Previously posted on my gaming page Retro Arcadia.
This year my SNES Classic Mini was finally joined by its previously impossible to buy NES sibling, plus a C64 Mini and almost a PlayStation Classic – I cancelled the day before it was shipped, not because of the controversial games list, but it just sounded like the finished article was very bare-bones and the emulation was crap. On the ones I didn’t cancel, I’ve loved pretty much everything on them more than anything that will ever be released again. On a similar note, I also love most of the old NES stuff that came with the Switch online service – especially the wonderful Tecmo Bowl, Balloon Fight and Mighty Bomb Jack. And on another similar note, I’ve loved playing a ton of the Switch Arcade Archives releases of Donkey Kong and 10-Yard fight, as well as ACA NEOGEO Super Sidekicks 3, and the fabulous Megadrive and SNK collections. And with a Switch now in my possession, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Golf Story from last year, and of course, Breath of the Wild, which I sandwiched between Ocarina of Time and the original Legend of Zelda (which I played on two different platforms almost in parallel).
Hovering just outside this list would be the Williams packs on Pinball FX, featuring some of the best tables ever produced; last-gen racing powerhouse Burnout Paradise Remastered on PS4; Castlevania Requiem (if I’d played a enough of either game included in time); and a game I’ve seriously been waiting 25 years to play, Night Trap on the Switch, which might not be the most mechanically-varied game ever, but was a technical marvel at the time and is still a fun romp today. I’m sure that had I played it yet, Red Dead Redemption 2 would be somewhere around the top, but finally playing and completing Mad Max just before it was released only confirmed I’m a bit done with open worlds at the moment, and I’ve more than enough to keep me going until they finish patching it and the price drops. And I’d have loved to have Tetris Effect on here, but after fifteen minutes of my first game on the beta, the motion sickness began…
As always, the rule here is if it’s been released for the first time on a platform this year, it’s fair game…
1 Gris (Switch)
The very last game I bought in 2018 (at time of writing on Christmas Eve at least). If you ever wanted to convince a non-gamer that gaming is an art form, you’d show them this, because it really is a wonderful piece of art in anyone’s language. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (and probably heard) anything quite as stunning as this on any platform, and maybe aside from Journey, anything as powerful. It’s a dream to play, and a dream to experience as it becomes more and more beautiful as you progress, and subtly more complex. A genuine gaming masterpiece.
2 Minit (Switch)
I avoided buying Minit when it came out on other platforms in the hope it would appear on Switch one day, which seemed like the right place for it, and that day came but a few horrendously hot months later. Bizarre premise of your hero living for only sixty seconds in an old-school Zelda-esque black and white pixel art rogue-lite world, doing simple quests, solving puzzles and killing monsters. Sixty seconds at a time. But it really works! It begins with almost no context or instruction, but you soon work out how things work to progress your story, planning out your next sixty second life as you carry out the next set of activities for this one. Fantastic game, very different, and perfect on the Switch. And when you’re done with the story, there’s a couple more hours picking up the stuff you probably missed then new game plus where sixty becomes forty. Future cult classic!
3 Moonlighter (Switch)
That wonderful Stardew Valley vibe where minutes are actually hours. But with more fighting. Moonlighter is a greeat rogue-like by night, and shopkeeper-sim by day, where you kill for booty to sell to buy armour, weapons, upgrades, better shop stuff and things to liven up your town so you can access new dungeons with better booty. Fantastic to play day or night.
4 Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! (Switch)
I searched Tokyo in 40 degree heat and 90% humidity for this bundled with the physical drum controller. I failed, but not long after it was all announced for European release and everything was well in the world again. I can’t remember the last time I had a stupid grin on my face playing a game, but there’s little here not to smile about, from the real drum you play along to a huge, bizarre playlist with, to the completely bonkers visual feast that could only come out of Japan happening on the screen. The ultimate party game, even if you’re the only one invited.
