2015 Game of the Year Awards (2016 Edition)

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We’re over five months since the flood of Game of the Year posts marked the end of 2015, but I didn’t have this blog at that time. I figured, why not take a look at the previous year and reflect on my ten favorite games. It’s worth noting that the placements comes from a list I created in late December and posted on my personal Giant Bomb profile. If I were making this list today, #10 would be in a better spot.

GOTY 16 Fallout 4

Somebody explain why the whole settlement aspect of Fallout 4 is so bad. The basic idea of using all the random junk found in the wasteland to create new items for your settlement is incredible — post-apocalyptic Minecraft-meets-The Sims, if you will — but the execution is clumsy at best. Everything is explained so poorly, while the interface is mediocre. Considering the potential, what we got is disappointing.

The rest of Fallout 4 is fun, if a bit too similar from its predecessor. The first-person combat is improved, and despite the complaints the game received when it was unveiled, I’m okay with how it looks. I mean, this is Bethesda. Neither Fallout 3 nor any Elder Scrolls has wowed in the whole looks department.

GOTY 16 Guitar Hero Live

GHTV is the smartest thing to come out of Guitar Hero since the original introduced that toy-like plastic instrument, and easily outshines the new 6-button controller. It provides a constant flow of programmed music that doesn’t require any money to play, although does reward players with coins. Use those coins to buy “Plays,” to play whatever song in GHTV’s music library (separate from the on-disk songs). It’s a great attempt to draw in consumers who aren’t enough into these games to buy songs as DLC.

Of course, I’m not one of those people, so having a limited supply of Plays to perform my favorite songs over and over is disappointing. Why not offer the choice between the one-time Plays or buying as DLC? It doesn’t help that the on-disk song selection is weak, and that the full-motion concert footage is, at best, silly. The new guitar is a welcome change that better emulates playing chords than the traditional 5-button plastic guitar, but you’re losing the sensation of moving up and down the guitar’s neck.

Guitar Hero Live isn’t always great, but it’s different. That’s more important, especially with Rock Band 4 offering the “same old.”

GOTY 16 Yoshi's Woolly World

Of course, it doesn’t help that Yoshi’s Island is such a phenomenal game, so matching that level quality is a daunting task for anyone. Developer Good-Feel has come the closest with Yoshi’s Woolly World, starting with the adorable yarn aesthetic and fun soundtrack. Levels regularly introduce new elements, ensuring that this isn’t just a repackaging of content from Yoshi’s Island, and although the creativity isn’t up there with the aforementioned original game or stray wildly from the established gameplay, it’s a platformer worth playing.

GOTY 16 Xenoblade Chronicles X

The idea of being dumped onto an uncharted world to explore is an exciting one, and Xenoblade Chronicles X offers just that. The remains of humanity were ingloriously dumped on the planet Mira with little idea of the threats awaiting them, and Chronicles X is happy to toss players into that same world with minimal tutorials. Those who complain endlessly about how long Twilight Princess holds your hand will be happy to find little of those frustrations here.

What a pretty world Mira is. Befitting a planet ready to be explored, Mira is beautifully alien with stunning landscapes unlike anything found on Earth, and crawling with animals both small and massive. Contrast this from the many open-world games that tosses nondescript forests and generic towns, and expects us to investigate their bland playground.

I didn’t get terribly far, but I anticipate my return visit to Mira. There’s plenty more views to take in.

GOTY 16 Persona 4 Dancing All Night

I don’t import game soundtracks. I imported Persona 4’s soundtrack. A music/rhythm game composed of many of those same tracks? Yes, thank you. And a new story with the characters I’ve grown to love? Absolutely. Who cares if there’s a little dialogue? These guys and gals are great!

Well, the gameplay is on the simple side, and the story is rather weak (saving an idol group through the power of dancing doesn’t make for the best fiction, I suppose), but I’m happy to stick with quickplay and get progressively better at this fantastic collection of original and remixed songs. Naturally, not every song is a winner, but the good stuff easily outnumbers the bad.

Which I have on my iPod because a 2-CD soundtrack came with the deluxe edition. And I don’t intend to remove it anytime soon.

