Best of 2015: Top 5 Gaming Trends

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Time for a brand-new list. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing the list that has been in this slot for the last three years, my Top 10 Game Cases, I found that I had to come up with a smaller list this time around to make up for the forced expansion of another list later on. And on that intentionally vague note, let’s talk about some of my favourite trends that defined 2015 in videogames.

No real qualifying conditions to mention here – These are just some of the patterns that I noticed forming in and amongst all the announcements, news and actual content that found its way onto gaming machines all around the world this past year.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Games Actually Worked

2015 wasn’t just a massive improvement over 2014 in the videogame sphere because of the sheer volume of great releases. It was also a gigantic improvement in the way said games performed. Perhaps it was a product of all the big-name delays out of last year, but the titles to which gamers were treated this year actually ran fairly smoothly with very little catastrophic bugs to speak of. Sure, there was the odd exception, but they were just that – exceptions. Compared to the veritable parade of dead-set unfinished late 2014 games, 2015 was a breath of fresh air, and as much as it sucks that this is worth talking about at all, credit where credit is due.


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4. Nintendo’s Big Steps Forward Online

Yes, of course they still have a long way to go, as I mentioned in yesterday’s list. Competent voice chat needs to be higher on Nintendo’s list of priorities, friends need to be easier to find, and some of their games could use more consistent net code. Yet in two very notable ways, the Big N really stepped up its game in the online videogame space this year, not only matching its nearest competitors but, in some places, arguably exceeding them. Indie relationships were the first of these, as 2015 was a great year for Wii U-exclusive and Wii U-enhanced indie games on the eShop, probably best personified by the dedicated “Nindies@Night” show at Pax Prime (where the Shovel Knight amiibo was announced) and the long-rumoured release of Minecraft: Wii U Edition.

Additionally, Nintendo’s DLC game was very strong in 2015. Mario Kart 8‘s second batch of karts and courses was just as high-quality as the first and came at a great price, while both Hyrule Warriors and Super Smash Bros continued to receive new content. The latter in particular repeatedly made headlines for its insane character reveals, making fans’ wildest dreams seem well within reach. But it was Super Mario Maker and Splatoon that really set a new marker for downloadable content updates, with substantial improvements and additional content coming absolutely free throughout the year. The latter game especially did what certain other online shooters lacked the fortitude to do (I’m looking at you, Evolve and Star Wars Battlefront), avoiding driving a wedge into its player base with paid map packs. And lo and behold, people kept playing it and talking about it as a result! Who knew?
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3. Open Worlds, Open Worlds Everywhere

Dying Light. Bloodborne. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Batman: Arkham Knight. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Mad Max. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Rise of the Tomb Raider. Fallout 4. Just Cause 3. Xenoblade Chronicles X. What do these eleven games have in common? They’re all large, “Triple-A” open world games released in 2015. The lowest Metacritic score among these games is 73, and the majority of them scored over 80 on the popular rankings site. This year was, surely, the best in history for players looking to lose themselves in a lengthy, non-linear, highly polished experience. The embarrassment of riches was bountiful, and while just thinking about the sheer number of hours it would take to 100% all these games is making me feel ill right now, that’s my problem. You probably played and enjoyed at least one of these games in 2015, and good on you!
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2. Gaming on Kickstarter Rebounded – Hard

At the start of 2015 it looked like Kickstarter, the once-fruitful ground for heartwarming videogame start-up stories, had dried up somewhat. Failures and fizzles were becoming more common than the alternative as successes like Broken Age, Shovel Knight and Divinity: Original Sin seemed long in the past. Then something really amazing happened. The legendary team behind decades-old Rareware platformers Banjo-Kazooie and co. resurfaced with Yooka-Laylee, a brilliantly high-definition Rare fanboy’s wet dream, complete with dazzling Grant Kirkhope score.

