Usually, when it comes time to talk about our favorite games of the year, the conversation looks something like that battle scene from Anchorman. There's lots of blood, limbs everywhere, and something smells like pure gasoline. You get the picture.
This year, things were a little different. Maybe there were fewer memorable games. Maybe we just were on the same wavelength. We managed to boil our list down to 15 games without any new scars, though, and present them now to you.
Here are the 15 best games of 2015 according to Joey Davidson, Ron Duwell and Eric Frederiksen at TechnoBuffalo.
This list is an alphabetical list based on the personal preferences of our gaming staff, who each had equal pull when picking our favorites for the year. What did we miss? What did we get wrong? Let us know in the comments!
Many thought Sony and From Software had gone a little nutters after announcing Bloodborne as a console exclusive. I mean, the Dark Souls blend of coffee is good, but it has an acquired taste that certainly not every gamer is going to enjoy. From Software sunk three years and a huge budget into a game that immediately lost half of its audience upon release, and Sony marketed this brutal and niche title like the AAA hit it proved to be.
In the end, all gambles paid off. Sony had the first noteworthy exclusive of the generation, and From Software established a new lore and franchise it can fall back on if Dark Souls III is indeed the last of its kind.
As for Bloodborne itself, it has the content and gameplay to back up its praise. The new offense oriented combat shakes up the "Souls" formula just enough to prove that it can still be expanded upon, and Bloodborne's world demands the just be lost in. Take all the time you need exploring this twisted Victorian Hell because there is a lot to see… and be killed by.
Big games had a solid year, much better than the previous two, but we still need to remember that the small guys out there need love too. That's why I'm happy to praise a wonderful mini-masterpiece like Boxboy!, which could very well be the best Nintendo 3DS game of the year.
Boxboy!, from Kirby studio HAL Laboratory, harkens back to the days of when video game characters never evolved. They never gained new abilities or found new treasures that opened up new combat possibilities or even new sections of the map. Our protagonist Boxboy has one ability, and one ability alone… to generate boxes.
From there, it is not Boxboy who changes, but the world around him. HAL Laboratory comes up with a nearly infinite number of ways to manipulate this simple mechanic with interesting timing puzzles and a whole host of obstacles. Boxboy! is the kind of game a studio makes when it wants to brag about its level design prowess.
Oh yeah, and these hundreds of brilliantly crafted level? Just $5… there aren't so many games out there that deliver this kind of value.
Fallout 4 wasn't perfect. In fact, the glitches, instability, dialogue trees and UI polish were, well, pretty bad.
However, Fallout 4 managed to be a wonderfully fun and rewarding game in spite of its problems. There are those who can argue that Fallout 4 is hardly a Fallout game at all. It's sort of like an FPS RPG with a really, really hard emphasis on combat. That latter bit, that reliance on killing over creativity to push the story forward, is sort of a problem.
It's still fun, though. Bethesda, in spite of their obvious problems, breathed life and love into a bombed out Boston, and the result was a game that opened itself to hundreds of hours of play for most players.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Much like Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is probably the least Metal Gear game in the franchise. Unlike Fallout 4, this well-oiled machine might be one of the most satisfying games of the year.
Everything here works really, really well. The gunplay, the Fulton Recovery System, the partners, running Mother Base. It all stinks of pure polish, and Kojima Productions absolutely nailed the title despite being under obvious budget constrictions from Konami.
The game isn't perfect, and the story falls flat, but Metal Gear Solid V is an incredibly wonderful ride while it lasts.
Ori and the Blind Forest
We've been flooded with so-called Metroidvania style games in the last few years, just as we have with roguelike games. Every month or two it seems like another Super Metroid-inspired exploration game is being crowd-funded or released following a successful Kickstarter. And a lot of them are quite fun, too. It can be easy, then, to lose the really good ones in the mix. That brings us to Ori and the Blind Forest.
Among a sea of these games, most intentionally designed to look like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Ori and the Blind Forest set out to do something a bit different while still adhering to many of the genre's standard tropes. The opening few minutes of the game had me reacting in a way I usually reserve for Pixar movies. Then the game started and I was treated to one of the most polished platformers I've played in a long time. The art is, in a word, stunning. It has a warm, living feel that makes it feel modern in spite of the classic mechanics. The game plays like it was built to speedrun with exceptionally tight controls where floaty, imprecise ones were expected. The game even tries to mix it up by swapping out boss battles for tough platforming sections.
