2015 is finally coming to a close. The world of gaming was well and truly turned on its head this year; we’re entering a time where Nintendo are developing mobile games and opening theme parks, a time where The Last Guardian is actually coming out, and one where people are actually paying $100 for Devil’s Third. We’ve also been faced with many ups and downs over the year; news such as Hideo Kojima finally breaking free of Konami’s clutches and forming his own studio was something that likely brought pleasure to many a fan of his work. At the same time, the tragic passing of the influential and much-loved Satoru Iwata filled many with sorrow.
An awful lot has happened in just 12 months. With a brand new year on the horizon, there’s no better time to look back on 2015, especially the thing that brought this all together; the games. Below you can find a small compilation of some of the titles that released this year that I think you definitely shouldn’t have missed, in no particular order. It’s likely that many of them you would’ve tried, but perhaps there are a few in there that slipped off your radar that you’ve yet to try! Please enjoy.
LBX: Little Battlers eXperience
Link: Nintendo Webpage
Whilst a huge marketing push from Nintendo made Yo-Kai Watch the center of attention when it came to Level-5 releases this year, it wasn’t the only big cross-media release they put out on 3DS; the criminally overlooked LBX, known as Danball Senki in its native Japan (which rougly translates as ‘Cardboard Fighting-Machines’ or something of the sort) was put out by Nintendo to little fanfare, marketed primarily as a tie-in to the dub of the anime currently airing in the US (which was in fact based on the original Danball Senki game on PSP, released back in 2011). However, this is a franchise that deserves its own spotlight, offering fast-paced and compelling gameplay that’s easy to sink hours into. Outside of the battling, the game is reminiscent of other cross-media projects by Level-5 such as Inazuma Eleven (with a number of connections shared between the two franchises, including a cross-over movie), set in a futuristic Japan and starting a group of passionate kids obsessed with one hobby in particular, in this case, battling small robots.
Battles play out in a style reminiscent of Sega’s Virtual-On series, set in open 3D environments and relying on quick reactions and a combination of physical and projectile attacks to dish out carnage. However, LBX puts a heavy focus onto customisation, giving you hundreds of different robot parts and weapons to mix and match, allowing you to build your own ultimate fighting machine. Fine tuning everything from the outward appearance to the batteries and processors is highly satisfying and offers great replayability; the game’s competitive multiplayer action that supports up to six players locally will mean that you’ll most definitely want to have the most powerful robot amongst your friends! One interesting point to note about LBX is that as far as Level-5 localisations go, this is one of the better ones; previous games such as Inazuma Eleven have been heavily butchered in translation with drastic character and ability name changes, and whilst LBX has undergone some regional modifications in naming, everything is relatively close to its Japanese counterpart, which is an appreciated touch.
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Link: Official Website
SteamWorld Heist is a title that simply oozes quality. The sheer level of detail and finesse put into every level of the game, be it the murky and intricate environments that make up a heavily atmospheric steampunk world, the engrossing and sharp story and dialogue, or the enthralling turn-based gameplay that leaves you on the edge of your seat, requiring keen thinking, steady nerves and an aim that’s as stylish as it is accurate, thanks to the game’s incredibly slick and amusing trick shots, which allow you to perform acrobatic feats of the bullet with careful targeting factoring in the environment around you.
You’ll be hard-pushed to run out of content in SteamWorld Heist; It’s difficult to concentrate SteamWorld Heist‘s praises into only two paragraphs, so if you’re looking for even more detail about why you should definitely buy this, you can read our full review.
Nintendo presents: New Style Boutique 2 – Fashion Forward
Developer: Syn Sophia
Link: Nintendo Microsite
The Style Boutique series (Girls Mode in Japan, Style Savvy in the US) is easy to dismiss based on its themes alone. It’s not afraid to go heavy on your stereotypical ‘girly’ themes, focusing on all things fashion, but regardless of the game’s marketing, underneath lies a sublime, creative simulation experience with sharp, witty writing and strong presentation. With a large expansion on its predecessors in terms of available items, features and most importantly, careers (which range from being a stylist, hairdresser, makeup artist etc), this is a game that really sets the bar for the fashion game genre. Whilst it struggles to break away from some pre-determined genre notions, there’s possibly something here for players willing to keep an open mind if you look past the intended target audience.
