I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
So, 2015, huh? Feels like only yesterday that we were sitting around the table during our E3 preview and joking about how there was nothing coming out this year. Boy, were we wrong! It’s been one hell of a year, so good that, while putting together this list, I found myself having to discard some really, really good stuff. Games like Super Mario Maker, Axiom Verge, Emily is Away, Dex, and Metal Gear Solid V all provided tons of entertainment this year, but I just couldn’t find a spot for them on my list. There was also a ton of stuff I just never got around to – Beginner’s Guide, Xenoblade Chronicles X, SOMA and Persona 4: Dancing All Night were high up on my list, but time constraints dictated that I couldn’t get to ‘em before this list was due.
Still, I feel like my list is pretty well rounded. There’s been tons of good games that I have played this year, and spots 6-10 were a real battle between around twenty different games, any of which could’ve wound up on this final list. But, with that said, let’s get down to business.
10. Sonic Dreams Collection
Has there ever been a greater collection of games assembled into one neat package? I’m not so sure. Everything about Sonic Dreams Collection made me laugh, cry, and question my own sanity. As great as My Roommate Sonic, Make My Sonic, and Eggman Origins are though, the undoubted highlight for me was Sonic Movie Maker – which may just surpass Silent Hill 2 as my favourite psychological horror game of all time. Arcane Kids, I salute you.
9. Just Cause 3
Sometimes a game comes along that couldn’t be farther from perfect, but yet, is still just a ton of fun – and what better example of that, than Just Cause 3. Just about everything about JC3 reminds me of Saints Row: The Third – the wanton destruction, over-the-top characters, bombastic set-pieces, and, oh, did I mention all that gorgeous, beautiful destruction? Just Cause 3 might be the most cathartic experience I’ve had with a game all year, as well as being the best-looking technically – and with a little more variety, it would’ve been higher on my list.
8. Lost Dimension
Not a lot of people took notice when Atlus released Lost Dimension in August, and if we had a “Most Underrated” award here at Chooch, I’d probably be pulling hard for it. Lost Dimension is one part tactical RPG, one part Danganronpa, and it all comes together just so, so well. The randomization of the traitors works surprisingly smoothly, and the internal drama within your group that the game creates kept me going throughout, as did having to adapt in battle as I lost two of my favourites. If you’ve got the capacity to play Lost Dimension, you owe it to yourself to try it.
There’s just something about Cradle that wowed me. There’s a moment, early in the game, where a train flies overhead as you traverse the Mongolian steppe, that for possibly the first time in a video game, made me instinctively pause and just sit, stunned. I don’t know what exactly it was about that moment; but it solidified that for me, Cradle was gonna be something special. I totally understand why someone would get frustrated with Cradle and quit on it after 15 minutes – it can be needlessly obtuse and un-intuitive, especially early on – but if you dig a little, there’s a real gem buried underneath.
6. OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood
2015 hasn’t been a great year for extreme sports games. SNOW took a ton of backward steps in early access, the abominable Mad Snowboarding stunk up Steam, and god, do I have to talk about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, probably the worst game of 2015? Thankfully, there was one ray of sunshine for extreme sports fans this year – OlliOlli 2. OlliOlli 2 is everything that a sequel should be; retaining the strongest aspects of the original, while making small, clever additions that add up to a fantastic experience. OlliOlli 2 has been my go to “kill twenty minutes” game this year, and probably will be for a while to come – at least until OlliOlli 3 hits.
5. Contradiction: Spot the Liar!
Yes, really, it’s 2015, and I’ve got an FMV game on my list. Contradiction is incredibly low-budget, but it wears it’s limitations on it’s sleeve, playing up the camp in every scene to ridiculous proportions and ludicrous effect. The story the game tells is crazy, the characters absolutely off their rocker, and the performances from the actors, notably Rupert Booth, who plays Inspector Jenks, are the kind of indescribable that honestly, you do really need to see to believe. Contradiction never takes itself seriously, and at times, you can see the awkward stitching that just about holds things together, but god I love it, and while it may not be perfect, it still holds a place in my heart.
4. Ori and the Blind Forest
2015’s been a great year for the Metroidvania genre – games like Apotheon, Environmental Station Alpha, and Axiom Verge all did great things with one of my favourite genres, but none of them can even come close to matching Ori and the Blind Forest. It’s rare that you can say that a game redefines its genre, but Ori does – it’s the best Metroidvania game since Zero Mission, it’s bursting with soul and sincerity, and it’s absolutely gorgeous to boot.
3. Her Story
If you had told me a couple of years ago that I’d have not one, but two FMV games on my Top Ten list someday, I’d probably have laughed at you. But that’s a testament to just where we are today – great games come in all shapes and sizes, from big-budget Triple-A productions to small indie games coded by one person, and starring a solitary actress. Her Story is phenomenal – I played through the whole thing in one sitting, and was hooked from start to finish. To think that a gamified search engine could be so gripping, that the twists and turns of the story could cause me to literally have to stand up and pace around my room in an attempt to soak it all in, I mean, who could’ve seen that coming? Her Story is like nothing else I’ve ever played, and it’s simply unmissable.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I love open-world games, and Witcher 3 may just be the best one ever made. Witcher 2 left me wanting more, if not completely blown-away, but Witcher 3 was an eye-opener. The things that CD Projekt RED have done with the formula are revolutionary – the world-building, characters, the sense of life imbued into goings on… it’s just incredible, and never has an open-world game felt so alive and realistic, even with all the elves, dwarves, monsters and mages running around. What’s more, Witcher 3 retains the incredible depth of it’s predecessors, while also streamlining things to make it accessible for newcomers. Witcher 3 is a bold step forward for both the open-world and fantasy genres, and makes just about every one of it’s contemporaries look tired and antiquated by comparison (looking at you in particular, Fallout 4).
1. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5
Just kidding, could you imagine?
1. Tales From the Borderlands
This was a real hard decision. I absolutely adored Witcher 3, and struggled to slot it into second place, but, eventually, I chose to go with my heart over my head – and so, my personal game of the year, is Tales From the Borderlands. I’ve never been the biggest fan of first-person shooters, but the Borderlands series is the general exception to the rule. Borderlands has always had it’s flaws – while it’s always presented an incredibly interesting world, a propensity for poor writing, an over-reliance on memes and shoddy character-development has always hindered it. Tales From the Borderlands finally delivered on the promise Pandora always held, and by focusing on a fantastic, eccentric and eclectic cast of characters – from Handsome Jack, who develops into one of the best villains in games over the course of the series, and Loader Bot, to Rhys and Fiona, Tales has brought a waning franchise back to the forefront of my mind.
Not only that, it’s actually really, genuinely funny, for the first time in the franchise. The game still has some of that typical Telltale jank, but god, it’s refined in all the ways that formula most needed to be. I no longer felt like I was being shepherded between major set-pieces, instead it felt like I had actual agency and influence over the direction of the story; and the game’s use of the unreliable narrator (or really, in this case, narrators) trope is excellent. Tales places first on my list on the strength of its writing, its world, its characters and the fact that I’ve rarely cared so much about the cast of a video game. And god, how about that Power Rangers Megazord sequence in episode five, or the finger gun battle in episode four, ‘cause God damn were those funny.