And now for the final part of the BOOTY Awards, with 99% less humor! Here, I've named my favorite games from 2015, as well as the game that disappointed the most. Plus, predictions for 2016 and a recap of my predictions from last year. Were my predictions close? Does anybody care? Let's find out!
ANTI GAME OF THE YEAR AWARD
Last year I gave out an award called the anti game of the year, without elaborating on it at all. This year, I've decided to make it a full award to be given out with my favorite games. My pick for anti game of 2015 is unfortunately Halo 5. I hate to Halo 5 this award considering I gave it to Destiny last year, but no other game let me down so much. I have to give props to 343 for really nailing the gameplay, because Halo 5 is probably the best-playing game in the series. It just feels so dang good to run around and shoot stuff. The way they balanced the new spartan abilities, with each having a strength and weakness so none are exploited, was well thought out. It was obvious a lot of testing went into making the game play well. Sadly, the same level of attention wasn't put into any other aspects of the game other than the sound. The sound effects are top notch and the score was, thankfully, a massive improvement over Halo 4.
But now, the reasons why this game deserves to be my least favorite game of the year. At the core of the problem is basically the fact that 343 strung us along by making the game seem like something it wasn't. It was advertised as having an epic campaign with dual perspectives that reveals why the Master Chief has gone rogue. Again, Microsoft did a superb job marketing this game with an excellent audio drama and mysterious ads that left us begging for answers. Why was the Chief being hunted? Had he really let innocent people die? What were the guardians and why were they waking up? We got answers to these, kind of, but the game wasn't even close the mysterious and personal story we were pitched. Instead, we spend a mere three levels as Chief and his team, the first of which is completely pointless from a narrative standpoint. The rest of the game is spent as Locke's team as they travel all over the cosmos doing intergalactic chores for the UNSC or the Swords of Sanghelios. The bigger picture (which actually plays out in the background) is a comic book caliber tale that completely negates the ending of Halo 4 and, surprisingly, isn't even as interesting as Locke's exploits with the Arbiter. At the very least, it has the possibility of being a good setup for Halo 6, if 343 can execute on it.
This fuckin' guy!
But it's not just the story that sucked. The levels sucked too. The game plays great, but the missions are pretty terrible. They consist of going down a linear path to kill all the enemies to progress to the next linear path to kill all the enemies. I honestly cannot even fathom how this game, proclaimed to be the biggest Halo experience yet, works the Xbox One so hard that they can't pull of split screen. A lot of these stages are very tiny! There's some verticality, but it's not like there are massive, destructible battlefields with hundreds of AI allies and enemies fighting at once while intense dogfights take place overhead. Instead, you'll find yourself shooting guys in such exciting locations as a cave, a bridge, and a freight elevator. How is it that Halo: Combat Evolved, a game released over 14 years ago, was bigger, more open ended, and more feature-packed than this?
Then, of course there is the multiplayer. It's fun! It's the most fun I've had with a Halo game online since Halo 3. But it's also kind of broken and very lacking in variety. The game launched with only a few maps and game modes, some of which are pretty broken with terrible respawn points and bad lighting. Most upsetting of all, though, is that 343 lied to us once again about this content. The game technically shipped with over 20 maps. It actually shipped with six real arena maps. The rest of the maps were mode exclusive (for breakout or warzone), created in forge, or "remixes" of the six existing maps that use similar assets and geometry. One of the forge maps was so badly designed, it was removed a couple of weeks after the game launched because of fan complaints. And of the six warzone maps, three are just smaller versions of the other ones. But wait! There was a promise that all the DLC for the game would be free. Over 18 new maps! Again, an outright lie. Big Team Battle came and the six maps available currently were all made in forge by community members. Remember, these maps that anyone could make on their own in forge are being passed off as free DLC. The arena maps so far have been more remixes, with no indication that it'll change in the future. So far, the only real map released was a single warzone map called Battle of Noctus. Did I mention that the non-forge maps that exist lack the beauty and creativity of previous Halo games, even Halo 4? I'm not sure what the hell happened, but they are generic and unimaginative now.
I can go on and on about this, but at least REQs are cool and forge (once it was released) is great. So here's hoping they go back to the drawing board for Halo 6 by keeping the gameplay and throwing out everything else.
TOP FIVE SIX GAMES OF 2015
In 2014 I could only come up with a mere four games that really impressed me. This year, I have six. I guess that makes up for it?
