After GameCola’s Worst Christmas Ever, we’re finally here to announce the best games of 2015! And after giving everyone plenty of time to actually play games that were released during the Christmas rush, and after you’re no longer tired of every site announcing their year-end awards.
Here they are—GameCola’s best games of 2015!
Wait, you DID read Part 1, right? Don’t miss out on all the other awards!
Life is Strange
Alex “Jeddy” Jedraszczak: Hello, GameCola. You may know me as Editor-in-Chief, but what you may not know is that I’m also…
GameCola’s biggest fan.
For the Readers’ Choice Award, I normally like to have one of our loving fans comment on the game—but there was a problem this year. After contacting five different long-time superfans, none of them had voted for (or even played) Life is Strange.
The clock was ticking, time was running out, and as I scrambled to come up with a plan, my inbox lit up! The superfans were emailing me…with full-length reviews of Life is Strange!
Rather than waste these fan submissions on this awards list, I decided the reviews were worth publishing in their entirety. You’ll be able to read them all next week. We hope you won’t mind the wait!
To quote one superfan, “Life really is strange.”
Honorable Mention: Mega Man Legacy Collection
Best Indie Game
Robyn Tyrfing: Long ago, humans and monsters lived at peace—that is, until war broke out. Humans drove the monsters underground and sealed them behind a barrier. In the present day, a child falls below Mount Ebott, where unknown to humanity the monsters still live. What follows is an emotional story of a child in an unfamiliar world, and also GameCola’s Best Indie Game of 2015.
What can be said of Undertale that hasn’t already been said other places (and better, at that)? It’s equally an irreverent deconstruction of, and clever homage to, classic videogames of the past. Developed in GameMaker: Studio by Toby “Radiation” Fox, Undertale became a quick hit among those who enjoy videogames. Going from a cult hit to an Internet force, it ended up winning GameFAQ’s Best Game Ever award in an upset against veterans such as Super Mario World, Pokémon Red/Blue, Super Mario 64, and even The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. A vocal and creative fandom had emerged from a small indie game with about a four-hour playtime to it, and even here on GameCola it receives wide praise. What possibly could allow such a game to win the hearts of others over?
The story is emotionally evocative, full of fleshed-out characters, and dare I even say innovative? The key draw of Undertale is that nobody has to die, and it’s possible to realize that daunting mission statement. Quirky NPCs fill the game, and while you only meet them for a short while, you’re left knowing exactly the type of people they are by the time you’re done with them. A touching romance is well written, integral to the main story, and provides much-needed representation in videogames. Speaking of representation—there are several characters referred to in completely neutral terms. On top of all of that, multiple endings (that each tug at your heart in different ways) round out the Undertale experience, and the reason why Undertale wins this award this year.
Honorable Mention: Rocket League
Best Downloadable Console Game
Life is Strange
Daniel Castro: I’ve enjoyed videogames for as long as I remember, but whenever I need to talk about them in public, I can’t help but face the fact that the plot of most of them is a little dumb. In that regard, I’m so happy Life is Strange is now another fine example of how good the story of a game can be.
If you like interactive stories—such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones—you’ll feel at home in Life is Strange, although I have to say that there’s actually more gameplay and better animation in this one. One of the things that got me the most is how well done and researched the whole game is; it actually makes you learn a thing or two about photography along the way. It’s like a videogame equivalent of reading a good book.
But of course, the star of the game is the plot itself, with lots and lots of crazy things going on as the main character starts learning how to properly use her newfound powers in order to fix whatever is broken in her teenage life. I mean, I’ve impersonated space marines and whatnot in a plethora of games, but this…this is the kind of thing I wasn’t prepared for! There’s a strong message you’ll get to learn by the end of the game, and I’m still deciding which out of all of them is the one that stands out the most.
Honorable Mention: Rocket League
Best Mobile Game
Steven Universe: Attack the Light
Alex Jedraszczak: When people mention “Mobile Games”, I generally picture twitchy tappy games like endless runners or casual high-score puzzle games. When people mention “Mobile RPGs”, I generally want to run and hide before I hear either “ported from the SNES” and “onscreen D-pad”, or “dailies”, “action limits”, and “microtransactions”.