The campaign re-ignited the crowdfunding platform in the videogame space, breaking Kickstarter records. Then, very soon afterwards, legendary Castlevania visionary Koji Igarashi took to the website and smashed more records with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a spiritual successor to PlayStation One classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And if that wasn’t enough, Yu Suzuki upped the ante by stepping on stage at E3 and announcing a crowdfunding campaign for Shenmue 3, which didn’t just break even more records – it became the highest-earning videogame Kickstarter ever. Regardless of how you feel about the whole crowdfunding thing, there can be little doubt that there are a whole bunch of fans out there that are very pleased these games are coming. Me included.
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1. Straight-Up Wish Fulfilment

Even beyond Kickstarter, when all is said and done, the vault of gaming news in 2015 will be remembered largely for its megaton fan-pleasing announcements, especially the ones that went down at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo back in June. When the ridiculously long-awaited HD remake of Final Fantasy VII was revealed in that Los Angeles conference hall, to say that the internet caught fire is an understatement. Ditto the belated reappearance of The Last Guardian at the same event, the Fallout 4 announcement – five months out from launch, no less – or the well-marketed potential smartphone powerhouse Pokémon Go. There seemed to be a new dose of gaming geek wish-fulfilment around every corner throughout 2015, with news bombshells tied to big-name videogame sequels dropping for just about every type of gamer.

That much was certainly true for me personally. I was treated to the announcement of a mash-up of two of my favourite Nintendo franchises – Paper Mario and the Mario & Luigi RPGs – in the form of Paper Jam Bros, as well as a bona fide sequel to one of my favourite games ever in the form of Just Cause 3. The world gameplay premiere of Persona 5 back in February was magical, while the instantaneous announcement of Donkey Kong 64′s Wii U Virtual Console release – once thought impossible for legal reasons – made me pretty much black out for a week. The confirmation of Gravity Rush 2 – which I’ve been whining on about on this blog for years now – made me leave my seat and dance, Shigeru Miyamoto’s confounding admittance of Pikmin 4’s existence gave me the best kind of shock, and suffice to say that this video of Zero Escape 3‘s surprising reveal mirrors my reaction quite fittingly.

What’s more, the gameplay debut of Michel Ancel’s Wild made real my childhood dream of a game featuring control of multiple animals. Danganronpa 3 was confirmed. Psychonauts 2 was finally launched through new investment platform Fig. The team behind South Park: The Stick of Truth announced a surprising sequel. I got a new multiplayer Zelda game, and a great one at that. Lucas, my main fighter from Super Smash Bros Brawl, returned to the series and finally helped me lift my game to a level at which I could be content (which is to say nothing of those crazy Ryu and Cloud DLC Smash reveals). It was like someone was personally targeting my fanciful videogame release wishlist, obliterating literally everything on it save for maybe a new Advance Wars or Golden Sun game. Though I might have thought I was becoming less receptive to hype last year, 2015 proved me dead wrong, and it did it again, and again, and again.

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Honorable Mentions
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More Instant Videogame Releases
It was a trend that started a couple of years back now, but it really gathered steam in 2015. Publishers seem to be working out that if you can announce content and have it instantly – or close to instantly – available to your fans, you can capitalise on adjacent hype and give it a fairly good chance of selling well. The DK64 Wii U release was one such example, as was the Final Fantasy VII PS4 port, the bikes DLC for DriveClub, Fat Princess Adventures, several Super Smash Bros characters, multiple free PS Plus games (most notably Rocket League), Fallout Shelter, the list goes on…

Female Protagonists, For Real
I’m sorry to say I have very little interest in the cultural and political shitstorm that tends to follow declarations like these, but it sure is nice to be getting some genuine variety in lead gaming characters. On the release front, we saw plenty of interesting playable females this year, with my favourites being Life is Strange‘s Max, Halo 5‘s Vale, Broken Age‘s Vella, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate‘s Evie, Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s Kanami, and naturally Lara Croft herself from Rise of the Tomb Raider. Each of these bought something notable to the 2015 gaming landscape. And it’s even better to see the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Recore and Dishonored 2 looking to further the trend next year within richly detailed games.

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