Lara Croft GO
Whatever it is you like about palling around with Lara Croft, you’ll find it in Lara Croft GO, which ingeniously converts her adventures to turn-based puzzles. Tombs? Naturally. Treasure? Piles of it. Traps? Oh, loads. Deadly creatures in need of a twin pistol intervention? Most definitely. Lara Croft GO perfectly encapsulates the soul of a Tomb Raider adventure, challenging you to suss the correct way to navigate through the increasingly more devious levels. The learning curve is handled beautifully, teaching you the rules of the game at exactly the right pace so you’ll be stumped but never frustrated. A whole bunch of new levels just got added for free, too, so it’s a perfect time to grab this gem.
Games that come out early in the year are oft forgotten by the time the year-end wrap ups roll, but I shall rage, rage against you overlooking Dying Light. (See what I did there? Literary af.) Dying Light takes the weapon-building, zombie-killing, island-exploring features of its predecessor, Dead Island, and smooths out all the (copious) rough parts, creating an outstanding open-world experience. The story is genuinely worth pursuing, and fleeing the zombies at night - when they’re even more aggressive and far better at tracking you - is a thrilling way to earn bonus experience. The parkour traversal works beautifully, as do the many different methods of re-deading the shambling hordes. There’s loads to do and just about all of it is worthwhile, so even if you’re sick of zombie games (and yeah, ok, fair enough if you are), Dying Light is still totally worth it.
You Must Build a Boat
I’m currently on my 7th playthrough of You Must Build a Boat, the game that combines tile matching, endless running, and secrets to create something lethal to your productivity and battery life. I should be sick of it by now. I should’ve been sick of it several completions ago, really. But its peppy soundtrack, clever humor and simple-but-demanding gameplay keep me swiping left, right, up and down. Collecting the entire monster crew, including the hidden ones, is consistently satisfying, even moreso now that completing the recently-added daily challenges offers up new costumes for them. Must you build a boat? Nah, but you’ll definitely want to. A fleet of ‘em.
FAST Racing Neo
They don't make racing games like this any more… except they do. FAST Racing Neo is like an HD remake of a game from 10 years ago. Specifically F-Zero GX. It's a spiritual successor to that game, and no mistake. It's pretty, devastatingly fast and punishingly difficult. I do wish it was on PS4, though. The screen resolution is decidedly last-gen and I keep wanting to press a Share button that isn't there. There are some annoyances (like very harsh reset positions after a crash) and some baffling bugs like finishing first when you were clearly second, but even so, more like this, please.
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
This may have come out last year in North America, but it was an early-2015 treat for UK gamers like me. And what a game it is. Classic, 2D, side-scrolling platforming with superb animation, textbook level design and the daftest, most endearing sense of humour of any game this year. What other game series has an undead pirate named 'Risky Boots' as your nemesis? None. I can't wait for the new, HD game, which can't be far off release now.
This is another F-Zero clone (seriously, Nintendo, just make a new F-Zero already), only on iOS. I love it, but not for the game itself, which is a bit disappointing once you get over the graphics. It's the intro. That sweeping, whooshing rollercoaster loop of the track way above the futuristic city looks gorgeous on iPad Air 2's Retina Display. But it's accompanied by the single best piece of music I've heard this year, game-related or otherwise. 'They Call Me Speed' by Jonne Valtonen. This immense electronica anthem fits the visuals perfectly. Sometimes I load up the game, watch the intro and then turn it off. It's worth the entry fee alone, seriously. And YouTube videos don't do it justice either - native display through good headphones is the only way to really experience it.
Affordable Space Adventures
I’ve long suspected that the Wii U GamePad is best used as a distraction tool - the most unique moments with the console, in ZombiU or Wonderful 101, make you look away from the action as part of the fun. I’ve also felt that the coolest thing to do with a controller touchscreen is to cover it in even more buttons. By doing both, Affordable Space Adventures instantly became one of my favourite games on the console, and of 2015. You pilot what’s best described as a space-jalopy through hostile alien environments, you (or your screaming multiplayer partners) quickly micromanaging multiple engine systems on a touchscreen cockpit and blowing up constantly, like some crap, immortal Geordi La Forge. It’s exhilarating, hilarious, and endlessly clever in a way no other game may ever be - because no one else would take the time to make something this strange. That it also contains the coolest, creepiest use of Miiverse is just a bonus.
Inkle (A.K.A. the 80 Days people) could just have made a gussied-up Choose Your Own Adventure in this adaptation of Steve Jackson’s classic game book series. Instead, the third of four installments takes the series’ already-established mix of storytelling, spellcasting and outlandish death and marries it to one of the year’s most inventive open worlds, on mobiles or otherwise. You’re essentially playing across the same landmass twice, traveling to “lighthouses” whose lanterns cut swathes in time - anywhere you point them has the clock turned back hundreds of years. It’s weird, and magnificent - a perfect way to get the most out of a game space, and a brilliant puzzle mechanic to boot. You’re best off having played the previous installments (no great issue - they’re also amazing), but even without them, Sorcery! 3 is a gorgeous experiment.
Just Cause 3
I don’t know what game other people were playing here. In my short time with Avalanche’s Sega-blue sequel, I’ve destroyed whole military bases without firing a bullet, made good on a throwaway joke about taking an unlockable boat to an airfield (it totally works) and catapulted dozens of antiquated European hatchbacks into the uncaring maw of the ocean. Like Just Cause 2, I’ll likely never finish the storyline, because tooling about with this stuff is just more fun. The real stroke of brilliance in the new game, though, are the constant updates of friends’ and strangers’ brilliance at menial tasks. I’ve spent about as much time perfecting my longest wingsuit dive or one-shotting goons just to be able to text someone saying “worship me” as I have overthrowing a dictatorship. Joyous stuff.
On the next page: more recommendations from Anthony, Sophia, and Louise!