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Eight Unique Video Games You Might Have Missed in 2015

They didn't make our top 20 games of the year, but these smaller releases absolutely warrant investigation by open-minded players.

by Sean Cleaver and Adam Cook
Dec 9 2015, 9:00pm

Screenshot from 'The Long Dark' (Hinterland)

We've had our top 20 games of 2015 (which is where you'll find Her Story and Undertale), and a run through some of the standout indie releases of the year. But, inevitably, there are always titles that fall through the cracks. Here are eight games that you should give a little time to, when you've finally collected all the cassettes in Metal Gear Solid V and that neat Viper gear in The Witcher 3.

'Grow Home,' launch trailer

Grow Home (Ubisoft Reflections)

Grow Home is like nothing else on you'll read on this page, because it's published by one of the biggest names in the industry, Ubisoft. Given the hype they put into most titles, it was a shock that this was released with absolutely no fanfare, and initially sent off to die as a PC-only game. It was even released on Steam rather than uPlay, that's how little Ubi appeared to care about it.

But it's a wonderful game all about a little red robot, who you control, searching around a gloriously colorful environment. It's almost tech-demo-like in its simplicity. Controlling either arm on the triggers, you have to climb around beanstalks finding diamonds, eventually gathering enough to unlock a new ability which will let you climb higher, and go further.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it's so rewarding, but there's definitely something to be said for the emotional attachment you get from a world that doesn't really want to harm you, and is there ultimately to guide you onwards and upwards. Plucking a flower and using it to glide safely across a chasm that BUD (Botanical Utility Droid) would otherwise fall afoul of, before clearing away a load of rocks to reveal a glowing reward, is genuinely great.

It might be quintessentially Ubisoft in how you grab walls and climb up them (though there's no towers in sight), but Grow Home is very much a small project from a few people that touched the hearts and minds of anyone who played it. Oh, and it came to PS Plus in the end, so PS4 owners have no excuse for missing this one.
Adam Cook

'The Escapists,' Steam launch trailer

The Escapists (Mouldy Toof Studios)

It was an early access release in 2015, but The Escapists came to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in the first half of 2015. The one-man Mouldy Toof Studios is behind this wonderful prison escape game, a tongue-in-cheek look at the inner-workings of well-known slammers. You progress by beating up, robbing, trading, and laboring in the prison to earn money and items—collect enough, and you can eventually MacGyver your way out of it. Or at least attempt to. The game hits a suspense-filled step when you realize that just one wrong move can cost you everything you've worked towards, and reset your progress. But with that risk comes a whole heap of recommended fun. Sean Cleaver

Read more: Discussing the Plausibility of Video Game Jailbreak with a Real-Life Escapee

'Westerado: Double Barreled,' trailer

Westerado: Double Barreled (Ostrich Banditos)

Imagine a Zelda game if you could do anything you wanted to the characters around you, and every interaction had an effect on both the story and how other people saw you. Sounds pretty great. Then factor in a story of cowboy revenge, set in the Wild West, that invites the player to kill their uncle at the very beginning, the same guy who's also helping you through the game's tutorial. That's exactly what you can do in Westerado. (Your uncle, by the way, comes back as a ghost, wondering just why you offed him. Which is fairly delightful.)

You go from town to town, discovering more about the bastard who ruined your life and killed your family. Retro visuals truly belie the game's refreshing take on the mystery/detective genre. As you play out quests for residents—there's a brilliant one early on where a woman sends you out to bring home her drunk husband, but you can choose whether that's dead or alive—you eventually uncover who the despicable desperado was, and can point the finger at them. And then a gun. AC

'Kitty Powers' Matchmaker,' Steam launch trailer

Kitty Powers' Matchmaker (Magic Notion)

Kitty Powers' Matchmaker sees the eponymous drag queen (the game's developer, Rich Franke) managing a dating agency that you actually control the fortunes of, by steering each date to, ideally, a happy ending. It first came out on iOS and Android in 2014, but 2015's Steam version proved a more exciting and, frankly, hilarious experience than the original mobile game. Kitty's wonderful enthusiasm and incredibly dry humor comes across as you navigate the (literal) puzzles of dating, taking control of your clients' actions in order to find true love, order the right dish, and keep small talk going. All of this is coupled with upgrades to the agency and harder challenges. Marvelous. SC

