The conventional wisdom will tell you that 2015 was a down year for games and that all the good stuff got pushed back to 2016. But how can you trust the conventional wisdom when last year featured a ridiculously entertaining string of good games starring kid squids, gothic hunters, glitchy sci-fi heroes, and the lone survivor of a nuclear war. And all that’s before you dip into the millions of user-created levels from Super Mario Maker.
Yup, we think 2015 was a pretty great year for games, especially the ones that took home some hardware during our annual Golden Pixel Awards…
The Apocalypse List
The bombs have fallen, the economy has collapsed, food is scarce, the zombie hordes are scratching at your door, and you’ve boarded yourself up in a bunker that’ll stand for a hundred years. What better way to spend your time in “The Vault” than by playing Warp Zoned’s favorite games from 2015? If there were no developers around to make new games, these are the games we’d keep playing if we had all the time in the world…
A ridiculously good word building game for mobile devices, Alphabear only asks for a few minutes of your time during each session, but it got so much more than that from me last year. And Spry Fox’s decision to visualize the game’s multiplier bonus as a series of stuffed bears each more adorable than the last (Seriously, just look at them!) was a stroke of genius. – John Scalzo
I don’t even think I need to explain why Alphabear is an amazing game. Spelling, cute bears, points… what’s not to love? – Nicole Kline
Axiom Verge is astonishing. It really is a testament to what a phenomenal game should be: an engaging experience that has plenty to see and do and includes a tremendous amount of replay value. Couple that with the fact that this game was made by just one person, and you’ve got a game that is without a doubt worth every penny. I can also proudly say that Axiom Verge is on my list of games I’ve played through more than once – which is a very, very short list. It’s just that much fun. I honestly could not recommend this game more. Unless you hate fun. If you hate fun, then don’t buy Axiom Verge. The rest of you will love this game from beginning to end. – Mike Ryan
Bloodborne is not a game for the weak of heart. It’s from the same studio that brought you Demon’s Souls and the Dark Souls games, and the family resemblance is uncanny. But I felt it was more approachable than its predecessors – maybe because I’ve gotten used to the crippling difficulty, or maybe because From Software just knows what its fans like, and really got the formula down. Whatever the reason, Bloodborne is a world you can lose yourself in for hundreds of hours and never get bored – and it’ll give you a few terrific jump scares while you’re at it. – Nicole Kline
If you’re on the fence, don’t be. Jump the fence, buy Fallout 4, then run home and play it. There are so many quests that it’s fulfilling even for people with busy schedules, because it’s easy to run one or two missions and then move on with your life. Well, it’s not “easy,” because the game is so fun that you just want to keep playing it, but it has nice, well-defined moments when you can put the controller down and not be lost when you pick it up again. This game is a must-buy for the already initiated and a great introduction for those of you who haven’t emerged from a Vault, blinded by the sun. Take the plunge: leave the Vault, explore the world, collect as many Caps as you can, and drink Nuka-Cola. – Nicole Kline
The music franchise was left for dead by Activision and Harmonix in 2011, leaving piles of plastic instruments to gather dust in closets across the world. But the genre returned just as suddenly in 2015 with Guitar Hero Live leading the way. With a brand new (and rather humbling) first-person perspective, Guitar Hero Live made playing with plastic instruments fun again. – John Scalzo
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is the perfect cooperative game for… well… anyone. It’s good to play with friends, roommates, gamers, significant others, and, in some cases, your pet. – Nicole Kline
After retelling the SNES-era original trilogy in 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot, it really felt like NetherRealm Studios had closed the book on their ultraviolent fighting game franchise once and for all. However, blood is thicker than water and NetherRealm was able to come back in 2015 with Mortal Kombat X, an epic tale that seamlessly wove together the changes that MK 2011 made to the timeline and a new story involving the next generation of kombatants. The chance to play as Jason Voorhees (if you purchased the Kombat Pack DLC) was just icing on the cake. – John Scalzo
Equal parts soothing and maddening, the absolutely massive N++ marks the long-awaited return of Metanet’s gold-stealing ninja. Boasting thousands of levels, the punishing side-scroller requires plenty of fancy fingerwork as players glide from platform to platform while avoiding an array of killbots. And in that way, N++ is the perfect complement to 2008’s equally-astounding N+. – John Scalzo
Even though it doesn’t star Mario or Link or Samus Aran, Splatoon is the quintessential Nintendo game. Starring a race of shapeshifting human/squid creatures known as Inklings, the game’s bright colors and relentlessly cheery attitude place it firmly within Nintendo’s wheelhouse. But Splatoon is also unlike your typical Nintendo game in that it’s a shooter, albeit one that uses squid ink instead of bullets and is more concerned with area control than racking up killstreaks. It’s also the best shooter I’ve played in a very long time. – John Scalzo
Mario has done everything and been everywhere over the last 35 years. It’s hard to believe that a character as versatile and beloved as Nintendo’s red-suited plumber could find a new pipe to explore… but Super Mario Maker managed it. Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, and the rest of the Mario maestros at Nintendo gave the players the power to craft new courses using an easy-to-use toolset and it worked like a charm. Millions of courses (many of them the equal of anything Nintendo has produced) have been created since the game’s September release and millions more are sure to come in the future. We may never need another Mario ever again. – John Scalzo
The Participation Trophy
The Participation Trophy is awarded to a game that wasn’t necessarily great, but it was great that we got to play it.
