This War of Mine: The Little Ones – PS4, Xbox One – January 29
While most war games take the point of view of the soldiers fighting the battles, very few, like This War of Mine, focus on the citizens involved. This War of Mine is in many ways a simulation of what it is like to live day to day in the backdrop of a war-torn city and it’s an ugly reality. Pilfering corpses of potentially precious food or medicine with the threat of snipers and other looters lurking at every turn. War is often thought of about being won by one side or the other, but This War of Mine is all about simply getting by until it’s over. This War of Mine previously released on PC in 2014, but with The Little Ones, console players can finally enjoy the war game that needed to be made. Check out This War of Mine: The Little Ones on PSN and Xbox Live.
I definitely did not expect to see so many games that warranted attention this month, but that's definitely a good thing. Sure there may not be any mega AAA titles, but every one of these games is worth any gamer's time and money.
The Witness – PS4, PC – January 26
Far and away the most anticipated release across the industry this month was Jonathan Blow’s The Witness and for good reason. The game has been long in development, and Blow’s last foray into the indie scene, Braid, is something of a revolution. Sony has fronted The Witness as one of it’s core indie “exclusives” since the launch of the PS4, and the game doesn’t disappoint. The Witness starts you off with a very simple concept, connecting a line from Point A to Point B and expands on it in ways gaming has never seen before. What’s most impressive about the game is just how well it teaches you what it wants you to learn. Everything is so carefully crafted and placed, that nothing is left to waste. Even simple environment assets that seem thrown in for decor have a purpose that you will come to learn in time. Of all of the games this month, The Witness has the best chance of staying relevant throughout the year, not just for the amount of hype it’s had in its build up, but just how well it all payed off. For more on The Witness, check out our review and find it on Steam and PSN.
LEGO Marvel Avengers – Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, Wii U, 3DS, Vita, PC – January 26
One thing you can always count is at least one LEGO game a year and despite their frequency in release, not many people seem to think it’s a bad idea. Sure the series doesn’t hog the headlines like Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty do, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that each release is by and large fundamentally sound. And the same remains true with LEGO Marvel Avengers. Level design and team attacks are the highlights of this latest iteration as well as wealth of heroes both big and small that you can unlock and play as. For more on LEGO Marvel Avengers, check out our review and find it on Xbox Live, PSN, the Nintendo eShop and Steam.
Darkest Dungeon – PC – January 19
Darkest Dungeon has been available for gamers to get their hands on for about a year now via Early Access, but it wasn’t until this month that the game officially “released”. The game is a 2-D gothic rogue-like game with turn-based combat mechanics and a heavy emphasis on difficulty. As you traverse each dungeon players must contend with a multitude of hurdles like disease, stress and famine that can ultimately lead to your party’s undoing. Retreat and failure are commonplace in Darkest Dungeon, but the thrill of success amidst the chaos is what makes the game so good. Darkest Dungeon is set to get a PS4 port later in the year, but for now PC players can soak up one of the best rogue-like games available. You can check out Darkest Dungeon on Steam and GOG.com.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam – 3DS – January 22
The Mario and Luigi and Paper Mario franchises have always co-existed alongside each other, but Paper Jam is the first game to cross over the two universes, and the result is a success. While the story is nothing emotionally gripping, the game is so self-aware of that fact that it doesn’t even matter. Paper Jam’s combination of turn-based combat and skill-based inputs constantly keep you invested in every enemy encounter, and nothing (save for a few Toad mini games) ever wears out its welcome. For more on Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, check out our review and find it on the Nintendo eShop.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen – PC – January 15
No Dragon’s Dogma is not a new release, but it is the best version of an already underrated game. Despite carrying that ugly label “port” with it, the PC version of Dragon’s Dogma successfully cleans up a lot of the performance issues that plagued the original console versions. Before the game struggled to maintain 30 FPS, but now runs smoothly at 60 FPS, provided your rig is strong enough to handle it. Dragon’s Dogma may not have had the most original fantasy world, but it was the combat mechanics, open world and enemy encounters that always made the game stand out. Ogres and griffins tower over you with their massive size and scaling them to deliver critical damage at big moments is insanely rewarding. For more on Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, check out our review and find it on Steam.
Oxenfree – PC, Xbox One – January 15
Oxenfree is a 2-D supernatural thriller by independent developer Night School Studio that tells the story of a group of high school friends that unintentionally open a ghostly rift. The game relies heavily on point and click mechanics with player choice that results in a multitude of different endings, encouraging players to go back and replay it. Players are given dialogue options that range from sympathy to sarcasm, and you won’t always know that you’ve made an important decision at the moment you make them, leading to an unpredictable plot line. Oxenfree has garnered attention for its narrative and art style at IndieCade and the Independent Games Festival and has been received well by the Steam community to the tune of a 95% positive rating. You can check out Oxenfree on Steam and Xbox Live.
January 2016 was dominated by the indie scene. Some might bemoan the fact that there weren’t any huge releases, but that shouldn’t take away from what was a very underrated crop of very unique games this month. Each game tackled different themes and genres, from the realities of battling cancer to the mental traumas of fighting against the abominations of underworlds. The genres spread across a wide spectrum with a few RPG’s, an epic open world puzzle adventure and a couple narratively driven adventures. Many of the games on this list have a chance to be in the conversation for best indie game 11 months from now, which is a great sign of things to come for the rest of the year. Here are the best games of January 2016.
Pony Island – PC – January 5
Pony Island is not what you would think it is at first glance. It is described as a “suspense puzzle game in disguise” by Developer Daniel Mullins. While the game starts innocently (and blandly enough) taking a few pots shots at conventional game business practices along the way, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. Turns out there’s very little “Pony” in Pony Island and instead, you are trapped in a malevolent arcade machine that is after your soul. So far the game has been very well received by the Steam community with a 96% positive rating and at a meager $4.99 price tag, curiosity is worth the admission alone. You can check out Pony Island on Steam.
That Dragon, Cancer – PC – January 12
Some of the biggest news of the month sadly had to do with the passing away of two beloved celebrities, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, which made That Dragon, Cancer’s release all the more appropriate. The game is the real life story of toddler Joel Green and his 4 year battle against cancer. The game is an interactive narrative that gives players an inside look at the hardships of being the parent of a child with cancer while exploring themes of faith, hope, love and ultimately heartache. The game was a Kickstarter success story back in December of 2014 and has garnered attention from many in the industry, earning awards from the IndieCade Showcase and Independent Games Festival. You can check out That Dragon, Cancer on Steam.