Best of 2014: Top 5 Game Consoles

VR_Bestof2014

A very merry Christmas to all! I’m celebrating with the return of another list that debuted last year – my personal opinion on how the seven major videogame consoles stacked up against one another in 2014, with sales successes taken out of the equation. I like to think I played a decent amount of everything relevant to this list in 2014, so hopefully I’m qualified for a balanced opinion. It is still an opinion, though.

Once again, the two biggest factors that go into ordering this list are overall user experience and quality of 2014 games released on the console. Exclusive games are given priority over platform-agnostic ones unless there is a significant difference in functionality and playability between versions of a game. Also, because a PC doesn’t really count as a console, I may mention certain games as “exclusives” even if they also appear on Steam.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Playstation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

The short-lived era of Western-developed “Triple A” games for the Playstation Vita appears to be over after just two years in the wild. However, it’s still my favourite console on which to play games. Portable, sleek, very pretty and supported by a near-constant stream of high quality smaller titles and big Japanese games, I spent an awful lot of time with my Vita in 2014. Sony actually released two new models of the Vita hardware this year – the even more convenient if slightly less visually capable PS Vita Slim in June, and then the rather odd but quite cool Playstation TV last month (which I reviewed on this site). It may have been completely missing a universally eye-catching new exclusive game, and its operating system may look near-identical to the 2012 launch version, but there were plenty of reasons to love the Playstation Vita in 2014 and it easily slides into my console Top 5 this time around.

4. Playstation 4

(LAST YEAR: Honorable Mentions)

Sales analysts at Sony have admitted to scratching their heads at the PS4’s insane current market dominance, especially in light of its threadbare line-up of compelling exclusive games at the moment. You can count the amount of genuine PS4-only 2014 games on one hand, and you can count those that worked right away at launch by making a peace sign. And yet the newest Playstation is still tracking as the single fastest selling videogame console of all time. Why? It probably has a lot to do with the marketing hysteria surrounding the PS4’s announcement last year, but there’s also little doubt that the console is the fastest and most user-friendly on the market in terms of performance, downloading and installing games and apps much faster than its closest competitors. The console’s user interface started in a neat, straightforward place and evolved steadily over the course of 2014, integrating wonderful features like the ShareFactory video editor, direct YouTube integration, Remote Play streaming capacity to at least four different devices, and the multiplayer fan’s best friend, SharePlay. It was also the best place to play the huge commercial hit Destiny in 2014, and what it currently lacks in big-money true exclusives, it more than makes up for with the sheer volume of pure indie goodness on its online store. In this way I’ve heard the PS4 described as the “most affordable gaming PC on the market”, which in a lot of ways is a pretty spot-on description. Chances are if its an indie game that can use a controller, it will at some point come to PS4. And it’s all going to get a whole lot better next year.

3. Nintendo 3DS

(LAST YEAR: 1st)

It was always going to be very hard for the 3DS to even come close to matching the incredible year it had in 2013, when it trounced all of its competitors by a country mile on the strength of its exclusive game releases alone. 2014 was, as expected, a quieter year, but it was nowhere near as uneventful as 2012 was. Quite the contrary, in fact, because no year boasting both a Pokemon release and a (really, really good) Super Smash Bros game can ever be considered quiet for a Nintendo console. Beyond those two big-hitters, the 3DS enjoyed new Yoshi, Kirby and Mario Golf games in 2014, a righteous homecoming for one of gaming’s most beloved characters in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, as well as the absolute definitive Final Fantasy music fanservice package in the form of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call and a high-quality Persona game to call its own in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. But it was a pair of fresh-faced newcomers that really brought “life” to the 3DS this year, if you’ll pardon the pun – the flat-out crazy Tomodachi Life and the endlessly charming Fantasy Life. Both came out of nowhere and surprised all who played them, proving once again that it really pays to own a 3DS. Oh, and did I mention that the New 3DS, a model revision that almost matches the Vita Slim in build quality and functionality, came to Australia this year too? Yep, Nintendo’s handheld is ticking along nicely.

2. Xbox One

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

First things first – the Xbox One’s user interface still needs a lot of improvement. It loads/installs/downloads everything way too slowly given its power, it takes irritatingly large chunks of internet bandwidth for arbitrary reasons, its party chat still doesn’t work nearly as consistently as it needs to and several important features are still buried under too many menus. But my goodness, Phil Spencer and his team just hit it out of the park again and again throughout 2014 with their exclusive game titles. Say what you will about Titanfall’s lack of content when it launched back in March, but it’s a really damn good game and it has been patched so many times that going back to it now is like night and day. Speaking of which, Forza Horizon 2 is by all accounts an incredibly enjoyable, carefree racer that finally brings variable weather effects to an already visually stunning game engine. Halo Master Chief Collection, now that its online issues are mostly sorted out, is an astonishing value proposition that shows real care for Halo fans. Project Spark is a near-limitless multiplayer creation tool with a strong community behind it. Killer Instinct is now an even better fighting game now that it has entered its second season of content. And then there’s Sunset Overdrive, a joyous, irreverent explosion of colour and fun boasting a polished quality matched only by the impeccably imaginative Super Time Force. If exclusive games alone decided console sales, the PS4 would be eating this thing’s dust right now. The early days of countless jokes at the Xbone’s expense now seem very long ago indeed.

1. Wii U

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

The battle between the number 1 and 2 spot for me this year was hard-fought, and it took a while for me to decide which console deserved to come out on top. In the end I had to go with the Wii U, because although the Xbox One may have taken huge steps back into the good books of gamers in 2014, people forget that it actually came out of the starting blocks rather strongly, both technically and games-wise. The Wii U had a comparatively horrendous launch in late 2012, not to mention a difficult 2013 to say the least. Now it’s nearly unrecognisable. The system is faster, more coherent and more accessible than ever, and the increased emphasis on the gamepad through the new quick start menu, screenshot sharing feature and enhanced video playback options ensures a genuinely unique console user experience unlike anything else on the market. But really, it’s the games of 2014 that push the Wii U to the top of this list. The timely addition of classic Game Boy Advance games to the Wii U Virtual Console this year fit the system’s feature set shockingly well, particularly given the gamepad’s physical layout, and as for the exclusives, well, they didn’t disappoint. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, NES Remix 2, Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2, Shovel Knight and Super Smash Bros for Wii U saw critical acclaim and kept me and my friends coming back to Nintendo’s latest home console again and again. And they all actually functioned at launch, which is more than I can say about a lot of the big titles on other platforms in 2014. Amiibo is a really cool new initiative for hardcore Nintendo fans that will only increase in value over time, and if this year’s various showings at gaming events is any indication, the Wii U’s 2015 looks even more promising.

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Honorable Mentions
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Xbox 360
If the Xbox 360 had an average year in 2013, it’s 2014 was even less notable. Not a single big exclusive title hit the once dominant console this year, meaning many active gamers used it as a vehicle for Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the Telltale adventure games, the Bioshock Infinite DLC and not too much else. Microsoft’s new-ish “Games With Gold” program did treat it well, however, thrusting plenty of under-appreciated games back into the spotlight for the tasty price of zero dollars.

Playstation 3
After an absolutely stellar 2013, the PS3 largely stepped into the shadow of its younger sibling the PS4 in 2014. Its fate in the eyes of many gamers mirrored that of the 360, only with a touch extra support in the form of Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX and a host of other Japanese-made titles. The PS3 also received “Cross-Play” support with plenty of PS Vita and PS4 games this year, giving Playstation fans another reason to keep the console around for just a little while longer.

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