Here we go. It’s been a busy month for me, in more ways than one. However, we now get to the finale of Gaming Month with my Top Ten Games of 2015.
As always, these are my favorites of 2015. Considering my limited ability to play games this year, there’s a good chance that you may not agree with the games I’ve picked.
Still, I hope that if you haven’t checked these out yet, you’ll give these games a chance if you can. I will say that I’m surprised at the variety of titles I actually enjoyed this year, so I at least have that going for me.
My only regret is that I won’t have the chance to put Xenoblade Chronicles X on this list since it comes out next month. Oh well, there’s always 2016, right?
This one is probably the odd one out in this list as far as well known titles. The name alone doesn’t give you an idea of what the game is about, but after I found out that Volume is a 3D stealth game inspired by Metal Gear Solid and made by the creator of Thomas Was Alone, my interest was piqued to say the least.
The aesthetic and method of storytelling used in Thomas Was Alone actually translates well into Volume. The solid 2D line art gets converted to simple polygons with flat colors, with the main character Locksley having the most detail. The narrative style of storytelling also is translated into dialogue exchanges between Locksley and other characters like the artificial intelligence Alan, and is done really well. The stealth gameplay is enjoyable while being simple. Enemies have cones of vision that are clearly marked, and each level has different hazards and abilities that alter your approach.
Volume has an initial level count of 100, but has new user-created levels selected each week for play. This puts it alongside another entry in this list that is an excellent game to throw on when I have a little bit of spare time. Load it up, try out a few levels, and call it a day. That said, Volume is still a pretty good game without that content, and I feel that it’s fitting to put in here.
For as much as we see indie games that are deliberately designed to look like retro games, there are certain styles that we never see. We always see Atari, NES, and SNES styles of games, but if there’s one console style that I rarely see, it has to be the Sega Genesis. There’s a specific tone to the kinds of games we saw on the Genesis, and Freedom Planet does a rather good job of nailing it.
Freedom Planet’s main inspiration is Sonic, but I can feel the other Genesis touches in the music and the game feel. One notable example is with the boss battle endings having slowdown to emulate playing on a lower-powered system. The game also offers a Classic Mode that forgoes the mostly mediocre cutscenes in favor of just the stages, but I still enjoyed the story despite that.
The gameplay is also inspired by Sonic with a focus on going fast and not stopping. You can play as three characters with varying gameplay styles. Lilac feels the fastest and has access to dash skills, Carol can gather gas canisters to use her motorcycle to drive up vertical walls, and Milla has more defensive moves and attacks. Level design is also pretty good, with a focus on forward momentum preventing levels from feeling stilted. Overall, Freedom Planet pays homage to the Genesis, but is good enough to stand on its own as a genuinely fun title. Appropriately, it’s also good enough to be one of my Top Ten Games of 2015.
Unique gameplay design is a lot more common than it used to be, as evident by some of the entries in this list. While Kirby and the Rainbow Curse isn’t as unique since we’ve seen that design in Kirby: Canvas Curse, it has so much more to offer with regards to refinement that it really breathes new life a second time around.
The first major difference is in the art style. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse goes for a deliberate claymation look, and also deals a lot with color and monochromatic effects. The game runs at a true 60 FPS, but the animations give the game a stop-motion animation effect, especially in the cutscenes. The story is pretty standard for Kirby games, but the clay design makes new characters pop and gives new life to old enemies. The only thing that really brings this presentation down is that you’re forced to look at a lower resolution version because of the gameplay.
To move Kirby around, you draw lines on the Gamepad for Kirby to roll along. You can also tap Kirby to make him do a short dash to attack enemies, as well as tap and hold to use Kirby’s Star Dash after you gather 100 star pieces. Since the gameplay is entirely reliant on the bottom touchscreen, I rarely got the chance to look up at my TV. On the plus side, it does make it the perfect Off-TV Play game. Other than that, there isn’t really much to complain about in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, and it was definitely a title I enjoyed in 2015.