Read more: Kitty Powers' Dating Tips for First-Timers

'Crypt of the NecroDancer,' launch trailer

Crypt of the NecroDancer (Brace Yourself Games)

Any game that lets you plug your own music into it is going to be worth paying at least a tiny bit of attention to, right? Before Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4 came back to try to reinvigorate the music genre, Crypt of the NecroDancer was out ahead of them both, showing how great pushing buttons in time to beats can be.

Mixing roguelike dungeon exploration with a rhythm game sounds like madness, but this is an absolute masterstroke. Each new character you unlock allows you to change how the game plays. The starting avatar has to move in time with the music, and hit enemies that are also shuffling about on their own beat. Hit them the wrong way and you'll take damage, and it all makes for a brutally difficult yet satisfying game. Later, you can break the barriers that lock into the music and move around, but each character has its own unique way to play, that makes it hard to pick your favorite. And hell, if a game lets you play along to Roy Orbison's "You Got It," it's got to be worth playing. AC

'Spectra,' multi-format announce trailer

Spectra (Gateway Interactive)

What's not to like about Spectra? For all the nostalgia we have for games like Wipeout and F-Zero, we actually have a great game here already. Released back in July on Xbox and Steam, Spectra sees you control a ship along a Tron-recalling wireframe track, avoiding blocks and collecting yellow cubes for points. The catch? It's super fast. Aided by the wonderful 8bit chiptune music of Chipzel, it makes you glide with hubris, panic at difficult sections, and is incredibly moreish. If you've just picked up an Xbox One, it's a good shout for those short sessions where you just want to blow off some steam with a game, without committing to a serious sit-down. SC

Read more: So Can Anyone Make Chiptune Music?

'60 Seconds!,' trailer60 Seconds! (Robot Gentleman)

60 Seconds

The titular 60 seconds are very much only a small part of this game. You have a minute to run around your house from a top-down perspective, grabbing water, food, supplies, and your family. Literally. You throw everything—and everyone—down into your shelter, just as the bombs go off, Fallout-style.

Once in the bunker, you're in a choose-your-own-way text adventure. Whether you brought your whole family or not will be a key factor in how long you survive, as will the amount of food and water, and even what entertainment and weapons you chucked down the shoot. Basically: the better you perform in the 60 seconds, the higher your chance of staying alive for the longest time.

As desperate survivors try to trade at your door, all you see is text over the screen showing your concrete bedsit and the state of decay your well-being is stuck in. Do you feed your wife today? Is it OK for you drink some of the water? Do you send your fit and healthy daughter out into the irradiated wasteland to scavenge for whatever she can find? Yes to all of the above, because eventually you'll all fucking die anyway—it's just a matter of when, and how dark it all ends up looking before you croak. Less buggy than Fallout 4, 60 Seconds! is one of the most addictive little games you most likely didn't play this year. AC

'The Long Dark,' E3 2015 Xbox One Trailer

The Long Dark (Hinterland)

The Xbox One Game Preview service was launched to a lot of whooping back at E3. The idea is that games can "trial themselves," like Steam's Early Access, before a general release. The big noise went to the now fully released Elite: Dangerous and the yet to appear on consoles DayZ. But 2014's The Long Dark also came to the program, and you may have completely missed it if you weren't keeping up with Xbox's Preview schedule.

This survival simulator is actually just that for a change all about survival. Stranded in the wilds of Canada after an event cripples everything, you have to survive the freezing weather and open space, the animals that want to eat you, and scavenge for medical and food supplies whenever an opportunity arises. The game's presentation of the harsh Canadian elements is evocative of Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. The game's still not finished, but for console users who only have Minecraft as the big survival go-to, stick this on with some of Eddie Vedder's solo albums in the background and you'll soon enough be lost, too. SC

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best games of 2015
Crypt of the NecroDancer
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60 Seconds!