Steven Universe: Attack the Light avoids all of the above issues by being an original mobile RPG with a focus on story, and without any sort of endless quest-based, pay-to-win money-making strategy. There’s good use of touching and tapping, as one would expect from a mobile game, but manages to avoid having the words “frantic” or “addictive” fill every review.
While it may be targeted at a younger demographic (after all, Steven Universe is a license from a children’s cartoon), Attack the Light is an entertaining RPG to fill those spans of time longer than the two minutes you can stand to play Flappy Bird but not long enough for you to have thought to bring your 3DS along.
Honorable Mention: Mighty Switch Force! Hose It Down!
Best PC Game
Justin Nowosielski: Rocket League is just an absolutely crazy idea. It’s no wonder that it has taken this long for us to get a videogame with it. Who would think to combine soccer with racing? But someone dared to dream. And that dream brought us what is honestly one of the finest “sports” games out there.
Rocket League matches always stay fast-paced and frantic. There’s never a moment where you’re calm or bored. The cars are always fast, the stakes are always high, and your team is always speeding through the arena just hoping to push that ball a little bit more. Matches are quick, allowing for perfectly short gameplay sessions. The mechanics are so easy to understand that you could teach pretty much anyone to play in a matter of minutes. Your car controls incredibly well, to the point where you’ll never feel like your vehicle is fighting against you. Crossplay means that there’s never any long wait to jump into a match. And on top of all of this, your car can have its very own wizard hat. What more could you ask for?
Honorable Mention: Undertale
Best Console Game
Super Mario Maker
Stefano Wohsdioghasdhisdg: Have you ever been playing a Mario game and thought to yourself, “Self, this game is really fun (I’m assuming you’re playing one that you like, because why would you play one you didn’t like?), but you know what would be even more fun? If I could make my own Mario game! And didn’t have to learn how to program or make a ROM hack, because it was really easy and fun to do.” Well, guess what? Now you can.
Super Mario Maker is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: A Super Mario level creator. And not just Classic Super Mario Bros., but Super Mario Bros. 3 levels, and Super Mario World levels, and even New Super Mario Bros. levels. Now, creating levels is fun, but what’s the good of making something if there’s nobody to tell you how awesome you are for doing it? Not only can you upload your levels to let everyone else play them, you can play everyone else’s levels! These levels range from murder mysteries, to automatic scrolling levels where you don’t have to do anything, to people screwing around with the ability to stack enemies on top of each other, to recreations of other levels in different videogames, to insanely difficult challenges, to actual Mario platforming levels. Never before has there been so much variety in a Mario game!
Honorable Mention: Splatoon
Best Portable Game
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Diana Gray: Xenoblade Chronicles is a game in a class of its own, at least in my mind. The innovative gameplay, the gorgeous scenery, and the compelling story easily put it in my top three games of…well, ever. But before this year, there was a real problem—the game was incredibly rare, and if found, it was usually pretty expensive. The release of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D changed all of that. Hopefully you’re okay with buying a whole new 3DS, of course—but details, details. It’s worth it, trust me.
I will admit, I wasn’t part of the OG Xenoblade crew. I only got into the game this past year, when a certain LPer I enjoy began his incredibly informative walkthrough. I immediately fell in love (honestly, it’s hard not to when you can see just how much someone loves the game they’re playing). I don’t want to give too much away, as it’s definitely a game everyone should experience for themselves, but I can honestly say that this game changed my life. It’s one of those games that you wish you could replay over and over again and have every time be the first. The characters grow and change so much as the story takes its twists and turns, and it contemplates heavy themes such as destiny, friendship, and abs…uh, I mean, the meaning of absolute power. No abs. None at all.
All joking aside, the adaptation stays incredibly true to the main game, somehow still bringing a sense of majesty and grandeur to immense places such as Gaur Plains and Alcamoth, despite being on a tiny screen. That’s the most amazing part: every new area still managed to take my breath away. They only added features—the ability to spin a roulette to create a complete catalogue of trophies of items and characters and also A COMPLETE SOUNDTRACK WHICH, TRUST ME, YOU WANT. I’m so glad this game has become accessible to more people, and it was decidedly the best portable game of this year. Please go get this game. I’m begging you. Your life will never be the same.
