Can you believe we all thought Destiny would be GotY? Oh my god.
Let’s be honest; this has been a really, exceptionally strange year for the videoed game. Between the endless biblical flood of horseshit known as GamerGate and the myriad bunch of disappointing AAA titles the industry has given us, this year has been a tumultuous one, to say the least. But you know something? Despite all of that, 2014 still managed to produce a collection of some really great, memorable gaming experiences which will stick with me well into next year.
So here’s how we’re doing this little shindig here at Hey Poor Player. Each of our writers will be posting their own personal top 10 lists over the next several days, starting with the one you see before you now. These lists aren’t meant to be what each of us considers the “objectively best games of 2014” (though we will be handling that as well), but rather a list of our personal favorites. So, what do you say we get down and dirty with the games of 2014.
#10: Shovel Knight
Anyone who knows me, or is familiar with my general view of games as a medium, will know that I’m not too huge on the whole “nostalgia” thing. I honestly think that being known more for a similarity to other things than for being good in its own right is one of the worst positions a video game can possibly be in. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with something making you feel nostalgia; but, if that’s the only lasting impression you walk away with, what you have there is a marker of an emotionally manipulative product. And nobody wants their game to be called an emotionally manipulative product. That’s such an ugly phrase!
But, I digress. My point is that it should come as no surprise that I was extremely wary of Shovel Knight back when it first launched. But lo and behold, Shovel Knight turned out to not just be an homage to NES classics like Zelda and Castlevania, but also a great game in its own regard. It proves something that I probably need to be reminded of more often; the fact that a game can be nostalgic, yes, but can also be clever beyond any nostalgia. Some levels had a difficulty in level design that really got my nerves, but for the dedicated gamer, Shovel Knight digs its way onto the list.
#9: The Blackwell Epiphany
This year involved a lot of point-and-click adventure games. One of them made me cry with anger. This one made me cry for other reasons. Reasons involving ghosts, humans, and the jungle of life that is New York City. This game is the final chapter in the ghost-communing story of Rosangela Blackwell, and despite being my first foray into the series, came away shining brightly in the cold winter sky.
At its heart, The Blackwell Epiphany is nothing mechanically more than a very competent point-and-click adventure game, but in terms of presentation it becomes something much more. The point-and-click genre is kind of inherently a storytelling device, and so games within the genre rely heavily on good writing. The Blackwell Epiphany contains a beautifully-constructed narrative, accompanied by gorgeous visuals and art, as well as a fantastic soundtrack and solid voice acting. Telling a tale of life, death, and the search for purpose, The Blackwell Epiphany is an indie experience that delivers a great conclusion to a series of cult hits deserving of a suitable end.
#8: Mario Kart 8
I’ve historically not been much of a multiplayer guy. I have usually gone more for games with a strong single-player experience, with multiplayer being a non-essential part of the package. That said, there are occasional exceptions, and Mario Kart 8 turned out to be one of my biggest such exceptions of the year.
Mario Kart 8 isn’t a complete game-changer. It takes the existing structure, tweaks it with new items and tracks, and lets it go from there. The anti-gravity element introduced in many of the game’s tracks did a shockingly good job at making the game feel fresh, a freshness added to even more by the game’s flawless online multiplayer. More than anything else, even one particular game later on this list, I find myself driving down Mario Kart 8‘s multiplayer lanes more than any other game. Not a lot else to say about this one, so I’ll see you on the track.
#7: Bravely Default
Oh, JRPGs, you oft-formulaic beasts. Bravely Default harkens me back to Shovel Knight in a way, because its a similar fusion of new and old. A lot of what Bravely Default has going for it is a backbone of classic RPG elements, but what makes it succeed is how it builds on those elements. Actually, I think everything that’s great about Bravely Default has to do with building upon that which already exists.
