2016, man. What the hell even happened?
Well, it’s time for us, once again, to attempt to look back on 2016 in gaming through the lens of the gaming.moe Waifu Awards. No, we’re not here to award actual waifus — rather, we’re here to take a look back on the year in gaming in a somewhat different light than just pointing out what had the best graphics or story or whatever.
The year was a disaster by the standards of most sane human beings, and honestly, it’s hard for me to write 2016 awards because it’s really challenging to look back at the year and see anything beyond a pile of flaming wreckage. Also, it has been declared by HeatStreet to be an Affront to True Gamers and Developers to write end-of-the-year awards that contain things like “humor” and “commentary” and aren’t just slobbering over high-scoring AAA releases, so presenting the Waifu Awards makes me a fundamentally terrible person.
Nevertheless, I am here to provide you all with my hot, cold, and lukewarm takes on gaming-related happenings of 2016, both well-publicized and obscure, complete with snarky commentary and taking people to task for doing stupid things. The awards honestly took me a while to write this time around — not as many happenings and trends really jumped out at me this year as they did last year, and the things that I did take note of were generally (and, fittingly, given the overall tone of 2016) trainwrecks, many of which had been written about at length here and elsewhere. There’s still plenty to commentate on, though!
Enough chatter, though. Let’s make an attempt to dig through the smouldering rubble of 2016 in hopes of squeezing precious drops of entertainment out of it!
What are you people even DOING: Microsoft
The biggest question mark of 2016 is Microsoft’s future plans. Does the XBox One have a coherent identity? Because it sure doesn’t feel like it. With almost every XBOne exclusive also coming to PC, getting cancelled due to corporate bullshit, or proving a disappointment, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to actually own the console. It’s quite a contrast to last-gen where MS was quick to capitalize on Sony’s arrogance: now Sony has completely turned the tables, securing numerous exclusives and catering to fans to give them a definitive reason to own Sony’s platform — be it big-name games like Last of Us 2 or more niche fare like Danganronpa and the Yakuza franchise.
RIP our beautiful be-headphoned snarky dragon douchebag
I suppose MS wants to prep for the XBOne Scorpio model and is keeping certain things close to its chest, but with so many major XBOne titles also coming to Windows 10, the reasons to double-dip on an upgraded platform are becoming fewer and fewer. The XBOne has been a confused mess of a system looking for consumer validation since its conception, and even after dumping stuff like its weird-as-hell entertainment programming initiative and the Kinect, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be in the market.
Most Immediate Buzzkill: DotEMU Handling Windjammers
Remember that awesome Windjammers PS4 reveal at PlayStation Experience? Remember feeling like AW HELL YEAH WINDJAMMERS IS THE SHIT? That was great for like the five minutes it lasted before it was revealed that DotEMU was doing the port.
What’s so bad about it? Well, DotEMU’s Neo Geo releases on other platforms have proven to be really, really bad. Sebmal wrote up a pretty lengthy piece about it on his site highlighting everything that’s wrong with their Neo-Geo ports in particular. It doesn’t paint a rosy picture, no matter how much DotEMU goes out of their way to assure us that they’re working really hard with the French Windjammers community.
(I’ll make it clear, though: I have full faith in Lizardcube’s Wonder Boy III remake because DotEMU is merely publishing it rather than actively making it.)
I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means Word of 2016: “Scam”
I have never heard “scam” thrown around in reference to games as much as I did in 2016. Everything that failed to live up to hype and expectations was dubbed a “scam” by people too embarrassed to admit they got swept up in marketing campaigns. Mighty No. 9, No Man’s Sky, even Street Fighter V’s troubled launch and DLC scheme were dubbed “scams” by regretful buyers.
Here’s what a scam is, folks: Willfully and maliciously promising something and taking payment with no intent to deliver on your claims from the outset.
Was Mighty No. 9 a scam? Of course it wasn’t — the team clearly had every intention of delivering a good product, but screwed it up through a chain of terrible decisions and poor planning. Was No Man’s Sky a scam? Highly, highly doubtful — ill-thought out things were said and promised, much like with Fable, but the game is functionally playable and has clearly had a good deal of work invested into it: who can say whether or not the stuff that wasn’t in the final game wasn’t planned at some point? Plus, here’s a newsflash: overpromising and underdelivering been going on since the Atari 2600 era, where boxart was designed to make games look far more interesting than they actually were. Heck, I don’t recall Killzone 2 being called a “scam”when prerendered video was passed off as gameplay a decade a decade ago.
