It's all come down to this. There can be only one. One shall stand, one shall fall. Are any of those momentous enough to introduce our final day of GOTY awards? Let's hope so, because the final day of categories, including the best game of the year, awaits you below. Don't forget to also check out the recap video and deliberation podcast. Those live over on the GOTY hub page!
Best Use of FMV
Over the last... oh let's call it 35 years, Full Motion Video has both delighted and disgusted in games. It's a tricky affair, especially when you dabble in the world of live action. Great acting can seem corny and corny acting is often great. Become too self-aware, wink at the audience one too many times and you're as dead as the genre you're trying to revive. Contradiction gracefully walks, or rather masterfully dances on this line. It uses the live actors to set up a murder mystery in which you, as Detective Jenks, are trying to spot inconstancies in the locals' testimonies. The deliveries are all just campy enough to be entertaining, while retaining an earnestness that will keep you wondering, "Are they in on the joke?" Every clue you present to your would-be informant is like putting a quarter into some community theatre machine that activates with a giant neon sign proclaiming, "ACTING". It's glorious, and the actors handle it so well that you'll probably be saddened when you remember you're there to solve a mystery and not just ask if "this means anything to you?" over and over again.
Animal of the Year
In many open world games, a companion that helps you get from place to place significantly faster would be an irreplaceable godsend. That said, horses can't slit throats. Neither can dogs in most cases, but D-Dog proves to be a different breed. In case this isn't clear, D-Dog is a dog with a knife that can slit the throats of bad guys. That would normally be enough to cement first place in this category, but his additional abilities of sniffing out items and enemies, distracting guards, and eventually even Fultoning them for you makes him a no-brainer.
Incremental/Idle Experience of the Year
On some level, it's thoroughly disgusting that there are enough incremental games to justify a category... even if it's a category that we might not have taken completely seriously. What hath Cow Clicker wrought? These bastard sons of Progress Quest keep coming out and various forms, and a lot of them are profoundly bad. But some of them aim a little higher. Heck, Time Clickers aims a lot higher. And lower. And everywhere else. Time Clicker is a first-person incremental game where you shoot cubes to get gold and burn through levels. You spend the gold to buy upgrades that you use to shoot cubes more effectively. It's beautiful, oddly captivating, and it's seen some interesting updates along the way, like "weapon cubes," a new type of prestige currency that lets you buy and upgrade a rocket launcher, among other things. It also has live leaderboards to let you see exactly how many people are sinking into this awful hole with you at any given moment. It's haunting. But charming?
Between its superior visuals and its effective ramp, Time Clickers is the best incremental game I've played all year. We've. I mean we've. Oh, forget everything we said here, OK? Time Clickers is free.
Super Mario Maker was one of those announcements that made immediate sense, but it also felt like Nintendo was playing with fire from day one. The company could reign in the wooly world of quasi-legal ROM hacks and unofficial level editors by releasing one of its own. Easy, right? Except making something that allowed for the flexibility that those existing level hacks displayed, from Kaizo Mario speedruns and Automatic Mario madness, always seemed like a pretty tight needle to thread. Allowing users to make monstrous creations while still making the toolset easy enough for anyone to pick up and enjoy is probably a pretty tough challenge. Then there's the sharing aspect of the whole thing. Nintendo's track record for communication between users has been poor, at best. Without the ability to get your levels out to others, the entire project would be DOA.
The level editing tools are exactly what they need to be. They're free-wheeling and occasionally even mysterious, but they also work in a very logical way that tends to encourage experimentation. What happens if you feed a mushroom to something? Can you put a P-switch here and still have time to get over to this spot over here? Is it possible to fall, throw a P-switch up so that a Thwomp triggers it, and then fall to safety on the new blocks below? You can lay out your tiles extremely quickly, and testing the different parts of your level is a snap, allowing you to lay out your dumb ideas and rapidly iterate on them until they're finely tuned Mario killing machines. Or... Mario fun machines? It's certainly possible to create both. The way the game makes you test your levels out by clearing them in one run before you complete them makes for a good final check, too. If you aren't good enough to beat it, you don't deserve to unleash it upon the rest of the world.
Sharing your creations with the rest of the world, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the part that Nintendo fumbled out of the gate, but the shaky house of cards that is "the Nintendo Network" provided a shitty foundation to begin with. Over time, the more dedicated pockets of the Super Mario Maker community found ways to get the levels out to each other, and Nintendo's updates have improved the discovery and sharing aspects of the game quite a bit.
Then there's the part where it plays like some of the best platformers ever created. It's set in a familiar universe with rules that make sense. Then it plays around with those rules in unexpected but sensible ways. It's not just there for you to make weird old nostalgia tests. You can slap the items together in ways that the old games wouldn't dare, and it all still works. You can dive in and play heaps of random levels pinned to different difficulty tiers. You can leave comments that let you express disgust with specific parts of levels. You can... well, you get the idea.
It's easy to want to focus on the things that Super Mario Maker can't do. You can't string together multiple levels into full worlds. That angry sun from Super Mario 3 isn't in there. Even after patching, the level discovery and filtering should be better. But the core parts that make Super Mario Maker make it sing in a joyful way. That joy, whether it comes from creating or discovering other creations, is unlike anything else released in 2015. That joy is why it's our overall pick for the year's best game.
8. Grow Home