2016 was the year that Japanese games struck back

The most deafening cheer raised at PSX, Sony’s celebration of all things PlayStation held in a tinselled, sweltering December California, did not follow the news of a sequel to The Last of Us, but rather a surprise trailer advertising a 22 year old arcade game. Windjammers is Pong played with Frisbees. You’re a bronzed Venice Beach bum, dressed in neon pink sweatbands and purple sun-visors, hurling the disc toward your opponent’s goal. There’s never been a better video game interpretation of air hockey but, while the game is often played at hipster-y video game tournaments, nobody anticipated a PlayStation 4 re-release. Fittingly the announcement was made on the same day that SNK, the Osaka-based creator of the enduringly desirable NeoGeo on which Windjammers debuted in 1994, dropped the ‘Playmore’ addendum of its name (picked up when the company reformed following bankruptcy in the early 2000s) to return to its original branding: The Future Is Now.

‘The Past Is Now’ would be a more suitable tagline for the Japanese video game industry in 2016. It’s been a year of unexpected dividends from the country’s storied video game history. Nintendo’s NES Classic and Famicom Mini systems made modern and made miniature the company’s formative system, banking on nostalgia ahead of its Switch offensive in 2017. And while Tokyo’s second hand video game store shelves may sit barren, plundered by so many Western visitors in search of a lost treasure, in 2016 there are more opportunities to play Japanese classics than ever before.

It’s also been the year that Japan’s great white whales, The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy 15, games once lost, presumed dead, finally landed. Both games, to differing degrees, bear the scars of their protracted developments. But the video game ecosystem is richer for their arrival, particularly in the case of Fumito Ueda’s work, which boasts perhaps the best-executed and most cohesive ending of any game to date.