Reasons why this game was unlikely to make this list:
But against all odds, not only is Steven Universe: Attack the Light a great licensed game, and a great mobile game, it's a great game. Period. What its greatness basically boils down to is it being designed specifically around being played on touch screens. The game itself is an RPG in the style of Mario RPGs, where you time your button presses (or taps, in this case) to execute offensive and defensive maneuvers. So the first thing they did right was a tap-based combat system.
The second thing they did right was swipe to move. Instead of a virtual d-pad, the game worlds are split into screens (like the original Zelda) that you can navigate between simply by swiping in one of four directions to move between them, and interacting with things by tapping on them. Of course, this means that encountering enemies will automatically initiate a battle, yet this somehow feels more fair than random encounters to me.
The game actually uses the same character models as the show does when the characters are in the distance!
The rest is pretty standard fare. Each of your four characters can be leveled up and gain new abilities, there's a stamina system for attacks that depletes every turn, badges can be unlocked and equipped for passive bonuses, and items and be used in and out of battle. It sounds pretty run-of-the mill except that it's a game made for cell phones that feels like, at least, a 3DS or Vita game. And it has controls that work. And it makes great use of the Steven Universe source material. Other recent cartoons, like Adventure Time, Regular Show, and Gravity Falls, have had tie-in games made for the 3DS that aren't half as well made as this.
Steven Universe: Attack the Light has impressed me by being the best mobile game I've ever played. For something you play on your phone or tablet, it goes above and beyond.
It's a miracle I even like this game at all, let alone liking it so much it's my fifth favorite game of the year. See, I thought the original Xenoblade Chronicles was rad. It had a cool concept and a cool world and unique gameplay for a JRPG. But I sucked at it. I mean sucked at it. I got so decimated after venturing into the first cave that I gave up after a number of tries. I simply could not get my head around the combat system. It was like if you wrapped the complexity of a typical MMO with the complexity of your typical JRPG and then deep fried it.
There's... a lot going on here.
It's weird, then, that I like Xenoblade Chronicles X, the most complicated game ever made. I mean, they might as well have just called the game Micromanagement Chronicles X because you can literally micromanage every aspect of this game. I hate it when RPGs force you to manage your party. I hate RPG combat that revolves around waiting for cooldowns. I hate open world RPGs that stifle exploration by blocking your path with high level enemies. But I love Xenoblade Chronicles X. It's an enigma. Something about the game just clicked with me. I understand the combat and find it fun. I like running and jumping around the world. I even like the hoops you jump through to get a mech. Here is a game that allows you invest in arms manufactures so you get access to better equipment, requires you to buy mech insurance, and has a damn affinity chart to keep track of character relationships. It's overwhelming, but fascinatingly so. It's the most realistic unrealistic game I think I've ever played.
The world is great, the gameplay is great, the soundtrack is great, the story is not so great but it doesn't even matter. Something deep in the back of my mind had me excited for this game for years and I guess that little mind thing was right this whole time. The game may be complex, but when I get into the rhythm of combat and my team is working together to take down a 40 ft epic beast, none of that matters.
The year of implausibility continues. I hate sports games and I hate playing online with strangers, but I love Rocket League. Turns out you can get me to like sports when you make it soccer with rocket-powered cars. Rocket League is also interesting in that it's a game I never even heard of until it was handed to me for free. Then, for a little while, it became an obsession. I feel like Rocket League is a game that's pretty accessible to anybody, especially people like me that usually suck. I'm not sure it's possible to be good at it. You can be better than some folks, perhaps, but the crazy car physics paired with the crazy ball physics introduces an unpredictability that makes people flop around like idiots and completely miss the ball. But when you get that one perfect, lucky hit... well, that joy is the reason we play games in the first place.
The kind of shot you're unlikely to ever make.
Not much else to say about this game except that it's damn fun. Any game that can get me to not only want to play online but not want to stop playing online has got to be doing something right.
I've used a lot of level creation tools in my time, but none are easier or more intuitive than Super Mario Maker. Not only does it make creating and sharing your own levels fun, but it provides infinite replayability with infinite stages. The focus on only on thing (making Mario stages) means that the tools are so easy to master, some mind-meltingly creative things can be done.
Horrific nightmares may await!
