GamesRadar+'s Game of the Year 2016

The best games of 2016 feel like a series of bold statements. Whether it's something we've waited years to finally experience, a sequel that perfectly refines its predecessors' successes, or a bold new concept that glimmers with originality, these games all demonstrate a confidence in their core identity that makes them fun and unforgettable. Some are heartfelt farewells to beloved worlds and characters that have been with us for a console generation; others are friendly hellos from new protagonists who we already adore in the short time we've known them. Our definitive picks for Game of the Year 2016 are all smiling at you, beckoning you to come enjoy yourself in their company. All you need to do is go play.

25. Thumper

Thumper isn't for everyone. Its tunes don't exactly conform to the pleasurable formula of what humans typically consider music. Its minimalist, psychedelic aesthetic is alienating, cold, and disarming. And Thumper's demands of your attention and reflexes are incredibly exhausting in a way few games can manage. But if you let one of its spindly tentacles ensnare you, there's no saving you - you're hopelessly caught up in one of the greatest rhythm games ever made. As a silver space beetle racing down a track to do battle with a demonic hovering face, you'll tap buttons and move analog sticks along with its proggy, percussive soundtrack in order to overcome numerous obstacles at an increasingly rapid pace. Thumper’s convergence of sight, sound, and interactivity creates a uniquely oppressive atmosphere, weighing down on your chest in a way that even some of the best horror games can't achieve. Eventually, you become so attuned with the game, so in sync with its crushing difficulty, that the rest of the world begins to melt away, leaving only you, your quickening heartbeat, and Thumper. That's when it has you. Oh, and it's in VR, too. Don't play it before bed. David Roberts 

24. NBA 2K17 

North American sports gamers have never had it so good. While Brits clamour for even a half-decent rugby game, and the cricketing world waits for the burgeoning Don Bradman series to fulfil its abundant potentia, all four of the big US sports - basketball, baseball, gridiron and hockey - find themselves represented to an elite level in virtual form. But 2K nudges ahead of MLB 16 The Show, Madden 17 and NHL 17 because it's an established, class-leading veteran in terms of both on-court quality and off-court depth. The others are great, but still playing catch-up. Matches in NBA 2K17 don't merely feel like authentic basketball, they look and sound like it too with astonishingly realistic player likenesses and insightful, just-like-on-ESPN broadcast presentation. And its rich, all-encompassing MyGM mode covers every aspect of managing an NBA side while never losing the fun factor. Meaning that even four seasons - and 250 games - in, there's still the same thrill to unearthing a supreme talent through the draft, or masterminding a last-ditch play-off victory. Truly a game that'll cause you to hoop and holler. Ben Wilson 

23. Reigns 

The best mobile game experiences take clever advantage of their platform's strengths. Reigns has but a single game mechanic that will immediately be familiar to anyone who's ever picked up a smartphone: swiping left or right. Within that constraint, Reigns manages to cram in an adventure that's clever, funny, and shockingly replayable, as you do your best to live as long as you can before dying (usually horribly) and being reborn as the next monarch in line. Swipe to choose between decisions about how to run your kingdom: fight the invaders or welcome them, build a school or don't, date the pigeon or...wait, date a pigeon? Hold on, that can't be right. (*checks notes*) Ok, fight a skeleton, empathize with werewolves, discover a traitor, prevent a famine, date a...pigeon. Well. Ok, then. Following plot threads opens up new packs of cards that are added to your story, expanding the narrative options and providing the clues you'll need to break the curse and die permanently, once and for all. Susan Arendt  

22. Inside 

Surrealism has a rich history in game design. Even beyond the foundational arcade era and limited tech like Atari 2600 where strange, impressionistic design was a limitation born necessity, video games have embraced oneiric qualities. When Kirby's Adventure tells you to eat eggs not bombs, that's some René Magritte business right there. Inside, the second game from Playdead Studios, feels like the culmination of 40 years of surrealist game making, a moving, flummoxing, and evocative evolution of the command to eat eggs rather than bombs in a virtual space. The studio's propensity for naturalistic production - the way the boy moves, the soft sounds of his pursuers, everything in its world no matter how impossible - captures your attention the moment you press start but it also leaves you vulnerable to the game's wild swings in internal logic. That a rigidly designed, linear game like Inside can actually capture the untethered flow of the human subconscious is a remarkable feat on its own, but Playdead does it with equal grace and humor. Inside brings you up to the edge of your strangest dream and then shows you what happens to the dream after you wake up. Even if you find it alienating, it's impossible to deny the quality of the craft. Anthony John Agnello 

21. PES 2017 

Nine years. That's how long ardent Pro Evolution Soccer fans had to wait for the dawning of a new era, in which the game bearing that esteemed name finally lived up to its storied past. More than lived up to, in fact: play any PES from the series' apparent PS2 heyday now, and it's clear in seconds that this is the best Konami's football franchise has ever been. Everything in PES 2017 feels natural and effortless - not only the basics of dribbling, passing and shooting, but advanced elements such as team-mates making intelligent runs into space, and goalkeepers palming balls away from danger. Rival FIFA 17 had a big year too - indeed, it's really time the black-and-white playground arguments of one being Premier League, the other League Two are put to bed - but while its pull is the whole package of Ultimate Team and a gazillion club sides, PES draws you in with something much more simple: a near-perfect rendition of real football, match after match. And, unlike fellow underdog champs Leicester City, it looks to have staying power well into 2017. Ben Wilson 

