As we welcome the new year and all its exciting prospects and hopeful game releases, I’d like to look back on some of the games that made 2015 one of my favorite and most memorable years for gaming. This list is biased, of course, so here’s a bit about me: I’m a twenty-something writer/editor who has been gaming since Sega Genesis, and I have since developed a fierce love for role-playing games and anything with a great storyline or unique playability. I also love playing games with my friends (I mean, who doesn’t?), and I’m mostly Sony and Nintendo all the way, as far as consoles go. These factors weighed heaviest on my Top 10 of 2015, but there were still some outliers that really entertained me. I didn’t get to play all the games I wanted to – nor did I even get to hit up some of the most talked-about titles like Undertale or Life is Strange – but I did discover a lot of new favorites this year.
10. Samurai Warriors 4 II
I’ll be the first to admit hack-and-slash games can get really mindless really quickly, but I have a major soft spot for Koei’s Musou games. I attribute this fondness largely due to the local co-op, but this reboot of Samurai Warriors 4 added some features that really improved the gameplay. Character switching allows players to alternate between two characters during battle, which kept me from getting bored of the same ol’ button smashing of previous games. There are also a lot more combos you can gain with experience, and combined with the new “rage mode” (aka “but what about SECOND musou?”), there was actually more strategy involved. It’s still a Dynasty/Samurai Warriors game, so you can’t take it too seriously or expect too much, but it definitely is satisfying the see your kill score go up past 1,000. This has definitely been my favorite duo couch co-op video game of the year.
9. Exploding Kittens: NSFW Edition (Card game)
Like the Kickstarter promised, Exploding Kittens is horribly hilarious. I am in love with the card designs, and find myself cracking up randomly throughout the game. There is sort of a Sword of Damocles feel to the game each time you draw a card, and I can truthfully say that sometimes I have never been more relieved to draw a card featuring a fat cat wearing itty bitty kitty bikinis. The humor is definitely the charm of this game, and while I wish dead players had more to do while those still in game tried to kill each other with their kitty arsenals, the game is fast-paced enough that the losers don’t have to wait long before a new game can start. That being said, I’m really hoping for some expansions to add more features to the game, as the card options were a little bare. Still, the concept is fun and there isn’t too much of a learning curve, so it’s accessible to the (more mature) family. If you’re a fan of The Oatmeal, I highly recommend getting this game.
8. Magicka 2
Now here’s a game you can really enjoy playing with a larger group of friends. Magicka 2 is a light-hearted little game that allows up to four players at a time run around co-op killing your generic little baddies. The fun, however, is in the extensive combo spell-casting system that lets you create any number of element amalgamations to target or defend yourself or others. The controls are a little confusing at first, and the sheer amount of combinations you can cast is definitely overwhelming and hard to remember, but that’s really the fun of it. You panic, and stupid things happen. And you have your friends running around you also doing stupid things, and suddenly everyone’s on fire. What’s not to love? I found this game completely charming and a great couch co-op for multiple players at a time. In a gaming climate where couch co-op is a seldom-seen word, I have to give this game major props for bringing groups together while still keeping the gameplay unique.
7. Yokai Watch
I have been a fan of Pokemon and the Pokemon formula for a very long time, and honestly, who hasn’t been at some point? The simple charm of raising and battling cute monsters is hard to resist, and Yokai Watch brings a lot of new mechanics to that classic formula. Foremost is the circle formation ring, which you spin with the touch pad in order to switch your party of six (three at a time) around whenever you want mid-battle. Each Yokai also has a special move which can only be executed by completing a brief mini game on the touch screen. Trace the lines, poke the bubbles, spin the wheel, etc. All other attacks are done automatically, so most of your strategy comes from revolving your team and choosing who best fits the situation. Though simple, this mechanic sets Yokai Watch apart from other titles of similar theme and cements its place on my list. The Yokai are all based off monsters from Japanese myths and legends and their designs are spot-on cute, weird, and at times hilarious. The whole package feels like another Pokemon, though with a unique twist on the battle system and some fun discovery mechanics that make great use of the touch screen. Definitely one that I’m glad I didn’t let pass me by.
6. Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Rumble at Castle Tentakill (Card game)
Epic Spell Wars has been my go-to party game ever since Rumble at Castle Tentakill was released this year. Ridiculous, gory spell-building and battling in itself is a lot of fun, but the sequel adds several new rules and conditions, such as standee and creature buffs, that add a lot more depth to the gameplay. Combining the first and second Spell Wars games together provides even more possibilities, and if you’re lucky enough, you can become extremely overpowered, provided you don’t run out of HP and lose all your buff cards. Still, what I like about this game is that even if you die and lose your items, you can collect dead wizard cards, which can help you when you come back the next round. There is enough going on through card relations that you can get pretty strategic, but it’s not overly complicated, so you don’t get overwhelmed your first playthrough.
I don’t know exactly what I expected when I picked up Splatoon. In theory, I understood the concept well enough. You shoot the enemy squid kids (which are adorable, by the way) while simultaneously painting the walls and floor of the arena the color of your team. Whichever team has the most surface area by the end of the extremely brief match wins and receives a larger reward than the losers. Surfaces that are painted your team’s color can be moved through quickly by shapeshifting into a squid and darting around the map. It seems simple, and in many ways it IS quite simple, but goddamn, is it fun. The whole experience is so well-rounded and put together that one match turns into five, which turns into 10 pretty quickly; it’s just so easy to pick up and play. New weapons and stages add a lot of interesting options to the game, and an adorable aesthetic and charming music all blend seamlessly into a very unexpectedly enthralling game. I still find it very sad this game doesn’t allow local multiplayer for regular matches, however.
Bloodborne is the latest iteration of the infamous “souls” series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2) with a bit of an aesthetic twist. Staying true to the formula of its predecessors, Bloodborne throws you into a world that you know very little about and expects a great deal from you if you want to survive. The steep difficulty for which the series is famous is definitely present, although the mechanics of combat have shifted to favor aggression and timing rather than a solid defense. The changes are a huge success in my opinion, making combat all the more nerve-wracking and satisfying. The Victorian Lovecraftian setting cements the horrifying universe together quite nicely, though there isn’t a lot of story involved. Still, I found myself exhausting dialogue options with the few NPCs I found in order to learn more about the world. The DLC also had a ton to offer from new weapons, armor, monsters, and a sizable addition to the lore. While the difficulty could become really irritating for some players, I found the game very satisfying, and it is likely something that I will revisit on more than one occasion.
3. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection
While the last of Borderlands games has been out for a while, 2K Games finally released the Handsome Collection containing Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. If you have not played Borderlands before, this collection is definitely the best way to experience the franchise, as 2 and the Pre-Sequel are definitely the best of the three. The Borderlands dimension is truly one of my favorites, and the gameplay makes me, an avid RPG enthusiast, actually enjoy playing the first-person shooter format. The skill trees and character abilities make the gameplay way more fun than just point-and-shoot, and I am in love with the ridiculous, sarcastic characters and the world-building. The art is beautiful and unique and the storyline is hilarious, but surprisingly extensive; the three games weave in and out of each other very well, and upon completion of the saga, you get a much more rounded view of the characters and their relations to each other and the setting. If that’s not enough to convince you to check this series out, then at least come for the Diamond Buttstallion.
2. Fallout 4
Directly after the unexpected announcement of Fallout 4, the internet flooded with memes about lost time. I, too, misplaced a great many hours wandering the wasteland in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Fallout 4 proved to be no less engrossing. The customization in both appearance and perks is much improved upon from the previous games, providing almost limitless character creation. Once you set out however, it becomes clear that the customization level of Fallout 4 goes well beyond that of any previous Bethesda title. Weapons, armor, and even buildings and plots of land are yours to take apart, put back together, and modify as much as parts and perks levels allow. I spent hours crafting buildings and raising settlements before I really advanced the main story (which turned out to be one of the best in the series). The gameplay is fun and rewarding, the characters and quests are well-crafted and interesting, and the whole universe is put together very well in the traditional post-apocalyptic aesthetic. The occasional bug may render your game experience a bit wonky, but honestly I haven’t experienced any damning technical issues. It is often the games that can be revisited endlessly and experienced differently that really catch my attention and prove to be worth my time. No game in recent memory has fit the bill quite like Fallout 4. I feel like I could play this game over and over without ever having the same experience twice.
1. The Witcher 3
It would take a pretty amazing game to beat Fallout 4. I’d say I had trouble deciding which game should take the number-one spot, but I’ve known ever since I started the Witcher 3 that this was my new favorite game. It was hard not to get sucked in right at the beginning video sequence, which features both an amazing soundtrack and beautifully detailed CG. However, the prettiness of the game was only the beginning; the gameplay is smooth and strategic, and the various trees to build upon (one for potions/blade oils, one for magic, and one for combat skills) makes fighting customizable and dynamic. The open world is HUGE (definitely rivaling Fallout 4), and I spent a lot of time just riding Roach around finding new places and monsters – of which there are some pretty cool ones. This was made even more enjoyable by there being no loading screens, which still blows my mind a little. The story is by far the strongest point for me, as it is very well-crafted, full of countless vibrant, dynamic characters, and really hits you in the feels at times. I had actually read the Witcher books (which, sadly, are not very good, especially compared to this game), and still I found myself surprised by some of the turns. You also piece together timelines and switch between Ciri’s story and Geralt’s tracking of her. Being able to play both characters (though I want more Ciri gameplay for sure) adds a refreshing spin to the narrative. There are some really great arcs, and I got pretty invested, as you can tell. The Hearts of Stone DLC was literally the best DLC I have ever played for an RPG; I won’t spoil anything, but it was at times creepy and dreamlike and quirky and hilarious all in the same storyline. The finishing blow that made me fall in love with this game was all the tiny attention to detail. You can see the creases in the leather and the grain in thread and embroidery if you look close enough, and I was gawking at all the skin pocks and subtle color changes of clothes based on the environment. Putting all of this together into one very finished-feeling piece is no small feat, especially by a small Polish company with little precedent. If you haven’t done so already, give yourself a chance to fall in love with this game; it’s definitely a major highlight of 2015.