September 30, 2022

Including a shit ton of honorable mentions.

Including a shit ton of honorable mentions.

2015 was a great year for games overall. Not necessarily in terms of number of all-time-greats, but the sheer volume of really good experiences across multiple genres. There was pretty much something for everyone. (Although, 2015 didn’t have Puyo Puyo Tetris so calm the fuck down.)

As such there are a lot of games that would have made my list in a normal year that didn’t make this list. I was much more willing to cut off games whose flaws pissed me off than I might have been in a year where new releases had left me more unfulfilled. Maybe that’s not true, but with every frustrating experience having an entire lists worth of games that I really liked sitting below it, the difficult cuts became easier.

This list is about games this year that I really liked. So If a game isn’t on my list I either don’t like it, didn’t play it, forgot, or I just didn’t feel like putting it on this list because I’ve got enough shit already and I feel pretty eh about it. (Shoutouts to Evolve and Elite: Dangerous)


Honorable Mentions: Not Actually Released Games

There were some games this year that I had a lot of fun with, that weren’t together enough to make the list this year, but who knows what the future holds.

 

Unreal Tournament (Pre-Alpha)

This was a great jump in, jump out game for me this year. Gameplay is fast and exhilarating, guns look real good. Maps visuals are all over the place but I kinda don’t care. What I want from this game is here and free, it’s just only something I want for small bursts at a time.

 

Spaera (Beta)

This is basically Tetris Battle Gaiden without the license, but with competitive online. The result leads to some decisions in design, including 5-block pieces, that make it a lesser game but feel necessary to avoid copyright infringement. Also the free open beta only has random matchmaking so no playing against friends yet. Looking forward to the full release. 

 

Overwatch (Beta)

This game is going to be great. I am very excited for it, almost considered putting it on the list, but the nature of the closed beta keeps it off. I really want this thing to be out and available to everyone.


Honorable Mentions: DLC

Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser (Jaws of Hakkon, and The Descent)

DA: Inquisition was my number three game of the year last year and this year it got three solid single player DLC packs that I just gobbled up. The ending of DA:I left me wanting a sequel, but the DLC they put out this year actually quenched that desire, which was its goal. Trespasser in particular is the cap on the story of your Inquisitor and it’s a good end to that story, that still sets up the next Dragon Age game, whenever Bioware decides to make that.

It’s not as amazing as Mass Effect: Citadel, but it left me satisfied. This almost made the list just because I liked what Inquisition set up so much and was really happy to get a fitting epilogue to that journey.


Honorable Mentions: Video Games I Never Actually Touched Myself

 

Until Dawn

This is one I totally would have played if I owned a PS4, but I do not, so I ended up watching two entire separate playthroughs of it. Turns out the choices you make don’t quite matter as much as the game leads you on to think they do (What a shock). And yet, taking the formula of narrative choice based gameplay and applying it to a tropey horror movie story just works.

 

Contradiction – the all-video murder mystery adventure

If you like FMV, oh man, this game is for you. Dances all around the quality scale. This is a great ride on the performance side of things, even though the story is no great shakes. That they recorded new dialogue for showing almost every thing you find to every person you can talk to is what makes this.

 

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Not quite the same kinda thing as the last two, but I never did actually touch the video game part of this thing. The fun here comes from translating the purposefully confusing manual and getting the right information to and from the person with the bomb. I actually think the more you play and come to understand the mechanics of things here, the less interesting it is. There’s still the communication aspect, which is big, developing common terms and whatnot. But the wrestling with the bad directions under pressure is what I found fun, and after a handful of games you’re basically already rewriting them in your head.


Honorable Mentions: Video Game?

 

Her Story

Her Story involves using a terrible search engine on a fake old computer to comb through video to piece together a story until you are satisfied. For me, Her Story is an example the power of full motion video for serious character work. It’s the performance of Viva Seifert that holds this together. The moment where I knew I liked it was when I found the song. That Her Story works at all is impressive.


