The video games industry is constantly moving forward.  Each day, new games are released, upcoming releases grow less distant, and current hardware and trends slowly but surely approach the point at which they'll inevitably become obsolete.  With all the progress the gaming industry is constantly making, it's difficult to find time to look backward instead of forward, and appreciate both the progress games have made through the years, as well as great video game releases you may have missed out on.

At the end of every year, most people compile a top ten lists of the best games they played that year which released in that same year.  With 2015 now officially behind us, many such lists are now popping up all across the web. Overall, 2015 is widely considered to be a much better year for the gaming industry than 2014, with current gen consoles receiving much needed new releases to make them more appealing to those that haven't taken the plunge.  

However, as someone who only recently purchased a PS3 in 2014, and a PS4 just a few months ago, I've been far too busy catching up on great games most people played a long time ago, rather than big 2015 releases like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3.  

So as with my best games of 2014 blog, this Top Ten Games of 2015 list will deviate from the norm in that any video game I've played for the first time in 2015 is fair game, regardless of the year it released in.  Thus, I think you'll find there are a few surprising picks here, rather than it being populated entirely with "the usual suspects."

So, with that out of the way, on the very first day of 2016, let's break out the leftover champagne and look back at the wonderful video games I played last year together!

Whether you spent it playing new releases or old hits, 2015 was a great time to be a gamer.

Red Dead Redemption

Released Date:  May 2010

First Played by Me:  January 2015

Yes, yes, I didn't get around to playing Red Dead Redemption until five years after its original release.  Sue me.

It goes without saying that Red Dead Redemption is widely considered to be a masterpiece - one of the best titles of the seventh generation of video game consoles.  There are so many video games out there that I choose to be very stingy with when I use the word "masterpiece" when describing them, but I have to agree with this popular opinion.

Red Dead Redemption is often referred to as "Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West" but I heavily disagree with this comparison.  Red Dead Redemption is a much more mature video game than Grand Theft Auto.  I don't mean this in the traditional sense - Red Dead Redemption, while a violent and adult game in its own right, has far less blood, far fewer toilet humor jokes, and only a negligible amount of the pointless sex and nudity Grand Theft Auto games like to sneak in.  Red Dead Redemption focuses instead on its simple, effective narrative, and the moments that make your specific playthrough unique to you.

Red Dead Redemption tells the tale of a man named John Marston, a former outlaw living in 1911 Texas whose family is kidnapped by the federal government.  These corrupt officials will only release your wife and son if you choose to hunt down and either capture or kill the three men you used to ride in a gang with - the people you once considered kin.  

Red Dead Redemption clicked with me immediately for a number of reasons; the game's smooth gunplay controls, wealth of weapons, and signature "Dead Eye" feature (which allows players to temporarily slow down time to more accurately line up shots or hit moving targets) make the mere act of shooting things, which gamers take for granted, a treat in and of itself.  More importantly though, Red Dead Redemption features a fantastic cast of characters taht will fully absorb you in its world.  John Marston himself is a colorful character, morally grey and full of hysterical sarcastic comments.  The game's side content often can be cleared in multiple ways, and how you do so molds the morals of Marston and his demeanor throughout the story.  Not to be outdone, the side characters are also quite charming, often making me laugh out loud, something I did not expect to do when sitting down to play a Western shooter.  

Red Dead Remption is filled with wonderful action packed moments, like attacking a fort of thieves with only an insane graverobber, cowardly drunk, swindling old man, and lazy deputees as allies, but my favorite segments were the game's more quiet sequences, of which it was full of.  Riding my horse at night, with only the whistles of the dim soundtrack and clops of my horse's hooves to fill the barren landscape with sounds....  Sitting down with strangers and enjoying a nonchalant conversation by a bonfire...  Playing poker in a bustling bar at the wee hours of the morning....  Red Dead Redemption is a game that appreciates the value of quiet time in players creating their own unique memories with a video game and absorbing all the action and plot development they've experienced up until that point.

I could go on and on about other wonderful things Red Dead Redemption does right.  Quests can be randomly generated, as you watch a crime unfold in real time, making the world feel very spontaneous and alive.  The game's objective look at both the pros and cons of living in the lawless Wild West will likely alter your views on traditional Western stories.  And setting the game in 1911, where industrialism and urbanization posed a threat to the game's setting was a genius move on Rockstar's part that sends interesting ripples through the narrative.  For a game about shooting people in the face, Red Dead Redemption is deceptively smart, and its charming cast, beautiful natural scenery, fun gunplay, and strong, subtle, adult narrative make this a game as fun to experience for the first time now as it was in 2010.  Agelessness is the sign of a true masterpiece, and in this regard, Red Dead Redemption is a game every Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 owner owes it to themselves to at least try.

