So, that was a year, huh? Not the best, for me, but also not the worst. When I look back on 2015 in gaming, it is a year that I started thinking about a lot of things differently. A lot of things I was taking a pretty hard line on as far as how I thought we should run this site… I changed. We started podcasting, posting video stuff. In fact, we do that more than articles now… and I’d like to get back to more articles in 2016. No one ever said changes came easy.
Looking at the games themselves, though, I feel like it’s been a good year? But not a great year. It’s been a year of games that I enjoyed, and appreciated, but nearly all of them got in their own way, preventing me from wanting to give them an award. One of the changes to our rules this year is we’re not just doing games released in 2015- games that released previously that we have not given awards, and have seen major updates and revision in 2015 are also fair game. Johnny was trying to sell me on that one, but it wasn’t too hard a sell, because honestly… if we didn’t do that, my list would be pretty damn short. 2015 has been short on greatness, while chock full of goodness. That’s not a condemnation- not every year can be 2004 (which was maybe the best gaming year ever). Regardless, that’s where we find ourselves.
Here are the games I appreciated most in 2015, that follow the rules stated.
10. Why Am I Dead At Sea
Picture this- it’s New Year’s Eve. I’m sitting at my computer, talking to my sister about how I can only come up with nine games for my list, because this year just hasn’t impressed me that much. My tenth spot is going to be a brief paragraph on how 2015, while having good games, didn’t have many that rose above and beyond to be GotY material. She was dismayed, even though I didn’t think I was being that negative… and then she told me to hang on. A short time later, I received a gift copy of Why Am I Dead At Sea.
This game is rough. The art is passably Earthbound-esque, but not all that special. Various parts of the presentation seem… a little amateur. The writing is sometimes a little too smart- it gets ahead of itself, and is occasionally hard to follow. And, finally, it’s got a few small but pretty frustrating bugs. I could understand you if you wondered, then, why it’s here. The answer is that it’s an unflinching story about paranoia, depression, murder, and hope.
It’s a pretty short game- only a few hours. You play as a ghost- recently murdered, unsure as to who you even were. Your task is straightforward, if not simple to achieve: learn secrets about the crew and passengers of this boat, and even possess them to investigate further, to learn who you were, who killed you, and why. It’s easy to forget this, though- not because the game doesn’t do a good job of keeping you on track, but because you get wrapped up in the stories of the passengers.
It’s pure story and characterization- writing, with mechanics only there to tie it together. It’s flawed. But my heart shook to hear what tragedies and troubles assailed these characters. A grim but heartfelt look at mankind… at its best and worst.
9. NOT A HERO
Wanna shoot some people in the face? Of course you don’t. You are a healthy, well balanced person. What a creepy question. Gosh. But if you wanna play a video game where that happens a lot, I can help you out. NOT A HERO is a sidescrolling violence simulator not unlike Hotline Miami (though with more manic comedy) where death comes fast to all, you included. Slide, lunge, and blast your way through levels at the behest of a rabbit in a suit and tie who’s running for mayor.
It’s got a real windup- it’s not easy to get into. Once you do, though, it’s a hell of a good time.
It’s hard not to sound like a copycat talking about this game. What oft-used line should I use here? “It’s a shooter by Nintendo that works?” “It feels like a lost Dreamcast game?” “It fell right out of the 90s?” Yeah, it’s stylish as fuck. It’s a spin on shooting where there are things to care about other than headshots. The soundtrack is dope. And it’s got that Nintendo polish and attention to detail bringing everything together.
This is one of the games on the list I’m gonna keep playing into 2016. The level design is clutch, and the shooting’s on point. Wherever you fall on the kid/squid divide, you can find a home here. And some pretty rad shoes, too.
7. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
A great title goes a long way. Keep Talking got my interest with its name, and held it as soon as I got to play it. Its concept is engaging in the way the best board games are. You, the player, are presented with a bomb with various modules you need to clear to defuse the device. Thing is… you don’t know how. The people you’re playing with have a bomb defusal manual- they know everything you need to. They, however, can’t see the bomb themselves. Only you can.
What results is a frantic question-and-answer session with a deadline. The first time your words fail you and you don’t even know how to describe what you’re looking at, the game has you. Morse code, Simon Says, wire sequences… there’s a lot to tackle, and the questions your bomb squad asks you are at times confusing and almost nonsensical. The last second saves are sublime, however, and you’ll want to keep showing it to new people.
The best, I have to say, have been the few times I realized we were out of time, I couldn’t wait for my friends to flip through the manual, and I had to just guess… and I was right. Incredible. Play this game with anyone who will let you.
6. Kerbal Space Program
Video games and outer space have had a tumultuous relationship. The golden era of TIE Fighter, Freespace, and Wing Commander gave way to radio silence from the Great Black for years, and now it seems to be making a bit of a resurgence. I admit, I’ve missed it. I’m eager to play new space dogfighters, space trading games, maybe even some space strategy. The old classic styles, modernized.
