Many were doubtful that Nintendo could deliver a console-selling game for the Wii U after launch that was a new IP, and a shooter no less. I was among those. I thought that Splatoon would surely be fun, but not become the massive game that it did. To be frank, the Wii U isn’t doing great in terms of an expanding library of games. Yoshi’s Woolly World was a great platformer, but nothing new and Super Mario Maker’s fun lies greatly in one’s enjoyment of content creation, something that may require a massive player-base to be sustainable. Now, in comes Splatoon with bright colours flyin’ everywhere, rollers and guns going every which way, and just offering a bright, fun, and, most of all, new experience for Nintendo fans. Wii U fans are still waiting for their console to have the library they know it deserves, but Splatoon definitely is a big part of this category.
This is one of the only games I purchased this year without any research beyond reading a few lines off Steam. I saw the style, I saw the genre, and I knew I needed to play this. Turns out, it was one the best games I played in 2015. If you’re a fan of William Gibson and enjoy point-and-click adventures, then you already own this game. The care and love put into the world bleeds through every pixel, environment, and character. Some have taken strikes against the game noting its length. Hey, my favourite song is under 4 minutes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play it at least once a week. I often enjoy games that seem to leave us wanting more rather than just adding in gameplay or mechanics to artificially lengthen the experience. Some of the puzzles are overly challenging and a few of lines of dialogue may feel awkward, but for those who are looking for Cyberpunk in 2015, this is where it’s at.
8. Broken Age
What’s that you say? The second act was much slower and not as good as the first? Let me ask you this, how would you feel about taking any of your games right now and slicing them in half? Chances are you will prefer one to the other, but acknowledge that they truly are meant to be played as one large piece. This is also true with Broken Age. I too was a little confused by the game’s second act, but giving it more thought, I knew that this was the same feeling one gets when jumping right into an old RPG without remembering what you were doing. Broken Age delivers a solid point-and-click experience with much of the charm and thoughtfulness of many classic LucasArts and Double Fine entries. The puzzles are challenging without being completely obtuse, characters and locations are fleshed out enough to be interesting without becoming overbearing. All in all, Broken Age delivered one of the best games of the year and still remains one of the most successful Kickstarter games to date.
7. Axiom Verge
As you have no doubt already noticed, 2015 was a great year for platformers. Axiom Verge stands equally among those I’ve already mentioned, yet is nothing like them. Think Contra meets Metroid, and you’ve got a rough picture of what Axiom Verge offers. But, it’s in those fine details where we see some true gold. Now, we all know those original games that inspired Axiom were full of glitches, some of which let players exploit the game. Axiom Verge takes these historical coding cracks and makes them a game mechanic. I kid you not, glitches become an ever-lovin’ game mechanic. You can use these corruptions to manipulate enemies as well as the environment, making for a true gaming experience in which you are encouraged to, well, play! Axiom Verge may not have been my favourite platformer of 2015, but it is fantastic and surely deserves more players to explore its depths.
6. Pizza Express
I’ve never been one for sim games, so the fact that this is on my list should mean something right away. Also, in full disclosure, I’m a pretty passionate guy when it comes to pizza. I even named my in-game pizzeria after one of the best places I’ve ever had a slice. The game does a nice job of introducing elements at a good clip. It never feels overwhelming, yet there is always a sense of urgency to improve on everything you currently have control over. The actual ‘makin’ pizzas’ part of the game is enjoyable stressful. Maybe it’s the story that makes this a different experience compared to other sim games I’ve tried. It’s bright, a little funny, and a lot endearing. There isn’t much too it, but that feels perfect as the actual management aspects get quite deep. Would I have loved this game as much if it was Hamburger Express? That’s hard to say, but I can say that this game pairs perfectly with a can of pop and your favourite slice.
