Shacknews is preparing to release its selections for 2015 Game of the Year. Before we get to the staff's selections, Shacknews is taking a look back at the past 12 months in video games, spotlighting a handful of major releases, including a few that readers may perhaps like to include in their own personal GOTY conversations. Next up: March!
March saw major new releases come left and right, but these weren't games that one would find on a retail shelf. These were digital games, mostly coming from indie game developers, some of which were fortunate enough to have some publisher backing. It's always nice to see that a publisher believes in a small studio's vision enough to give it a push and it's led to some truly memorable gaming experiences in this month, whether it's a young sprite wandering a treacherous forest, a scientist wandering an alien world, or just giving players the tools needed to build their own city. Oh, and there was also...
Yes, while this was the month for fantastic indie games to take center stage, there was one other mainstream effort that captivated anyone aching to scratch their itch for total masochism. Bloodborne takes all of the masochistic elements of the Dark Souls series and adds in a healthy amount of fear to the formula. Everything is mysterious, everything is dark, and most importantly, everything is frightening and it led to one of the best PlayStation 4 exclusives to that point.
But much like From Software's Souls games, there's a sense of progress that gradually sets in. The monsters start to become less scary, less intimidating, the more players not only grasp the surroundings they're in, but also make their character more powerful. Soon, the frights of Bloodborne aren't so intimidating. Soon, players are able to explore more of Yharnam and reach the end of Bloodborne's long adventure, having conquered their fears and mastered the demons attempting to kill them.
Then the final boss arrives and you can only breathe a sigh of despair.
From our review: Aside from the technical hiccups, Bloodborne is an experience that isn’t for the weak or impatient. You’re going to die a lot and become extremely frustrated more often than not. I can say Bloodborne is an experience that I will never forget as its combat mechanics, especially its transforming main weapons, helped me to adapt to the task at hand and I will gladly continue adventuring through in order to witness everything Bloodborne has to offer.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Truly one of the most awe-inspiring games to hit this year, Ori and the Blind Forest from Moon Studios is a gorgeous piece of work that features some of the most detailed and beautiful environments seen in a platformer in years. But behind all of its visual flair is one of the most challenging platformers to see the light of day, requiring players to exercise sheer precision to survive to the next area, where a deviously dangerous puzzle would await.
Meanwhile, Ori's Soul Link system organically introduces a limited save state system that would reduce much of the game's frustration factor, removing a lot of the filler and letting players go straight to that confounding area that would provide the challenge of the moment. It's a brilliant mechanic and one that only encourages players to keep on trying, in hopes of reaching the game's cinematic conclusion.
From our review: Ori and the Blind Forest is excellently crafted, both artistically and mechanically. It's the single-most beautiful game I've seen in 2015, with fluid, hand-painted beauty that comes off as a painting come to life. With deep mechanics like the Soul Link system and Ori's myriad of unlockable abilities, as well as cleverly-crafted puzzles that put the user's mind to work, Ori is also a challenging piece of work and one that's worth racking your brain over.
Imitation will always be the sincerest form of flattery. The fact that Tom Happ was able to build a Super Metroid homage from scratch is a remarkable feat in itself, especially when one witnesses the size and scope of his alien world. It's a truly massive piece of work and once that's even more remarkable when finding all the secret areas and hidden bonuses that are lingering with each sector.
What makes Axiom Verge its own game, however, is the game's arsenal, including the ability to exploit the crazy glitches that make up the world. Playing around with this mechanic and using it to open new areas and possibilities is an incredible experience, one that revels in Tom Happ's Metroid fandom while also making Axiom Verge stand out as its own incredible game.
From our review: Axiom Verge does a phenomenal job of not only paying homage to some of the greatest games of the past, but also of crafting its own identity in the process. It doesn't just pay respects to the greats. It deserves its own place alongside them.
SimCity is still something of a sore subject for fans of city-builders. The potential was certainly there, but it was bogged down by crippling limitations. Cities: Skylines takes the ball that EA and Maxis dropped and runs with it in a big way, offering the kind of wide scope that was sorely needed in a game of this type. With an intuitive interface, players can build virtually any city that comes to mind, with new set pieces becoming available as a city's population increases.
There's also one crucial area that Colossal Order succeeds where its competitor fails: mods. There are so many mod options and they're all easy to implement. That gives Cities: Skylines almost infinite replay value, whether it offers the means to optimize the game's shortcomings or build a truly imaginative metropolis. All players needed were the tools and Cities: Skylines provides them in spades.
From our review: There's something almost meditative about playing a city planning game like Cities: Skylines. It comes from the satisfaction of watching a well-planned city in action, with the constant thrum of traffic, and its residents doing daily routines like clockwork. However, getting there and becoming the perfect mayor requires know-how and strategy. Although Cities: Skylines gives you the tools you need to build the city of your dreams, it lacks instruction for properly utilizing them.
