The Hidden Gem Games of 2015

2015 was full of video games that garnered critical acclaim and commercial success. From blockbusters like “Metal Gear Solid V” and “Fallout 4” to indie breakouts such as “Undertale” and “SOMA,” plenty of games grabbed the hearts of players. But as with any year, several excellent games slipped through the cracks and weren’t talked about much.

As someone who enjoys a wide array of game genres, I want to share some of my picks that you may not have tried.

Rodea the Sky Soldier (Wii)– After a five year wait, Sonic the Hedgehog creator Yuji Naka‘s magnum opus finally hits Western shores. “Rodea” is a sci-fi action game that expands upon the free-flight gameplay of Naka’s 1996 cult hit “NiGHTS Into Dreams.” Thanks to the efforts of NIS America, English-speakers can finally experience the world Naka and his team at Prope created.

It’s important to mention, though, that the version worth playing is the one for the Wii. This was Naka’s original vision for the title, and contains more colorful graphics, snappier gameplay, and a better soundtrack than its soulless Wii U counterpart. The game was critically panned because reviewers only played the current-gen version.

The Wii version only comes bundled with first print copies, but the game isn’t exactly in high demand at the moment so it shouldn’t be be hard to find it.

BoxBoy! (3DS)– “Kirby” developer HAL’s track record for consistently creative and endearing games seems to have struck an impasse as of late. Since their acquisition by Nintendo, they’ve been stuck working on the pink puffball franchise for decades. And while it’s hard not to love all of the Kirby titles, I want to see HAL stretch their wings once again.

This past year, the developer returned to their halcyon days (no pun intended) with “Boxboy.” This minimalistic puzzle game stars a walking box that jumps and stretches its way across a variety of challenging, expertly designed stages. The mellow, trancelike music provides an atmosphere that ensures minimal stress levels during more difficult passages.

What’s more, “Boxboy” only costs $5 on the Nintendo eShop. That’s a steal, considering the game’s length–I spent over 18 hours unlocking everything it had to offer.

Broken Age (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, PS Vita)– The original Kickstarter success story. Adventure game developer Double Fine used over three million user-pledged dollars to create this gorgeous, clever, and creative game. It was released in two acts: one in 2014, and the second in 2015.

Even with a unique development cycle, the release of “Broken Age” wasn’t met with much fanfare. And that’s a real shame, since the game’s gripping narrative brims with heart and character. It’s all thanks to the performances of excellent voice actors including Elijah Wood, Jack Black, and “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward.

The game also cuts out a lot of the complicated mechanics that bog down older adventure titles, making it accessible to younger audiences who might otherwise remain unaware of the genre. Don’t pass up this wonderful game.

Read Only Memories (PC, Mac)– While the other games on this list were made by proven studios and appeared on major consoles, there were some games by smaller, indie productions that fell under the radar as well. Enter “Read Only Memories,” a sci-fi noir story from fledgling studio Midboss Games that breaks the mold.

ROM channels the long-absent spirit of classic cyberpunk adventure games like Hideo Kojima’s “Snatcher.” This mystery game takes you through Neo San Francisco, as you scrub for clues about a missing friend with your adorable android companion Turing.

Besides a narrative gripping in its own right, the game is notable for a plethora of diverse characters representing the LGBT community. The staff members at Midboss hail from a variety of backgrounds, and previously hosted the GaymerX convention to celebrate diversity in the industry.

Another highlight of ROM is its catchy and atmospheric soundtrack by Matt “2 Mello” Hopkins. Even if you don’t game, the album is worth a download.

The Jackbox Party Pack 2 (Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, PC, Amazon Fire TV)– You will never find a better hit at parties than what the team at Jackbox Games serves up. 2014’s “Jackbox Party Pack” supplied a collection of game show-type events that up to eight people can play using their smartphones.

While the main attraction of the Party Pack may have been “You Don’t Know Jack,” the fan-favorite quickly became “Fibbage,” where the objective is to come up with lies that fool the other players. Due to popular demand, the second Party Pack features “Fibbage 2.”

The pack also includes several completely new games for Jackbox veterans to try their hand at. You don’t need any sort of gaming expertise to understand what’s going on, so the “Jackbox Pack 2” is perfect for family gatherings or drunken house parties.

Bloodborne (PS4)– Probably the most well-known game on this list, the high production value and striking gothic aesthetic of this PS4 exclusive were quickly forgotten in a matter of months. As such, it’s worth bringing up in a yearly retrospective.

The slow, deliberate action game finds audiences playing as a Hunter, trying to eliminate people who have been turned into mindless monsters. Along the way, you’ll discover just why these transformations occur, and why the world around you appears so ravaged and decrepit.

“Bloodborne” comes from the lineage of the nefariously difficult “Souls” series, but its learning curve is more fair and intuitive than its predecessors. Learning how to react to enemy movements makes every encounter feel like a puzzle, and creates a gameplay experience you should try if you haven’t already.

Feature image courtesy of BagoGames.