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Silverhand's Game of the Year Awards 2016

Welcome to my second annual Game of the Year Awards. This year I've decided to do things a little differently. I cut out specific categories completely because I didn't feel too strongly about many of them. Originally this was going to be replaced by a supplemental "Games That Didn't Make My Top 10 That I Also Want To Talk About" thing, awful title and all, but I ended up deciding to just make a single Top 19 list. That's how many games I like enough to put on this list, and who cares about round numbers anyways?

Before I get into the list itself, I do have several honorable mentions. These games were ones I liked but didn't feel strongly enough about to consider for a Top X list, I'm enjoying but haven't finished and feel like I should before talking about it, or I just don't have much to say about. They're pretty good games anyways. These games are (in alphabetical order, not by significance): Battlefield 1, Dark Souls 3, Enter the Gungeon, N++, Pokémon Sun and Moon, Redout, and Salt and Sanctuary. Now that those are out of the way, here are my top 19 games of 2016.

19. Picross 3D: Round 2

Round 2 is not just a good successor to Picross 3D, but innovates in very interesting ways while retaining the polish that the original had. Most people would expect a Picross game made in 2016 to be a free-to-play mobile title, and would probably also expect it to be nothing special. Picross 3D far exceeds those expectations with a special level of care and attention to detail that not many games have at all, much less in this genre. With an absurd amount of puzzles that remain fun throughout, this game is one that will keep me coming back well into next year.

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18. Stephen's Sausage Roll

Stephen's Sausage Roll is a brutally hard puzzle game about cooking sausages. Its open world is very interesting, allowing you to solve the puzzles within each area in any order you want, provided you can get to them. The mechanics of the game are introduced very well, not just being some new ability you can suddenly use, but presenting an interaction you haven't seen before which makes perfect sense when you encounter it. I'll admit I have yet to finish this game, as like I said before it is very difficult, but what I have played is excellent and shows some truly outstanding game design.

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17. ABZÛ

While some might dismiss ABZÛ as another "walking simulator", which to some extent it is, it is an excellent game. Every bit of it is extremely polished, from the visuals to the controls (which I should add is no small feat for a game about swimming). ABZÛ is a short experience, but one that fits a lot into that time, including a surprisingly well done story. There isn't a whole lot that's interesting here in terms of gameplay, but ABZÛ is still something I would recommend to anyone.

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16. Reigns

Reigns boils down running a kingdom into a series of binary decisions. The presentation is top-notch, the characters become quite interesting over the course of the game, and there is a surprising amount of depth to it. While I played more of it on PC, it's primarily a mobile title, and it shows far more thought and innovation than almost any other games of that type.

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15. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a very strong follow up to the 2013 reboot of the series. While I did not enjoy the first one too much, there was definitely potential there, which thankfully its successor makes use of. This sequel provides more open areas with opportunity for exploration, and an almost metroidvania feel with some of the backtracking and hidden paths. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a very solid game and I hope the series continues in the direction it's heading.

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14. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

Twilight Princess HD was a remake I did not expect to care much about, despite being a fan of the series. I did not enjoy Twilight Princess nearly as much as the other Legend of Zelda games when I first played it, but the remake ended up being one of my favorite games this year. The additional level of polish, both to the more frustrating parts of the gameplay, and to the outdated visuals make this much more palatable. I think this is a game worth revisiting even if you didn't enjoy its original release. While it may never live up to Wind Waker which came before it, Twilight Princess is a very good game in its own right.

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13. Ultimate Chicken Horse

Ultimate Chicken Horse creates an amazing blend of cooperative and competitive gameplay, having you and your friends create a level and then play through it. The goal is to make the level too difficult for your opponents while still finishing it yourself. This leads to some very chaotic and hilarious scenarios. Ultimate Chicken Horse is a simple idea executed very well, and I have a lot of fun playing it.

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12. The Witness

The Witness is a game that's hard to place on this list. I feel like so many of the things it does are brilliant, and it has some great and unique examples of good game design, but it really fell apart for me towards the end. The island it takes place on is beautiful and fun to explore. The earlier puzzles are very well designed for the most part, and taught solely through gameplay without feeling frustrating, but the combinations of those mechanics later in the game don't work out so well. This, combined with the very disappointing ending leaves me unsure of where to place this game that for most of my time playing it I considered a contender for best game of the year. The Witness is still a good game, and still one I think is worth playing, it's just not what it could have been.

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11. Overwatch

Overwatch is probably the new game this year I played the most of, and I enjoyed a lot of that time. It revitalizes the team-based shooter genre in a new and interesting way, with an impressive cast of characters. Where the game falls short for me is its competitive aspect. I played a lot of Overwatch during the beta and around launch, and with the promise of a competitive mode a month of two down the line because Blizzard was taking their time to perfect it, I had high hopes. The competitive mode turned out to be a combination of the worst aspects of the competitive modes from most popular multiplayer games in recent history, with not a single thing new or good about it. Overwatch is still really fun to play casually on occasion, but I feel disappointed that it could have been so much better.

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10. Devil Daggers

If you tried to turn Quake into Geometry Wars, you very well might end up with something like Devil Daggers. While there's not a lot to this game, it does what it sets out to do extremely well. The gameplay feels great, it's fast-paced, and trying to beat your own time or that of a friend on the leaderboards is very enjoyable. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Devil Daggers is its powerup mechanic. Certain enemies can drop gems, and collecting enough of these will upgrade your weapon. The catch is that gems are only absorbed while you're not firing your weapon. Finding the time for this when you're surrounded by hordes of monsters creates some very tense and interesting situations, and really makes this game stand out from anything else like it.

