The Best Games of 6 Years Ago: 2015
This is part 2 of a series I started yesterday. Back then I said that clever readers might notice that 2011 wasn't 10 years ago, and today I'll say that clever readers might notice that I'm doing 6 years ago today even though I said this series would be 1, 5, and 10 years. What's up with that?
I can't count, that's what. I wrote this whole damn post for 2015 and only then realized that it wasn't actually five years ago at all. Some of it is also because I started writing this post as the oldest top 10 I still have a record of before changing it to 1/5/10, but yeah, subtraction. It's hard.
So, having said that and also having looked at my list for 2020, I'm going to do 10, 6, and 5 years ago this year and only 10 and 5 in future years. The change in this year is because I've already written the one for 2015 and want to do something with it, and the change in future years is because I don't think my opinions from one year ago really change enough for it to be worth a post.
That out of the way, if now that you've exhausted all of the good games in the 2011 time machine, what should you play from 2015? Have I ever got 10 games for you!
Gonna need a lot of de-wormer for this one
10. Titan Souls (originally played 4/15/2015, PC/PS4/Vita/Android)
The first game by Death's Door developers Acid Nerve and the origin of a lot of the ideas that made that game succeed. TS is a series of boss fights in which both you and the massive monster you're squaring off against die in one hit, but you only have one (reusable) arrow and figuring out when and where to fire the lethal shot can be quite a challenge.
It hardly has a story at all and the atmosphere was a long way behind DD, but this game can still deliver some incredible moments when you finally take down a titan on your tenth try.
Ghost of a ghost in a machine
Then: Shadowrun: Hong Kong (originally played 1/4/2016, PC)
Hong Kong and Dragonfall, released a year earlier, were effectively rethemes of 2013's Shadowrun Returns, a classic-style CRPG set in a tabletop RPG universe that wanted cyberpunk but couldn't let go of the dwarves and orcs. Returns barely had a story or characters, but the latter games basically made it into early BioWare fare (think Neverwinter Nights) while changing the setting from Seattle to Berlin and Hong Kong. Some critics at the time said it'd be a new classic to stand with the best of BioWare.
As you might guess from the fact I felt the need to tell you what this is, that is not how popular opinion of it panned out. I remember this game having a genuinely cool setting and a horror expansion that I really need to play, but I can't tell you the first thing about the plot or characters, and the gaming community at large seems to have forgotten it entirely.
Leaving the bomb alone in the room is not an option
9. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (11/18/2015, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)
If this list was based solely on creativity, this might be #1. One player is tasked with interacting with arcane modules on a bomb while other players (although ideally just one) need to read a manual to figure out what steps will safely deactivate the explosive. The catch, of course, is that the bomb player can't see the manual and the manual players can't see the bomb. Success requires careful communication to make sure each side is being descriptive enough, but you also need to be quick so that the timer doesn't kill you.
It's basically Hot Wheels
Then: Rocket League (8/31/2015, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)
I played a ton of this when it first came out before eventually remembering that I don't like competitive online multiplayer that much. RL is really fun when you've got perfectly balanced teams that can reliably play close matches, but online you get a lot of blowouts one way or the other and pretty quickly reach a point on the ladder where you need to commit real time to the game and learn how to fly if you want to keep playing. I just wanted a silly soccer game, so even though this game is still very popular today, I've hardly ever gone back since 2015. That, and it became something of a microtransaction fest over time.
Lavoisier was just a tax collector in this universe
8. Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea (PC/PS3/PS4/Vita/Switch)
I don't actually know when I first played this game since I never finished it, but that's not too much of a knock against its quality. While it got a little too grindy at the end for my tastes, the gameplay until then is quite solid, and it was when the series finally abandoned limited-use items and let you make inexplicably reusable bombs. That freed up your resources to be even more creative with the crafting system, which created a virtuous cycle of making better items to reach better quality ingredients and make even better items.
How To Use Bullets Efficiently
Then: Assault Android Cactus (9/23/2015, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)
A twin-stick co-op shooter that I didn't actually beat until a few years later, but that I was pretty much instantly in love with. It makes heavy use of transforming stages to make its small stages feel dynamic, has a fantastic soundtrack from Jeff van Dyck, and eventually added a whole bunch of silly unlockable modes like first person and big head. I am surprised both that it wasn't higher on this list and that it didn't quite make my top 100.
