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: April!
April marked a milestone for the creators of Mortal Kombat. It was time to release the tenth game in the marquee fighting game series, with NetherRealm expanding on the scope of the previous MK game in a huge way. There were a couple of other notable new releases to hit this month, including an experimental side story in the Assassin's Creed series and conclusion of Double Fine's crowdfunded adventure, Broken Age. The rest of the month in new releases was largely defined by some experimental indie games, some of which exercised some bold new ideas.
Mortal Kombat X
Mortal Kombat X turned out to be a milestone effort in more ways than one. On top of celebrating the series' tenth game, NetherRealm expanded on many of the aspects of the previous game. That includes the variety of the fighters themselves, with NetherRealm offer three different variations for each character. That means new twists and fewer mirror encounters. Kombatants also borrowed some elements from sister series Injustice: Gods Among Us and introduced interactive stages for the first time.
In terms of story, the rebooted Mortal Kombat narrative fast-forwarded 25 years, continuing to put the focus on Johnny Cage and his new (broken) family. A new generation of fighters was introduced, including Cassie Cage, Jacqueline Briggs, and Kung Jin, all with their own unique styles and brash personalities. Along with a grittier story, Mortal Kombat X turned up the violence quotient tremendously, offering some of the most realistic-looking Fatalities in series history. NetherRealm proved once again that nobody blended intuitive fighting and over-the-top violence quite like the originators.
From our review: The new characters, stages, and gory Fatalities all maintain the same Mortal Kombat feel we've come to expect since the previous game. Variations give characters more flexibility and dimension, while the interactive stages play as much into fighting strategies as combos and special moves. There might not be any Friendships involved, but this is Mortal Kombat at its bloody best, and it's a blast to to tear opponents open.
Double Fine spent much of 2014 building anticipation for the future, but that didn't exactly make for an exciting present. Finally, 2015 saw some projects come to fruition. Shortly following the release of Grim Fandango Remastered, it was finally time for the second half of Broken Age to see the light of day.
Broken Age: Act II turned the first act's narrative on its head, taking the characters and the settings that players grew familiar with and switching them around. The idea was for Vella and Shay to deal with the fallout of their respective stories and find their way to their respective homes, while also getting to the bottom of the barbaric rituals that had been calling for maiden virgins. As the plot thickened, the Double Fine humor remained just as it was, with some cleverly-written jokes and hilarious wordplay. Broken Age ended somewhat abruptly, but the ride was well worth taking.
From our review: As a whole, Broken Age pulls off its duality motif wonderfully. Not only are Shay and Vella's stories interesting reflections of themselves, but Part 1 and Part 2 as a whole are practically reflections of themselves, as well. They're two parts of a tale that should be experienced together as a whole, especially since the game only offers the briefest of recaps when starting Part 2. Broken Age was a long time coming, but it's a story that was worth the wait for all players and not just the game's Kickstarter backers.
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China
For the most part, the Assassin's Creed series has pretty much replaced Prince of Persia for Ubisoft. When taking that into account, it made some sense that Ubisoft would further take the series into the Prince's territory by exploring its 2D roots. Hence, here's Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China, the AC series' first jump into 2.5D adventure. And the result is a unique experience that's quite unlike anything in the main set of games.
For one thing, the stealth design changes slightly in 2D, with players getting a view of guards' sight lines. Hiding places become essential and players need to avoid getting sloppy, because it's easy to attract an enemy's attention and get them poking around. In addition to well-designed stealth sequences, Chronicles also offers up an entirely new theater, with a distinctly fresh art style. Rather than go with a contemporary art style, Chronicles utilizes something more reminiscent of a living painting.
Chronicles offers up something uniquely different, enough to entice even those that have tired of the main line of AC titles. Not much was revealed about the next two games in this side series until just this morning, but China was a good start to this whole new trilogy.
From our review: Despite its issues, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China is one of the most entertaining experiences I've had from the series in a while. I wasn't a big fan of last year's releases of Rogue and Unity, which both look a lot better than they play. It's nice to take a break from the increasingly convoluted plot of the main storyline with a straightforward tale of revenge set in a historic corner of the world that often doesn't get a lot of attention in Western video games. This might not be the Assassin's Creed players asked for, but it's one that I'm thankful to have.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
One usually knows what to expect out of a dungeon crawler, but Crypt of the Necrodancer added a special ingredient: rhythm. Yes, the idea of this game was to proceed through dungeons by keeping up with the music's beat. Failing to do so would mean certain doom, banishing players to start from scratch and head into a new procedurally-generated dungeon.
Not only was Crypt of the Necrodancer one of the most creative premises to release this year, but developer Brace Yourself Games added a staggering amount of replay value to it by introducing power-ups, dungeon secrets, and even the ability to add custom soundtracks to completely change how the game is played. It's a wild experiment and one that largely succeeds.
From our review: Crypt of the NecroDancer is a fast paced dungeon crawler that brilliantly blends rhythm based mechanics into a chimeric roguelike that can entertain you for hours. If you manage to master the music you will be rewarded with engaging combat, a plethora of items to use and an addictive adventure that you can sink your teeth into. However if the beat breaks you down then this game is nothing more than a heartache.
The idea of playing as Power Rangers sounds pretty cool. But what happens when the concept breaks the fourth wall, becoming aware of its existence as a television show? The result is Chroma Squad, an intriguing RPG from the folks at Behold Studios.