Quite surprisingly, the game’s writing is one of its strongest points; the plot is surreal and unpredictable, the last thing you’d expect from this sort of game (although I suppose it’s rare for these kinds of games to have a plot full stop!). It’s a game that encourages experimentation and offers a lot to those willing to explore the deeper aspects of its gameplay. Unfortunately, this is one of a number of 3DS titles that have missed out on a US release for reasons that haven’t been made clear (likely sales related). If you’ve enjoyed previous games in the Style Boutique series, then you certainly won’t want to miss this entry; those with the option of importing shouldn’t hesitate to do so.
Inazuma Eleven GO 2: Chrono Stone
Link: Nintendo Microsite
The 3DS is a popular console, but the chances are you didn’t play this one. The unfortunate lack of a US release for this bizarre entry into the Inazuma Eleven franchise likely did nothing to help its popularity, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a brilliant, weird and wonderful pocket footballing experience. As mentioned in some of our features covering other Inazuma Eleven titles, this is not the ideal football title for those after appearances from the likes of Lionel Messi, but if you like an RPG spin on your sports games, you’re in for a real treat. Fast-paced tactical gameplay that makes keen use of the 3DS touch screen provides you with optimum control over your 11 players and their surreal abilities. The likes of glowing armour, physical embodiments of footballing spirit and fusing with historical figures such as Joan of Arc and Oda Nobunaga are dime a dozen in this universe, along with ‘regular’ footballing moves that defy every law of reality possibly imaginable.
However, it’s not just in its gameplay that Chrono Stone goes heavy on the weirdness; the plot, which in this case is focused around time-travel, features everything from football-playing dinosaurs, sinister organisations erasing football from history, evolved humans with psychic powers playing football, and lots and lots of penguins. Some prior knowledge of the series’ story and characters is required for full enjoyment, but Level-5 have really excelled in bringing us a game that doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the unexpected. The game offers brilliant value for money with absolutely tons of post-game content beyond merely crafting your team from the thousands of recruitable players available, with even more bonuses available if you own both versions. If you’ve got access to the Inazuma Eleven series in your country and you like what you’re hearing, you’d be a fool not to give it a look!
Link: Nintendo Webpage
It might seem peculiar that M2’s 3D re-make of arcade classic driving game OutRun has made its way onto this list, considering it isn’t exactly a new game. However, it’s fully deserving of being recognised as one of the best titles to release this year; M2, as usual, have done an absolutely fantastic job in bringing the game across to the 3DS, likely creating the best home conversion of OutRun after many unsuccessful historical attempts. However, as opposed to simply doing a straight port like many companies would have settled for, they’ve gone the extra mile to bring players the closest thing to an arcade authentic experience at home and on the go. The game runs fantastically at 60fps, even in 3D, an effect which is put to better use here than many other titles. A wide variety of screen options mean you can either play in a crisp widescreen format that emphasises each stage’s gorgeous scenery, or alternatively opt for a more authentic experience that replicates the feel of using a sit-down arcade cab, complete with a wide selection of screen borders and authentic steering wheel and pedal sounds recorded from actual arcade hardware.
As you’d imagine, Hiroshi Kawaguchi‘s unforgettable soundtrack is present, now with some of the lingering music glitches from the arcade original ironed out this time around to make it sound even better. As you progress through the game and beat each route (which can be played in either the original Japanese or western order), you’ll even have access to various ‘tune-ups’ for your car, changing the appearance and performance in a manner never before seen in any version of OutRun. All in all, this is an incredibly complete package that shows a great deal of care and respect for this arcade classic; a re-make that shows respect and should be respected for it.
Affordable Space Adventures
Developer: KnapNok Games, Nifflas’ Games
Publisher: KnapNok Games
Link: Official Site
It’s undeniable that hardware is one of the most important considerations when designing a game; from the controllers and interface to the finer technical specifications, everything has to be considered down to the very last button press. However, there are few titles as well suited to their hardware as Affordable Space Adventures, an enchanting, atmospheric and at times humorous title that is perfectly crafted for the Wii U. The organised chaos of the game’s asymmetric 3-player gameplay makes for one of the best multiplayer experiences of the year, and there’s a real beauty to the organised madness that encourages to truly co-operate with your teammates, relying as much on verbal communication as on careful operation of your spacecraft.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Affordable Space Adventures is the best title to properly make use of the Wii U’s unique GamePad, something that has gone sorely under-utilised in releases; KnapNok and Nifflas’ have even surpassed Nintendo themselves in creating a compelling experience that truly leads to engagement with the system. The hectic on-screen monitoring of your ship through operating the switches and dials in front of you not only succeeds in providing immersion, but in offering gameplay that is both challenging and innovative.This indie title stands amongst the best on the system and shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone who wants to get the most out of the Wii U.
