January 12, 2016

The Psycho Mantis Video Game Awards 2015 - The Best, The Worst, and The Ones You Just Need To Find An Excuse To Mention

Remembering Psycho Mantis (1998-2015)

Psycho Mantis, 1998-2015, killed by lazy writing. Rest in power, brother.

Friends; colleagues; enemies; 2015 has been an exceptionally good year for video games, the best since the superb 2011. However, it had its fair share of dark moments as well. One of the losses we suffered this year was that of beloved villain and, some would say ([weasel words]), the most powerful practitioner of psychokinesis and telepathy in the world - our friend, Psycho Mantis.

We first met Psycho Mantis in 1998. Though just come into the world, he was already a highly skilled maniac and villain, with the power to know one's taste in video games, make a controller vibrate, and make people lust for polygonal muscle man Solid Snake. With such accomplishments at the year of his birth, one can only imagine what power he could wield as an adult. Sadly, Psycho Mantis was taken from us just one year before entering adulthood, when he was reduced to a mute plot device in the name of fan service, doing bad things for no discernible reason and controlling a fiery man under suspicious circumstances. I dunno, I'm sure it's explained in the audio logs somewhere.

And so, to commemorate the passing of our dear friend, I announce that every year, from now on, we will celebrate the best, condemn the worst and shrug at the most mediocre in video games each year, all under the banner of Psycho Mantis. Good night, sweet prince; we did like Castlevania. We did.

The Psycho Mantis "Reckless Person"* Award For Worst Video Game, 2015

In the age of Steam, finding terrible games is hardly a challenge. Its Under-10$ section is filled with Baby's First Zombie Shooters, Game Design Course Failed Final Projects and other assorted garbage that Valve saw no problem with unleashing upon the paying public. However, when one seeks out bad games and finds them, one can only blame, uh, oneself. Our winners today may not be the most broken or badly designed games out there, but they are the ones that, despite their ambition, budget or history, failed most spectacularly to make good on their potential. Without any further ado, our Worst Games of 2015 are:

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

"Is that a man with a bright pink sniper rifle, or some tumbleweed? How could I ever tell from 20 meters away in broad daylight?"

What more could be said about TPP that wasn't already said in this review written by gaming's most handsome personality? As if bent on missing every chance it had to be good, TPP took an excellent crew of programmers, designers and voice actors and used them to make one of the most stale experiences of the past year. With a broken stealth system, fatally stupid AI and some surprisingly droning performances, the latest iteration of Metal Gear Solid is an incredibly dull experience, which could have been a decent mix of Call of Duty and Far Cry had it not been far less interesting than any of the good entries in either franchise. Even D-Dog couldn't make this game remotely worth going back to ever again, unless you want to play a drinking game where you take a shot every time you can't tell when another character has started talking on a codec call or an audio log. Either way, you're going to need a lot of booze.


Hey, let's force players to click on things even when there are no actual dialogue options! That won't get old!

While "walking simulator" is often used as a derogatory term, I feel like it has become descriptive enough that it can be used in a non-offending manner. Indeed, the idea of a world so rich and interesting that exploring it alone is enough to hold one's attention is a very attractive one. The Stanley Parable proved that it can be pulled off, and I honestly feel that some games - for example, Grim Fandango - would have been far more enjoyable had the developers not felt compelled to shoehorn lame puzzles into the affair.

Cradle, however, is the classic example of a walking simulator done badly. While beautifully designed, the gameplay consists entirely of annoying fetch quests, which are made worse by how inexplicably slow movement is. The loading times are unbearable, the frame rate drops to 15 fps unless an Xbox controller is connected to the computer, and if you think that means the game is fun to play with a controller, aren't you silly, because then whenever you look around, your character will keep moving long after you let go of the analog stick, as if attached to a swivel chair. I'd make a joke about controller ports, but screw it - just don't play this game.

Broken Age

Yeah, I'm not playing that again to get a screenshot.

I have toyed with the idea of writing a review for Broken Age that would be nothing but a bunch of expletives, the score included, but we are trying to be more positive around here, so this will have to do. Broken Age is a game akin to that annoying couple everyone Unfollows on Facebook because they keep trying to show you how lovey-dovey they are. From the dreadful voice acting to the pretentious art style, everything about Broken Age screams "Look at me! I'm so adorable and indie!". 

While I think Grim Fandango is not very good from a gameplay perspective, it is an incredibly well-written game, and it is well worth suffering through the really bad puzzles to experience its story. There was hope that by now, Tim Schafer's game design skills would catch up to his writing skills. Sadly, somewhere along the way, things went terribly, terribly wrong.

Some reviewers put Broken Age on their worst list mostly due to its second part, which implies they actually played all the way through the first. These are dedicated people, the type who always kick their tires before they leave. We salute them.

Worst of the Year - Until Dawn

Whatever you say, scary silly-putty man, just don't hurt me!