Honorable Mentions: Best Horror Game

Cities Skylines

This game entirely devoured a weekend of mine, I couldn’t stop as I watched in horror as my streets and bus stops became horrible atrocities. Cities Skylines doesn’t have disasters, but it doesn’t need them, the true horror is poor infrastructure. Not sure this is actually a video game and not some kind of Sisyphean nightmare I had.


Honorable Mentions: Video Games!

Hey, these are video games!

Splatoon

Splatoon makes console shooters fresh again with an emphasis on shooting the environment instead of other players. This makes the lack of precision not an issue and opened up the genre to new players. It’s neat and fun.

 

Yoshi’s Wooly World

Wooly World takes the charming visual design principles from Kirby’s Epic Yarn but ties them to a game that’s just more fun to play, with some actual difficulty chops. A Co-Op challenge that’s fun and allows for plenty of messing with your friend, but doesn’t punish you for it. The absence of a lives system actually makes a world of difference to the low stress feel of this game.

 

Superbeat Xonic

If you’re good at rhythm games have I got a game for you. Xonic overwhelms me for the most part, and I could only really play it with the difficulty turned all down. So this is a solid, challenging rhythm game that I can only scratch the surface of. I find some of the structure around the progression arcane and dumb, but whatever, free play mode works well.

 

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

I find it hilarious that the Rhythm game portion of this game (AKA the actual video game) is in a tiny menu option in the corner. So there’s a lot on the presentation side here that I don’t love, but the rhythm game part I really like. I have plenty of little nitpicks that kept it off the list, but I’m not going to go into them here. Best 3DS game I played this year.


Iam3DHomer’s 2015 Ambivalent Game Awards

I love you, but I also think you’re bad

These are games that I really do think they’re great in part, but most of what I have to say about them is negative. This includes games I love that broke my heart, games that I just think are structured wrong, and games that y’know, I just feel ambivalent about.

 

Ori and the Blind Forest

First of all I don’t actually like the aest
hetic or story in Ori. It’s emotionally exploitative in a cheap way that didn’t work for me, and I felt like it got in the way. Ori’s greatest asset is the gameplay tools at your disposal, this is a tight platformer. That’s why I like the game and what makes it fun. The highlight of the game for me were the chase sequences, specifically the one where you’re outrunning water rushing upward. But Ori really let me down in the final section, I just think the final third of the game kinda stinks. The game never put together all its gameplay pieces and really tested you. Instead you get sectioned off rooms that form no cohesive whole. It’s a bummer. The game also commits some cardinal sins of the genre: it has collectables that you can miss and never get back to and it closes off your save file after you beat the game. Ridiculous for this kind of game.  

 

Undertale

I love the character writing in Undertale but there just isn’t enough of it throughout the beginning and middle of the game. On top of that I didn’t find it fun to play, it was mostly tedious. The game’s very charming, but I didn’t find it that funny personally. (The game made me actually laugh out loud twice, and both of those moments were timing based and in the same section.) It also bothers me that you need to do a neutral run before you can do a pacifist run. Particularly because the trigger for the extra content is simply something that should have happened your first time through. I could have been ok with it if it had been contextualized better, but it was not. This bothers me more just because I don’t really like the neutral ending that much and it felt really cheap that the game made me go through it. Even with all that, Undertale might have made my list somewhere, because I do think the character writing, and use of leitmotifs associated with those characters is real good. Particularly in the content exclusive to the pacifist run. But.

For me, Undertale’s story is about getting people to rethink things. On one level that’s about pushing the player into the pacifist run. On another it’s about showing kindness to characters who had maybe given up on it too soon, and bringing out the best in them. And importantly, part of that becomes the game imploring you to not go and see everything in the game because to see everything you have to kill everyone (All of these characters that theoretically you care about, at least I do). Do you really need to know that badly? That the answer ends up being yes for so many players kinda makes me feel like Undertale failed on some level. It’s not just that so many people did want to suck all the information and life out of Undertale; It’s that even though I didn’t want to, I do know what happens in the genocide run for the most part, even though I haven’t played it or watched it. That it became so inescapable bothers me, and leaves me with a bad feeling about a story and sentiment I actually really like. So instead of being left with thoughts of characters I really like, I’m left thinking about how the game could have been built differently so that the Genocide run didn’t feel vital to so many players. That’s what keeps me from being able to wrap my arms around it. 

