It's that time of year again! With just two weeks left in December, everyone's putting out Best Of lists before disappearing for the holidays. 2015 has been an amazing year for gaming, so I figured I'd join in with @Mageuzi and the rest of the internet and put my own list together. Without further ado, here's my best games of 2015, in no particular order.
(PC / MAC) - $15
Whenever I start to try and write about Read Only Memories, I find myself thinking of a Junot Diaz quote. "If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves."
Read Only Memories is a new cyberpunk adventure meant to serve as a spiritual successor to 16-bit point and click adventure games like Snatcher and Policenauts. It's the first game out of Midboss, the same creative team behind the GaymerX convention. As you can probably guess, this game is really gay.
And lesbian. And queer. And ethnically diverse. And sexual diverse. Read Only Memories is Midboss' attempt to prove that you can have a diverse cast and still make a great game, and I think they succeeded.
The story of the game centers around Turing, the world's first sapient robot. Their creator has gone missing, and you're their most statistically significant change of finding the lost scientist. At it's heart, Read Only Memories is a mystery game, slowly unfolding its story as it introduces you to its unique cast of characters. The game is far too concerned about the implications of sapient robots, gene-spliced hybrids, and cyborgs to dwell on the fact that your hacker contact is genderqueer. The game's diversity is never the star of the show, it's just extra flavor to help make the world come alive. As Offworld's Katherine Cross so succinctly put it, "This is a game that does not try to convince you of queer people's humanity: instead, it models it."
Read Only Memories didn't just give me a fun romp through a refreshingly optimistic cyberpunk setting, it provided a reflection of myself and my world that I rarely get to see in games. For that reason alone, it's easily my game of the year. If you're still not convinced, there's even a demo you can check out.
Rating: An Adorable Singularity / 10
(PS4 / PS3 / Vita / XBONE / PC / Mac) - $15
Final Fantasy Tactics is one of my favorite RPGs. The story is captivating, the systems are intriguing, the battles are engaging, and it is way too long. Every few years I fire up my old reliable Playstation, and never make it past the second chapter.
Chroma Squad is the cure to Final-Fantasy-Tactics-Replay syndrome. It's a grid-based tactics RPG influenced by Japanese Super Sentai shows and the Power Rangers. The games mechanics are just deep enough to keep you engaged, while staying light enough to help the game not outstay its welcome. Chroma Squad's story has a hefty heaping of meta-humor, focusing on five stunt actors opening their own TV studio. Rather than sticking with classic tropes of smithing magical swords and enchanted armors, the Chroma Squad upgrades their equipment and mecha by developing better cardboard and duct-tape technologies. In a rare feat, Chroma Squad even manages to pull off enough charm to constantly name drop its high-tier Kickstarter backers. If you're a fan of classic Tactics JRPGs or the XCOM series, Chroma Squad is an indie title worth your time.
Rating: A Self-Aware Reference / 10
(PC) - Free
Dr. L, Dat Kitty, and the Sparkly Thing came out of nowhere. I was fortunate enough to see a cool ghost in the form of @Jam_sponge tweet, "Just Played Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist. It's great, it's free, it takes 20 minutes. Do it."
There's not much more to say. This game is a short, free experience by half of the creative team behind The Stanley Parable. Anything more would be spoiling the experience. Go check it out.
Rating: Trust Me It's Worth It / 10
(PS4 / XBONE / PC) - $60
Metal Gear Solid V has one of the best engagement loops I've seen in a game in years. It allows you to scout out an enemy encampment, plan your means of attack, and carefully try to execute your strategy. If that strategy fails, the game doesn't immediately dump you into a loading screen or uninteresting fail state. Instead you're face with yet another engaging how-am-I-going-to-get-myself-out-of-this scenario as you try to escape from the enemy base with guns blazing. Despite the repetitive objectives of MGSV's primary and side missions, the gameplay remains remarkably engaging throughout every individual moment.
Kojima's last entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise honestly made it onto this list despite itself. It commits numerous sins of modern gaming. It has atrocious in-app transactions, several mechanics are tied to Skinner Box energy systems, and its views on female sexuality are shockingly regressive for a 2015 AAA title.
Despite all its flaws, Metal Gear Solid V is a game I found myself continually coming back to. If you've been a fan of the series in the past, you owe it to yourself to at least drop a few dollars on the prologue Ground Zeroes chapter.
Rating: A Diamond Doggo / 10
(Tabletop) - $25
What's this!? A card game!? You didn't think this list was just going to be about video games, did you?
Funemployed puts you and your friends in all-too-familiar the shoes of an unemployed jobseeker and a hiring manager. The job in question is provided by a black card, while the resume traits of the job seekers are provided by a hand of white cards. If this is sounding a lot like Cards Against Humanity, you're not far off.
Where Funemployed differs is how the white cards are used. Each player starts a round with four cards, and are allowed swap any number of their cards out with a central pool of ten cards in the center of the table. At the end of a round, they need to make a pitch for why they'd be a good employee using all four cards in their possession. The catch is that none of the job traits are particularly desirable. Your friends will suddenly find themselves trying to explain why they'd be a good gym coach while possessing "A Beard", "Box Wine", "Survival Skills", and "Nothing Left To Lose".
Funemployed is frequently referred to as, "Cards Against Humanity, but fun." I heartily agree, but this sentiment alone is a bit of an incomplete picture. People usually take this as a dig at Cards Against Humanity's explicit nature, but Funemployed itself boasts a "Sexual Tyrannosaurus" card. Funemployed's strength is that unlike Cards Against Humanity, it doesn't give you the punchline to the jokes. Funemployed gives you the setup for a good joke, and counts on its players to improv the rest.
