Jean-Luc Botbyl’s Favorite Hipster Trash of 2015

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Posted January 5, 2016 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Video Games

No, these games are not actually trash. No, I’m not a pretentious hipster. No, these games are not just here because they aren’t “mainstream.” Maybe I need to rework that title a bit so that it better reflects what this actually is.

The thing is, it’s not exactly a Top Ten video games list. Well, I guess it kind of is, in the sense that this post contains a list of ten video games that came out in 2015 that I enjoyed my time with greatly. They’re loosely ordered, but the only one that is truly accurately placed is my number one game, which I won’t give a way here. No, you have to read the entire article. Or, you know, scroll down to the bottom, but that’s no fun now, is it? Oh, you mean you don’t want to read 2000 words of incoherent rambling? Too bad.

The Token AAA Game I Haven’t Finished Yet…

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

MGSV

If I had played more of Metal Gear, I have no doubt that it would be much higher on my list. It strips away everything I dislike about the franchise (the ridiculous, over the top, mind numbing story) and replaces it with actual gameplay. Obviously, there’s still some story here, but fortunately, it’s easy enough to completely ignore. Instead, MGSV focuses on refining its systems. There’s a lot of freedom here – different playstyles are not only made available to the player, but players are encouraged to experiment. The best moments were reminiscent of Dishonored, which is one of my all time favorite games. I probably won’t be spending much more time with this game for a while, but I definitely look forward to diving back into the open world that was built for it.

The Telltale Game I Haven’t Finished But Is Already Better Than Game of Thrones…

Tales From the Borderlands

Tales From the Borderlands

Before I dive into talking about Tales From the Borderlands, I will say that I haven’t quite finished it yet. That being said, it’s the best Telltale experience I’ve had since Wolf Among Us wrapped up. That could change, but from what I’ve heard, the game only improves with time, and manages to stick the landing, so I look forward to that. Anyways, Tales is quirky and fun in a way other Telltale games aren’t. It captures the aesthetic and feel of the Borderlands franchise perfectly, and that’s half the reason I was so into Borderlands. Plus, it staples a real story onto the game, at the cost of the combat, which, in my eyes, is a worthy trade. Plus, Telltale finds a new way to tell a story, rather than just having a linear narrative.

The Tech Demo That Somehow Turned Into a Brilliant Game…

Grow Home

Grow Home

Yes, Grow Home was the best Ubisoft game this year. I say that without having played any other Ubisoft game that came out this year, but then again this is the only one that I actually cared about enough to try, and I’m glad I did. It’s kind of a weird thing, and feels a lot like a tech demo. “Hey, look, we have a pretty cool engine here, let’s throw something out there on it.” That’s pretty much how I imagine Grow Home got made. The thing is, there was definitely a lot of care that went into this game. It feels sort of like a platformer, but isn’t exactly. It also feels kind of like an adventure game, but isn’t exactly that either. It’s more of an exploration game, but that’s not really a genre. Regardless of its classification, Grow Home is both endearing and a ton of fun.

The Nintendo Game That I Had a Ton of Fun With…

Splatoon

Splatoon

There’s something ironic about the best shooter this year coming from Nintendo. Maybe it was a bad year for shooters, or I just didn’t play enough of them, but Splatoon was easily the best of the bunch. It crafted an endearing world and set of characters to use as a backdrop for the actual gameplay, which ended up being kind of incredible. The music and aesthetic of Splatoon were a big part of why I had so much fun with the game. They established the atmosphere and tone, but on their own, wouldn’t have been enough to secure a spot on this list. However, the devleopers crafetd a core gameplay loop that was fun, and felt good to execute on. Everything about Splatoon really came together in a way that made it an experience worth spending a bunch of time with, and something I would love to revisit.

The Game That was The Opposite of What I Expected and I Loved Anyways…

Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest surprised me. The trailers all made it look like it was story based, and that the platforming would be secondary to the story. As it turns out, the opposite was true. While there is a story, it isn’t the main focus of the game, rather, it’s just an excuse for the player to move from area to area. Fortunately, the actual gameplay is excellent. I’ve always played platformers pretty casually, largely to experience a unique mechanic or aesthetic (The Bridge), a vehicle for a great story (Braid), or just a classic game (any of the Mario games). Ori and the Blind Forest turned me on to a different kind of platformer – one that is pretty hardcore and exceptionally difficult. There’s no handholding here, you have to teach yourself how to get through the game. The result is a fun, rewarding experience that is worth going through multiple times.

