedly say, “There’s an Ekans near the playground! Let’s go get it!” And we would grab our jackets and head out to catch ’em all. Pokemon Go really did come out of left field to become not only the biggest mobile game of 2016, but also one of the most enjoyable ones as well. Plus, I think we literally found a Sandshrew in a baseball diamond’s left field… so there’s that. – Mike Ryan


The What? Award
The game that most perfectly encapsulates a single thought process as you play it: “What did I just see?”

Winner: Dangerous Golf
Dangerous Golf is a game meant to be played in short bursts… at least when you’re in single-player mode. Destroying the same items over and over again does get a little repetitious, but it’s a game you can come back to again and again for an hour or so. I found myself saying, “OK, just one more round” many times, which is a sure sign of a fun title. It’s an effective stress reliever, and sometimes we need that mindless, amusing action in our video games. I can totally see this game being a stand-up arcade cabinet in bars, with friends reveling in all the annihilation they created. Dangerous Golf may not be the weightiest game out there, but if it made me smile, then it’s good enough. – Mike Ryan


The Video Game Librarian Award
Being a gamer is about more than just playing video games. As we all know, movie studios are still looking for that breakout title that’ll make “video game movies” the next great genre. But writers of fiction and non-fiction have been turning out some great stuff based on video games for years now.

Winner: The Tetris Effect by Dan Ackerman
Everyone knows the basic beats of the Tetris story… Alexey Pajitnov developed it in his spare time working for the Soviet government, who then inadvertantly sold the rights to at least three different companies. After some courtroom theatrics, Nintendo emerged as the winner, and Tetris would go on to become the most popular game of all time. But what happened in between? And what happened after?

Thankfully, Dan Ackerman’s The Tetris Effect fills in the gaps, and its story of Communism and creativity fits in well next to David Sheff’s Game Over and Blake Harris’s Console Wars as a fantastic inside look at yet another side of the game industry in the 1980s. – John Scalzo

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