When I dislike a game, for the most part, I can still appreciate what some people like about it. For example, I get that some people enjoy The Phantom Pain's combat and open world design enough that they don't mind the terrible stealth mechanics or the non-existent plot. But then a game like Until Dawn comes along, and I feel like a complete madman. I mean, have we all been playing the same game? "Game of the Year contender"? "Well-written"? Is this a prank?

Until Dawn's basic premise is as cliche as it gets: a bunch of unbearable teenagers drive us up the wall in an effort to make us want to watch them find their deaths at the end of some psychopath's steel. Isn't it easier, though, to just walk away from fictional characters you find annoying? What happened to you in life that you are so quick to call for someone's blood? You - you're just like those slasher villains. No, you're worse. Compared to you, I'm not so bad.

Good horror, like what you'd find in a John Carpenter movie or the early Silent Hill games, is subtle and atmospheric. It makes you fear for characters' lives. It makes you question what you've seen or heard. It leaves things to your imagination, because it's made by people who know that what's going on in your head is far more effective than any miserable CGI effect could ever be.

Until Dawn is not good horror. It's the sort of video game that will doom humanity on Halloween, kill you a week after playing it, or another horror movie reference, because those are obviously sophisticated and show that I am smart. Who is the boogeyman? My favorite color is blue.

The Psycho Mantis "Either Very Cautious... Or A Coward" Award For Games That Were Just Kinda There, 2015

Not all games fit the extremes. Some games are somewhat enjoyable, but held back by developers who didn't want to take any risks. In other cases, we get what you were going for, but you didn't quite pull it off. Either way, we couldn't just shut up about these games, could we? And so, the Psycho Mantis award for abject mediocrity goes to:

Batman: Arkham Knight

Pictured: any street anywhere in the game.

Batman: Arkham City is one of my favorite video games of all times, and is still widely regarded as the best Batman game ever made. Sadly, ever since City was released, all that developers of subsequent iterations of the Arkham franchise could think to do was to repeat what City did, only bigger. While Knight is not as shamelessly derivative as Origins, and the main story wasn't bad, it still required a lot of busywork to fully unlock, including some rather artificial uses of the Batmobile - and this coming from one of the very few people who were actually OK with the Batmobile overall.

Arkham City worked because it had a few brilliant ideas confined to a small space; with the game world expanded, these ideas got diluted and the brilliance was lost in the resulting mess. I still know all of Arkham City by heart, but I doubt anyone could ever distinguish the many samey locations one finds in Arkham Knight's Gotham. Add to this an overly complicated pre-order system, insulting DLC and a criminal PC port, and we get a very sour note to end a still-mostly-great franchise on.

Axiom Verge

Time for another exciting Gun Change!

Axiom Verge really wants to be Metroid, but its combat has more to do with Destiny. With its retro graphics and soundtrack, AV sure looks and sounds the part, but the bosses are little more than bullet sponges, requiring very little actual strategy to get through. And while there are many guns, many of them are useless for combat, instead being used primarily to open very specific doors in very specific ways a la the key cards from the original Metal Gear. Get with the program, Axiom Verge - doors can read your body salts nowadays.

Honorable Mentions

The following two games, while interesting and very well made, were a bit too modest in scope to warrant an actual award. Games should not be judged on length alone, and my best-of list contains games with running times of anywhere between 4 and 180 hours, but these games are really stretching it. Still, they have earned some praise, and it will be very interesting to see what the people who made them will come up with in the future.

The Deed


A highly open-ended puzzle game, The Deed has you playing clue from the murderer's perspective. While ostensibly a game about successfully carrying out a murder and a frame-up, The Deed also touches on class relations, messed-up families, and the emptiness of a materialistic existence. Either that, or you're just supposed to stab a person. Either way, it's well worth checking out, especially given that it's only a dollar on Steam.

Halloween Forever

Man, this game got dark.

Running time aside, Halloween Forever is one of the best platformers I've played in a long time. While never as hard as any of the NES games it might remind you of, the fun of exploring the levels and figuring out the bosses give it a surprisingly high replay value. It doesn't hurt that the game is beautiful, with an art design imbued with a loving attention to detail - it really says something about a game when just looking at the main character walk is a joy, and no, it's not because I want to have sex with a pumpkin (although...). It's a steal for just 3$ on itch.io, and should developer Peter Lazarski decide to release an extended version on Steam now that the game has been Greenlit, it is more than likely to get an entry on the best-of list of that year.

The Psycho Mantis "Prudent Person" Award For Best Video Game, 2015

I've been mostly dismissive of indie games in the past, but this time around, the indies killed it. While AAA publishers grow ever more bold with their 50$ season passes and increasingly aggressive microtransactions for what is basically the same open-world shooter, indie developers have come up with some of the most original, interesting and fun games we've had in years. And so, the highest honor in video gaming goes to:


Trust me, this all makes perfect sense.

