This year we came up with a game for each console that we think represents the best of what 2015’s games have to offer. They might not all be family-friendly games, but they represent our editors’ favorite picks.

Thanks for following Pixelkin throughout one of our best years ever. We love you readers and we hope you’re just as excited for 2016 as we are.

Happy holidays!

-The Pixelkin Staff

Rise of the Tomb Raider

I’m a sucker for a good story, and so many games have weak stories that when I find a good one I’m always surprised. Rise of the Tomb Raider continues the awesome narrative that started in the reboot in 2013. Lara has obviously been changed by the events in that game, but she’s still not completely sure who she is yet.

In this game she finds herself following a quest that her father was on before he died. Everyone thought he was crazy, but after what she witnessed during the first game, she’s changed her mind. She becomes so obsessed with what her father was doing that she can’t hear or even see reason from her friends.

But the reality of the situation is that her father really was onto to something and she’s determined to see it through even it means leaving her loved ones behind. She ends up finding herself up against a large almost military operation that’s looking for the same thing she is. But one of the beauties of this story is that though these people are obviously Lara’s enemies, they have their own motives that stem from beliefs that aren’t really evil in nature.

Lara CroftGameplay-wise, it’s Tomb Raider, and I’ve always loved Tomb Raider. In this game Lara goes to so many disparate and beautiful locations that when the camera pans back to show you the full extent of the scene it’s so massive and beautiful that you can’t not want to explore it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider places a bigger emphasis on combat, but it’s pretty much the same as the last game—you’ve still got all your weapons and skills. Artifacts and notes give you more insight into what happened as well as what’s currently going on, so you understand those enemies a little bit more throughout the game. Survival instinct is back from the previous game to give you an edge in combat so you can take enemies out more easily.

But my favorites are still the “tombs,” where the puzzles are. I love being stumped and wandering around wondering what I’m supposed to do next and then that aha moment comes and it’s so satisfying. And the escape sequences are just so well done. You’ll be running like mad jumping or sliding through an area and the game does this great thing where it goes into slow motion and the tension that builds through that moment and the subsequent joy that happens after you make it is just…it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had gaming.

And of course Lara is awesome. Crystal Dynamics and writer Rhianna Pratchett have transformed her from a character that I pretty much hated into a character that I can not only relate to, but to one I really like. Except she’s way better at jumping and climbing mountains than I am. Ultimately that connection that I feel with Lara is why love Rise of the Tomb Raider so much.

– Nicole

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate feels like a fresh take on the long-running historical fantasy franchise. For the first time it stars two main characters, the twins Evie and Jacob Frye.

Funny, charming, and deadly, the Frye twins butt heads over the course of the game, but Syndicate does a great job of making you relate to each of them. And their sibling relationship provides both humor and tension.

Assassin's Creed SyndicateAssassin’s Creed Syndicate’s Victorian London is a massive playground full of optional objectives, collectibles, and lovely discoveries. Each borough is divided into sections that you conquer piecemeal throughout the game. With every conquest, you get stronger, and London is freed from Templar influence.

I love the way these conquest missions work. They’ll reset if you leave the area without finishing—so if I accidentally mucked up an optional objective, or if it was too hard, I could just run off with no consequences.

Mechanically, I think Syndicate fulfills a lot of the promises of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Climbing up and down buildings is smoother than ever, the zipline adds more mobility, and carriage driving is fun and frustrating in equal measure. And the fights! What a freaking joy the fighting is, full of borderline-slapstick fluid stabs and kicks and limb-snapping. Yes, it’s violent, but it’s so darn fun.

The story missions are divided pretty equally between Jacob and Evie. Each Assassin has a priority: Jacob is trying to build his gang and take out Templars, while Evie is tracking down a Piece of Eden and coming into conflicts of her own.

The fact that the driving tension of the game is a sibling relationship gives the story a lot of heart. I won’t spoil anything, but despite all the murder, Syndicate is a really optimistic game, and playing it makes me so happy.

