Friday, January 1, 2016

Top 5 Games of 2015

#5) Shadows of the Damned: Labeled as “a Suda51 trip”, Shadows of the Damned continues Goichi Suda’s legacy of grindhouse style, wacky humor, and exhilarating action. Demon Hunter Garcia Hotspur pursues his girlfriend’s soul after it is taken to the depths of hell, and squares off against a host of sadistic and twisted foes, armed with three different firearms that all handle quite differently but pack an oh-so-satisfying punch. Much of the game’s best banter results from Garcia’s edgy coolness and his transforming weapon/guide/friend Johnson. Shadows of the Damned isn’t afraid to experiment, throwing in bowling and pachinko minigames, a turret sniping section, and a couple of horizontal shoot-‘em-up sequences. Shadows of the Damned also delivers one of the freshest visions of hell seen in a video game in quite some time, with impossible spaces and outlandish visions of locations that could easily appear in the real world, were it not for the fire lake below a rock bridge or the hazy blue and black sky above.

#4) Fast Racing Neo: That hole left by the many years without a new F-Zero-style game has finally been filled, thanks to Fast Racing Neo, one of the most buttery-smooth futuristic arcade racing titles I’ve ever had the pleasure of engaging at blazing speeds. Fast Racing Neo lives up to its name, and doesn’t shy away from throwing a ‘trial by fire’ at players – even the most frustrating series of crashes play into the learning curve. Fast Racing Neo is hardly unfair, shying away from ‘rubber band’ catch up effects with opponent racer A.I., but it does add a welcome spin on the established genre by requiring players to shift between two colors in order to maximize boost strips. This is a game all about course memorization and careful timing of turns and boosts. And what a sight to behold those courses are, as your hovercraft zips by vibrant colors and chrome structures at an almost-always-perfect 60 frames per second. Aside from controlling as wonderfully as anyone could hope of a spiritual successor to F-Zero, the game is easily one of the best looking titles on any console this generation.

#3) Splatoon: The freshest IP on the block this year, Splatoon is a stylish and colorful team-based shooter that opts for cooperation in covering the map in neon shades of orange, green, blue, and pink over racking up kills against opponents. The weapons are wonderfully inventive, and while each player will find their preferred Roller, Charge Rifle, or – yes – even Bucket, each loadout is surprisingly well-balanced. The lack of a voice chat is actually to the game’s benefit, as objectives are straightforward, and maps are never too large to lose track of your relative location. Every inch of this game oozes style, from its downtown Tokyo-inspired hubworld, to its Jet Set Radio-influenced soundtrack. Splatoon is a great game for players new and old to jump into, and it’s easy to sink a few hours at a time, whether it’s the objective-based ranked game types, or standard Turf Wars.

#2) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: The final Metal Gear title to be led by Hideo Kojima, The Phantom Pain is set in the 1980s, and fills in some of the last remaining pieces of the series’ lore. Plenty of familiar faces show up, including Ocelot and Kazuhira Miller, while the villainous Skull Face and his powerful Metal Gear stand at the center of all the conflicts Snake and the Mother Base soldiers will take on. The Phantom Pain boasts what is easily the most slick and enjoyable gameplay in the entire series, as well as among the majority of the games released within the past year. The two major maps Snake is left to explore are expansive, and there is plenty of room to experiment with some of the game’s wackier offerings, like Fulton balloon recovery, the prosthetic Rocket Arm, and the less-than-stealthy robotic D-Walker. The story, however sparse it may be, is impactful and tense when it comes into play, and paints a terrifyingly convincing case for how and why Snake and his brothers-in-arms would come to be recognized as villains many years after they were hailed as heroes. Unfortunately, the greatest weakness facing The Phantom Pain is that it is simply an incomplete game – there is one major plot point left hanging that throws a bit of a wrench in the entire series, and while footage has since revealed what was meant to be delivered in this final mission, its absence having been replaced by retreads of previous missions certainly stings.

#1) Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: One of the best spin-off titles of any well-established series I have encountered to date, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a love letter to fans of the series. It may lack the depth of Persona 3 and 4’s Social Links, and the dungeon-crawling may bear a striking resemblance to the Etrian Odyssey series. Still, Persona Q offers a complex system of fusing new Personas as you level up, as well as a well-rounded cast of characters to build your party. Each dungeon is masterfully crafted, offering greatly varied puzzles, enemies, and aesthetics as the story progresses. The final hours of the game are both challenging and incredibly rewarding, while the 60+ hours you will spend getting there is an absolute joy, and makes Persona Q one of the strongest entries into the 3DS library to date.

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