Kerbal Space Program isn’t like any of that sci-fi fare. KSP is exactly what its name suggests- a simulation of a space program. Forget lasers or light speed engines, you’re going to have to work to get into orbit. It’s so much harder to do everything, because its equipment, astrophysics, and aerodynamics are all calculated to a surprising level of realism. Therein lies the magic- you have to work for every inch in this game. It gives you nothing, and not out of cruelty- out of reality. Out of loyalty to its simulation. You wanna get a man (excuse me, a Kerbal) on the moon? Friend, you’ve got at least a dozen hours of work ahead of you.
When that work finally coalesces into achieving a goal, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I suppose the people who got a real man on the moon must have felt more triumphant, but it’s hard to imagine what that would be like. You want to jump, to yell, to roar. For a game that contains no humans, it’s about the triumph of the human spirit. What an achievement.
Right? Yeah, I think it’s weird that this is where we find ourselves, as well. Terraria is a game I poked at when it came out, and found a little interesting? But ultimately wrote off and didn’t care. Played it again when it came out on Vita- same deal. Didn’t care. Then Johnny turned an old computer he had lying around into a dedicated Terraria server at my request, and holy fucking shit.
Terraria isn’t a builder game, the way you think of it. It’s not a loot game, by that usual definition. It’s not a survival game, an exploration game, or a base defense game. It’s Terraria. It’s all of these elements in a game wholly its own. And it blew me the fuck away.
Terraria is a drop of dye, falling into a cup of water. That tiny drop hits the surface of the water, and explodes into a cloud of ever-expanding color, so much more than you thought that little thing could possibly contain. The difference between Terraria and that little drop, though, is that it doesn’t just do that once. It hits, it explodes, it expands, it stops… and you tell yourself you now know what Terraria is. And then that large cloud explodes and expands again. And then you know what Terraria is. And then again. Terraria is the living embodiment of progress. Never has a game felt so much like the march towards a brighter tomorrow. Fuck, I love this game.
4. Dota 2
The only game in my entire life I have played more of than Dota 2 is World of Warcraft. That was across three expansions, more than a dozen characters, and quite a few years. And a lot of time in denial about the fact that I wasn’t having fun anymore, I was doing a job.
I fucking love playing Dota. I love the relentless push of the game and its players to get better. I love executing a play I know I couldn’t have followed with my eyes, let alone attempted, a few hundred hours of play ago. I love the pace, I love the complexity, I love the weird interactions and obtuse systems. As a multiplayer… thing, it is quite simply one of a kind. I don’t even mean to be cruel when I say hearing about other MOBAs makes me laugh. Yeah, no, I’m sure your Dota competitor is gonna be a real big deal. It’s definitely not another XFL vs. NFL situation.
I don’t know what it would mean to get tired of Dota. I get frustrated sometimes. I take breaks. I have sometimes decided that I just don’t want that right now. These periods have never lasted longer than a few days. And then I’m either right back at it, or going slightly crazy because I can’t get right back at it.
If I didn’t screw this up, this list will post while I’m in vacation in Costa Rica. For a week. Without a computer. I promise, as you read this I am dreaming about shackleshots and last hitting.
3. Super Mario Maker
I gotta admit, the world threw Nintendo this one underhand. How do you make a level creation game that actually succeeds? Well, when it’s based on the most popular, universally understood video game franchise ever, that’s gonna help a hell of a lot. Super Mario Maker works because we all know the rules of Mario- we don’t need to do a tutorial to figure out how mushrooms work, or what a Goomba is. It excels where LittleBigPlanet (and others like it) stumbled because it doesn’t have to stop and explain itself. It can hit the ground running.
That doesn’t undermine what they’ve achieved, however. Even with that great starting point, they’ve done amazing work to make the best level creation tools ever. Super Mario Maker is not only easy to use, it’s fun to use. Hell, it’s fun to watch someone else use. That’s completely bonkers. You can stream yourself building a level, and it’s engaging.
It still wouldn’t have made the list, though, if the player base hadn’t held up their end of the bargain. They did. There are so many incredible levels, just waiting for you to find them. This game is going to stand as a landmark moment in the industry.
Play Undertale. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to spoil it. If you can’t play it, or won’t, watch our playthrough. But really. Really. It’s absolutely astonishing.
I know. I know you’re sick of Undertale fan art, and tweets on your timeline, and people who won’t shut up about the game. I was too. I still am. But they’re doing it for a reason. Ignore them, block them out, but play the game. I can’t state this strongly enough.
The best music of the year, the best idea of the year, the best characters of the year, the best surprise of the year, the thing that made me decide that 2015 was a pretty solid year for games. I don’t want to talk about it, because I can’t say anything you haven’t heard, or anything that does it justice. Probably it should be #1. But…
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
You knew what was gonna be the top of this list. You knew. When I wrote a demented five page tirade berating society for not giving Majora’s its due, it was pretty clear that therein my passion lay.
Since I wrote so much before, I’ll try to keep this short- Majora’s Mask isn’t what you probably think it is. It’s a brilliant game about psychological damage and being an outsider. It’s fun, it’s clever, it’s dark, it’s scary, it’s Zelda like no other Zelda before or since. And Majora’s Mask 3D is a great version of the greatest game of all time. The additions and revisions take the parts of the game that haven’t aged so well, and bring them up to modern standards- while ruining almost none of the atmosphere. I’m a little salty about one design decision, but that doesn’t change my call. It’s the best game of the year. It’s the best game of all time.