One of the biggest problems facing the modern fighting game genre is a high level of entry. From systems to controls to execution of attacks, modern fighting games have set the bar pretty high in favor of non-novices. Street Fighter V looks to be mitigating this by bringing the execution barrier lower, but you may be surprised to hear that someone beat them to the punch.
Rising Thunder serves as a gateway fighting game, bring the complex feel and mindset of fighting games to a simple and easy-to-use control layout. It takes the 6-button light/medium/heavy system and pairs in down to three buttons for light/medium/heavy normals and three buttons for specials. Instead of doing stick rotations for different kinds of attacks, simply press a direction and normal and you get different traits.
The simplicity of the controls really makes a difference. For example, with my minimal experience in fighting games, I was able to use Edge and do a sliding special into a simple combo, top it off with another special to cause the opponent to wallbounce, which gave me plenty of room to land my super and drop his health by 60%. I couldn’t imagine being able to pull something like that off in Street Fighter without years of practice, and that is Rising Thunder’s core strength. Right now, it’s in technical alpha. If you have the computer to run it and you’re even remotely interesting in fighting games, I highly suggest giving it a try. While it still hasn’t technically released, Rising Thunder as it stands is a pretty good game at this point in time.
I was pretty unsure of Super Mario Maker leading up to its release. However, the big turning point for me was the Nintendo World Championships at E3 2015. There was only so much that could be assumed by interviews and other people’s impressions, but actually seeing the game in action made it very clear that this was something worth trying out.
It may not be considered a killer app, but Super Mario Maker is the perfect Wii U game. Editing levels is intuitive with the touchscreen controls and jumping in and out of testing really makes this game. The ability to upload your levels and play ones that others upload is appreciated, but it can be a mixed bag. With the upcoming launch of the web portal for tagging levels, that will hopefully be fixed with proper filters.
As much as people were outspoken against Super Mario Maker’s drip-feeding of level-editing tools, I personally am grateful for it. If it wasn’t there, it would have been easy to get overwhelmed with options, and having the time to focus on a few pieces at a time helps me to learn the tools inside and out. Granted, not having the option to change at least the style from the start sucked. Gripes aside, Super Mario Maker is still fun to pick up every now and again to check out some new levels and design features, and the game is well suited for doing so.
2015 has been the year of the music game revival. With both Guitar Hero and Rock Band coming out with new content, you may have expected one of these to make this list. Frankly, I was a lot more interested in a rhythm game spin-off of one of my favorite games of all time, Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
The story (while rough at first) is of similar quality to the main game. Voice acting is on-point and well done, the new characters (though trope-filled) get me invested in the story, and the ending is appropriate as mentioned in my Top Ten Boss Battles list. The gameplay is genuinely fun after getting used to it, and the music is clearly the best part. Taking some of the best music in video games and remixing it as dance music seems like a no-brainer.
It isn’t perfect, and it does have a few amateur features as far as rhythm games go. The emphasis on the backgrounds over the notes and the lack of 1/16th notes makes some of the songs annoying to get used to. The scoring system focuses more on perfection and punishes you for missing only a couple of notes, especially on All Night difficulty. Pretty much all of Persona 4: Dancing All Night requires practice and patience to get enjoyment from it, but I found it worth it in the end. To me, it’s one of my favorite games of 2015 despite its flaws.
Like I said in my review, I didn’t expect Shovel Knight to show up two years in a row for Gaming Month. The Plague of Shadows expansion could have just been a simple sprite swap with a couple of minor feature additions, but this feels like a major overhaul. It’s almost like Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows is a brand new game.
For starters, Plague Knight controls so much differently from Shovel Knight. Not only has his movement style changed, but adding the bomb crafting system changes that even more (that is, until you find a killer combo and stick with it). This is hard to get used to at first, especially in older levels that you’re used to playing through with Shovel Knight’s controls.
