Our final "best of 2015" article was meant to go up today, but unfortunately USgamer's servers suffered from a tech issue over the weekend that prevented us from posting new articles. (Must have partied too hard Thursday night.) We're a few days behind now, but our opinions remain every bit as sincere as they would have been three days ago!
We'll be publishing a different awards category each day until we complete all 10 categories, leading up to our final vote for best game of 2015. This has been a strong year for games, so anything's possible!
Best Surprise: The Nominees
Being in the games press, we very rarely have the luxury of being caught off-guard by games. Our job is to be on top of news and releases, after all! And yet, despite our best efforts at omniscience, sometimes things catch even us off-guard. Some surprises are terrible, such as the untimely passing of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata in July, but when a game great comes out of nowhere and insinuates itself into your heart, surprises can be wonderful. Today we look at the games that hit us unexpectedly last year, entirely to our delight.
Bill: Until Dawn
First of all, yes it’s a video game, and it was the game that caught me off guard in 2015. I really didn’t expect to enjoy it, but Until Dawn was so well done that I played through it twice in one week. The idea that you have eight characters, and any combination of them can live or die based on your decisions, had me engaged from start to finish. Although Josh Washington is my vote for best character, all of them were well played, which definitely helped to put this one over the top for me.
Honestly, did anyone out there see Undertale coming? We've had plenty of throwbacks to 8 and 16-bit RPGs over the years, but Toby Fox's work goes a bit further than that by subverting and playing with well-known tropes rather than simply ridiculing them. The result is a smart, touching, hilarious, and beautiful game that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
The last thing I expected from Nintendo this year was a mean and vicious competitive multiplayer shooter. But that's what it delivered in the form of Splatoon. However, while it's as fiercely tactical as any "real" shooter, its sheer stroke of genius is that it's wrapped up in a cute, non-violent, and highly accessible package that's fun to play no matter what your skill level. Brilliant!
I don't even like multiplayer shooters, but Splatoon made me a believer. Granted, I've barely played it, but every match I've jumped into has been loads of fun. And I wasn't the only one to notice the quality lurking beneath its neon-inky surface; Splatoon was an instant hit online, with social media dominated by profound questions like "Pizzas vs. Burgers" all year long. For anyone who doubts modern Nintendo's ability to create new, brilliant game concepts, Splatoon should set your mind at ease.
Kat: Steamworld Heist
I was excited for Steamworld Heist after seeing it at E3, but I never expected it to become one of my favorite games of 2015. Nevertheless, Image & Form's fantastic 2D tactics game does a brilliant job of capturing the essence of what makes XCOM great without being slavishly faithful to the fomula. It's everything I like to see in a game - it's fun to look at, it has a sense of humor but isn't overbearing about it, and it's constantly throwing out new and enjoyable challenges. I had a blast with Steamworld Heist from start to finish, and when all is said and done, it might be my favorite game of 2015. What a wonderful surprise.
Mike: Until Dawn
The idea behind Until Dawn, a near-film with branching paths based on your choices and actions, has been done before. Where Until Dawn wildly succeeded is that is feeds into what we expect from horror. We expect a sizable cast of semi-expendable characters and the tension comes from doing the thing that you wish you could do in the horror movie: take control and save some lives.
I admittedly didn’t know anything about Undertale when I first fired it up at the dawn of October. I didn’t know about the Kickstarter, nor had I played the demo. So when Toby Fox’s plucky RPG seized my heart, it was the purest, most unspoiled game experience I’d had in a long, long time.
The Winner: Undertale
Of all our categories, this one ended up with the fewest unique nominees (only four!). I wouldn't take that to mean 2015 was short on surprises, though I suppose a cynic could read it that was; rather, it suggests that the games that did come out of nowhere this past year left a strong impression on players. Of all of these, the artsy, Nintendo-inspired Undertale hit our team hardest, followed closely by Nintendo's FPS-inspired Splatoon. "Stay fresh" was the latter's catchline, and these two games kept 2015 fresh indeed.
Runner-up: (2) Splatoon (3) Steamworld Heist
- Most Rewarding Game
- Best Open World
- Best Character
- Best Level Design
- Biggest Disappointment
- Best Quest
Tomorrow: 2015's Best Emergent Gameplay