There are plenty of genuine scams out there: Kickstarters selling rebranded product from Aliexpress, IndieGoGos for products that are literally impossible to make, and all manner of rebranded asset-flipped games that involved no effort to crap out. There are also things that, while maybe not totally scams, have a whiff of dishonesty to them that should make people wary. Such as…
Fools and their money are soon parted award: #Right2Game
I realize this technically started at the end of 2015, but given that a whole lot of hot air’s been delivered I think it’s good to highlight here.
There’s been a lot of drama surrounding the ownership and administration of arcade institution Twin Galaxies over the years, particularly around the time the organization fell into the hands of Jace Hall a few years ago. From the outset, Jace had big ambitions to turn Twin Galaxies into some inexplicable e-sports/high score/competition/social media/entertainment thing — his “vision” for TG has been a goddamned mess from the outset, and numerous failed ventures such as a Twitch channel with atrocious gaming-related programming and a one-and-done convention.
So then we got #Right2Game. What is #Right2Game, you ask? Well, let’s have the IndieGoGo campaign tell you in its own words!
As a video game enthusiast or someone who knows video game players, you have likely encountered the pervasive, negative notion that people who play video games are wasting their time and should be doing something “more productive” instead. The effect on gamers everywhere—especially young ones—is widespread embarrassment and downward social pressure around an activity that they love. What is not NEARLY as widespread is the understanding that playing video games actually presents numerous benefits and the passion should be supported. Twin Galaxies is on a mission to raise awareness that avid gaming is a worthwhile, socially acceptable, and important activity that’s deserving of more understanding and support. To accomplish this,we are raising funds for the specific things listed below: A new social media website platform module with features tailored exclusively for video game players to get greater recognition and exposure. A mobile app to increase access, participation and mobile gaming recognition within the Twin Galaxies system. Live streamed events, programs and competitions broadcasted through our media network Twin Galaxies Live at www.tglive.com .
Yes, an activity that the majority of the first world engages in is demonized and mocked, and only the saviors at Twin Galaxies can combat this heinous oppression of True Gamerz by… making a shitty Raptr/Twitch knockoff. How does that work, exactly? Hell if I know!
This attempt to play on the nerd persecution complex drew a few famous faces supporting the campaign — covert EVO attendee Jamie Lee Curtis among them — though for some of the endorsers, I really wonder just how clear they were on what they were trying to promote. While the campaign didn’t even reach half of its funding goal — despite directly reaching out to some of the biggest believers of the “oppressed gamers” fable — it still got well over $100,000 in funding, which is no small sum!
Yeah, the whole thing was shady as hell, but I’d stop short at calling it a scam — it’s clear then and now that the current management of Twin Galaxies is totally clueless about what it wants the organization to actually be, and that’s reflected in these sort of haphazard attempts to make things that draw people who aren’t old arcade farts to the site. Thus far, Jace and company have delivered just a handful of the promised Twin Galaxies site upgrades (and hoo boy does the site’s frontpage look like shit — if you can’t tell the difference between Twin Galaxies and and someone’s Wix site at a glance, that’s a problem), the Twitch channel seems to be broadcasting nothing but H1Z1 content, there’s no mobile app anywhere to be seen, and the forums themselves are still a cesspool of toxic personalities and questionable submission procedures.
The campaign did deliver some stuff, at least: people got H1Z1 in-game hoodies and physical trinkets they pledged for, but little else has materialized. Funnily, I don’t see any of the usual crowd who crow about “Gaming crowdfund SCAMS!!!!” howling about this, even though it’s pretty obvious that they were donating to a “make Twin Galaxies into a half-assed social media site” fund under the guise of “proving to the world that GAMERZ ARE GUD!” and not even getting much of the former out of it. Guess they’re too embarrassed to admit that they didn’t do their homework or read the fine print.
Most hilarious Kickstarter disaster of possibly the forever: the Coleco Chameleon
Holy hell, where do you even start with this thing? Well, there’s the article I wrote for VICE Motherboard, which got a lot of traction, but things somehow got even weirder from that point. Coleco revoked their branding, A few folks involved with the projects shared anecdotes about the system’s supposed architect, all of which seem to scream “DO NOT TRUST THIS INDIVIDUAL HOLY SHIT ARE YOU STUPID,” A bunch of people left Retro magazine1 in the fallout and caused planned issues to be hideously delayed as a result (I heard the last issue was literally just interview reprints from other sources), Mike Kennedy wound up screwing over one of his friends and ardent defenders, and my god this is the absolute KING of retrogaming drama. As far as I’m concerned, the Aero Fighters 3 AES incident has been dethroned as the biggest retro-related clusterfuck of all time — but I have full faith that sometime in the future, the notoriously drama-filled Neo-Geo community will eventually one-up this.
Most Idiotic Marketing Blunder of 2016: Monster Strike’s North American online debacle
As much as I want to harp on Street Fighter V’s boneheaded choice to ship a stripped-down game without crowd-pleasing single-player content, they didn’t put out a game and then remove a crucial feature that fans loved for barely-explained reasons. But that’s exactly what happened with the North American (and Australian) editions of Mixi’s Monster Strike.
Remember how I interviewed the staff who were launching the game Stateside a while back when this site was first starting out? They talked at length about the importance of the online feature to growing a North American community for the game. Well, I get the feeling somebody in Japan decided to intervene. See, not long after Mixi announced they were working with Facebook Creative Labs on a new marketing approach for North American edition of Monster Strike, they decided to tell everyone that online multiplayer was getting cut from that version of the game. Why? Because they wanted players to play with each other locally, like they often did in Japan! Commence face in palm.
It really made no sense why they would cut this — was there some marketing data showing that local players spent more money on gacha? Did Facebook tell them that they needed to kill online multiplayer in order to deliver a “consistent marketing message?” Either way, somebody seemed to completely misunderstand the state of the US market, where online multiplayer is crucial to the communities of many titles. Longtime North American MS players left in droves, and the hardcore folks that remained took to spoofing locations in rooted Android phones to make online play function.
Meanwhile, the Japanese version — you know, the one people actually play locally with some frequency — still had all of the online play features! Plus it was leagues ahead in terms of content and interface improvements, plus it got exclusive collaboration events with series like Saint Seiya and Yu Yu Hakusho, plus there were a bevy of apps that could help you find multiplayer games to join at any hour of the day… Yeah, it was an absolute no-brainer for most of the Monster Strike fanbase to make the jump over to the Japanese side of things.
Mixi seems to have realized they messed up: Online play is back, but they seem to have dialed back on North American promotion of the game in favor of focusing on Hong Kong and Taiwan. Recently, the NA version’s UI was upgraded to near that of the Japanese version, which has made it easier than ever to play. Yet the damage is already done: I’m in several LINE and Discord groups for Monster Strike, and I still have a rough time finding people to run quests with me — whereas I can post a JP edition game on a matching service and have it filled within seconds.
Moral of the story: Don’t ever REMOVE features players enjoy from your game to make them play a way you want. There’s a better way!
Unintentional kusoge of the year award: Battleborn
I’ve done “most dangerous kusoge” in previous years, and I was all set to hand this award over to the gigantic clusterfuck that was FLEETCOMM. But after I realized that its creator is a sentient pile of dogshit masquerading as a human who thrives on attention (positive or negative) and notoriety, I figured I’d rather talk about something that doesn’t involve yet another disastrous crowdfounding attempt and lots of awful, awful people.
Battleborn is the rare example of the unintentional kusoge: A game that, by plenty of accounts, is hardly terrible, but has earned a reputation as being grade-A garbage through other factors entirely. After years of delay, the game released to a tepid response from critics and players alike, which is hardly news- or meme-worthy. No, it’s the fact that it launched in the same month as Overwatch, perhaps the biggest release of 2016, whole boasting a similar look and style – even though the games play fairly differently.
The game made headlines when it fell like a rock on the UK sales charts and active players on Steam died off extremely quickly. These news stories and meme-able Steam chart images, combined with the penchant for Randy Pitchford and company to insert their feet in their mouths when talking about their own products, painted an image of a crappy game made by over-promising blowhards being abandoned in droves for a superior product from Blizzard. It also didn’t help that a price drop hit right as Overwatch did — less than a month after release! Rumors of the game going free-to-play started to propagate mere months after its launch, but despite 2K outright admitting it’s a failure, it’s somehow still kicking along. Still, who knows how long it’ll be before it pulls an Evolve?
All of the bad news did, however, made for some really good humor at the game’s expense:
Looking over the headlines and memes, it’d be easy to draw the conclusion that Battleborn is 100% irredeemable refuse — which it isn’t. Its kusoge status is more based on the cascade of terrible decisions from Gearbox and 2K that put it in a position to be utterly trampled by one of the biggest gaming phenomenons in recent history. Sometimes it’s not the game itself that’s a trainwreck: it’s everything surrounding it.
Yet Battleborn was hardly the only victim of…
The Wrecking Ball of 2016: Overwatch
It’s rare for a game to be so popular that it sucks all the life out of not only games that released before and during its launch window, but a lot of what came afterwards as well. That’s exactly what happened with Overwatch.
It’s well known by this point that Street Fighter V didn’t live up to sales expectations for Capcom, but I don’t think they could have predicted that former devoted Street Fighter players would drop SFV like a lead balloon once Overwatch hit. It’s not even in the same genre! Other multiplayer games were hit as well as the Overwatch bug bit millions of players, many of whom weren’t expecting to get so involved in a multiplayer, team-based FPS. The phenomenal appearl of Overwatch’s game’s setting and characters, as well as its accessibility, endeared it to the hearts of many who didn’t think FPS games were “their thing.” It’s 9 months after release, and fans are still as engaged and enthusiastic for Overwatch as they were when it first launched.
There’s been a fair bit of chatter on the interwebs about how numerous AAA releases didn’t perform as well as expected this year, and I honestly can’t help but wonder if Overwatch might have played a part in that: why spend money on more games when you’ve got something that gets constant updates, has a thriving playerbase, and remains enjoyable months after its initial release?
It remains to be seen if Overwatch will have the WoW-like effect over totally overshadowing everything even remotely similar that comes after it, but I’ll just say this: Gigantic’s got one hell of a hill to overcome.
Somehow Still Alive and Kicking Award: The PS Vita
Alas, the poor, neglected Vita. It’s hard not to feel pity for this beautiful, mistreated handheld, especially since Sony has all but abandoned it. But while SCE might have dropped this thing like a two-ton brick, niche publishers are still finding a fair bit of success on the underperforming platform, and new physical releases come out for it with a surprising frequency. I’m sure part of it is fueled by a collector’s market who wants to hoard all the physical-media games they can get their hands on — after all, the low print runs of certain physical Vita games ensure that they’ll be collectors’ items years down the road. As someone who witnessed the ignoble North American death of the Sega Saturn, however, the Vita support from companies like Atlus, XSEED, Aksys, and IFI warms my heart. Now if only we could get SaGa Scarlet Grace somehow….
Most Interesting Game of 2016
This is a pretty tough one this time around. I was very happy to see Romancing SaGa 2 get some form of Western release, and I still find myself binging on it from time to time (all the while saying “no I can’t review this yet I still haven’t seen enough of it argh”). Pokemon Sun and Moon are the kick in the pants the series needed to be really fresh and relevant in an ever-evolving mobile landscape. Weirdly, I haven’t gotten back into Fire Emblem Fates after I had to put it aside for a bit — maybe it’s because I started with Birthright and that particular character cast/story (outside from best Fates waifu Rinkah) just wasn’t doing it for me. (Starting on Hard difficulty might have also done it, but dangit, it didn’t want a repeat of Awakening where the last batch of maps were just boring as shit to play.) Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse is fantabulous and fixes a lot of the problems that kept me from properly finishing the original. And Shiren! Dear lord, I loves me some Shiren and need to pick it up again in the postgame.
Two other games stand out in my mind: Pocket Card Jockey, which I talked about at length here, and Gotta Protectors, which finally got a Western release after way too long (it was mentioned back when I first did these dumb awards!). Both of these games came out years earlier in Japan, but took their sweet time coming over to North America. I’ve said plenty about Horse Cards already, and Gotta Protectors is something I’m chipping away at over time: it feels like the kind of game that’s better left savored than wolfed down all at once, since the gameplay mechanics are easy enough to remember that you don’t really get rusty. (Also, I totally forgot to play it with Persona when we were camping at Comiket and I wanted to test the multiplayer before I reviewed it ohhhhh nooooooo)
Wild Guns Reloaded is pretty fantastic too. I didn’t pick up Battle Garegga, since I’m one of the anti-Butt Greg jerks, and what I played of the supposedly less rank-happy arrange mode at the Game Tandeidan bar didn’t set my world on fire.
Jeez, I’ve gone on a huge ramble here and I have yet to reach any sort of conclusion at to what was the actual most interesting game of 2016. Ummm….
ah screw it, I spent (and am still spending) too much goddamn time with Raimais. GOTY 1988
- which, disclaimer — I did do some writing for, and was quite dissatisfied with the experience ↩