GOTY 16 SteinsGate

Don’t know about this game? That’s alright. I don’t expect many keeps tabs on visual novels released for Vita. It’s a great story, though. If you don’t enjoy reading, Stein;Gate’s anime adaptation is phenomenal. Regardless of how you experience the story of Rintaro Okabe, the scientist who believes he’s a mad genius named Kyoma Hooin and accidentally creates a time machine, I strongly recommend it.

Because we’re talking about a visual novel, Steins;Gate offers plenty of text, providing info not included in the anime. Think of this as the novel that was later adapted to film. It’s simply impossible to fit the same wealth of info from a book into the film, and that holds true here. It also means that there isn’t a game in this game. It’s just reading. Any meaningful decisions are saved towards the end.

Still, I loved the story. The anime is comparatively brisk, but you’re also losing details available in the visual novel. Whatever format, give Steins;Gate a try.

GOTY 16 Super Paper Mario

How did Nintendo manage to pull off Super Mario Maker? For a company that still struggles with the supposed complexities of a damn online friend’s list, they designed a level creator so simple that anyone can use it. Better yet, it encourages experimentation from the moment you add wings to, well, almost everything. What else can I combine? Bowser and a mushroom? Koopa in a boot? Bowser, having grown larger with a mushroom, in a boot with a koopa on his head?

How can these be used to create interesting levels? Booted koopas falling from the sky. No, Bowser falling from the sky. And Mario gets the boot, but has to steal it from a koopa. Use the koopa shells to knock out Bowser, and then having Mario cross spiked platforms using the boots. Super Mario Maker shows the difficulty in creating fun and fair levels.

Unfortunately, that latter word — fair — is forgotten too often, but that’s the trouble with levels created by anyone. Tons of levels are cheap, lack imagination, or both. And then there’s the “don’t touch the controller” levels. While impressive the first handful of times, I found myself sighing as I placed the Wii U controller aside. If I want to watch Mario, I will jump onto Twitch, so actually put thought into a level instead of following the on-screen Mario “ghost” to see where the player will land without moving.

GOTY 16 Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain

Give me an objective and drop me into a wide area to finish my objective however I please. That’s been my dream for stealth games, but hasn’t been a reality until The Phantom Pain. It doesn’t matter that I’m still dozens of missions from the finish because I just enjoy running through a base, knocking out a few fools, and doing whatever needs to be done. Sure, I’ll likely be caught, but it’s a minor wrinkle that’s easily taken care of.

The Phantom Pain is an outstanding finale for Hideo Kojima’s involvement with Metal Gear, and a hell of a bar for any future stealth games. If only returning to the main base wasn’t so annoying, but it must be done. My soldiers get into fights without me to keep them in order, which involves knocking out a bunch of them. Fortunately, and strangely, they’re more than happy to be my punching bag.

GOTY 16 Rock Band 4

Not much has changed with Rock Band 4 since creating this list in late December. I have more — but not all — of my previously purchased DLC available. Characters have a few more costume options, and a considerable number of bugs are squashed with many left to go. The biggest requested features — expanded character creator and online — won’t be available until much later in the year. There’s little question that Rock Band 3 is still the superior game.

So why can’t I stop playing?

Because playing the drums is still tons of fun. Because the new Brutal mode offers a fun, challenging twist. Because I don’t care about many of the features that other fans desire. Online? Pff, I don’t pay for Xbox Live anymore. All I want is to play tracks from the AC/DC Live track pack again, but until that time, I’m perfectly happy drumming away to The Who, Bon Jovi, Queen, Foo Fighters, and many, many great artists. Except Amy Winehouse. “Rehab” is horrible.

GOTY 16 Life is Strange

I love Max. She’s nerdy, introverted, and endlessly snoopy, which makes her a welcome contrast from almost every other video game character ever. Her unexplained time-manipulation abilities are almost unneeded. Just toss her and best friend Chloe into a mystery and add in a few opportunities to reference video games or anime or whatever to make me happy.

Of course, her supernatural abilities is the key to her character arc, which sees her go from hiding behind her camera to leading the charge in discussions with dangerous, armed assholes. Well, one dangerous asshole, whose only involved because of Chloe, but when doesn’t Chloe lead the two into troubling situations?

The dialogue is awkward in its attempt to sound hip to how American teens talk, and it’s worth debating whether the story stuck the landing with the final episode, but developer Dontnod crafted a wonderful adventure with some of the best cliffhangers since The Walking Dead. Best of all, we’re given two incredible heroines. Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of Max and Chloe.

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