5 Mario Tennis Aces (Switch)
I never played Mario Tennis on the Game Boy Colour or Advance, so don’t lament the depth of their story modes apparently missing here. I did, however, sink dozens, if not hundreds of hours into Tennis (featuring Mario as umpire) on the original Game Boy. Jump into an online tournament on Mario Tennis Aces on the Switch, and that’s what you’ve got, dialled up to eleven with trick shots, specials, bullet-time and more, and all against real other people. There’s depth here too – after a few hours you start to notice little things that stack up to make all the difference; you work out how to properly use the trick shot or the blue glow around the ball or the star that sometimes appears on the ground or a dozen other minor things; and then you start winning one in five matches, then one in three, then two, and you’re reaching (and occasionally winning) tournament finals… Stunning looking game, polished to hell, full of character, and utterly addictive. Who cares about story modes (which is actually pretty enjoyable too)!
6 Hollow Knight (Switch)
Specifically here for the first 30 hours, then another 15 hours after 36 hours, then a few more after 53 hours. I absolutely hated everything in between and deleted the game twice in disgust at two bosses I just couldn’t beat. Until I did. Very few games over the last almost forty years have hooked me like this gorgeous looking, vast metroidvania did – even when it was gone, it kept dragging me back. 80% love, 20% pure hatred, and probably the best £7.99 I ever spent on a game.
7 Alto’s Odyssey (iOS)
I’ve played the original Alto’s Adventure more than any other game on mobile (or tablet in my case). It’s the perfect, premium mobile game, and has been my go-to time-passer across thousands and thousands of miles on plane journeys over the last few years. Alto’s Odyssey swaps snowboards for sandboards, but is more of the same, and then some. The new desert backdrop is stunning, and the day/night cycles, variable weather – especially the storms – and multiple biomes to explore make for some outstanding eye-candy. And the one-touch, backflipping gameplay remains as challenging, skilful and perfect as ever.
8 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch)
Old-school Castlevania in all but name with some really clever character-switching mechanics, atmospheric old-school graphics and sound that make me want to live in it, and plenty to explore and go back to when you’re able. In the five hours or so to complete first time, it gets progressively more tricky, but aside from a few frustrating sections (generally involving moving platforms in the late game), it’s all do-able after a few attempts and some experimentation with the characters, even on veteran mode. My only gripe is the checkpointing on the double final boss battle – going back to the very start is a real pain while you’re dying over and over again to learn how to beat the second part! Once you’re finally done, definitely worth playing the newly unlocked nightmare mode to explore those places you couldn’t before you had the right characters available. Great game with a lot of retro-love oozing out of it.
9 Mega Man Legacy Collection (Switch)
Much like Zelda, I’d never played a Mega Man game before this year, and now I’ve played and finished three of them; 2, 1 and 3, in that order. I’m particularly proud of finishing Mega Man 2, over a period of months, as I completely avoided all the quality of life enhancements like rewind and save in-progress that come with this wonderfully presented collection of games 1-6 in the series. It’s not just the games though, most of which are bonafide hardcore classics; those enhancements, the mass of settings options and the museum of art that accompanies every game make it one of the best compilations I’ve seen. And it’s the reason why Mega Man 11 is missing – I’ve played the demo dozens of times and it’s awesome, and would certainly deserve to be here in place of this from what I’ve seen, but I’m going to be busy with games 4-6, as well as the Mega Man X game on the SNES Classic Mini, for some time yet!
10 Owlboy (Switch)
There’s still pixel-art everywhere this year, but this really is a marvellous lesson in pixel-art design, and a great Metroidvania game to boot. The sky islands you navigate in this vertical platformer are diverse and stunning. Controlling your owl boy feels great. The evolution of the game mechanics works brilliantly as you meet new partners in crime. And those characters are ones you really care about as you make your way through the thought provoking story. Another brilliant Switch indie.
Some of it somewhat predictable, but a few nice surprises this year. It’s a shame there’s no new Halloween movie in here, but it left me as cold as Michael Myers’ eyes. And no Jurassic Park or Ant-Man (and his saucy wasp lady) either because at the time of writing on Christmas Eve I’d still not seen them, though I will have by the time you read this…
1 Deadpool 2
Brilliantly violent, offensive and funny. If it was none of those things, it would probably be winning Oscars. Thankfully that’s not the case! Watching Ryan Reynolds’ anti-hero is like watching blue stand-up comedy in a car chase. Genius.
