With 2015 and another holiday gaming season now behind us, it’s time to cast our gaze forward to 2016. The period between the beginning of a new year and E3 in June is always kind of a strange time for games. Most publishers are holding their big stuff back for the second half of the year, so gamers mostly have to make do with games held over from last year. That said, the first half of the year is also a time when quirky, experimental games can actually get some time in the spotlight. Often the most interesting games of the year come out in March and April rather than October and November.
So, without further ado, here are 16 games coming out in the first half of 2016 you ought to keep your eye on.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS, Jan. 22)
For years now Nintendo has been producing two separate wacky, tongue-in-cheek Mario RPG series, and now they’re finally coming together. Yes, the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series are merging to form Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, a game apparently named after a fax-machine error. See, it turns out the Paper Mario world exists within a book in the Mario & Luigi universe, and once Luigi accidentally frees Paper Bowser, Mario and Paper Mario have to team up to stop him. I can find no fault with that premise. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is sure to be just as charming, goofy and surprisingly deep as all the past Mario RPGs.
The Witness (PC & PS4, Jan. 26)
After nearly eight years, we’re finally getting another game from Jonathan Blow, the divisive creator of the industry-changing Braid. The Witness seems to take inspiration from classic adventure games like Myst, as you wander around a beautiful, yet largely deserted island solving a series of puzzles in which you trace your way through increasingly complex mazes. Blow has said that the game’s story will somehow be told through the puzzles themselves, and apparently there’s a lot of story to tell, as Blow has promised The Witness will have more than 600 puzzles, which will take at least 80 hours to complete. However this one turns out, I’m sure it will inspire some spirited debate.
XCOM 2 (PC, Mac & Linux, Feb. 5)
Firaxis (the guys behind the Civilization series) return with another tense, challenging turn-based tactical strategy game. In XCOM 2, things are even more dire, as the alien force you were fighting in the first game has taken over the Earth, and it’s up to you to defend the last remnants of humanity. New classes, enemies, and types of objectives should make this one of the most varied and challenging XCOM games yet.
Unravel (PC, Xbox One & PS4, Feb. 9)
Unravel isn’t the first game to star a handcrafted wooly protagonist, but it’s certainly the best looking. Aside from being gorgeous, Unravel boasts some interesting mechanics, as your main character Yarny actually unravels as you progress through a stage, forcing you to collect new yarn to continue on. Trailers have also hinted at a melancholy storyline, so get ready to feel some feels about a tiny red yarn man.
Firewatch (PC, Mac, Linux & PS4, Feb. 9)
Firewatch is one of the more interesting indie games on the near horizon. You play as a forest ranger assigned to fire lookout, who starts to notice concerning things happening around the park (a virtual Shoshone National Forest). As you investigate the strange goings-on, your only human connection is to Delilah, a supervisor you communicate with via walkie-talkie. Depending on your dialogue choices, your relationship with Delilah will change, which will also change her insights into the mystery you’re trying to solve. Firewatch looks to be a beautiful, unique, and enigmatic experience.
Street Fighter V (PC & PS4, Feb. 16)
What’s there to say? It’s more Street Fighter! Most of your favorites are back, and they’re bigger, badder, and more bodacious than ever. All the guys are ridiculous muscle monsters and the ladies are all crazy curve-packing bombshells. Visual style aside, Street Fighter V looks as fast, furious, and fluid as ever. Also, as a nice bonus, you’ll now be able to earn all the game’s upcoming DLC for free.
Fire Emblem Fates (3DS, Feb. 19)
Nintendo’s venerable strategy-RPG series continues with Fire Emblem Fates. As in the past, you’ll engage in finely-tuned turned-based tactical battles as you pair up your warriors romantically and progress the story through several generations. This time, the game is so big Nintendo is splitting it into two separate games, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest. Nintendo isn’t pulling a Pokemon here either; these are two completely different games with unique stories, missions, and strategies. If you’re into Japanese strategy-RPGs, Fire Emblem Fates is going to eat up a good chunk of your 2016.
Far Cry Primal (PC, Xbox One & PS4, Feb. 23)
Far Cry returns, and this time, you get to be a goddamn caveman. Not just any caveman either – the protagonist of Far Cry Primal is a beastmaster who can tame prehistoric animals with just a few gentle words. Charge into battle against rival caveman tribes on the back of a saber-toothed tiger and wreak bloody havoc. Team up with other members of your tribe to take down giant mastodons and other game. Tired of your sedate modern life? Snuggle up on your couch, fire up your 52-inch TV, and get raw with Far Cry Primal.