– Simone

Splatoon

Splatoon is silly, irreverent, fast-paced, explosive, nonstop fun. The game is Nintendo’s answer to online multiplayer shooters. You play as a teenage Inkling with an impeccable fashion sense and an arsenal of ink weapons. These range in style from squirt guns to paint rollers to buckets. Two teams of four go head-to-head in a race to cover their shared arena in their team’s ink color.

splatoon-tall-1.0There are all kinds of little design choices in Splatoon that add up to a great experience. For instance, there is no voice chat, which means kids never have to deal with talking to strangers online. Plus, points are rewarded simply for participating, which means that even beginner players can level up their stats if they’re patient enough.

What’s more, there are plenty of great settings available that let you do things like adjust your controller settings or make the game colorblind-friendly. And you can play as a boy or girl with no impact on your gameplay experience.

Most people play Splatoon for the online multiplayer, but the single-player campaign in Spatoon is fantastic. You go up against the evil Octarian Army, which has kidnapped the Great Zapfish from Inkopolis Plaza. The campaign has got a great balance of fighting and environmental puzzling, and like the rest of the game, it has a delightful sense of humor. The final boss battle was one of the best I have ever played.

When you’re not squirting ink, you can go shopping in Inkopolis Plaza for new weapons, shirts, shoes, or hats. Not only does this allow you to customize your Inkling to your heart’s content, but each clothing item provides you with a cool perk when you’re playing online.

Splatoon’s biggest weakness is its local multiplayer mode, which is no fun at all for anyone who isn’t holding the GamePad. Hopefully it will get better over time. Luckily, the game as a whole is completely worthwhile, despite this.

Splatoon is chock-full of moxie and promise, something I love to see in a brand-new franchise. I consider it to be a must-own game for anyone with a Wii U.

– Courtney

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is Pixelkin’s Nintendo 3DS game of the year, and not just because it’s a satisfying dungeon adventure with cool puzzles. Majora’s Mask is a tapestry of dozens of small, poignant stories that inform each other in really beautiful ways. Every time I play this game, I come away feeling more enriched.

Majora’s Mask is the sequel to Ocarina of Time, a wonderfully designed classic adventure story of good versus evil. Here, however, things are a little different. The enemy is not always obvious, and the plot is somewhat less linear.

Majora's Mask Skull KidYou play as Link, a young boy who has become trapped in the land of Termina. Link has exactly 72 hours to stop the moon from falling. If he fails, the world ends and he is transported back in time to the beginning of the three-day cycle. In order to beat the game, you’ll need to relive those 72 hours over and over, exploring Termina and getting to know its residents.

Most Zelda games have side quests. Usually they’re a fun way to break things up and explore the world around you. In Majora’s Mask, the side quests are the most interesting part of the game. Every person you meet is suffering in some way, and you have to decide if you’re going to help them. But even if you do help them, at the end of the three-day cycle, their problems will come right back, and they won’t remember you.

In this way, Majora’s Mask often feels like an exercise in futility. And for many players, that futility is exactly what stops them from finishing the game. However, watching the characters act out their lives identically over and over, learning about them and seeing what changes when I intercede, is incredibly compelling to me. It’s like watching clockwork, and the more I explore, the more pieces I find. Many of the characters are family members who have been estranged from one another, or ghosts of people who died before they could complete their purpose. Uniting friends, guiding the lost, and comforting the lonely is especially strange and meaningful when you know the world will end in just a few short hours.

In addition to all this, Majora’s Mask is also a solid adventure game. You’ll be familiar with this aspect of it if you’ve played any other 3D Zelda games. There’s swordplay and archery and environmental puzzles all over the place.

Majora’s Mask 3D is a remake of a Nintendo 64 game, but the original suffered from a clunky user interface and was at times too hard for what it was. The remake solves most of these issues and finally lets this amazing story situate itself as one of my favorite games of all time.

