In three weeks we’ll all be tossing back our beverage of choice and ringing in the new year, no doubt surrounded by people we can’t stand when they’re intoxicated. And with 2015 nearly in the bag, it’s almost time for our obligatory Game of the Year post! Exciting, right?
Soon we’ll be smashing our heads in to the wall, narrowing down our top games of the year, but for now, let’s focus on some of the games that might have flown under the radar. Games that we enjoyed, but may have been lost in the shadow of more popular releases. The underdogs. Unsung heroes, if you will.
Quest of Dungeons (Xbox One, PC)
Four stereotypical party members opt to send only one man in to the haunted mansion in order to restore the lantern of light. Quest of Dungeons is a roguelike turn-based dungeon crawler that’s similar to Crypt of the NecroDancer, but without the music gimmick. It looks pretty bare-bones on the surface, but the frequent loot drops, humor, and addictive nature of its randomly generated dungeon crawling kept me coming back for weeks after its release.
Grow Home (PS4, PC)
Ubisoft’s Reflections studio created this wonderfully adorable game about a clumsy robot’s adventure exploring a new world. As B.U.D., you’ll platform and glide your way to the top of a giant plant by (wait for it) growing it from the ground up. While the purpose of the game is to find plant growths and connect them to floating islands in order to generate new platforms and expand the universe, there’s a lot of charm and player connection to the world you create. You’ll grow your home differently than I will, so there’s always that sense of accomplishment. That “I built it!” attitude that makes Minecraft so unique, but with far less emphasis on actually crafting. The controls take a bit of getting used to, but there’s nothing overly complex going on. Just you, a robot, and the simple goal of growing a giant plant to reach the top of the world. It’s super affordable and something that’s easily completed in roughly 3 hours.
This vertically scrolling roguelike platformer is unique in that it was created by a sole Japanese developer (@Moppin). It’s a far departure from the usual otome (visual novels) or bullet-hell shooter Japanese indie developers are known for, and we can thank the utterly fantastic folks at Devolver Digital for bringing it to PC and mobile devices. In Downwell you control a pudgy little dude as he free falls down a well (get it?), dodging creatures and blowing shit up with his gunboots. The game is already tough as nails, requiring quick reflexes and a little bit of luck, but every playthrough is completely randomized and every death a return trip to the start screen. I’ve died more times than I can count, but Downwell is hard to put down once you get the hang of its arsenal of weapons and power-ups. Plus it’s $3 USD. Go buy it.
N++ is a challenging, minimalistic platformer with precise controls and enough user-created content to keep you busy for the next two years. It may not look like much, but its progressive difficulty never wastes an opportunity to throw as much shit at you as possible, offering a rush of accomplishment as you dodge and race your way through each level like the most badass ninja on the planet. I’ve played a lot of platformers in my day, and in terms of precision, challenge, and sense of accomplishment, few hold a candle to N++.
Shutshimi: Seriously Swole (PS4, Vita, PC)
Shutshimi is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up where you control a fish with muscles and a shotgun. Seriously. It’s unlike any shmup I’ve ever played. It’s more Wario Ware than bullet-hell, throwing you in to 10-second waves against sharks, submarines, and.. surfing butt-cheeks. Surviving a level lets you pick from three power-ups, but you only have 10 seconds to choose one of those as well. Nevermind that the developers made their descriptions purposefully verbose, so you just have to roll with the punches and hope you don’t pick something awful. Like Downwell above, it’s all about trial-and-error, learning what each power-up does, and just having fun with it. It’s as fun as it is fucking absurd.
Kero Blaster (PC)
The folks behind Cave Story bring you this 2D retro platformy shooter about a frog that fixes teleporters for Cat & Frog, Inc. It’s a love letter to every 2D platformy shooter from the NES generation, from its 8-bit graphics and floaty jumping, to its retro soundtrack and glitchy explosions. There’s even two free games that supposedly take place prior to Kero Blaster, so if your interest is piqued, why not check out Pink Hour and Pink Heaven as well. You know a game is good when Jim Sterling is having a good time.