2 Solo: A Star Wars Story
There’s probably no need for this film to exist, but with every watch I enjoy it more and more – and I enjoyed it a lot the first time! It’s got all the fan-service you want, has a great cast and the story works. Great action film in space even if it’s not the best Star Wars film ever.
3 Avengers: Infinity War
If there was a world record for blockbuster movie, this would be the new record holder. A stunning big old fight between a ton of superheroes and super-villains, all held together by a surprisingly engaging story that’s been many other blockbusters in the making.
4 Mission Impossible: Fallout
Thrill-a-minute action ride with some incredible stunts and set pieces that gets the adrenaline pumping for the duration. I really hope that real-life spy stuff is as bonkers as this!
5 The Meg
Jason Statham playing The Rock against a really good-looking giant prehistoric shark. With explosions. Great to have a decent serious shark movie again.
6 Pacific Rim: Uprising
The first Pacific Rim barely registers in my memory, so this one being as good as it is properly caught me by surprise. Good robots, good monsters, good robots and monsters fighting, and loads of explosions (always a marker for the quality of a film in my eyes). It all makes for a fast-paced, big budget B-movie treat.
Rampage, the film of the game I loved on the ZX Spectrum then the Atari ST. And the arcade version in the Midway Lego Dimensions level pack on PS4! A gorilla, a wolf and a crocodile are mutated into giants, hell-bent on destroying everyone and everything in their path, and it’s up to The Rock to stop them. Just like it would be if it happened in real life. I’m not usually into animal movies but I make an exception with this blockbuster.
8 The Nun
Its predictable and by the numbers. It’s superficial – all fur coat and no knickers. But I love a creepy nun and it looks like a modern day take on a Hammer film, so I had my fill from it even if I wish it was as scary as it thinks it is.
9 Hellraiser: Judgement
I love Hellraiser, but like most fans, don’t love what seems like dozens of crappy, low-budget sequels that have appeared in about 25 years since Hellraiser 3. I expected more of the same here, but actually this one seems to have been made by a fellow fan, for fans. It follows a decent detectives hunting a serial killer storyline with a great closing sequence, is chock full of gore and squelchy nastiness, and for once the latest incarnation of Pinhead isn’t offensive at all to those of us that love him.
10 Batman Ninja
I’m not a massive fan of the Batman (or many other) animated films, but I’ll always give them a go, just in case! And what a case this is – a complete headcase, albeit an absolutely stunning one! Batman and co are somehow transported to feudal Japan at the start, and the rest is a completely bonkers story of Batman, Robin, Catwoman, Joker, Harley Quinn, etc. reimagined as Samurai, ninjas and Japanese warrior lords. With monkey assistants. You’ll have no idea what’s going on for the rest of the film, but the nonsensical plot doesn’t make it any less enjoyable! It’s an absolute visual masterpiece, with the most vivid colours, wonderfully reimagined character designs and incredibly creative Japanese art-influenced detail that are worth the asking price alone.
- Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – Jesu & Sun Kil Moon. When you’ve got a name that catchy, I think it makes sense to use it on your album too! Amazing how adding one element can make everything so different. It’s never been such a stretch to associate previous Jesu stuff to Justin Broadrick’s Godflesh past, but Kozelek’s ultra-slacker vocals unexpectedly shift this right into Red House Painters territory (more so than his Sun Kil Moon incarnation), rather than the post-rock shoegaze you’d expect, even though it’s often still there in the background textures. I love Jesu, I love Red House Painters, this is a very unlikely dream come true!
- Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow. More shoegaze, but this time I’d call it post-hardcore shoegaze! There’s some really incredible soaring and shimmering guitar at play here, but with an occasional hint of heaviness to it that sets it apart from the likes of my other favourites Klimt1918, Swervedriver or My Vitriol, veering towards early Smashing Pumpkins. That heaviness applies even more to the lyrics though, nodding to the band members’ hardcore past and echoing Ian Curtis with a bit of disease and decay sprinkled on top.