Winner: EarthBound Beginnings
Mother, an NES RPG from Shigesato Itoi that would eventually serve as the predecessor to EarthBound, was initially released in Japan in 1989. Featuring a skewed take on modern life, Mother was very different from every RPG on the market at the time… which is probably what helped doom its American release all those years ago. And the impending release of the Super NES surely didn’t help the release prospects of a niche NES RPG.
Fast forward to 2015 and Nintendo finally brought the game, now known as EarthBound Beginnings, to America through the Wii U eShop. After 26 years, players who grew up on the excellent Super NES sequel finally got the chance to (legally) try out the first game in the franchise. And if Nintendo can do that, maybe they can even get around to localizing 2006’s similarly-ignored Mother 3. – John Scalzo
Best Game Where an Alien’s Head Pops Like a Grape
Spaceships, little green men, giant mecha… the world of science fiction will always have a place in video games. This is our favorite game where an alien/robot/mutant gets an RPG to the face in 2015.
Winner: Axiom Verge
You play as Trace, a scientist who, after a freak accident in his lab, wakes up on a strange alien world with no recollection of how he got there. He is called upon by Elsenova, one of the inhabitants of the planet, to free her and save the planet from the clutches of an evil mastermind set on destroying all life. While it may sound like your ordinary, run-of-the-mill plot, I can assure you that it is anything but.
Every so often, a game is released that’s pieced together so lovingly it reminds even the most jaded gamer why they got into this hobby in the first place. Axiom Verge is one of those games; a true masterpiece. – Mike Ryan
Jason Voorhees Memorial Award
The rotting corpse of Jason Voorhees has shambled his way through 12 movies since 1980 and horror fans can always be counted on to return to Camp Crystal Lake. The hockey mask-wearing slasher is so perennially popular that the “Memorial” part of this award will always be in question. And so it is with video games, which often manage to get better after the 11th or 12th iteration of a series.
Winner: Super Mario Maker
I’m just going to repeat myself, since it seems appropriate… “Mario has done everything and been everywhere over the last 35 years. It’s hard to believe that a character as versatile and beloved as Nintendo’s red-suited plumber could find a new pipe to explore… but Super Mario Maker managed it. Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, and the rest of the Mario maestros at Nintendo gave the players the power to craft new courses using an easy-to-use toolset and it worked like a charm. Millions of courses (many of them the equal of anything Nintendo has produced) have been created since the game’s September release and millions more are sure to come in the future. We may never need another Mario ever again.” – John Scalzo
The “Great Scott” Award for Best Trilogy Ender
Everyone loves a trilogy. And no one loves a trilogy more than game publishers. Getting three games out into the marketplace that can sell, sell, sell is a publisher’s dream. Thankfully, a few people still take this trilogy business seriously as we look at 2015’s favorite finale (until the inevitable fourth entry).
Winner: Batman: Arkham Knight
Though technically the fourth game in the series, I consider Batman: Arkham Knight to be the third entry in the Batman: Arkham trilogy (because who counts the non-Rocksteady Batman: Arkham Origins?). While it’s release was marred by a broken PC port, Arkham Knight was still a fitting end to what is possibly the greatest superhero game series ever created.
Now, if only Rocksteady could tackle the X-Men! – Andrew Rainnie
Al Gore Award for Best Use of Environment In a Game
Ever since games moved beyond being about a simple character moving against a black background, they’ve used the environment to help tell their story. Who can forget the unique playground of Super Mario 64 or the hostile terrain of Half-Life 2? And because sometimes you just want to stop and look around at the world.
Splatoon’s arenas aren’t very exciting when you think about it. Even though the game stars kids who can turn into squids, most of the action takes place amongst the pale concrete and cold steel of skateparks, malls, warehouses, and greenhouses. And one upcoming arena is nothing more than an office. But once the ink starts flying, Splatoon’s locales become something much greater than the sum of their parts. Controlling “turf” is the name of the game and moving inch by inch through an arena to paint the floor and splat your foes turns the most ho-hum skatepark, mall, warehouse, or greenhouse into a place of wonder. – John Scalzo
Miles Dyson Memorial Award
AKA “The One Step Closer to SkyNet Award.” Video game technology is advancing at a lightning fast pace and now that next generation consoles have practically reached the limits of photorealistic graphics; the only other place to go is to make the game world as realistic as possible. There’s no fate but what we make and no limit to what a talented developer can do with the right piece of new technology.
