The 2015 Mento Game Awards

Hey all, and welcome to my final blog of the year. It's my 2015 GOTY Game Awards! A yearly tradition, I take the small sampling of new games I actually played and find an excuse to give them all arbitrary props with all the lecterns and trophies and glamor and everything you'd expect from a prestigious video games award show. Okay, so there's no world-exclusive trailers on the Mento Game Awards this year, but there's always 2016! I'm in talks with Square-Enix! (They told me to go away!)

(Prior Game Awards can be found here: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.)

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Best 2014 Game of 2015

Nominees: Dragon Age: Inquisition, Far Cry 4, The Banner Saga, Legend of Grimrock 2.

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Legend of Grimrock 2 was a big improvement over the original. Conversely, Far Cry 4 was more like treading water, but it still delivered a satisfying open-world action game that I spent weeks glued to. The Banner Saga was an impressive debut and has promise to spare, but while I greatly admired what it was doing I didn't couldn't say that it was particularly enjoyable. Well, that's not fair: the strategic combat was appealing and had its own charms in how it cleverly factors in the real-world concept that the longer you fight the more tired and weaker you become. More how the unrelenting grimness and "damned if you do, damned if you don't" decision-making made for a somber time.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, meanwhile, was a fantastic new approach to that series, presenting a Bethesda-like open-world tempered by BioWare's great story-telling and mission design. Its overworlds and dungeons didn't feel quite as identi-kit as DA2, thanks in part to how it spread across the world to fit in a number of different architectural styles and climates, it was absolutely filled with content to almost a detrimental degree, and the combat still retained a level of on-the-fly party direction for its bigger battles. I've heard The Witcher 3 overshadows it in almost every respect besides maybe the pacing, so I'm curious to find out whether or not that's true next year.

Best 2015 Game of 2016?

Nominees: Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Bloodborne.

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Just so I don't have too many categories looking back instead of looking forward - though I suppose looking back is what every GOTY awards feature is about - I take a glance at the old crystal ball and prognosticate what might be my favorite game from this year that I'll be playing next year. Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 are neck-and-neck for the CRPG I most want to check out, but Fallout 4 takes it simply because I already own a copy waiting to go. Who knows when I might have a chance to play The Witcher 3?

On the J side of the RPG spectrum, I also have Xenoblade Chronicles X and Bloodborne to look forward to next year among others. I'd hoped Bloodborne would be a little cheaper by now, but then I have the benefit of a lot of patches and an apparently great DLC campaign, so maybe I'll keep an eye out for its inevitable GOTY edition.

Bucket List Tick-Off of 2015

Nominees: Yakuza 3, Suikoden III, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Burnout Paradise.

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Sometimes a backlog isn't just new games I bought on impulse haven't gotten around to, but seminal classics that are embarrassing gaps in my gaming history. There's always a few games I play every year where it feels like I'm figuratively applying caulk to my video game foundations. An awkward analogy for what always turns out to be an edifying process year after year.

The four games this year all have a different variation on this theme of wanting to catch up with games I had somehow never found the time to play:

  • With Suikoden III, it was the feeling that I'd never get to play the game in question: for whatever reason, it was the one Suikoden to stay away from European shores and given the present state of Konami I'd given up hope of ever seeing a rerelease, but the PSN "PS2 Classics" range really came through on that front.
  • With Burnout Paradise, I had a game that I would've otherwise had zero interest in if not for Giant Bomb and Jeff Gerstmann in particular, who has frequently cited the game as essential.
  • With S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, I had zero idea what I was missing having already written off the game as a serious PC shooter for niche genre fanatics, and I'm glad I was proven wrong with my introduction to the idiosyncratic but decidedly in-depth world of artifact-collecting in the dangerous, anomaly-filled, post-nuclear setting of the Chernobyl Power Plant and its neighboring countryside.

With Yakuza 3, though, I had a game that I'd been meaning to get to since forever, knowing full well I'd appreciate everything it had to offer. The Yakuza games are always intimidating prospects, simply because I tend to spend upwards of a 100-plus hours on them, but I'm glad I finally found the time for it this year. Just in time for the release of Yakuza 5 and the upcoming Yakuzas 0 and 6. Doesn't look like I'll be done feeding pavement to street toughs any time soon.

Best New Character

Nominees: Sans (Undertale), Inspector Jenks (Contradiction: Spot the Liar!), "Her" (Her Story), Grieving Mother (Pillars of Eternity).