Pillars of Eternity
Crowdfunding has become a valuable tool for game developers and there's nothing better than when that investment pays off in the form of a truly great game. Obsidian Entertainment had a vision of bringing forth a classic adventure in the vein of Baldur's Gate, but simply needed the capital to do so. Fans delivered, and so did Obsidian. Pillars of Eternity is a marvelous modern take on this type of adventure, while also offering enough of the classic elements that makes this feel like a spiritual successor to those old adventure games of the early 90s.
Not only does Pillars of Eternity give RPG fans an abundance of systems to manage, while throwing in capable real-time combat, but it largely improves on those systems with a few modern tweaks. The ability to switch to a new target without input may not seem like a big deal, but it turned out to be huge towards the latter half of the game. But more than that, Obsidian put together a fantastic story and fully-fleshed out characters, with even seemingly-inconsequential NPCs getting full-blown backstories.
Not every crowdfunding effort is successful, but Obsidian has become one of the models for how to make the concept work. Pillars of Eternity is a triumph.
From our review: Pillars of Eternity excels at bringing the look and feel of the Infinity Engine games to the modern world in an expertly written story that’s worth sitting through for over 70 hours. Honestly, it's one of the best RPGs I've ever played.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
For anyone that played the original Hotline Miami, Wrong Number was an excruciating wait. Finally, the game was released in March and offered up more of the same Hotline Miami action that made the original such a hit.
Of course, whether "more of the same" is a good thing is a matter of perspective. The major complaint with Wrong Number was the hope for something of a deeper experience and not just a glorified expansion. However, fans of the original were simply happy to get to bust some heads in a new environment. It wasn't quite "polarizing," but it certainly led to some interesting discussions and differences of opinion. But Wrong Number does retain one major element that made the first one so great. It still required strategy and planning that almost never went as intended, leading to some incredible anecdotes to tell friends.
From our review: But if you're looking for a game that provides a nice challenge, and you don't mind the trippy story, Hotline Miami 2 is a good way to go. In it, I busted through a door, knocked a gunman to the ground, threw glass bottle that killed his partner, bashed the gunman's head in, stole his gun, then killed someone else with it by shooting through a window. Those are moments that make you stand up and take notice. There's definitely a thrill in figuring out how to efficiently complete levels with big combo points. That thrill just happens to be decorated with a ton of 8-bit carnage.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M.
Here's something you don't see everyday from Nintendo. It's an XCOM-style strategy game, putting players in a steampunk-powered 19th century. The idea of Abraham Lincoln heading up a secret organization fighting aliens is a wild one on its own, but STEAM has enough behind its premise to make it a perfectly capable RTS. The steam mechanic, in particular, is a brilliant one and leads to some truly tense clashes with the alien menace.
Well, it was a good idea on paper. Take the Battlefield formula and make it more like a police drama. Unfortunately, Battlefield Hardline had a laughably cliche campaign and its multiplayer offerings were shallow, especially when compared to DICE, which was still pumping out quality content for Battlefield 4. There's still potential in the "cops and robbers" idea, but without anything substantial behind it, Hardline was quickly relegated to a desk job.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
To many Final Fantasy fans, this is otherwise known as "The game that came with Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae." That's largely because Type-0 HD wasn't anything to get very excited about, with ho-hum graphics, some clunky mechanics, and the worst camera work this side of the Nintendo 64 era. This is without even mentioning the story, which goes completely off the rails by about the halfway point.
Mario Party 10
At this point, there isn't much left to say about the Mario Party games. The board game formula is what it is, so much so that even Super Smash Bros. was able to tack something like it on back in November. But Mario Party 10 does have one cool new feature in the form of Bowser Party. Bowser Party adds some hilarious tension and gives one player a chance to mess around with friends and try to trip them up at every opportunity. This mode is worth trying at least once and does a lot to make up for the usual Party mode and the totally uninspired Amiibo mode.
Paperbound was the latest to try and capitalize on the local multiplayer renaissance and brought along a unique premise. The idea was to run around on a 2D plane and try to slice and dice opponents, with the twist being that players could mess around with gravity to go from the floor to the ceiling (and vice-versa) in an instant. The result is some amazing hilarity, even if the premise isn't quite deep enough to necessarily warrant repeated sessions.
OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood
This hasn't been the best year for skating games. (I'm looking at you, Tony Hawk!) But OlliOlli is starting to come into its own as the retro answer to skating games as they should be. The advancements are minimal, adding grinds and manuals, but the formula is still introduces some satisfying complexity. Nailing combos is not easy, but OlliOlli 2 continues to present them in a way that pulling them off feels like an accomplishment. Add some new locations and OlliOlli 2 is a fine successor to the original game.
Join us at Shacknews as we continue our look through the year 2015, month-by-month. Coming up next... GET OVER HERE!
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, The Games of 2015 in Review: March
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