I have a profound love for console gaming. There's something hypnotic about sitting in front of the television, controller in hand, reacting to the world unfolding before me with mere twitches of my fingers. Yet for 2015, computer games ruled the roost. Not just computer games, either: indie games. And not just indie games: low cost indie games. With two exceptions, all the games on this list are regularly available for under $10 on Steam and that's an incredible thing. We're now at a point where most computers can handle this level of indie gaming, so everyone can have access to a transformative gaming experience.
Here are the 10 best games of 2015.
10. Spooky's House of Jump Scares
Spooky's House of Jump Scares is a randomly-generated endurance horror game. You play as a visitor to a fabled haunted house where no one walks out alive. Spooky herself greets you at the door, challenging you to get through all 1000 rooms alive. The first few are easy--it's all cheesy dark ride pop outs and noises. Then the experiments start to take over and you're trapped in an increasingly mad world where your only choice is to keep walking forward. It's one of the scariest games I've ever played.
9. LEGO Dimensions
This is the only console-exclusive game on the list. LEGO Dimensions is the next logical evolution of the LEGO video game enterprise. Essentially, you put together a ragtag team of LEGO figures from all different pop culture worlds who you build out of actual LEGOs onto a reactive character base. You also build vehicles for them. The base game has a lot of replayability with its story world and access to The LEGO Movie, The Lord of the Rings, and DC Comics universes. To get even more content, you pick up character, level, and vehicle packs that add onto the story and open up more playground areas. The platforming and graphics are better than ever. I can only describe the experience as maddening childhood glee, for who wouldn't want to make the Wicked Witch of the West ride around atop K9 from Doctor Who to fight The Joker in a mashup world of Gotham and Metropolis?
2015 was a huge year for games involving troubling personal narrative. Disorder is a game about coming to terms with a childhood defined by depression. It is a platformer where the goal is to reclaim your marbles so you can rebuild your life narrative through scraps in a journal. To accomplish this, you switch between optimistic and pessimistic views of the world. Each world has its own level of decay, danger, and interaction, and each version of a key event offers different lines in your journal. If you don't regain your marbles, you can still move on, but you won't get the full experience of the heart-wrenching journal entries that organize the narrative strands into a cohesive story.
7. Life is Strange
Life is Strange is the second game from Dontnod Entertainment, creators of the gorgeous sci-fi dystopia of memory manipulation Remember Me. Like Remember Me, you control a young female protagonist who can manipulate events around her. Chloe can rewind time and try out different interactions to determine the optimal route in her troublesome teenage life. See, Chloe returns to her Twin Peaks-like Washington town to discover her former best friend is the only person left looking for a girl who mysteriously disappeared. The pair reconnect and rebuild their relationship as the world rapidly slips out of their control. Life is Strange is an episodic release hinged on Neo-Realism despite the clear sci-fi gameplay conceit.
Cibele is an autobiographical narrative game from Star Maid Games. It is inspired by developer Nina Freeman's own experience falling in and out of love with a young man through an RPG game. You jump through different points in Cybele's life, exploring her experience through e-mail, photography, notes, and gameplay. Then you log into the game within the game and the mechanics change. Instead of a point and click narrative, you are actually playing levels in a pastel RPG while chatting with your could-be sweetheart, answering e-mail, and balancing your expectations with the reality of the physical world. It's a beautiful, emotional game with a surprising amount of depth. The status of the relationship is reflected in the ever-changing mechanics of the RPG game, which leads to short FMV sequences where Cibele decides how best to interact with her beau outside of the game. There's really never been a game quite like Cibele before and I can only hope more people take the lead and experiment with this kind of layered personal narrative.
5. Mini Metro
Meet my new randomly generated obsession Mini Metro. Mini Metro is a puzzle/strategy game about efficiently creating a subway system in major cities around the world. Blue tubes are water, white shapes with black lines are stations you need to connect, and the colored lines are the different train lines you earn through efficiency. Make too many people wait and your subway goes under. The game is simple to play and impossible to master. There will always be more people, more stops, and ever-dwindling resources to satisfy everyone. The daily challenge and three gameplay modes add enough variety to keep coming back to Mini Metro obsessively for a long time.
4. Ori and the Blind Forest
I like games that make me feel feelings. Ori and the Blind Forest had me uncontrollably sobbing in the first 10 minutes. I don't even want to spoil the plot at all since it's that good. Suffice it to say that you are a white sprite travelling through some beautiful and deadly landscapes in every color of the rainbow. It is the hardest game on my Top 10 of 2015, but never frustrating. It's a fair challenge with options on how to get through the insane maze of forest surrounding you.
3. The Park
The Park is a walking simulator/horror/adventure game. You play a mother searching for her lost child in a theme park with a dark history. To progress, you have to ride every ride you encounter. And as you have those encounters, you learn all about the witch, the boogeyman, the serial killer, and the Lovecraftian terrors that await visitors to The Park. You get out what you put into this game, and I fully committed to finding every scrap of evidence I could to leave me sleepless after playing.
2. Her Story
Speaking of experimental narrative games, Her Story is easily the most original game on the list. It's an FMV mystery game where you search a criminal database computer to piece together footage from a woman's various interviews with police. Her husband went missing, and her story keeps changing. So you input search terms like "job," "money," or "credit card" and see what videos pop up. You can save them however you choose, though it's best to use a pen and paper to keep track of all the clues and secrets, NES adventure style. Viva Seifert gives one of the best acting performances in any medium in 2015 in the chopped up 5-60 second videos of her answering police questions. You don't even get to hear the questions; you just hear her answers and hopefully piece together the evidence through her ever-changing story.
1. Crypt of the NecroDancer
Anyone who has seen my YouTube or Twitch knew this was coming. Crypt of the NecroDancer is a rhythm/adventure rogue-like. You play as one of 10 original characters with their own spin on move and attack to the beat. You have four levels of dungeon to go through, each with its own mini boss, before you finally get to face off against the titular NecroDancer. Aside from being an extremely tight and challenging gameplay experience, Crypt of the NecroDancer takes the top spot for narrative and diversity, as well. The main story mode is told through three generations of women in the same family. The game features four female characters, four male characters, one non-binary character, and one monster meant to be an almost-impossible challenge. Brace Yourself Games clearly gets that if dragons, living treasure chests, and harpies can exist in your universe, so can a diverse cast of different genders, races, and ages. The most challenging human characters to play are a senior citizen (Aria), a non-binary black person (Bolt), and an Asian monk (Monk). Each character's play style and rules creates a vastly different experience, as do the three full variations on the score to the game. Crypt of the NecroDancer is an experience unlike any other in modern gaming.