Hey, the podcast is going to be a little late this week, here’s a personal top 10 to tide you over. When I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition way back in 2014, I had no idea that basically every big game in 2015 would go for that same epic approach. Last year was the year of the open world game, and also the year of me having a full-time job for the full year for the first time ever. So I played less video games, I admit it. I made time for movies and TV shows and music and podcasts and friends and as a result, didn’t play as many video games as a professional game critic. I’m sorry to have let you all down.
You know I have that strict rule about games where you can’t really be critical of them until you’ve beaten them. It goes without saying then that there are a few games I’m only part of the way through that I think would be on this list, had I been able to finish them off. The most obvious is Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which is so good but also quite long. Rise of the Tomb Raider is great, better than the last one, but I haven’t completed that yet either. Batman: Arkham Knight is supposed to be great, but I bought it on PC so who knows if I’ll ever finish it. As far as Fallout 4 and Bloodborne? I’ve barely scratched the surface. And I haven’t even started Until Dawn, Life is Strange or last year’s Telltale games, even though I love that genre.
As a result, I’m not doing honorable mentions this time. The industry has moved on into 2016 this week, with the first few big releases like that 3DS Final Fantasy game and the long-awaited Jonathan Blow puzzler The Witness. For me, though, 2015 in gaming will go on for quite a while longer, lest I let my backlog finally overtake me. If I had a few more months, I’d have quite a different top 10, I’m sure. But I still had 10 games that really impressed me AND I actually played enough of to list.
I’m always looking for new platformer fighting games in the vein of Smash Bros. and Towerfall, and this year’s top contender was the surprising Duck Game, from Adult Swim. This is a game that lives on its zaniness, dropping players into various random maps with different weapons. Will it be a level with a lava pit and only net guns? Or maybe bouncing laser rifles on a level covered with teleporting portals? I think it’s a lot of fun, but I also think I liked it more than my friends did, and what, am I gonna go play this online with strangers? Hell no. So let’s put it in the 10 spot.
I would have loved to put the whole Jackbox Party Pack 2 on here, but the rest of the games pale in comparison to Quiplash, one of the greatest “you don’t have to like video games to play” party games. This is basically “make jokes” the game, with the guys over at Jackbox delivering us set ups that two players take a shot at knocking down by writing their own punchlines. Everyone else (which can be just everyone in the room or thousands of people watching online) votes on which joke they prefer. It’s simple, but also like a better evolution of the kind of gameplay something like Cards Against Humanity introduced. You have to actually be creative and funny, you see. It’s neat.
What if all the best action heroes of the Eighties and Nineties were in a four-player coop Contra-style shooter? It seems impossible, what with copyright law, but (I’m guessing through parody loopholes) Broforce made it happen. A game that I think is still in early access, Broforce is the ultimate dude fantasy, as you “liberate” villages and bases by shooting, shanking, and exploding evil guys before hopping on a helicopter and firebombing the whole place. It’s stupid in exactly the right way and I just hope they keep adding more bros for the rest of time.
I was late to the party with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, so I made sure to be on top of my shit with the fourth one. So I bought my third 3DS, a New 3DS XL, because I wanted that extra control nub. And you know, that was nice, even though I’ve got this 3DS XL that I don’t know what to do with now. The game’s cool. Not a lot changed for casual fans, the game is still borderline impenetrable for newcomers and must be played in a very specific way, but when you get it, the game can be quite rewarding. If only I hadn’t decided to main Hunting Horn, I’d probably still be playing now. Also, this game should have been on Wii U, but I get why it’s not.
“But Sean,” you protest, “Gundam Breaker 2 came out in December 2014!” Listen, you little miscreant, that was in Japan. It never came out in the US, and Gundam Breaker 3 will be out in Japan soon, so this one probably never will come here. Plus December 2014 is practically 2015 anyway, what with the modern age of patches and DLC. Anyway, this is a game about picking your favorite Gundam parts (arms, legs, chests, backs, heads, and weapons) and combining them into one mobile suit. Then you can paint it, tweak it, and take it out into battle. Is the gameplay kind of repetitive? Yes. Does it matter when you get to make your dream machine. No. Damnit you guys, I wish this shit was in English.