For a good demonstration of this game in action, I'd check out Shut Up & Sit Down's play through with the Regular Features cast.
Rating: An Online Degree, Jazz Hands, A Cold Black Heart, and an Inability To Lie / 10
$25 on Amazon
(PC / Mac) - $10
Thanks to GameFAQs, we can now all objectively call Undertale the Best Game Ever. All kidding aside, Undertale came out of nowhere and quickly garnered an astounding amount of critical acclaim. I'm not one to disagree.
Undertale is the nearly sole creation of musician Toby Fox. It uses a classic 8-bit ascetic to tell a charming, Earthbound-like story in which no one has to die. Saying anything more is likely to delve into spoiler territory. The game's $10 and takes about 7 hours to complete fully. People are going to be talking about this game for years, and you owe it to yourself to pick it up.
One small spoiler to clue you in on how special this game is: Undertale uses its nature as a PC game to check your active processes list and discover if you're using one of the many popular screen recording apps. If it thinks you're recording or streaming your playthrough, it introduces new dialog which speaks directly to the viewer who isn't playing the game.
Undertale is insanely great. Go into it knowing as little as possible.
Rating: Go Get It / 10
(Tabletop) - $20 or $35
Michi Koro is a wonderful gateway drug into the modern board gaming scene. The rules are simple and easy to understand, while still providing a layer of strategy for players to experiment with. I've yet to have Machi Koro go over poorly with a group of friends.
In a game of Machi Koro, each player has a collection of buildings that correspond to a 1-12 number. On each player's turn, they'll roll one or two dice, and buildings with the corresponding number will activate. Buildings generally provide players coins, either by gaining them from a central bank, stealing them from other players, or through some other unique means. Finally, at the end of their turn a player is able to go shopping for a new building card to add to their collection from a central card shop.
Turns are relatively simple: A player has to decide how many dice to roll, and which card to buy. Once they start to get a hang of the rules, they can start to decide whether they want to try and go all-in on one of the statistically likely establishments like 6, 7, and 8, or if they'd like to have a more diverse selection of cards that generally guarantees them some income.
A few dominant strategies do emerge in the base game, but this is fixed in the Harbors expansion. In addition to adding a fifth player, the Harbors makes the card shop randomly generated, so players can't use the same strategy for every game. The Millionaire's Row expansion is unfortunately not as useful. It doubles the length of the game without adding any significant new mechanics. I'd recommend buying the Machi Koro base set, and then picking up a copy of The Harbors if your group constantly finds itself bringing it to the table. If Machi Koro's already got you hooked however, the Deluxe edition comes with the base game and all of the expansions in sturdy metal tin.
Rating: A Lazy Susan Card Pool / 10
$20 on Amazon
(PS4 / PC) - $20
My initial exposure to Galak-Z was at PAX Prime 2013. 17-Bit was showing off a demo for a narrative-focused side scrolling space shooter. A few months later they announced that they were switching from a handcrafted mission structure to a procedurally generated rogue-like model. Despite this shift, I was still incredibly hyped for the game. Shortly thereafter, 17-Bit went dark. Beyond a few "we're still working on it" posts, details on Galak-Z were scarce. I had a creeping suspicion that I was setting myself up for disappointment, but continued to hold out hope for this love letter to 80s sci-fi anime.
Two years later, 17-Bit broke their silence in the most amazing way possible. Galak-Z wasn't just a side scrolling space shooter. It was a side scrolling space shooter where you could transform your fighter into a giant robot. Galak-Z exceeded every expectation I had for it. The gameplay is flawless, characters are amusing, and the rogue-like elements keep things tense and engaging.
As of writing, Galak-Z's story is unfortunately still incomplete. The fifth and final chapter didn't ship with the game on its launch date, but has been promised as a free DLC. I wouldn't let the absence of this set of levels dissuade you from picking up this title however. Even with their new slightly-less-permadeath "Arcade" mode update, Galak-Z will keep you busy for a while.
Rating: Super Dimension Fighter Galak-Z: Do You Remember Love / 10
(PS4 / PC) - $20
Rocket League is my current secret shame. The premise is simple: It's soccer/football with cars. Your rocket powered, bunny hopping automobile joins five other vehicles in pushing a giant ball around an enclosed field. The controls are tight, each round lasts a short five minutes, and the cosmetic-only DLC offered by Psyonix doesn't mess with the competitive landscape. Months after this game joined PS+, I still find myself hopping on for a "quick match or two" only to look up a few hours later to realize I'm still playing. I cannot recommend this game enough.
Rating: A Completely Implausible Goal / 10
(PC) - Pay What Your Want
Lost Constellation is a unique beast. It's a game done by the same creative team behind the upcoming Night In The Woods, without being a direct demo or tie in for the game. The art style and writing is similar, but Lost Constellation is billed as a Name-Your-Own-Price "supplemental" to Night In The Woods. This one off ghost story will lead you through a mysterious folklore forest and chill you to the core. If NITW caught your eye at all, I highly recommend giving Lost Constellation a try.
Rating: Bring A Warm Blanket / 10
Name Your Own Price on Itch.io
So that's my list. I honestly didn't think it would be quite so indie focused when I sat down to start writing this. I played a decent amount of AAA Ubi-slogs this year, but none of them had as much impact on me as the games listed above. The visuals and length of indie titles might not always be able to stand up to the industry juggernauts, but they more than make up for it with their experimental gameplay mechanics, narrative themes, or simple charm. I for one am looking forward to see what games 2016 holds, (not to mention catching up on games I missed this year!)