It’s 2015, so nearly all games are available digitally. But when a game is only available in a digital format, like on the Xbox Live Marketplace, the digital distinction means something.
Digital-only games tend to have a tighter focus than big $60 retail games. They generally move quicker and focus in on one or two game mechanics. They’re also the products of smaller teams with smaller budgets, which frees them up to take more risks and offer niche gameplay that AAA titles simply can’t afford to do.
Below, we take a look at the 10 highest-rated digital games of 2015 on Xbox One. The rankings below are based on the games’ Metacritic scores, which should gives us a clear picture of the critical consensus overall.
Metacritic Score: 78
Quick question: Do you have fast reflexes? You’re going to need them, because early on OlliOlli quickly becomes a demanding game that asks a lot of players. Each level is essentially an obstacle course you have to string superhuman skateboarding combos together to traverse. One wrong move sends you flying off your board, kicking you back to the beginning of the level for another go. If that kind of satisfying challenge sounds like fun, hop on board.
9. Hand of Fate
Metacritic Score: 80
This game might seem like it has multiple personality disorder, but don’t let that stop you from playing it. Hand of Fate cherry picks ideas from action role-playing games, collectible card games, and decision-based adventure games, and mixes them all together into an experience you won’t find anywhere else. A guiding factor in the game is luck of the draw, because much of what happens is based on the cards you’re dealt. And since the game has you playing against a strange and mysterious dealer, luck might not always be in your favor.
8. Life is Strange
Metacritic Score: 80
Adventure games are unique because their primary focus is not to prove your mettle by jumping over pits, shooting zombies, or defeating dragons. Instead, like movies or TV shows, adventure games are more interested in telling a story.
Thankfully, the story in Life is Strange is a good one. You play as Max Caufield, an artistic high school student who discovers she can rewind time. While it sounds like the start of a crazy sci-fi adventure, you mostly use your ability to try out different actions and conversation paths as you go through your fairly typical adolescent life. The characters are interesting, and there are hints of an impending catastrophe. How it plays out depends on the choices you make.
7. Game of Thrones
Metacritic Score: 81
This game basically drops you in the brutal fantasy/medieval world of Westeros and wishes you luck. The game focuses on the Forrester family, who are in the unfortunate position of being loyal to the Starks of Winterfell. That means you have a big Lannister problem to deal with on an adventure that takes you all over the continent and features characters voiced by the actors from the show, including Tyrion and Jon Snow.
6. Resident Evil HD Remaster
Metacritic Score: 82
Resident Evil is the PlayStation game often credited with kicking off the entire survival horror genre, which makes it an excellent choice to be remastered in HD for modern systems. Like the original, this spiffy version has you explore a mansion filled with undead horrors, eating herbs to regain health and using a typewriter to save your game.
As a nod to the way times have changed over the past couple of decades, the game even includes a simplified control scheme you can choose over the original “tank controls.” The result is a game that plays even better than you remember.
5. Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones
Metacritic Score: 82
Sneaking through shadowy environments patrolled by eagle-eyed enemies never seems to lose its appeal to gamers. Stealth Inc 2 puts you in the shoes of an adorable clone who has to escape from a series of carefully-designed test chambers that are rigged to end your life the moment you’re detected.
So you’ll have to stick to the shadows, avoiding attack dogs, patrol robots, and spotlights as you hack into terminals to open the doors to the exit. Fans of stealth games will want to check this one out.
4. Rogue Legacy
Metacritic Score: 83
Rogue Legacy is an indie platformer with a goofy sense of humor. Much of the game is randomized, from the quirks of the heroes to the design of the dungeon, meaning no two run-throughs are the same. That said, the goal is always the same. You have to make your way through four wings of the ever-changing dungeon and defeat all the bosses.
The game is very challenging, but every time you die you get to spend the gold you collected to increase your stats. This means the more you play, the more powerful your characters become. It’s a cool gimmick that will keep you coming back until you’ve completed the castle.
3. Shovel Knight
Metacritic Score: 85
This retro-inspired action platformer is like a mash-up of the glory days of the NES. With obvious inspiration from games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Duck Tales, Shovel Knight has you hack, slash, and shovel-jump your way through a series of gorgeously pixelated levels, fighting innovative enemies and massive bosses along the way.
But don’t mistake it for a thoughtless rehash of the classic games of yore. The developers have thrown in enough new ideas and gameplay mechanics (like checkpoints and a risk-reward system for collecting coins) to keep any modern gamer happy.
2. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee — New ’n’ Tasty
Metacritic Score: 86
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was a very fun action puzzle game that came out in 1997 for the original PlayStation. It followed the story of Abe, a green alien who helped his fellow Mukodons escape slavery from a factory where they were about to be ground up for meat.
This New ’n’ Tasty edition is a remake with improved graphics, tweaked gameplay mechanics, and a handful of control concessions that make the game less frustrating to play. The one thing that has remained the same, however, is the brilliant level design, which stitches together puzzle after puzzle in a way that’s tough to improve upon. Whether you played the original or not, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee — New ’n’ Tasty is one to check out.
1. Ori and the Blind Forest
Metacritic Score: 88
The number one game on Xbox Live is a stunningly gorgeous side-scrolling adventure that stars a forest spirit on a coming-of-age journey. Developer Moon studios has been working on this title for four years, trying to give it a similar feel to Nintendo classics like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroid. That’s a high bar to clear, but the hard work has paid off, with a game that satisfies on many levels.