2016, eh. What a faecesshow of a year. Trump’s in, Britain’s out, Bowie can no longer shake it all about, and the Wii U has long since failed at any pretence of doing the hokey cokey. For Nintendo, it was left to the 3DS (andmobilebutI’mstillpretendingthat’snotathing) to turn it around.
And, to be fair, turn it around it did, in a fashion. From Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. at the back of 2015, followed by the final SSB4 DLC, the Little Handheld That Could Despite Competition From Mobile had a decent year. Any year with a main-series Pokémon is going to be at least a decent year, of course. But was that my game of it? Read on, dear reader, and discover...
Game Freak, 23/11/2016, http://www.pokemon-sunmoon.com/en-gb/
No it wasn’t. But it was still bloody good, giving the series a much-needed shot in the arm, with a world that feels like a foreign country, actual characters, scrapping the much-loathed HMs, and the best starter since ever. (#TeamRowlet) Shame about the tutorials and the pacing near the end, but this is still the best Pokémon since... well, Black & White.
Moon > Sun because bats > lions, natch.
Kirby Planet Robobot
HAL Laboratory, 10/06/2016, https://kirby.nintendo.com/planet-robobot/
For the most part, this was a straight sequel to Kirby Triple Deluxe, replacing the Hypernova gimmick (yes it was, sorry) with a mechanic that was actually well-integrated into gameplay, and otherwise being solid without being remarkable. KPR, however, makes it onto my list for the absolutely batshit final confrontation. I obviously won’t say any more here, but that completely made the game for me. Rest wasn’t bad either.
Bravely Second: End Layer
Silicon Studio, 26/02/2016, http://bravelysecond.nintendo.com/
For a long time I thought this was going to be my GOTY. It simply does everything right for a JRPG sequel. It’s user-friendly, has good characters, good story, good combat, adequate graphics and music... The random-battle-frequency-adjusting mechanic is the best thing to come out of JRPGs since levelling up, and unlike its predecessor, it didn’t muck up the second half royally. Its flaws, the divorce of player from combat and the second half of said predecessor, aren’t BSEL’s fault. For more detail, some handsome intelligent chap has given it a review on this very site.
(To be clear, this is not my best of the 3DS in 2016, it is my best of 2016. It just so happens that all my nominations thus far came from that one console.)
Ladies, gentlemen, and LA dental men, please prostrate yourselves for:
Balladeer’s Game of the Year 2016
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
Capcom, 08/09/2016, http://www.ace-attorney.com/
OBJECTION! I hear you cry. ‘You can’t criticise BSEL for having a divorce between the player and the action, and then put a visual novel as your game of the year!’
HOLD IT! Yes, I can; and yes, I will.
BSEL belongs to a genre that has done many stonking things with combat to make the player feel more involved, from the customisation of the Pokémon games, to the action buttons of Mario’s RPGs, to the real-time shenanigans of the Xenoblades and TWEWY. It does none of these.
SOJ, as I’ll call it from hereon in, belongs to a genre that has always had non-interactivity as a hallmark. That it even gives you a health bar in the trials is practically interactivity in a visual novel. As such, I didn’t judge SOJ by what no game of its type has done: rather, I judged it by what it does so, so well.
That is, quite simply, the writing.
OBJECTION! ‘Oh like every visual novel ever.’
HOLD IT! Well, yes. But SOJ does it well. After the apparently reluctant translation of Dual Destinies, this was a godsend to a fan of the series.
I was laughing out loud (often in public) at every comic turn. When the characters were shocked, I was shocked (or, y'know, had already guessed what was coming). The usual variety of colourful witnesses and obvious culprits was filled with greatness; the rival prosecutor goes back to being rewarding to thrash; and where there were returning characters, they were good returning characters. Even Apollo is finally rescued from the scrappy heap.
All of this was aided by a soundtrack that remains stuck in my head to this day (Uendo Toneido, you have much to answer for), a transition of the franchise into 3D that continues to work surprisingly well, and the freshening up of the game as a whole by the introduction of alternative locale Khura’in.
OBJECTION! ‘What about Case 4?’
The defence has nothing to add, with Case 4 being the primary reason I lopped a solitary mark off my final score, earlier in the year. Which speaks volumes about the quality of the rest of the game, I think.
Obviously this won’t appeal to everyone. If you like your games action-packed, SOJ won’t be for you. If you’ve not at least played some of the earlier games in the series, SOJ will leave you cold.
But if you’ve been burned by earlier games in the series – Justice for All, perhaps, or Apollo Justice – please don’t assume that any series entry with Justice in the title is on the poor side. It justice-n’t. In fact, SOJ is right up there with T&T – the latter of which is one of my ten favourite games of all time.
So SOJ definitely deserves its crown as my Game Of The Year. That, quite frankly, is what it’s all about.
Graphics: 8 They nailed the 3D translation this time around. The characters all look suitably weird, and Khura'in's Tibetan aesthetic adds a new dimension.
Sound: 9 Some absolutely fantastic music that does the series credit. Not much voice acting, but what there is works well enough. A mark off for the lack of all-new Objection themes.
Gameplay: 7 It's a visual novel. You don't play them to be amazed by the gameplay. What there is works well for the game.
Longevity: 8 A good thirty hours or so, and then DLC on top of that.
Writing: 10 Absolutely phenomenal throughout. Funny and serious in turn, but the funny bits are the best. Even in Case 4, the translators have done a grand job with what they had.
Hairstyles: 9 Apollo Justice holds this up on his tod, although the new prosecutor's flashing braid is a strong second place.