- Desert Mountain Tribe – Either That or the Moon. Driving, melodic psychedelic rock that can really suck you in and mesmerise you for it’s full length. Multi-layered and complex, great vocals and some really captivating instrumentals. One of my new finds of the year!
- Black Angel Drifter – Black Angel Drifter. I know I wasn’t actually there, but this takes me right back to my beloved early seventies Texarkana swampland; look up The Legend of Boggy Creek on YouTube! Feral, gothic, sparce Americana about murder and addiction and stuff, just like I plan to make one day!
- Dawn of Ashes – Theophany. I listened to this more than any other [new] album this year. Intense but accessible modern industrial black metal, only let down by an unnecessary Nine Inch Nails cover at the ends, but that’s very easy to avoid.
- FEWS – Means. My annual breakthrough psychedelic post-punk act, and these Swedish-Americans definitely outshone anything else in this admittedly specialist genre in 2016! Literally 20 seconds of Apple Music preview was all it took me to know I’d found one of my albums of the year. Emotive guitar lines, a driving, almost hypnotic bass and a lovely air of playful gloom. Great album.
- The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum. I think this was the first album I picked up this year and one I had high expectations for. I’ve been a fan since their first album, and always seen them as a bit of a throwback to something, but it’s hard to pin down what – the late 60’s and The Beach Boys; some proggy thing from the 70’s that I’d probably claim I’m not familiar with even if I was; early 90’s shoegaze… For anyone else that’s followed the band, it is a bit by numbers, albeit feeling slightly more “dense” than the more dreamy last couple of albums. That said, they live in their own grandiose, atmospheric world, and I was more than happy to visit it repeatedly through 2016 with this album.
- Dinosaur Jr. Pure comfort food for anyone that lived through grunge and was intelligent enough to peek below its surface. Perfect summertime forty-something nostalgia!
- Ihsahn – Arktis. Intensely atmospheric latest release by the man from Emperor. Moments of dark ambience, prog and electronica perfectly complement an emotional black metal masterclass.
- Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree. Beautiful, haunting and heartbreaking in equal measure. Just put it on through some decent headphones and listen to every word. He deserves nothing less.
- Rogue One – A Star Wars Story. I’ve watched The Force Awakens at least once a month since it appeared on blu-ray so had big hopes for this. Didn’t disappoint at all. Stunning film (and female lead, which has a lot to do with it being at the top this list). Great story, great characters, great visuals. And easily Peter Cushing’s best performance since he died.
- The Greasy Strangler. This film is insane. Nothing else in my collection of 2000+ films comes close. The premise of the killer is ludicrous enough, but the backdrop of a bizarre father and son disco walking tour takes it to another level. It’s cringeworthy, filthy and there’s a couple of moments that still make me laugh just thinking about them now. Everyone should see this; it’s a life changer!
- Night of Something Strange. If Porky’s had absolutely no moral compass, and was a bad early eighties zombie movie, it might have turned out like this. It’s gratuitous, obscene and doesn’t know when to stop. Like zombies with VD… The kick her in the vag scene was a particular favourite!
- Deadpool. I didn’t really know much about this guy until I saw the film, but it’s everything an adult superhero movie fan that’s realised that 99% of everything from now on is being dumbed down for the Pixar generation could hope for. It’s funny, has some great nods to other films and is just a fun action film from start to finish.
- The Conjuring 2. I’ve often criticised stuff like Paranormal Activity for being horror for people that don’t like horror films, similar to Nickelback being rock for people that don’t like rock music. One of my biggest bugbears with this stuff is telegraphing the scares from a mile away; leaving a special space on the screen for something to jump out at you. What makes The Conjuring 2 so different is that you’re left wondering where on almost every frame something is going to jump out at you! It might happen, it might not, and this makes for incredibly tense viewing, winding you up to the point that you’re even left wondering whether you saw the old man sitting in the chair as the camera panned past, or simply imagined it. If you are aware of the Enfield poltergeist case, you just need to be a bit willing to excuse how “based on a true story” it really is – my understanding is that the two Americans these films are based on did turn up in England at the time but were sent packing much more quickly than the film suggests! But otherwise this is a great horror film; the best proper one of the year easily, if not the last decade.
