2016 has been an unforgettable year, purely because it's tried so hard to make us want to forget it. Filled with death and massive political change on both sides of the Atlantic, there has fortunately been the odd good game to distract us from what's happened and what's to come. At the time of writing, Donald Trump has just tweeted that the US should gather more nuclear weapons until the world stops needing them. I can't even process that.
What I can process is these games. Well, mostly.
Thomas Happ Games, 01/09/2016, http://www.axiomverge.com/
Tom Happ's Metroid 'em up came to Wii U in 2016, just as the weather went cold and the nights drew in. A suspiciously good time to play this perfectly crafted game and obsess over the ultimate fate of Trace, the main character. His journey through alien land- and soundscapes was the delight the hype machine always said it would be. With an Arnie-frightening array of weaponry and plenty of subversive tricks up its sleeve, Axiom Verge is a cracking addition to the genre.
Game Freak, 23/11/2016, http://www.pokemon-sunmoon.com/en-us/
For six generations a Pokémon trainer has taken up a starter and fought their way past eight Gym Leaders before challenging the Elite Four. Not any more. A clever (and arguably long overdue) shake-up of the formula pushes the player in new directions; mostly good, a handful bad, but enough to rejuvenate the series in my eyes. Definitely the surprise package of the year and the most involving story of a main Pokémon game ever (outside the main series, that is - it has to be Pokémon Channel in the story stakes overall).
Fallen Tree Games, 13/01/2016, http://www.fallentreegames.com/games/swapperoo/
Match 3 puzzlers are old hat, surely? In the right hands, certainly not. Swapperoo switched things up by having a number of different level types, like the one above, and tiles that could only be swapped in certain directions (see the massive arrow tiles above? Yeah). It takes a bit of getting used to but is totally compelling once you do. Like a handful of games this year, there's also a bit more going on than at first it might appear. Full review here.
Now for the big kahuna (and I'm not talking Hala here):
ZeroJones' Game of the Year 2016
Paper Mario: Color Splash
Nintendo, 07/10/2016, http://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Wii-U/Paper-Mario-Color-Splash-1090845.html
(One day I'll get used to typing 'colour' without the 'u') (probably shouldn't start my praise of the game with a complaint, eh?) (Get on with it! - Ed)
In 2016 the Wii U died. Sure, there's Breath Of The Wild yet to come, but that's like Alec Guinness coming back as a ghost to get a bit more cash. Besides, Nintendo will use it to sell Switches, and you couldn't blame them for that. Anyway, part of the Wii U's death rattle was Paper Mario: Color Splash, a follow-up to the widely loathed 3DS title Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The fans didn't hold out much hope of it being any good, when PM:SS had so many problems. O ye of little faith, says I.
The Color Splash team took on board (most of) the criticisms of PM:SS and tried to turn them around. They also completely stole the 'paint to win' idea from Splatoon and we've ended up here, with a joyful, madcap, bizarre adventure that pays tribute to what Paper Mario games were and what they could be.
Structurally, the game is all over the place. Paint Stars can be won in some levels by simply walking right for a couple of seconds, but others can take upwards of half an hour. Most levels succumb to standard RPG trappings like fetch quests, simple puzzles or big bad bosses but do so with either style and panache or bizarre set-pieces that you're almost constantly entertained.
Brilliantly, you can pull the Bizarrity Handle at any time by playing a Thing card in battle. That summons a giant real-world item to blow all your opponents away without having to play through the slow-ish combat. Happening upon them naturally is much more fun, of course. The best Nintendo games are chock full of such moments and that's definitely the case here. Combined with a script that isn't afraid to poke fun at all the clichés on display, and we have a winner (my full review is here).
Graphics: 8 The system isn't strained but the commitment to having everything appear as if it's made from paper or card is astounding. Look for the little details and you will be rewarded.
Sound: 9 The sound effects are the classic Mario doings and sproings but the music is on a different level (a better one, natch). Some remixed Mario tunes sit alongside new and bold pieces to great effect.
Gameplay: 7 The slowed-down nature of the combat (as you have to select and swipe your cards every turn) gets in the way a bit.
Longevity: 8 The main story won't take all that long to get through but filling the Museum and doing all the side quests adds to the run time.
Humour: 10 It's safe to say that this is the game I've laughed at the most ever, and I've been gaming for quite a while now.
Bizarreness: 11 Yeah.