Winner (Tie): Fallout 4
Winner (Tie): Until Dawn
Winner (Tie): The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Some years you praise the wild new technological breakthrough, but in others it’s nice to sit back and bask at a few games with absolutely gorgeous graphics. There was no shortage of games in 2015 that pushed the envelope in visual fidelity, but three stood out from the pack… Fallout 4, Until Dawn, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Fallout 4 was more than just an incredibly intense journey through the wasteland of the Commonwealth. It featured the full package of great graphics, a haunting score, and enough sidequests to keep you busy until 2017. Until Dawn didn’t just drop you into a cabin in the woods, it felt exactly like you were watching a cheesy slasher film from the 90s. And The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had all that gorgeous hair. Who says being pretty is a bad thing? – Nicole Kline, Andrew Rainnie, Mike Ryan, and John Scalzo
Thrifty Time-Reversal Award
Maybe you missed it the first time around. Or maybe it was your favorite game back in the day and you want to play it again. Whatever the reason, it’s back in 2015 with eye-popping 3D or a high definition makeover or some other update. And you can’t imagine not parting with your money and playing it all over again.
Winner: Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
I’m a huge fan of the Uncharted series, so having all of it released in one package for the PlayStation 4 was a dream come true. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is the perfect way for new players to experience the world – and, let’s face it, it’s great for longtime fans who just want to spend some time with Drake again before the new game comes out in April. While there are no multiplayer modes, that doesn’t take away from the core of the game, which has always been about exploration, puzzle solving, and, of course, gunfights. – Nicole Kline
The “This Game Rocks” Award
Games need more than a good story and gameplay sometimes. Sometimes they need to rock (or pop or jazz or what have you). This award honors the game with the best music of the year.
Winner: Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a cooperative game like no other. You and a partner play as two characters on a ship, manning different stations while you fly through space fighting villains. The two of you have to work together to attack, defend, and navigate, all while coordinating powerups and daring rescue missions. The game is an amazing experience, which is punctuated by the badass soundtrack that gets you super hype. My favorite track is the Grand Galaxy Anthem, which can motivate you in or out of the game. Whether you’re playing the game or just listening to the soundtrack, it’s sure to get you moving. – Nicole Kline
The “Shoeless” Joe Jackson Award
“If you build it, he will come.” Most games are victims of overinflated expectations, but sometime there is no hype and no warning. Sometimes a game just completely surprises you. Like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson emerging from the corn, this game came completely out of left field to thrill you.
Winner: Her Story
I think the problem these days is, given the ever-evolving social media we consume in a 24/7 cycle, very few games can fly under the radar. Even Kickstarter projects now come with massive PR campaigns. Yet, Sam Barlow managed this with the mystery behind Her Story. On paper it sounds like a rejected game for the Philips CD-i, back when FMV was all the rage. Yet, it works. As a filmmaker, I found it well-crafted. And, as a gamer, I found it an intriguing experiment. – Andrew Rainnie
The What? Award
The game that most perfectly encapsulates a single thought process as you play it: “What did I just see?”
Broforce is an absurdly good time. It’s a game full of frenetic energy, explosions, grunting, flexing, and, of course, high fives that literally slow down time. Team up with three other friends to play iconic bros from action movies, including Rambro, Bro Hard, and Snake Broskin. Each character has a primary attack, melee attack, and grenade, all of which are unique – and uniquely hilarious. All of this may sound totally normal, but when you put it all together and send the bros out to “Americanize” the rest of the world, replete with a fully destructible environment that, more often than not, destroys you, you get more than a few “What just happened!” moments. It’s definitely a game that keeps on giving. – Nicole Kline
The Video Game Librarian Award
Being a gamer is about more than just playing video games. As we all know, movie studios are still looking for that breakout title that’ll make “video game movies” the next great genre. But writers of fiction and non-fiction have been turning out some great stuff based on video games for years now.
Winner: Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture by Adrienne Shaw
This text will open your eyes and show you that the term “gamer” applies to so many more people than you could ever imagine. The author, Adrienne Shaw, “builds on feminist, queer, and postcolonial theories of identity and draws on qualitative audience research methods to make sense of how representation comes to matter.” It’s a beautiful look at people who game, and it’s a great read for those of you who like academic books on gaming. – Nicole Kline