## January 12, 2016

### 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.

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: ### Dropsy 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. ### Downwell 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!