 

Just Cause 3

What matters to me about Just Cause 3 and why I like it comes down to the core mechanics, and the map you’re dropped into. The way the grappling hook, parachute, and the wingsuit interact is just a pleasure. Especially the wingsuit, and how in this game you can just fly, indefinitely but in a way that’s fun and requires some skill. The map is beautiful, so I just love flying over it. I just wish they had built their video game around any of this, I mean they did to an extent, with the way the game tracks everything and has multiple leader boards. (Although those always seem to draw on just a small number of random players in a way that makes them actually kind of useless)

But the missions in the game are bad, the story is bad, and Rico himself seems just a hair away from declaring himself an evil dictator. There is a fun open-world-sports-explosion game in here somewhere that would be great, but instead everything’s tied up in bad formula open world shit. Bleh. Also this thing needed multiplayer badly, if not something approaching the mass chaos of the Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod, or at least on par with GTA Online, then online Co-Op like Far Cry at least. Wasted opportunity.

 

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

There was a moment early on in the Witcher 3 where I realized I’d bought into their world enough to the point where the idea of taking everything not nailed down actually was no longer appealing to me, stealing, especially from poor farmers felt gross. That was the moment where I knew the game had me, but it was also where the game lost me. Once I was in the mode of being thoughtful with what I was doing, in terms of actually role playing, what I wanted to be doing completely conflicted with what the game wanted me to be doing. Not only that, but flat out what the game’s story wanted me to do, and who it told me I was, conflicted with what it actually wanted me to do.

Despite having a main character built around the idea of doing things for money, and a story pushing him forward in a hurry, to actually play the video game I needed to visit random question marks on the map to acquire a different currency: Experience. The leveling system ruined the cool world they had built here for me. I had run out of jobs to do, and done all the quests in the area, but I was only level 3 and the game told me I should be level 4 to fight the Griffin. And it’s not that the Griffin fight was impossible at level 3 (I ended up doing it at level 3 anyway because even after grinding I didn’t have enough XP before I was fed up.)

But that let me know that I was not going to be able to play this game the way I wanted to. It doesn’t help that everything about the story is pushing you forward like you’re in a rush. I think the writing is good, and I’m invested in the story, but it’s making me rub up on the required leveling grind in a way that really chafes. I encountered some enemies in the world that were frankly too high level for me, but they were attacking people so I tried to help anyway. The fight wasn’t actually hard, I could shield up and dodge at will, but these enemies would sometimes heal themselves at a rate just at if not a little faster than I could damage them because my number were too low. Eventually I’d spent so long fighting them that my weapon broke. Not fun. Tedious. Frustrating. And once I’d done it, my prize was a quest to fight a whole lot more of those same enemies right then with no warning. So fought them for a while, with my broken weapon, but eventually I got tired, and bored, and stopped dodging so well and I died, and permanently failed that quest. Oh well.

 

Yo-Kai Watch

I completely and utterly love everything about Yo-Kai Watch, except actually playing it. I love the setting, the little character stories, the weirdness, the way it’s made to appeal to kids and also wants to teach them things. Just so many little moments that made me light up with joy early on. But then it all fell apart for me.

The combat just sucks. It streamlines everything to make something that’s much more stimulating and engaging up front, but once the difficulty ramps up for boss fights, I completely hate it. I just feel like I’m not in control and I lose anyway. I would’ve slogged through the shitty combat, if the encounters had been of trivial difficulty, but as is, nah.