It's been a long time since we've had a good old-school point and click game, but Dropsy manages to be a lot more than just a throwback. Its creative approach to storytelling and unique art style give it an identity all of its own, making it endlessly charming, emotional and, at times, downright sinister. The ending leaves something to be desired, and the day and night cycle, combined with the somewhat obtuse nature of some of the puzzles, can often be frustrating, but these relatively small annoyances do little to detract from the experience. Also: you have a doggie.


I'm a fan of  the Aqua color scheme, personally.

I was gonna make a song, but then I played Downwell
I had my recording software on, but then I played Downwell
Now I still don't have the drum parts written, and I know why, oh well
Because I played Downwell
Because I played Downwell
Because I played Downwell

I was gonna learn game design, but then I played Downwell
I was gonna read some Unity tutorials, but then I played Downwell
Now I can't put anything by me on this list, oh hell
Because I played Downwell
Because I played Downwell
Because I played Downwell

I was gonna ask a woman on a date, but then I played Downwell
I was totally gonna do it, you guys, but then I played Downwell
She totally might have said yes and let me kiss her, but it didn't go so well

Downwell is a very addictive game, is what I'm trying to say with this happening reference.

The Magic Circle

Not sure about those propellers...

The Magic Circle is one of those games that you're better off going into knowing as little as possible about. With a few neat puzzles cleverly incorporated into what is essentially a walking simulator, The Magic Circle raises a lot of interesting questions about game design and the interplay between developers, crowds and fans. Though simplistic at times, it's a must for anyone who is either interested in game design or just wants to fly around on the back of a fire-breathing turtle monstrosity.

Crypt of the NecroDancer

I don't get no lovin', and that's no lie.

Crypt of the NecroDancer's gameplay mechanic sounds like little more than a gimmick at first: it's a roguelike dungeon crawler where you are required to time attack and movement to the beat of the background music. Look past the silly premise of fighting being just like dancing, though, and you'll find the most interesting blend of real-time and turn-based combat I've seen since Final Fantasy VII's Active Time Battle system. The music is also brilliantly incorporated into other aspects of the game, with Goblins who ballet dance as they run away from you. Dragons who headbang as they hunt you down, and shop owners who sing along to the melody when you're near, cluing you in to their shop's location as well as adding another element to the arrangement.

All that would have been nothing if the music got old, but thanks to composer Danny Baranowsky, that's never a problem. Every stage has its own musical style, with a different song for every level within the stage, and they're all awesome. Also, I can't figure out if I suck at this game or if it's just plain brutal, but the fact that I still have fun as I die again and again and again really says a lot about CotN's quality.

Best of the Year - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt & Undertale

Well, two out of three ain't bad.

I can hardly imagine two games that are more different, but in a way, that's what makes having The Witcher 3 and Undertale together at the top of this list kinda perfect. The Witcher 3, a 10M$ game made by a team of about 200 people, shows that a game doesn't have to be generic in either gameplay or story just because of its AAA status. Undertale, a game mostly made by just one person with a 50,000$ budget, shows how much you can make with so little. The Witcher 3 is more ambitious, but Undertale is more consistent. And while The Witcher 3 is the culmination of a well-established IP, Undertale has all the rough charm of a completely original title.

So much has been written about both of these games that I feel it would be a waste of space to repeat what others have said about their gameplay or story. All I can think to do is to share my own experiences, in the hope that they will be enough to explain why they are my games of the year for 2015.

The Witcher 3 was a game that grabbed me so much that I played it for 3 months straight with hardly a single break and never got tired of it, and the Hearts of Stone expansion - which I was almost cheeky enough to give its own entry - only reminded me how much I love it. I'm still not sure whether or not I like it better than Witcher 2, which given how much I love that game, is a very good position to be in. I have some issues with it, especially the insignificance of choices made in previous games and even many made within the game itself, but disappointing as that was, The Witcher 3 remains a masterpiece.

Undertale obviously did not last as long as Wild Hunt, but it was one of those games that within the first five minutes went from a game I was sure I'm going to hate to a game that I knew I'm going to love. From the moment I got past the initial twist and met Toriel, I fell in love with the game and its characters. By that, I don't just mean the main characters, although they are nothing short of brilliant ("I'M NOT CRYING! I JUST... CAUGHT SOMETHING IN MY EYE!" / "what did you catch?" / "TEARS!!!"), but also the monsters. Undertale is often praised for enabling you to go through the entire game without killing anyone, which is cool, but its genius lies in giving every monster its own personality. For me, that's where Undertale's most memorable moments came from, and it's why I still cringe at the idea of killing any of the enemies in the game. Of course, if that's what you want to do, go ahead - it's up to you how to play your game. But you're gonna have a bad time.

Of all the games I played this year, these are the two games I can guarantee I'll still be coming back to years from now. They're more than just games for me - they're worlds I can't stop thinking about. Frankly, any year that gives us even one game like that is a damn fine year, and so, 2015 has been extremely generous. With upcoming games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2 and Horizon, there's every chance we'll be just as lucky this year - fingers crossed!

*Yes, I know it's "man" - I'm trying to be inclusive here!

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