20. Picross 3D Round 2 

How do you improve on perfection? In Picross 3D Round 2's case, you add more numbers. Using some rudimentary counting skills and a hefty dose of logic, you'll slowly chip away at large, three-dimensional bricks until they turn into adorable woodcarvings of household objects, animals, food and more. Round 2 takes the concepts introduced in Picross 3D, and adds another set of numbers to worry about, both represented by their own individual color scheme and coming with their own set of rules. Rather than making puzzles too complex, this approach actually provides an incredibly inventive twist to an already ingenious design, and allows for far more intricate objects to carve. Throw in more customizable difficulty options - which let you make every one of its more than 300 puzzles as easy or as difficult as you like - and a variety of stages that teach you more advanced solving techniques, and Picross 3D Round 2 comes out as one of the most accessible entries in one of the greatest puzzle series ever. It's the perfect game to break out whether you've got time for a five-minute coffee break or a five-hour binge session. David Roberts

19. Pokemon Sun/Moon 

In many ways, Pokemon Sun and Moon feel like the games that fans wanted Pokemon X and Y to be. Where those games felt like the same old formula (but in 3D), Sun and Moon feel like a revolution. Instead of Gyms, you have the quest-like Island Trials. Instead of the Elite Four, you have the infinitely replayable Battle Tree. Instead of leaving Pokemon to languish in the PC, you can visit them in the Poke Pelago. But the most significant changes are the variety of small additions that have been made, improving the user interface and the feeling of a living world: you now see your trainer standing behind your Pokemon in battle, text will tell you if a move is effective or not, and you can press a single button to throw a Poke Ball. There are so many improvements made to the series in this installment that it's hard to imagine going back. 2016 was the Pokemon franchise's 20th anniversary; consider Pokemon Sun and Moon the tasty, tummy-filling celebratory cake. Sam Prell 

18. The Witness 

The Witness is the sense of discovery, distilled. It's the modern-day Myst, dropping you into a serene, breathtakingly beautiful space and letting you explore its inner workings at your own pace. Without any direct guidance, it slowly, surely, and wordlessly teaches you the mechanics of its incredibly clever puzzles, never rehashing the basis of a brainteaser and only building atop your ever-evolving understanding with each new challenge. When you first awake on this strange, deserted island, you know nothing; by the end, your newfound knowledge and shifted perspective will have you seeing the world - both in-game and in real life - with new eyes, constantly trying to decrypt your next solution. The philosophical, extracurricular musings about the universe and our place in it may strike some as just a wee bit pretentious, but few games include optional content that exists just so you'll ask yourself questions that might've never otherwise occurred to you. That devotion to expanding the player's mind, whether through ingenious puzzles or quiet introspection, makes The Witness truly special. Lucas Sullivan

17. Dragon Quest Builders 

Building games like Minecraft are powerful conduits for creativity, but the open invitation to do whatever you like can be a bit overwhelming. Dragon Quest Builders lets you indulge your creative instincts by providing just enough framework for your construction to point you in the right direction. Restoring the world to its pre-disaster glory will be a matter of bringing towns back to life, room by room; each town's specific needs provide a starting point for your designs, a helpful nudge that also gives you ideas as to what's possible. A bedroom, a kitchen, a garden - these basics are the foundation upon which your vision can be built, as you gather materials, learn new recipes, and fight adorable monsters. Each of Dragon Quest Builder's four chapters is crammed with delightful secrets and hidden challenges, making exploring as enjoyable as building. When you've finally brought light back into the world, Terra Incognita mode gives you free rein to build whatever you like, using the skills and plans you acquired by playing through the story, then sharing your glorious creations online. Your mansion with slime wallpaper and rooftop garden? Divine. Susan Arendt  

16. Severed 

With her strong will, unmistakable armor, and silent determination, Severed's starring swordswoman Sasha is the Samus Aran of 2016. Her family's been slain before her very eyes, her arm's been sliced off, and she's been thrust into a nightmarish dimension, yet Sasha still has the tenacity to fight for survival in this twisted, eerily beautiful netherscape. This sword-slashing adventure from the makers of Guacamelee has perfected first-person melee combat, blending the precision touchscreen controls of Infinity Blade, the in-your-face bouts of Super Punch-Out!!, and the secret-laden dungeon layouts of The Legend of Zelda. The striking, exquisitely colorful visuals suck you into Severed's world, while still ensuring that you can clearly read your otherworldly enemies' telegraphed attacks to counter accordingly. And the sheer surrealness of your undertaking is unforgettable, like when you're chowing down on monster guts to unlock upgrades, or realizing that you've grown fond of a freakish, two-headed bird with razor-sharp teeth where its face(s) should be. Either you haven't played Severed yet, or you've become so engrossed and enchanted by its journey that you've fought your way to full completion. There is no in between. Lucas Sullivan

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