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A skeleton that makes knock-knock jokes and speaks almost exclusively in a hated typeface isn't perhaps anyone's idea of Best New Character, but then Undertale isn't anyone's idea of the Best Game of All Time either, until the GameFAQs community proved everyone wrong with their legally-binding contest. Sans looks to be, like every other monster in Undertale, a loveable character defined by a handful of personality quirks and a genial guileless demeanor that the game exploits to expert effect to make the player feel terrible for choosing to murder them over trying to reach an understanding. In fact, Sans initially comes off as even more oblivious and useless than his overeager (and overdramatic) brother Papyrus, who becomes the game's first challenging boss fight as a Royal Guard-in-training. It's not until players have been through the game once or twice that they get a real sense of who Sans is and his importance to the monster underworld. To say any more would be spoiling the surprise, even if it takes a lot of probing around by dedicated fans (or a quick trip to a dedicated Wiki) to fully comprehend what Sans is capable of. But hey, it seems like Undertale passed meme-germination terminal velocity some time ago, so you probably have a decent impression even if you haven't played the game yet.

Runners-up include: the heavily Tennant-inspired performance of Rupert Booth as the gesticulating Inspector Jenks, in one of the year's most genuinely entertaining surprises Contradiction: Spot the Liar!; the captivating, emotional and vulnerable performance of Viva Seifert as the mystery heroine and eponymous "her" of Her Story; and one of the most wonderfully layered RPG characters in a long while with the enigmatic Grieving Mother of Pillars of Eternity, a broken and miserable former midwife of such profound powers over the mind and illusions that she effectively managed to make herself disappear to everyone but the protagonist and their equally potent magical powers of perception. Really, most of the characters of the four games here are worthy of note, and I'm just sorry I couldn't find a spot for Chloe, Max, Victoria or any of the other memorable characters of Life is Strange.

Weirdest F'n Game

Nominees: Super Mario Maker, Undertale, Life is Strange, Citizens of Earth.

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While Super Mario Maker is fairly weird on its own - its developers certainly added their own share of odd Easter eggs and disturbing ideas, the eerie "Senor Cardgage"-esque Skinny Mario chief among them - it's seeing games I've must've played about three or four times through apiece (well, except New Super Mario Bros. U) mutated beyond all recognition that was the most disturbing. Violated, even, in the case of Dan Ryckert and the Giant Bomb Community's malevolently designed stages. No number of high-heeled "Kuribo's Fuck-Me-Boots" and incongruous ghost house levels in the Super Mario Bros. format complete with all-new music composed to sound just like it would in 1985 is as perturbing as finding out that I simply don't have the skill to complete a Super Mario World course any more. Maybe that's just because I didn't spend enough time with the ROM hacks the game was clearly inspired by - a hobbyist internet phenomenon that presumably went some way towards informing the recent NES Remix games as well - but making my way through ingenious user-created Super Mario Maker levels via the game's 100 Mario Challenge mode has been an eye-opening experience.

Life is Strange is, naturally enough, strange. There's a logic to some (but not all) of its time-travelling powers, but it's the magical realism juxtaposed against a perfectly normal coming-of-age story that helps the weirder parts stand out. Plus, I don't think anyone saw all of its twists coming. Undertale is most like its inspiration EarthBound when it's being a big goof and tossing out weird little non-sequiturs and jokes that don't go anywhere, like the threat of a giant octopus encounter in a subterranean lake that turns into a slightly awkward conversation with an excitable, lonely mollusk named Onion-san. Citizens of Earth, also an EarthBound protégé, fills its dungeons and random encounters with enemies as unusual as Starbucks androids, a colossus made of cookies and an evil Oval Office chair that uses its arm rests to manipulate the marionette President sitting on top.

Best Soundtrack

Nominees: Undertale, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Grow Home, Crypt of the NecroDancer.

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I did my homework this year by checking out a number of soundtracks to games I never got around to, and while I find the immense Xenoblade Chronicles X soundtrack to be fantastic and weird in all sorts of ways, the award must go to the sublime and leitmotif-heavy Undertale. It's not only a hell of a lot of catchy melodious music, but it so perfectly captures the mood of every occasion. Heading through dungeons sounds epic and mysterious, but boss fights are usually far quirkier and befitting of their equally eccentric adversaries. It's not until the end of the game that the battle music becomes incredibly rousing, pushing you to save the day with all the determination you can muster. It's hard to nail down a suitable sampling of tracks for you all without just linking to a full playlist on YouTube, but here's three of them: Spider Dance, Dummy! and Bonetrousle.

Obviously, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a close second, followed by the jammin' Crypt of the NecroDancer soundtrack (complete with tenor back-up by the shopkeepers) and the serene ambiance of Grow Home, which does its job of setting the tone so well that you barely notice it. I guess that's a compliment of sorts? Castle in the Darkness and Citizens of Earth have some catchy tracks too, and the music added to Super Mario Maker for all the courses that had no prior equivalents - such as a Super Mario World airship level or a Super Mario Bros. ghost house - fits so perfectly that it's almost like Koji Kondo had a whole bunch of unused 80s sheet music lying around his house.