The game’s titular “Brave/Default” system adds a whole new dynamic to classic turn-based RPG material, and gives the player a lot more wherewithal for speeding up battles; it’s an excellent strategic element. The game also introduces a job system that expands over time in a really clever way, giving you the task of defeating a character with a job before you can get the job, therefore forcing you to learn a bit about how the job works before it even becomes a new option. Add to this even more amazing presentation, including a fierce contender for the best soundtrack of 2014, and Bravely Default earns its place as a familiar adventure given a beautiful new face.
#6: Squids Odyssey
Well…that’s different. I still find myself utterly bemused with my own love of this game An indie title mixing strategy and physics elements to create something wholly unique, Squids Odyssey is a fun, charming journey that deserves some serious love. Each member of its undersea cast of tentacled characters has their own personality, and all are loveable. The game as whole is a remarkable strategy game, all built around slinging squids around a battlefield with strategy and precision.
I’ll cheat a bit here, by paraphrasing my own words from my review of the game back in the summer. Squids Odyssey isn’t insanely complex or deep on a mechanical level, nor does its story pull ones heartstrings on any kind of artistic level. No, what Squids does is simply create the most fun experience it can. The thing drips of fun, the ink that blots out any flaws and makes us love an experience purely through the act of experiencing it. Squids Odyssey is an inkblast of a good time, with smart design ideas that I would love to see more of in future games. Who knew I would care so much about the correct placement of a cowboy squid to help cover my healer squid while she whacks into my other squids to keep them healthy, all while fighting a wave of giant evil crabs? Oh, Squids Odyssey, you’re weird and I love you for it.
#5: Far Cry 4
Now there’s another transition for you. Let us switch from undersea adventure to mountaineering, hunting, and liberation. Far Cry 3 was a tough act to follow, as a game that did nearly everything right. Moving from a tropical island setting to the high snowy mountains of Kyrat, Far Cry 4 provides even more exploration and ambition than its predecessor.
Far Cry is some of the most fun in exploration and stealth that I can think of in the gaming world. I frequently hear the most recent two games referred to as “Skyrim with guns”, but I don’t know if that does them justice. Whatever you want to compare Far Cry 4 to, exploring Kyrat by foot, car, glider and grappling hook, hunting exotic wildlife and taking down outposts (now joined by fortresses!) along the way, is a glorious experience that doesn’t get old easily. Everything that Far Cry 3 did well, Far Cry 4 does in equal stride.
#4: Super Smash Bros. For Wii U
Okay, so lets go back to the talk of multiplayer-focused games for a bit. I like Smash Bros, but I used to be pretty bad at it. Earlier this year, though, some friends and I got into Project M, a mod for Super Smash Bros Brawl that changed many of the things some fans hated about the series’ Wii installment, Over the following months, we started playing a LOT of Project M, eventually even going to a local tournament. We all got pulverized at said tournament, but by then we could not be swayed. Super Smash Bros has become a staple of our lives.
So then, in the last quarter of the year, two new installments in the Smash saga were released. I never picked up Super Smash Bros for 3DS, but as soon as I put the Wii U version in my console, I knew I was playing something that I would – and will – be playing for years to come. Super Smash Bros for Wii U is perfectly well-balanced, with each character having their own areas of specialty and weakness. The roster is massive, the stages and stage builder fantastic, and the online perfectly functional for once. I could go on, but I guess all I really want to say at the end is that this is, without a doubt, the best that Smash Bros has ever been. All I ask is a way to easily share custom stages and Mii fighters, that the experience may only get better from here on up.
I’m going to begin talking about this game by talking about another game by the same studio. Yeah, that seems like something I’d do, especially when the studio is Supergiant, and the game is Bastion. Bastion is one of my favorite games of all time, between its tight, dynamic combat and its unique storytelling. I didn’t expect Transistor to be the exact same game (because it in no way is), but my hopes were, indeed, pretty high.
