Sparky's Top Something of 2015

Holy poop, 2015 had some games. And I played them! This marks the first year I've managed to play enough timely, good releases to make an actual top ten, so the first ten spots will be reserved for the best games I played from this year. Everything from eleven onward is a relatively unorganized list that includes games from yesteryear as well. There were lots of games that deserved a mention, and I'd be doing them a disservice by leaving them out entirely.

I want to say too that I've never had a list with this many quality entries. 2015 was far and away my favorite year for games to date, and every entry in my top ten is recommended in the highest regard. I can't wait to see what 2016 and beyond brings.

Also, high five to Sony this year for releasing the all-important (to me) accessibility options patch, which wins my coveted first "Holy Shit, This Makes Games So Much More Playable" award. Here's hoping we see more accessibility options and a continued refinement of them not just from Sony, but all console and game developers

List items

  • Much like number two on my list, The Witcher 3 is a remarkable step forward in terms of storytelling within games. Andrzei Sapkowski's Witcher novels and short stories make for a fascinating universe to explore, but there's more to it than that. CD Projekt Red has managed to create storylines and sidequests I actually care about seeing to the end for reasons other than loot or experience. I'm invested into this world and these characters, and not just the gameplay or the potential of this universe.

    Yes, it had issues. Bugs aplenty on launch kept many from enjoying its potential. The inventory system, while loads better than it was, is still a frustrating, hard-to-see mess. It takes a while to really start to feel the finesse of the combat system (which I eventually wound up loving, but it did take a while).

    But the biggest problem with The Witcher is that it will take years for game developers to catch up to what they've done. Morality choices are more than just good-neutral-evil. Fetch and monster-killing quests are buffered by remarkably good storytelling, with plenty of variations of normal game tropes to keep me guessing at my every move. Finishing the game almost annoyed me in a way, because I knew in my heart that the bigger game releases yet to come wouldn't live up to its numerous stories and characters. Turns out I was right.

  • From all outward appearances, Tales doesn't stray much from the Telltale formula. There's not much exploration of its environments. There's a minimalist amount of interaction with the game world. QTE events leave me cussing at my computer on a regular basis as I try to find that one tiny clickable spot while Baddy Y throws bullets at me. Normally, that would mean I'd finish it, think about the story for a bit, and then move on.

    But here I am, a month or two out from having finished Tales from the Borderlands, and I want to replay it again. I've had the ending credits theme from the last episode regularly stuck in my earowrm playlist for weeks. Even moreso than the Witcher, it's the game that won't let me go. And I'm perfectly okay with that.

    This is Telltale, refined and polished to a gleaming finish. The QTEs are relatively breezy thanks to a reworked, easier-to-see interface. The writing is loads better than anything they've done before, with snappy dialogue and witty exchanges between characters alternating between false bravado and guarded openness. This is the realization of what Borderlands could be without all the bullshit references, the nods towards Internet "humor," and all the sorts of chintzy writing problems that plagued the first two games.

    There are some problems with the game, mostly in its staggering amount of fan service and a few immensely frustrating QTEs, but these are easily forgotten by the time "Silver Lining" queues up and the credits roll. No games this year left me so emotionally sated as did Witcher and Borderlands 3, and for that reason, they easily nab my top two spots.

  • I've said this before, but Kojima leaving Metal Gear Solid behind might be the best thing to happen to the franchise. The biggest problems with MGSV lie within a fractured, confused, and problematic script, including one of the dumbest, most unnecessary turns in the series' history - and that's a history rich with big dumb unnecessary turns.

    That makes me sound like I'm down on the game, but I'm not. This is one of the best controlling games I've ever played. I'm terrible at stealth and action games in general, but at every turn in MGSV, I felt equal parts badass and sneaky sneaky. Someone devised one hell of a control scheme for this game and stuck it in an engine that responds to my every crazy desire without a hiccup. Do I want to snipe from the hillside, running like a madman from sniping point to sniping point until I've whittled down the enemy forces? No sweat. Do I want to go in guns blazing, chucking grenades like they're presents for all the good little soldiers? No sweat. Do I want to lay out crazy elaborate traps for columns of tanks and APCs, only to change my mind at the last possible instant and decide to take them all out on foot? Sure, the game lets me do that too.

    If only the storytelling had reached the highs of the gameplay, this might have easily been number one on my list. Instead, it falls here, a remarkably good game with no real idea of what the story is it wants to tell.

    Unfortunately too, post-release, MGSV might be the only game that's become significantly worse with every patch. It's clear that the microtransaction industry is enticing to whoever is left holding the reins, and it shows in every miserably stupid FOB decision made after the game's initial release. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

  • The vast potential of Super Mario Maker almost made my bump it higher in this list. This is very likely the 2015 game most likely to make it as a long-term franchise. The ability to play an endless supply of Mario levels from various eras of games is wildly appealing and gratifying, and I can't wait to see what Nintendo does with it in the future.

