3 January 2016

My favourite games of 2015

Which video games did I enjoy most over the last twelve months?

5. 3D Gunstar Heroes (3DS)

Gunstar is one of the great classic side scrolling shooters, loved for its expressive, zany artwork and constant explosions. I was a fan before, and this 3DS port didn't disappoint. The extra options, such as being able to switch between fixed and free shot mid-action, make it feel more of a casual romp.

4. Azure Striker Gunvolt (3DS)

Disappointingly, this arrived in Europe over seven months after the North American release. That aside, it's a competent side scroller; the tagging and Flashfield add a unique twist. Even near the end of my first play though, I didn't expect to like Gunvolt so much. But I kept coming back, hooked on levelling up equipment. Eventually you can buy a power up that lets you fly, and by that point I was really adept at fighting with the Flashfield and could zip through stages with confidence. The tone of the game isn't quite my cup of tea, but I respect it's consistency.

3. Gunman Clive 2 (3DS)

The first Gunman Clive was decent, but the sequel blew through my expectations: it's a much more polished package. At a micro level, the gameplay is slowed to a manageable pace which allows it to demand exacting precision, while at a macro level the stages are consistently varied: two regular stages, then a boss, then a ‘vehicle’ stage. Other modern aspects of the design I like include the minimal fanfare and smooth flow between levels, and the minimal fuss over losing — without a break in the music you restart the level immediately. The soundtrack is catchy, and the art style classy. Also, I can have no complaints about mine carts on dinosaurs with antigravity. Thank you Bertil Hörberg.

2. Bayonetta (Wii U)

I finally picked up a Wii U at the beginning of December. I had heard Bayonetta 2 was fantastic, and if you're going to play both start with the first because going back to it after 2 may be rough. This may be the worst of the two, but it's nevertheless really, really excellent. It's utterly ridiculous in the best possible way, from high heels with guns attached to riding a motorbike up a launching space rocket. Hideki Kamiya and team picked their themes and stuck with them all the way.

And to think Bayonetta 2 is going to be even better.

1. Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows (3DS)

Shovel Knight was my favourite game of 2014, and with the Plague Knight expansion it takes the crown for a second year in a row. The sense of progression is empowering. I started by struggling to clear the first level, and now I've embraced the madness: flying high and hurling lightning, bouncing off walls towards pits seemingly uncontrollably then saving it at the last instant. So much fun.


Honourable mentions

Shadow of the Colossus (PS3)

No other video game leaves me with such mixed impressions. Sometimes it's really exciting, moving, intriguing and unusual; then bits are not obvious to the point of needing a walkthrough, tedious, frustrating or just not fun. A poorly executed masterpiece.

Her Story (iPad)

Is this a game? I don't think so, but it doesn't matter. This is engrossing, surprising storytelling. It's certainly novel.

Definitely play it through properly first, then if you want to watch everything in order download the app using iTunes on a computer and unzip the .ipa.

Splatoon (Wii U)

I didn't include Splatoon in my top 5 because I feel I've barely scratched the surface. I'm at level 10 and there's a tremendous amount of fun still to be had. Nintendo nailed the tone and personality: all aspects of the game come together with a coherent voice.