Video Game Awards 2015: Best Content

These days, video games seem to try to cram in as much content as possible to ensure gamers keep coming back for more. Sometimes it all ends up being little more than filler, with some games feeling bloated with additional content. But every now and again, a game seems to throw everything it can at you, and it succeeds in giving players reason to keep coming back again and again.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. Wii U

If there is another game that better represents an “Everything and the kitchen sink” mentality than Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I have yet to play it. Ever since Melee, the Super Smash Bros. games have been filled with bonus content, but none of its predecessors even comes close to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

There are more modes than ever before, with each mode being made more dynamic than ever. There are enough collectibles to make Donkey Kong 64 blush, and a seemingly never ending list of things to do. Play a few rounds of online matches – either For Fun or For Glory – or replay Classic and All-Star Modes a few extra times. Or how about taking on the game’s many Challenges? Or the Stage Builder? Heck, you can even just goof off and take a few screenshots, and then scribble all over them and post them to Miiverse.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the most fully realized Smash Bros. yet (sorry Super Smash Bros. for 3DS), as it represents the series’ love of all things fun better than any of its predecessors. I’m still frequently revisiting it months later!

 Runner-up: Mario Kart 8

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Video Game Awards 2015: Best Gameplay Innovation

Not every game dares to do something different. But sometimes, a game comes along that changes things up. Sometimes these are radical, game-changing innovations. Other times they may be smaller, but no less influential, with imitators soon to come by the dozens. Either way, games that dare stretch their imaginations deserve a bit of credit.

 

Winner: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Nemesis System)

Shaow of Mordor

While Shadow of Mordor may not exactly be the most original game in many respect (it’s basically Assasin’s Creed meets Arkham Asylum with a Tolkien makeover), it does have one key attribute that it can boast as its own: The Nemesis System.

The Nemesis System has your enemies – those filthy, filthy Mordor Orcs – gaining in experience and prestige as you play through the game. Should you fall to them in battle, the Orc who felled you will get a promotion. Even the player’s actions have a part to play in how intimidating these Orcs become. Naturally, the more these foes grow in legend, the greater the reward for defeating them.

It’s a simple but deep mechanic that gives Shadow of Mordor a lot more life and replayability than it would otherwise have. And it’s a mechanic that I can see other developers emulating for plenty of other games down the road.

Runner-up: Dark Souls 2 (finite enemy respawns)

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Online Multiplayer

Today, it seems most games give players from all over the world the opportunity to face one another. Online gaming has become a huge part of the gaming community, and it’s hard to argue the addictive nature of battling faceless opponents from around the globe. It was tough deciding which game was the most addictive online experience of the year, but in the end…

 

Winner: Mario Kart 8

Luigi Death Stare

It was a bit of a coin toss which game would get Best Online Multiplayer between Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, as both have taken countless hours of my free time. In the end it boiled down to smoothness. Smash Bros., while mostly a solid online experience, can get really laggy when it wants to. So while they may be equals in terms of their addictive nature, I have never encountered a slow race in Mario Kart 8, so it gets the edge.

But why not one of the more hyped FPSs of 2014? Simple, because Mario Kart 8 represents Mario Kart at its very best, and its online functionality is at the height of the series. There’s no game-breaking mechanics like Mario Kart DS, the items feel less chaotic than Mario Kart Wii, and it allows more players (and better level design) than Mario Kart 7.

In a nutshell, it’s the very best Mario Kart has to offer, for up to twelve players in matches that are as smooth as silk. You can even record your races and upload them directly to YouTube, a feature I hope Nintendo revisits down the road.

The items will fly, the racers will drift, and Luigi will death stare. Be weary though, a ‘few quick rounds might just turn into hours of cursing at your television screen as you get knocked off course repeatedly and lose first place.

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Local Multiplayer

Although local multiplayer has been fading away for years now, there are still a few games out there that proudly display the fun of playing games with your friends all being in the same place. There is something to be said about the fun to be had when your opponents are sitting right next to you, and seeing their frustration from their losses first hand.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. has always been among the best party games out there, and the Wii U edition is the best in the series. It does an insurmountably better job at balancing its roster than any previous entry. Better still, it caters to both of Super Smash Bros’ diehard fanbases.

For those who want to experience the party game madness of Super Smash Bros. in all its glory, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has you covered with the best stages yet in the series, a crazy arsenal of items, Pokemon and Assist Trophies, and even some boss monsters thrown in for good measure. And this time, you can have up to eight players join the fray, which represents Smash Bros. at its most insane.

For those seeking a more competitive fighter, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has you covered with ‘Omega stages,’ which strip the game of its more chaotic elements, and a varied and balanced roster that’s more fleshed-out than any Smash Bros. before.

Whether its two-on-two competitive matches or eight-player free-for-all chaos, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U covers all the bases and guarantees a fun time, every time.

Runner-up: Mario Kart 8

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Sound

The sounds of video games are often taken for granted. Where would Mario be without the boing in his jumps or the glittering chime of collecting a coin? Sounds help shape the games we love in subtle ways. The tiniest sounds can help a game shape its identity, and make a great game all the more great.