Link: Nintendo Microsite
Perhaps a slightly predictable choice, but for a good reason. Splatoon‘s impact on the gaming circle has been astounding for a brand new IP. It’s almost as if it’s brought a whole culture with it, spawning countless brilliant fan-works and a fiercely dedicated player-base, not to mention a wide range of merchandise that’s trickling its way westward.
Apparel and plushies aside, Splatoon is a fantastic take on the shooter genre handled in a wholeheartedly Nintendo way. It’s colourful, it’s stylish, it’s smart and it handles like a dream. After around 7 months of regular free content added, including stages and items, it’s like a whole new game, a more robust and attractive package than the quirky fledgling IP that we saw back in May. If you’re a fan of online, team-based games, then look no further. Splatoon‘s fresh cast, slick style and mysterious storyline may have only just washed up on the shore of Nintendo’s collection of much-loved IPs, but I’m certain there’s yet more fun to be had with this gem of a title.
Super Mario Maker
Link: Nintendo Microsite
Super Mario Maker is as much a celebration as it is a game. It takes everything you know and love from classic Mario titles and turns it completely on its head, changing the formula in a way that appears seemingly impossible to have come from Nintendo itself. Yet somehow, rather than creating uncertainty by messing with the inner workings of 30 years of platforming, we are greeted with a beautiful, well-illustrated chaos. There’s an arcane formula to constructing the perfect Mario level and now the power to uncover this is no longer something that resides purely in the hands of the likes of Takashi Tezuka and Shigeru Miyamoto.
Much like Splatoon, Super Mario Maker suggests that 2015 has been a year of experimentation and trial for Nintendo. They’ve done something a little different, for better or for worse (although in this case, for better), yet somehow with the level of sheen and ingenuity that you’ve come to expect. This is not your ordinary PC tile editor; everything, from the sound effects to the pointer your stylus guides, are oozing with character, presented in a seemingly ‘organic’ form that adapts and shapes itself to your desire. Shaking blocks to change their functionality, feeding enemies Super Mushrooms to increase their size; Super Mario Maker excels in using tiny details to give you an experience that’s not only enjoyable, but, for loss of another expression to describe it, just feels so right.
PS4 & Vita
Curses ‘n Chaos
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Link: Official Website
Curses ‘n Chaos is without a doubt one of the best-looking games to release this year, especially it’s truly spectacular animated cutscenes that wield Tribute Games’ trademark intricate and personality-filled sprite-work. This carries over into the main game which uses a petite style of sprites vaguely reminiscent of those found on the Neo Geo Pocket. Animations are fluid, backgrounds vivid and visual effects are highly satisfying, especially special alchemy attacks which make full use of the elements.
However, underneath its slightly cutesy, pixellated face lies one beast of a game that truly shows no mercy in its difficulty, tasking you with battling wave after wave of ferocious demons, as well as radical difficulty spikes that will require you to use your item-mixing skills to the max, combining items you pick up between stages to create powerful assets to your demon-smashing conquest. The game’s longevity comes from its difficulty, but it’s ideal for short bursts of gameplay, especially if you’re playing the Vita version. If you’re looking for a crazy and entertaining title to sink some hours into at home or on the go, or want a brutally difficult couch or online co-op title to tackle with a friend, don’t forget about Curses ‘n Chaos.
Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours
Developer: Pyramid, Chara-Ani
Link: Official Site
It has to be said that shoot ’em ups are harder to come by these days than they were in the heyday of arcade gaming. With that in mind, its refreshing to see a new title that makes you realised why you fell in love with the genre all over again. Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours, whilst itself a revised version of the original Arcade and PSP release Dariusburst, and one that was expected by many to never receive a home console release due to its use of a wide-screen setup in the arcades that uses a monitor double that of your average arcade cab. As you’d imagine, this leads to some extremely generous enemy distribution and very flashy boss battles that make use of the wide playing field to good effect.