(Plok has a really great soundtrack too, you guys.)

Best Game for a Babby Console

Nominees: Super Mario Maker, Box Boy!, Pokémon Picross, Nintendo Badge Arcade.

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As always, I like to give Nintendo its due as a lifelong fan of the indomitable little game and hardware developer. Every year they manage to surprise me one way or another, and in 2015 that was with Super Mario Maker: my second favorite game of the year. It feels like there are whole months where my GamePad sits in a corner with a dust-protecting tissue over it, and then there are times like most of November where I was playing it for hours a day, either working on my own firm-but-fair courses or trying to slay the latest test of patience from Jeff or Dan or any number of skilled amateur level designers that have found their way onto my "followed" list - or just whatever the randomized 100 Mario Challenge mode has to offer.

While I unfortunately couldn't get around to what is the other big Wii U game I was anticipating, Xenoblade Chronicles X, I had some fun with the 3DS, playing Box Boy! - which proves the adage that good things come in small packages - and the "free-to-start" Pokemon Picross and Nintendo Badge Arcade. While I soured on some of their microtransaction hooks and sheer refusal to have anything to do with the 3DS's built-in "playcoins" currency, which might as well be Bitcoin given how little anyone wants to have anything to do with it, I made my peace with the amount of free content it provides. It just might take a while before I can afford the Picrite toll to open up a new area of Pokemon Picrosses, or obtain enough free plays on the Badge Arcade claw machine to actually grab anything desirable. Hell, it's really not so different from clicking on a bunch of Simpsons buildings or lining up fruit for five minutes.

Best Giant Bomb Moment of 2015

Nominees: Mario Party Party 5 Live!, Vinny Meets Bento, Dan Beats Tyson, PlayStation Home ("Arcade Machine"), Johnny V Tweets Lang's Phone#, RoboVinny, "|m|", Return of Creeper Cam, Danny Defuses, Patrick Plays the Community's SMM Levels.

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It turned out to be really hard to narrow it down to just ten best moments from our benevolent overlords, and I'm probably missing several that I've either forgotten about or are hidden away in the hundreds of hours of content those buffoons managed to put together this year. While hardly a single moment, the entirety of the live Mario Party Party 5 feature was even better than I'd hoped for. Rather than being awkward and causing the group to be a little less relaxed and focused, the crowd responding to every victorious Drew moment and every villainous Dan move was a wonder to behold even from the relative quietness of the Giant Bomb chat. Just goes to show how a live audience can often make a funny piece of entertainment even funnier.

In our runner-up category we have: Vinny laying a vicious smackdown on poor old alternate-universe Urkel in the Dying Light Co-Op Quick Look; the quickly resolved Dan vs. 8-bit Mike Tyson rivalry in the inaugural - and final - Eye of the Ryckert; encountering innumerable untold horrors of misguided online brand promotion within PlayStation Home hours before its demise; a bunch of drunken idiots tweeting each others' phone numbers and getting extra salty about it in the final E3 video Giant Bomb LIVE! at E3 2015: Day 03; the irresponsible decision and resulting consequences of giving Vinny the controls to an experimental telepresence robot in UPF 07/02/2015 (non-premium version) and again in Giant Bomb Mailbag: Michael Jackson's Knifebreaker Edition; discovering a heavy metal tree carving in Giant Bomb East's extended Contradiction coverage; Jeff "creeplapsing" with Gal Gun 2 and evolving into a Star Trek monster in UPF 07/24/2015 (non-premium version); Lucky Irishman Danny O'Dwyer's tense bomb defusing in the Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Quick Look; and, while off-site, Patrick Klepek takes on the Giant Bomb community's Super Mario Maker levels and realizes why he left for kinder pastures in Mario Maker Mornings: Episodes 8 and 16.

I highly recommend checking out @turboman's Best of Giant Bomb YouTube series for other highlights this year - the 2015 ones start around episode 73.

Best Game

  1. Pillars of Eternity
  2. Super Mario Maker
  3. Undertale
  4. Life is Strange
  5. Her Story
  6. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2
  7. Technobabylon
  8. Grow Home
  9. Citizens of Earth
  10. Box Boy!
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I've said everything I need or want to in this GOTY 2015 list. It's already pretty wordy, so let's cut this blurb short. Even if there's not a whole lot of what I might call "current-gen" games on there, I'm thankful that I played at least ten that absolutely deserve to be commended. Check it out and maybe find some inspiration for next year's wishlist. Or the Winter Steam Sale going on right now, in fact.

Happy holidays and a happier new year, everyone.