And I have to say, this is one of the most inspiring games I've ever played. Seeing others star or comment on your stages is very motivating, and playing other's stages can be downright inspiring. Be it garbage or greatness, there's always something to learn. Mario Maker is fun, yes, but it's more than that. It's a communal experience. Beyond playing stages, creating and sharing in Mario Maker is its own "thing". I think, maybe, that this is an aspect often overlooked. It's cool to play the Mario challenge with a fresh set of levels every time. And it's fun to hunt around looking for hidden gems of stages. But it's the interaction this game instigates that really makes is special. Mario Maker brings people together, whether it's watching crazy runs or exchanging stages. It gets people talking, creating, and sharing experiences. Super Mario Maker is not just a game or a tool. Super Mario Maker is a platform for comraderie.
Before Splatoon released, Nintendo held a stress test and opened the game up to everybody for a little while. I played it, loved it, and immediately wanted more. Splatoon, like Rocket League, has got me playing online with randos. It's a game I find to be more cooperative than competitive because I feel like, even though I'm usually terrible at online shooters, I always have something to contribute. I may be bad at shooting dudes, but I can definitely shoot the floor! It is the perfect game for me because it is absolutely the most Nintendo take on a genre that there ever was. Nintendo's games are always focused on you having a great time, so of course it shows here. But the byproduct of that is a level of creativity that other developers often lack. Some may criticize Nintendo for being too "kiddy" but I think the restrictions they put on themselves drive that imagination and innovation. Splatoon is an excellent example of this.
Will you be a kid... or a squid?
Take, for example, the surprise single player offering that turned out to be pretty excellent. It may not have been the longest campaign, but each stage used the game's unique hooks to great effect with some wonderfully inspired platforming. I was surprised, actually, just how enjoyable this aspect of the game was since Nintendo was pushing the multiplayer so hard. But it was an extremely enjoyable experience for me full of that trademark Nintendo charm. And once I finished with that, it was off to shoot the ground in multiplayer. Even though the game only shipped with a few maps and modes, the core experience was so fun that it kept me going. But Nintendo didn't just call it a day! The drip-feed of content for the next seven months helped the game to stay fresh.
Nintendo (finally) took a gamble on a new IP and it payed off.
To say The Witcher 3 is an excellent RPG would be the understatement. In fact, it's no overstatement to say that The Witcher 3 is one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Perhaps the greatest ever. It very rarely falters. I guess the menus could be better or the quests could be more diverse. But none of the game's minor issues make it any less riveting. The combat is great, yes. The music is incredible. The leveling system is unique and interesting. All the standard RPG staples are done well here. But there is one area where The Witcher 3 really excels. There is one that makes the game worth playing even during your 100th footprint investigation. The writing.
The Witcher 3's world is vast and intricate, teeming with life in places that feel lived in and with epic beasts roaming the untamed wilds. No matter what you're doing in The Witcher 3, it's always interesting because the world is so well-built. And it helps, of course, that you're not playing as a no-name hero of destiny. You're just a man. A professional, enchanted man, but a man nonetheless. You're not the chosen hero. In fact, you're often reviled. You play as someone with an honest-to-goodness personality on his own personal quest. Yes, there are other RPGs that do this, but it's the thought put into the world and the interactions that Geralt has with everyone he meets that make this one special. The cast of characters are complex and feel alive, while the choices you make can have massive impacts on the world as a whole.
Novigrad is probably the greatest RPG city ever crafted.
Ever since Fable in 2004, I've been dreaming of the day when a 3rd person action RPG would be released that had fun combat and an unforgettable world. No matter what I'm doing in The Witcher 3, be it hunting epic beasts, solving a mystery, or just playing cards, I'm always having a blast. It's a world I just don't want to tear myself away from until I've explored every area, talked to every person, and hunted every monster. I am thankful The Witcher 3 exists. There may never be another RPG like it.
Best PS4 Game preditction: Tearaway Unfolded
Best PS4 Game winner: Bloodborne
I totally broke my own rule here by proclaiming Tearaway would win, since it doesn't even qualify. Had it been released for the first time in 2015 it definitely would have won, though.
Best Xbox One Game prediction: Halo 5
Best Xbox One Game winner: Halo 5
I called this, probably by virtue of nothing much else releasing for the system. That's also why it's simultaneously a best and worst game.
Best 3DS Game prediction: something unannounced
Best 3DS Game winner: Code Name S.T.E.A.M.
Unfortunately for 3DS last year, Nintendo didn't announce and release any amazing surprise games. Happy Home Designer and Chibi Robo aren't exactly award worthy.
