With the end of 2015 fast approaching (and my MGSV: Ground Zeroes article taking longer than I’d like), I thought it would be apt to compile a list of my favorite games that I played this year. 2015 has been a pretty strong year for games in general and I’m pleased to see so many great games continue to come out, especially for the Wii U.
There are certain rules that each game and I have to follow in order to make it to the list. I’ll try to stick to these as best as possible.
- In the case of a non-multiplayer-only game, I must have played its single player experience to completion. This does not require a 100% of all of that the game has to offer. Instead, it is completion of the main quest or main story.
- In the case of a multiplayer game, I must describe how I played it. Whether cooperative or competitive multiplayer, I will detail whether I played with friends, matchmaking, or online or local multiplayer.
- I must have accomplished Rule 1 in 2015. The games on this list are not all 2015 releases. It is a list of what I played in 2015, not what came out this year.
The above rules, particularly number 3, disqualify certain games from the list. These, along with others that I feel are particularly noteworthy but didn’t make the cut, will be mentioned at the end. This has really been a year packed with cool experiences. Coupled with my exploration of older games, the selection process was pretty tough.
Be warned, as always: there are spoilers below. While I tried to stay away from spoilers, the games on the list may contain some minor story details. There are, for sure, spoilers for older games such as The Stanley Parable, Metal Gear Solid 4 and more. If you see a game’s name that you haven’t played yet, I suggest turning back. I guarantee nothing in the way of spoiler-free text.
Let’s do this.
Number 10 – Rayman Legends – Wii U
It’s basically a rule in my apartment to not play alone if a platformer has a co-op option. I played most of Rayman Legends as a 2-person cooperative experience with a slightly smaller portion as a trio.
The Rayman series has always struck me as wacky. I played the originals on the PlayStation 1 a long time ago, when I was a cute little kid. Rayman Legends is my first one since Rayman 2: The Great Escape and I was pleasantly surprised. It was like visiting an old friend, but with great music and Lums and a flying fairy frog thing.
I played Legends on the Wii U and I recommend that everyone do the same. I can’t imagine how they transfer the experience of the Wii U specific features, such as puzzles and obstacles that require the use of the Gamepad, to other consoles. It’s clear that this game was designed for the Wii U and it’s one of the few games to really use its unique features to their full potential.
However, unlike other cooperative platformers like Super Mario 3D World, this game does not work as fluidly with multiple players as it does a solo experience. It’s a faster platformer than Mario and it shows. Many of the later levels require quick reflexes and tight walljumps that lead to slides or free-fall sections. It’s not uncommon for one person, usually the most skilled player, to be the only one still playing because their friends got bubbled due to falling too far behind. In a lot of ways, it feels like a solo experience with cooperative play tacked on instead of one that was designed with it in mind from the beginning.
Still, it’s a great experience that really makes the Wii U feel like the great purchase that it is. It’s a pleasant vacation from contemporary grimdark and obscurity. Just play the music levels that cap off each world and you’ll be hooked.
Number 9 – Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist – PC
Created by William Pugh, one of the co-conspirators that helped with The Stanley Parable’s HD remake, Dr. Langeskov is very much a sequel to Stanley’s trips through those office halls. Like The Stanley Parable, Dr. Langeskov is a game that relies on surprise and an unspoiled experience in order to get the most out of it.
Unfortunately, that means that there’s little that I can write. I can say this: where our favorite parable is deeply analytical and, at times, cruel and spiteful despite the surface layer of humor, the heist is silly and ridiculous. Every time you expect the narrator to spit cruel insults, it only gets more comical.
I can also say this: it will cost you $0 and 20 minutes of your time. It’s absolutely worth it. Play it to get another look at game design, hard laughs and an experience you won’t get in any other medium. An absolute bargain.
Number 8 – Xenoblade Chronicles – Wii
Most of my thoughts over Xenoblade Chronicles can be found in an article I wrote earlier this year. Almost a year after playing it, I don’t go too long without thinking about it. Despite how interesting and impressive it is, it ranks so low on this list due to how much its faults tainted the experience. The troubles with menus and the grinding requirement were what contributed to an extra 15 hours or so that the game really didn’t need.