Tembo the Badass Elephant (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Tembo the Badass Elephant is a ridiculous game that should be recognized almost solely for its absurd premise (along with being developed by Game Freak–you know, the Pokemon people). You play as an elephant dressed like Rambo who is hired by the (US?) military to take down some wicked terrorist organization. With gameplay mechanics that combine the best of Sonic the Hedgehog and Yoshi’s Island, it’s a must-have for any SNES or Sega Genesis fan. Tembo will absolutely fulfill your need for speed.
No Time to Explain (Xbox One, PC)
You from the future comes to warn you in the past about impending doom.. from you. Or something. You get a rad jetpack gun, which is used to platform around hellish levels and combat baddies. There are dinosaurs with grenade launchers, giant crabs, magnets, and all sorts of ridiculous shit that makes this game amazing. It’s hard to master, but super rewarding if you’re willing to give it a chance.
A narrative game about a teenage girl who meets and has sexual relations with a guy she meets on an MMO. Its voyeuristic approach allows us to peek in to chat logs, selfies, and more, presenting a situation that many of us can relate to that grew up at the start of the internet in the late 90s. It’s hard to go in to details without spoiling anything, and although Cibele is light on gameplay elements, it excels in its true-to-life storytelling by developer Nina Freeman.
Deer God (Xbox One, PC)
Deer God was a very unique experience for me. Maybe I was just over-analyzing the simplistic nature of the game, but the hypnotic and confusing world you interacted with felt like the perfect metaphor for life as a human. You were always given the option to go right or left in this beautiful 2D platformer, but going right felt like the only way to actually progress through the game. Sometimes it felt like you were walking forever without actually going anywhere, but then something new would appear and the world would change forever. Deer God celebrates exploration and imagination in ways I had never encountered before.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (Xbox One, PC)
Lovers is a colorful 2D game in which you pilot a giant circular spaceship, maneuver protective shields to prevent damage, and pew pew guns to eliminate baddies, all of which are controlled at different terminals. It’s chaotic and beautiful, especially if you have someone to play with on the couch. If you don’t, fear not. The game gives you a faithful dog or cat companion (awwwwww!!) that you can issue commands to. It’s a brilliant concept that adds new life to an otherwise tired genre.
Crimsonland (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
10tons’ top-down twin-stick shooter is part Smash TV, part Doom. It can be played by up to 4 players locally, where you mow down waves of monsters and paint the floor red, while unlocking a fucking RIDICULOUS amount of weapons and power-ups in the process. A dull looking game, sure, but what it lacks in style in makes up for in its addictive drip-feed reward system and frantic shooty gameplay.
Blues and Bullets: Episode 1 (Xbox One, PC)
This introductory episode to Crowd of Monsters’ new adventure series kicked off with a bang, putting players in control of the Untouchables’ Eliot Ness as he begrudgingly helps rival Al Capone track down his missing granddaughter. The monochromatic visuals are a nice touch, with bits of red thrown around that make things pop a bit more. There’s some neat detective moments mixed in with a little third-person shooting, but the episode ends just as things start to pick up. Right now there’s no word on when the second episode will release, but the title screen indicates there are at least 5 planned. I loved the writing, the visuals, and the gore, and I’ve been hungry for more since the first episode released back in August.
Titan Souls (PS4, Vita, PC)
This boss-rush game is a mix of The Legend of Zelda and Shadow of the Colossus, where a young boy must defeat menacing titans with nothing more than a single arrow. Each boss has a vulnerability to discover and exploit, meaning they can die in one hit as well, so you have to make every shot count. It’s a challenging-yet-rewarding game that I instantly fell in love with on the PS4, as few games rival Titan Souls’ thrill of victory after repeated decimation at the hands of sea creatures, gelatinous blobs, stone titans, and more.
These are all games that we’ve either played extensively, for just a little bit, or have been completely intrigued by in 2015 that you may have missed out on. Will you like them all? Probably not. But if you’re looking for something else to play outside of the big AAA releases, this list is a good place to start.
Feel free to drop your suggestions down in the comment section, and if you’ve posted a review, a video, or a write-up of any kind, definitely toss that link in there as well. Let’s celebrate the hard work of these developers and help spread the word about the unsung heroes of 2015!