AJ here, next on the list to present my series of 2015 Games of the Year. This format will be very similar to how I’ve posted in previous years, with five titles and some runners-up. Now… to the list!
Action game of the year: Ori and the Blind Forest
When I first played Ori and the Blind Forest at a demo at GDC this year, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. It was cute, but difficult and deadly.
After getting the game at home, and despite many brutal deaths and defeats at its hands, I fell in love. In terms of action and tight design it’s a true achievement. I never would’ve believed that platforming this precise and fun could come out of the Unity engine. The art and music are also sublime. Just be warned that the game is much harder than it seems like it should be, with those cute graphics.
Honorable Mention: Rise of the Tomb Raider
Not quite game of the year for me here, but I also enjoyed this year’s Tomb Raider a lot and found it an entry worth picking up. I never thought I would like Tomb Raider as much as I’ve enjoyed the rebooted series.
RPG of the year: Undertale
It took some convincing to get me to play this game, but then someone promised me it was short. Then I ended up playing it twice, anyway. While I’m not as obsessed as some fans (I’d advise you avoid the fans if possible), I thought this was a well-done game and was the RPG I enjoyed the most this year.
I’ve heard good things about: The Witcher 3
If only this game wasn’t so long! I have it, I bought it at launch, and it seems right up my alley, but it’s going to have to wait for a rainy day. Week.
Adventure Game of the Year: Life is Strange
I came to this one late, but, like Undertale, it came recommended by a lot of friends whose tastes I trust. I’ve already started preaching about it to others, so I guess you could say it won me over.
Life is Strange mostly follows the Telltale formula, though it has more free environment traversal, and the most important mechanic: the ability to rewind time to replay difficult choices. But even if you know the immediate outcome of the choice, it doesn’t mean you’ll know the long-term outcome… I know for a fact that I’m not the only Tapper writing about this particular game, as I think it worked its charms on several of us.
Honorable Mention: Tales from the Borderlands
Where Life is Strange out-Telltaled Telltale this year, Tales from the Borderlands is still the year’s best Telltale.
Party game of the year: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
I didn’t see this in a lot of Game of the Year lists, but I was thrilled to see it turn up in several categories as a nominee for the Independent Gaming Festival.
This game, which sold me the Oculus Rift, is proof that the true purpose of VR is trolling your friends with asymmetrical multiplayer. Fun with a big crowd on the PC, where everyone can see the screen, too.
I’ve heard good things about: Rocket League
I’ve always wanted Mario Kart to have more arena battle mode parts. I hear this is more like Mario Kart but actually SOCCER? I haven’t played it yet; someone play it with me.
The 2015 Game of the Year Award for the Most 2015 Game You’ve Got: Lego Dimensions
This didn’t show up on any GOTY lists that I’ve seen so far elsewhere. That’s probably because as a game it’s not very good I guess. It is just sort of the standard Lego game formula, a kiddy game where your Lego avatar bashes and breaks lots of Legos. And Lego games have problems, mainly with unclear affordances: they try, but there’s so much kibble on screen at any given time that it’s just so easy to miss a tiny bat symbol in spite of Lego’s best intentions.
On the other hand: as an act of marketing, and a vehicle for fanservice, this game is extraordinary.
Imagine a Dr. Who game where the Doctor, whenever he is killed in the game, simply regenerates as the next Doctor in order. The theme music also changes arrangement to match the current Doctor, and the inside of the TARDIS also changes. Now imagine, in that same Dr. Who game, GLaDOS shows up, and makes admiring overtures toward a Dalek. Then she argues with HAL. For some reason.
You also find Cave Johnson in a basement (this is still the same game) but in order to let him out, you need a character from… Ninjago, or something? I don’t even care about Ninjago, Lego, but I care about Cave Johnson, so oh no, my wallet is opening again, heeeelllp.
This game symbolizes a lot of trends in 2015: a cross-media game where purchasing toys is necessary for the experience. As a bonus, it’s far and away the best Batman game I played this year.
Another crazy cross-media game that I got obsessed with this year: Mortal Kombat X. AKA the Jason Vs. the Predator game.
Now, as I often do, a few short observations about design trends I saw throughout the year. First, a totally personal observation:
Short is Sweet
I was way too busy this year to play any long games.
Say it isn’t so! All the games I loved this year were fairly short experiences, because I seem to have run out of time for longer experiences, especially those that can’t be consumed on the go. I loved Undertale, but I only really gave it a shot because someone assured me it was relatively short. That’s the metric by which I judge games these days it seems, which is a shame as I miss out on experiences that I purchase but do not come close to completing. I did play a little of Fallout 4 before experiencing most of it vicariously through my husband, who sunk in about 150 hours. (He’s the kind of person that just plays one game a year. Sometimes, I envy this.)
Hoping to free up some time for these other titles this year, or at least take a few of them on the road with me.
I never buy a new piece of gaming hardware for the sake of the hardware. I always buy the hardware when there’s an interesting game that I really want to play on it. This year, I bought the Oculcus Rift Dev Kit 2. I feel like I lucked out here, since the commercial version is nearly double the price, and DK2 will suit my purposes for now as I plan to develop on the platform. But I also bought it to play a particular game that I wanted to play, which tells me 2016 may be the year that VR games become really interesting. On the other hand, it’s hard to predict if this will really be a trend, and it’s going to be up to the game developers to provide excellent experiences to make this happen.
The Kids Are All Right
I played Undertale primarily on airplanes.
As I was playing it on a long flight, I happened to be seated next to a five-year-old boy who was clearly interested in the title. It has that colorful appeal. As I was playing, he asked me an obvious question for a kid to ask: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
He meant in the game, of course – my in person gender is obvious. But the gender of the protagonist in Undertale isn’t. The canonically-named Frisk has no obvious gender markers, and their race also is fairly unclear. They are clearly human, and the game says as much, but gender and race are never really a matter of question.
So I thought about this for a second, and then said, “I dunno, I guess it’s whatever you want it to be.” This seemed to satisfy the asker.
It did get me thinking, though. A race-neutral, gender-neutral protagonist certainly seems designed perfectly not to ruffle any feathers. I find many of the current conversations about how any character, anywhere, is portrayed “wrong” in some fashion or another to be truly exhausting. Could the future hero of all games be human-blobs of indistinct race and gender, like, just to avoid offending anyone? Is that a game world we want?
…Then I remembered that the protagonist of Zork is officially called “Ageless Faceless Gender-Neutral, Culturally-Ambiguous Adventure Person,” realized that nothing has actually changed, and everything is going to be just fine.
Video games are gonna be just fine.
Email the author of this post at aj@Tap-Repeatedly.com.