    The biggest problem? It's the Wii U. No matter how good of a year Nintendo has had, there's still not enough of a justification to buy a Wii U. Mario Maker makes me really curious what the NX will be, but it doesn't do enough to convince me I need a Wii U in my life. I can wait for a sequel on a better system, preferably one with more than one interesting game per quarter.

  • Playing this game once by myself would have been enough to put it this high on my list. But what clenched it as a high scoring GOTY candidate was watching my brother @upperdecker play it at his place. Watching the story unfold, knowing the plot twists it would take, and seeing his reaction to its crazier moments was without a doubt one of the highest points in gaming for me this year.

    It does everything so right in terms of adventure gaming. It gives me small snippets of a world to explore, but with plenty within each scene to see and do. It gives me lovable characters, a fascinating plot grounded by a good friendship story, and a hard-hitting conclusion that wraps things up nicely. I adore the crap out of Life is Strange.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to deliver a load of breakfast to my stomach. Over and out.

  • So much wasted potential.

    No game had me as hooked this year as Fallout 4. I have dumped probably close to 150-200 hours into it already, thanks mostly to the settlement building aspect. I've explored the various nooks and crannies of Boston almost exhaustively and still keep coming back to it.

    That said though, Fallout 4 never really aspires to be much. It's satisfied with the status quo, touching up a few visual things here and there and tinkering with the combat just enough to make it a smoother, more fun experience. And then it just sort of stops there.

    Boston doesn't make for a good backdrop for the game. The Insitution might have done so, had they focused the game more on that highly fascinating aspect, but instead, the game's best creative moments are hidden away in a boring underground "city" that's really just a collection of a few bland rooms.

    There's nothing distinct about any of the characters or locations. There's no reason to really care about the story, despite its early potential. This is Bethesda going through the motions in the most head-scratchingly ways possible, throwing out a game into the wilderness that feels great but rarely holds up to its full potential. I hope for more from them in the future, but if they plan to keep churning out by-committee games like this in the future, I hope the hand the reins of my most beloved game franchise to someone who cares.

  • This is in regards to the iPad version of the game, which I highly recommend over its sometimes Jenky PC counterpart. See what I did there? No? How about if I did... this?

    Moment to moment, Contradiction is a hoot. The actors throw themselves into their roles with ludicrous abandon. The script is delicious B-movie shlock on a small scale, rightly focusing in on the antics of a select few while hinting at grander schemes. I adore the hell out of this game. I want to see it spawn children, and I want those children to foster more FMV children, and for them all to interbreed with other FMV kids from around the neighborhood until we are positively oversaturated with FMV thrillers on a budget.

    This was a wonderful experience, both for the site and myself personally. I freakin' love Contradiction.

  • Technobabylon is another fantastic game from Wadjet Eye, makers of Gemini Rue and the sorely underrated Blackwell series. Their particular specialty is creating 2d adventure games that look as though they belong in the mid-90's, but featuring smart gameplay and design choices with an eye toward modern sensibilities. Their puzzles tend to be very reasonable and logical, there's a general lack of pixel hunting (though there is some, unfortunately), and the games rarely overstay their welcome while still managing to burst at the seams with great content and characters.

    Technobabylon is their best individual effort yet. I think the Blackwell series as a whole is better, but it's purely a matter of personal choice. Technobabylon features a cool cast of characters trying to tackle corruption and the machinations of a powerful select few in a Blade Runner-esque setting. That's exactly the sort of thing I'm into. It doesn't hurt that they've included multiple ways to solve various puzzles, each with slight repercussions and reactions from other characters.

    I get that retro-themed adventure games might not be the most massively appealing thing to everyone, but I implore you, give Technobabylon a fair chance. It's an easy game to fall for.

  • I told you motherfuckers Dead Island was great! I told you! WHo's laughing now?! Yeah, that's what I thought!

  • I'm awful at Rocket League. Truly and greatly awful. That said though, playing my brother Rocket League this year was the best multiplayer experience I've had. The simplicity and tight controls of Rocket League mean that every mistake is my own, every well-planned and poorly executed move is entirely my fault, and that every goal I make is pure 100% luck. But watching my brother line up a shot just perfectly and spanking that ball home is ridiculously awesome and left me with individaul highs bigger than just about anything else I played this year.

    I love all the loot, too.

  • (Unordered)

    80 Days is one of the best iPad experiences I had this year. The strong choose-your-own adventure backbone, simple gameplay, and multiple routes make this an easy one to recommend. Give it a shot if you're looking for a great road trip game.

  • (Unordered)

    Shot some Nazis. Woke up in 60's Nazi Europe. Shot some more Nazis. Jimi Hendrix played me out. Shot even more Nazis. This game's all right.

  • (Unordered)

    I had loads of fun with Trials Fusion's multiplayer modes, but the single player camera left a sour taste in my mouth. I was really good at Trials Frontier and I know I'm better at Trials games than this, but having the camera angle zoom out far enough that I couldn't see which way was up was brutally unfair. I hope there's a new Trials game soon, but hopefully one that recognizes when it needs to focus less on its big set pieces.

