A note from Alex “Jeddy” Jedraszczak, GameCola’s Editor-in-Chief:
WELCOME, one and all, to the GameCola Videogame Awards! Today, we celebrate the best games of 2015. The staff has nominated their top picks and cast their votes for the…
What’s that? “Jeddy, we’re more than halfway through 2016—why are you doing the awards now?” Well, I’m sure there’s a very good answer for that!
So, we’re here today to celebrate the best games of 2015, as voted by the GameCola staff—and most people had time to actually play them, this year! So take a seat, get comfortable, and scroll on down to the see the winners!
Best Licensed Game
Lego Jurassic World
Shannon Hoover: We were more excited to play LEGO Jurassic World (on the Wii U) than pretty much any other game that has ever existed. Being born in the ’80s, my husband and I read the books, saw the movies, collected dinosaur toys and posters, went to dinosaur museums, and were ready—WERE READY—to immerse ourselves in that fantasy. The game did not disappoint. It is truly the best example of what a licensed game has to offer. From the first opening swell of Williams’ score to the last unlocked hidden secret, the game remained faithful to the spirit of its source material and to the seed of imagination and wonder that Crichton and Spielberg sowed in our generation.
LEGO changed a few details to make the subject matter more kid-appropriate, but the movie sets and scenarios are translated perfectly, maintaining the same awe-inspiring depth and scale that made us gasp the first time we watched Jurassic Park and saw that camera pan across the fields of dinosaurs. The innovative addition of a flight-based pterodactyl level, a water-based Mosasaurus level, and velociraptor obstacle courses all serve to build upon that wow factor, and draw you further in—as though you are getting a secret backstage pass to the parks. I personally think it’s super rad to get to play as the dinosaurs and see those iconic scenes from their perspective.
I honestly went into the game dead-set on playing as either a dinosaur or Ian Malcolm the entire time, but I was actually surprised at how often I chose to play as a seemingly minor character like Raptor Handler Jenny, Fisherman Jim, or Jimmy Fallon (yes, he is a playable character) because they are almost as fun. (Although, let’s face it, nothing really surpasses laying waste to both islands as a customized, miniaturized Parasaurolophus with “destroy on contact” enabled.) Unlike other licensed games, the supporting roles are just as useful and versatile as the main cast, with every player character in the game having an array of built-in special abilities like camouflage, hang-gliding, or paleontology.
The gameplay itself is streamlined, polished, and accessible to every level of gamer (especially compared to previous LEGO titles), with the only tricky controls being the swimming/flying physics. I would even argue it has by far the best two-player controls of any franchise game to date. We each had the freedom to explore independently with no invisible tethers, and the usual camera nightmares were eliminated by the game’s dual-screen option using the TV and the Wii U gamepad.
In addition to good level designs, character options, and game mechanics, LEGO Jurassic World also has some of the best secrets, including dinosaur costumes, 8-bit music, and the ability to shrink everyone to the size of a Compsognathus.
Basically, this game is pure nostalgia blanketed in pure joy. I was really sad when we reached 100% because I didn’t want to stop playing.
Honorable Mention: Dragon Ball Xenoverse
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
Diana Gray: Majora’s Mask—or as I prefer to think of it, Ocarina of Time‘s darker cousin—is one of my favorite Zelda games. Honestly, given the success of Ocarina of Time 3D, it seemed like the logical choice to be the next port to the 3DS. And Nintendo did not disappoint.
Now the intense pressure of only having three days to save the world from a creepy moon can be taken with you wherever you go! Exciting, right? But seriously, Majora’s Mask has an incredibly developed story with a diverse cast of characters who are exactly the same as Ocarina of Time but also completely different. Some may call that lazy. I call it utilizing the nostalgia factor.
The dungeons and overworld in Majora’s Mask really benefit from the 3D aspect and having a menu on the bottom screen makes it easier to keep things organized. And of course, the game is the same old fighting and puzzles that we all know and love, complete with all the mask-laden sidequests from the original game. The adaptation is faithful, but manages to update a classic…kind of like putting on a mask. Same game, different face; see what I did there? No? OK. Fine. Anyways, chalk this up as another success for Nintendo, at least in my book. Breathing new life into the familiar Zelda titles and adding the new little features makes them accessible both to a new generation of gamers and to people who loved them the first time around.
Honorable Mention: Grim Fandango: Remastered
Best Use of Stereoscopic 3D
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Terrence Atkins: Tri Force Heroes is a 3D game for the 3DS…and when I say 3D, I mean THREE DIMENSIONAL. Like, sure, there have been games “in 3D” since Weird Al came out with his second album, but the Nintendo 3DS has brought on a whole new meaning to the term “3D gaming”!