Even with pacing problems, so much of the game is enchanting. The setting, combat and characterization are more than enough to get anyone enthralled. The music is so damn good that I went through the trouble of adding some of my favorite tracks to my 20XX .iso to listen to when I play Super Smash Bros. Melee with friends.
It’s an epic experience that evokes the feelings that old-school JRPGs created, the same pull that used to keep us glued to our glowing CRTs with a SNES controller in hand and a blanket around our shoulders. Now, it even has a release on the New 3DS. You owe it to yourself to give this game at least some of your time.
Monado: The Beginning of the World is still a better title though.
Number 7 – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – PC
Like Kingdom Hearts, this game should not have worked. Metal Gear is a series that is deeply political and philosophical, filled with messages from a crazy auteur that creates fake game studios and purposefully lies about what characters you get to play in his games. It is the famous Tactical Espionage Action stealth series, with triple agents and slow and infuriating combat.
I’ve since learned to always trust in the people over at Platinum Games. Really, after games like Viewtiful Joe, Ōkami and The Wonderful 101 you think I would have learned my lesson, but I had a bit of trepidation even after Revengeance passed over to their hands. They absolutely blew it out of the water.
This game is a spectacle fighter pushed to new heights. It’s faithful to the same kind of combat demonstrated in Metal Gear Solid 4 when Raiden first fights Vamp and the Gekkos. There’s no way a human should be able to cut Metal Gear Rays in half, but Raiden makes it happen in spectacular fashion. He jumps from missile to missile, fights a robot dog and even duels a senator, all while wearing a sombrero and a poncho to the sound of some crazy Japanese metal that belongs in an early 2000s anime AMV.
It’s cheesy and ridiculous. It has long, exposition-ridden cutscenes that overuse the words “nanomachines” and “war economy.” Actually, they may have been able to release this game as Metal Gear Solid 4 and I probably wouldn’t have been surprised at all. I’ve seen crazier things out of Kojima. I’ve also seen really amazing things come out of his work and supervision. This is one of them.
Number 6 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – 3DS
I’m not too big on the 2D versus 3D Zelda debate. They’re different styles, each with their own set of shared and separate challenges. I’ve played almost every Zelda game and have my favorites across both sets. To argue which side is better than the other goes nowhere.
That said, I haven’t played a new Zelda since Twilight Princess came out. Last year, I played through A Link to the Past for the first time and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t smitten. It’s really hard to beat The Wind Waker and I played that when I was 9 years old.
I’m not going to say that A Link Between Worlds (ALBW) beats The Wind Waker for me, because it doesn’t. What I am going to say was that it made me feel like a kid again. That last night I spent with ALBW, staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning to beat the final dungeon and boss when I had class the next day reminded me of when I stayed up with my grandma to beat the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time or the Earth Temple in The Wind Waker.
There, curled up in my computer chair, 3DS in hand, I was 9 years old again.
Number 5 – Ōkami – PS2
My last article was about the brilliance of Ōkami, but it covered a specific portion of it. There are not many games that follow The Legend of Zelda’s mixture of adventure, puzzles and action, but Ōkami is a faithful student of the same school.
I didn’t enjoy Ōkami a lot when I first started playing it. It was good, but I never felt an urge to keep playing. It sat on my shelf for several months until I gave it some more time. After the first third, I was hooked.
The game is a moving piece of art. It’s enjoyable to look at, filled with memorable characters and a cast and story that grows on you. It is an homage to Japanese history, culture and mythology. It’s a damn shame this game didn’t sell well. It deserved to.
Give me an Ōkami 2 please, Platinum Games. You know you want to.
Number 4 – Metroid Prime – GameCube
I had Metroid Prime whenever it came out back in 2002. For some reason, I never finished it. I guess when I was a kid, I was too enchanted by other GameCube releases like Super Mario Sunshine and Tales of Symphonia. I remember playing Metroid Prime but I know I didn’t get far. I know for sure I never saw Phendrana Drifts.