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9. Kirby: Planet Robobot

Planet Robobot is both a return to form and an innovation for the Kirby series. The new robot suits fit in very well and compliment the core gameplay mechanics of Kirby. The level design is quite good, with interesting enemies and bosses. Where this game really shines, however, is the very well done set of ablities Kirby has at his disposal. Rather than just gaining one or two new abilities with each costume, in Planet Robobot each represents a whole new moveset. These are well designed, have a lot of depth, feel like cohesive movesets, and are just very fun to use. This fun core gameplay combined with some interesting side modes makes this a surprisingly refreshing entry in a long running series I had mostly given up on.

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8. Firewatch

Firewatch is an excellent story-driven game set in a beautiful world. I don't want to say too much about it as I think everyone should play it for themselves, but it creates some great characters and tells an interesting story. My only complaint is that the ending felt a bit rushed, but it's still very much worth playing and is one of my favorite games this year.

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7. Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 expands on its predecessor in some very good ways. While I was hesitant at first about the addition of a singleplayer component, it is very well done and much more fun than most shooter campaigns. Where it really shines however, is of course its multiplayer. Easily the best multiplayer shooter of the year, Titanfall refines and adds onto the fast paced movement of the original, creating a system that encourages fast-paced and highly skill-based gameplay. The titans also feel much more developed this time around, with each titan presenting a distinct gameplay style, they're definitely more than a tacked on gimmick. Everything about this game feels like a step forward, and it's something I can see myself playing for a long time.

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6. Hue

Hue is the best puzzle platformer I've played in a long time, standing along with some of the greatest such as Braid and Fez. It is based around a very simple mechanic: you can change the background color to make any objects of that color disappear. This mechanic is well thought out and used in many interesting ways. The puzzles are intuitive, and start out easy but become quite challenging later on. Hue is a wonderful experience, and something that any fans of the puzzle platformer genre would certainly enjoy.

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5. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley takes the best parts of Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, and manages to improve on them in a very impressive way. Made by a single developer, this is one of the most fun games I played all year. With a wide variety of activities and an addictive day/night cycle Stardew Valley was constantly entertaining. The cast of characters, each with their own story, are interesting and fun to interact with. I had a surprising amount of fun with this game, and you can't ask for much better for what it is.

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4. Thumper

Thumper is the best rhythm game I have played in years. I have heard the game described as "rhythm horror", and I think that is quite accurate. It is one of the most tense and stressful games I have played, but in a very good way. The music is amazing, the visuals look great, and the controls feel fantastic. If you like rhythm games there is no reason not to give Thumper a shot.

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3. Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter is an amazing action adventure game, taking inspiration from games like Dark Souls and The Legend of Zelda, and it certainly lives up to the expectations set by that. The art style is very unique and extremely well done, one of the best examples of pixel art in a game. The combat is fast and difficult, with some very well designed boss fights. The exploration of this beautiful world is enjoyable, and the game manages to tell an interesting story even without words. Hyper Light Drifter is easily one of the best games of the year even in a year with so many great games.

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I don't think anyone expected a DOOM game coming out in 2016 to be good. With Doom 3 and Rage being lackluster, and the beta for this year's DOOM showcasing the atrocious multiplayer component, it was not looking like this would be a good game. Thankfully, that was not at all how things turned out. DOOM is just as fun as the original games it is based on, but in a different way. It is very much its own game while retaining the familiar style of the series. The guns feel amazing, the combat is fast and fun with a unique melee system that works surprisingly well, and the addition of platforming fits in nicely with the rest of the game. DOOM is probably the most surprising game to come out this year, and it is one of the best singleplayer shooters of all time.

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1. Hitman

After playing DOOM, I didn't think anything would top it as my favorite game this year. I am not a fan of the Hitman series. I am not a fan of stealth games. However, I think Hitman is the best of both of those. It's the most fun I've had with a game in a long time. The world is very immersive, with the perfect mix of serious and silly in its story and characters, and the sprawling levels are so much fun to explore. I think several of the levels in Hitman offer some of the best level design in video games, with the weaker ones still being exceptionally good. Hitman makes good on the promise many games make but fail to achieve of letting the player accomplish their goals in whatever way they want. Any idea you have in Hitman feels like it was anticipated by the developers, and can probably be done. This feels absolutely amazing, and lets the player create their own story and goals within the game. Many developers would shy away from creating so much content that many players will never see, but it makes for such an amazing game with a great amount of replay value. Hitman isn't flawless, but it's the most fun I've had with a game not just this year, but in a long time, and I think it is fantastic.

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Silverhand's Game of the Year Awards - Part 2

Welcome to the second and final part of my Game of the Year Awards. If you missed the first part where I covered a variety of categories you can read that here.

Honorable Mentions

The honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list are The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Fallout 4, Axiom Verge, Assault Android Cactus, Nuclear Throne, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball, and Cities: Skylines. It's been a really good year for games, and even though I liked the titles in my top 10 better than these it was tough to leave all of these out. It's a good problem to have. I'll quickly go through each of them and why they didn't make the list. The Witcher 3 is really great from what I've played of it, and I can certainly appreciate parts of the game, but I haven't played near enough of it due to the abundance of games this year. I'm certainly nowhere near the end, and I don't really feel comfortable putting it in my top 10 because of that. It could very well end up in my Old Game of the Year category next year. Fallout 4 is a similar case where I haven't finished it yet, but also I was disappointed in several aspects of it like the gutted dialogue system, and lack of quest variety. It's still a really good game, but it didn't quite make my top 10 this year despite my high expectations for it. Axiom Verge is a really good game, but it was my least favorite of the three big metroidvanias this year. It probably would have still made my top 10 in most other years. Assault Android Cactus was really fun, but I felt it was a bit too short, and it didn't really ever get very difficult. It's still a nice game and one worth mentioning here, but it didn't end up making my top 10. Nuclear Throne is yet another case of a good game that I just didn't like as much as some of the others that came out this year. I'd still recommend it, but there are just too many good games this year. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a really great game, and it's probably the closest of any of these to being in the top 10. I feel really bad for leaving it out. Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball was a surprising and really fun game, I didn't end up playing a ton of it but it's certainly worth mentioning. Lastly, Cities: Skylines is also a great game but one I ended up watching more of than playing due to being really bad at it. It's a cool game, and the developers have done a great job supporting it, but I just haven't spent a ton of time with it. Now that I've went through those, here is my top 10 games of the year.

10. Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest should have been much higher on my list. It's a really great game in so many ways, but a few downsides really hold it back for me. The escape sequences in the game, even though there are only a few of them, are so bad. It's just baffling how poorly they're designed when compared to the rest of the game, and one of them ends with blocking off an area permanently, keeping you from getting 100% completion without starting a new save file if you missed anything in that area. As far as I'm concerned that is a capital offense for a metroidvania. It's a shame, because the game is so good in so many other aspects. The developers have announced that they're releasing a "Definitive Edition" of the game that they've said will fix some game design problems, so maybe it will fix this, but that is its own problem. I hate definitive editions. I can't think of a case where making a separate version of a game is better than just patching the game or releasing the changes as DLC. Sure, allow a way to still play the original version, but you don't need to release a separate game to do that. The game has flaws, and charging to fix them long after the game comes out and many people have already bought it is just bad. That said, I do still like a lot about the game. The world is very immersive and everything fits together so well. The amazing art style, the touching story, the great gameplay, it has a lot going for it. I just really wish it was better. I've spent a lot of time talking about the negatives, but Ori is still very much a game worth playing, although you may want to hold off for the Definitive Edition to avoid buying it twice.

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9. Duck Game

Duck Game is a whole lot of fun. It falls into the same category as games like TowerFall and Nidhogg, but I think it is far better than any of those. It has easy controls and is quick to start playing, an abundance of maps and weapons, and a great online mode which is something that few other games like this do. Jumping into a map you've never seen before and having to instantly spring into action to even have a chance at surviving the chaos is such a great experience, and you can have that experience an almost endless amount of times since the game has support for user-created levels. Oh, and the most important part of the game: it has a dedicated quack button.

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8. Hand of Fate

Hand of Fate does a great job of immersing you in its world, and its world is a really intriguing one. It's a rare case of a game where I actually read every bit of lore I can find because I really want to know more about it. A major reason why the game is so interesting is because of The Dealer, who is one of the best characters of the year. Everything about him is handled expertly, and he provides information about many of his magical cards as they come into play, encouraging you to learn more about them. With all of the situations you encounter being cards, you'll run into the same thing fairly often if you leave it in the deck, but the game does a great job with this having the dealer acknowledge when you leave a good card in, and having some of the encounters change slightly after you've been through it a few times. I'm still playing through the story at the time of writing this, but I already know I'm going to really enjoy the endless mode when I get around to playing it. The game has a lot of depth with the large variety of cards and the developers have added onto this with several free updates. Hand of Fate picks only a few things to focus on, but it does what it does fantastically.

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7. Environmental Station Alpha

It's been a really good year for metroidvanias, with most people saying that Axiom Verge and Ori and the Blind Forest are the best examples of that. I think Environmental Station Alpha not only deserves to be mentioned alongside those, but is the best of the three. Environmental Station Alpha is as close to a Metroid game as something besides Metroid can be (even more so than some Metroid games). It uses a retro aesthetic, and it is one of the few games that manages to pull that off while still having a coherent art style. The game's art style and soundtrack come together well to create an interesting environment to explore. It's definitely the most visually varied space station I've seen. The gameplay is great as well, capturing the feel of classic metroidvania games while also adding some interesting new upgrades and abilities of its own creation. Environmental Station Alpha tries to recreate the feel of older games while also being its own thing, which is a dangerous line to walk, but it absolutely nails it.

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6. Grow Home

Grow Home brings some much needed innovation to the 3D platformer genre. BUD's movement being based on grabbing onto things is brilliant and works out very well. It makes the basic actions of moving around engaging and fun, and combined with the verticality of the world it makes for a very unique game. Grow Home does a great job of really making you feel progression. Near the beginning of the game I wasn't even too high above the ground and was terrified of falling, while later on I was thousands of meters high and was jumping and flying around without fear. The plant that is the center of the game is also a great representation of progression, as growing it is the main objective of the game. The plant also makes the world feel like your own as you grow it and shape it. Even if the end result isn't too different than that of other players, the control it gives you is really fun. My only complaints about Grow Home are that there isn't much variety in upgrades, which makes sense given the price and the length, and speaking of the length the game is far too short for my taste. Maybe I would have grown bored of it had it gone on longer, but I did end up getting 100% completion and all the achievements because I just really wanted more of Grow Home. I'm looking forward to seeing what these developers do in the future, and I hope they inspire people to make more games like Grow Home.

