In a year in which we continually asked ourselves “how the hell are we supposed to play all these bloody enormous video games?”, a year in which Keza spent six months playing The Witcher 3 and didn’t even finish the damned thing, a year with a Fallout, a Witcher, a Metal Gear Solid, a FROM Software game, a Monster Hunter AND an enormous new Xenoblade, there are bound to be a lot of games that you missed out on. You’ve probably got a list of them already. I still haven’t touched Pillars of Eternity, for instance. Wasteland 2 came out on PS4 this year. There were just so many games.
So, here we are to add to that list. The games below are not just games that you might have missed, they are games that you might not even have heard of. Most of them are short and sweet, some of them are free, and all of them come highly recommended.
Tearaway Unfolded (PS4)
Media Molecule’s third-person adventure first found life on the PS Vita, but in bringing its papercraft world over to the PS4 the team made everything more sumptuous. Unfolded’s world bristles with life: it’s trees flutter in the wind, there are papercraft moose grazing on a papercraft plane, and there are adorable squirrels everywhere. Unfolded seemed to slip under the radar on release but it’s one of the best games on the PS4.
Regency Solitaire (PC)
A Jane Austen-inspired card game that sees you trying to regain your family's fortunes (squandered by your wastrel of a brother). I started it thinking it would just be a bit of throwaway fun. I’ve now played it more than StarCraft 2.
80 Days (PC and mobile)
Inkle’s take on Around the World in Eighty Days is a choose-your-own-adventure novel that’s so packed with story that I’ve played it again and again all through the year. Taking on the role of Phileas Fogg’s valet Jean Passepartout, you need to discover transport between the cities of the world, trying to circle the globe while racing against the clock. As you travel you’ll discover steam-powered cities, awe-inspiring airships, and lost wonders, all relayed to you by deftly written prose. While the original 80 Days came out last year, it made the jump to PC in 2015 and shouldn’t be missed.
A side-scrolling co-op game that lovingly parodies ‘80s action films. In Broforce it’s your job to blast through non-descript terrorists as you fight to bring Freedom (with a capital ‘F’) to the world. It’s violent, explosive, and utterly brilliant to play in co-op. Broforce’s levels are entirely destructible and almost every character in the game, heroes and villains, is kitted out with an explosive, earth-chewing weapon. Whole levels will collapse around you as you play, the screen filling with explosions and falling masonry. This is only compounded when playing with friends.
Emily is Away (PC)
Looking like an AIM chat window from the early 2000s, Emily is Away is a poignant text adventure about two teenage friends growing apart as they go to different colleges. I played this one late at night and it left me deeply moved and wanting to contact the string of school friends I’ve grown distant from over the years. Emily is Away is a quick play and free so, if you have the chance, don’t miss it.
Grow Home (PC, PS4)
A game about a little, friendly robot growing a giant beanstalk into space where his spaceship can collect seeds, Grow Home is charmingly unusual. I adored the game’s colourful, chunky world, which is filled with floating islands, endless waterfalls and bug-eyed alien sheep, and spent hours happily climbing the beanstalk before parachuting to the ground hundreds of meters below.
Broken Age (PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Mobile)
The second part of Double Fine’s whimsical adventure game came out earlier this year, so it’s now complete. It’s also great - beautiful to look at, funny, surprising, if not all that challenging. If you left the story half-finished last year, it’s likely you’ve already played the rest, but if you haven’t started Broken Age yet you can now play the whole thing through.
Not A Hero (PC, PS4, PS Vita)
Like Broforce, Not A Hero is a side-scrolling shooter inspired by action films. However, instead of finding its fun in a mess of explosions, Not A Hero is game about slickly working your way up and down buildings, killing gangsters. You can slide into cover, kick open doors, and shotgun off the heads off your enemies. It also had the best launch trailer of the year.
Big Pharma (PC)
It looks like Theme Hospital for the world of pharmaceuticals, but the humour of Big Pharma is pitch black compared to Bullfrog’s slapstick. You’re tasked with creating a drug production line, researching new reagents to turn into pills, ointments, and inhalers, and beating your competitors’ profit margins. Nothing in the game tells you to make bad drugs, but as you learn the game’s systems you work out it can be much cheaper (and often more profitable) to leave some of the side-effects in, instead of spending the money on machines to filter them out.
It’s brilliant how quickly you’ll let standards drop while chasing profits... just like the real drugs industry.
Sid Meier’s Starships (PC)
With little fanfare, Sid Meier released a game about taking over the galaxy with a fleet of spaceships that can be modified and expanded with all sorts of chunky weapon systems, shields, and hangar bays. Starships doesn’t have the same depth as Civilization and this means you won’t be playing it for thousands of hours, but it takes far less time to learn and is immediately fun to play. If you can see it on sale cheaply, it’s a robust space strategy game that will absorb whole evenings.
