This was, seriously, the only image I could find for this list.

Stately Selections: Best Video Games of 2016 #5

Like most sites, we were going to wrap up 2016 with a list of top games by category but a few issues sprung up. First of all, our star chamber is still under construction, so we have nowhere to hold the voting. Secondly, we’re all [actually, just Dave -ed.] extremely lazy and the thought of organizing the whole thing was bringing everyone [again, just Dave -ed.] down. Thus, our year-end wrap up is going to be a little different [Dave is forcing us to do it this way -ed.]

Instead of categories, each of us selected our top five digital games of the year. We didn’t care if they were mobile, desktop, 3DS, console, or VR. Actually, I told the writers we didn’t care about platform, but I do care, and forced everyone to focus on mobile and desktop (except Tanner, damn him). Each day we’ll run down one of our top games, starting with #5 today, until we get to the #1 games of 2016 on Friday. Will this be how things work every year? Probably not. This year, however, this is how it’s going down. Let us know how much you hate this format in the comments! [or you could, you know, be nice -ed.]

Top 5 Games of 2016, Number 5

Severed

Her name is Sasha. Remember that. You’ll see it early in the game, and then you’ll be left in a desperate, dangerous, unreal, and yet strangely beautiful world where Sasha’s name and a family portrait are the only normal things she has left, and they are being stolen away from her. I knew from the moment I saw it that Severed ticked several of my boxes: rendered in a distinctive art style, set in a landscape as surreal as it is original, and featuring a fascinating protagonist: a young, one-armed woman of color.

Yet I avoided Severed for months, because it looked like it would be too twitchy for me, and because I thought it’s gorgeously unsettling world was mere stage dressing for that action. There’s a lot of swipe-to-attack swordplay in Severed, true, but it’s rather strategic, and (for me) challenging yet playable on the “casual” difficulty setting. And while the game rarely interrupts you to deliver story text or a cut scene

(and never for long) it’s able to do so because gameplay supports the story so well. There are more tales here than just Sasha’s, and they seem all to be stories of loss: loss of the beloved, loss of self, loss of purpose.

The family portrait and long mirror in her family’s ruined house are extremely powerful, entirely visual, bits of storytelling, the former indicating how the world should be, the latter showing how Sasha changes, looking more and more like the monsters she fights. You see the same image of her when you open the game’s inventory, but in the mirror, in her home, the character of Sasha is forced to see herself. Her rejection of this new self is omnipresent: her face next to her health bar matches the portrait, shows who she was before the world ended.

Severed’s swordplay is well-executed (pardon the pun), and it’s dungeons are clever and reasonably sized, but what makes it an amazing game is the sense it gives of sacrificing bits of oneself for a past that is unrecoverable and a family that is probably beyond saving. Sasha is her name, and Severed is her attempt to stare down the abyss – remember that.

– Tof Eklund

Darkest Dungeon

Eldritch horror has never really floated my boat. Leviathan cephalopoids and insanity failed to tickle the imagination, and it was likely in part to lack of deft delivery. Clumsy, overwrought DREAD (dramatic reverb) is nothing in the face of, say, purported UFO encounters or a good old fashioned cryptid sighting. At least, I would have said, had Darkest Dungeon not shambled across my path.

After it recently dropped into the Vita sarcophagus, I’ve been traipsing the catacombs and loving every minute of it. It’s a baroque, Stokerian realm of mercenaries plumbing the depths of vile pits, the upward swing of heroic experience tempered by the realities of broken minds. Darkest Dungeon sells the concept of a fracturing psyche far better than industry standard screen wobble; core mechanics built around unravelling dependability the deeper one goes.

Acclimatizing is measured in corpses, as is the yardstick of many a roguelike. But once you get a feel for the way missions work — preparation, pivoting, managing chaos — it becomes an exhilarating ride. The dime-turn, clutch survivals against Mignolian grots, only to have a crucial character shatter and bring the entire team down; these become a player’s canker-ridden rumble. That old familiar sting.

Darkest Dungeon is this year’s indie masterpiece, tentacles down.

-Alex Connolly

Solitairica

Solitairica is a card-based battler where you face off against an increasingly dangerous line of always odd and often goofy monsters, all in a quest to take down a buzz-kill of an emperor named Stuck. Think PVE Solitaire with a lovely RPG glaze. You can play one of six fantasy-themed decks—Wizard, Warrior, Paladin, Bard, Rogue, and Monk—each with a different play style. Solitairica has excellent tactical bite and loads of replay value thanks to the different decks and various powers and magic items you can buy with your loot. It’s fun to play in either short bursts or in an hours-long couch-based session. It ain’t your Microsoft Windows solitaire, that’s for sure. Take your solitaire to the next level on iOS or Android.

