Merry Christmas to all, and to all a great game: a holiday gaming wrap-up
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2016
This weekend is Christmas, as any of you poor saps working retail or standing duty on Dec. 25 are overly aware. As such, many gamers, their hands tightly clenching new controllers, will be looking for new games to match.
It’s been another fantastic year for gaming, so we here at Stars and Stripes are putting together a list of some of 2016’s must-try titles. Not all of these are going to make our upcoming top 10 list, but all are games that should appeal to a specific audience.
The first part of this series is geared toward younger gamers, or gamers who might be looking for something less explosive-laden to fill their Yuletide gaming sessions.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf Welcome Amiibo (DS)
While “Welcome Amiibo” is technically a free update to 2012’s “New Leaf,” the fact that it also received a $19.99 standalone release makes it eligible for consideration on this list. After all, there will be plenty of new 3DS owners this week, and this is a title that shouldn’t be missed.
“Animal Crossing’s” charming blend of town management and chore simulator receives a fantastic boost from the “Welcome Amiibo” update. It adds support for Amiibos, the plastic characters that enhance some Nintendo games; expanded creative options, such as being able to hang clothes on walls; new items and locations; and an extended storage space. It’s not a new game, but there is plenty here to delight series fans old and new.
A word of caution, however. The Amiibo support only works with the older 3DS models if you have the NFC reader/writer attachment, which runs about $25 and is becoming harder and harder to find. Those with the new Nintendo 3DS XL can use Amiibos without any special attachments.
My personal game of the year award goes to both a developer I’d never heard of and a genre I’ve never cared for prior to 2016. “Stardew Valley,” by lone wolf developer ConcernedApe, is a farming simulator in the same vein as the Harvest Moon titles. While I’ve enjoyed those types of games in the past, none has taken over my life like “Stardew Valley” did for about two weeks this past February.
There is something wonderfully peaceful about the “Stardew Valley” experience, which is available on consoles and PCs. Planting rows of vegetables and watering each one with care while listening to the simple but relaxing soundtrack made my top gaming moments of 2016. In a year filled with bombastic action titles, this unassuming title banked on simplicity, guilelessness and colorful visuals to separate itself from the pack.
What makes “Stardew Valley” so fantastic is that players can create their own way of playing. If growing vegetables becomes boring, players can tackle a challenging fishing collectathon, or try to survive mining two massive dungeons filled with monsters, loot and other challenges. No two players will experience “Stardew Valley” in quite the same way, but all gamers should experience what it has to offer at least once.
Mario Maker 3DS
There have been many attempts to create a game that lets you create your own games. However, almost none of them have been entertaining, accessible and a viable creative outlet. In fact, besides Media Molecule’s “LittleBigPlanet,” none has hit all three wickets. Until “Mario Maker.”
This amazingly simple game-creator came out on the Wii U last year but was just released on the 3DS earlier this month. Much like its bigger brother, “Mario Maker 3DS” allows creative individuals to use items, furniture and functions from Mario games as far back as the original 8-bit title to build platforming levels small and large.
The 3DS version adds a 100 level “Super Mario Challenge,” which adds a healthy mix of regular Mario levels for players to tackle, with additions from the creative mode. This mode adds pick-up-and-play excitement, as well as a way to educate “Maker” players about the various tools available to them.
This version does lack the online level-sharing of the Wii U game, though. Why Nintendo dropped this feature is anybody’s guess, but the limited level-sharing available through StreetPass and local wireless is a poor substitute. Still, if you love to create as much as play, “Mario Maker 3DS” is worth a look.
Pokemon Sun & Moon
It’s tempting to simply say “it’s a new Pokemon game” when trying to sell somebody on the latest iteration. After all, that phrase will either excite you like no other, or it’ll elicit a bewildered look akin to that of your grandmother trying to figure out what’s so great about Instagram. But each iteration tends to tweak the time-tested formula somewhat, and “Sun” and “Moon” are no exceptions.
The biggest changeup is the removal of the annoying Hidden Machine (HM, for short) system that has plagued the series since the beginning. Before “Sun” and “Moon,” players had to waste precious space on moves that were usually usable only in solving out-of-battle puzzles. Now, Pokemon with those specific skills can be kept in reserve and summoned via the new “PokeRide” system.
That, coupled with new additions like the effectiveness indicator – which helps ease new or returning players into the world of Pokemon – make “Sun” and “Moon” two of the best 3DS games of the year.
And hey, if you’ve already mastered one of the two titles, burning your Christmas gift cards/cash on the other is a pretty great way to experience the entire package.
Pokemon had one of its best years in a decade in 2016. “Sun” and “Moon” captivated 3DS gamers, “Pokemon Go” took over mobile gaming for a while and “Pokken Tournament,” against all odds, made inroads among the fighting game community.
This simple fighter is easy to dismiss. After all, it’s a Pokemon fighting game – how good could it possibly be? Well, good enough to push other, more traditional fighting games down the list during major fighting game tournaments.
Pokken’s biggest draw is, of course, the Pokemon license. However, it could be argued that, even without the fan base that comes with Pokemon, this game could have made waves amongst the fighting game community.
Its tight controls, balanced tiered characters and splashy move list made it a hit among casual and hardcore fans alike. If you’re a Pokemon fan, this is likely already in your pile of games. If you’re a fighting game fan, I urge you to not ignore this based on its license. It’s a great fighter and definitely one of the best games of 2016.