The additional story content and the changes that Yacht Club Games made to the characters mesh so well with Plague Knight, and I still don’t want to spoil the best of these beyond what I said in my Top Ten Boss Battles. I think that it’s safe to say that Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows is well worth its asking price. Even if it did cost anything, I still think that it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year.
With modern tech, studios have the ability to make older genres with fancier art direction and graphical fidelity. One of the best 2D platformers that still hold up in that regard was Dust: An Elysian Tail, but I’ve finally played a game that has surpassed it this year. That game is Ori and the Blind Forest.
As with Dust: An Elysian Tail, Ori and the Blind Forest has some of the most beautiful 2D art I’ve seen in a game. This makes each area of the game really pop and offers a huge amount of variety in the visuals as you venture to new areas. The musical score is also rather lovely. While it doesn’t stand out so much on its own, it compliments the world well.
The gameplay also takes inspiration from Metroidvania titles like Symphony of the Night (and yes, Dust: An Elysian Tail). You gain experience as you defeat enemies that you can invest in abilities like stronger attacks and breathing underwater. You also get new abilities by finding Ancestral Trees along your journey that grant new navigation skills like charge jumps and teleports. These also play into the puzzles in the game, which are Ori and the Blind Forest’s strong suit. On the flipside, the story isn’t really that great. Other than the interesting fact that the villain is simply misunderstood and one other character moment, not much else interesting is here. The most important parts of the game are still really well done and makes Ori and the Blind Forest an excellent 2015 game.
It’s almost expected that indie games have to carry some level of charm with them. Some do it by drawing from gameplay styles of older games, some do it by a deliberately simpler art style, and some do it with genuine, well-written stories and dialogue. Undertale, however, manages all three with amazing, uncompromising quality.
The art may be standard for indie projects by first impressions, but Undertale really takes the aesthetic and runs with it. The music also starts simple, but it escalates as you venture through the game to the point where the late-game have some of the best music I’ve heard in 2015. The story and writing are also phenomenal, being both well-written and humorous without being overwhelming.
The gameplay also takes a unique looks at the tropes of RPGs. First off, you don’t actually have to kill anyone. You can talk your way out of every situation but one. This also means that you can get three different endings depending on how many monsters you kill. All three are excellent, so I encourage you to seek them out for yourself. The best way is by playing it yourself, but I won’t judge you if you just watch a Let’s Play. Either way, Undertale is an amazing experience to behold even with its initial simplicity, and I highly recommend this game. You’d think that Undertale is my favorite game of 2015 with all of this praise, but there’s one game more to go.
Out of all of the games I’ve played in 2015, I have not as much of a turnaround as I’ve had with Splatoon. When it was released back in May, Splatoon had a ton of potential with an excellent gameplay concept and a rather fun single-player campaign. However, it was hindered by a lack of basic online features, insubstantial local multiplayer, and the amiibo paywall. Now, thanks to updates that include new maps, gear, weapons, and modes, Splatoon has stayed fresh all this time (much to the delight of Callie and Marie).
As I mentioned, Splatoon’s core is very strong and well-designed. Shoot ink with your weapon, be a kid now or a squid now, swim in your ink to move faster/recharge your ink container, and cover as much territory as possible. The focus is on multiplayer, but as evident by my Top Ten Boss Battles list, Splatoon’s single-player is also well design and is great training for the online battlefield.
The constant stream of updates means that I was never lacking in new content to give a shot, but the huge August update really solidified Splatoon’s place in my list. The amount of content and the fun I’ve been having with it has made this game almost perfect to me. Since there haven’t been any other games that I would consider almost perfect this year, I guess that means that Splatoon is my favorite game of 2015.
So there you have it, my Top 10 Games of 2015. Were they what you expected? Where there any that you liked more and would have put in instead? Either way, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. With that, my Gaming Month Top Tens come to a close. Now we look forward to 2016 and wait to see what it has in store for us. For now, I have to wait a week and a half (or what feels like years) for Xenoblade Chronicles X.