At the beginning of any year, it’s remarkably easy to identify releases primed to be game-of-the-year material. Sure, every new year brings some surprises, but those big-budget, big-name brands tend to get all the attention. Sometimes, though, certain games emerge from absolutely nowhere and become our unexpected favorites. The following games may not carry the clout of their competition, but they certainly took us by surprise.
Games like Stardew Valley exist if only to prove just how different video games are from any other form of entertainment. While many of the best-of-2016 games discussed here on Fandom feature huge budgets and stem from the talents of hundreds, Stardew Valley came about due to one single person. It’ll likely be never spoken in the same breath alongside your Uncharteds and Final Fantasies, but in 2016, it emerged from nowhere to become one of the most-talked-about games of the year—pretty astounding for something only available on PC.
And, thanks to the recently released console ports, we don’t expect the Stardew Valley conversation to end anytime soon. In the strangely crowded world of addictive, cutesy farming sims, there’s simply no better choice than Stardew Valley. [Bob Mackey]
Doom was one of the top franchises of the ”90s, but felt a little out of date this century. Developer id had been working on a fourth Doom for years, but many figured the series was best left in the past, especially after series mastermind John Carmack left the company. But we all underestimated Doom, as 2016 saw it explode back into the mainstream. And Doom did it by embracing all the over-the-top, bloody action that made it famous in the first place.
The rock ‘n roll action (and soundtrack) makes the solo and multiplayer gameplay of Doom a gory delight. The fast-paced gameplay and gory kills are bloody comfort food to anyone in need of some distraction in a year like 2016. Gamers everywhere were happily surprised to see that Doom Guy is just as fun in 2016 as he was in 1993. [Henry Gilbert]
To be honest, it feels a little weird to consider Hitman a “sleeper hit.” After all, Hitman has been around since 2000, and saw two movie adaptations over its 16-year history. Despite all this, no one really talked about the great Hitman reboot—simply titled “Hitman“—that launched mid-year. Perhaps the episodic approach turned people off, but if you kept up with the releases, Hitman’s focus on replaying levels provided plenty of reasons to savor its small morsels of content.
While the subject matter may seem a bit crass on its surface, Hitman never takes itself too seriously, and amounts to a complex-yet-approachable experience engineered for player experimentation. Hopefully the lack of enthusiasm for the first season won’t stop IO Interactive from working on the second. [Bob Mackey]
Dragon Quest Builders
When you think of gaming sleeper hit of 2016, Dragon Quest Builders certainly fits the unexpected mold. On the surface, it seems like Square Enix cheaply cashing in on the Minecraft craze with a quickie Dragon Quest rebranding. Instead, Dragon Quest Builders reinvents the voxel-based gameplay with a new focus on storytelling alongside a healthy dose of nostalgia.
Dragon Quest Builders arrived on the 30th anniversary of Dragon Quest, so it’s fitting that the story begins with the alternate ending to the NES original entry. The world has been conquered by evil and only one builder can give people back their creative spark, one building at a time. Exploring Alefgard in all its boxy beauty is gorgeous, as is Dragon Quest Builders’ great sense of balance between combat and creation. A cute and engrossing way for Dragon Quest to make its return to North American consoles. [Henry Gilbert]
It now seems obvious that this free-to-play app was going to conquer phones worldwide, but it didn’t seem that way pre-release. 2016 was the year Nintendo finally embraced mobile gaming, and Pokémon Go was its biggest success. The AR gameplay inspired millions to leave the house in search of Pokémon, capturing all the beasts they could.
For months we heard stories of people getting more active thanks to Pokémon Go, as well as a few getting into accidents while staring at the Charmander on their screens. If you were being safe, it let adults recapture the first generation Pokémon of their youth, while kids got to seek out the 151 monsters for the first time. It’s not very deep and is still missing some needed features like trading, but that doesn’t detract from the magic of the whole world falling in love with Pokémon all over again. [Henry Gilbert]