The idea of Chroma Squad wasn't so much to save the world, but to create a cool-looking TV show that made it look like five heroes were saving the world. That led to a neat mechanic that revolved more around picking up professional-looking set pieces and insurance for the stunt people working these shows. The ultimate goal was to bring together a devoted audience, offering something of a window into how television marketing campaigns work. It's a strange idea, but one that's executed very well.
From our review: When my final season of Chroma Squad came to an end, I found myself completely enamoured with all of the work Behold Studios put into it. From the constant breaking of the fourth wall, to the bosses that felt like they’d actually be included in an episode of Power Rangers, like a boxing cardboard box or a Teletubbie-like character called TV Teddy. Chromas Squad scratches both my nostalgia and strategy RPG itch in places that have long been left unscratched, and it's a game I hope Behold Studios has plans to make more of.
HAL Laboratories is mostly known for a certain pink puffball, but April saw the developer try out a whole new game, one that was more about simplicity and basic puzzle solving. There was nothing overly complex about BoxBoy, right down to its visuals that would have fit in right at home on the old Game Boy systems, yet its simplicity and characters made for something uniquely charming.
The main idea of BoxBoy is simply to extend the box-like title character's body to create bridges, platforms, and even shields to move him across tricky puzzle chambers to get to the end. While it looks easy on the surface, HAL quickly manages to introduce some trickier mechanics, like door switches and lasers to up the challenge level.
Like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse before it, BoxBoy will likely wind up being another underappreciated effort from HAL. But its devotion to simple challenge and satisfying solution deserves as much praise as any other complex effort to release this year.
From our review: That's really the highest praise I can pay to BoxBoy. It expresses such a purity of design that it captures that breezy magic that defined Nintendo's golden era. It's a game that revolves around play and discovery, and it does it so well it doesn't need to rely on the company's well-loved stable of characters. This debut is so good, Qbby may become one himself.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
To this point, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D remains the lone New 3DS XL exclusive game released. There's a good reason for that. It features some amazingly complex RPG systems, some amazingly detailed worlds, and a massive amount of depth. Those that didn't pick up a New 3DS XL couldn't play this one, but those that did got a lengthy, satisfying adventure, one that proved to be a mere appetizer for what Nintendo and Monolith Soft would serve up later in the year.
Kerbal Space Program
After a lengthy stay in Steam Early Access, developer Squad finally pulled the trigger on the big 1.0 release for Kerbal Space Program. The final product wound up going far beyond a mere space sim, offering limitless possibilities for exploration and journeys that tested any space traveler's knowledge and penchant for micromanagement. Designed with an impeccable sense of physics and the most adorable creatures aching to leap into the cosmos, Kerbal Space Program is a difficult game to get into, particularly because of its reliance on science and its strict punishments for being even hair off in your calculations. But that's space travel in a nutshell. It's supposed to be difficult and that's why it feels like that much more of an accomplishment when you manage to successfully get a vessel out of the Earth's atmosphere. That's worth popping champagne over if you're a little green creature.
Affordable Space Adventures
To this day, Nintendo's greatest challenge for the Wii U continues to be finding a good use for the Wii U GamePad. Leave it to the indie gaming community to help find the answer. KnapNok Games and Nicalis joined forces to create Affordable Space Adventures, a Metroidvania-style adventure in the depths of space that would see players controlling a space jalopy. With many of its capabilities disabled, the idea was to manage the ship's systems through the GamePad, being careful to manage certain elements of the ship to help proceed through tricky puzzles. It was a novel use of the Wii U's controller and one of the more creative games to hit Nintendo's console this year.
I Am Bread
Bizarre simulators are starting to become more commonplace, but the creators of Surgeon Simulator had quite a strange one in mind for players in April. I Am Bread put players in the
roll role of a piece of bread, on a quest to become toast. The control scheme was as unique as the game's premise, with players controlling corners of the bread to get around the house. Pretty soon, players were able to tackle different control schemes by playing around with different types of bread, like crackers and croissants. The idea was weird, but I Am Bread turned out to be a great-tasting treat, especially once Bossa Studios started introducing more DLC and some delightful crossover content with fellow gaming oddity Goat Simulator.
Magicka: Wizard Wars
While the Magicka series has mainly been around venturing around in a dungeon-crawling, RPG style world, Wizard Wars took a bit of a different turn. This was more of a free-to-play multiplayer battle arena, introducing more of a competitive slant to the series. Many of the familiar Magicka elements are present, like the arcane skills tied to four keys, and it actually works fairly well in a competitive environment. There are only a few modes, but Wizard Wars doesn't strive to be anything overly deep. It's simply the traditional Magicka action, but with a much more intense setting.
Join us at Shacknews as we continue our look through the year 2015, month-by-month. Coming up next, does anyone dare stand against Geralt of Rivia?
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, The Games of 2015 in Review: April
Man Mortal Kombat kinda felt like it came and went with no fan-fare. At least compared to MK9, but then again not big on fighting games so I don't keep up much with how it was received.
EVO 2015 main stage peak viewer counts
• Ultra Street Fighter 4 - 248,663
• Super Smash Bros. Melee - 211,393
• Mortal Kombat X - 190,535
• Ultimate Marvel versus Capcom 3 - 177,057
• Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- - 131,337