– Courtney

Tales from the Borderlands

I fell in love with Tales From the Borderlands during the opening credits of the game. They are, not coincidentally, some of the best opening credits ever. I’ve been a fan of the Borderlands series for a long time, but always casually. My love affair with Tales is anything but casual.

The game takes place after Borderlands 2. It’s not a shooter like the other games in the series, though. Instead, you have to make choices that determine how your character react to things. It’s fundamentally a game about friendship, albeit with a ton of good action and adventure thrown in.

tales from the borderlandsTales follows dual protagonists Fiona and Rhys. There’s also Fiona’s little sister, Sasha, and Rhys’s best friend, Vaughn. And then there’s Handsome Jack, the antagonist of Borderlands 2, who was killed at the end of that game. Yep, he’s back—this time as a hologram stuck in Rhys’s cybernetics. Rhys—who idolizes Jack—is the only one who can see or communicate with him, leading to a delightful web of lies and poor decision-making.

And of course there’s a whole plot about tracking down an alien Vault, because that’s what everybody does in Borderlands. It’s kind of an “Ocean’s 11” heist story with a hefty amount of “Mad Max” thrown in, and some “Serenity”-inspired futuristic corporate mystery-solving for flavor.

Everybody who’s played a Borderlands game knows that the series is funny, in a dark, tongue-in-cheek kind of morbid way. Tales is, I would argue, even funnier than the other games. It somehow manages to make you laugh constantly at how silly it is while still encouraging you to care deeply about the characters every step of the way.

It also has really, really good music.

– Keezy

Alphabear

Alphabear is a beautiful and beautifully designed mobile game. There are 10 levels (chapters) that start out easy, but the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly. I’ve been on Level 9 for weeks now, and while I look forward to beating the Level 9 boss, I hate the idea that after that, I’ll have only one more level of Alphabear to enjoy.  

You have a choice each day of several challenging game boards. There’s a daily Big Board, which is untimed, and another daily board that gives you just 90 seconds to make high-scoring words. You pick bonus bears to help you out. Each time you reach a minimum score, you level up one of your bears, which helps you get even more points next time. Alphabear Nose Cheese

There’s also a Challenge Event board, a Treasure Event board, and a Boss board. You have to complete certain challenges before you can attempt to beat the level boss and move on to the next level.

The game is simple–it’s really all about making words from a random selection of letters–but the game mechanics are surprisingly deep. The bears give you various bonuses, and there’s strategy involved in picking bonus bears to use. (For instance, there are bears that give extra points for words containing a certain number of letters–four-letter words, five-letter words, etc.) More strategy is involved in picking letters to use on each board. The letters count down with each word you spell; if they reach zero, part of the board is blocked. In short, there’s a lot of strategy involved in Alphabear.

Another fun part of Alphabear is the cuteness reward you get at the end of every board you play. The game generates pictures of bears with sayings made from words you spelled during your session–kind of like Mad Libs. You can share these through email, text, and social media.

Recently, the developer, Spry Fox, introduced a multiplayer mode called Verses (it’s a pun on “versus”; Spry Fox is big on puns). In Verses mode you can challenge your friends to beat your score and win special bears. There are also special events every few weeks that let you try to win special bears.

The takeaway? Alphabear combines excellent game design and great visuals to make  an engaging, fun, and challenging mobile game. You’ll learn new words and challenge yourself mentally. Alphabear is a really cute, really clever word game with a ton of heart. If you are a word-game aficionado, Alphabear is a must-play.

– Linda

Metamorphabet

Lots of great preschool apps have been released this year. Games like the Toca Life series or the Sago Mini series have all put out some creative and fun apps. But my pick for app of the year goes to Metamorphabet by Vector Park.

Metamorphabet is a simple app that encourages interaction with letters in a whole new way. Where Endless Alphabet gave you movies to illustrate the meaning of words, Metamorphabet has you interacting with the letter itself to visualize new words that start with the letter.

It fun and educational and I would recommend it to any parent of a preschooler.

– Nicole