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5. Grand Theft Auto V

I held off on playing Grand Theft Auto V until its PC release this year, which is why it's on my list this year rather than 2 years ago. I'm glad I did, because the PC version is definitely worth the wait. I hadn't played much of any GTA games prior to this one, and I think GTA V really improves in some ways that I think the series very much needed. The characters and story are fantastic, which is a huge change from my opinions of the previous installments, and the world the story takes place in is great. Los Santos is a parody of modern day America, and it does a great job of simultaneously touching on real issues while also being weird and comedic. The game's huge and detailed open world, curated soundtrack, and compelling characters make it feel like you're really getting a lot for your money. My criticisms with the game lie mainly with its online mode, which has a horrible economy based around microtransactions which in turn has created a large number of hackers, and Rockstar seems to have no plans of getting rid of either of those things. It could be a really fun multiplayer game, but it just isn't, and while that's disappointing the singleplayer is still good enough to stand on its own as one of my favorite games of the year.

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4. Super Mario Maker

Infinite Mario levels. How could you go wrong with that? Well, it turns out you both can and can't. Super Mario Maker has a few flaws that hold it back from being a perfect game, but at the same time a lot of amazing content has been made for it and I've had a ton of fun playing it. The main problem with the game is how it helps you find levels, or rather doesn't help you. There's a list of the top rated levels, but that is filled with automatic levels, music levels, pixel art, and all sorts of things that aren't actually any fun to play. Other than that, and a list of the newest uploaded levels, you're expected to find levels through the 100 Mario Challenge. 100 Mario Challenge seems to be purely random, and is filled with so many levels that are rage-inducingly bad. I really wish it was better. When you do find good levels though the game really shines, there is a lot of amazing content out there if you can manage to find it. Most of the good levels I've played I actually found outside of the game through social media, but until recently that was really annoying because the only way to share levels was through an antiquated 16 digit code system. Very recently Nintendo launched a website which lets you view and share levels. This is lacking in some areas, and really should be in the actual game, but it's an improvement. Speaking of improvements, Nintendo has been updating the game regularly and trying to fix some of the problems with it, and I hope in the future it reaches its full potential. I've mainly talked about playing levels so far, but creating them is also a lot of fun. The level editor is great, and aside from a few annoying limitations and several differences from the original games it does a surprisingly good job of letting you easily make what you want to. Mario Maker is a really cool game, and one that I wouldn't have expected Nintendo to ever make. I'm glad they did, and even though it has flaws they're working to fix them, and it could end up being even better than it already is.

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3. Rocket League

I really didn't expect a soccer game to be one of my favorite games of the year. I really don't like soccer, but I do really like Rocket League. It has a great learning curve, starting out simple but having a ridiculously high skill ceiling for the better players, making it an interesting competitive game. The game is really satisfying to play, from the car handling to the sound effects to the amazing feeling of scoring a cool looking goal. I really don't have anything to complain about with Rocket League other than the sometimes annoying random players you get matched with, but that's a problem with any multiplayer game, so I can't hold that against it too much. Team up with some friends though and that problem is gone, as well as the game being great for playing with a group. Teamwork is rewarded a lot, and it's really fun working together. The quick rounds combined with the high skill ceiling make it a good competitive game, but also one where it doesn't feel too bad to lose, because you can easily get into another match. I really enjoyed Rocket League this year and I'm sure I'll continue to enjoy it for quite a long time.

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2. Undertale

Undertale is one of my favorite games in a long time, I don't want to get into talking about spoilers here, because everyone should really experience it for themselves, but I will talk about some of the game's best attributes. The story is great, it's funny and has really good writing for every character in its varied cast. It's also the only game I've seen truly consider the player as a character in the world. I can't discuss too much about that without spoiling things, but it does a really good job with that and it's a really unique plot element. Despite not generally enjoying JRPGs, I ended up really liking Undertale. It does a great job at changing up the traditional RPG combat system, keeping turn based combat but adding a defensive element where you have to dodge attacks in bullet hell-like minigames as well as options to talk to and spare enemies during combat. You can go through the game without killing anyone if you want to, which is really cool. Everything about Undertale is fantastic, and the fact that it was made by only one person makes it all the more impressive. In almost any other year Undertale would be my game of the year. It really is a great game.

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1. Project M

Project M is a mod for Super Smash Bros. Brawl which has long been in development, but sadly ceased development this year. While the final version isn't everything I hoped it would turn out to be, Project M is not only my favorite game this year but my favorite game of all time. The mod attempts to capture the fast paced and complex gameplay of Super Smash Bros. Melee while keeping the larger cast of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and having better balance than either of those. It accomplishes all of those things perfectly. Super Smash Bros. is one of my favorite game series, but it unfortunately never had an entry that had everything I wanted. Until Project M, that is. It is the only competitive game I've played that has everything I want. Tons of depth and varitety while remaining balanced. A high skill ceiling and ability to develop unique and individual playstyles. A great cast of characters with creative and unique playstyles while remaining true to the feel of those characters in their original series. It's not a game for everyone, but it's the perfect game for me. It's tragic that the development of the game had to end in the way it did, but that also opens up the future for the game. There's now one version for competitive play that won't change anymore, allowing the meta to fully develop. Players will no longer have to go through the somewhat complex process of updating every few months. It's not all bad. I'm really glad I found this game this year though, and it is certainly my game of the year.

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Silverhand's Game of the Year Awards - Part 1

Welcome to the first part of my Game of the Year Awards. This will be split into 2 parts. The first one will be covering a number of categories, some inspired by the Giant Bomb staff's Game of the Year Awards, and some of my own. These include Old Game of the Year, Best Surprise, Best Art Style, Best Graphical Quality, Best Atmosphere, Best Story, Best Music, Most Disappointing, Best Short-Time Game, Best Early Access, Best DLC/Expansion, and Best Moment. The second part will just be my top 10 games of the year, going more in depth about why I liked each of those. Some categories will need a bit of clarification which I'll provide when I get to them, but as a general rule I am counting games where the final version was released this year for things such as Early Access titles and games that released on the platform I first played them on this year. Without further ado, here are the awards.

