Next year is looking like a packed vein in the oil field of the game industry. After the stream of disappointments that lined 2014, we have a lot to get excited about as the next year approaches. All three major console manufacturers are bringing their literal A-game in 2015, from Uncharted to Halo to Zelda. But between the likes of Metal Gear Solid V and Bloodborne, we find ourselves in danger of missing some of the year’s most charming up-and-comers:
5. Yoshi’s Woolly World (Wii U)
This holiday season Nintendo was in the limelight with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Mario Kart 8, and they have AAA juggernauts like Zelda and Xenoblade Chronicles X lined up for next year, but it would be silly to ignore smaller titles in the vein of Captain Toad. Yoshi’s Woolly World comes to us from Good-Feel, the studio behind the eminently charming Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and it’s hard not to compare the two games. Yoshi’s Woolly World brings Nintendo’s lovable dinosaur into a world constructed entirely from yarn and fabric – though this one is 3D. Good-feel’s handcrafted aesthetic is a great fit for Mario’s faithful steed, and the studio has proven itself very capable of delivering kid-targeted games with enough meat to satisfy most adults.
4. Salt and Sanctuary (PS4, Vita)
Ska Studios became the darling of Xbox Live Arcade with The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile and Charlie Murder, but with their upcoming Salt and Sanctuary James and Michelle Silva are bringing their unique approach to game design to PSN. Switching from over-the-top arcade brawling to atmospheric action role playing is a bold step, but the studio’s characteristically bleak art makes the jump feel seamless. Salt and Sanctuary embraces the influence of Dark Souls, but compacts the white-knuckle action into a 2D plane. Sony devotees should be thrilled to finally have a chance to play one of Ska’s wholly unique games.
3. Cuphead (Xbox One, PC)
Don’t think Microsoft is out of the indie league – they have Cuphead, one of the most beautiful games coming to any console next year. Developed by Studio MDHR, Cuphead is a run-and-gun platformer that borrows a lot from Mega Man, but its visual design is lifted straight from classic rubber-hose cartoons of the 1930’s. With hand-animated sprites that wouldn’t look out of place in Steamboat Willy, Cuphead is a visual spectacle. The stellar musical score and classic-style gameplay had me sold at E3, and the impending release has me salivating. This is Microsoft’s ace in the hole for their indie lineup, though PC players will be able to pick it up on Steam.
2. Let It Die (PS4)
Let it Die has all but dropped off most PS4 gamers’ radar, but that doesn’t mean that Suda 51’s upcoming hack-and-slash should be ignored. Grasshopper Manufacture are taking a new approach to multiplayer action with Let it Die, allowing players’ dead characters to invade other users’ games in a mode cribbed from the fast-paced PSP shooter Infected. The companion app for smartphones shows that Suda has put a lot of thought into making an experience that will stick with you. The free-to-play model might seem like a red flag, but Grasshopper Manufacture is built on defying expectations.
1. Devil’s Third (Wii U)
Tomonobu Itagaki is the mad genius behind Dead or Alive and the reboot of Ninja Gaiden, and his departure from Tecmo in 2008 left us with a lot of questions – questions that were finally answered when Devil’s Third was announced. After original publisher THQ closed and Nintendo picked up the slack, Itagaki and Valhalla Games’ new ambitious new shooter became a Wii U exclusive, and it could well be one of Nintendo’s killer apps. Mixing third and first-person shooting with visceral melee combat, robust online multiplayer, and a zany story, Devil’s Third is sure to stand out in the Wii U’s family-friendly library. The sheer quantity of ideas packed into Devil’s Third is enough to make me skeptical, but a bit of healthy skepticism doesn’t make me immune to hype.