Winner: Dark Souls 2

Dark Souls 2

Dark Souls 2 is a game that boasts top-notch sound design. It’s a game that has a sense of dread always looming overhead, and that dread is brought to the forefront largely through its use of sound.

The creaks of dilapidated bridges, the clanking of armor, the echoed snarls of a monster lurking around the corner. Dark Souls 2 uses its sound to keep players constantly on their toes, weary of what inevitable dangers lie just ahead.

Then, of course, are the roaring bosses, whose very footsteps evoke a sense of fear. No matter where you go in Dark Souls 2, the very sound effects somehow manage to reinforce the idea that you’re alone in this dark and dreary world, and that you’re more likely to run across a bloodthirsty monster than another human being.

Be grateful then, for every time you hear the flickers of a bonfire, so that you can save and – for a brief moment – be reprieved of all the gloom and doom around you.

Runner-up: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Music

Kicking off my video game awards for 2015 (celebrating 2014 video games) is the “Best Music” category. Music has been an integral part of gaming since the beginning, and with all the advancements games have made over the years, music may just be more important to the medium than ever. Let’s face it, if you don’t have a game’s tunes buzzing through your head after playing them, something is definitely wrong.

Winner: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Tropical Freeze

The Donkey Kong Country series has long been lauded for its music, which has created some of the most atmospheric and personality-filled soundtracks in gaming’s history. Tropical Freeze does not disappoint.

While Donkey Kong Country Returns was no slouch in the musical department, it relied too heavily on remixed tracks from the original DKC. But for Tropical Freeze, Retro Studios brought back original series composer David Wise to create the game’s soundtrack. The end result sits proudly alongside the series’ first two entries as one of the best gaming soundtracks.

From the chilling menace of the invading Snowmads in Homecoming Hijinx to the free-spirited fun of Windmill Hills to the anguish and intensity of Scorch ‘N’ Torch, each of Tropical Freeze’s stages are as mesmerizing for their music as they are for their gameplay.

Remixes once again return, but they are given new twists – and are used more strategically – giving us a new appreciation for them as they greatly blend with the original tracks, instead of simply relying on the nostalgia. We even get some remixes from the glorious soundtrack of DKC2 this time!

Whether it’s the lovely, ethereal remix of In a Snow-Bound Land or the heavy metal smackdown against the polar bear boss, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze’s soundtrack boasts a variety and evokes a sense of place that very few video games can match.

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

My Favorite Film of 2014

Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is my favorite film of 2014. The idea of me naming a Studio Ghibli film as the best of its year isn’t exactly unpredictable, but it’s with reason. No one makes films like Studio Ghibli. They weave together their stories with an unrivaled sense of imagination. They’re capable of  creating senses of awe and wonder even in their simplest moments. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is another of the studio’s triumphs.

Princess Kaguya tells the story of Japan’s oldest folktale. A bamboo cutter finds a tiny princess from the heavens in a bamboo stalk, and the princess transforms into a baby. She is to grow up as humans do, with the bamboo cutter and his wife serving as her parents.

Princess KaguyaDirected by the legendary Isao Takahata (his first film in 14 years), The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is told with a sense of emotion and honesty that many animated films lack. It’s immediately inviting with the simplicity of its opening moments, and it grows into something deeper and emotionally complex as it goes on. Its story is told earnestly, and is crafted with such an elegance that it becomes something entirely unique, even among the Ghibli library.

Kaguya is depicted as a real person. She is not perfect, nor manufactured (even if the world around her wants her to be). She is a girl who (rapidly) grows into a woman. She is a bright and hopeful individual, but she has concerns and troubles of her own. Her life is filled with ups and downs, happiness and sadness. Life is never easy, not even for a princess, and Kaguya’s story is told with both beauty and tragedy in a simple, direct way.

Her parents lavish her with heavenly riches and the life of a princess, believing that anything short of the best is unworthy of her. But Kaguya simply wants to live a simple, peaceful, happy life. Her conflicts with her parents are never depicted as simple rebellion, nor are her parents made out to be antagonists (as they probably would be in most animated features). They’re simply people who are trying to do what they think is best, even if they don’t know how.

Princess KaguyaIsao Takahata takes this folktale, and turns it into a character-driven, emotional epic. And it’s all displayed with some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya ranks alongside Ghibli’s own Spirited Away and Ponyo as one of the most visually captivating of animated films. It’s visuals are minimalistic, and have the look of simple paintings and sketches brought to life. Princess Kaguya is arresting from its very first frame, and it never lets go.

The superb visuals make The Tale of the Princess Kaguya one of the most striking of animated films, but the best part about them is that their beauty is only complimentary to the artistry of the story and its depth of character. It combines a human element with a sense of magic and wonder, as all the best Studio Ghibli films do, and it does so with a subtlety and gentleness that’s all its own.

For its heartfelt, emotional story and its incomparable presentation, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is, without a doubt, my favorite film of 2014.

Princess Kaguya

 

Runners-up

Guardians of the Galaxy

Big Hero 6

The Imitation Game

Song of the Sea