I'm not a believer in "game of the year" articles and awards. Many times I don't get a chance to play a great game until at least a year after the game's release, and so do lots of people. In addition, the games that usually get the sort of Game of the Year attention are the ones being distributed by huge, already well known companies with a big PR budget. This year I made it a goal to play more games by independent creators and smaller teams. This led to me playing a lot of older games as well, so I present you with two lists. One includes my recommendations for games that released this year and stood out; the other is a list of other games I played this year that came out in 2014 or earlier that I greatly enjoyed.
2015's Games to Play
- by Toby Fox
- PC, Mac
- Instead of mindlessly killing all of the monsters in your way as you try to get home, you have the opportunity to end fights without hurting others. Undertale is very aware of RPG tropes, and it uses them to talk about video games and also to do some things differently. The soundtrack is incredibly good, and it's a silly, sad, and heartwarming game.
- by Sam Barlow
- PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone
- Her Story has a fantastic beginning: it just places you right in the game with no explanation. On the screen looks like a police database of videos. You can search for words tagged to the videos to discover what really happened to the man who went missing and the woman who's called in for questioning. The story is told in a nonlinear way, and the order of videos you watch will be different from the order I saw as we will search for different words at different points. The story is a bit ambiguous, but it's always interesting, and I was taking notes the entire time on which keyword to type in next.
- by Nintendo
- Wii U
- This is the biggest game on this list, and I couldn't not include it. Splatoon is the funnest shooter-style game I've played. It came out at the end of May, and I still play it regularly. Play this game to see how Nintendo took the shooter genre and did something completely different. You play as an Inkling, a sort of squid person who can switch between being a squid or a humanoid. As you shoot, roll, paint, or toss ink on the ground, you can swim in it as a squid. The goal is to over the most ground as possible with your three teammates as the opposing team tries to do the same. There are ranked modes for more competitive players, and plenty of fashion choices for your Inkling. A huge part of the appeal for Splatoon to me is zero voice chat capability and super cute clothes.
- by Frictional Games
- PC, Mac, Linux, PS4
- SOMA is a terrifying game, but that's only partially due to the terrifying monsters out to kill you. More likely a reference to the greek word for body than a reference to Brave New World, SOMA makes you think for yourself what humanity is. Instead of playing the game, I watched my significant other play, and we had several conversations about consciousness, what it means to be human, whether a copy of yourself is still the same you, and under what parameters that could be the case. There are hard decisions in SOMA, but there's no morality meter to externally judge your actions. The only way they change the game is in how you think about them. There's no combat, but there are hostilities to be aware of. Along the way, the main character meets a robot who calls herself Catherine who insists she's human. Catherine is by far the most interesting character in the game. She's brilliant, and she doesn't always have the main character's interests at heart. The sound design and environmental designs are spot on, and the game would feel much less frightening if those hadn't been pulled off so well. SOMA is a fantastic horror game that I highly recommend. If you have a hard time playing stealth games (it would be nice to have easier difficulty modes), you should at least watch a friend play.
- by Nina Freeman, Star Maid Games
- PC, Mac
- Nina has been making narrative games inspired by her experiences for a while, and I suggest you check out her other games, too. Freshman Year is one of my favorites, as well as How Do You Do It? Cibele is about a character named Nina, who is a college student with a crush on someone she met in an online game. Each scene begins with the player (playing as Nina) on her computer. Nina, the person, used pictures of herself and old archives of websites she built in high school as documents you can view on the computer, and I was amused by how many of the same interests I share with Nina. This is a must play for anyone who's had relationships (platonic or romantic) with people online.
Crypt of the NecroDancer
- by Brace Yourself Games
- PC, Mac, Linux
- I first came across Crypt of the NecroDancer in early 2014, and it's grown so much from then to its full release earlier this year. It's a rhythm game where you beat enemies to the beat. Crypt of the NecroDancer is a roguelike, a genre of games where the player moves through a dungeon, collecting equipment and loot along the way, and will have to restart from the beginning upon death. They're not very accessible to new players, but Crypt of the NecroDancer simplifies many things. There's still a lot of complexity and depth to NecroDancer, but the game eases players into it. You only need to keep track of four buttons, the arrow buttons, and move once per beat of the song. You can even use your own music in the game, but the soundtrack is perfect.
