Once again, here’s a sentence about every game I played in the year 2015 (not counting games finished up from last year, described in last year’s list).
Eloquently capturing the trials and tribulations of travel in a pre-globalized world, 80 Days‘ classy literary ambitions don’t stop it from being a page turner.
9 Hour, 9 Days, 9 Doors
Repeated assurance that it’s brilliant hasn’t enabled me to overcome a slow, generic opening in a world of Too Many Games.
A single-subject game that successfully explores and represents its subject (suicide).
Advanced Bitcoin Simulator*
Scathing, unfair, and yet somehow just, Advanced Bitcoin Simulator is probably the funniest game I played this year.
Like many potential players, I hoped (wrongly) that “manager” meant “you don’t have the manually fight the random battles for your 40 adventurers.”
Adventurezator: When Pigs Fly
The concept of a modular, systems-based adventure game toolkit remains a great one, but the incarnation is far too fiddly.
Possibly the best use of a film license in gaming.
There’s nothing wrong with Audiosurf 2, but I don’t think I’ll ever recapture the magic of high-scoring R.E.M.’s back catalog during my first year of college.
There is a largely untapped genre of games about urban exploration, and Bernband is one of the purest and most memorable of them, emphasizing the mystery of unknown places in lieu of simulation.
Beyond: Two Souls
Gripping until an early moment that was so unbelievable (in terms of character behavior) that it ripped me out of a well-constructed game; it deserves a second chance, and I’ll give it one.
At this juncture all the Blackwell games have blurred together for me, but this certainly was on par with its predecessors and may have even been a little better (though I still like the second best!)
Blood Bowl II*
Maddening programmatic and UI failures plague this second computer incarnation of the classic tabletop game, but at least this time around the Dev is patching them as a decent rate and handing out free DLC, and the quality of Blood Bowl‘s core design continues to make this one of the best league play games available.
As adorable as any Amanita Design game, and the teamplay element attracted me more than the lonesome journeys of Samorost and Machinarium.
Broken Age: Part II*
Effortlessly charming, obviously gorgeous, yet surprisingly ephemeral, Broken Age would be a success in the hands of anyone with a lesser reputation; for Tim Schafer, it will probably go down as his worst adventure game.
Card City Nights
A somewhat shallow card battle system is made up for by the best incidental NPC dialog of 2014.
Card Hunter: Expedition to the Sky Citadel
Unexpectedly, Card Hunter’s second expansion is a more-or-less direct adaptation of System Shock 2.
An unusually accessible, lightweight tactical strategy game whose ode to “super sentai” series should charm even those totally unfamiliar with the genre.
The world doesn’t really need another retelling of Cinderella, but (so far) this is a good and beautiful one, and an interesting bridge between visual novels and choice-based interactive fiction.
City Quest is the rare game comedy that is patently offensive without ever being mean-spirited.
I could see myself enjoying this a lot in a portable setting, but on PC I bounced off this perfectly serviceable, reasonably distinct roguelike because Too Many Roguelikes.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic*
I can’t believe I waited nine years to play one of the few post-Looking Glass immersive sims.
Perfectly serviceable and with a nice sense of heft to its environments and combat, but ultimately a bit too generic open-world action to be worth my time in 2015 (which is not necessarily the game’s fault).
A real slow burn of an RPG that has a lot of heart and promises to open up, but perfunctory combat and slow character development resulted in me wandering away to shinier games (though I hope to return).
A finally wrought daily math puzzle – more comparable to Sudoku than a typical roguelike.
Divinity II: Developer’s Cut*
Constrained by budget, platform limitations, and inexperience, Divinity II still had more heart than its better-produced peers.
Divinity: Dragon Commander*
The only video game that asks you to decide the legal status of factory farming.
Divinity: Original Sin: Enhanced Edition
Rare is the game that so encourages manipulating systems and generating emergent behaviors for fun and profit (but mostly fun).
Neither the music nor the vocals really did anything for me, so I checked out early (given that these elements are pretty core to a musical).
I’m not convinced the episodic format has done the game any favors, and suspect it will be better when played as a complete work, but it still has a quiet confidence that is one of the trademarks of the series (and also, they patched out the mandatory “X will remember this” notifications at least partly because I complained about them).
A Druid’s Duel
Possibly the best “Chess 2.0” type video game, but I can’t play it because it’s not colorblind friendly.
Dungeon of the Endless*
Another fine entry in my list of “games with great elevator sequences,” and the only tower defense style game I have truly loved.
Turns out you *can* tell a strong, curated story in a 4X game.
Elegy for a Dead World
This writing-prompt-producer is a wonderful tool for classrooms, and one of these days I may actually complete my short story.
Grind-centric and frequently inscrutable, Elite: Dangerous is nevertheless an enormous technical achievement that may become a great game at the conclusion of the developer’s “ten-year plan.”
Final Fantasy XIV
The first MMORPG I’ve ever hit level 60 in, largely because the awesome community kept me engaged for a few months even when the gameplay was wholly generic.
Hand of Fate
The world of board games has seen a number of card-based dungeon crawlers, but never with this much style.
Heroes Rise: The Prodigy
A rather workmanlike stab at commercial superhero IF, only bad by comparison to the wonderful and inventive work that arises out of the core IF scene.
The Inner World
The humor doesn’t really land for me, but it’s beautiful and (for lack of a better word) sweet in a way I find makes for excellent comfort gaming.
Gemcraft Chapter II: Chasing Shadows
A tower defense game notable for its incredible depth and 400+ achievements (which is good, because by god the enemy models are hard to distinguish).
