I wanted to just list Land Sliders (Free) ten times, since it truly was one of the best games of 2015, and call it a day on this list. After all, I’ve got a lot of things that involve drinking, catching up on my various TV backlogs on the Apple TV I got for Christmas, and trying as hard as I can to not suck at Star Wars Battlefront while using a controller on the PC version of the game. And Land Sliders is…prettygreat. I mean, you can control a washing machine collecting socks while dodging bears. How can you not love that? But I’ve heard your woes, commenters. Here’s a list of my favorite and most memorable games of 2015…that weren’t Land Sliders.
PARTICLE MACE, $2.99 I recall first playing this around the weekend of PAX Prime, slightly ahead of the game’s release. Thanks to its portrait nature, the game wound up being perfect for when I was waiting around in a line for something, or just chilling out in the press lounge between meetings, away from the hustle and bustle of the massive crowds, like when I’m pretty sure I accidentally walked in front of someone taking a photo with Markiplier. For most of the early part of the year, this was my go-to game whenever I was bored, thanks to it being perfect for that, and offering a really cool low-fi aesthetic with agame that struck that perfect balance between accessible and really difficult.
The Executive, $2.99 Look, at this point I’m tired of clickers, but The Executive really will prove to be ahead of the curve in 2016 when a bunch of games start using clicker structure around a more traditional kind of game. The Executive can’t be described as ‘traditional’ in much any way at all, though: its whole aesthetic celebrates a well-realized absurdism and a thematic coherence that few other games manage to realize. This is all code for “you can flame-kick a business werewolf in the face." And the gameplay nails the “can play for a minute or an hour" factor that the best mobile games often have.
Attack the Light, $2.99 I’m a huge fan of Steven Universe, and some of the best times of 2015 were with me and a good friend of mine, sitting around drinking scotch and binging on the show because we are adults and that is what adults do. I had high hopes for this one because the developer, Grumpyface, had done a ton of solid games for Cartoon Network already. But they knocked it out of the park here with an RPG that recalls the Mario RPG games, with plenty of clever references to the show and on RPGs in general. They just made a darn good RPG, one of the finest of the year regardless of its license.
PAC-MAN 256 - Arcade Run, Free I mean, the Crossy Road (Free) developers making a Pac-Man game sounded like a winning concept off the bat. It wasn’t a surprise that they knocked it out of the park, creating maybe the best Pac-Man game since Ms. Pac-Man ($2.99) came out. High praise, especially with Pac-Man Championship Edition DX ($2.99) fresh in our minds, but that’s just how good this was.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved, $9.99 It was basically Geometry Wars 2 combined with Geometry Wars: Galaxies with a bit of Super Stardust thrown in. Of course I was gonna love it. I knew a couple months ahead of time that this was coming to iOS, and it was a pain to keep this a secret, and to not know when exactly it was finally going to be available. I had played a bunch of the game when it released for PC (and I think it released late enough in 2014 that I’m fine considering it for a 2015 list on mobile), and I wasted no time deep-diving into this one. It’s still a game I play often.
Trigonarium, $0.99 Maybe I didn’t give this one the highest star rating, and I do think Geometry Wars 3 outclasses it. But there’s still a lot I like about this game. Maybe it’s the wealth of game modes, and the dynamic levels always bringing surprises. The dash-attack gameplay really separates it from Geometry Wars as well. The game is perfect for both short sessions and longer deep dives. The updates along the way helped out, too: MFi controller support and Apple TV support had me coming back to this one again and again over the year. It was definitely one of my most-played games in 2015, and a required mention here.
To Be Or Not To Be -Ryan North, $6.99 I don’t think any game made me laugh harder than Ryan North’s goofy take on Hamlet. I’ve been a fan of his for a while, and getting to play Tin Man’s adaptation of his gamebook was a real joy. His take on Hamlet is so ridiculously good, and teaches you a lot about Hamlet that you might not have realized reading the play in high school. It deconstructs, criticizes, parodies, and just goes in entirely different directions from the Shakespeare original, all to fantastic results. You’ll want to keep diving in again and again to find the new story threads, not just becuase there’s new art to find and endings to unlock, but because you’re ensured a great time along the way. Seriously, this is absolutely brilliant.
Radiation Island, $4.99 Atypical Games deserves a ton of credit for simultaneously pretty much creating the first real mobile open-world survival game, and knocking it out of the park with a game that was fun and accessible. Yet, you could play it for hours and hours on end, and the only thing stopping you would be the intense battery drain. And there was an absurd amount to do, and that’s even before the multiplayer aspects unlock. And I think beyond the really high bar Atypical set, combined with the game’s stupidly-low $2.99 price, it might have killed the mobile open-world survival genre by making it impossible for anyone else to possibly live up to this. Remember The Wild? I wouldn’t blame the developers if they saw this and decided to just give up, because it would be impossible to match Radiation Island.
Her Story, $2.99 The most unique game I played this year. The whole structure of the experience, where the story is all right there for you, you just have to piece it together, was utterly fascinating. There were several jaw-dropping moments as the revelations came together. And the game was content to let you sit there and discover them for yourself. The emotions came from you, not from the game. The acting and writing was rather great, much needed for a game all about FMV! I’m glad to see someone trying to revive FMV games, because they got a bad rap from the Sega CD era, but Sam Barlow just set a really high bar for anyone else daring to try and make an FMV mystery to cross. Or, any story-based game, period.
Horizon Chase, Free Dear anyone who’s trying to do a retro homage: this is how you do it. Horizon Chase‘s inspirations are clear, but it is the arch-example of making something that plays like what it felt like to play the racing games of olde, rather than what they actually were like. The game was gorgeous, and had an amazing (plus authentic) soundtrack, and helped spur a marriage proposal. What’s not to love?
Downwell, $2.99 My game of the year. It takes a lot for a game to outshine poutine and fried chicken sausage, but Downwell did just that when I got to go hands-on with it while meeting the Devolver Digital folks at Bangers Sausage House in Austin. Seriously, I love my poutine, but not as much as I love Downwell. This game hooked me for hours and hours on end like no other game managed to do. It compelled me to practice and improve, and beating it for the first time was my proudest gaming triumph in a while. It’s such a well-made game in every aspect, and there’s no reason not to think future games from Ojiro Fujimoto (aka Moppin) couldn’t be better since this was his first retail release. Absurd. And he’s such a humble dude who seems excited to make games for people, that even as a newcomer to games, only a heartless monster could be mean and unwelcoming to him. I’d say that it would be difficult to top this, but considering Moppin stuck the landing and managed the hype that came after he started posting GIFs of Downwell on Twitter, I believe anything’s possible. I’ve sunk countless hours into Downwell, it occupies what seems to be a permanent place on my iPhone dock, and it was an easy choice for my game of the year (that wasn’t Land Sliders).