Read Only Memories
- by MidBoss
- PC, Mac, Linux
- Take a dash of cyberpunk, a dash of adorable robots, and a whole lot of respect for people's identities and you have Read Only Memories. You play as a journalist who comes across a robot named Turing; they say their creator is involved in some possibly dubious stuff with his employer. Read Only Memories focuses on identity, even asking you for your preferred pronouns (whether that be he/she/they/or something else). Turing and the other characters will ask you important questions that may reveal some assumptions you make and how they're damaging. The game's font for text strained my eyes, but the art and music direction is fun and feels very much like a colorful, old cyberpunk game.
We Know The Devil
- by Date Nighto; written by Aevee Bee, art by Mia Schwartz, music by Alec Lambert
- Browser game
- Have you been to any kind of summer camp? We Know The Devil will feel somewhat familiar regardless of which camp you went to — the bugs, the annoying kids you have to put up with, the counselors who don't really understand you ... We Know The Devil has all of this, but the camp is focused on a Christian camp the three main characters, Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune, were forced to attend. You don't play as a singular character. Instead, you'll be picking which two of the three characters spend time together as situations arise where one person has to leave to do something or two characters have to do something together. It's a visual novel style game, which means it's focused on the writing of the game. You point and click to advance the text and to select choices, which means it's an incredibly accessible game. We Know The Devil is about identity, belonging, and being "irresponsible" or a disappointment.
Tales of Zestiria
- by Namco Bandai
- PS3, PS4, PC
- Another big game by a big company. A note first: Tales of Zestiria is very much a JRPG. It is long. There is a lot of text. There are monsters you fight on the field. It's just about what you'd expect. However, I've enjoyed the game more than some of the more recent installments in the series because it is very much about a single narrative arc; it is the story of the hero's journey. Sorey, who has grown up among the seraphim with his best friend Mikleo, becomes the Shephard, a person who can purify the malevolence of the land. Sorey is incredibly naive and optimistic, and when he gets involved with the two nations' war, he realizes his goal is going to be very difficult. With the help of the seraphim who have made a pact with him, Sorey must take care not to become malevolent himself. Where the game got interesting for me was the inclusion of Rose, a character with more dubious morals than Sorey, yet equally pure of heart. Tales of Zestiria shows that sometimes people choose chaos and war and cannot be persuaded with; in these moments, Rose does what she does best: she takes care of the problem. Furthermore, Zestiria is the first JRPG I've seen to truly depict male intimacy in a meaningful way. The bond between Sorey and Mikleo is a strong one. They bicker, they tickle each other, and they love each other. Whether this love is a romantic one is up in the air, but it's the closest to a confirmed romance between people of the same gender in the series.
Life is Strange
- by DontNod Entertainment
- PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
- I have complicated feelings about Life is Strange. On one hand, it builds up a fantastic relationship between two teenage girls. On the other hand, it plays into women as victims tropes but doesn't really do anything noteworthy with them. I have to give serious content warnings to this game as it addresses things like bullying, suicide, and sexual harassment and abuse. Life is Strange, like many of the games on this list, is much more about the narrative than the gamey parts of the game. Max Caulfield realizes one day she suddenly has the power to rewind time. When she notices her childhood best friend get shot in the school bathroom, she uses her powers to go back in time a few minutes. The game never explains how Max got her powers, and it also plays into the tragic lesbians trope, but this is one of the few games taking a relationship between girls seriously.
I should also mention that Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star is coming out on Dec. 15. I played the original release several years ago when Hato Moa first released it with an English translation (before working with Mediatonic and Devolver Digital), and it is hilarious! It is also very touching and addresses suicide in the latter half of the game. Expect a more detailed write-up when I play through this HD version, but I can already say I highly recommend it if you played the first Hatoful Boyfriend and enjoyed it!
