I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
So, 2015 sure was an eventful year, both for games and for myself! Starting here at Video Game Choo Choo in January, I got to directly report on all the amazing things that happened this year, both good and bad, in gaming. I got to write my first ever review on Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, tell readers about announcements like Bloodstained, inform people what Metroidvania games are worth playing, and even write a tribute for the late, great Satoru Iwata. Importantly, I also became friends with my many fellow staff members, learning a lot from them both about writing and life over the course of this year. While things got a little hectic sometimes (especially during E3), it’s an been an amazing experience and an honor that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
Of course, you can’t have an eventful year in gaming without a bunch of games! This year was full of great games on every system. This is a double-edged sword, since it also meant that there was no way for me to play every great game that came out this year. I’m amazed I was able to get in a many games as I did! Unfortunately, it meant a ton of great games that might have otherwise made this list got left out in the cold. I’m sorry Ori and the Blind Forest, Environmental Station Alpha, Soma, Beginner’s Guide, Witcher 3, Tales from the Borderlands, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and too many others to even name. Hopefully I’ll get to play at least a few of you sometime next year. In the meantime, here are my top 10 games of 2015!
It was between this game and Sonic Dreams Collection for the number ten spot. When I saw how many other people on Chooch were doing Sonic Dreams Collection, I decided to go with this fun little Metroidvania game from Renegade Kid. While it technically came out last year, it was right at the end in December. I didn’t actually get play it until this summer, so I’m grandfathering it in for the sake of mixing things up.
This is a neat game that, unlike most other Metroidvania games, takes its cues from Metroid 2: The Return of Samus instead of Super Metroid. I admire this kind of switch-up, taking things in a different direction from the norm. It definitely makes for a fun and different spacefaring experience. That being said, this influence also leads to boss fights being a bit repetitive. It also limits the level of exploration in a way similar to Metroid Fusion by gating off the game’s different areas. While these design choices can be a bit hit and miss, the game is still a fun and worthwhile Metroidvania for those looking for another one to try, or a great way to dip your toes in the genre without getting too overwhelmed.
9. Transformers Devastation
Between the massive downsizing of High Moon Studio, the developer of both War for Cybertron and Fall of Cyberton, and developer Edge of Reality putting out the massive turd that was Rise of the Dark Spark, Transformers fans have been waiting for Activision to put out another game that’s actually good. Transformers: Devastation is the answer to their prayers. While it is by no means a perfect game, Devastation is the perfect game for any Transformers fan, especially G1 fans. As a huge Transformers fan myself, this game scratched more than a few itches. Sometimes I would just stop for a bit and transform back and forth between modes because of how perfectly executed the action was. While some of the gameplay could certainly be improved, Platinum nailed all the important details and left me wanting more.
Boxboy! is the kind of game you should show to a Game Design 101 class. It starts out simple, steadily introducing you to more and more mechanics over time until you become an expert. It tends to be a bit on the easy side, which isn’t surprising since it’s from Kirby developer HAL Laboratory. Like Kirby, it’s still a ton of fun even if it is easy, and makes you feel clever when you solve some of the more difficult puzzles. It’s a short game, but also easily affordable and more than worth the cheap price. I’d recommend it to anyone with a 3DS who wants to have a good time.
The N series takes platforming and cuts away all the excess fat, encapsulating only the true essence of the genre in an appropriately minimalist fashion. I’ve been a fan since the original N flash game, playing through both that and N+ on the DS. N++ doesn’t change any of base mechanics or gameplay, and it shouldn’t. This is a game that just straight up feels good to play, with everything from the physics to the level design contributing perfectly. It’s the kind of game where I can try a level over and over again without feelings too frustrated, which is a good thing since while the levels are short, you’re guaranteed to die a lot on some of the harder ones. The constant death never breaks the game’s quick flow though, keeping things moving fast and smooth. If you enjoyed any of the previous N games or have an appreciation for this sort of gameplay, you should definitely pick this one up.
If there’s one thing I have a very specific kind of hunger for, it’s good puzzle games. You probably were able to guess this from some of my earlier entries on this list. There’s just something the satisfaction of solving a clever puzzle that just feels good to me. Stretchmo, the latest in the Pushmo series, greatly satisfies that special kind of hunger. It adds a neat new gimmick while retaining the smart puzzle design the series is known for. While there isn’t much of a story to this game, the characters are super cute as usual, and the game adds a cute new series of robot buddies that make what little plot there is all the more charming. In short, clever puzzles+cute aesthetic=great game!
