2014 was an odd year for video games. Besides the gaming controversies (sigh) there was still much room for discussion. I’d like to say it was a great year for gaming as a medium due to the amount of discussion that came from the ups and the downs—despite the downs.
As it is the end of the year, as per tradition for many people, I want to present my personal games of the year list. But the following list doesn’t come easy, or without some apprehension. I completely stand by all of the games, but what good comes from lists like these in the first place? There is no doubt that games are fun, and all the people who put in hard work deserve recognition, but what does a simple “Best of” list accomplish? Without clear recommendations or reasoning, it’s hard to navigate how any one game can stand out. We found out these last couple years that “objective quality” of games isn’t as important to many as it used to be. The EA sports games and Grand Theft Autos are typically technical marvels—AAA titles (used to) signify a high level of polish, but that isn’t enough anymore. Conversely, games like Vlambeer’s entries, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Joylancer, and Twine games have shown that “interesting” games, well, interest people more than raw power or high fidelity graphics.
Additionally, the indie and AAA spaces seems to have completely different goals with their games. We can assume that they share, at least to some degree, the goal of making some money. But besides that, indie games seem to be shooting for creative, personal, narrative, or inventive concepts. AAA, on the other hand, seems to be staying comfortable with sequels or experiences that appeal to broad audiences or attaining a sort of Hollywood-of-Gaming. Neither of these goal sets are necessarily bad, but how can you compare those in a “Best Of” scope? With the broad range of genres in both spaces, I honestly don’t think you can. Even further, there are simply too many games coming out for one person to play them all fully, let alone the year they actually come out.
The answer to this, at least in my eyes, is to simply list a certain number of games that interest you in some particular scope. This list has to be completely subjective, just by the nature of the reasons listed above. With this mindset, a Games of the Year list is basically a list of recommendations/games that deserve honor based on one’s own preference set. Essentially, it’s just for fun. So, without any further philosophizing, here are five games that stood out to me for one reason or another, in no particular order. The only rule is that I had to play the game for the first time in 2014. I’ll list a “category” for why I chose the game, and a short description and justification.
Most Visually Appealing
Mario Kart 8—Wii U
Mario Kart has been a staple of every Nintendo system since the Super Nintendo. The game takes characters from the Mario franchise and remixes familiar locations into racetracks for go-karts to speed around using the items the world is so known for. Nintendo is skilled at refining their own properties—this is the 8th installment after all—but MK8 to me feels like the pinnacle of what the series can actually be: the roster of characters and vehicle options is large, giving players many choices; there is interesting DLC, adding new characters and courses (yay, Link) to keep the game fresh; and the game finally gets to utilize HD graphics to create a beautiful setting. It needs to be said that while the graphical capability is nowhere near high end PCs or Xbox One/PS4, the art style takes full advantage of the system’s power. Each detail counts: from the decals on the vehicles, to dirt and water affecting the characters, topped off with juxtaposition of realistic details and scenery with more cartoony ones. To sum it up, I’ve been speechless just from seeing the game.
Most Mechanically Interesting
Crypt of the Necrodancer—PC (Early Access)
Described quickly as a rhythm-based roguelike, Crypt of the Necrodancer is like no game I’ve ever seen before. To clarify a bit, a roguelike is often a grid-based game, where the player moves from spot to spot to navigate a dungeon. They must find tools as they go, and when you die, it’s game over. You lose everything. Some games let you save and come back to it, others do not. Enemies move directly after the player does, making it vaguely turn-based in the player’s favor. Crypt follows this formula pretty directly with one huge difference: everything must move on beat with the music. All actions must be timed accordingly. This creates an experience that keeps the player on their toes and constantly moving. Multiple playthroughs are encouraged, as the levels and items are randomly generated, making each playthrough different than the last. This game is not finished yet, but is well worth the entry fee, and the developers are constantly improving and adjusting it. Lastly, there is a female protagonist who is capable without falling into many of the “strong female protagonist” pitfalls, which is always refreshing.
Best Game to Play With Friends
“Couch gaming” with friends always been my preferred way to play. So, any game that pushed multiplayer heavily holds a special place in my heart. Although Towerfall was originally released in 2013, I wasn’t lucky enough to play it until this year. I was quite pleased. The objective is simple: defeat the other players either by shooting them with arrows or by jumping on their heads. Your arrows are limited, but can be picked back up. You can jump on walls, and you can go off one side of the screen to appear on the other a la Pac-Man. The game is that simple, and this is its main draw. It’s easy to pick up, the rounds are very short, and victory always seems possible whether you’re brand new or experienced. These three points are key to a great multiplayer experience. With many possible game modes, rulesets, and character combinations, this game can provide a good time with friends during any gaming session.
Most Valuable Game
Super Smash Brothers for Wii U/3DS—Wii U/3DS
Cumbersome title aside, the Smash series has always been one many fans hold near to their hearts. It’s a fighting game of sorts, where all-stars from the Nintendo house (and some guests) battle to knock each other out of the screen. Besides being a huge nostalgia-fest, the thing separating Smash from most mainstream fighting games is its control scheme. There aren’t any complicated commands to memorize or worry about inputting correctly. However, the need to understand each character and develop precision is still present, making this game welcoming for beginners and experts alike (a theme I’m noticing means a lot to me). Of course, this inherently adds value to the game as people will always be able to play it without feeling hopeless. Additionally, there are modes and ways to customize the rules that make it so that an expert and beginner are on equal terms either due to handicaps or luck, depending on the setting. In addition to skill-based value, there are ton of collectibles, music options, single and multiplayer modes, and characters to learn. As long as someone enjoys this game at least once, they will have something to try for a long while to come.
Game I’m Most Anticipating a Finished Release Of
(Tie)—Joylancer—PC (Early Access)/The Iconoclasts—PC (Demo)
There’s a few things I’m a sucker for: 1. Platformers 2. Female Protagonists 3. Unconventional weapons and tools. Both of these games have all these things. Joylancer is a game starring a character using a motorized drill as her primary weapon. The Iconoclasts‘s star uses a ray gun or sorts, and eventually a motorized wrench. Both of these games remind me of the ridiculous, yet humble, days of platforming form the 90’s; they were creative and ambitious and challenging with appealing sprite aesthetics on completely different parts of the spectrum. Joylancer emulates Game Boy era graphics while The Iconoclasts goes for something a little more hi-res. Both of these games are in incomplete stages, but still have enough content to know that the finished products will be fun. Utilizing puzzling situations and fast-paced combat, these games are examples of great platforming with a lot of potential. (Plus, the protagonist of Joylancer is a character of color.)
I recommend everyone at least give these games a try. While these games meant a lot to me, this is by no means a perfect list… I wish I could have played more games. But, it’s a good set that is worth the attention. So I’m curious, what were some of your favorite games this year and why? Let us know in the comment section! In the meantime, I’m going celebrate a whole year of posts by getting to the games I’ve been putting off since I started.
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