Old Game of the Year

This category is simply for games that came out in previous years which I did not get around to playing/finishing until 2015. Not much else to say about it. The runners up include Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, SteamWorld Dig, and TrackMania². Tropical Freeze is a game that I played a bit of in 2014 but never got very far in. I went back to it this year and ended up liking it a lot more than when I originally played it. It has great level design, fantastic music and visuals, and is overall just a really fun platformer. It doesn't quite live up to Donkey Kong Country 1 or 2 in my eyes, but it is still a great game in its own right. I initially passed over SteamWorld Dig due to thinking it would be too simplistic, but that is certainly not the case after playing it. I picked it up from a Humble Bundle this year and was pleasantly surprised by its world building, story, and depth of mechanics later in the game. It's a great little game that only takes a few hours to play through, and I'd highly recommend it. TrackMania² (I'm counting the three variants as a single game here) is a game I wasn't really aware of before this year, but it ended up being something I really enjoyed. I'm a big fan of short, precision-based time trial games, and TrackMania is exactly that.

Winner: Dustforce

Dustforce is not only my favorite old game this year, but one of my favorite games ever. I can't believe I missed this when it originally released, but I'm glad I finally played it. The gameplay, art style, animations, soundtrack, and just everything about the game really are fantastic. The gameplay is very simple at first and easy to get into, but has an insanely high skill ceiling which makes it incredibly satisfying to master. Each of the game's four characters control slightly differently, providing different options to suit your personal style of play, while also having levels aimed at each character to promote learning each of them to some extent. All of the levels are expertly designed, not only for more casual players but also providing alternative routes which let you complete the level faster while also making it more difficult. The game's leaderboards are one of its strongest points, tracking the best times in two different categories for each level (including user made ones). These are surprisingly kept free of hacked times, and also allow you to view a replay of any time submitted to them, which is great for learning new strategies or just seeing how to beat a level. As I already briefly mentioned the game has a level editor which is very competent, and while I haven't personally used it too much some great levels have come out of it. I could go on about this game a lot longer, but I'll just say it is a masterpiece, and is my favorite Old Game of the Year.

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Best Surprise

This category is for the games that surpassed my expectations the most. Whether I had low expectations for them, or simply none at all going into the game. The runners up for this category are Environmental Station Alpha, Rocket League, and Cities: Skylines. Environmental Station Alpha is a metroidvania game that surprisingly few people seem to have played this year. I've heard many times that it was a great game for metroidvanias, one of my favorite genres, citing Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge as examples, but Environmental Station Alpha never gets mentioned, and it definitely should. This won't be the last time it's mentioned in my awards, but I can already tell you if you like metroidvanias it is a must-play. I heard some positive things about Rocket League before playing it, but I'm really not a fan of soccer, and with that in mind I wasn't too sure I'd like it when I first played it. I was completely wrong. Rocket League is a tremendous amount of fun, even more so with friends, and is one of the best games I played this year. Cities: Skylines is a game that I think surprised most people. City builders were pretty much a dead genre after the disaster that was Sim City 2013. Cities: Skylines captures what made the earlier Sim City titles great and expands on that, making easily the best city builder of all time. I didn't end up playing too much of it, as I'm pretty terrible at that type of game, but I certainly appreciate how good the game is and spent quite a lot of time watching others play it.

Winner: Undertale

Going into Undertale I wasn't sure quite what to expect. I never played Earthbound, the game I had heard it most often compared to, and I'm not at all a fan of JRPGs. I decided to give it a shot though, and it turned out to be an amazing game. I'm sure everyone reading this has already heard about how great this game is, and for a lot of people it has probably become one of those annoying games people won't stop telling you to play (the fans of the game really are awful sometimes), but that is all for a very good reason. Undertale is an amazing and very unique game that I think everyone should play. I won't talk too much about it here becuase, spoilers: it's in my top 10 games of the year. It is definitely the best surprise of the year for me.

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Best Art Style

I think this category is fairly self-explanatory, so I won't bother detailing my requirements for it. The runners up for Best Art Style are Grow Home, Kalimba, Environmental Station Alpha, and Hotline Miami 2. Grow Home has a pretty simplistic art style consisting of flat textures and low-poly models. A whole lot of games that do this end up looking terrible, but Grow Home certainly doesn't. Everything in the game looks bright and colorful, and entices you to explore every bit of the world. Kalimba is a very interesting-looking game. The art style is flat and colorful, which both fits with the totems you play as, and the sometimes quite fast gameplay. I think Kalimba is a great example of a game where most developers would have used a retro 8 or 16-bit aesthetic but instead uses a unique art style and modern visual effects to really stand out. A lot of games should take notes from how Kalimba handles its art style. Environmental Station Alpha is the opposite of Kalimba in some ways. It uses a retro, low-res style that very easily could have blended in with the myriad of other games that attempt to capture that. However, that is certainly not the case. Environmental Station Alpha contains a good variety of nice-looking environments that all manage to still fit together and have a distinct visual style even at such a low resolution. For a game set on a space station, it sure has a lot of visual variety, and it all looks great. Hotline Miami 2 looks great, but so did its predecessor. If it were a standalone game, it might win this category, but it doesn't do anything particularly new with the art style. That said, it still is a really great art style and that hasn't changed since the original Hotline Miami.

Winner: Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful game. Its aesthetic is striking from the moment you begin the game, and it never lets up. The whole game looks like a moving painting, and it is fantastic. Each time you enter a new area, it somehow manages to look even better than the previous one. Ori is just a really beautiful game, I can't say that enough. The art style is very unique, fits the game well, and is consistent throughout its different environments. There's really not a whole lot to say about it other than you should see it for yourself.