Best Wii U Game prediction: Yoshi's Woolly World
Best Wii U Game winner: Super Mario Maker
Not a bad call here. I didn't quite expect Mario Maker to be as involved as it was at the time. Yoshi is a great game, though. Oh, and by the way, just because Splatoon was ranked higher overall doesn't mean I can't say Mario Maker wasn't my favorite Wii U game. My list, my rules.
Best Download-Only (indie) Game prediction: Night in the Woods
Best Indie Game winner: Rocket League
First of all, I decided that since indie games are download-only anyway, I'd just call it the indie award. Second, I thought for sure Night in the Woods would come out in 2015, which is why I picked it. Third, I literally never heard of Rocket League until it showed up for free in my PS+ queue.
Top Five Predicted Winners:
Well, I got number one correct anyway. It was going to be my 2014 pick before it got delayed, so I automatically made it my top choice for 2015. Batman was a big 'ol disappointment for being too much of the same and adding the Batmobile what, honestly, wan't too fun. Splatoon is indeed on my list, but moved up. Halo 5 turned out to be my anti-game of the year, so that wasn't even close. Finally, once again, I screwed up with Tearaway which didn't even qualify. I guess I wasn't quite sure if it was a remake or a remaining or what. Turns out, it's not quite different enough to warrant being considered a new game. Lastly, I added a sixth game which I didn't even expect to do.
2016 PREDICTED WINNERS
Best PS4 Game: Horizon: Zero Dawn
PS4 has a great year ahead with exclusives like Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted 4, Detroit: Being Human, Nier: Atomata, Wild, Gravity Daze 2, The Last Guardian, and the aforementioned Horizon. Ultimately, Horizon has me the most excited. Although, honestly, Nier could sneak up and take it. It is Platinum, after all.
Best Xbox One Game: Quantum Break
The Xbox lineup for this year is considerably more sparse, with only three games confirmed to have a nebulous 2016 release date. Though Crackdown 3 and Gears 4 have potential, Quantum Break already looks great. Plus, it has an actual firm release date.
Best 3DS Game: Fire Emblem Fates
Which one? Considering they ought to be one game with a branching story, who knows. But I feel confident this game (these games?) will be great. 2016 looks like a much more exciting year for the 3DS.
Best Wii U Game: Zelda
The Wii U looks like it's actually going to have a pretty great year too. Of the confirmed games, Zelda will probably be the best one. We've not seen much of it, but Zeldas are usually good and this one looks like a step up in terms of depth.
Best Indie Game: No Man's Sky
I feel like this year will be the year of indies. It seems like many of the games that have been long-anticipated will finally be finished and released in 2016. Among them is No Man's Sky, which has a soft release date of June. It could be pushed back, but it's got a decent six month window to work with so I'm pretty sure it'll come out this year. Oh, and it looks pretty damn incredible. It's a close call between this and Yooka-Laylee, but the latter has an estimated October release that could easily slip into 2017. And, although I'm sure it'll be platforming heaven, No Man's Sky has some incredible innovation behind it.
Top Six Picks:
Since 2016 looks like it's even more packed with incredible games than 2015 was, I'm going to stay with six games rather than five. Who knows, one day it might even grow to ten.
Talk about difficult choices! I once said that No Man's Sky would be game of the year whichever year it came out, so I'm sticking to my word. My number two pick is based on the assumption that Final Fantasy XV will come out in 2016. Considering they said it would be out before 2017, that leaves only one year. Yooka-Laylee is undoubtedly going to be amazing and I'm sure will be one of my favorites. But now this is where things get messy. There are a lot of games I'm looking forward to, and I tried to pick just three based on what I know of them so far and the legacies behind them. Horizon looks like a fantastic new IP. I almost went with Quantum Break because that looks fascinating, but I'm not yet sure if the shooty gameplay will entertain or disappoint. The Last Guardian is in the fifth spot because I haven't seen much of it, but its predecessors are amazing. Finally, there's Zelda Wii U which is meant to take a page from the Link Between Worlds book. I'm usually a fan of 3D Zeldas and that sounds great to me!
Games that almost made the list but I bumped off and may regret: Quantum Break, Doom, and Deus Ex Mankind Divided. I'm sure there will also be a few surprise games released this year, like Fallout 4 did last year.
And that's it! Thanks for reading, and see you next year!