2015 was an interesting year for video game trends. There were more and more gamemakers deciding that the digital download was a far better way to sell their wares than that old-school game-disk-in-a-box routine. Crowdfunded games were popping up like popcorn on the stovetop. Virtual reality started making some serious steps toward being something people might actually buy and use. The lines between social media and gaming continued to blur. And with the growth of websites like Twitch and YouTube gaming, more people started getting their game on by simply watching somebody else do the button mashing. Go figure.
Amid all that, there were some pretty decent games offered up! And a good bunch of titles that maybe even the kids could fire up in the family room without Mom having to bat her pretty eyelashes. Here’s a shortlist of those that I kinda liked:
LEGO Dimensions: Here we have one of those bring-your-toys-to-life games where you use a number of chip-enabled action figures that become part of the adventure as you play. The difference with this one, though, is that this LEGO version of the genre plays through some 14 different dimensions—including the lands of The Simpsons, The Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, and the DC Comic homes of Batman and Superman. Oh, and it also offers up actual LEGOs as a building block part of the action. Overall, it’s the same kind of imaginative romp you’d expect if you could turn a full toy box into a video game … only with LEGO movie-style silly giggles and jokes tossed in for fun.
Ori and the Blind Forest: One of those downloadable games I mentioned above is this heartstring-tugging tale. Within the first few minutes of play, you notice that the lavish colors, shifting pools of light and dark, animated layers, studied use of orchestral underscore, and emotion carried by the story seem more like things you see and feel at the movie house than the game room. Gameplay wise, this is a danger-filled, obstacle-laden, explore-your-world platformer that demands a quick trigger finger to solve its puzzles. But that trigger pulling isn’t so much about blasting things as it is about orchestrating the central character’s interesting, ever-graceful movements as he seeks out his otherworldly forest home.
Splatoon: Here’s a game for those who like their shooters with a totally different splatter. Splatoon is Nintendo’s first foray into the multiplayer shooter domain, a heavily pockmarked arena that’s been dominated by the likes of Call of Duty and Halo. The difference here—and it’s a big one—is that this trigger-puller replaces all the other games’ graphic and profane gushes with splats of colorful paint. All the action takes place in the bright and hip world of Inkopolis. And through most of the team-play battles the goal is straightforward: Drench as much of any given arena in your team’s color as is possible during a three-minute match. It’s chaotically fun and nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
Star Wars: Battlefront: OK, this one’s a bit more of a straightforward online shooter than what I’d normally include in a list like this. But this is the year of Star Wars, right? This is definitely a game aimed at the online multiplayer blasting of X-wings and Stormtroopers—in places such as the forest-strewn Endor and the frozen world of Hoth—but the battling feels a lot more like a frantic game of laser tag than anything else. No buckets and mops needed for any kind of gory mess. There’s plenty of strategy at play, but very little gravity. And I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense.
Super Mario Maker: If you’re thinking, “Mario? Again?” then you’re not thinking big enough. After spending 30 years perfecting the art of the side-scrolling platformer, the creative minds at Nintendo have decided to hand the game-building keys off to someone special. And believe it or not, that special someone is sitting in your family room All the building blocks, power-ups and bop-worthy Koopas and Goombas are at your beck and call as you build all the Mushroom Kingdom challenges your little fire-flower-picking heart desires. No mess or nastiness to contend with, just maximum Mario amusement—personalized by you.