With the year posed at its tempestuous halfway mark, we here at Sound on Sight must contend with the difficult task of laying out a list of the best games from the first six months of 2015.
There are a ton of exciting games still set for a 2015 release, from Metal Gear Solid V, to Final Fantasy XV, to Xenoblade Chronicles X, to Mario Maker, but as of this particular check point, these are the top games of the year as voted by the Sound on Sight Games department.
Developed by HAL Laboratory
Published by Nintendo
Available on 3DS
Boxboy is the excellent puzzle platform game from Japanese giant HAL Laboratory (Kirby, Earthbound, Super Smash Bros.) which puts you in control of Qbby – a cute little square with two dots, for eyes and a pair of stick legs. The goal is to guide Qbby through different worlds in order to help him restore his home-world which was hit by a meteor. While at first it seems like the game has a pretty limited move set, new possibilities and elements are introduced along the way including teleportation and cloning. Qbby’s squares can also be used to reach higher ground, to keep doors open, and also as shields to protect him from lasers. In addition, by sprouting squares from his body, and then retracting them back into himself, he’s given a grappling hook which can be used to climb ledges.
The most striking thing about Boxboy however, is its presentation. HAL has opted for a straight 2D game with a bold and monochrome look and a simplistic score. After completing each level, players are awarded medals and ‘crowns’ which can be used to purchase costumes, music tracks, tips, and a series of bonus stages. There are seventeen worlds, various challenges, and post-game missions which take the simple ideas of the main game and expand on them. As Boxboy introduces new ideas, things becoming progressively harder, but each stage shouldn’t take more than a minute to complete, which makes it the perfect game to play when on the go. (Ricky D)
9) Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Developed by Dennaton Games
Published by Devolver Digital
Available on Mac, PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is unforgiving and brutal, not only in the actions that the game’s characters take part in, but also in the grueling difficulty it presents to the player. Wrong Number ups the ante over the original in a lot of ways: the maps are bigger, longer, and filled to the brim with enemies. One misstep will often result in death, but each step forward yields more information on the layout of the map, and the best path to take. From shotguns to chainsaws, machetes to bare knuckles, players will brutally kill hordes of enemies and paint the floors a crimson red, all while listening to one of the best soundtracks in gaming.
In the original Hotline Miami players could choose to wear the same mask for every mission, if it suited their style of play, but in Wrong Number the player is forced to play as a variety of characters, keeping each play style fresh and the player on edge. The game is equal parts sadistic, exhilarating, and frustrating. There’s a lot of unnecessary dialog, some of the controls aren’t exactly intuitive, and you will inevitably be killed by enemies that you couldn’t even see, but the feeling you get after acing a level is truly worth the price of admission. At the end of the day, Wrong Number is essentially more of the same, but on a much grander scale. Those looking for a few hours of rhythmic obliteration should give the game a try, and even if the game play lets you down, the soundtrack alone is worth the $15 dollar price tag. (Matt De Azevedo)
8) Axiom Verge
Developed by Tom Happ
Published by Thomas Happ Games
Available on Mac, PC, PS4
Originality, as a concept, is somewhat overrated. There’s something to be said for getting there first, but then there’s also something to be said for getting there in style. Axiom Verge is a game that pays more than a passing nod to the classic Metroid games, but does so with such panache that it’s hard to argue with the end result. The motto for self-professed Metroid fan and one man development team, Thomas Happ, seems to be, “Well, if they’re not going to make another Metroid, I’ll make one myself”. And thank the Lord he did. Axiom Verge starts out as the best Metroid game Nintendo never made. But while the game certainly takes its inspiration from the classic Nintendo franchise, Happ finds ways to go in new directions and give Axiom Verge a fully fledged identity of its own. From the surprisingly robust arsenal of weaponry, to the skills and power-ups that don’t directly ape the Metroid blue-print as you might expect them to, this is a game that feels fresh and familiar in almost equal measure.
The game tells the story of a scientist named Trace, caught in a laboratory explosion. When he wakes, he’s been transported to a strange world, inhabited by alien creatures. Soon enough he’s got a gun in his hand and he’s off on his journey to liberate the people of this strangle land, and learn the secrets of why he’s there along the way. There’s just enough story to keep the player invested, and with exploration often reaping worthwhile rewards, a compelling reason to go off the beaten path. Presented in a glorious 8-bit graphical style, with a chiptune soundtrack that is bound to be stuck in your head for days, this is a game that exudes nostalgia on every screen, while throwing just enough new ideas at you to keep you on your toes. Axiom Verge is one of the prime examples of just why indie gaming is the most exciting space in the market right now. (John Cal McCormick)
7) OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood
Developed by Roll7
Published by Roll7
Available on PS4, PS Vita
Building off the foundation laid by its predecessor, OlliOlli2 doesn’t rock the boat – it’s still a 2D-skateboarding game that sees you flipping and grinding along a diverse selection of pixel-art settings.
At first glance, OlliOlli2 does little to stand out from the myriad of smartphone games currently available. Moving from one end of the stage to the other without falling seems rather simplistic, and combined with some initially counterintuitive controls, strangely difficult.