– Nick Vigdahl

Patchwork: The Game

I once saw a friend look at a pool table, and, apparently noticing the disorder of the balls scattered around it, he started rolling them into the pockets in what struck me as an excessively anal-retentive move. Twenty years later, it still galls and astounds me that he stopped with three balls still on the table.

Tetris recruits the drive which impelled me to finish his absurd task; the cognitive tidiness of it is very satisfying. Patchwork takes everything wonderful about Tetris, throws away the isolation and unrelenting pace, and replaces them with a second player competing with you at a strategic level (but never directly affecting your quilt; I can feel my autonomic nervous system preparing me to beat someone to death at the mere thought). It’s as clean an efficiency-engine game as Splendor, but with the added joy of one of the most popular spatial relations tasks ever devised. While even the strongest AI is a little weak, the game is very well-suited to asynchronous multiplayer; enough player interaction to make the challenge of a human opponent valuable, but not so much that games take very long to finish. It’s a brilliant choice for mobile.

– Kelsey Rinella

Pokémon Moon

Probably the most surprising game I played this year, Pokémon Moon managed to revitalize my interest in a series I was seriously burnt out on. It’s the first entry in a long time to shake things up in a significant way, which is something I had given up hope on after years of basically the same game getting released over and over.

Don’t get me wrong; this is still very much a Pokémon game, part of a series that is ostensibly marketed toward undiscerning children. There’s no way Game Freak would scrap everything and start anew. But the move to the Hawaii-inspired Alola region acts like a nice tropical vacation where the series can try out some fun new activities, get some sun, and return home refreshed and revitalized.

The same deceptively simple turn-based battling is still the rock-solid base of the game, and is the main reason I’d argue for its place in Stately Play’s coverage. The RPS101-esque system is intuitive enough for kids to grasp, but if you want to battle online, you’ll end up going down a rabbit hole of stats and charts and point calculators and forum arguments. Assembling a competitive team is not dissimilar from, say, building a deck in Magic: The Gathering. That’s the beauty of the Pokémon games: the depth is there if you want it.

What drew me into Pokémon Moon was actually the writing. In my post-election haze, I was really in need of a pick-me-up, and it turns out that this Pokémon game is just what I needed. It’s goofy as hell. Other recent Pokémon games have been very self-serious, but something changed with Moon. It reminds me of a good cartoon, like Gravity Falls–the kind you don’t mind watching with your kids. It’s funny, positive, and still serious when it needs to be. It’s also kind of dirty sometimes!

-Tanner Hendrickson

Guild of Dungeoneering

Yes, Guild of Dungeoneering is repetitive. Yep, the humor falls fails to rise to even Munchkin levels of hilarity and will have you turning down the sound lest you feel the need to gouge your earballs out. Earballs are a thing, right? I cheated my way through anatomy in college. Twice.

Yet, somehow, I fell in love with this game. Just the right mix of card play and character advancement that happens every time you send a new dungeoneer to their likely death. The combination of new loot and getting those elusive level IV cards to wipe out bosses is just so damned satisfying. Add to that unlockable content which which you can build a better guild, introducing new characters and equipment and there’s a lot here to see.

Gambrinous has added free content to the game since its release this summer, and I’m hoping they continue the trend. Hell, I might even pay for new content and I’m a notorious skinflint.

-Dave Neumann

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Notable Replies

  1. The format is actually pretty good. The several games mentioned per post, so it doesn't feel like it is just being dragged out to garner views, works well.

    So far, I have all of the listed games except for Pokemon. The only one that I have gotten around to trying at all, though, is Solitairica. It seemed good while I was playing, but it hasn't dragged me back so far. With some time off between now and the beginning of the year, hopefully I'll get a chance to spend some quality gaming time.

    For Pokemon, Tanner, I notice that you selected Moon. Is there any reason to get that one vs. Sun? I've been considering getting the game and don't really know if it makes any difference at all.

  2. thumbs up for Darkest Dungeon. love it, love it, love it.

    it's on PS4 too. and on sale just now! i think till end of the year.

  3. I picked Moon just because it's the one that I got! I happened to like the design of the version exclusive legendary and my roommate was getting Sun. There's only one major difference between the two: Sun sets the time of day according to your 3DS clock and Moon shifts the time by 12 hours. If that's bothersome you can just change the time on your 3DS, it's not a big deal. Otherwise, there are just a few exclusive Pokémon to each version that you can get through online trading pretty easily.

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