Honorable Mention: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer
Best Game of Ten Years Ago
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Diana Gray: Oh good lord, where do I even start? There’s a reason everyone still talks about Ace Attorney ten years later, why another game will be released in September, and why cosplay gatherings still manage to draw upwards of thirty people in cosplay and countless more fans. This game means something to people, and it’s not something that can just be easily forgotten or pushed aside. Ace Attorney is one of a kind—there’s no other game quite like it.
There’s not another game where you can step into the shoes of a bumbling new attorney and take a starring role in your own courtroom drama. There’s not another game where kooky characters and name puns are practically expected at this point. No matter how many times you play the game, there are still some parts that will coax a chuckle out of you, even if you know they’re coming. There’s not another game that has a super attractive prosecutor who definitely DOES NOT have the hots for the protagonist. This game has spawned a thriving series of (soon to be) six main games and four spinoffs, many volumes of manga, a live-action film, several stage plays, and FINALLY, an anime. But I think the most unique part about the game (and the part that is still incredibly relevant today) is the community that it has built. Ace Attorney fans know each other, they respect each other, and at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team: to take down the bad guys and bring them to justice.
And none of this could have happened without the one that started it all, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. There’s nothing quite like that thrill that kicks in when the music stops after you present evidence or that moment when the “Cornered!” music starts blaring at an intense part of trial. The emotions are the same, whether it’s your first time playing the game or your fiftieth. And that is what is truly special about Ace Attorney, even ten years later.
Honestly, I’m kind of offended that this game didn’t win GameCola’s Game of the Year ten years ago. Thank God I showed up to fix the direction of this sorry site. Ace Attorney will forever be a game beloved by a fair amount, if not all, of the GameCola staff. It’s one of the games that keep us together, whether it’s serious discussion, playful bantering, or the fact that I haven’t finished that gosh darn walkthrough yet. Ace Attorney is truly one of a kind, both the game and the fandom itself. Even ten years later, ears still perk up at a single shout of “Objection!” And I, the resident fangirl of GameCola.net, firmly believe that they always will.
Honorable Mention: Shadow of the Colossus
GameCola’s 2005 Game of the Year: Resident Evil 4
Best Game of Twenty Years Ago
Nathaniel Hoover: “Best Game of Twenty Years Ago” is enough of an honor to begin with, but Chrono Trigger has what it takes to be a contender for “Best SNES Game”, “Best RPG of All Time”, and quite possibly “Best Game, Period”. What makes Chrono Trigger so universally cherished is that it’s a big enough game for almost everyone to find something to like, and most impressively, it’s about as objectively flawless as games come. Every aspect of the game is polished to the point where only false expectations and pure personal preference are likely to generate any kind of criticism.
Chrono Trigger isn’t a game so much as it is an experience. Story and gameplay are seamlessly interwoven; typical RPG conceptions of cutscenes and towns and dungeon crawls are thrown out the window in favor of a cohesive world where you interact with your surroundings in whatever fashion is most appropriate, be it talking or flipping switches or blasting the snot out of someone with Antipode 3. The old RPG formula of “mash the A button and heal sometimes” is nowhere to be found; party composition, choice of special equipment, and relative locations on the battlefield make a huge difference in how combat pans out, and enemies have all sorts of tricks that require honest-to-goodness strategy to overcome. Top-of-the-line graphics (with character designs by famed manga artist Akira Toriyama) and a thoughtfully and beautifully orchestrated soundtrack (by acclaimed composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu) create an incredible sense of atmosphere. Characters are memorable and human, with rich dialogue giving even random townspeople a sense of personality. The sprawling narrative does a superb job of developing the world and its inhabitants, bringing the heroes closer together as they travel across time to stop a series of interconnected threats that keep getting bigger as they go. Drama? Check. Humor? Check. Robots? Dinosaurs? Pants you wear on your head? A talking frog that says “thee” and “thou”? This game has it all. When the journey finally comes to an end, there’s a good chance you’ll be in tears, but a New Game Plus feature, lots of optional content, and multiple unique endings will have you reuniting with these beloved characters in no time.
Honorable Mention: EarthBound
Best Game of Thirty Years Ago
Super Mario Bros.