Bioshock 

Release Date:  August 2007

First Played By Me:  January 2015

Another golden oldie finding its way on my "Best of 2015" list, Bioshock is pushing over 8 years old at the time of writing!  This was a game my friend loaned me back in 2014 that I never got around to playing until January of last year, and after only about half an hour of playing, I already started kicking myself for neglecting to try it for as long as I did.

Like Red Dead Redemption before it, Bioshock is an incredible experience because it combines satisfying, tight, and creative gunplay, with a story that is thematically strong.  On the surface, Bioshock is a first person shooter.  You'll be shooting revolvers, grenade launchers, machine guns, and crossbows in this game, just as you have countless times before.  However, Bioshock begins to break from the mold of the standard FPS through its use of "Plasmids."  These are essentialy super-powers players can obtain over the course of the game, and they grant the player abilities such as shooting fire and electricity from the palm of their hands, hypnotizing enemies to fight for you, are even summoning hornets to painfully murder your enemies.  Mixing plasmids and traditional weapons is the key to surviving the Bioshock's brutal world, and finding a unique weapon-plasmid combo that works for you is a fun learning experience, and a blast to carry out in battle.

Bioshock tells the story of a young man whose ship crashes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  He soon finds himself in the forgotten city of "Rapture" an underwater metropolis with next to no intervention on the lives of citizens through the government, or any other large body.  In this ruggedly individualistic society, individuals are free to act almost entirely how they please, and fields such as science can make great advances at severe ethical and moral costs.  Bioshock explores the ramifications and implications of a society free of most "rules" and contains numerous references to (and scathing commentary against) numerous Ayn Rand novels.

It also helps that the world of Rapture is simply beautiful.  I guess you could say it's en-RAPTUREing?

Ugh.

Even though it's starting to show its age, the beautiful visage of the city of Rapture, which is quite literally starting to show cracks in its surface is haunting and eerie, and exploring the ruins of this city and discovering its dark past was one of my favorite adventures in 2015.  To say more would be ruining the experience, as the less you know of Bioshock going into it, the better.  Whether you're looking for a competent first person shooter, or a compelling and unique narrative, Bioshock will satisfy your gaming needs.  Eight years later, it still remains an outstanding and essential experience.

The Legend of Zelda:  Majora's Mask 3D

Released Date:  February 2015

First Played by Me:  February 2015

The first game on this list to actually release in 2015, Majora's Mask is a 3DS remake of the once obscure, now mainstream 2000 N64 hit Majora's Mask.  

Quick side note here, while I am a fan of The Legend of Zelda series, only a handful of its installments would get anywhere near my "best of" lists, as I feel the series can be too derivative and hand-holdy at times.   However, Majora's Mask in its original form was undoubtedly one of my favorite games in the whole franchise.  A surprisingly somber and mature tale from the creators of Mario and Kirby, Majora's Mask tackles heavy themes like grief, anger, depression, letting go of the past, and the inevitability of death.  It's also one of the few games in the Zelda series to forgo having a lengthy and dense main quest, as there are only four temples this time around.  Instead, the focus is placed on the side content, in getting to know the very three-dimensional and intriguing cast of the game's world, and helping them solve the problems plaguing their life.

Of course, all this applies to the original game, which I've played several times before.  What makes Majora's Mask 3D great is that it takes a game that was starting to show its age and become a hassle to play in 2015, and puts it alongside the Ocarina of Time 3DS remake in terms of accessibility and polish.  Most notably, the game looks better than ever before, with an increased polygon count, redone character models, a wider color palette, a superior resolution, and tiny graphical touches lovingly placed in every area doing wonders to making the world look more realistic and lively.  The 3D effect of the 3DS is also at its best here, as it truly makes the game's vivid world pop and come to life.  Other notable features include a revamped save system that allows you to permanently save the game at save points.  In the original game, saving at save points only created a temporary file - if you didn't save after each and every game session, you'd lose almost all your progress, meaning you had to cross your fingers hoping the real world wouldn't pull you away from your gaming session.  Majora's Mask's  side content has also been tweaked and made easier to stumble upon by chance instead of having to use a guide.  While purists may complain, many of Majora's Mask's quests were originally in really out of the way places, and without a guide, it'd be difficult to figure out how to even begin them.  Couple this with a revamped and smoother inventory and improved control scheme, and you have one of the best remakes around on your hands.

