If there’s one thing that nearly every AAA video game released in 2015 had in common, it’s that they’re all absolutely exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the dozens of sprawling, open world games proudly perched atop every game of the year list. Sometimes I just want something a little different before I pour another 100 hours into Fallout 4 and forget why I'm roaming around a post-apocalyptic wasteland in the first place. Luckily, 2015 also gave us a ton of fantastic independent games, but they rarely received the critical acclaim and press coverage of their big budget counterparts. With that in mind, here are the 5 best games you didn't play in 2015.
Chances are you probably played (or at least heard of) a completely different fast paced, 2D monochromatic game in 2015. Circa Infinity might lack the depth and grace of a game like Downwell, but it more than makes up for with its innovative take on classic puzzle-based platforming. The platforms here are radial rather than linear, and progress is made by traversing concentric circles to the pulsing beat of some of the year's best music while avoiding enemies. It's shockingly simple in it's execution, but maddeningly difficult to master as the game's aesthetic lulls you into a trance while simultaneously forcing you to be hyper-aware of your surroundings. If the prospect of playing a club drug-laced bastard child of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Hexagon piques your interest, Circa Infinity is a game you can't miss out on.
Affordable Space Adventures
A list of games you didn't play in 2015 wouldn't be complete without a digital-only Wii U game not published by Nintendo. Affordable Space Adventures' greatest strength is also the reason why it's likely to wallow in obscurity ad infinitum; it's the perfect proof-of-concept title for the woefully underutilized Wii U tablet controller. At its core, Affordable Space Adventures is a brilliant physics based puzzle game which wisely swaps direct control of your ship for a Star Trek inspired touchscreen control panel. So, you know, it's sort of like Steel Battalion but not a clunky pile of hot garbage.
Part of me loves the fact that independent titles like Amnesia and Outlast have resurrected the long-dormant survival horror genre, while the more cynical side of my brain groans every time a new shitty Slender Man inspired game limps its way onto Steam. Stasis stuck out in crowded indie horror field in 2015 because it swapped the now bog-standard 1st person horror perspective for a fixed, isometric view. It cemented its place as one of the best horror games of the last decade with exceptionally good writing, a dread-inducing atmosphere and perfect pacing. The cheap jump scares are (thankfully) few and far between, but It's more Alien than Solaris in it's approach. This is a grimy, visceral, gut-punch of a game that took me back to late nights cowering in front of my family computer playing through Sanitarium.
I bet you have at least one dickhead friend who completely sucks the fun out of Smash Brothers by insisting that you don't play with items and stick to tournament rules. Fuck that guy. The beauty of arena based fighting games isn't strategic depth and graceful movement, it's chaos. Duck Game is chaos in it's purest form. Duck Game is ducks wearing hats and exploding. Duck Game is everything I love about video games. Don't try to understand Duck Game. Just grab three friends and pick up a case of beer. You can thank me later.
One of the things big budget AAA games often struggle with is the ability to tell small, personal stories. The beauty of Cibele is just how achingly personal it manages to be while the narrative occupies a murky space between autobiography and fiction. Where Cibele really shines is its subversion of traditional game mechanics and audience expectations by using a clever game-within-the-game to move the story forward and build a relationship between the two central characters. It's a nice reminder that mundane MMOs aren't just about playing the game. The social experience of playing with other people matters just as much, if not moreso. Cibele's patchwork collage of a faux-online game mixed with live action cutscenes and a simulacrum of the protagonist's own private desktop is, admittedly, a little rough around the edges. It's also a perfect exploration of how young love functions in digital spaces, and the most unique game I played in 2015.