On top of the game being a visual spectacle, a highly entertaining co-op mode for up to four players is available and as well as a selection of around 1000 brand new stages, the original arcade version and its expansion Another Chronicle EX are present, the latter featuring a mind-blowing 3000 stages that certainly give you your value for money. However, as discussed in our review, this isn’t an entry-level shoot ’em up by any means; the difficulty is unforgiving at times and you’ll want to put all your skills you’ve picked up across the series’ various iterations to work. Regardless, if you’re a fan of shoot ’em ups then this certainly isn’t one you want to miss!
Sayonara Umihara Kawase+
Developer: Studio Saizensen
Publisher: Agatsuma Entertainment
Link: PSN UK Store
The Umihara Kawase series is a particularly peculiar one in a number of ways; thematically it’s strange, revolving around young girls swinging on fishing lines, avoiding mutant fish and navigating a bizarre, dream-like world consisting of various seemingly random objects. However, despite its extreme weirdness, there’s something incredibly endearing about the quirky yet brutally challenging platforming action that rivals the likes of Bionic Commando when it comes to rope-swinging action. Sayonara Umihara Kawase+, an expansion on 2014’s Sayonara Umihara Kawase (known initially as Yumi’s Odd Odyssey in the US), is no different. Whilst previous handheld iterations have garnered something of a reputation for being inferior ports of the original game and its PS1 sequel, this is an entirely new title, introducing a variety of new mechanics and featuring dozens of stages, many of which are likely to keep you occupied for quite a while thanks to the aforementioned excruciating difficulty, especially if you want to access every hidden exit and pick up collectables littered in hard to reach places.
This is a game that seems simple in premise and certainly looks that way, thanks to a colourful and chibi-esque aesthetic, not to mention an upbeat jazzy soundtrack that you wouldn’t expect from a game where your failure count on a single level could easily pass 100. However, the truth is quite the contrary, with precise movement and clever manipulation of the game’s intricate physics engine a must if you want to clear each stage as quick as possible, let alone reach the game’s secret exits; it’s no wonder that this is a franchise historically popular with speed-runners. Whilst the 3DS Sayonara Umihara Kawase stands firm in its own right, the + expansion for Vita surpasses it due to the inclusion of the SNES original game giving you even more challenges to overcome, as well as a slightly cleaner graphical style that makes things just a tad sharper. Unfortunately this is likely the last entry in the series, but this is the perfect place to start, considering it’s a title that goes on sale fairly regularly; for a reasonable price you’ll be bagging yourself two fantastic cult platformers that anyone who enjoys going up against brutal difficulty will certainly adore.
Yoshi’s Woolly World (Wii U)
2D platforming fun for new players and Yoshi’s Island veterans, with an absolutely gorgeous aesthetic; arguably the best-looking on the Wii U.
Nuclear Throne (PC/PS3/PS4/Vita)
Stylish and unforgiving twin-stick shooter from Vlambeer that achieves a perfect balance between great presentation and killer gameplay.
3D Gunstar Heroes (3DS)
Treasure’s cult classic run and gun masterpiece, now available on the go. Another fantastic M2 conversion that’s clearly full of love.
All of the CAVE Steam re-releases (PC)
Some of the best looking and well-crafted shoot ’em ups ever made, now available in their most accessible format ever.
FAST Racing NEO (Wii U)
Sci-fi racing action with a true grasp on what it means to go fast. Not quite an F-Zero successor, but a solid racer in its own right.
Adventure Bar Story (3DS/iOS/Android)
Fun, petite RPG with a twist; battle enemies and cook food in this incredibly cheap but incredibly fulfilling adventure.
Extreme Exorcism (PC/PS3/PS4/Xbox One/Wii U)
Unique platforming action where you are your own worst enemy! Fantastic visuals with a lot of charm. Even more fun with more players.
When it comes to games, it’s safe to say that it’s been a pretty solid year for releases; we’ve had some excellent titles both big and small, with this article only highlighting a small handful of the games that are worth your attention. Let’s hope that 2016 is just as fruitful and will hold plenty more brilliant gaming experiences for us all!
Have a happy New Year and all the best for 2016! It’s thanks to you, the readers, that we’ve been able to have such a successful year – I’m eternally grateful for your support and can’t wait to see what next year brings!
– Oliver Jameson, Editor of Minus World