Best of 2014: Top 10 Games

VR_Bestof2014

And so it is, on the first day of an impossibly exciting new year, that we arrive at the ‘big two’ to round off the year that was 2014. This is my top ten favourite videogames released in Australia in 2014. For a game to qualify for this list I need to have either finished it or played at least five hours – whichever comes first (yes, that does eliminate a lot of really good games – we aren’t all superhumans). For clarification’s sake, significant game remakes count – “remasters” do not. So no, Final Fantasy X HD doesn’t count, because it’s a beat-for-beat upscaled port of a decade-old game.

I tend to define myself nowadays by playing as many games as possible, even if that means I only get to play a small slice of each title, just so I can have some sort of opinion on them and be part of a wide gaming conversation. Because I live for that stuff. But these are the games I actually played, and I mean really played, in 2014. When your free time dries up and you need to be more selective with where you put it, as mine did in 2014, your tastes as a gamer tend to boil down to a more easily definable quantity. And when I look at this list of ten games, there is an overwhelming pattern that shows up.

With maybe one or two exceptions, every game on this list falls into one of two categories: heavily story-driven playable narratives, and games where multiplayer interaction is the single defining trait. I hadn’t realised it until I wrote up this list, but it seems I am looking for experiences that bring people together above all else these days, and when that can’t happen, I’m drawn to well-written stories. We’ll see if the glorious slate of huge-name 2015 releases changes that. But for now, please enjoy. The platform on which I played each entry is in parentheses.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
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.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

10. Pokemon Omega Ruby (3DS)

Among other things, 2014 was the year that I finally attempted to quantify my appreciation for Nintendo’s many wonderful franchises, and when the main series Pokemon games ended up on the top of that list, being forced to look at that “number 1” next to its name gave me pause. My lifestyle and priorities have changed recently, as they tend to in, you know, life, leaving me with very little time to devote to the competitive battling scene that has defined the last decade of my Pokemon playing existence. Thus I feared that I would begin Pokemon Omega Ruby and get next to nothing out of the experience, and yet its almost as if Game Freak saw this coming, because the game is amazing, boasting some of the best use of the 3DS’ StreetPass feature I’ve ever seen, giving new playthroughs fresh life with the DexNav and adding just enough extra subtlety to an already half-decent narrative to keep it engaging right up until its genuinely stellar post-game content begins. And of course, it’s still an absolute ball to play with and alongside friends.
.

9. Towerfall Ascension (PS4)

The fact that Towerfall Ascension is still to this day my favourite console exclusive game on the PS4 is probably more an indictment on Sony’s pitiful late 2014 line-up than anything else, but that doesn’t change the fact that the game is a ton of hectic local multiplayer fun. A visually and aurally impressive beast as well, the shenanigans and clutch arrow catches of this highly accessible gem gave me and my friends hours of smack talk opportunities and general enjoyment. With two easily accessible versions of the new Smash Bros now out in the wild, I suspect Towerfall‘s time in the spotlight has come and gone, but I will always remember it fondly, and hope to return to its frantic genius now and then in the future.
.

8. Rogue Legacy (PS3/PS4/PSV)

Those who played the deviously-made Rogue Legacy when it released on Steam last year will be able to testify to its accursed addictive qualities, qualities for which I had not adequately prepared when the game hit all three current Playstation platforms at once in mid-2014. The haze of constant retries and metaphorical dice rolls that followed makes me forget why I started playing it in the first place, but suffice to say there was a time when I was playing it literally every chance I got. The game’s easy cross-save system meant I was playing on my PS4, moving to a different TV to continue on PS3 if necessary, and then taking my Vita to work to keep going during lunch breaks. It was a dark time, but it was incredibly enjoyable.
.

7. South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3)

Following its hugely surprising, very promising reveal all those years ago, I waited patiently for South Park: The Stick of Truth for a very long time, through countless delays and a big name studio move. And I certainly wasn’t alone. So it was so satisfying to find such a complete, content-rich, incredibly funny game at the end of the proverbial tunnel; a Paper Mario-style “RPG-lite” rather brief in story run time for an RPG but overflowing with jokes for fans of the show in every nook and cranny of the game’s authentically realised world. I was in danger of not finishing the game when I put it down at the end of March for reasons I can no longer remember, but the appeal of the game was so great that I overcame my easily distracted nature to go back and complete it in May. And my, was it worth it.
.

6. Destiny (PS4)

2014 may have been a year high on big-name, big-budget disappointments in the gaming sphere, but it was also yet another year of the internet blowing things out of proportion. Take Destiny, for example, which may be frustratingly light on story and may have launched with a broken loot system, but for its first month even those slagging it off were playing for hours and hours. Many still are. Bungie’s highly refined tight shooting mechanics, a drip feed of in-game rewards and most importantly an infrastructure that encourages playing with friends all mix together to create a deadly cocktail for the free time of millions of gamers. I couldn’t have cared less about Destiny‘s story – in fact I still haven’t finished it – but it’s the first FPS I have ever played where I didn’t feel like my teammates were only looking out for themselves. Whether in the crucible, doing strikes or attempting a raid, Destiny always kept me engaged as long as I was with others, and that will ensure I remember it fondly for years to come.
.

5. The Wolf Among Us (PS3)

When Telltale Games began their critically acclaimed recent renaissance of storytelling quality with The Walking Dead a couple of years ago, I played and appreciated the game for what it was, but ask me whether I “enjoyed” it and my answer may not be very straightforward. It is, after all, a rather bleak series. However, 2014 saw a post-TWD Telltale branch out into other, less morbid source material, and the very tasty first fruit of this choice is The Wolf Among Us, a truly fantastic narrative where your choices as Bigby, the big bad sheriff of grimy Fabletown, shape the kind of leader he is. There are always difficult consequences to your choices in the game, but the comic book colour scheme, relatable setting and excellent choreographed action sequences make Wolf a far cry from the soul-crushing mood of The Walking Dead. It’s a modern adventure game noir classic, and any fan of Telltale’s recent work simply must play it.
.

4. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PSV)

2014-03-17-162315

In 2014 it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Vita’s lineup really got swallowed up by a flood of Japanese titles, mostly of the RPG genre. Some of these were more enjoyable than others – and I must give a mention to the tough-as-nails but rewarding Demon Gaze here – but for me it was a Japanese game of quite another nature that kept me playing my Vita a great deal throughout the year. Summarising the nature of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is actually rather easy – it’s basically Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, but done by the minds behind the Zero Escape series, so it’s dipped in a twisted sense of humour and an even more twisted sense of drama. A bunch of students are trapped in a prestigious high school and can only escape if they kill someone and get away with it in a class trial. But the intrigue doesn’t end there – not by a long shot. Trigger Happy Havoc messes with your expectations and preconceptions again and again, and the whole thing is orchestrated by far and away the best videogame villain of the year: the adorable-slash-utterly-psychotic bear Monokuma.
.

3. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

Mario Kart was a series I was beginning to think I’d left in my past, what with the imbalanced Mario Kart Wii and the logistically impractical Mario Kart 7 providing very little in the way of highlights for me in recent years. So I was very happy to be proved wrong by Mario Kart 8, which is not only without a doubt the prettiest game Nintendo has ever produced on a technical level, it also runs super-smoothly and plays like a hectic kart racing dream. Sure, Battle Mode is terrible in it, but in my honest opinion, that hasn’t been worth playing since Mario Kart 64. With arguably the best item balance ever put into a Mario Kart title, even in Frantic Mode (my preference), and an impeccably designed track list that is enriched to no end by the quality DLC pack that dropped in November, there are some people calling this the best Kart ever. I’m not yet sure whether I agree, but Mario Kart 8 is definitely something very special.
.

2. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (PSV)

2014-09-11-150454

It’s an odd quirk that was glossed over by a lot of mainstream videogame media publications in 2014 – One of the very best games available on the Playstation Vita, exclusive or otherwise, received an even better sequel a mere seven months later. That surely must be unheard of. Yes, that was partly because of a huge Japanese localisation effort spanning both games, but regardless, I couldn’t believe my luck when I got my hands on a second Danganronpa adventure so soon after the first one blew my mind. It was even more of a surprise when that second game piled so much new stuff onto an already solid mechanical base, not only deepening the experience of the class trials but adding more convenient movement options, several new minigames and a Tamagotchi-like mode, of all things. Not to mention the story is positively off the charts in terms of wackiness, sharp left turns and breaches of the fourth wall. Wow.
.

1. Super Smash Bros for 3DS/Wii U (3DS/Wii U)

Just about as soon as I put the disc into my Wii U I knew that the fourth iteration of Nintendo’s beloved Super Smash Bros series would be my personal game of the year. Having already enjoyed the insane, system-pushing depth of the 3DS version a couple of months earlier, which brought new fans to the franchise among my friend circles and new friends into my life as well, seeing everything in high definition running buttery smooth on a big screen made my inner child rejoice. Seeing the same thing with a mind boggling eight players on one screen was like a pipe dream come true. Both versions of Nintendo’s big hitting 2014 fighter are filled with varied content stretching far into the endless horizon, and I don’t think I’ll ever manage to unlock everything. There’s more to come as well, because this is the first Super Smash Bros game that Nintendo has ever been able to patch and update. But at the end of the day, Smash is just Smash, and there is nothing like destroying your friends with a sweetly timed hit to win a game. The Wii U and 3DS have a very promising 2015 ahead of them, but I’m sure I will keep coming back to this wonderful game between releases, and then in the year following, and the year following…
.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

Honorable Mentions
.

NES Remix 2 (Wii U)
Beating even the Danganronpa series for rapid sequel release timing, NES Remix 2 hit the Wii U eShop back in April and continued to delight with fast-paced snippets of old school Nintendo gaming re-imagined in a new way. Killer couch gaming fun.

Infamous: First Light (PS4)
I had to include one of the two 2014 Infamous games here, and I think I slightly prefer the prequel/former DLC to its fully featured cousin. First Light has a really good, compact story, some clever mechanical design choices and a suite of addictive  wave-based challenges that provided one of my most enjoyable Platinum Trophy hunts yet.

Child of Light (PS4)
A visually and thematically gorgeous Canadian-made JRPG tribute, Child of Light is the embodiment of what makes today’s unprecedentedly varied videogame landscape so cool. The game’s simple battle and upgrade systems, paired with its relatively concise length, all-rhyming script and nice co-op features, ensure its easy to enjoy this one no matter what your gaming background.

Titanfall (XBO)
Yes, this game did in fact come out in 2014, though you wouldn’t know it looking at the servers now. Despite a mere puddle of content when it first launched, Titanfall is a hurricane of a game that feels fantastic to play, looks great, and has already had an immense impact on the direction of big-name shooter franchises from Call of Duty to Halo and beyond.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
Though it may not have had quite the same magical yet sadistic hold over me that its Wii predecessor did, the latest DK Country game is still a great-looking romp through impossibly secret-laden levels toting a high degree of difficulty. Took me a while to beat, it did, and it was great fun getting there.

Freedom Wars (PSV)
A very good reason to own a Vita, Freedom Wars’ blend of Monster Hunter-meets-Attack on Titan gameplay can get rather addictive, especially when pulling off co-ordinated team moves with friends. The whole thing is dressed in a unique post-apocalyptic narrative setup in which you have to earn the right to everything you can do, and the design of the world is top-notch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: