Gaming has become ubiquitous in pretty much every part of life, thanks in large part to handhelds and now mobile gaming. 2016 was a pretty landmark year for games on the go, sparking one of the biggest phenomena worldwide with Pokémon GO. Even aside from that outlier, there were some good games to go around.
Here's the list of nominees (and here's a list of all nominees for all categories):
- Bravely Second (Game Page)
- Fire Emblem Fates (Game Page)
- Kirby: Planet Robobot (Game Page)
- Pokémon GO (Game Page)
- Pokémon Sun and Moon (Game Page)
Reader's Choice - Pokémon Sun and Moon (Our Review)Any year a new Pokémon game releases, especially one with entirely new Pokémon, is going to get some buzz and every single game has been a quality product. Some may moan that they do not innovate enough and are essentially the same game, our readers obviously just tell them to shut up and go on their way, training their #1 Rattata.
Third Place - Fire Emblem Fates (Our Review)
By Alex Santa MariaIt would have been hard for any game to live up to the franchise revival that was Fire Emblem Awakening. Having to move forward after that nostalgic tour-de-force was quite a task, and Fates did itself no favors with its strange Pokemon-esque split game design. Still, once you get past these hang-ups, there hasn’t been that many changes to the Fire Emblem formula in Fates. The game is still full of amazing characters that drive engagement with side systems and conversations. You work towards making certain characters fight side by side in order to increase their relationships, and you suffer when they fall in battle.
One advantage to the game’s strange release is that if you wanted to play a lot of Fire Emblem in 2016, Nintendo had you covered. Fates is a collection of three different campaigns, and that’s on top of the endless side missions and practice battles you can partake in on the game’s overworld map. You can bring in classic characters for battle via the game’s amiibo support, and you can even get fun side stories through the game’s optional DLC. Fates is a fully featured game that would find a comfortable home on any platform, and the fact that you can take it with you wherever you go is just a cool bonus.
Second Place - Pokémon Sun and Moon (Our Review)
By Connor FossYou can expect a bunch of reviews lauding a new Pokémon game when it releases. However, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon dared to take a step back from the tried and true formula. Game Freak managed to take the series and pumped some much-needed new life into it. From the very first cutscene, you can tell that things are going to be a little bit different.
For starters, the Alola region is divided into several islands. There’s no longer one major continent, but instead very distinct islands. Each one has a much different feel than the other. One may be a bustling metropolis, another is a wild field full of nature. You never know what to expect from the Alolan islands! That same feeling is applied to the very core of the formula as well.
Gone away is the traditional gym system. Instead, there are “island trials." Each island has several trials you must overcome, followed by a Grand Trial against the head of the island. These challenges are quite varied, ranging from gathering ingredients for food to exploring a haunted grocery store. Sure, it’s close to the gym system, but it feels so much better than “go to town, go to gym, get badge, next town.” There’s more to it than that, which helps keep it fresh.
Speaking of badges, those are gone too! In their place are Z-Crystals. There is one Z-Crystal for every move type. In addition, there are several made for specific Pokémon. These crystals power up a move of a certain type when held by a Pokémon, allowing them to perform a Z-move. Much like Mega Stones, only one Z-Move can be used per battle.
And that doesn’t really even scratch the surface of the changes brought in Pokémon Sun & Moon. Suffice it to say, everything Game Freak attempts to change, they replace with something fresh and exciting. And that is exactly what Pokémon needed.
Winner - Pokémon GO (Our Review)
By Andrew StretchMobile and Handheld gaming is something that most players engage in when we have time to spare, and one mobile game this year had players literally going out of their way to keep playing, and that game was Pokémon GO. Releasing for iOS and Android earlier this year, Pokémon GO was meant to bring the sense of adventure of finding a Pokémon in the wild out of our consoles and into the real world using a mix of GPS location tracking and Augmented Reality.
In Pokémon GO players can use the app while out and about to search and capture wild Pokémon, as well as encounter and fight against other team gyms and visit pokestops to get items and eggs. While the mechanics behind Pokémon GO were not what a lot of fans were expecting, especially missing features like being unable to battle wild Pokémon before trying to catch them, there was still an incredible user base skyrocketing the app to #1 in both the Google Play Store and the App Store. It wasn't long before the game released that people all over the world were mining through the game and creating supplemental tools like trackers (2016-2016 RIP), and even hidden value viewers, immediately creating a metagame for gym domination and raising Pokemon.
It wasn't uncommon to be walking down the road and be able to ask a stranger with their phone out if they know where the Growlithe you're looking for is. With everyone out playing Pokémon, it was even affecting restaurants and cafes, advertising their proximity to a pokestop and offering discounts if you drop a lure; to this day there is still a filter on the Yelp app to look for locations that are near pokestops. Pokémon GO wasn't just a game that people played when they had free time, it was something that would push people to go for a walk, meet up with friends, or just try to find a way to have their phone move slightly while they sit on the couch watching TV.
The support that Niantic has been giving Pokémon GO has also helped to reinvigorate the user base, even if it was one of their updates removing a feature that lost the largest number of players. In the past couple of months, there have been double XP weekends, Holiday events, and even the release of second generation baby Pokémon and Ditto in what I'm sure Niantic hopes will bring players back to Pokémon GO.
The two runners up for this category, Fire Emblem Fates and Pokémon Sun and Moon, are both fantastic games in their own right, but no mobile or handheld game has had as large a player base or as much of an impact on the way that we go about our days as Pokémon GO.
What did we miss? What did we get wrong? What did we get right?