Is Transistor now alongside its predecessor as one of my all-time favorites? No, not quite. But it’s still a fantastic game, taking risks and trying new things mechanically that turn it from a standard action framework to a versatile and clever action RPG. The gorgeous soundtrack by Darren Korb is also part of the game’s dynamic nature, as switching into the main character’s freeze-frame “planning mode” changes whatever music is playing to a haunting, echoey accapella version of the same track. Everything about Transistor is elegant, classy, and regal. And just like Bastion before it, it tells its story in a way not quite mirrored by anything else on the market. Here, storytelling is the spine of the world.
#2: The Wolf Among Us
Speaking of storytelling, let’s talk about Telltale. Between The Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones, and their entry into the comic book universe of Fables, Telltale has had a really great couple of years. And no wonder! People loved the first season of The Walking Dead. They cried over it. It was universally acclaimed. However, today I submit that The Wolf Among Us is an exponentially better game than The Walking Dead ever was.
In The Wolf Among Us, you play the part of Bigby, the Big bad Wolf himself. Bigby lives in a city full of fabled storybook characters, and acts as a law enforcement figure among them. When a murder sweeps through the city, every one of its inhabitants is affected. As a Telltale adventure game, interaction with characters is your main occupation, and this is where The Wolf Among Us shines. Every choice you make, and the way you treat every person with whom you regularly interact through the game, will come back to haunt or help you in some way later on. The Wolf Among Us feels more like a legitimate game than The Walking Dead ever did, primarily because of the need to sway people to your side, whatever your side may be. There’s a lot of variation and questioning in how the final episode’s last couple scenes can play out. Regardless of how it goes, though, everyone who you have helped or hurt will make some karmic returns on you, for better or for worse. The Wolf Among Us shows that Telltale games can feel like real games without things like forced first-person shooter segments. All you need is the right circumstances, and everything will fall into place.
#1: Bayonetta 2
Oh man, here it is. The big one. The one that can’t be beaten. Up until a mere few weeks ago, I really thought that The Wolf Among Us would take away this slot. Then, without warning, Bayonetta 2 Witch Time-d its way to the top.
Bayonetta 2 reminds me why I love video games. Way back in the day, it was Pokemon that first got me into the world of games, but that only helped me learn that I liked RPGs. What else would I like, I wondered? Through playing a variety of different things over the following decade-and-change, I discovered that there are few things I enjoy more in any video game than a fast, concise action system. And when I play Bayonetta 2, especially during any battle with the antagonistic Lumen Sage character, I’m reminded why I love games at all. There are levels in Bayonetta 2 that I can tell, right here and now, will go down in my memory for the rest of my life as some of the most energizing and exhilarating battles I have ever played in a game. Rarely does a game make me physically sweat.
On top of that, the thing is beautiful as hell (pun intended). Anyone who nay-says the Wii U needs only to be shown this game in order to understand that the Wii U is by all means a perfectly capable system. On top of that, the story has a lot of good stuff going for it, including some great characters. I expected the dynamic between Bayonetta and Loki, another protagonist, to be little more than banter and jokes, as is the usual for Bayonetta’s tenuous friendships. However, the actual relationship presented between the two was shockingly genuine, and actually kind of endearing. Who looks at a sexy hair-witch fighting angels and thinks “endearing”? I surely wouldn’t have. Bayonetta 2 is chock-full of surprises, and rises climactically high, easily swiping up the crown of my favorite game of 2014.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.heypoorplayer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/011.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]If danger had a face…oh, if danger had a face. Jay Petrequin started writing at HeyPoorPlayer in the summer of 2012, but has always been a writer, be it in the form of articles and reviews here at HPP or in that of fiction and articles written over at PkMnCast.com. Jay has been a gamer from a young age, first finding his legs on a GBA and a copy of Pokemon Sapphire. He enjoys a game with a strong narrative and art design, but also appreciates the retro stuff from before his time. Jay also has a passion for comics, movies and anime. He likes to yell a lot on his Twitter @extremesalsaing, which is only the coolest twitter in town. Favorite games: Okami, Bioshock, Shadow of the Colossus, Xenoblade Chronicles, The World Ends With You, Pokemon Emerald[/author_info] [/author]