I’ve yet to really love a Wadjet Eye game and this is, sadly, no exception
Grandpa Pip’s Birthday
Surprisingly effective comedy about baking a cake for a bunch of villagers whose town is under attack by dragons.
Guild Wars 2
Cemented that I really like the exploration aspects of MMOs, and not much else.
Legend of Grimrock
My second attempt to beat the game got a lot farther, but ultimately it is playing on nostalgia for games that I never played.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes
The “Lego Video Games” formula has gotten really stale, and LMSH’s efforts to shake that up don’t go quite far enough, and are hampered by the voice acting gutting the distinct comic sensibilities of Lego Star Wars etc.
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey
I would like this a lot more if I weren’t terrible at anagrams.
Reminds me of times spent in my family’s cabin on Whidbey Island (this is a good thing).
The best stargazing game since Radiator 1-1: Polaris.
Longest Night: Lost Constellation*
The best video game short story of 2015.
Eight months or so after playing it, I can’t really disentangle my memories of it from Magic 2014, except that I have less patience than ever for the incredibly so pace of computer Magic.
Magic Duels: Origins*
A spectacular failure of a fairly simple proposition, suggesting that Hasbro hates money.
Mario Kart: Double Dash
Shine Thief is secretly the best party mode in Mario Kart history.
Mario Kart 8
I look forward to playing this against people who aren’t unbeatable.
A game that deals with generations rather than individuals, Massive Chalice alienated people who wanted to invest deeply in specific characters, but their frequent loss and interchangeability is its core theme manifested in systems.
Merchants of Kaidan
I’m shallow, and thus bounced off this game mostly because of ungrammatical writing.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain*
Deep yet accessible, MGSV is brilliant in every aspect save its narrative, yet (much like an Elder Scrolls game) players are incentivized to keep playing until they tire of it rather than quitting while they’re ahead, which means ultimately my feelings towards it are much less warm than it deserves.
Lost to IdleMaster for my Idle Gaming Time.
Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!*
A heartfelt ode to Monkey Island/love-letter to the developer’s girlfriend that I waited too many years to play.
Neon Struct: Die Augen der Welt*
In the fifteen years since Thief 2 was released, Neon Strut is (bizarrely) the only game to follow directly in its padded footsteps.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Despite considerably greater scope that the original, I think this has a minigamish quality that fit better in a smaller game.
Pillars of Eternity*
In a time of numerous groundbreaking RPGs, Pillars is content with iteration on a 17-year-old formula, but does so with admirable confidence and an unusual narrative focus on belief and religion.
Pineapple Smash Crew
The coffee break version of Cannon Fodder, PSC lacks depth but makes up for it by perfectly executing its small number of mechanics.
I whipped a lot of horses and I feel bad about it.
First played at a Chicago Game Jam in 2014, this simple 2D dogfighter is my favorite local multiplayer game of 2015.
Rollers of the Realm
Delivers on the promise of Odama.
A distinct hybrid of tactical strategy and CCG, this gorgeous game will die before its time because of a serious failure of marketing, sales, and (I suspect) the Microsoft acquisition of Mojang.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong*
Harebrained Schemes have figured out a formula for good Shadowrun games and this is another high-quality iteration of it, though future titles will need to increase systemic complexity to make it less of a chore.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted
Open-world stealth terrifies me almost as much as permadeath.
The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces*
Another in a series of disappointing games from Team Aces that fails to recapture the magic of Ace Combat 4/5.
South Park: The Stick of Truth*
My faith in Obsidian was rewarded: I find South Park obnoxious at best, but found 80% of this game to be tremendously clever, if far too easy.
There is a certain class of simply puzzle game I desire to play to music, and I hope Matthew Brown continues to release one every year until I die.
Sometimes, you can make good games out of a pun.
As a medium, video games excel at atmosphere and world-building, so it’s high praise when I say that Sunless Sea is top of its class in both categories, though it’s not clear that permadeath is a good fit for story-heavy games.
Super Mario Galaxy
Conceptually, it’s as good as everyone says, but for some reason I always end up finding platformers kind of dull, and even the great Mario can’t overcome this.
Apart from opening up a fascinating new realm of copyright/trademark law, this feature-rich game is one of the best ways to keep in touch with distant friends who don’t want to play conventional multiplayer video games.
I’d strongly encourage anyone interested in creative writing to give this a spin; it’s as good a writing exercise as any.
The secret to Undertale‘s popularity, I think, is its sincerity; there is not a mean-spirited bone in the game (and there are a lot of bones).
WarioWare: Smooth Moves
Everyone’s first WarioWare game is their favorite; the series is brilliant, but repetitive.
Westerado: Double Barrelled
A strong argument for more small, contained open worlds.
Will Fight For Food: Super Actual Sellout: Game of the Hour*
A two and a half hour joke is a lot of fun in my book as long as the joke is consistently funny (and here, it is).
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt*
Every RPG player owes CDP Project gratitude for releasing an expansive RPG with no junk sidequests; other developers can no longer claim such a thing is impossible.
The Wolf Among Us*
A great beginning, a solid middle, and a lackluster ending results in yet another competent Telltale Game series that fails to live up to its apparent ambition.
Wolfenstein: The New Order*
Nigel Tufnel once said that “it’s such a fine line between clever and stupid,” and the latest Wolfenstein spends its entire runtime oscillating between the two with such frequency that it’s probably some sort of brilliant.
You Must Build A Boat*
I am very grateful that this follow-up to 1,000,000 lacks its predecessor’s massive endgame difficulty spike.