This multiplayer addition to the Legend of Zelda franchise makes good use of the extra dimension by letting you stack your friends (three-dimensionally) to solve puzzles. That’s pretty neato! Most games on the 3DS just use the extra dimension to look pretty or give you a headache. This game looks pretty AND uses the third dimension in puzzles! Does Nintendo’s creativity know no bounds?
Honorable Mention: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer
Best New Character
The Squid Sisters (Splatoon)
Jenna Colors: Congratulations, Callie and Marie! For a brand new IP, you sure have had an Inktacular year! But, what is that draws us to these pun-making cephalopod singing superstar idols? Before Splatoon came out, we knew almost nothing about the Squid Sisters, and they were sort of—frankly—annoying those first few times we booted up Splatoon and were greeted to Inkopolis News announcements. Heck, they still are kind of annoying, disregarding the successful pun and friendly jab here and there. But, everyone’s got to start somewhere!
Surely, as more people started to respond well to Callie and Marie, with them quickly becoming literal “focal points” as part of the game’s shopping plaza, Nintendo started to push them as much bigger assets to the game. While still being cute, it says something that the shopkeeper NPCs didn’t grow beyond their one-liner selves. I think we were all a little surprised (but pleasantly so) when the first Splatfest happened and we all saw Callie and Marie singing for the first time. They quickly became much more than just the news girls, as everyone fell in love with these adorable cousins (yes, they are actually cousins). It’s gotten to the point they have now had two successful hologram concerts in Japan, and more are planned on the horizon. But, Callie and Marie are more than just another Hatsune Miku or Love Live!: They’ve got that special Nintendo charm. Soon enough, we could very well be seeing a Squid Sisters concert alongside hologram entertainment of Nintendo’s other IPs, perhaps at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
And even with all this oncoming fame, the “Sisters” are taking it all in stride, with in-house produced music that expands the boundaries of both Splatoon‘s soundtrack and Nintendo’s prior soundtracks. I don’t see Sony with two cute squid stars publicizing their new game! Welcome to the Nintendo family, Callie and Marie; I know I’m excited to have you join it—says me, as I’m considering a Callie cosplay with my real-sister as Marie.
Honorable Mention: Papyrus (Undertale)
Super Mario Maker
Joseph Martin: Level creators may have been a part of various games for a long time, but to release a AAA game whose sole purpose is being a level creator is something else entirely. What really makes Super Mario Maker stand out so strongly among its competitors is just how comprehensive the experience is. Fans have created level editors/creators for games here and there over the years—many specifically for Mario—yet the sheer combination of features (as well as a lack of bugginess that often comes with those fan-made programs) sets Super Mario Maker apart.
Not only can you create levels for what is arguably gaming’s most prolific franchise, you can create them for four separate engines based on Mario games across the decades, seamlessly switching from style to style to best fit your vision of placing tons of spikes everywhere and hoping people can survive. Oh, yeah—and you don’t have to limit yourself to making your local friends and family suffer through the ideas that are probably why you don’t get to make retail videogames: You can share your monstrosities with the whole Internet! MWAHAHAHA! Add in the updates that were pushed to the game in the months following its release, which allow you to make more nefarious, devious, ingenious levels, and you have a tool that gives you a range of freedom greater than the range of tone over the course of these two paragraphs.
It is, in fact, innovative enough that I honestly don’t know where Nintendo is going to go next with the 2D Mario franchise.
Honorable Mention: Undertale
Ryan Mather: I’m not the biggest fan of Undertale by any means, but I can definitely grasp why it won Best Story this year. Undertale is the RPG where you don’t have to kill anything. That’s its tagline. Toby Fox really drives that point home. It’s a game that’s expertly crafted under a single vision and uses a simple art style and simple music to put emphasis on its most important aspects: the unique battle system, and the theme of mercy. Both of these things are integral to the experience whether it’s your first time through or your 53rd.
There is something like 32 endings with mostly minor differences depending on how you play the game, but only three main routes. There’s the neutral route where you play the game as if it were a regular RPG, the pacifist route where you play through without harming anyone, and the genocide route where you kill everyone and end up feeling like a disgusting monster.
And you really do feel it—especially when you invest yourself in the story. Getting to know all the quirky EarthBound-style characters one day, and then mercilessly slaughtering them the next day really digs deep. The game won’t forget what you’ve done to it either. Just because you restart from the beginning doesn’t mean that the story does. The game, by design, remembers every little thing you’ve done. Once you’ve taken a life, you can never give it back. Not completely.
