Will Smith is the former editor of Tested, and is currently skulking around in the shadows, planning something to do with Virtual Reality. One day he will likely specify what that something is, possibly via Twitter.
It’s pretty well established that having a kid results in significant changes to your life. Nowhere is that more obvious, than when I made my list of games played for 2015. I’m really sorry, but I wasn’t able to carve out the hours for epic games like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, or Metal Gear Solid V. Instead, I endlessly rewatch Curious George and those fucking Minions movies. This is my life.
My least favorite trend of 2015 is my daughter waking me up as soon as it’s light outside. While not a problem in the winter (it gets light at 10AM every day in SF in the winter), it’s a major inconvenience in the summer. Because I was sleeping at most 4 hours a night this year, I also skipped any games that started slow or sounded boring enough that I was afraid it might put me to sleep. I didn’t want to waste a moment of my precious evening game time by falling asleep on the couch.
My favorite trend of 2015 is that I stopped buying games that would necessitate purchasing a bunch of DLC if I want to play them two months after release. I only have time to play those games like the dirtiest of casuals, so I opted to skip that pressure entirely. Sorry Battlefront, Battlefield, and pretty much every other shooter. I did play the Battlefront beta, which turned out to be the perfect amount of Battlefront for me.
My favorite board gaming trend of 2015 is to spend 10 minutes watching a “How to play” video on YouTube instead of trying to parse unclear or poorly written rules. Seriously, everyone should do this. It’s a life changing thing if you like board games because everyone can watch the video at the same time (or before game night, even).
Despite all this nonsense, and hundreds of hours exposure to Minions this year, I probably still have 40 games on my list. Here it is:
I’m not really sure that this iOS puzzle game is actually a game, in the traditional sense, but I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it for the last couple of weeks. Basically, it requires you to split blocks in two using alternating horizontal and vertical lines. The goal is to keep the splits happening indefinitely, but it’s much harder than it seems, as one wrong move can leave you without a place to put your next split. It’s exactly what I look for in a phone game--a perfect way to kill some time, with leaderboards so I can judge my progress against past me.
One-Night Ultimate Werewolf
I’ve played a bunch of Werewolf/The Resistance/Mafia/etc. over the years, but this is my favorite version of all of those games for two reasons. One, it adds a bunch of different roles to condense the multi-round drama of a good game of Werewolf into one night, which solves the “I got killed during the first round and now have nothing to do” problem that plagues large Werewolf games. The simpler design also means that you don’t need a human to run the game, instead you can download a free app for your phone that handles it for you.
I just got my Kickstarter copy of Burgle Bros. a few weeks ago, and we’ve been playing the hell out of it since. It’s a co-op heist game that uses a dynamic board and some brutal mechanisms to almost guarantee that your heist will come down to a nailbiter. Basically, you need to break into a building, empty a safe on each of three floors, and then escape the building before the guards or traps get you. We haven’t successfully won a game yet, but the combination of the dynamic board and the increasing tension of the guards makes for a fun, repeatable experience.
I have always loved ant farm games--you know, the games that let you adjust the environment of a game without giving you direct control over the people living in that environment. Planetbase is one of the more difficult games I’ve played in that genre--it puts you in charge of a newly founded colony on another planet, where you first have to build the infrastructure to keep your people alive, then build enough of an economy that an accident won’t wipe you out, and finally defend your colony against space assholes who invade and try to kill your people. Even after hours of play, my colonies live on a razor’s edge of survival--one bad sandstorm, meteor strike, or onion fungus can kill hundreds of people. Maybe it says something dark and distressing about me that I think having control over the virtual lives of hundreds of poor, unsuspecting colonists is SUPER DUPER FUN.
Until Dawn really nailed the whole interactive fiction thing. Setting the game in a schlocky horror movie is perfect for this type of game--it lets itself explain away the limitations of a video game in a way that’s thematically appropriate and gives the audience a framework that they understand well enough that they can jump directly into. I had such a good time with the game that I actually played it twice--I went in completely cold the first time, and then I revisited most of the key moments to pick it apart and see how it works.