Downwell is another prime example of why I feel that 2015 was the year of platformers. It doesn’t have the same level of world-building as Ori and the Blind Forest, the sense of discovery of INK, or the retro-done-right of Axiom Verge. What Downwell does have is gameplay that can be described as a cross between The Binding of Isaac and Dig Dug. The graphics, music, and lore seem to be pushed aside in favour of fast-paced action more akin to the action found in old arcades. The game rewards experimentation and risk taking while at the same time pushing the simple gameplay to its limits and creating some of the best twitch-gameplay of 2015. Surely Downwell could be seen as the most ‘simple’ game on this list, but that’s part of its charm. Simplicity only hurts when the core qualities are lacking. For Downwell, this is simply simple fun.
I know I’m likely alone here at HalfBeard’s HUD with this opinion, but Ronin was one of my favourite games in 2015. It took what I loved most about Gunpoint (the ‘aim and shoot’ mechanics as well as a dark aesthetic), and stuck it in a Cyberpunk future with samurais and turned-based action. While some find the RNG a little too much to deal with, causing too many seemingly impossible moments, Ronin has enough going on with it that I can either look past these issues or see them as positives. The action is both fast-paced and strategic at the same time. You need to really explore your environment and learn to predict enemy movements. You need to think like a true samurai assassin and view each move before it even makes sense to think about it. For those who don’t mind games that make you cry out in joy and anger at the same time, Ronin is more than worthy of your time.
Ironcast strikes the perfect balance between story and excitement that I feel all modern puzzlers should strive for. Ironcast is played out in a Steampunk Victorian England where players duke it out in huge mechs. Players link together nodes of specific types in order to do things such as power up their weapons, repair their mechs, and boost up shields as well as other tasks. For what seems like a basic ‘Match 3’ puzzler, there is an incredible amount of depth here. Each pilot and mech has unique stats and can further be customized through purchasing equipment and using augmentations. This game is addictive, punishing, and something totally fresh. Each battle is a total blast to play and delivers the same action and intensity as a tournament fighter or shooter while also giving you the depth and strategy of an RPG or TGC.
Not only did gaming in 2015 consist of some amazing platformers, 2015 was also the year game’s decided to throw some paint around! INK is a twitch-platformer based on the principle of learning from your mistakes. Anything the player touches leaves spatters of paint on its surface. Even when the player dies, paint is released. This basic mechanic instills a sense of discovery in a subgenre that often misses the mark in this regard. INK is definitely one of those ‘just one more level’ type of games, and maybe one of the most addictive games of 2015. What seems so simple on the surface turns out to be one of 2015’s best games. If you loved twitch-platformers or want to get into the genre but don’t know where to start, INK is a game I can’t recommend enough.
1. Ori and the Blind Forest
This is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. The graphics are so detailed and delicate and the score delivers emotional punch and tension like few other games can. The story is incredibly endearing and engaging, while also being easy to follow. For these reasons and more, Ori is a treat to play. The Metroidvania style comes across as incredibly organic. It genuinely feels like you are exploring a living and breathing world. Backtracking or getting stuck without the right move or item never feels like an artificial experience, like you ‘did’ the game wrong. Rather, the entire experience feels natural. It feels so complete and inviting that even just exploring and gathering items and resources feels like a joy.The controls are excellent, the pacing is great, and once again, the complete aesthetic package of Ori and the Blind Forest makes it one of my favourite gaming experiences of 2015.
As we’re getting ready to shut the doors and turn out the lights here at HBHUD, I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the readers, my fellow writers, and HalfBeard himself. To you, the reader, thank you for not only caring about what I’ve had to say but also fostering a loyal sense of community for us. You are what made this site great and I hope to see you again in the future wherever we end up. To my fellow writers, you’re awesome. Always with a keen eye for the direction of gaming journalism, many writers here have created amazing projects centered around the skills acquired while writing here. Finally, I would like to thank Matt Broitman for making it all possible. Throughout my entire time with the site, Matt has always maintained a professional and positive attitude. Never wanting to follow trends with little long term value and always finding ways to enhance and engage gaming journalism in a meaningful way, Matt not only asked for quality work, but inspired and created it as well.