- The Witch. Wonderfully bleak and unsettling tale of black magic and possession. Beautifully shot with fantastic attention to detail, and one of the more original horror films you’re likely to catch this year.
- Blair Witch. I’d just watched the first two again – both of which I love – when this one had its surprise announcement. It retreads familiar ground but for someone into the Blair Witch lore that accompanied the original, it adds a bit to the story and does justice to the source as a decent horror film.
- Suicide Squad. I’ve got no problem with shallow characters if there’s big explosions involved. This probably won’t appear in many top ten lists, but I enjoyed it loads!
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Megan Fox dressed as a slutty schoolgirl. No further review needed.
- Doctor Strange. Another Marvel character I’d heard of but had no clue about. Quick backstory was more than enough to fill in the blanks though, then straight into a visual thrill ride.
- No Man’s Sky. It didn’t take me that long to work out that just beyond the technical marvels lies something very shallow, but as someone with very limited console gaming time, and no interest in cooperative or multiplayer play, this is pretty much all I want from a game. There’s a story of sorts if you want it, but the joy of this for me is making my own story at my own pace. Beautiful achievement.
- Crashlands. This game knows exactly what’s fun about exploration, crafting and survival games, and lets you concentrate on the fun, rather than learning arduous systems or recipes. Really nice progression, whether you choose to follow the story, the side quests, or just enjoy mooching around for new stuff to make. I’ve literally lost hours and hours on this recently, usually stopping only to recharge the battery on my iPad. Incredible mobile gaming achievement.
- Lego Dimensions Midway Arcade. Not strictly a game in its own right, and quite a bit different from the mass of other packs we’ve collected over the last year in that it’s as much of a retro gaming compilation as a standard level pack. And it includes some of my favourite games ever! 720, Spy Hunter, Toobin, Rampage, Super Sprint, Paperboy, Gauntlet… Unbelievable, as is the Lego Spy Hunter car, which I only wish I’d owned thirty years ago!
- Tomb of the Mask. This one came early in the year on iOS but I’m still playing it. It looks like a Spectrum game, plays like a casual mobile game, and like Downwell before if, is deceptively sophisticated and very addictive.
- Trackmania demo. That’s right, a PS4 demo has made if into my list! I’m sure had I felt the need to buy the game yet, the full version would be here instead, but I’m still more than happy dipping in and out of this, trying to better what I’ve done before and enjoying the insanely high speed, highly polished arcade racing.
- Galaga Wars. Last year my high score craving was satisfied by Pac Man 256, and this year it’s another modern take on ancient history with this. Plays mostly like the original, albeit with a bit more freedom of movement, looks great, and employs a very fair and unobtrusive free to play model. Frantic and addictive.
- PinOut. Fantastic endless pinball game on iOS. Mechanically it’s normal pinball, but you’re flipping the ball up the screen to the next set of flippers against the clock. A lot of fun, very addictive, and a special mention for the extremely stylish eighties-esque neon look.
- Clash Royale. For a game I grew to hate after about twenty hours, I continued playing it for over one hundred more! The height of gaming addiction, and whilst I never spent a penny on it, I can fully appreciate it sitting at the top of Apple’s top grossing charts!
- Atari Flashback Console. Okay, also not strictly a game, and I’ve only owned it for less than a week, but it’s endless Atari 2600 action in my filthy mitts! This is pure gaming history, and whilst of course there are duds in the sixty games pre-installed, the classics like Frogger, Missile Command, Centipede and Asterois deserve to be mentioned in top ten lists at every opportunity.
- Tricky Towers. A PS+ freebie in the summer, and one that probably has a permanent place on my PS4’s hard drive. Essentially Tetris, with frantic and fast-paced challenges in single player mode, but where it really shines is in local two player, where you race to build your tower to a certain height whilst trying to scupper your opponent’s. Great to play with the kids, though if you’re a past Tetris master just remember not to go too nuts for the first few goes!