My favourite games of 2015

And a few others worth mentioning

2015 was an odd year. I don’t remember being bored with gaming this year; at the same time, when I looked back at what I played I wasn’t terribly impressed. Normally, I have trouble making a top ten. This year? I have a top five. From a shortlist of six.

So, without further ado: My top five of the year, along with other games that made an impact on me (both in good and bad ways).


Five

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

An apocalyptic mystery involving an experiment gone wrong and a mysterious entity in the stars… but wait, did Rachel run off with Rhys? When did Kate find out about Stephen and Lizzie? And who left baby Dylan behind?

Rapture’s central mystery is good, but its characters are better. Set in a deserted English village that swings between tranquil beauty and eerie silence, there’s no real goal to the game other than to soak up the unsettling atmosphere and piece together what happened to everyone. And it works, because the villagers — who remain only as scattered memories in the form of motes of life — are incredible characters. Fully rounded and brilliantly acted, they genuinely feel like people; neither sinner nor saint, but instead a mix that makes them all feel human. Unraveling their tales and learning more about their lives is something I didn’t think I’d be interested in, but instead was one of my favourite gaming experiences of the year.

Four

PAC-MAN 256

I liked Hipster Whale’s “endless Frogger” game Crossy Road. Their reinvention of Pac-Man is even better.

PAC-MAN 256 turns the single-screen maze of the original into an endless one, a brilliant tweak that expands the boundaries of a classic. You find yourself compelled to keep going through the infinite maze, avoiding ghosts and munching dots in search of the elusive 256 combo (eating 256 dots in a row). Add in a selection of creative power-ups to turn the tables on the ghosts and you have a game I cannot stop playing.

Three

Super Mario Maker

You can make Super Mario Bros. levels! That’s probably enough to satisfy me. But Mario Maker keeps delivering more. You can build levels from four different Mario games. You can build castle stages, or airships, or ghost houses.

What makes Mario Maker truly special is when you mix it up. What happens when you combine a Mushroom with a Goomba? A bigger Goomba. Put a coin in a pipe? You get a pipe that spews coins. Using the grammar of Mario to build surprising combinations in logical ways is part of the genius of the game; give every object physics, actions and reactions, and in a strange way it makes a cartoon fantasy world feel a little real. And I haven’t even begun to tell you about the incredible levels built by the far more creative (and insane) people online.

Two

Star Wars Battlefront

Look, I know: There’s no single-player! It’s too dumbed-down! There aren’t enough maps! EA is evil! The problem with all that is that Battlefront is a lot of fun.

Sure, if it wasn’t a Star Wars game I’d probably ignore it. But it is a Star Wars game. Flying X-Wings, shooting stormtroopers, weaving through the legs of AT-ATs on Hoth… this is the stuff of childhood dreams. And there’s more to it than nostalgia; the power-ups are fun, Walker Assault is a creative new mode with a Star Wars twist, and the simplicity of it all has allowed plenty of my casual friends to join in. Quite simply, no game has made me smile more this year.

One

Splatoon

It seems bizarre to me that my top two games are online multiplayer shooters, but these are the two games I played the most this year. And calling Splatoon an online multiplayer shooter almost does it a disservice.

Splatoon is Nintendo doing what Nintendo does best: Taking an existing concept and approaching it in a whole new way to create something magical. It is a shooter, yes, but your target isn’t the other team — your target is to cover the ground with as much paint as possible. It’s a brilliant design decision that gives Splatoon a fresh feel and a wholly unique (and striking) look. That you can figure out who’s winning or losing a match simply by looking around helps, too. I rarely play online games with random players, preferring to play with my friends. Splatoon is the exception, a game I kept coming back to in 2015 — and one I’ll remember for years to come.


Honourable mention

Batman: Arkham Knight

Rocksteady’s final game is a fitting sendoff to a great series. I love the tweaks to the fast and fluid combat system, as well as the way Gotham’s buildings make it feel more like a “vertical” playground than ever before. (It also helps that I’m seemingly one of the few people who didn’t hate the Batmobile.) What sets the game apart however is a spoiler, so I will dance around it by saying this: The way they’ve managed to integrate the Joker into this game, after he died in the previous game, is pure genius.

“I should probably go back and play this” award

The Witcher 3

I started The Witcher. I liked The Witcher! The world design was good. The story seemed interesting. The characters seemed cool. But then I stopped for some reason and never went back to it. I should probably go back to that.

Awesome art is awesome award

Galak-Z

If you could distil a 70s/80s Japanese space anime into a game, you’d get Galak-Z. The little portraits, the cel-shading and of course the mech — complete with a space sword!!!!! — all add to the charm of this roguelike shooter. Pity it’s way, way too hard.

“NOPE” award for game I quit way too quickly

Rainbow Six Siege

I was so excited for this game. SO excited. Then I played the second mission, extracted the hostage from the house, and ran to the police cars that marked the evac point… where I was shot by two waiting terrorists. Huh, they were standing right next to the police cars? Must be a bug. Second time, creeped out slowly, scoped out the evac zone. All clear. Walk out with hostage… shot in the head. NOPE. I stopped there, because there were too many other worthy games to play. I do believe there is a good game in here… but whether I actually get to play that game is another story.

Best old game that I only discovered in 2015

The Walking Dead: Season 1

Yeah, I know, I am super late to the party on this. And I know you know this game is good. But in the off chance that you haven’t gotten around to it… play this game. Great characters, great writing, full of surprises and genuinely tough choices. The best of Telltale…

Boba Fett Award for biggest disappointment

Game of Thrones

…and this was the worst of Telltale. Look, I get that “there are no good choices” is a part of both Telltale and Game of Thrones, but this game was a little too much. Where Telltale was so good at making you feel like your decisions had meaning in The Walking Dead, they utterly fail here. There’s simply no sense of player agency, only the feeling everything is going in a certain direction no matter what you do. Throw in a dull story, uninteresting characters, and the general feeling that they’re stretching it out over multiple seasons, and you get this game.

Best value

Rare Replay

At a time where Sony sells you PS2 games on PS4 for $15 and Nintendo sells Wii games on Wii U for $20, 30 games for $30 is incredible value — even if one of those games happens to be Perfect Dark Zero. The best thing about Rare Replay is I feel no compulsion to play any of the games to completion; instead, I’m happy to cherry-pick a few hours from one, a few hours from another, and that’s enough to satisfy me.

Multiplayer game of the year

TowerFall: Dark World

I suppose this is more of an expansion than a full game, but I don’t care: TowerFall might be the best local multiplayer game of all time. Seriously. A glorious throwback to the days of Super Mario Kart and Bomberman, when multiplayer meant everyone sitting in front of one screen, TowerFall’s madcap archery deathmatch is truly insane fun.

Please come out in 2016 award

Mass Effect: Andromeda

BioWare, enough time has passed since Mass Effect 3 that I forgive you. Now let’s have Andromeda! Please?

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