The Swindle (PC, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U)
It’s hard not to like The Swindle. It’s a steampunk roguelike where you steal everything that’s not nailed down. Each successful heist nets you cash which you can spend on upgrades and new equipment, making you better able to rob the more difficult levels blind. Like the best roguelikes, the risk of losing all your progress ratchets up the tension as you progress through the game, getting ever closer to the final robbery of the game’s title: where you hope to steal a new government surveillance system that will make burglary impossible.
Crypt of the Necrodancer (PC, PS4, PS Vita)
There’s been a revival of roguelikes and games that see you descending ever deeper into dungeons filled with monsters. None of them could be played with a dance mat, though. Crypt of the Necrodancer sees you clearing dungeons in time to the soundtrack, only able to move and attack on the beat of the music. I’ve no rhythm but even my internal metronome fell into sway after a few attempts. An unusual game that’s well worth a look.
King’s Quest (PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
There are now two chapters of Activision’s rebooted King’s Quest series out, made my Californian studio The Odd Gentlemen. They take the form of young King Graham’s adventures, as narrated by ancient King Graham to his little granddaughter. Visually they’re really impressive, like living old-school Disney cartoons. Definitely best played with kids.
Zombi (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U)
Formerly a Wii U exclusive called ZombiU, Zombi is now out on everything, and it secretly one of the best survival horror games of the past decade.
There was a time at school when everyone in the IT class would have N open in a window they could Alt-Tab into when the teacher wasn’t looking. It was a brilliant platformer and callously difficult; later levels had you jumping across chasms littered with landmines while dodging lasers, rockets, and enemies. N++ has that same core but it now has thousands of perfectly designed levels, a beautiful colour palette, excellent soundtrack, multiplayer, a level editor, and... well, the trailer says it all.
Axiom Verge (PS4, PC)
The first Metroidvania to actually be as good as almost any Metroid game, Axiom Verge pairs unsettling space exploration with a pixellated, rather gross, Giger-esque aesthetic, all alien biology and pulsing neon colours. It’s huge, too, with most of its foreboding corridors locked away from you until you find the right weapon or piece of kit. A great science-fiction action-adventure that challenges the mind.
Starwhal: Just the Tip (PC, PS4)
A riotous, amazingly competitive multiplayer game in which you play colourful narwhals trying to pierce each others’ hearts. One of the most popular games at our monthly Kotaku Game Nights, and guaranteed to make you laugh.
If you get on with Undertale, you will love it. Few games of the past few years have inspired such devotion. It’s JRPG-inspired, but you don’t actually have to fight anyone if you don’t want to: finally, this is the game that lets us talk to the monsters. It is funny, sad, and extraordinary, and saying much more would ruin the surprise of it.
Downwell (PC, mobile)
Another of this year’s fantastic surprises, Downwell is a weirdly adorable roguelike about a wee guy who heads down into a well. If you took one look at the retro aesthetic and thought “I bet that’s hard,” you’re completely right: Downwell is brutal. Spelunky-lovers will definitely get on with it.
Persona 4 Dancing All Night (Vita)
If you were crushed by the disappointment of Persona 5’s delay this year - although, with so many enormous games out, I know a lot of people who were more relieved - Dancing All Night will scratch the itch. It is a dancing-based rhythm-game starring the cast of Persona 4, but - surprise! - there’s also SO MUCH story in it that it puts actual narrative games to shame. Bloody excellent. If you’ve any affection for these characters it’s a must.
Minecraft Story Mode (PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Mobile)
Okay, so there was some noise around this one, but what you might have missed is that it’s actually really good, so far. Full of adventure, humour, and Minecraft in-jokes, this is an absolutely ideal game to play with little Minecraft fans. Ian called it “The Blocky Goonies” earlier this year, it’s a spot-on description.
The Escapists (PC, PS3 Xbox One)
If Prison Architect was too depressing for you, The Escapists is a cuter, more cartoonish prison game in which you must plot your escape from a prison whose daily schedule rolls on without you. There was also a surprisingly good Walking Dead-themed spin-off this year.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (PC, Xbox One)
Absolutely adorable co-op space action game where you and a friend (or, indeed, a lover) must share control of a big spheroid spaceship. One of you might be on weapons whilst the other is on engines, before you’re attacked by a giant swarm of spacefiends and one of you has to make a mad dash for the shields. The only thing is, it might cause fights if your tolerance for your partner’s failure is low…
You’ve got recommendations of your own, right? Leave ‘em in the comments for everyone to enjoy.