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Best Graphical Quality

This category is for games that look great on a technical level, but don't quite fit into the Best Art Style category. Art Style certainly still plays a role in this, but it is more focused on technical prowess. The runners up for this category are Cities: Skylines and Grand Theft Auto V. Since this is the first time I've mentioned Grand Theft Auto V, I played it for the first time when it released on PC this year, so that is the version I'll be considering for these awards. I'm aware most people played it 2 years ago, but I didn't. I'm glad I waited, because the PC version is definitely the definitive version of that game. It just looks great. Cities: Skylines looks really good, and it looks really good with scale, which is impressive. If there were an award for best use of tilt shift in a game, Cities: Skylines would be the clear winner.

Winner: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 is such a clear winner for this category. The game simply looks fantastic, and does so in a massive open world. Some people have complained about the graphical downgrade since early pre-release footage, but I really don't think that matters as this is still one of the best looking games out there, if not the best. It also runs surprisingly well, and still looks great across its range of graphical options. Pictures of this game don't really do it justice, as some of the best parts of it you have to just see for yourself. A particularly good example is the weather effects, this game has the best rain I've ever seen in a game. It just blew me away the first time I saw it. The Witcher 3 has by far the Best Graphical Quality of 2015.

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Best Atmosphere

Why this category is here, and what this category even is, is kind of hard to describe. This isn't the art style, music, sound effects, voice acting, or animations of a game, but rather how well all of those things come together, how immersive the game feels, and just how atmospheric the world is. I hope that makes sense. Anyways, the runners up for this category are Axiom Verge, The Witcher 3, and the Ori and the Blind Forest. Axiom Verge's blend of retro-styled pixel art and modern visual effects, along with its formidable-sounding music make its world one I would be remiss to not include here. The Witcher 3 builds a large, impressive fantasy world, but I think possibly its most impressive aspect is its characters. The variety in NPCs is great, with good quality voice acting and writing for all of them, with even characters only involved in minor side quests being compelling. These characters really make the world of The Witcher 3 come alive. Ori and the Blind Forest expertly mixes its amazing art style with its gameplay, music, sound effects, voice acting, and animation to create a world that really feels consistent and immersive. Everything in Ori just fits together in a way that more games should try to accomplish.

Winner: Hand of Fate

Even with some fantastic examples of this category as runners up, Hand of Fate is an easy winner to pick here. The Dealer is one of the best characters in gaming this year, really bringing the world alive with his excellent voice acting and the way he adds small details to many of the cards. His cluttered table feels very personal, and makes a great setting for a game where you're mostly just sitting at a table playing cards. The world of Hand of Fate is a really compelling one, and it's one of those rare games where I actually enjoy reading every bit of lore I can find. Even the minor characters you encounter are interesting and fit well into this amazing world. I could go on about this, but you should really just play it for yourself, because Hand of Fate's atmosphere really makes the game worth playing.

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Best Story

This is another category that is pretty self-explanatory, so I'll just get right into it. The runners up for Best Story are Grand Theft Auto V, Hotline Miami 2, and Ori and the Blind Forest. Grand Theft Auto V has a surprisingly good story that I ended up thoroughly enjoying. The cast of characters is really great, and the variety in missions throughout the game made it really fun to play. Hotline Miami 2's story is one of the game's best aspects. While I ended up being rather disappointed in the game, I really enjoyed my first playthrough trying to piece together the wildly out of order story. It took what people enjoyed about the first game's story and did it on a much larger scale, tying together storylines of multiple playable characters while going back and forth through time in a way that few games could accomplish. Ori and the Blind Forest definitely deserves a spot here. One of the first things you'll hear from anyone who has played it is how good the prologue for the game is, but I don't know that I can say that's even the high point of the game's story, as it consistently has great moments throughout the game, making you feel attached to characters who don't even speak. It definitely deserves to be on this list, and it might have won had the winner of this category not came out this year.

Winner: Undertale

Undertale's story is one I don't think I'll ever forget. It's the only game I can think of that truly acknowledges the player and their actions as a part of the game's world. The story goes beyond the great cast of humorous characters you'll encounter throughout your playthrough, which are already great enough to be on this list, and really does some things that I haven't seen games attempt before. It gets even better with consecutive playthroughs, adding a lot more to the game than most games would for a New Game+ mode. I think locking off so much of the game's content from your first playthrough, and just hoping that players will feel invested enough to play the game multiple times is a risky move, but one that really pays off for Undertale. I don't want to go into too much detail because I really can't without spoiling things, and if you haven't played Undertale yet you should experience it for yourself.

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Best Music

The only bit of explanation I feel the need to add to this category is that I prioritize original soundtracks over licensed music. How well the music fits the game, and how good the music is on its own are the most important factors, but keep in mind that original music being a bonus explains some omissions from this category. The runners up for Best Music are Ori and the Blind Forest, Environmental Station Alpha, Axiom Verge, Hotline Miami 2, and Crypt of the Necrodancer. It really shows how good of a year for music in games it has been that I can't cut this list down any further than this. All of these games have great music and none of them would feel out of place winning this category. Ori and the Blind Forest has an amazing soundtrack that goes along well with the rest of the game, and really enhances the game's key story moments. It makes exploring the game's world enjoyable and exciting, and really adds a lot to the game. Environmental Station Alpha's soundtrack is the perfect soundtrack for "you are alone on a space station," which is exactly what the setting for that game is. It has quite a few memorable tracks, and I've really enjoyed listening to it on its own even after playing the game. Axiom Verge's soundtrack is great, and it really fits the mood of the game well. I don't have a whole lot to say about it other than it's just a really solid, good soundtrack. Hotline Miami 2's soundtrack takes everything that was great about the first game's and does it better. It's hard to believe that it's even licensed music because of how well it fits together and how well the game uses it. Each piece fits the pace and feeling of the level it's used for in a way that few games can accomplish. In another year it may have won this category, but as I said before it was a really great year for music in games. It's hard to talk about Crypt of the Necrodancer's music separate from the game itself. The two are so intertwined and both are really great. The game being based around moving to the beat of the music makes it really important for the game's success that it have great music, and it certainly does. Necrodancer actually has 3 versions of its soundtrack included in the game, with electronic and metal cover versions of the original soundtrack also being quite excellent.