Ori and the Blind Forest combines aesthetic and mechanical polish with a touching story to create one of the best platforming games yet this generation.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
After 2013's incredible rebooting of the Tomb Raider license, I'll admit I had pretty high expectations for Rise of the Tomb Raider. The reboot set a high standard for the new Lara Croft and her world, for what she was capable of, and for the tone of the stories the Tomb Raider team would be able to tell.
And the sequel lived up to those expectations (mostly). While the story was a bit more James Bond/Indiana Jones in tone and a bit less of the dangerous world the reboot had established, everything else is an excellent evolution of an already good formula. The pacing between combat and exploration has been refined, and you have leeway as a player to choose your approach. There are real, time-consuming tombs in the game, as well. They're optional, but substantial and well worth the time.
Rise of the Tomb Raider sets Lara up for an even better third game where she ascends to something like the Lara we know from before, just tuned for a realistic world. I look forward to seeing a confident Lara Croft combined with the stubbornly strong and deadly one we've come to know in the last few years.
I almost skipped Rocket League before it exploded in popularity. It was a PS Plus game offered during the summer months, and I grabbed it the same way I grab everything that hits the Instant Game Collection. I always get every game, every time, regardless of whether or not I think I'll actually play them all.
Then I tried Rocket League. This insane blend of car racing, combat and soccer (football?) is easily the best sports title of the year. It's the definition of easy to play and tough to master, and each game offers incredible moments that defy physics.
Rocket League deserves every ounce of praise its received over the course of 2015, and I really hope developer Psyonix keeps rolling on with more content in order to support its swelling fanbase.
When I initially reviewed SOMA, I noted that if you do the price-to-game equation, it might not seem like a great value, clocking in at about 10 hours for $30. But how does one account for the imprint a game leaves after the fact?
SOMA asks a lot of questions about what makes us human, what makes us individuals, and about the nature of consciousness. Actions I took to move the story forward seemed logical enough at the time, but long after I finished the game I found myself thinking about those things. What if I had to take those actions myself? How would I feel? What would I actually do?
SOMA may be from the guys who made Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and it may be a spooky first-person exploration game, but the horror is much more subtle and is, without a doubt, haunting.
Splatoon is Nintendo's take on the multiplayer shooter genre. It's so obviously Nintendo, too. Less emphasis on killing, more emphasis on painting the ground with your own ink in swimming through in squid form for more speed.
Splatoon introduced a really novel way to handle the shooter medium, and players like me ate it up. Couple that with a great soundtrack and Nintendo offering constant free content updates, and you've got a recipe for a wonderful game.
Splatoon is exceptional, it's one of the best games on the Wii U and it dove into uncharted shooter territory, something only Nintendo could really do.
I'm still playing Steamworld Heist. Image & Form took the look of Steamworld Dig and turned it into a steampunk space heist game. It's sort of like a 2D version of XCOM, and it works exceptionally well.
I love tactical, turn-based games, but I can easily recommend Steamworld Heist to those totally unfamiliar with the genre. It's really easy to pick up and play, and the devs elected to do away with dice roll style shots and give players the ability to actually aim their weapons instead of leaving it up to chance.
The result is a really satisfying tactical RPG that relies on player skill far more than luck. Higher difficulties make it more welcoming for veterans, so this is a great game for those new and old to the genre.
Super Mario Maker
Nevermind that this revolutionary package fulfilled the childhood dreams of millions of 30-somethings around the planet. Nintendo is the only company in the world that could not only make this package work so smoothly… it also made it exceptionally fun.
This is not programming, nor is it simply adding layers in Photoshop or Flash Maker. Making your own genius levels in Super Mario Maker is just as much fun as playing a Mario game. Sound effects, Easter Eggs, fun ways to lay tiles and manipulate the background music at the same time. It's the little things.
Most level generating modes and software miss the fact that level design can be just as entertaining as the game itself, and for some reason, only the geniuses at Nintendo's development studios have been able to follow through on that train of thought. But come on… it's Nintendo! Of course they would see that.
Oh yeah, and a lot of the fan made levels are fine, but you'll have to sift through some pretty bad ones to find the good stuff. The only thing missing from this perfect package though… is desert levels, Nintendo.