 

GTA V (PC)

So I have zero interest in GTA V’s single player, just… no. I don’t like the shooting, the mission design, or Rockstar’s brand of storytelling. None of that appeals to me. What does appeal to me is their big open world and driving around that with other people. Whether that’s with a friend or with no one but the knowledge that there are randoms out there. There’s something really ap
pealing to me about just driving in GTA V Online. Also flipping the bird in first person is exactly what GTA was always missing. But like Just Cause 3, I hate all of the structure in GTA V Online. The mission design is just garbage. Too many vehicles are tied into their bullshit economy that exists for micro-transactions but is also completely broken because the game is full of hackers. Oh, also the game is full of hackers who will just fuck with you randomly for the hell of it.

There’s fun to be had, and I spent more time with this than any other game not on my Top Ten, but also fuck this game. 

 

Life is Strange

Life is Strange controlled a lot of my year as I waited for the next release. What got me so excited about it was the end of episode 2, which pulled off exactly what I feel every narrative driven game about choice should be doing: presented a sequence that took into account what you had done in the game up until that point. So that the choices you made, and information you learned felt meaningful and vital.

Life is Strange then completely let me down by never doing this again, and instead tied up their story in a way that meant that the story they were telling would up being one I have no investment in and don’t care about. Ultimately, my excitement in the game was tied up in gameplay promises the developers had pushed forward, but never delivered on, instead bringing back literally every other shitty mechanic throughout the game. That’s not entirely true, they do try to bring it back in episode 4, just not in a way that really comes together. There’s still a lot in that journey I like, but the package doesn’t add up to enough to make the list. 

 

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

MGSV broke my goddamn heart. I was in love with this game, the core mechanics are so good, and everything feels so good. If this had just been a game about sneaking into places and stealing their mix tapes it would be on my list.

But every mission that tries to mix up the formula, fails, and is not fun. Every fucking time the story requires something other than the core gameplay loop, it kinda sucks. A lot of the scenario design I actually think is quite good, specifically in how it puts NPCs in specific locations, so that it’s always possible to get to them without grabbing specific intel. That would be cooler if I ever wanted to see or play any of the missions again but I do not. 

MGSV presented me with a story mission I hate so much, it made me hate the way the game works, because it took tools that worked in a specific kind of environment and then transplanted them to a different, closed space where it all went wrong. All the quirks that were fun and charming to me before now just piss me the fuck off. 

I have a hard time describing this, but the game forced me into being done with it before I was ready to be done with it. That it did so over 30 hours in, but still at a point where almost nothing has happened in the story just infuriates me.

Fuck.


The List

10. Taiko no Tatsujin V

Ha ha! This year I played my Vita import game before writing up my game of the year list!

This was the hardest spot to fill and I thought a lot about what would end up here, but Taiko just makes me happy. I love the gameplay, I love the style. Between cool vocaloid stuff, anime openings I love and just a lot of other tracks it has enough music I love. And importantly that’s basically all available upfront, no hoops to jump through to unlock 95% of the tracks. With so many games that could have made it, but left me feeling ambivalent, it felt right to instead put on something that just made me happy.


9. Duck Game

This is still probably the most fun I had with a multiplayer game this year. So much nonsense can happen so quickly. Between a ton of neat weapons and items, interesting varied levels, and dumb bullshit that’s just funny, so many little touches add up here. Whether it’s burning alive but dying above an opponent so that your corpse kills them, stealing an enemy’s hat after they’ve died, throwing an unconscious duck off the edge, nailing the cross map sniper shot, or just playing the drums as the world burns around you, it’s all amazing. 

Only reason it’s not higher is that it requires at least 2 other friends to play. Not something I could get into playing on my own.


8. Rocket League

Which is why Rocket League gets the edge, as it at least had some legs for me as far as jumping into games with randoms went. Rocket League also succeeds at being the first game I’ve played to really capture the feeling of playing soccer. (Whereas FIFA and other games always feel like weird soccer team sims.) The mechanics are just fun and tuned so well. The game’s pretty intuitive overall, although every time I pick it back up I never remember what buttons do what.