Games to Play If You're Like Me And Can't Play All the Games as They Come Out (AKA Games I Loved in 2015 from Earlier Years)
- by Platinum Games
- Xbox 360 , PS3 (Bayonetta), Wii U (Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2)
- 2010 (Xbox 360, PS3), 2014 (Wii U)
- I don't think there's another female character in games who's led to such divisive opinions on whether she's objectified or empowering, but I always love to hear women's perspectives. Personally, I find her sexuality something she thoroughly enjoys, and that joy really comes through in the game because it is so much fun. Warning: this is a combo-heavy game, so if you don't like hitting buttons quickly and memorizing combinations of button presses for different attacks, this might not be your jam. But Bayonetta is such a cool character, so you should try it!
- by Upper One Games
- Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC, Mac
- 2014 (Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, PC), 2015 (Wii U, Mac)
- If you're a game developer and you want to make a game about a culture different from your own, play this game! Developed alongside the Iñupiat (a group of Alaskan natives), Never Alone tells the story of an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her arctic fox companion. You must guide Nuna through her world, from left to right, and keep her safe from danger, inspired by Iñupiaq stories. There are also short documentaries included with the game of conversations with the Iñupiat, so you get to hear the stories from their own mouths. It's a cute game that's easy to play, so you can give it to young kids to play through, too.
The Mass Effect trilogy
- by Bioware
- Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3), Wii U (Mass Effect 3)
- 2007 (Mass Effect), 2010 (Mass Effect 2), 2012 (Mass Effect 3)
- I stayed away from Mass Effect as long as I did because to me it looked more like a "dudebro shooter" game from all of the marketing material I saw. A friend introduced me to another series by Bioware (Dragon Age) around 2010, and I thought it'd be more accessible because I wouldn't have to be aiming at things when fighting. Once enough people told me how much they love FemShep (the female playable character; both the male and female character are the Commander Shepard), I put the difficulties down way low and took a shot. Just like everyone else, I fell in love with Shepard. Unlike Dragon Age, the Mass Effect trilogy is a story about Shepard told in three parts, each building up to the next. Mass Effect 3 took a lot of heat for its ending, but even so I think most of us (I was fairly upset when I reached the ending) were upset that Shepard's story had to end. The fourth game in the series, set in another galaxy, is set to come out in 2016. If you like games where characters move the story along, Mass Effect (and Dragon Age) are for you.
- by Hanako Games
- PC, Mac, Linux
- Think Harry Potter ... but you're picking classes, escaping dungeons, and dating people. This is the game I wanted as a kid. It's a fun game, and there are so many different characters who truly look and act different from one another. There are actual exams in the game you must take (you're a magic student, after all), but they're all escape the dungeons scenarios where you use the spells you've learned to deal with obstacles and find the exit. The dating part is wonderful. Boy, girl, demon ... even a teacher, you can date them. And if you like this, check out another game by Hanako Games called Long Live the Queen.
This War of Mine
- by 11 bit studios
- PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
- 2014 (PC, Mac, Linux), 2015 (iOS, Android)
- For anyone having to actually live through war, it's not a power fantasy. It means starving, freezing, and living in chaos. In This War of Mine you manage the actions of a small group of civilians who must scavenge for food and materials. They live in a shelter, which you will also need to maintain, which only gets harder as the weather gets colder. You also have no idea how long the war will last; in reality, civilians are not privy to war operations and must continue to live based on hope that the instability will end soon. There is combat in the game, but I would not recommend it. Some people get violent when they realize you've stolen from them, and at that time the best thing to do is run away back to your shelter as fast as you can. However, people can also come to loot your shelter. The game's unpredictable, and it is difficult. If you aren't in the mood to play something depressing, This War of Mine will surely not lift your spirits. However, I think it's an important game worth people's time. This is a game I'd love to see shown in a history class.