Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori is the best 2D platformer since Super Mario World. It is beautiful; it is satisfying; it is freeing.
Console games have been leaning in the direction of greater power and mobility for the player at the expense of challenge for many years now. This move is no accident. Developers spend a lot of time crafting their worlds and it sucks when a player gives up before seeing the complete result of that labor. It also requires tremendous discipline to see any direction besides directly up as progress when designing an experience. As a result of this trend, Sam Fisher can go in hot and still complete his missions, Call of Duty soldiers have jetpacks, any open world game with less player freedom than Saints Rows 3 feels confining, and returning to a checkpoint more than about 15 seconds from where you died has become frustrating.
In the same way that raising the stakes in a story from the hero's hometown to the world to the galaxy can have a numbing effect, making the player powerful can make a game less engaging. This is okay for two reasons. One, so long as good games keep coming out that don't do this we can ignore the games that have watered themselves down this way. Two, when developers figure out how give a player that power without losing their attachment, you get games like Ori and the Blind Forest: a game that applies this trend of greater freedom and lesser obstruction to the 2D platformer with a staggering degree of success.
Ori and the Blind Forest technically exists in the "Metroidvania" category of games. You clamber around as a dragon-esque spirit of light, on a massive contiguous world map that slowly opens up to you as you gain the power to navigate the map's obstacles. The trouble with that comparison is that most games in the genre tend to be heavy on puzzle and problem-solving elements; they force you to stop and think how to combine the tools in your kit to proceed. Ori never feels like it's trying to keep you from moving forward. It feels closer to Mirror's Edge than Metroid, for the better in virtually all cases. The game's not a complete pushover, but it keeps its momentum by restricting the challenge almost entirely to execution.
And what execution! Ori is one of the only games I have ever played that uses a mixed media style for rendering backgrounds that doesn't look like that choice was a production compromise. It is gorgeous, particularly when in motion where mixed media normally falls apart. The sound design is airy but forceful, and it gives the action on screen a huge dynamic range between the twinkling leaps of Ori and the thunderings of the landscape. Add those audiovisual strengths to Ori's lofty acrobatic style, and I can't recall the last time I have felt more free moving around an environment. The charge jump technique in particular marries a shooting star to a gunshot aesthetic in a way that's chill-inducing, even simply thinking about it here.
I played about three quarters of the way through Ori before noticing an odd feeling about it. Or, rather, an odd lack of a feeling: I couldn't recall being frustrated more than once in four hours. There are things about the game that could be better, but I'm not even going to bother listing them. They don't matter. There were points when I'd die a dozen times trying to tackle a gauntlet, but going through the motions was so intrinsically pleasureable I didn't care. When I failed, the game would simply shift into a form of meditation, waiting until I was ready to take it seriously enough to move forward. It's hard to know how much that feeling can even be improved, and I'm loathe to speculate on it if there is any chance doing so would break what Moon Studios achieved here.
Hot off finishing Kojima's swan song, I took it for granted that Metal Gear Solid V was going to run away with my vote for Game of the Year. It is with all humility I can muster that I owe Ori an apology for being so presumptuous.