The customs game modifiers are fun and dumb, but also help illustrate how good the design of the base game is, as none of the ways you can mess with the physics wind up being that fun to play. Infinite boost is real neat though.


7. Duelyst (Beta)

Hearthstone meets tactical map gameplay; I’m in heaven. Yo, I love this game. To the point where I was firing away at it even through the growing pains of beta server issues at times. I just had a fervent desire to play more. Hearthstone itself never really clicked with me, since I’ve grown up with Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone’s streamlined nature didn’t allow me the freedoms of deck design I’m used to and love. Also the blind box structure is one I’m just past, I’m OK paying for cards, but I need to know what cards I’m getting. Hearthstone never felt like enough, I also got bored of seeing the same cards over and over, it needed something more.

Duelyst provided me with exactly what I didn’t know I wanted. The turn based strategy combat adds on a whole layer of complexity that makes me much more ok with seeing the same cards over, just because there are so many more ways to use them and situations they can create and deal with. I just feel much more fulfilled by individual matches, even if the deck building side still leaves me wanting.

This would be higher on the list, except that it also uses blind boxes which I don’t want to buy into, so my progress in, and enthusiasm for, the game is kind of capped by my limited card pool.


6. Massive Chalice

This is a game I’ve been following since it’s kickstarter was announced. Though I’m unwilling to ever put money into a video game kickstarter because I know too much about how hard games are, I was hopeful about Brad Muir’s pitch for a kind of XCOM plus Fire Emblem Awakening strategy game. I think it turned out pretty well.

The key to Massive Chalice to me is that it solved my biggest problem with XCOM, which is that the hardest part of XCOM is at the start before any of your men have leveled up. But once you have a good team of well trained soldiers much of the strategy of the game is trivialized. Unless they all died and you didn’t save scum, but then you were just kinda S.O.L. anyway. Massive Chalice introduces the idea of fighting these battles over a much greater period of time, so that characters can have children, grow old, and die. Practically, this means that you’re cycling through new troops constantly over the course of a play through, and it keeps the difficulty curve much better managed. On top of that it has some great enemy types that you really have to plan around, and has an additional focus on melee combat that also spices things up, over the cover based shooting of XCOM.

The civ management part of the game is also crazy, with all kinds of weird gene traits and genetics to worry about and as people age and change jobs there are just neat organic stories that form around their lives that you can look out for or just ignore.

Also I threw a mechanical contraption that I didn’t understand into the Chalice and everyone’s gender flipped. 10/10


5. StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void

I really like StarCraft 2, but had zero expectations going into this because I’ve always found the Protoss a little hard to relate to. In the story of the original StarCraft I never really felt like they had more than one character I cared about at a time, before they would kill him off to move on to someone else. Also, the story I cared about in StarCraft 2, namely the overthrowing of Arcturus Mengsk, was resolved in the last expansion, and I wasn’t that excited about fighting some generic ultimate evil.

Legacy of the Void totally is just about defeating an ancient ultimate evil, (like really close to the big picture plot of Mass Effect) but it is also the best of the three story modes for StarCraft 2. The key is that it’s full of great characters and ridiculous over the top moments. Also, the Protoss’ ability to instantly warp in units anywhere on the map is used and abused to great effect over the course of the campaign and really made me like playing as them.

Legacy of the Void was so much fun, it actually kinda blew me away. I’m also excited to play the Co-op missions that were added to the game, but as of writing have not gotten to them, so this ranking is based solely on my time with the campaign. It just follows through so fully and with such confidence in its own nonsense, I can’t help but love it. And some of those cutscenes are fucking incredible.


4. Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm streamlines and focuses the MOBA genre to the point where it stands out and apart from Dota and League of Legends. It pulls so much stress out of the experience and makes the genre accessible in a way it hasn’t before. Not just to new players, but also just for me as someone who was kind of burned out on Dota after 600 plus hours, and no longer willing to upfront the energy costs to get the gameplay highs.