Nathaniel Hoover: With so many different genres and so many bigger and more advanced options to choose from, it’s rare to hear someone proclaim the original Super Mario Bros. as their favorite Mario game. While other games in the series are worth recognizing because of what they are, this is a game worth recognizing because of what it did. Super Mario Bros. was the game that launched the platformer genre as we know it.
Sure, earlier games such as Jungle Hunt and plain ol’ Mario Bros. had you jumping around a screen, but Super Mario Bros. introduced an array of whimsical worlds, a wide range of creative obstacles and colorful enemies, and a small but powerful collection of power-ups to help you through them all. Warp pipes and well-hidden secrets added a layer of exploration and meaningful replay value, two things that were practically the sole domain of RPGs (e.g., Ultima) and adventure games (e.g., King’s Quest) at the time. Continuous scrolling broke the mold of “one screen at a time” that characterized the platformer genre. For the first time ever on a home console, music was an essential part of the experience; memorable tunes created a sense of atmosphere in every location, also hurrying the player along at a faster tempo when time began to run out. The graphics were cleaner and crisper than seen anywhere outside of an arcade, and the controls allowed for more natural movement than was commonly possible.
On every level, Super Mario Bros. was revolutionary, and its success helped the NES reach a level of popularity that revitalized the sagging videogame industry—a popularity that endures to this day, if the NES Classic Edition is any indication. Without Super Mario Bros., GameCola might have been a website about actual cola. I think I speak for the entire staff when I say that we are eternally grateful to the pair of mustachioed plumbers who set out to rescue a princess and ended up accomplishing so much more.
Honorable Mention: The Oregon Trail
Staff Member of the Year
Alex Jedraszczak: As Editor-in-Chief, you can imagine I have the clearest view of which staff members contribute the most to the site, and it might not be our most popular members or those whose contributions are noticeable on the surface. It can get down to the last few votes cast to determine who’s Staff Member of the Year, and sometimes I get worried that certain members’ contributions aren’t recognized by the rest of the staff.
Not this year. This time around, I think everyone could see the effort put out by Joseph Martin, Staff Writer and Podcast Commander. Joe has always been a reliable staff member, but I feel like he’s really given it his all since taking over The GameCola Podcast this year. On top of the effort required to schedule, record, edit, and publish every month (I should know—that used to be my job), he’s gone out of his way to try to recruit new podcast members and find ways to improve the content and quality.
Hmmm, except that that was actually in 2016…anyone want to take bets on next year’s winner?!
Honorable Mention: Nathaniel Hoover
Game of the Year
Life is Strange
Paul Franzen: What else can be said about this game that my colleagues haven’t already covered in this article? …I have no idea, because I haven’t read it yet; Jeddy’s keeping a tight lid on spoilers. But I assume it won all of the awards, because it deserves it.
Life is Strange is an emotive experience; I think one of the reasons people like it is because it clicks with them in some personal way. Max is possibly the most me I’ve ever seen in a game (down to the light-gray hoodie and ability to travel through time), while Chloe was every kid in high school I ever wanted to be friends with, but couldn’t because I thought they were too cool for me. Like The Walking Dead (another GameCola award winner), it’s a story-driven game that lives and dies by your input—literally, in the case of a few characters. Make a wrong choice, and your shy friend commits suicide, or a dog gets run over by a car, or, umm, (spoiler alert) the world ends.
As with so many of these kinds of games, I think you get a fuller and richer experience playing it co-op. There’s nothing quite like working as a team to decide whether or not to kiss your long-time best friend. “Does she mean it as a joke? Do WE? If we kiss her, is that somehow going to result in someone else dying?” The game left me angry after completing each episode, but not because of anything bad it did—because I knew I’d have to wait another month (or longer!) for the next one to come out.
In short, the only bad thing I can say about Life is Strange is that it’s over, and I want more of it. I want more of it right now.
Honorable Mention: Bloodborne
That’s all for this post, but that’s not the end of the celebration! Be sure to come back July 30th for GameCola’s Christmas in July HoHoHoliBIRTHDAY LIVEcast Year-EndstravaganzAwards Spectacular 2015 in 2016. If you’re reading this today, then that’s tomorrow! Mark your calendars!