The Game That Turned Me Onto a Genre I Previously Didn’t Care About…

Undertale

Undertale

Undertale is a game I heard a lot of great things about, and yet, when I bought it, I did so begrudgingly. I’ve never been big on 2D RPGs, though I will admit there are some great ones out there. For some reason, though, Undertale really did it for me. The first hour was kind of a chore, but everything after that was great. The game has a surprising amount of depth to it, which I was certainly not expecting. This is true not only of the story and world building, but also of the gameplay. The way Undertale plays with combat and save systems is pretty insane to me, and surprisingly unique. It turns the concept of not having to kill anyone into more than a gimmick – every combat scenario becomes a puzzle, which is fortunate because the actual combat is kind of boring. The game also boasts great writing – the story is interesting, and it has a great sense of humor. The bottom line is that there’s a lot to love about Undertale, even for someone who isn’t usually into that kind of game.

The Game That Made Me Feel Like a Badass…

Rebel Galaxy

Rebel Galaxy

Have you ever wanted to take on the role of the captain of the Serenity? Rebel Galaxy, in essence, allows you to do just that. Flying through the galaxy, doing pretty much whatever I wanted, was one of the best experiences I had all year – and one I continue to go back to. The scenarios this game sets up never seem to get old, especially since much of it seems procedurally generated. The universe existed around me, and I could interact with its many inhabitants however I saw fit. Rebel Galaxy, in addition to just being a ton of fun, is also quite rewarding. The progression system isn’t exactly unique, but slowly going from having to flee from encounters to seeking them out is a lot of fun. Even though the game is challenging for the first few hours, the aesthetic and music kept me coming back. It feels a lot like Firefly – at least until I discovered custom soundtracks, which are excellently integrated into this game.

Jean-Luc Botbyl presents: We the Nerdy’s Award for Excellence in Walking Simulators

The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner's Guide

It’s hard to imagine that The Beginner’s Guide comes from one of the people responsible for the Stanley Parable. The wise cracking, fourth wall breaking narrator from that game is completely gone here, replaced by the solemn, reflective voice of Davey Wreden, who guides you through a compilation of half finished video games. The game plays up the classic trope of the unreliable narrator in a fashion that is truly fascinating. The exact nature of the relationship that Wreden describes throughout the course of the game is never entirely clear, but there’s something powerful about that ambiguity, especially as the game’s delves into increasingly dark, heavy territory. Never once is it afraid to shy away from these particular themes – though they are approached with a degree of subtlety that only makes them more impactful. The Beginner’s Guide is a game about a lot of things –  friendship, depression, art, among others – and it deals with each of its themes masterfully.

The Game That Made Me Feel Like a Creep…

Cibele

Cibele

Cibele is a game that is extremely uncomfortable to play through. It’s just over an hour long (two, if you look and read through everything on Nina’s desktop), but in that time, it tells a compelling story. Cibele doesn’t have much in the way of traditional gameplay – the closest thing to that is an in world MMO, that mostly involves pointing and clicking to move and attack. This is combined with extensive sequences of FMV, as well as the opportunity to explore the desktop of the main character, Nina. The story is told across mediums, and each of these mediums is little more than a  vehicle for the story. For instance, while playing the MMO, you get to listen in on Skype (or its equivalent) conversations. In addition to some excellent writing, the game’s blending of multiple mediums to create a coherent story is definitely commendable. If anything, that’s what makes the story so successful – though it does create an uncomfortably powerful sense of voyeurism.

The Game That Destroyed Me Emotionally, Multiple Times…

Life is Strange

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Life is Strange is easily the game that resonated with me the most this year. The team at DONTNOD did a great job building the world of Arcadia Bay into something truly unique. It brought a new level of immersion to video games, at least for me (Aside from a few lines of dialogue in the first episode). Unlike other adventure games, I truly felt that Max was a reflection of myself. As a result, the characters in Life is Strange felt like people that I actually knew. Pretty much everyone that you interact with in Arcadia Bay has depth to them. Even those with limited screen time feel like they have stories, and that DONTNOD managed to pull that off is truly a feat. The result of all this is that I felt like I knew the characters personally – and that leads to some truly powerful moments throughout the games five episodes. The main plot, the relationship between Max and her best friend Chloe, is quite engaging, and the character dynamics that surround it are just as strong, if not better in some cases (ie Kate’s sub plot). Plus, the sci-fi backdrop allows for a fun shake up of the Telltale adventure game format that differentiates Life is Strange from its contemporaries.


About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.