A lot of that accessibility lies in HotS focus on map objectives and MMO style class roles instead of the standard MOBA roles. That both makes the core gameplay loop much easier to understand once you know the map mechanics, and makes your first time with a new hero a much easier time. This also means that the game doesn’t have the depth of a Dota and can’t reach the same kind of highs.

This is a game that’s for sure better with friends, but I played a lot of it solo as well. I could just zone out and queue games while listening to podcasts in a way that I just couldn’t with other multiplayer experiences this year. No game owned more of my year.


3. Super Mario Maker

I am obsessed with Super Mario Maker. I don’t really go a day without thinking about it. And I rarely go a day without at least fiddling with it a little. I’ve always loved 2D Mario games, those are the first games I played, the first games that mattered to me, they’re deeply ingrained in my soul.

The first important thing about Super Mario Maker is that it plays better than all of them. Specifically it plays how you feel those older games play if you haven’t actually played them in a long time. The iterative progress Nintendo has made to Mario’s control has never been more apparent than it is here.

It also fixes one of the great injustices in history, in that the game that gave Mario his best and greatest arsenal of tools and abilities, Super Mario World, did not provide him with with level design that truly made use of those tools. There was also a jank to that game that ROM hacks of SMW have always had to struggle with. Super Mario Maker solves these issues.

It’s not without its own issues though: Most importantly it’s not very good at serving up levels of a fair difficulty. Normal is often trivially easy, while expert can be a nightmare. Good fair levels are out there, and you can find them, but you have to put in work, and the main mode of the game does not do a good job of getting them to you.

That’s been frustrating enough to keep it off the number one spot for me, but goddamn it’s so fucking incredible.

The toolset of the level editor itself can’t be overlooked either. While most level editors are confusing and clumsy, Mario Maker’s is intuitive and fun. Even the weird ways that combinations are hidden from the player exists to encourage exploration and experimentation. Vital to that experience is how easy it is to playtest your levels. Instantly and at any point you can jump right in and out of your level. For me that’s where the proper difficulty experience has been, in setting up tasks and then seeing if I can pull them off. Just fiddling with the DNA of Mario games.

Super Mario Maker isn’t structured to encourage solid well designed Mario levels. It’s structured to allows players to sink their teeth into the guts of Mario, and break it. They want you to make a mess, because making a mess is fun. You can just look at the kinds of levels Nintendo themselves has been putting out there: they’re just making weird dumb levels, joining in on the fun.

For me a large part of the fun of games resides in learning. Skill curve in particular is in large part about learning how a game works. It’s about getting to the point where you can see the systems behind the polish and graphics, and understand how they work. To see what will happen before it happens. Mario Maker is all about learning the ins and out of Mario. Sometimes in ways that aren’t fun, but basically always in ways that are informative and interesting, to me at least. Mario Maker has the longest legs for me of any game on this list. And I kinda think it’s the best game this year.

For me, Super Mario Maker provides that joy of tinkering that I get from a game like Cities Skylines, but at the end I get a Mario level instead of just the cold emptiness of the void. It’s just not quite the game that meant the most to me this year.


2. Tales from the Borderlands

No game this year got me as invested in its story, characters, or lore as Tales from the Borderlands. It’s also fun and funny with a great sense of style and scale. On top of that, I had an active dislike for all those things in previous Borderlands games, so Telltale had a lot to prove to me going in. Not only did it impress me with its ability to get me invested in every piece of its world, but it also satisfied me in exactly the ways stories in games have been letting me down.

The constant character interaction I was missing from Undertale, I found here. The kind of focused plot that aligned the character’s interests with my own that was buried in The Witcher 3, I found here. The satisfying conclusion to a genre story, that made me feel like my personal experience mattered, that Life is Strange gave up on, I found here.

This was the best storytelling in games all year.