Part of me is really upset that I never gave this game the time that it deserved back when I was a kid. The other part is really happy that this past January, in the quiet of my final winter break as an undergraduate, I got to spend time with this game with my current mindset toward video games.
I actually don’t know if I can do this game justice. It’s an impeccable transition of Metroid from the 2D to 3D sphere and one of the best examples of that transition, along with Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64. Everything is here. The puzzles, the exploration, the backtracking and the secrets.
The exploration is why I’m glad I waited so long to play this game. It’s tranquil to just explore Tallon IV all by yourself, looking for nooks and crannies that you can now explore with that latest powerup. Every half hour in the game opens up a variety of new paths that you hadn’t seen before and lets you finally go down those that you could see, but were just so tantalizingly out of reach.
Metroid Prime is one of the most immersive experiences I have ever played. It’s just you, your blaster and Tallon IV. There’s a story there, with tons of lore, but it’s all up to you to scan and discover. You can be a slow, methodical archaeologist or a trigger-happy soldier out to fulfill her mission and escape this planet. The game is what you make it. That’s really something beautiful.
Number 3 – The Beginner’s Guide – PC
Davey Wreden, the creative force behind The Stanley Parable, released this game at the beginning of October. Where Dr. Langesksov is a response to The Stanley Parable itself, The Beginner’s Guide is a response to the response and reaction to The Stanley Parable.
Dr. Langeskov follows the silly and comedic endings of The Stanley Parable. The Adventure Line and the Broom Closet gags could easily find a new home in Dr. Langeskov. But The Beginner’s Guide follows all of the endings that nobody remembers with cheeks sore from laughter, like the one where Stanley rips away the Narrator’s serenity and jumps to his death or the one where Stanley and the Narrator are separated, leaving the latter in anguish when the game cannot be played.
The Beginner’s Guide is a deep look into the process of creation and the trouble of sharing work with the world. Does art belong to the creator or the consumer? Do games belong to the creators or the players? Can one exist without the other? Meanwhile, it also tackles issues such as anxiety, depression and the need for validation.
Like Dr. Langeskov and The Stanley Parable, much of this game relies on a fresh experience. There is not much that I can say that wouldn’t spoil the experience.
I can say this: it is an experience like no other that uses its medium to its fullest potential. It is one of the most important games to come out in 2015.
Number 2 – Super Mario 3D World – Wii U
I feel so awful putting Super Mario 3D World at number 2. Number 1 is just that good.
This game alone could justify a purchase of the Wii U. It had been a long time since I played a game that was this much fun. It’s everything Nintendo, filled with creativity, laughs, impeccable gameplay and genius level design. It’s bright, colorful and most of all, fun.
I’ll be the first to say that I am such a sucker for games like this. Because it’s been the industry trend since about 2006, it’s really hard to do dark and gritty in a way that is really fresh and enchanting. That means that anything like SM3DW, all joyous and charming gets it a little easier. Sure, it may be bias, but it’s true. I’ll always love games that focus on fun first. That’s why I love Nintendo games.
I bought SM3DW in the fall of 2014 and played the entire game 2-player co-op. After the Bowser world, more bonus worlds are steadily unlocked. We went through every level once until we reached the blockade that requires you to 100% the game to access the final world with Champion’s Road.
We returned to SM3DW to 100% the game a couple of weeks ago. Every star, every stamp. Unlock Champion’s Road. It took us 6+ hours and 400+ lives on just that level but we did it. It was one of the most fulfilling and satisfying experiences I’d had with a video game in a long time. It gave me the same feeling that I had when I beat Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts and that made me run through the house screaming in joy.
This game is really something magical. It has sublime gameplay, one of my favorite soundtracks and fantastic multiplayer. Couch co-op is the definitive way to play this game. It gave me the same sense of wonder and enjoyment that my time with Super Mario Sunshine and Yoshi’s Island gave me, sitting with a group of friends and taking turns. Now we all get to play together.
Unlike Rayman Legends, it seems like the levels for SM3DW were designed with co-op in mind. This could just be because Mario, by nature, is usually a platformer that takes things a bit slower. That said, playing with more than 2 people can get a little hectic. When we played with 3 it was crazy. I can’t even imagine how frazzled I would get playing with a full house. Progress would cease.
