Of 2015: The Bummers

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It’s not that there were games I didn’t care for in 2015, there were loads of those. It’s just that nothing I played downright offended me or made me exclaim “oh, this sucks”. I’m getting very chill-zen in my old age and — guys — just, everything is fine. Someone out there likes every single thing that’s ever existed and who am I to put that down by calling it bad?

So instead of doing my usual Bottom 5 I’m just going to call this list my Bummers of 2015 and highlight a few games that surprised me with disappointment and events that were pretty disheartening.

Indie Cannon Fodder
Independent games are great. Small teams innovating on game design is never a bad thing and seeing these games get to launch on consoles used to be a big deal. But for every Rocket League and Octodad there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of games that are unceremoniously shoved onto consoles simply to pad out a release calendar. In the race to prove which console has the most games the hard work of indie teams has been ground into the lubricant that keeps the gears turning.

There used to be better curation over which games were released and more of a chance to be highlighted on the storefront. Back then I complained that more games needed to be released on consoles each week but today it’s the same problem in opposite proportions. So many games get pushed through the turnstiles that you can barely keep the names straight. How many of just this small handful of titles did you check out in 2015: Clash, Minutes, Canvaleon, Magnetic: Cage Closed, One Upon Light, Blocky Bot, Clusterpuck 99, Super Toy Cars, Tachyon Project, Color Guardians, Rally Copters, Pixel Slime U.

The most heartbreaking part is hearing console owners deride these offerings as “indie trash”. Sony and Microsoft have routinely offered indie games as “freebies” for their paying members and they’ve finally damaged the entire independent game scene for it. I don’t know how you fix it but I really hope there’s more levelheaded treatment of indie games on consoles in 2016.

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Gotcha Racing (Nintendo 3DS)
I wanted to love Gotcha Racing’s simple (and visually striking) top-down racing as a pure ‘n simple arcade throwback. I knew it was going to be grindy with random gashapon capsules doling out upgrades. What I didn’t expect were entry fees or that I’d be repeatedly re-racing the first 2 or 3 courses in each championship to get enough cash to try the next hardest race over again. The AI performs to perfection making my fun drifts and cunning tactics a punishment instead of an incentive. After a few weeks of going broke and getting the same car parts over and over from the capsule machine I just burned out and have been sitting trackside ever since.

Introspective, Non-Combat, First-Person Puzzler/Platformer
Ether One
on Xbox One is the game that tipped the scales in 2015 but this sub-genre has been earning my disdain for some years. Just a few that spring to mind are Ether One, Pneuma, The Old City Leviathan, SOMA, Quantum Conundrum, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Magrunner. Trapped alone in a sci-fi hellscape while audio recordings and inner monologues slowly reveal the dystopian storyline is no longer my Thing. There are, and will be, exceptions (Pneuma actually does seem pretty clever) but I’m not giving any entry the blanket pass I used to. You other hopeful games can all thank Ether One for that.

Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash (Nintendo 3DS)
Every time they announce something new for Chibi-Robo I get excited. The original GameCube title was really fascinating and supremely bizarre but ever since it’s been one ham-fisted gimmick after another. Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder was my top, Bottom game of 2014 and Zip Lash is ready to accept the award for 2015. Instead of doing anything original like the previous entries, Zip Lash is a plodding platformer in which Chibi-Robo whips his electric plug “tail” around to attack and solve puzzles. Add one part Yoshi’s Island to equal parts Castlevania and it’s like someone let that proverbial pot boil until all that’s left is a boring, bland morsel of a game.

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The Day the PlayStation Mobile Died
Yes, it was home to dirty knock-offs, cheap Flappy Bird clones and questionable apps from China. And yes, I goofed on the broken English descriptions a lot but, dammit, I loved the Wild West of the PlayStation Mobile marketplace and am sad to see it deleted. Amid the junk were some genuinely interesting games and you could watch fledgling developers cut their teeth and hone their skills across months of releases. It gave me Oh Deer!, Rymdkapsel and Tokyo Jungle Mobile. It introduced me to the Quiet Please Anthology and Stephen Allen, just one of the thousands of people around the world making games for the fun of it.

It’s not terribly different than the iOS or Android app stores and it’s almost exactly the same dynamic as Nintendo’s eShop. Steam, too, is an untamed expanse of odd offerings but something about PlayStation Mobile felt more personal to me. Maybe because I was one of the only people talking about it. At any rate, it’s closure means the loss of hundreds of games and apps which is an even bigger bummer I’ll expand upon below.

Bloodborne (PlayStation 4)
I feel like Michael Corleone in reverse. “Just when I thought I was finally going to get into a “Souls” style game, they push me back out.” I love what the games do — the punishing challenge, the mystery of it all — and I love Bloodborne’s Steamgross style even more but I never sync up with these games. I bought a PlayStation 4 for this and within 2 weeks I’d traded Bloodborne in. It just wasn’t my moment to finally fall in love with these games, even though I really thought it was going to happen this time.

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More Delisted Games
There are games you don’t like. There are games I don’t like. But we can all agree that every game should be available to play no matter how well it sold, right? I don’t keep a running total but more games were pulled from Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam and even retail shelves in 2015 and it’s pretty sad. The entire PlayStation Mobile marketplace was deleted and Nintendo exclusives were lost with the closure of Club Nintendo. Sure, it takes money to keep the lights on, I just wish it didn’t mean so many games got ghosted. The only way to play, study or examine these games now is to crack consoles and copyrights.

Like the indie games problem, I don’t have a good solution that doesn’t involve hacking servers and dumping ROMs. The best I’ve come up with is my Delisted series where the least I can do is exhibit a recording of some of these games for posterity.

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