When Nintendo rolls out a new IP, they go for it hard. Splatoon came out with a catchy song about kids and squids and the requisite Amiibo nonsense, but it also was immediately a fun, approachable multiplayer third person shooter. It even made gyroscopic controls cool again, before the Steam Controller even came out. But what really put it over the top was Nintendo’s continued support for the title, adding in a vast quantity of new weapons and maps between launch and like this week, when I think the last content pack came out. Really, the only hump I had to get over was that I seemed to do a lot better with the roller and nobody thinks the roller is cool. The Wii U, you guys. It may be dying, but it’s still fun right now. Don’t believe me? Just watch…
From a UX perspective, level creators are hard. You want to give users a ton of tools, but also want it to be fun and intuitive for newcomers. Super Mario Maker does an amazing job of this, making the initial creative suite very limited by slowly giving users more and more power. It even encourages exploration and experimentation by hiding some functionality in natural interactions – for example you have to drop Mario down a pipe to create warp pipes rather than selecting them from a complicated menu. It helps that everyone knows how Mario games work and Nintendo relied on that knowledge. Basically what I’m saying is that Nintendo did an amazing job really nailing something that I don’t think any game has ever really nailed before. On top of all that, it’s like a classic Mario game with infinite levels, I’m not going to scoff at that.
I think Rocket League should be stupid. Big dumb cars playing soccer? Since when do I like either of those things? But what if those cars had jet boosters and goofy hats? And what if the soccer ball exploded when you scored a goal? See, now you’re speaking my language. Rocket League turned into the most addictive multiplayer game we’ve seen in a long time – we’re drawn to it even more than we were for the last Smash Bros. game. Will it get old eventually? I don’t know, how many hats are there in this game anyway?
The narrative surrounding criticism of Destiny: The Taken King is that the expansion made the game officially good, that those of us who fell into Destiny‘s trap needed no longer feel ashamed. That’s mostly true, although I did feel like a bit of a tool every time Colin caught me logging in to check Xur’s inventory or participate in a timed event. The Taken King did an astoundingly great job addressing the weaknesses of vanilla Destiny, to the point that you can no longer buy the original game, you have to get it bundled with the expansion pack. The new quests, environments, weapons, and subclasses were enough to keep me playing for a few months (seriously, like most days August-October) when I should have been focusing on other things let Metal Gear. Don’t care though, that new raid is sweet.
The biggest reason I didn’t get into many of the other open world games I bought in 2015, like Mad Max, Just Cause 3, Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout 4, and probably more, is that from the time of its release to a few weeks ago, The Witcher 3 was my constant companion. This is an epic game, a beautiful evolution for a series that started out with niche appeal. It has grown into the de facto example of morally complicated, “grey” storytelling, with choices that seem to have dire consequences no matter what you do. Extending that out into an open world title meant creating one of the best-realized, most expansive overworlds in gaming history. Every single quest has some dark edge to it, some unique wrinkle that made completing everything never seem redundant. It didn’t hurt that the combat was the best in series history either.
The Witcher 3 took more hours than most games I’ve played, which is almost frustrating in an era when I’d almost prefer games be short and sweet. But this game gets away with it by building to a worthy conclusion, not just to this individual game, but to the whole series. It did fall into the trap of my character having grown so powerful that the final boss battle was easy, but at least it wasn’t stupid, you know? For countless hours I desired nothing more than to finally finish this game, but when the credits finally rolled, I wanted more. It’s a good thing that DLC is supposed to be pretty great. Maybe when I get through the hundreds of hours of other games I need to play, I’ll come back for some more.