2016 seemed like a light year for video games. At least my immersion with video games seemed to be a lighter year. Looking back, I did most of my game-playing in the last quarter of the year, randomly peppering in games throughout the rest of the year.

I did start to take a deeper interest in PC gaming this year, preparing to build my own PC in the coming months. I’ve watched my Steam library grow exponentially this year and I’m slowly learning how up and down equate to “W” and “S.”

I bought a New Nintendo 3DS, now that Nintendo allowed me to. In September, the New Nintendo 3DS was made available in North America in a bundle that I actually wanted to purchase. Since then, I’ve learned the fun of faceplates for the first time since the Xbox 360, and I’ve oddly fallen deeper in love with Nintendo hardware.

I went to Japan, online of course and sadly not in real life, and I brought back a Game Boy Pocket and a Game Boy Advance. I’ve become fascinated with how well-crafted and well-designed Nintendo hardware is, and now that I’ve got that whole buy-a-house thing behind me, I see myself spending more and more of my time and money collecting a little Nintendo museum.

We played Pokémon on our phones, tried to buy a tiny version of a thirty-one year old console, and finally learned what the Nintendo NX will be. 2016 was pretty rad for video games, even when it wasn’t. Amidst buying a house, relaunching a website, and going through all of the wild changes that my twenty-seventh human year brought about- I did happen to play some games that were released this year. Of them, I really enjoyed nine of them.

9. Let It Die

What a weird, rad game that I didn’t see coming at all. Let It Die as a description did nothing for me, and it’s a shame that something existing as a free-to-play could turn me away so quickly.

Fortunately, I gave the game a shot and fell in love quickly. I am surely not alone with my adoration of Uncle Death, the character who was too late to become a Halloween costume this year but will surely adorn my body next October. The game plays like Bloodborne but instead of gothic horror, you run through a giant building in a dead city filled with chainsaw gloves and dumb outfits made from garbage.

There’s no attachment to your character which is completely refreshing in a year where a lot of the games I fell in love with were so character driven and focused on you growing closer to them. Death means nothing other than a new beginning, which again is a welcomed sigh of relief.

8. Azure Striker Gunvolt 2

Whoa. I’m still surprised at this one. Why couldn’t Mighty No. 9 just do what this game by the same developer did? Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 did a lot for me. I was really turned off by the first game with its heavy anime influence and repetitive combat. Surprisingly, the same tropes are here but my tolerance and acceptance of them is shifted entirely.

I really wanted Mighty No. 9 to be the new Mega Man, and instead it’s the new dumpster fire that we all just walked past and let burn. Instead, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is that game. more in line with the games in the Mega Man Zero series, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is a polished action platformer filled with cool characters and a really rad soundtrack. I enjoyed my time with it a lot, as it harkened back to the Game Boy Advance era of platformers that I never knew I missed so much.

7. Street Fighter V

This game is the most recent addition to this list of favorites for me. I’ve had all year to pick up a copy of this game and I just didn’t. I’m not sure what kept me away from it but I finally came around to Street Fighter V and started playing through it.

I’m generally not good at fighting games. I don’t think I’ve ever had the patience to learn them well. There’s this level of intimidation that comes with fighting games, and I think it’s something learned through observing some close friends.

I used to love Super Smash Bros. Then, I hated it. Now, I love it. But that middle period happened when I realized I wasn’t good at the game, or at least not as good as my friends who seemed to understand it way better than I did. Then, I studied the game and began to get a rhythm going and get pretty good at fighting in Super Smash Bros. I took a lot of what I learned and applied it to Injustice: Gods Among Us when it released, eventually becoming really decent with Batman and The Flash.

For one reason or another, Street Fighter has been a series that is far more intimidating than any other fighting game. Yet, its latest entry has finally pushed me into wanting to take it on. I still don’t know if I have the patience for learning it, and I’ve already been really aggravated trying to learn how to properly do a cancel. Somehow though, I’ve purchased a copy of Street Fighter V and for better or worse I’m enjoying the blisters that grow on my thumbs as I learn more than just button mashing.

6. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I really didn’t want to play Uncharted 4. It released and I let it pass me by. It wasn’t until we started to prepare our Game of the Year 2016 nominations that I sat down to play it.

I spent a whole day with Uncharted 4 and finished it in one long sitting. I forgot to eat, and for the first time in years, I did nothing on my day off but play video games. As much as I didn’t think I wanted another one of these games, Uncharted 4 was such a good Uncharted game.

It did everything that I want an Uncharted game to do and it added a new element of emotion with Nathan’s relationship with his brother. I felt all sorts of weird, real-world brother feelings as I journeyed to the coasts of Madagascar to find the lost treasure of Captain Henry Avery. As a way to wrap up the journey of Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was a great ride, and I’m really glad that Naughty Dog decided to return to the franchise one last time.

5. Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest

I wanted this game all year long, but I knew that I had a tough choice to face in the game’s story. I also knew what I would be playing when I purchased it, so I kept avoiding it until the time was right.

When I finally picked up a copy of Conquest, one of the game’s two variations, I got exactly what I thought I would- a fantastic strategy game rich with character and story. What I didn’t expect to happen was to feel some of the real feelings that I felt as I was faced with certain choices and exposed to new elements in the game’s story.

4. Hyper Light Drifter

For so long, Hyper Light Drifter was nothing but a set of pretty pictures and GIFs for me. I picked it up when it released on consoles this summer and it’s the best Zelda game I’ve played since I first played A Link to the Past.

The game is pure aesthetic, combining a universal art style with a masterful use of color and character design. The score and the sound design all combine and blend into this really immersive world.

I loved wandering through the four corners of the world and finding my way to each boss, kind of living through the four different seasons along the way.

3. Final Fantasy XV

My aversion to the Final Fantasy series was quickly reverted this year as I started my way through Final Fantasy VI and learned a deeper appreciation for the almost thirty year old franchise. The imminent release of Final Fantasy XV started to call to me around the middle of the year, and I found myself surprisingly and eagerly awaiting it.

Now that I am a month out from release of the game, I find myself without an answer for when it was that I had this much interest or fun with an open world RPG in recent years. There is so much that Final Fantasy XV does well, but for me its presentation and design are what keep me coming back.

The world that has been created for me is so well-developed and realized that I feel it calling me back when it’s been a while since I’ve wandered the world with Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. It’s the first time in a game that I haven’t hit the breaking point where fast travel is necessary. I love taking the long way around the world and randomly finding a new dungeon without any provocation from the story.

Discovery is at a high in this game and every new thing I find gives me a moment to elate. From riding a Chocobo for the first time to crafting a new spell, there is so much in this game that I’ve found exciting.

What I love the most is that I’ve done something new and I’ve challenged myself with a new type of game. This is something that I would not have expected to end up on this list when we started 2016 and I’m grateful that it is.

2. Oxenfree

“I used to think about what happened every day. Then, I realized it had been a week since I last thought about it. And I guess that’s okay…”

Oxenfree is one of those games that I just kind of got. It clicked in the right way and everything suddenly made sense. It’s less of a game than something you live through. It’s a moment, or a collection of moments and you feel like you went on this journey with the characters in the game.

I remember being a teenager, and we heard about this haunted house. We went there one night, in a friend’s car, and we pulled down the long driveway. The house is said to have hosted the deaths of a family after some kids broke in and killed them, living there for weeks until being caught. Rumor told us that if you went there and listened carefully, you would hear a radio playing. The radio would tell you about the war, and the devil and the angel that sit atop your shoulder.

I guess by sheer fact of me still remembering and sharing the story, you know the rumor was true.

For anyone who has ever lived through anything supernatural, Oxenfree is waiting for you. I still don’t have the answers to everything, but who of us truly does? I can say, with certainty, that I’ve lived through some stuff that’s left me thinking differently on the other side of it. Oxenfree observes that and plays with it.

My time spent on the island with Alex and her friends is an evening I won’t soon forget.

Then, I realized it had been a week since I last thought about it. And I guess that’s okay…

1. DOOM

I haven’t loved a game as much as DOOM in years. From the start, you just kind of know what you’re getting into. You’re either totally into it, or you will never see past the first five minutes.

I found it entirely revitalizing in the current landscape of video games. There are a lot of different elements that go into making a video game today, every game seemingly combining the right combination of things to call itself something. When it comes to the high budget and big name games, there’s this level of trite garbage that comes with the territory that makes me turn away and avoid most of it. I was relieved when DOOM gave all of those tropes the same middle finger that I did.

My experience with DOOM is the first time I think I’ve played a game this year. There have been great experiences and there’ve been outstanding games, but until DOOM none of them felt fully realized and comfortable being a video game. Everything is busy trying to pull together pieces of other medium and cobble together something iterative, where DOOM just kicked open the door and said, “Hey, let’s kill some fucking demons.”

I hate first-person shooters. Or, I’ve come to hate them because of how boring they are. Yet here we are with DOOM at the top of my list of favorite games from this year. I can’t stop playing this game, and it’s pushed me to explore other games that I never would’ve thought to play. This reboot of the franchise feels like a reboot for me as someone who enjoys video games.

Beginning to end, DOOM is pure energy and is as natural as breathing. It just makes sense when you’re playing it and it continues to grow as you get further into the world that’s been created. It feels right and for me, it is right. There was no better game for me this year than DOOM.

Posted by Joe Dix

Joe is the creator of The Free Cheese. He eats a lot of pizza and takes thousands of pictures of his pugs Oswald and Earl every day. He has a disorder that causes him to believe that he is Batman and his favorite video game is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

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