Thankfully, this post is about revising that 2015 list. You might just see this one again in a few entries.
I just had to trot this one out
7. Aviary Attorney (3/6/2018, PC/Switch)
Cowardly game developers were too afraid to ask the important questions for many yeas, but Aviary Attorney eventually had the courage to stand up and shout "What if Phoenix Wright was a bird and also the games took place during the French Revolution?" The answer, coincidentally, is that you'd have Aviary Attorney, a game in which you are a bird who defends other animal clients from certain death at the hand of animal French courts. It is stupid, but it knows exactly how stupid it is and lands the great majority of its jokes. I took years to play it because someone told me it wasn't good. That person was wrong.
Careful not to accidentally Press Jay-Z
Then: Why Am I Dead At Sea? (12/28/2015, #62, PC)
A game in which you are a ghost of someone who has died at sea and must solve the mystery of what's up with that. How do you do that as a ghost? By possessing the other passengers on the ship and using their unique relationships and abilities to gather clues, of course. And also some light mind reading.
It's another game with a killer OST (from Bill Kiley this time) and it's got pixel art to match. It isn't actually much like Zero Escape in any concrete way, but it's always given me a similar feeling, and it was a shoo-in for a game I'd love given that. This isn't even its final form.
Gravity-assisted on ramp
6. Cities: Skylines (4/2/2015, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)
This might look like a modern version of Sim City, but it is actually a traffic simulator. Yes, you can build all sorts of neat cities, but those cities will have people, and those people will drive cars. Those cars will get stuck in traffic jams on your poorly planned roads, which will make you want to redo the roads so that the cars go faster. But once the cars are going faster, they'll attract more cars, and eventually they'll all be stuck again. It's a hamster wheel of traffic optimization that is either incredibly addicting or a personal definition of hell depending on who you are.
There is no better time to use a strange device than in active combat
Then: The Amber Throne (9/15/2015, PC)
I thought this would be one of favorite RPGs ever when I first finished it, and then it had already dropped to merely being #6 of the year by the time I posted this list in February 2016. Since then, I have forgotten everything about it other than that it has amazing hand drawn art, the soundtrack isn't actually very good, and the combat made me lose interest pretty quickly on subsequent attempts to replay it. I think the story was solid, but even if it was, this isn't really the description of the sixth best game of a year.
Falcom read "arts & crafts" in an English phrasebook and stuck with it
5. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (2/2/2016, #89, PC/PS3/PS4/Vita/Switch)
I finished this game the day before I published the list, I think, and while you'll soon see that that resulted in a bit of rank inflation, this game has at least had enough staying power that it's still on my top 100. I greatly appreciate its take on the Persona formula that isn't just another derivative Japanese high school story. More than that, I love that it has an introverted character (Fie) whose arc isn't about "curing" her. Even if not all of the characters are very interesting (coughElliotcough), it does a good job of portraying a diverse set of personalities without paving over any of them.
And it definitely would have been higher back in 2015 - some of the reason for the fall is that Cold Steel III was extremely disappointing and Persona 5 eventually reminded me that, while this series does a great job of re-imagining Atlus' style of social JRPG, there's not really a competition for which series is better.
If you put your statue in the sea, no one can tell that you can't carve feet
Then: Sunless Sea (2/22/2015, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)
Man, Sunless Sea came along at the perfect time for me. It's an incredibly slow paced game about sailing back and forth on an eldritch sea and piecing together bits of very well written lore that don't, and aren't mean to, ever form a cohesive overall narrative. It took me 52 hours to reach an ending, and that included probably a solid 15 of doing nothing but sailing the same route over and over again to smuggle bottled sunshine from the surface and get rich enough to buy fancy boats. I was in college at the time and had frequent period where I had 30 minutes to an hour with nothing better to do, so getting some Sunless Sea on was a perfect fit.
For my money, there has never been a better exploration game and there might never be one. If you want a sandbox full of secrets that will constantly surprise you, there is no better option. Alas, finding those secrets is about as time consuming as actually getting on a boat and discovering new lands yourself. Some day I'll be retired and have the time to play this properly again.
Now you're seeing double
4. Why Am I Dead At Sea? (12/28/2015, #62, PC)
I told you that wasn't its final form.