After a bit of time, however, the stick-based controls click into place and the unassuming gameplay reveals a surprising amount of depth. Memorizing each course is a necessity if you’re going to hit those high score targets, and the various challenges – treasure hunts, time trials, and so on – push you to fully explore the levels at breakneck speed. Thank God for instant restarts.
Thanks to the gradual introduction of new tricks and abilities, it doesn’t take long for the difficult beginning to melt away, and soon you’re stringing one long continuous trick from start to finish and hitting high scores you had struggled to imagine when you first began. Don’t be fooled by the rather plain looking presentation or the low price point – OlliOlli2 is the best skateboarding game since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater first kickflipped its way into our hearts. (Tariq Ashkanani)
6) Affordable Space Adventures
Devloped by KnapNok Games
Published by KnapNok Games
Available on Wii U
Unique systems deserve unique games, and that’s exactly what Affordable Space Adventures for the Wii U delivers. A highly enjoyable stealth puzzler set against an interplanetary vacation gone horribly wrong, the game really excels at utilizing the gamepad to provide total immersion into the working operation of a damaged spaceship slowly recovering its many systems and trying to hang on long enough for rescue by a dubious travel agency. In order to successfully navigate through the eerily atmospheric landscape and the many treacheries along the way, the player must manipulate various aspects of the hobbled craft, from engine thrust to anti-gravity to landing gear, altering the strength of their outputs so as to avoid detection by various sentinels sensitive to emissions such as temperature or electricity. Using the gas engine around a robot that hates noise will result in a fiery, machine-gun death and a checkpoint restart, but successfully gliding your way past these remnants of an alien civilization produces sublime satisfaction.
The touchscreen not only works perfectly for this setup, with every system immediately accessible at your fingertips, but also makes a traditional controller option hard to imagine, especially with the charming DOS-style reboots, buzzing alerts, and other visual flares that create the illusion of an onboard computer. Everything in the game feels organic, from clever tutorials to a subtly told tongue-in-cheek story that culminates in the one of the most devilishly entertaining and inspired uses for Mii-verse yet. Combined with crisp visuals conveying a living, breathing planet, and a variety of inventive stages, the journey through the planet Spectaculon is a memorable one. When it comes to traveling the cosmos, don’t go cheap; Affordable Space Adventures is a game bursting with innovative ideas that could only be realized on the Wii U, making for one of the best and most distinctive experiences this year. (Patrick Murphy)
5) Cities Skylines
Developed by Colossal Order Ltd.
Published by Paradox Interactive
Available on PC
Cities: Skylines takes everything about building, planning, and managing a city and delivers it to you in an easy to digest format. Need a few more bucks to get through the next budget? Crank up the taxes for a bit. Had a sudden influx of kids and need more teachers to teach them? Increase your education budget. Need a place to put your new sports stadium, but everything is full? Buy more land, and expand your limits! A situation arose in my city where the big trucks were jamming up all the incoming traffic, so I zoned that area to ban big trucks, and built a back entrance that lead directly into the industrial sector, allowing the big trucks to actually move faster!
In another instance, my idea to ‘go green’ by installing wind turbines backfired when I needed more power than I had room for. So I just built a dam, and put a road across it. This not only sped up traffic, but it solved my power problems! No problem in Cities: Skylines ever feels like it can’t be overcome by just using a little imagination and strategy. The city of your dreams is just waiting for you to build it. (Mitch Stewart)
4) Life is Strange
Developed by Dontnod Entertainment
Published by Square-Enix
Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
If you could only pick one word to describe Life Is Strange after the first episode then it would be ‘potential’. Episode One: Chrysalis was bold and interesting, but it wasn’t a home run. From the sometimes iffy dialogue and voice acting, to the lack of any real pay-off for the choices we made, there were certainly some noticeable flaws in Dontnod’s story-focussed, consequence-based adventure. Telling the story of college photography student Max Caulfield and the circle of friends (and enemies) she has on campus, the first episode of Life Is Strange gave players a university simulator with a fantasy twist; Max quickly discovers she can reverse time on a whim, and suddenly life presents her with the opportunity to right wrongs, know all the answers to the questions her professor asks, and other things of little real consequence.
While flashes forward to an impending town-wide disaster gave us a reason to think that the story was going somewhere, the repercussions of the choices we made in Episode One weren’t fully apparent yet. That, coupled with the sometimes obnoxious cast of characters, and perhaps an over-reliance on the more mundane aspects of campus life, left me somewhat concerned that Life Is Strange would squander the potential of the strong idea at the core of the game.