Honorable Mention: Life is Strange
Mario Party 10
Joseph Martin: I’ll admit, I wasn’t the most enthusiastic when Mario Party 9 came out and changed the style of Mario Party games. However, I was willing to give the style a chance and didn’t expect them to get it perfect the first time. Mario Party 10 serves to disappoint by not being an improvement on the new formula, but rather streamlining the elements that were bland and boring about its predecessor. To me, it sinks the nail in the coffin for how Mario Party console games are going to proceed for the future.
Mario Party 10 is just plain uninteresting. The gameplay is still the same together-car with only little stars to serve as any indication of performance, even though the majority of stars you acquire will be purely from luck since half of the games and events have no skill involved. The various boards are almost all themes that have been done to death in previous entries: grassland, haunted house, underwater, lava. The only even remotely visually interesting one is the airship level, but that doesn’t save the gameplay from being dull.
To my greatest dismay, even the minigames are unoriginal—many being ripped directly from Mario Party 9. This isn’t new for a Mario Party game, but it wasn’t necessarily a plus for the older entries and the minigames that are recycled aren’t exactly what I would consider fan favorites, most of them being the luck-based tripe that’s all-too-frequent for the series now. You might still be interested in the new style of Mario Party, and I wouldn’t blame you. But if you’ve purchased 9, you’ve basically played 10 already, making it a disappointing nothing of a game.
Honorable Mention: Star Wars: Battlefront
Saints Row: Gat out of Hell
Robyn Tyrfing: What starts as a birthday party in the void of space ends with the Boss of the Saints/President of the United States/God Emperor of the Universe being sucked into a portal to Hell—and who better to save the Boss than their best friend Johnny Gat and birthday girl Kinzie Kensington? From the inherent concept of Satan stealing the player-created character to marry his daughter, to playing Johnny Gat in his own adventure, Gat out of Hell is an hilarious experience that deserves to be GameCola’s Funniest Game of 2015. Alongside the base concept, you have the larger-than-life style with which Volition handles the Saints Row series. Being part parody, part referential humor, and part meta humor, Gat out of Hell is worth a play, especially if you’re a fan of the Saints Row series.
Honorable Mention: Undertale
Best New Peripheral/Accessory
Bomb Defusal Manual (Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes)
Paul Franzen: Man, I miss the days when PC games would come in giant stupid boxes, with faux newspaper clippings and magazines and bulletin boards, and other things you’d have to refer back to if you wanted any hope of passing through the game’s puzzles. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes—a VR game about bomb defusal—hearkens back to just that, with a PDF manual that one player has to reference and read aloud to the other player in order to ensure they both make it out of the game or alive.
You can load up the manual on your iPad or Pocket PC or whatever, but you can also—and this is absolutely what you should do—print the entire thing out (all 23 pages), drop it in a loose-leaf binder and madly flip through the thing while shouting out instructions to your doofus friend who’s definitely going to ruin everything. It’s like if Spaceteam were played with a book. If you’ve never played Spaceteam, it’s like if you did football, and that if the coach shouted the wrong play at everyone, they all exploded. All games should come with books. … Maybe we should just get rid of the game part.
Honorable Mention: Saitek’s Heavy Equipment Precision Control System
Stefano Wohsdioghasdhisdg: I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of online multiplayer games. I’ll play normal games that have multiplayer options, but if the game is pretty much structured around online multiplayer, I’m not really interested. Which makes it very odd that I love Splatoon so darn much.
Unlike virtually every other multiplayer third-person shooter in existence, the point is not shooting the other team. Instead, you want to shoot everything else. Splatoon does not have you take the role of space marines, or earth marines, or any other type of marines; instead, you are adorable squid children called Inklings. And you use squirt guns and paint rollers and other such devices to spray your team’s color ink all over the stage, while the other team does the same. The team with the most ground covered wins.
This sounds really easy, but there’s a catch: The ink can be covered by the opposing team’s color. This is where shooting the other team starts to become a good option. As I said, it’s not the point—you don’t win by kills (or “splats”, as they’re called in-game), but if you splat someone, they have to respawn, and aren’t running all over your nice, colorful inky area with a paint bucket, dumping their stupid color everywhere. Add to this the different equipment bonuses, different sub-weapons, different special weapons, and a bunch of spiffy outfits for your squidchild, and you have an online third-person shooter that truly stands out.
Honorable Mention: Rocket League
And, that’s it! Those are all of the awards for 2015.
…for today! Come back tomorrow for the BIG awards!