5. Yo-Kai Watch
When I got Yo-Kai Watch, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had watched some of the show so I knew I liked the writing and the characters, but the actual gameplay was a mystery to me other than vague shouts of “It’s The New Pokemon” coming from the internet. I found myself pleasantly surprised when I dove in and found the gameplay to be a departure from not just Pokemon, but the entire monster-collecting genre. The set-up of having you be more of a coach instead of directly control every single little action felt great to me, clicking perfectly with my admittedly very ADHD brain. Coupled with the game’s clever writing and endearing cast of both human and Yo-Kai characters, my entire experience with the game was a pleasure, leaving me looking forward to the sequels getting localized here as well.
4. Super Mario Maker
This game is nothing short of the perfect celebration of Super Mario Bros. 30th anniversary. You’ve seen me singing the importance of game design on this list more than a few times already. Super Mario Maker is the epitome of this, being both a deconstruction and reconstruction of game design in one package. It gives you all the necessary tools to do almost anything you want. You can get super creative with the level maker or you can just dive into both Nintendo and user-created levels.
What’s amazing to me is how much I’ve been able to learn about making a good level from even poorly designed user levels. Good levels teach you what works, bad levels teach you what doesn’t. It’s given me a new appreciation for just how well-designed all the levels in this game’s predecessors have been, how much thought, care, and purpose the designers put into each part. Boxboy! might be a few lessons in a Game Design 101 class, but Super Mario Maker is that class’s core curriculum, textbook, homework, and final exam.
3. Axiom Verge
Have you ever wondered to yourself “what if Dark Seed and Dark Seed 2 were GOOD games?” and then also wondered “what if these hypothetical GOOD Dark Seed games had a baby with Metroid?” If so, then Axiom Verge is the game for you. It takes the base gameplay and style of Metroid, then injects it with the dark interdimensional plotline and extreme H.R. Giger aesthetics of Dark Seed. The game gives you a huge variety of weapons and upgrades ranging from the expected to the downright bizarre. Yeah, you get upgraded health and damage, but you also gain the ability to take the graphical flickering that would happen in older games and use them as actual gameplay mechanics.
The only shortcoming between this marriage of Dark Seed and Metroid is that they took their protagonist from the wrong game. While player character Trace isn’t nearly as bad as the pathetic and whiny Mike Dawson circa Dark Seed 2, he’s a rather bland and boring protagonist in the same way Dawson is circa the original Dark Seed. It’s a trap many Metroidvania games fall into, forgetting to take a lesson from Metroid protagonist Samus Aran and just making their protagonists boring white dudes with no personality. That being said, it’s one minor sin in a sea of excellent design choices. If you’re even remotely interested in Metroidvania games this is a must-play, and worth a try even if you aren’t.
As you can probably guess, I’m not big into the online team shooter scene. I’m not on the edge of my seat waiting to see what the next COD game looks like. While I was certainly excited when I saw Splatoon get announced, I certainly wasn’t expecting to enjoy it much beyond the single player campaign. Boy howdy was I wrong! Splatoon is extremely fun and keeps pulling me back in every time I pick up the Wii U gamepad. The various match types and maps are all loads of fun, with solid gameplay mechanics acting as a coat of primer for the games many layers of charm and creativity.
When I was trying to finish playing games for GOTY, this is the game that kept pulling me back in to play it when I should have been finishing up other games. Keep in mind that these other games were FUN games, but alas, I just couldn’t resist the siren song of Splatoon. After GOTY is over, it’s probably the game on this list I’ll continue to actively play the most. Who would have thought that a game about painting could be so fun! If you have a Wii U and an internet connection, this game is an automatic must-own.
Listen, I love Undertale. I unabashedly love it. I knew this labor of love from Toby Fox was going to be number one on my list as soon as the final credits rolled. Is it an objectively perfect game? No, no it isn’t. Is it a perfect game to me? Yes, yes it is. If that sounds silly and overdramatic, I don’t care. I won’t apologize for an overeager fandom or hard-to-avoid spoilers. I was lucky enough to beat that wave, and I won’t pretend that this game is somehow not as good because of uncontrollable outside influences.
The writing is excellent, bringing the game’s unique world to life and giving each character a distinct personality. This is backed by an extensive soundtrack full of great and memorable tunes that will elicit emotions out of you long after you’ve finished playing. The gameplay is unique, with its turned-based bullet hell action and ability to get through the game without killing anything. While it’s not the first game to give you an option like this, it’s one of the very few that does, and the only one I can think of that actively encourages it. This is the sort of mechanic I’ve wanted in a game for far too long without even realizing it. All of this comes together in such a pure and genuine way that sets it apart from everything else.
Simply put, this game moved me in a way no other game on this list did. It makes me excited to see how it will influence future game developers and games. The 14 hours I spent with this game are 14 hours that are gonna stick with me for a long time, hopefully the rest of my life. Undertale is, to me personally, an extremely important game that I love a lot. None of the other games on this list ever stood a chance.