Winner: Undertale

Yet another category I can't help but give to Undertale, because it really deserves it. Undertale has different variations of many of its songs that often change throughout a battle, and some songs that are only able to be heard during one type of playthrough or another. All of the tracks are just fantastic, and it is made all the more impressive by the fact that the sole developer of the game also composed the entire soundtrack. Every bit of Undertale's soundtrack is just great, and I think it really is the best this year.

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Most Disappointing

These are the games that most disappointed me this year in some way or another. At the same time none of these should be winners, and they also should all win this category. The runners up are Hotline Miami 2, Yoshi's Woolly World, and Star Wars: Battlefront. Hotline Miami 2 should be a really great game, and it does have some good aspects as shown by it being mentioned in other categories here. It falls incredibly short in some aspects though, in ways that it really shouldn't. Many of the levels are just too big for the game's top down perspective, causing you to die off screen an unreasonable amount of times. The first game handled this well, why is it so hard to do it well again? Just stick with confined areas and it would all be okay. The game is also incredibly glitchy for how many delays in development it had. With how long it took to come out, and how similar it is to the first game you would really think these problems would be solved. What were the devs doing that whole time? Yoshi's Woolly World could have been a really good game. Yoshi's Island was a really good game. Why, Nintendo, do you not get that? There have been so many awful Yoshi games over the years, and all they need to do is do what they did for Yoshi's Island. Woolly World had a good aesthetic and music going for it, but the gameplay falls incredibly short. It's far too easy and simple, and the only even slight amount of difficulty comes from the largely meaningless collectibles which makes the game very repetitive. I was really excited when a new Battlefront game was finally announced, but that excitement was diminished greatly over time. Battlefront should not be named Battlefront, because it is nothing like the first 2 games in the series. All the depth was thrown away in exchange for shallow gameplay, and such a limited amount of content that charging $60 for this game feels criminal. The game sounds and looks great, but I guess that's where all the development time went because it certainly wasn't spent on gameplay. This is made even worse by outrageously expensive $50 season pass. The game is incredibly lacking in content, it should have shipped with far more maps, weapons, and characters, and they're charging the most I've ever seen for a season pass. On top of that the gameplay just has some huge problems, like heroes and vehicles being randomly awarded as powerups rather than placed on the map or as rewards for doing well. I could go on for a while about all the problems with Star Wars: Battlefront, but it isn't the winner here.

Winner: Dirty Bomb

When I started playing Dirty Bomb it was a really good game. Class-based shooters is a genre that aside from Team Fortress 2 is very lacking. I was pretty excited when I found out about Dirty Bomb, and put a lot of hours into it pretty quickly despite a few problems with its free-to-play business model. That business model ended up being what ruined the game for me, with the release of a character called Phantom. I don't think I've ever seen something so unbalanced in a game before, or something that was so obviously a cash-grab. Phantom released in a ridiculously overpowered state, and in reaction to community outcry the developers gave a bullshit response that people simply hadn't had enough time playing him yet. No, we could already tell he was broken. Despite the eventual nerf, that incident made me lose trust in the developers' ability to balance the game, and as a competitive focused game that ruined it for me. Speaking of the developers, Dirty Bomb was made by Splash Damage. Splash Damage previously developed Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, which is often praised as one of the best multiplayer shooters ever made. They also developed Brink, which wasn't as well received, but many people hoped that Dirty Bomb would be a return to form for them. I am very sad that it is not. This is one of my favorite genres, and it really could use more good games (that also aren't free-to-play please), and seeing another one ruined definitely makes it the most disappointing game this year for me. At least there's Overwatch to look forward to in 2016, hopefully that doesn't go as wrong as Dirty Bomb did.

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Best Short-Time Game

This category is for games that I enjoyed which are suited to shorter play sessions. Some of these are just more casual games, and some are games where it's just easy to get a quick round or two in while I'm waiting on something. The runners up for Best Short-Time Game are Agario, Duck Game, Rocket League, Downwell, and Nuclear Throne. Agario was a really fun little web game I played for a few weeks. While it didn't keep my attention for too long, the game was creative and fun, and there was something special about the interactions you would have with people when the only way to communicate was your name or through your actions. Alliances and rivalries form quickly, sometimes by accident, and that makes Agario a really interesting game to me. Duck Game is really great. It has a dedicated quack button. How can you not like a game with a dedicated quack button? Rocket League is a game that I felt I should mention here, although it doesn't win this category simply because I can't ever manage to play just one game of it. The rounds are short, and theoretically you could have short play sessions of this game, but it's very easy for one game to turn into two and so on. Downwell is a surprisingly fun and difficult game for how simple it is. Jumping and shooting your way downwards is fun and makes for good quick play sessions because of how often I die. Nuclear Throne may seem like an odd choice for this list, and I'm sure for players who are better at the game it really isn't a short-time game, but for me the 5-10 minute runs of this roguelike are great for shorter play sessions and keep me coming back to it time and time again.

