With the year half-finished, it's time to look back at the first six months of 2015 and gather together the five best games to emerge from it so far. To start off, I'll offer up a disclaimer. I have not had the pleasure of playing through The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. To some, this will cause them to throw my picks right out the window. No worries, I am eventually hitting that playthrough and will have it well in consideration for the big year-end list at the end. But in the meantime, here are my picks for Top 5 Games of the Mid-Year.
It's the most contentious debate that no one saw coming. Are you a kid? Or are you a squid?
Splatoon is one of the most pleasant surprises to emerge on any platform, taking the team-based FPS genre and re-imagining it with some interesting new ideas. The focus isn't so much on killing, but more on territory control with ink-based weaponry. The shooting mechanics are easy to grasp (even if it is more fun to pick up a Roller and just plow straight ahead), while the idea of changing forms to move quickly and replenish supply is one of the coolest twists I've seen in this type of game in a while.
And just by its mere premise, Splatoon is one of the most colorful games of the year. It's a joy to look at, whether it's watching the splotches across each stage or the random graffiti that pops up all over the place. Nintendo is doing a great job in providing free post-release content, which ensures that the splatterfest will continue well into the summer months.
Mortal Kombat X
Netherrealm did a fantastic job in reviving Mortal Kombat for a new generation back in 2011, but Mortal Kombat X represents the modern pinnacle of the series. Not only does it offer a healthy mix of old and new characters, but introducing three different fighting styles with their own special moves and characteristics is one of the best ideas to grace a fighting game in ages. It pretty much ensures that even mirror matches will offer something different, with fights rarely becoming repetitive.
Then there's the wealth of content. Playing through multiplayer becomes even more worthwhile when earning additional coins for the Krypt, which include a slew of extras. There are even different ways to play these modes, thanks to King of the Hill, Tower Battle, and even Faction warfare that offers up different ways to compete with fellow MKX players. In spite of some unfortunate missteps, Mortal Kombat X is still the best the series has had to offer in decades, truly cementing itself as the best alternative to fellow fighting game staple Street Fighter.
There's a reason why there's so much antipathy towards the upcoming Metroid Prime Federation Force. There's so much fondness for Metroid and for Samus' adventures and those date back to her original outing... as well as her far superior 1994 effort, Super Metroid. The Super NES classic is so beloved that it's inspired an entire generation of developers, perhaps none moreso than Thomas Happ.
Had Happ simply stuck to the exact Super Metroid formula that so many people grew up with, his game would still have received positive marks. But Axiom Verge goes beyond a simple homage to Super Metroid. With hidden weapons, a glitch mechanic, and massive worlds filled with secret areas to explore, Axiom Verge stands out in a league of its own. As a love letter to the Metroidvania genre, it succeeds in spades, but this is a game that more than stands on its own merits, as well.
Heroes of the Storm
Getting into the MOBA world was a tall task, albeit a necessary one if I was going to respectfully call myself any kind of video game writer. But no game made the task feel smoother than Heroes of the Storm, with its friendly early game tutorials and its variety of characters, each with their own distinct difficulty level.
That's not to say it isn't complex, but Heroes definitely carries a high degree of depth. But while teamwork and the right allocation of talents and skills are important, they're not the most important aspect of this game. Blizzard has put a lot of time into the game's battlegrounds and ensuring that each of them has distinct qualities that require subtle shifts in strategies. Having to account for these maps and their features is an amazing idea and one that keeps me coming back to Heroes whenever possible. It's an idea that Blizzard is continuing to run with as the Eternal Conflict update is deployed and one that I hope to see expand further in the future.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Perhaps no game this year has touched me more than Ori and the Blind Forest. Its Disney-like opening scene strikes at the heart with soul-crushing tragedy, setting up its themes of life, renewal, and nature. Nothing conveys these themes more than the backdrops, beautifully drawn by the talented people at Moon Studios. While games like LIMBO captured imaginations for its use of shadows, Ori went the other way by fully utilizing the forest setting and its natural luminescence.
Of course, those expecting a simple art showcase will be caught off-guard when they encounter one of the most deceptively difficult games in recent memory. Ori is hard and it practically takes joy in some of the more brutal sequences found in the latter half of the game. Some of these puzzle-platforming sequences are downright devious, requiring patience and precision. But what makes Ori truly brilliant is its save system that allows players to earn the right to save anywhere. Knowing when to save is key and it truly helps this game maintain the balance between its brutal difficulty and its accessibility.
It's going to take a lot to toppe Ori as the best game of the year, though Geralt and Batman are looking to be strong contenders. It'll be interesting to re-visit this conversation again in December.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Top Games of 2015 (So Far): Ozzie Mejia
Hooray for Splatoon! Ozzie bringing back the faith.