1. Persona 4: Dancing All Night

As I said in my review, Persona 4 is my favorite game ever, and I think P4:DAN leverages these characters better than any of the previous spin-off games. This is the only one that really lets them move forward after the events of that original game, and that’s what I’ve wanted to see from them. That said, that doesn’t mean this is the best story in games this year, it just means that it was the one I had the most invested in going in. That can go right and that can go wrong, and it went right for me here. My issues with the visual novel are ones of pacing, not content. At the same time though, it’s not the part of the game that made the biggest impact on me, and it’s not why it’s here at number one.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night is my game of the year because it is the most profound gameplay experience I had this year. Rhythm games have very much been a genre that appeals to me in theory but not practice for a long time.

There are two major problems I’ve had:

A) I think the skill curve in a lot of Rhyth
m games is bad;

B) My taste in music is kinda eclectic, so finding games without enough songs I want to play over and over to even feel the skill curve can be tough;

C) I’m kinda bad at Rhythm games, and specifically I mean my brain needs time to process what I’m going to do next before it will relay that information to my hands and for a lot of rhythm games that’s too late as they rely on twitch reflexes and can be extremely punishing. (That’s another reason I’ve always been pushed away from rhythm games that use peripherals, I don’t really want to wrestle with some weird plastic thing my hands I have to learn how to use from scratch, that’s just another headache for me. I like controllers because they minimize the time difference between brain input and thought.)

The result of this is that when I jump into a Rhythm game I often find myself easily overwhelmed, OR I have to play on a difficulty so easy I find it super boring and not fun because I’m processing so little. With most rhythm games I can’t find a correct difficulty setting for myself. Also frustrating is that I often don’t feel like the easier difficulty settings even really prepare you for the next level up. Mastering easy can still leave me feeling completely overwhelmed on Normal. These problems had pushed me away from the genre in large part. Sure there are simpler, more accessible rhythm games, but I end up finding those boring because they’re not throwing enough at me, so I disengage and don’t feel compelled to go all the way with them.

Again, I find the idea of rhythm games inherently appealing, and music is not something beyond me. I used to the piano and I had many of these same issues with it: Finding songs I wanted to learn was hard, and I needed something complicated enough but not too hard. Also when I learned a song I wasn’t sufficiently into playing it to sound good, I became more interested in just playing it faster and faster. Rhythm games are exactly what I want, but I want something that I can push against that will push back at me. Persona 4: Dancing All Night is the first rhythm game that’s really delivered on this for me. This is the game that taught me how to play rhythm games. Every other rhythm game I talked about is one I only played because I connected with this game so strongly.

Too many Rhythm games limit the difficulty by limiting the number of buttons used, I think this is bad design. When starting a new rhythm game I need to train my hands to do the things the game wants from me, I should be getting used to all of them when the stakes are at their lowest. P4:DAN exposes you to all its ideas and controls up front. As the difficulty increases the game throws more at you, gives you fewer respites, and finally mixes up what it asks you to do in simple yet monumental ways. This structure seems like a simple thing, but it’s not, it takes work and nuance to correctly fine tune a game to work this way this well, and frankly many rhythm games don’t even try. It’s doesn’t make those inherently bad experiences, but it’s why they play to such a particular niche audience. They’re only able to serve people who already know how to play them, because they’re not successfully teaching new players. Or they’re on the other side and too simple or shallow to be truly worth sinking into beyond surface level.

This game means so much to me because of how it taught me, how it pushed me to try harder and be better at it, because I felt myself getting better. It’s the high you get from speed running a game, from playing the same content over and over fighting for those extra scraps of improvement. Except here I was fighting with the game not against it, It stayed just ahead of me giving me a reason to keep pushing forward. When I started playing the game I could barely handle it on “Normal,” and now “Hard” is my natural default. I’m still pushing into the highest difficulty of “All Night,” where 5 mistakes on a song is too many. It’s thrilling and exhausting. Add on top of that play experience a game oozing with style, characters, and music I love deeply and you have my game of the year for 2015.

Thank You For Your Time.