But after three episodes, leaving us just over half-way through the story, the often cringe-inducing dialogue has become somewhat endearing and generally toned down, the relationships between the characters now feel like they’re built on legitimate emotional connections, and the gut-punch storytelling has produced some of the most memorable gaming moments of the year. With characters we’ve grown to care about, choices that carry over from one episode to the next that really seem to matter now, and a genuine feeling that anything could happen after the shock ending of Episode Three, it’s an episodic game that is now really hitting its stride. A perfect experience it is not, but as we head into the end game for Life Is Strange, the potential of the first episode looks closer than ever to being fulfilled. (John Cal McCormick)
3) Ori and the Blind Forest
Developed by Moon Studios
Published by Microsoft Studios
Available on PC, Xbox One
Ori and the Blind Forest is a masterclass in animation and game design. The gameplay offers a metroidvania adventure with difficult platforming and intriguing puzzles. Having one of the most memorable soundtracks of the year certainly helps as well. The story begins with Ori emerging from the Spirit Tree as a newborn and being adopted by a strange creature named Naru. Unfortunately, events have gone terribly wrong and the forest has been corrupted, leaving Ori to recover the three elements that will return balance to the forest. The opening cinematic plays similar to a Pixar movie with its sense of emotion and only scratches the surface of the story to come.
Microsoft saw what kind of magic was happening at developer Moon Studios and threw their weight behind it, making the game exclusive to Microsoft platforms. It was a great move, since the title is still one of the best on Xbox One and serves as their highest rated exclusive on Metacritic. What exactly makes Ori and the Blind Forest so successful? It might just be the movement the game evokes. Most of the upgrades Ori gets during the adventure allow him to jump higher or dash faster creating a very gratifying way to traverse the game world. There are sequences in the game that are utterly punishing that require mastery of these abilities, but the level of gratification at completion cannot be understated. Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful adventure, demanding of your attention. Whether on Xbox One or PC, it stands up against the best titles released this year. (Max Covill)
2) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developed by CD Projekt Red
Published by CD Projekt Red
Available on PC, PS4, Xbox One
The Witcher 3 doesn’t come storming out of the gate. In fact, its opening few hours are filled with some difficult moments. A wide, vast world filled with so much to do it is sometimes crippling; a combat system that demands you take the time to learn it or be prepared to die over and over. But once those first few hours (or ten) are under your belt, you’re about ready to experience one of the best RPGs in years.
Geralt of Rivia – the Witcher himself – is a man with his fingers in many pies. He’s on the hunt for an old friend, gone missing whilst investigating a mystical band of warriors (the Wild Hunt). He’s a card player, a gambler, a mercenary for hire and a ladies man. This translates as a whole host of different things to do in-game – all of which rarely end up feeling repetitive or dull. There’s no side-quest made up of collecting ten random objects, for example (step aside, Dragon Age). Rather, quests are well-written and surprisingly deep. One may task you with tracking a monster through a forest with your Batman-like Witcher-sense. Cornered the beast in a cave? Look up your bestiary to check its weakness then brew the proper potions and bombs to help defeat it. And it’s not all fighting, either. Another quest may see you uncovering the truth behind a massacre on a small island, using a magical lamp to reveal trapped ghosts who just want to talk.
It’s the sheer variety in quests that’s so impressive; each with their own story and characters. There’s plenty of random loot to discover scattered across the various regions, and the main story is great, but it’s all about the world you explore and the people that populate it. Of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s a gorgeous looking game (a blustery late-night storm in a forest has to be seen) and filled with all the weapon, armour and spell upgrades you’d expect in an RPG of this size.
The real achievement is found by leaving the narrative path and exploring – for it’s here that The Witcher 3 really shines. It might be an enormous game, but it’s a surprisingly intimate one, too. (Tariq Ashkanani)
Developed by From Software
Published by SCE Japan Studio
Available on PS4
The traits that make From Software’s titles so addictive and engrossing can also be the things that turn an audience away if delivered in a sloppy capacity or in uneven degrees. Cryptic storytelling, unclear objectives and a staggering difficulty curve have been the harrowing death knell of many a game developers ambitions. Luckily for From, and for gamers, the Japanese developer has found the perfect balance for this tricky recipe, and with their latest title, Bloodborne, they’ve even managed to spice things up a bit.
A sort of spiritual successor to From’s first big hit, Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne is also a Sony exclusive. Much like its progenitor, it eschews the refillable Estus (health) flasks from Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, in favor of consumable Blood Vials. That’s right, you are literally drinking blood to stay alive this time around, and with a blood transfusion beginning your adventure, Blood Echoes being collected as a form of experience, and a whole lot of blood being shed, one might even take a moment to give the first half of that title a heavy felt-pen underlining.
Another commonality Bloodborne shares with Demon’s Souls is its return to a more hub-based journey, with a surreal world called the Hunter’s Dream serving as your home base, while most of the areas have a clearly defined start and end point, rather than continuing to flow onward and upward as in Dark Souls. Emerging entirely new, though, is the central strategy of Bloodborne, a gameplay style that spits in the face of the shield heavy triumvirate which preceded it. Bloodborne heavily promotes aggression, and as such, requires a retooling and recalibration of what you may have learned in From’s previous titles. In addition, the Trick Weapons (duel functioning melee weapons), use of firearms (a series first) and a gorgeously moonlit Victorian setting help to really give Bloodborne its own unique voice, making it an easy entry point for people who may be unfamiliar with the previous titles.
Beautiful and brutal in equal measure, Bloodborne may just be Sony’s first must-have exclusive, and with that in mind, it’s to no one’s surprise that it tops the list of the best games realeased in 2015 thus far. (Mike Worby)