Undertale is one of those magic indie titles that succeeds in spite of its gameplay, not so much because of it. Like To The Moon before it, developer Toby Fox captures his audience with simplistic visuals, a relaxing and mellow soundtrack, and wonderful characters. From our protagonist best friends all the way down to the one-line NPCs, each memorable face in this title will stick with you forever.
That's not to say Undertale's gameplay doesn't have the muscles to back all this wonderful presentation up. In fact, I'd argue that Undertale grasps the fundamentals of true "role playing" a good deal more than most of the big RPGs of the year, providing countless decisions that can alter the course of your game or fun Easter Eggs that will unlock charming little throwaway segments you'll be obsessed with seeking out.
In a genre that has morphed into an oozing blob of open-world exploration, copy-and-paste quests, and solving every problem with violence, Undertale presents situations with ways to talk yourself out of actual decisions that must be made to shape your character. Do you butcher monsters or make them your friend? Do you want experience points or do you want to be loved? Do these fun antagonists have to die?
Simple questions that fall on deaf ears in the RPG community these days, and this surprise indie hit, one of the best in years, answers them in all the right ways. Easily one of the best titles of 2015.
Until Dawn should be a terrible, terrible game. It started life as a PlayStation 3 game being designed for the PlayStation Move controller. Then it became a PlayStation 4 game and ditched almost all of the motion controls. The story was scrapped and most of the cast changed. The company behind it, Supermassive Games, has a previous library of mostly ports and facelifts of older games. And then, as a final nail in the coffin, Sony dropped the game in middle of the summer doldrums.
But then people started to pick it up and talk about it. I received a review copy from Sony. I played through it despite my intense dislike of slasher movies. And you know what? Despite having none of the hallmarks we'd expect, Until Dawn turned out to be a genuinely good game. It does what Heavy Rain was trying to do, but much more compellingly. You play as eight young adults at a cabin getaway besieged by a classic slasher-style murderer in a clown mask, making people make tough decisions about which of their friends will live and die. Then, partway through the game, the stakes change and the events of the first few hours take on a whole new light.
The decisions ripple out to affect the way characters react and interact with each other in surprising ways, and while the goal is linear – survive the night – how you get there is anything but. What should've been a dead-on-arrival game has people talking months later and Sony talking sequels.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Playing the original Witcher game doesn't give even the slightest hint of what is to come for the series. A janky game built on someone else's engine with clunky combat and ugly characters managed to grab a few players with a fun character and memorable fantasy world. Seven years later, somehow the same team that built that clunky RPG is now behind one of the greatest RPGs ever. It's hard to even know where to start with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Every sidequest matters or, at least, feels like it does. With so many other games randomly generating endless sidequests just to keep you busy, Witcher 3 isn't content to simply occupy you. It wants you to feel like what you're doing matters, to the point where it can be hard to tell at a few points if something is related to the main quest or not – but I mean that in a good way. Every sidequest has a story with camera work and voice acting, if even just a little bit, and it always feels like what you're doing is affecting the world you inhabit as Geralt of Rivia.
Add onto that an awesome cast of returning and new characters like Yennefer, Triss, Ciri and the goofy bard Dandelion, an incredible soundtrack, and consistently fun combat. You've got the best RPG this generation so far and one of the best in years that will likely stand alongside the classics in time.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
This isn't really that deep of a game, is it? In fact, I'd argue that this is the most simplistic version of the kind of games I'm not all too fond of anymore… create a character and get out there grinding quests. Buy armor, advance your character, become a one-man (or woman in my case) wrecking crew, and eventually reach a point where you just can't stand it anymore.
Luckily, Monolith Soft has the backing of Mira, a lush open-world of unprecedented beauty. We've seen so many open-world games that I simply feel numb their towering size. But not Mira. Xenoblade Chronicles X looks like it plays out in a secluded bio-dome that was left to back for a couple million years. Alien life, plant life, even the planet's geology is all so addictively weird that even cynical open-world explorers like myself can't resist.
Plus, it's a Japanese title too, so naturally this means a lot of old-school JRPG storytelling backed with crazy music, stylish robot and weapon design, and just a satisfying feeling that the genre can keep up with the rapidly evolving West. Great title, and I'm glad that the Wii U has an RPG that it can finally call its own.
And bless the person who decided not to include fall damage! What a rush jumping off cliffs without a care of consequences!
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