Winner: Lara Croft Go

I really didn't expect that I'd like a mobile game from Square Enix this much. I never played Hitman Go despite hearing that it was good, and I'm not a big fan of Tomb Raider, but Lara Croft Go is a really enjoyable game. Its short puzzles are great for quick sessions, and the well-hidden collectibles add replay value to the game. The visuals are simple but really look great for a mobile game, and the simple style suits the game well, allowing you to focus more on the puzzles. It's a simple game, and there's not a whole lot to say about it, but I really liked Lara Croft Go.

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Best Early Access

This award is for games that I think are both good games and games I think the developers of are handling Early Access well. The only games eligible for this are games that entered into Early Access this year and have not released yet. The runners up for this category are Darkest Dungeon and Killing Floor 2. Darkest Dungeon is a really unique game due to its stress system, where the mental health of the characters in your party is a very important factor. Each character reacts differently to different situations, and each one has a different way of relieving stress back in town after your adventures. Adding this on to a system where you lose your characters permanently when they die makes the game quite tense for the player as well. While I've held off on playing too much of this before release, it is already in a great state and the regular updates from the devs make it look like a promising game for early 2016. Killing Floor 2 is everything a sequel to Killing Floor should be. It released in Early Access this year in an already great state, if a bit lacking on content. Tripwire's abilities really show in how polished this game is for an Early Access title. The updates are a bit slow, but they're still steadily bringing in new content and Killing Floor 2 is shaping up to be a really great game.

Winner: Rivals of Aether

Rivals of Aether goes beyond just being a "Smash Bros. Clone" and really stands out as its own game while taking some of the better mechanics from the aforementioned series. The original cast of characters each stand out with a unique playstyle and they are all very fun. The stages look and play great, offering a simple version of each for competitive play. The online multiplayer is one of the best I've seen in fighting games, working surprisingly well even at its Early Access launch. If you didn't know what content the game was missing, Rivals of Aether would already feel like a complete game. It's a great example of a good Early Access game, already offering a good value and promising even more later down the line.

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Best DLC/Expansion

This award is for the game with the best single piece of DLC or expansion. If I were talking about DLC as a whole for games I might include some more games in this category, but I don't think the winner would change either way. The runners up for Best DLC/Expansion are Plague of Shadows for Shovel Knight and Afterbirth for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Shovel Knight was my favorite game of 2014 and Plague of Shadows is an excellent reason to revisit it. Plague of Shadows lets you play through the entire game as Plague Knight, with remixed rooms and enemies more suited to Plague Knight's style. While it is still the same base levels, Plague Knight's gameplay has much more depth than Shovel Knight's, and the upgrades you unlock for him allow you to do a lot of interesting things. The fact that this DLC was completely free makes it even better. Afterbirth is more of The Binding of Isaac, which as far as I'm concerned is definitely not a bad thing. While I'm one of the more casual players of the game and haven't yet experienced all Afterbirth has to offer, the new items, bosses, and particularly the new game mode are all great additions.

Winner: The Awakening for Path of Exile

Path of Exile already offered a huge amount of content for free, and The Awakening increases that even further adding a fourth act to the game (which turned out to be my favorite act), a new jewel system which makes the game's skill tree even more complex, and most importantly a fix for the game's awful desync issues. Desync was my biggest problem with Path of Exile and fixing that alone would have made this expansion great, but it does a whole lot more than that and does it very well. Grinding Gear Games' (one of my favorite names for a developer) free-to-play model is absurdly player-friendly, and is one of the few that doesn't make me despise the game being free-to-play. This continues with The Awakening being a completely free expansion that I think is the best of the year.

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Best Moment

This category is for my favorite moments in games this year. There really are no rules for this. The runners up are the Prologue from Ori and the Blind Forest and Finding a Good Level in Super Mario Maker. Ori and the Blind Forest's prologue is fantastic. It manages to get the player emotionally invested in the story and characters in only a few minutes, which is something that not only games but also other forms of entertainment struggle to do. Ori does this really well, and I think adding just the little bit of player control to it adds a lot to that part of the game. Cutscenes in Ori blend in perfectly with the gameplay, and there's more than one "Oh, I can actually move around" moments in the prologue alone. Finding a good level in Mario Maker is a much more abstract moment, but one that happened to me quite a few times this year and I thoroughly enjoyed every one. Mario Maker is a great game, but one of its few flaws is its lackluster search tools. It can be quite difficult to find good quality levels, especially in the 100 Mario Challenge, but when you come across one that you can instantly feel had a lot of time and thought put into it that is a really cool experience that shows just how good Mario Maker can be.

Winner: Asgore's House in Undertale

Warning: Undertale spoilers ahead. This is the last category, so if you haven't played Undertale yet stop reading now.

That out of the way, finding Asgore's house is by far my favorite moment in a game this year. The immediate realization of Asgore's connection to Toriel, and the ways in which his house mirrors hers but is also different is a really cool moment. The music greatly enhances this, being a slightly different version of the music from Toriel's house earlier in the game. Seeing Asgore's house is a very interesting reveal but is also very sad at the same time, and this continues with the battle against Asgore, where he is an obviously skilled warrior but is so reluctant to fight you. Asgore is a really compelling character, and seeing his house for the first time and everything that comes along with that is my favorite moment from Undertale, and my favorite moment of the year.

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That concludes the first part of my Game of the Year Awards. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I hope if you haven't played some of these games that you'll give them a try (excluding the ones from the Most Disappointing category). Part 2 should be up later today with my top 10 games of 2015.

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