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.