Don't sleep on these
PlayStation Experience 2015 is in the bag, and only now are all the biggest announcements really starting to sink in. Sony's fan-driven event had a strong showing this year, with excellent independent games like Firewatch, Bound, and The Tomorrow Children bumping shoulders with biggies like Uncharted 4 and Far Cry Primal. But there were even more stellar outliers that deserve a chance in the spotlight. We played and loved these games on the show floor, so keep an eye out - you won't want to miss them in 2016.
You might think being an adventurer is all sacks of gold and piles of sweet loot, but it's not. The long stints in moldy, underground dungeons and ceaseless onslaught of otherworldly monsters takes its toll on the mind and can drive lesser heroes to madness. Such is the fate of so many in Darkest Dungeon, an action RPG steeped in Lovecraftian horror and presented with a rich, Hellboy-esque art style. You must carefully select your four-person team of knights, jesters, hound masters, and more so they can dish out the hurt while keeping each other sane enough to see the adventure through. If you enjoy the permadeath brutality of Fire Emblem or XCOM, you'll find plenty of challenge in Darkest Dungeon.
Enter the Gungeon
Shooting bullets is one of the most common things you can do in a video game - but it's rare to see one that lets you shoot bullets at other bullets. Enter the Gungeon does, asking you to mow down legions of cute, anthropomorphic bullet cartridges or die trying. Like the Ratchet & Clank or Borderlands series, half the fun in Enter the Gungeon comes from amassing a hoard of outlandish guns and wreaking havoc with their immensely satisfying firepower. The other half comes from the brisk pace of this procedurally made twin-stick shooter, which blends the power-accruing exploration of The Binding of Isaac with the frantic pace of a bullet-hell shmup. Your arsenal includes oddities like a mailbox that rapid-fires letters (and occasionally a heavy-hitting package), shark guns (a nod to Armed & Dangerous, perhaps?), and a barrel that shoots live fish. Combat is an intense dance of dodge-rolling under ludicrous bullet patterns and finding the time to fire back, with all the violence done up in an adorable pixelated style.
Fallen Legion is what happens when you reimagine Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden as a JRPG. Combat is fast and frantic - just like an action game - but your attacks and special abilities are spread out across your party instead of, say, a Dante or Ryu Hayabusa. You control a band of adventurers on a mysterious quest, each one corresponding to an ability: Heavy attack is your knight, ranged attack is your archer, special abilities are handled by your mage, and so on. Attacks can be queued up five at a time, with certain combos - such as two archers and three knights - triggering special moves. Characters who aren't part of a combo remain on standby to parry incoming enemy attacks, and by successfully attacking and defending you build up a combo multiplier that increases your party's overall damage. It's an exciting blend of reflexes and strategy that sits between two disparate genres.
Super Metroid in a mining town. That's the quick pitch for Chasm, a 2D platformer that looks and feels like a lost treasure from the 16-bit era. Everything about Chasm's presentation evokes Samus Aran's most famous mission: the sprite art and animations are immaculate, the controls and combat are tight, and the spacious level layouts are tough but fair. You've even got some obvious callbacks like those little spiny creatures crawling around platforms. Though the depths of this monster-infested mine are procedurally laid out, you'll still get the excitement of discovering abilities and items that open up new pathways. Just be sure you don't get too cocky, because the incredibly brief hit invulnerability on our hero Daltyn can end your life in seconds.
Here's a factoid that should immediately get you onboard with Skytorn: it's being made by many of the same devs who created the godlike archery melee that is Towerfall. Like Chasm, Skytorn is a procedurally made adventure with an imaginative setting: ancient ruins resting atop islands floating in the sky, with futuristic technologies lying dormant in their depths. The main character, Nevoa, wields a trusty shovel, which lets her bash away hostile lifeforms and dig through chunks of the gigantic levels. And if Chasm's graphics are a Metroid-esque throwback to the chunkier sprites of the 16-bit era, then Skytorn feels like the gorgeous, more intricate pixel art first made possible on PS1.
It's easy to underestimate Severed at first glance - a Vita-exclusive action game that plays like Fruit Ninja but with monsters instead of pineapples, it seems destined to drop off the radar without much attention. But it's beautiful art and impressive pedigree hints at secret greatness - it's the newest game from DrinkBox Studios, the makers of Guacamelee! - and once you dig down into the heart of Severed, that greatness isn't hard to spot. It follows the story of Sasha, a young girl who lost her family to mysterious and violent circumstances, and whatever got them took her arm along with it. Now Sasha's out to get her revenge, severing the parts from monster foes in grizzly yet empowering fashion - cutting them down to size in slow-motion makes you feel like an absolute beast. It's easy to get into and deep enough to keep you roped in, with a story you'll want to see to the end, even when tragedy seems inevitable.
Plenty of tough games are likened to Dark Souls these days, but Eitr takes that inspiration and really commits. Yes, the isometric perspective, pixelated visuals, and lore steeped in Norse mythology are all unique takes on the action RPG framework. But the UI is pretty much a one-to-one recreation of the Souls series, from the green stamina bar and equipment menus to the flasks of golden liquid you chug to regain health. Eitr's combat has the same methodical pacing and treacherous intricacy, though you can mix up your weighty sword-and-shield setup with dodges, block-breaking kicks, split-second parries, or ranged bow attacks. Eitr has no shame about lifting the Souls template - which makes it that much more appealing for those intrigued by a slightly different spin on Dark Souls' beloved hardcore difficulty.
If you're not the sort of person whos fascinated by the intricacies of steering controls and realistic splash technology, it might be hard to find a gateway into the racing genre, especially if you're well and done with Mario Kart. That's where an eccentric title like Distance comes in: with a focus on pounding beats and vehicle-rending traps above all else, it could very well be your way into the racing world. Powering down the track while dodging past lasers - that will cut your car in half - feels natural and smooth when paired with a rhythmic techno beat, and being able to do a somersault with your car mid-jump before turning it into an airplane and rocketing to the finish line creates one big, ridiculous race that's as fun as it is dark and strange. Plus, there's a VR version in the works, where you can weave past traps and absurd tricks while firmly in the driver's seat.