May your backlog never be empty
2015 is coming to a close, which means it’s time for our bi-annual tradition: recommending a bunch of games we didn’t quite get around to reviewing this year. Not because they were bad. Not at all! In fact, many of these games were close contenders for our 10 coveted Game of the Year slots.
But we are merely human, bound to the ceaseless rigors of a 24-hour clock. With behemoth games like Fallout 4 released this fall, there were bound to be a few games that fell through the cracks. We’ve gone ahead and rounded up ten great games you might’ve missed amidst the glitz of big-budget spectacle. (And be sure to check out our list from June for 10 more great games you might’ve missed this year.)
If you follow indie games at all, you’ve likely heard people namedrop Undertale a few times this year. People love this game. And let this serve as your official recommendation: Stop reading and go play it. Undertale rewards going in blind.
Still here? Need more convincing? Okay, it’s a JRPG, sort of. It’s also a bullet-hell game, sort of. And it’s pretty funny and irreverent, sort of. Think of it kind of like a modern-day Earthbound...sort of.
Undertale ‘s a mishmash of genres, backed up by some silly writing and memorable characters. Again: Some people really love this game. It even caused some “GameFAQs Internet Poll Drama” recently, so congratulations Undertale—you’re officially a hit.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
“Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire? The red wire or the blue wire?” It’s a classic movie trope, and now it’s an amazing video game. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is an asymmetrical experience where one person works to defuse a bomb while the other player(s) give instructions, found in a manual (here) accessible on a phone or second computer.
Expect lots of yelling. Expect to find out your friend/significant other/dad/mom/whatever is terrible at giving/following instructions. Expect your relationship with that person to be severely tested.
It’s a lot of fun.
You are falling down a well. You shoot bullets out of the bottoms of your boots. Try not to die.
That's pretty much Downwell's elevator pitch. It's a simple little arcade game, but tight controls and a bumping soundtrack make it damned addictive—another of those "I'll just try one more run" games. Did I mention it only costs $3? That's a criminally low price for one of the best platformers since Spelunky.
Mini Metro is what I play right before bed these days. It’s a puzzle game where you’re put in charge of designing subway systems for various cities (London, New York, Saint Petersburg, et cetera), with a minimalist transit map aesthetic.
Each map starts with a handful of stations before ballooning into a complicated web of high-capacity lines, tunnels, and interchanges. If you’ve ever sat and cursed under your breath at a subway car that’s running twenty minutes late, Mini Metro will help you understand why.
I’ve gotten a bit tired of pixel art the past few years, but occasionally a game comes along that just nails a specific niche from twenty or thirty years ago. Last year? Shovel Knight. This year? Odallus, a throwback to Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and Castlevania that feels like an actual relic of the ‘80s.
The gods have abandoned you! Darkness is consuming the land! Your village has been burned! Someone kidnapped your son! You’re forced to take up arms one last time even though you’re, in the immortal words of Danny Glover, too old for this...well, you know. And your name is Haggis. Seriously.
I wouldn’t say it’s the best Metroidvania of the year—I enjoyed Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge a bit more. But Odallus seems to have flown under the radar, so it’s worth highlighting here.
Speaking of Axiom Verge…did you play Axiom Verge? Taking place on a strange alien world, Axiom Verge leans pretty heavily into the Metroid side of “Metroidvania,” especially with some none-too-subtle homages in the artwork.
It’s a pretty great game in its own right though, subverting as many genre tropes as it upholds and packing a decent story under its action-heavy framework. Add in a ton of secrets and a healthy dose of “Bosses that take up two-thirds of the screen” for flavor.
Personally I think the game falls apart in the back half, with some awkward or even downright-bad boss encounters toward the end, but Axiom Verge is still well worth picking up for Metroid fans—and it’s even more impressive after you find out the entire game was created by one person.
But on to Stasis. It’s also an isometric point-and-click horror game, heavy on atmosphere. You wake from cryosleep aboard an abandoned spaceship and what follows is an incredible pastiche of gripping science fiction mixed with homages to Alien, Event Horizon, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and other genre favorites.
Don’t expect jump scares, per se. Stasis is subtle, unnerving, and easily one of the best indie titles of 2015.
Age of Decadence
There is a lot that might turn you off to Age of Decadence. It's confusing as hell out the gate. There are about a million skills to choose from; no quest markers; tons of skill-based quest solutions; multiple story branches that will remove characters and entire quests from your game; the sort of grim, "everyone is bad" morality found in The Witcher universe.
To me, it sounds like paradise. Age of Decadence is a bit rough around the edges, even for an isometric CRPG, but there's an interesting core—the same willingness to experiment with the genre that made Divinity: Original Sin a surprise hit. Combat is clunky, dialogue doesn't always land, but if you want a deep and innovative CRPG I recommend giving this one a try. The developers even released an expansive demo that covers the opening of the game.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is your domain. In Kingdom, you ride into a small camp with naught but a bag of coins. Your only means of interaction, as “King” of this wilderness, is to pay people to do work for you—constructing bows, using those bows to hunt for food, building walls, et cetera.
Every night your realm, with its flimsy wooden ramparts, comes under attack by demons. Your villagers valiantly try to hold them off, giving you another day to expand, another day to conquer the wilderness.
It’s one of the most creative rogue-alikes I’ve played, though the game takes a looooong time to get going—a real blow when you’ve sunk hours into your kingdom and then it falls apart, forcing you to start over.
Disregard the cheesy early-2000s “I’m a video game!” name—Crookz is a solid real-time-with-pause tactics game about pulling off heists (capers?) in the most stereotypical of stereotyped 1970s settings. Like, they got Ron Jeremy to be in the trailer.
You direct a squad of four thieves through various ‘70’s locales, contending with locked doors/guards/security cameras/et cetera to try and escape sight-unseen. Quite a few Steam reviews compare it to the 1998 game Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, which seems like a pretty good touchstone aside from the more serious setting.