Armello is a stunningly beautiful digital board game filled with striking, high-fantasy charm. You and up to three friends play as members of the great animal kingdoms - Rat, Bear, Wolf, and Hare - each vying for the soon-to-be-vacated throne of Armello. By journeying around the board fulfilling quests and collecting new items and spells, you eventually become strong enough to take the throne for yourself and restore its current owner to his former glory. Everything in this game, from the design of the characters to the detailed cards you collect, is lovingly realized and looks fantastic. Armello is a wonderfully flexible strategy game whose charms belie a game of shotgun diplomacy.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Revelations 2 gives me hope for the future of Resident Evil. It's the antithesis of RE6, where zombies are dropped by the dozen by gun-toting superheroes. This game is slower, meaner and demands you and your co-op partner synergize effectively in order to survive. Teamwork is my favorite part of this game. You always play in pairs, with one person handling the guns and the other providing support, whether it's with a flashlight or by highlighting weak points. These complementary playstyles reward cooperation, and help make Resident Evil Revelation 2 my favorite cooperative game of 2015.
Dai-3-Ji Super Robot Taisen Z Tengoku-hen
Super Robot Taisen is a long-running strategy series that's basically a digital museum of classic and modern mecha anime all smashed together in one big crossover. It's also entirely in Japanese, but trust me what I say there are plenty of fantastic translation resources online. This is also a very comfortable series, in that it's only ever as difficult as you want it to be. The game starts on "Normal" and you choose to make it more difficult by completing bonus objectives, which bumps the game up to "Hard." I really like this adaptative difficulty as it smartly rewards players who are performing well with a greater challenge, while letting others cruise through unhindered.
It’s not quite Bayonetta on Wheels, but Platinum’s take on Transformers sits comfortably within the reach of Japan’s greatest action designers. The signs of hurried and (let’s say) inexpensive development are obvious in the IKEA-on-acid level design, but somehow Platinum Games shows no other strain in creating a taut and delightful slice of Saturday morning. Fighting is a beautifully functional, franchise-appropriate amalgam of driving, rolling, punching, dodging, shooting, sniping and transforming, often in one continuous motion. Even if you don’t care about robots in disguise, Devastation works as a breezy action game that livens the synapses - an action game in which Optimus Prime preaches on and on about the sanctity of human life while a cartoon Ferrari knock-off uppercuts an evil construction vehicle.
Grow Home has all the hot buzzwords taken care of - experimental, procedural, dynamic - but it deserves more than being covered in a fancy lingo varnish. In its big, lovely platforming heart, it’s about a drunk little robot discovering the joys of gardening. The goal is simple: go from the ground to your home spaceship in orbit by growing (and traversing) an enormous plant until it’s a crisscrossing web of organic pathways. It’s far from an insult to suggest Grow Home plays like one of Miyamoto’s B-sides, and entirely accurate to say that riding a gigantic vine into the sky, like a cowboy spurring a photosynthetic horse into the sunset, is one of the most whimsical things to do in a video game this year.
In a year crammed with games praised for how many activities and hours of engagement they could squeeze into a pretty slab of geography, Titan Souls is an admirable game that feels big but focuses on just a few things. It’s an elegant Shadow of the Colossus de-make, reverent in spirit but not so slavish as to extinguish its own hard edge. With just one arrow and one sliver of health for yourself, you venture through Titan Souls on a quest to end nothing but bosses - each a challenging, frantic puzzle meant to be solved before it squashes you. It helps that the music is as good as it is, because you’ll be hearing it a few times as you get stuck in a just-one-more-time loop. P.S. Get ready to hate the Yeti. He’s the fucking worst.
I came for the overt references to Robotech, but I stayed for the thrilling, unpredictable space battles: Galak-Z is the perfect cocktail of cartoon nostalgia and teeth-gritting dogfights. But more than satisfying Macross Missile Massacres, what kept me playing was experimenting with all the different battle conditions that appeared from a relatively modest selection of mission types and environments. Many seemingly impossible fights can be managed with just the right spray of magma bubbles, or by shooting a couple of gas pipes to funnel enemy forces down a single killing tunnel. Galak-Z can be a punishing game, but only because it rewards forethought and tactical awareness just as much a quick trigger finger.
A game in which getting shot by your teammates is a constant threat, yet infinitely preferable to getting squashed by their orbital supply drops, is just asking for fun-ruining abuse. Yet cooperating with random strangers online has never been as much entertaining as it is in Helldivers. It may be the promise of contributing to a massive, persistent, and now cross-platform Galactic Campaign that keeps people on task, or it may be the crushing difficulty and commensurate rewards of ever-riskier missions, but nearly everything about Helldivers works to perfection. Even the command input system, which forces you to stop in your tracks and carry out an exact sequence of direction inputs to request essential materials or complete objectives in the middle of the hellstorm, is perfectly, frantically frustrating.
On the next page: more recommendations from Susan, Justin, and Joe!