  • (Unordered)

    My 3DS picks for the year are this and Dragon Ques V, both of which hooked me nicely. Fantasy Life is Zelda-meets-Animal Crossing. It needs some refinement, and the individual jobs should probably be blended together a bit more in order to focus on more fun moments rather than grindy drudgery, but overall, it's a spectacular little gem.

  • (Unordered)

    Dragon Quest V on the 3DS is a largely unassuming, straightforward jewel of a classic RPG. This isn't Square trying to reimagine one of its beloved IP as an action-RPG hybrid bastard. This is Square straight up saying, "We know you loved this game, so here it is with some better graphics for a reasonable price and as a complete package." In that regard, it's already won the re-release battle in my heart.

  • Here's something crazy - Shadow Warrior is actually pretty good. The level design tends to be a bit boring, but the actual gameplay and combat feels good and the jokes don't all fall flat. It's a pleasant surprise.

  • Had my top ten not been devoted solely to games released this year, Always Sometimes Monsters might have made the cut. This is a superb game about morality and the choices we make in order to get a second chance with those we love, set in a lightly-grounded world with some darker undercurrents. It's not a traditional RPG, but its trappings are those of something straight out of an RPG Maker, giving it a bit of fascinating charm. It's a neat day-in-life simulator of sorts and wound up being one of my favorite adventures games of recent years.

  • (Unordered)

    Considering how much I didn't care for Diablo 3 on release, I'm surprised at how much I liked Reaper of Souls on the PS4. The inventory wheel screens are inspired and should be the gold standard for RPGS moving forward. The control scheme works really well, and there's nothing meaningful has been sacrificed for the console release. It doesn't hurt that they've added a lot of post-game content and gutted the stupid parts of the PC release, like the real-world Auction House.

  • Citizens of Earth tries to be a Suikoden-light and mostly succeeds. There are some annoying recruitment requirements and the game could use a better tracking method for quests and individual recruitable characters, but overall, this is a pleasant gotta-collect-them-all-athon RPG with classic turn-based combat and a pleasant world to explore.

  • Sure, it's a F2P game. But it's fun and I like Puzzle Quest. Shaddup.

  • I like Fallout Shelter when it works. I like Fallout Shelter when I have a goal in mind. I like Fallout Shelter when it rewards me with interesting stuff. I dislike Fallout Shelter when it inevitably fails to do any of the above things.

  • Neither a good Bethesda game or a particularly forward-moving MMO, ESO stubbornly refuses to aspire to be a great game, but instead revels in its own mediocrity in a way that actually winds up making it sort of charming. It's never actively bad, but it never really recognizes what makes itself good either. The biggest appeal of something like this is getting to explore the whole world of Elder Scrolls, which I can't do with one character. But I guess what's here works, and I did put probably close to eighty hours into what turned into one of the better podcast-listening games of the year.

    I'm listing this mostly because I can throw a Scorpion spear at enemies, bring them to me, and then hit them with an ability that is just me jabbing them in the face several times like uh uh uhh uhh uh uh.

  • Mortal Kombat X is a game that doesn't really feel like it wants to be a Mortal Kombat game. A large portion of its characters come from other franchises, like Predator or the like, and some of its new characters are directly inspired by better franchises like the knockoff of Master Blaster. The story is relatively lackluster, especially after the awe-inspiring rewrite of Mortal Kombat lore in IX, but they've got Erron Black, so I'm cool.

    The gameplay is still tight, there's still a lot of fun to be had, and it's still a Mortal Kombat-ass Mortal Kombat game. I hope they find their enthusiasm for their own universe and move forward in some new ways as opposed to just rewriting past Mortal Kombat games, but we'll see what happens.

  • Disgaea 5 is largely a by-the-numbers entry in the series, which is sorely disappointing given that this is easily the best the gameplay has ever been. They've tightened up a lot of the changes made in D2, making the game more accessible while making some great changes to stuff like the Chara World.

    But that doesn't excuse cooke-cutter characters or rehashing characters from prior games as more eye-rolling DLC. It's a good game, and definitely worth a go if you're new to the series. But as a longt-ime fan, it's a frustrating half-step forward.

  • When Sherlock Holmes is grounded, it's superb. Simple mysteries, like a disappearing "ghost" train and the murder of a boat captain, are terrific little bites of mystery game goodness. Unfortunately, the game tries to tackle more game-y mysteries, such as one that involves Sherlock investigating impossibly complex underground ruins or other dumb adventure game tropes. It's an uneven game, but at its best, it's certainly appealing and takes strides towards making the series feel relevant.

  • Just Cause 3 is a very, very good game, but it's a step sideways for the series as a whole and often takes some frustrating steps backwards. I hate that the game's best abilities are locked behind dumb challenges. I don't fucking want to race planes through hard-to-see checkpoints. I want to take those planes and ram them up a military installation's ass. And I want back all the goofy weapons from Just Cause 2, damn it.

    But this is definitely more Just Cause 2, and that's not a bad thing. It's just surprising how little has been done to expand upon that game's insanity. Again, it's a big sequel completely satisfied with just the status quo, and that's a shame.