Lovers In a Dangerous Spacetime
This game has caused more fights with my wife than anything else we played in 2015. The game divides the roles required to fly and defend a spaceship into multiple stations which you have to move your characters between constantly. However, with only two players, you can only effectively man two or three of the seven or eight stations at a time. It’s always frantic and there’s never a dull moment. It’s my favorite co-op game for two people of 2015.
SOMA is my favorite single-player, narrative-driven game. I’m not going to mention specifics, but the setting is incredible, it’s spooky without resorting to jump scares, its writing is solid, and it delves into some really high-concept science fiction in a way that we don’t often see in games. Definitely worth playing.
Look, this movie is fucking incredible. It’s a benchmark for cinema in the 21st century. And I’m not talking about some crappy tie-in game, I mean the movie is so transcendent that it reaches beyond its humble origins as a piece of non-interactive entertainment, and has become the best of all media. I fully expect the movie to win the Best New Artist Grammy next year too.
OK, full disclosure. I haven’t actually watched Minions yet, but I’ve seen Despicable Me 1 and 2 about 200 times in the last year and they’re better than 90% of the tripe that comes out of Hollywood these days. The scripts are clever, the character’s nuanced and believable, and the farcical settings are always a blast! And the minions are so charming! If the third movie is half as good as 1 and 2, it deserves its place as my favorite game of 2015. Banana!
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
This is one of my favorite games of all time. You can play it pretty much anywhere, with pretty much any group of people. The basic setup is that one person is locked in a room with a bomb, and he’s on the phone to some folks who conveniently have a bomb defusal manual, but no way to see the bomb. The person with the bomb has to describe it to the people with the manual, they have to suss out the initial state of a series of puzzles, solve the puzzles, and communicate the solutions all before time runs out. There are tons of different modules for the bombs and the game doesn’t require any dexterity with a game controller to play. If you have the opportunity, set up the game in two different conference rooms and use a speakerphone to communicate. It ratchets up the intensity of an already intense game even more.
And while the VR versions of Keep Talking are a great way to introduce VR to your friends, VR isn’t required. The game works runs on pretty much any laptop and works just as well--assuming your dirtbag friends can resist peeking at the screen.
I’ve spent more time playing Rocket League than any multiplayer game since TF2, and the amazing thing is that I’m still improving after half a year of regular play. I’m equally satisfied whether I spend a couple of minutes playing a couple of quick rounds or spending two hours developing some serious existential ennui on the ranked ladder. And despite sinking 50 hours into the game, I continue to improve and there’s no skill ceiling in sight. If I don’t have time for a full match, I load up Rocket League to just practice some of the more complex drills. That’s why Rocket League is my favorite game of 2015.
Super Mario Maker
I don’t love Mario Maker for the pain and suffering it has caused Patrick Klepek, or the dark void it’s revealed where Dan and Jeff should have shining human souls. I love Mario Maker because it proves that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time will eventually produce Hamlet. Or at least a 2D platformer that tells the story of Hamlet, complete with Toad and Yoshi in the roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Seriously though, the number of weird/interesting/good/amazing/muderous-rage-inducing new mechanics that have sprung from the minds of sickos using Mario Maker and the fact that I can look forward to infinite Mario in the future makes Mario Maker my favorite game of 2015.
Games that I’m shocked that I didn’t actually play despite not having any time at all: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, The Witcher 3, Fallout 4
Games that I really loved in 2015 for a variety of reasons that are too complicated to explain: #IDARB, Rebel Galaxy, Galak-Z: The Dimensional, Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, Big Pharma, Pixeljunk Factory, Cibele, The Beginner’s Guide, Hacknet, Rock Band 4
Games that I love conceptually but didn’t spend the time to figure out: TIS-100
Games that I was really enjoying until I hit a bug that killed my save file: Tales From the Borderlands
More phone and tablet games I really enjoyed: Sage Solitaire, Last Horizon, Prune
Some phone and tablet games that I kind of hate myself for playing: Downwell, #ymbab
The board games that I played the most this year: Machi Koro, Letter Tycoon, Sushi Go, Antidote.
Board games on the iPad I played a bunch of: Lords of Waterdeep, Eclipse, Suburbia