10 most innovative games of 2015

ori and the blind forest screenshot

Innovation takes many forms in the tech sector.

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Innovation takes many forms in the tech sector. There are business dashboards that parse data in a visual form and cars that drive themselves and can find parking spots for you. Yet, some of the most brilliant innovations take place in video games because they typically involve gameplay that’s never been seen before, graphics that look ultra-realistic, and a team of software developers that put it all together. Starting this year, I’m ranking the most innovative games of the year and adding a kudos to the development team.

1. Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One)

The idea of a game transporting you to another world is a bit trite, but that’s what Ori and the Blind Forest accomplishes -- partly because of the otherworldly hand-drawn art, the atmospheric music, and the ridiculously challenging gameplay (which requires focus and timing, especially on some of the later levels where you have to jump and hide almost perfectly -- and there’s no auto-save). It’s the best platformer of the year, thanks to a well-choreographed story.

2. Fallout 4 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One) 

What makes Fallout 4 so special is the fact that you are living in a post-nuclear world, building your own settlements, crafting your own weapons, convincing a dog (and other animals) to become your ally, and generally just living in a fully realized game world. It’s not one particular innovation; it’s the overall experience that’s tied together so well by a story involving your lost son ands how everything in the game -- from duct tape to pencils -- can be used to make stuff.

3. Mushroom 11 (PC)

See if this description of the game Mushroom 11 seems innovative. You guide a glowing green mass of goo through a mesmerizingly rich gameworld, one that includes giant oozing baddies and serene background vistas. The main challenge is figuring out how to coax the green mass through crevices, sometimes by splitting it in two or cutting off segments. The games requires patience and focus, but the fun is in trying new techniques to complete the levels.

4. Just Cause 3 (PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4)

You might say Just Cause 3 is too cheeky, too violent, and too much like Grand Theft Auto to be on my year-end list. Yet, the game is wildly inventive in how it lets you go anywhere and do just about anything. Feel like commandeering a helicopter and flying from one end of the map to another? No problem, just give yourself about 30 minutes. Want to just sit on a sailboat in the sun and throw grenades and passing boats? Sure. It’s a brilliant open world shooter.

5. Her Story (iOS)

Sometimes, when a game is innovative, it becomes hard to explain. That’s definitely true of Her Story, which I tested on an iPad Pro. It’s a whodunit that involves video testimonies from a woman suspected of killing her husband. You can search in a crime database, but the core gameplay involves looking at the dates on the videos, listening to the descriptions, and trying to piece together what happened. The acting is excellent and convincing.

6. Evolve (PlayStation 4, Xbox One)

This chaotic and somewhat bloody shooter is a twist on a familiar gameplay mechanic. It’s a multiplayer battle, but one player is a giant monster that competes against everyone else. The beast starts out weak and grows in power. The main innovation is in how you track the monster. You can sometimes predict, based on sounds and even flapping birds, where he is heading.

7. Splatoon (Wii U)

Color has never been used so effectively in a multiplayer shooter. Splatoon flips the basic idea of shooting other players to kill them and flips it. You need to spray as much paint as possible on the gameworld to win, so you’re constantly battling to get the most coverage for your color. As you do, you can move faster by using squid mode, which slides you under the paint. Splatoon pain looks real because of how it splatters everywhere. Another innovation? It’s the first shooter that is still fun and challenging, yet safe for kids of any age.

8. LEGO Dimensions (PlayStation 4, Xbox One)

Another amazingly inventive game that involves real-life objects (similar to the Disney Infinity series and Skylanders), LEGO Dimensions manages to create a unique experience. You place an actual LEGO character on the USB-connected game-board (which you build yourself) and then have to reposition them as you complete levels.

9. Prune (iOS)

A tree grows and extends toward an red-orange sun. It’s your job to cut the branches in just the right places and cause the tree to grow and the flowers to bloom. While Prune might sound cathartic and atmospheric, it’s actually more of a puzzle game that makes you think. If you cut branches too quickly, the tree stops growing. Wait too long, and you’ll have to start over.

10. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PlayStation 4)

Cathartic games like Journey and The Unfinished Swan (both for PS4 and released a few years ago) tend to rely mostly on atmosphere and music to reel you in. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture uses those tricks (the operatic score is particularly unique) but hooks you with the story that revolves around a village where everyone is missing. The gameplay is entirely unique because you barely do anything besides move around and explore clues.

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