Big, lit­tle and a few in be­tween

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By John Wen­zel

For gamers, 2016 pre­sented a rich and of­ten mad­den­ing va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences, from the first real con­sumer-ready vir­tual re­al­ity ti­tles to in­creas­ingly slick mo­bile games that were ev­ery bit as worth our time and money as con­sole en­tries.

Here are the top five games this long­time gamer and some­time-gam­ing critic played this year — with an equal amount of honor­able men­tions at the bot­tom.

1. Un­charted 4: A Thief ’s End (PS4) It’s easy to de­ride the an­nual avalanche of se­quels in gam­ing, which hints that the in­dus­try is as cre­atively bereft at the up­per lev­els as it is ex­per­i­men­tal in the trenches. But look closer and you’ll find as much wit, nu­ance and fear­less­ness in cer­tain AAA (or big-bud­get) ti­tles as you will among in­die de­vel­op­ers — with Un­charted 4 as a prime ex­am­ple. The in­cred­i­ble vis­ual pol­ish and sturdy plat­form­ing/com­bat is the ob­vi­ous draw here, but im­pec­ca­ble writ­ing and imag­i­na­tive sce­nar­ios (both plot- and game­play­based) were an un­ex­pected de­light from the os­ten­si­ble fi­nal

en­try in this cin­e­matic ad­ven­ture fran­chise.

2. That Dragon, Cancer (PC, mo­bile) The tiny, Love­land­based de­vel­oper Nu­mi­nous Games re­leased what will be seen in hind­sight as a turn­ing point for all video games, but for now is sim­ply an achingly emo­tional, rel­a­tively niche game about a Chris­tian fam­ily whose son has ter­mi­nal brain cancer. It’s not the typ­i­cal sub­ject mat­ter in gam­ing — nor does That Dragon, Cancer un­fold in ex­pected ways — but it’s easy to think that any­one who has played this rel­a­tively com­pact, third- and first-per­son ex­plo­ration ti­tle was

EEdeeply af­fected by it (if not shat­tered and gen­tly re­built).

3. Abzû (PS4, Xbox, PC) With a score by Colorado’s own award-win­ning com­poser Austin Win­tory and gor­geous, color-sat­u­rated vi­su­als that de­light at ev­ery turn, Abzu is a light and lin­ear ex­plo­ration game in the style of thatgame­com­pany’s Jour­ney and Flower. You’re a swim­mer in a vast but sleek ocean and your only job is to re­lax and en­joy the sights while you get to your des­ti­na­tion via a va­ri­ety of en­vi­ron­ments, each more de­light­ful than the last.

4. Su­per Mario Run (mo­bile)

The fear­less, emo­tion­ally wrench­ing game That Dragon, Cancer fol­lows a Colorado fam­ily’s strug­gle with their child’s brain cancer di­ag­no­sis. Pro­vided by Nu­mi­nous Games

Pro­vided by Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment

The ad­ven­tures of Nathan Drake and crew con­tin­ued in 2016's gor­geous, sur­pris­ingly af­fect­ing Un­charted 4: A Thief's End.

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