Oooh, a shiny Stantler
Then: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (6/8/2015, #3, PC/PS4/PS5/XBO/XSX/Switch)
Alright, so we're probably not likely to see a clearer example of me being biased towards games I just finished than having originally ranked a game lower on my 2015 list than I did on my all time list. Is there a good case for NieR: Automata actually being my #3 of all time, and did TW3's two expansions greatly boost my opinion of it? Yes and yes, but also this ranking was clearly wrong even at the time.
Everyone knows what this game is and I've talked about it at length here already, so I'm not going to comment further other than to say come on, self. You knew better than this.
Insert a pun about circles and/or spirals here
3. Assault Android Cactus (9/23/2015, PC/PS4/XBO/Switch)
This looks like the biggest increase in rank for a game I'd played in 2015, but that honor actually goes to Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, which went from the secret rank of #15 to #9. Going from #8 to #3 is still quite impressive, though.
Move Without Rhythm
Then: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (2/2/2016, #89, PC/PS3/PS4/Vita/Switch)
Interestingly, this is the only game that has gone down in rank while still remaining in the top 10.
No force in the universe is stronger than disco
2. Yakuza 0 (3/3/2018, #33, PC/PS4/XBO)
I started writing this list based on a separate list of games I'd finished from 2015, which apparently included this game based on its Japanese release date. That's not normally what I use for GotY lists, but I didn't discover this flaw until just now and really can't be arsed to go back and fix everything that would change if this was ineligible, so in a twist worthy of the Yakuza series, it has overcome the fact that it shouldn't really be eligible to be the #2 game of the year.
Anyway, it tells an extremely serious story about trying to be an honorable person while living in an inherently bad underworld. It is also a game in which you can spend hours dancing or singing karaoke and will also take breaks to complete quests about retrieving stolen copies of Dragon Quest. The shift in tone really shouldn't work, but it's honestly because of how dissonant it all is that Yakuza really succeeds.
Dancing in the moonlight
Then: Ori and the Blind Forest (1/29/2016, PC/XBO/Switch)
The lack of a top 100 rank and finish date makes this look like an extreme case of recency bias, but it didn't miss my top 100 by much, and if I'd made that list a year earlier before playing both the sequel that didn't really click with me and Hollow Knight, I think this would've had a fairly high spot on that list. Ori is a beautiful and extremely well-designed platformer. It might not be my #2 game of 2015 anymore, but I wouldn't fault anyone for ranking it there or even as #1. Unfortunately, my former #1 game has not aged quite as gracefully.
You can't possibly expect a second pun here if the DK Rap was the best I could do for the writeup
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (6/8/2015, #3, PC/PS4/PS5/XBO/XSX/Switch)
He's the leader of the bunch, you know him well
He's finally back to clear a dell
His silver sword can slash in spurts
If he stabs ya, it's gonna hurt!
He's bigger, faster, and stronger too
He's the first member of the Geralt crew!
Look at this photograph/Everytime it makes me remember that this game exists
Then: Life is Strange (10/19/2015, PC/PS4/XBO)
I don't know if any game, other than maybe Borderlands 2, has fallen as much in my estimation as LiS. I don't actively dislike it now, unlike Gearbox's mess of a shooter, but my reaction for several months after finishing it was that it might be my favorite game ever, and now it didn't even come close to being in my top 100. I think it's just fine.
What happened? A lot of it was oversaturation from parts of the internet that were obsessed with it, which eventually made me start thinking past the handful of great moments it has and start looking at the rest of it. There's some awful dialogue here that can't be explained away with "that's how teens talk", and while it's ostensibly a game about choices, it's clear that you're not really meant to make some of them. Large parts of it feel like filler that don't really add anything to the plot, and it doesn't always approach serious issues in ways that are particularly plausible. All of that combined adds up to a game I don't really think about anymore. I haven't been interested in playing any of the sequels beyond trying the demo/prologue for LiS2, which I gave up on after 20 minutes.
So I got this one pretty damn wrong, but interestingly, something similar seems to have happened for a lot of people with The Walking Dead. That was touted as an all-time classic back when it came out, and now I've hardly even heard it mentioned in several years. Must be something about episodic games.
So that's 2015. Six of the original games are no longer on my list at all, and the remaining 4 all changed position. Hopefully my other years have fared the test of time a little better.