Majora's Mask 3D is also one of the least conservative remakes Nintendo's ever created.  While hardcore fans will cry that the brighter graphics and revamped save system eliminate some of the claustrophobic feel and stressful atmosphere that made the original game such a darling to fans, the aforementioned improvements to the formula show Nintendo was willing to right some of the wrongs made with the original release, and this, coupled with the game's portability make the game more intuitive and accessible than ever before.  I once befouled Nintendo for releasing yet another remake, but after spending 40+ hours in Termina once more, I have to take my complaints back.  Majora's Mask was always a great game, but with this remake it's better than ever before.  A must play for those that missed the original release.

Splatoon

Released Date:  May 2015

First Played by Me:  June 2015

One of the biggest changes in my gaming habits of 2015 is that I've been spending far more time on Sony consoles than Nintendo's for the first time in my gaming career.  From any standpoint, Nintendo had one of its weakest years in a while in 2015, with the Wii U and 3DS especially getting only a handful of major releases in general, let alone good ones.  The company is clearly in a transition period right now, and for the first time in a long time is willing to try new things, including creating new IPs.

Nintendo stumbled quite a bit in 2015, but they undoubtedly found great success with their first new major IP in years, Splatoon.  Splatoon is the most innovative, unique, fresh, and purely fun game that Nintendo's released in quite some time, and marks their first major foray into the world of online shooters.  In typical Nintendo fashion, Nintendo deviates from the norm with this genre though; in Splatoon, your objective in the game's primary mode is not to kill your opponents (though you certainly can), but rather to douse more of the battlefield in the color of your team's ink.  Splatoon Turf War battles as they're called stay true to "simple to learn, hard to master" model that Nintendo's best game has.  The objective is simple enough for anyone to understand (just shoot the ground!), but the maps' creative design, the wealth of unique weapons, and the immense number of viable strategies ensure that no two matches are the same.  Splatoon can be a very complex experience for those seeking it, and its chaotic three minute matches are the equivalent of video game crack.

What I most admired about Splatoon though was its absurd wealth of free DLC.  Possibly due to the dearth of Wii U games, Nintendo tried a risky new release model with Splatoon in order to keep it relevant for longer.  Though the game launched with only a trifling number of stages and lacked key gameplay modes and features (like private friend lobbies!), in the weeks and months following release, free stages, weapons, and alternate game modes were slowly doled out to maintain interest in the game, and keep people playing it through the Summer release drought.  It was a curious strategy, but one that proved effective.  Looking forward into 2016, there aren't many Nintendo games that light a fire in me, but Splatoon's addictive gameplay seldom grows stale, and the small amount of content still on the way ensures the disc probably won't be leaving my Wii U any time soon.  Hopefully, Nintendo has more pleasant surprises up its sleeve in the coming months like this fantastic new IP.

Super Mario Maker

Release Date:  September 2015

First Played by Me:  September 2015

Alongside Splatoon, Yoshi's Woolly World, and Xenoblade Chronicles X, Super Mario Maker was one of only four truly noteworthy Wii U releases in 2015, first party or otherwise. Thankfully however, Super Mario Maker and its promise of endless amounts of content was just the kick the Wii U needed in its system to remain relevant for a few more months.

Super Mario Maker's premise is exceedingly simple - this is essentially the 2D Mario creator you wished for growing up as a kid.  Released to celebrate the franchise's 30th anniversary, Mario Maker is a deceptively easy to use engine to create the Mario levels of your dreams using the mechanics from one of four popular games in the series (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U).  Creating levels is a cinch - just tap objects on the Gamepad to make them appear, and you can even seamlessly transition between creating and playtesting to create levels requiring pixel perfect jumps if you so desire.  Like the Mario series itself, it's simple enough to get the hang of the mechanics of the level editor, but it allows for a ton of creativity and possibilities simply impossible in traditional Mario games for those willing to explore the limits of the engine.  In the months following the game's September release, I've seen everything from levels mimicking JRPG mechanics, to horror themed underwater mazes, levels inspired by the puzzles in The Legend of Zelda series, and so much more!

Super Mario Maker gives the immensely creative gaming community the means to easily make levels as creative as they like, and though there are some key missing elements (most notably slopes), the number of limitations in creating levels are pleasantly few.  The only true problem with the release is that finding quality levels can be a bit of a hassle as they aren't given much notoriety in game.  Though you'll need to search levels on the Internet to find the best levels the community has created, Super Mario Maker in theory offers an infinite amount of unique Super Mario levels to play.  With 2015 behind us and many games doomed to sit on my shelf for eternity, this promise ensures that Super Mario Maker will stay in my game rotation for many weeks to come.

Turn the page for my the remaining five picks, as well as the honorable mentions!