On forums, I often read comments that lambast Nintendo for relying so heavily on their standard IP’s, like Mario and Zelda. I’ve never really understood that. Every game is always so different, with Super Mario Galaxy being so far removed from even Sunshine.
More importantly, if the game is this good, who the hell cares?
Number 1 – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – PC
I’m going to write the following plainly, as it’s not often that I get to say it: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one of the best games that I have ever played in my life.
I never expected a Metal Gear Solid 5. I wanted one, absolutely. But I truly believed Kojima was done with the main franchise after Metal Gear Solid 4 (we’ll talk about Peace Walker some other time). Silly me.
When the “Not Your Kind of People” trailer came out, I discovered the true meaning of the word hype. To this day, it remains up there with some of my favorite video game trailers like Halo 3’s announcement or Wrath of the Lich King’s cinematic trailer.
I put off Ground Zeroes until The Phantom Pain (TPP) released and played them both back-to-back. TPP blew me away. It is an evolution. I can’t remember a game that has so easily shaken off its franchise traditions in favor of new grounds. Linear gameplay is out. Open world gameplay is in. Exposition heavy cutscenes are out, optional audio-tapes are in. Hour long cutscenes out, short vignettes in. There are sidekicks, weapon development, continued use of camouflage and vehicles. If it weren’t for the title and the attached “A Hideo Kojima Game,” this could have passed as a stellar first game in a new franchise.
As of right now, I have played MGSV for 62 hours and I’m still not done. I plan to go back and S-rank every mission and complete every bonus objective. I want to 100% the game. I know I’ll be playing this game for over 100 or maybe even over 200 hours. I also know that every moment will be filled with some of the tightest and most polished gameplay I have ever experienced in a third-person action and stealth game.
After I beat MGSV’s main story, I started playing Tomb Raider (2013). Lara feels so gross and sluggish compared to how snappy and fluid Snake feels in MGSV. His sprint feels weighty, he slams and dives to the ground, and transitions seamlessly from a prone position to a crouching walk. The Fox Engine makes MGSV look and feel magnificent.
I don’t want to say too much because I want to write an article devoted to just MGSV, but I can’t help myself. It’s just that everything in this game is so spectacular. There’s fantastic scalable difficulty that lets you tailor the experience to your preference. The voice acting, the animations, the gameplay, the music, the freedom and the presentation values are all so polished and impressive that I want to play this game every day.
This is, without a doubt, my game of the year. There is so much that everyone can learn from MGSV, especially other developers. Kojima Productions did it again. They made another masterpiece. I can’t wait to keep playing this game. Then I know I’ll be just as eager to start over. It’s one of the best single-player experiences I have ever played.
Never be game over.
The Postscript: Honorable mentions
Due to the requirements listed at the beginning of this article, there are some great games that didn’t make the cut. Most of these are because I’m currently still playing through their main campaigns, but here they are along with why they didn’t make the list. I’ll probably cover these more in-depth in the future.
1 – Grand Theft Auto V – Currently still playing through the main story. Top 10 in 2016, I can guarantee it.
2 – Yoshi’s Wooly World – Got it for Christmas and I’ve currently only completed World 1. Expect this in the top 10 of 2016.
3 – Overwatch – Not out yet and I never got beta access. Only played this on a friends account one weekend. Expect more on this in 2016, assuming I get beta access next year.
4 – Bravely Default – I really enjoyed this game, but I liked everything else on the list that much more. Play it if you haven’t. A great homage to the old Final Fantasy games.
5 – Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate – I just haven’t spent enough time with MH4U to give it the thought it deserves. Now that I have a friend with his own copy, I plan to spend more time playing it co-op with him, which is the way that I most enjoy Monster Hunter. That said, this game is a smooth experience. 60 FPS is brilliant. If only it would come out on PC.
6 – Monaco – Currently only played it for under 2 hours, so I haven’t completed it yet. That said, I love what I’ve played so far.