The Walking Dead: Michonne (PC, Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 & PS Vita, February)
For the most part, Telltale’s award-winning The Walking Dead games have carved out their own little niche, but now they fully plunge into the comic series’ continuity with a three-part story about fan-favorite character Michonne. The Walking Dead: Michonne lets us in on what the titular heroine was doing while she was away from Rick’s group between issues #126 – 139, and may also fill in more of her mysterious past. Expect Michonne to deliver an even bigger gut-punch than Telltale’s past Walking Dead series.
Tom Clancy’s The Division (PC, Xbox One & PS4, March 8)
Originally intended for late-2014, Tom Clancy’s The Division got mired in development hell and delayed more than a year, but thankfully the game seems to have found its footing. Set in an open-word post-apocalyptic New York, The Division is promising to reinvent the multiplayer shooter. Doing away with lobbies, players can instead join up with other random players roaming the wasteland and go on missions, making the game a sort of shooty, apocalyptic World of Warcraft. This is the iffiest entry on this list, but if The Division lives up to Ubisoft’s promises, it could be big.
Dark Souls III (PC, Xbox One & PS4, April 12)
Well masochists, it’s time to torture yourself yet again. Developer From Software is promising Dark Souls III will be the last game in the series, and I doubt the series is going to go out quietly. Beautiful current-gen graphics, bigger, badder, more terrifying enemies and bosses and faster-paced, more fluid combat inspired by From Software’s Bloodborne should make the final Dark Souls the best one yet.
Star Fox Zero (Wii U, April 22)
Star Fox games have been kind of mediocre for a while, but Star Fox Zero looks like it may be the game to break that trend. Co-developed by Nintendo (with a lot of input from Shigeru Miyamoto himself) and Platinum Games, Star Fox Zero features a unique GamePad-centric control scheme and plenty of Platinum’s trademark hectic action set pieces. Also, Fox’s Arwing can now transform into a robot that runs around on weird little chicken legs, so the game has that going for it.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4, April 26)
Nathan Drake returns for what will, apparently, be his final adventure. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a visual feast (of course) and based on the trailers and previews we’ve seen so far, the game looks to deliver the same edge-of-your-seat, movie-style action fans of the series know and love. Oh, and Neil Druckmann, the main creative mind behind The Last of Us, is also writing Uncharted 4, so expect a somewhat darker, more emotionally resonant story. If this really is Nathan Drake’s last hurrah, it looks like he’s going out with a bang.
Starr Mazer (PC, Mac & Linux, April)
Starr Mazer is the lowest profile game on this list, but it may be the most fun looking. Starr Mazer is a throwback to everything you loved about mid-’90s gaming. It’s part old-school point and click adventure game, part 2D space-faring shoot ’em up, with a ton of quirky personality. The game also features some truly fantastic 16-bit pixel art. Starr Mazer has a good shot at becoming the new indie game everybody won’t shut up about.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PC, Xbox One & PS4, May 24)
After nearly a decade of begging and pleading from fans, Mirror’s Edge is finally being revived. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst trades in the rather rigid level designs of the first game in favor of a new open world, but other than that, this game will deliver the same first-person parkour gameplay you either love or hate. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst looks every bit as slick, stylish, and polished as the original game, and it’s great to see Faith, one of gaming’s best female characters, getting a shot a redemption.
No Man’s Sky (PC & PS4, June)
And finally, we have one of the most ambitious video games to come along in years. No Man’s Sky gives every player their own procedurally generated planet, then eventually gives them the power to blast off to the cosmos and explore a quintillion other procedurally generated planets, some of which will have been claimed by other players. For the record, a quintillion is a 1 followed by 18 zeroes. Yeah. No Man’s Sky isn’t just a tech demo or chill-out experience, though, it actually has a structure and ultimate goal for you to work toward (although the makers of the game haven’t revealed what that is yet).
There are some good games coming out in the first half of 2016, but No Man’s Sky is the game that could truly change the medium.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (Available on Xbox One, out Jan. 28 on PC, Holiday 2016 on PS4), Doom (spring/early summer 2016), Quantum Break (April 5, 2016). The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princes HD refit is set for a March release, but the real prize could be The Legend of Zelda Wii U, which probably won’t be out till the end of the year, though there are some likely false rumors about a 1st half of 2016 release.
There you are, a few games that will probably be eating up your free time for the next six months. Any promising stuff I missed? Which of these titles are you most interesting seeing us cover over the coming months? Hit the comments to share your thoughts.