Hey guys! You enjoying those PCs and next-gen consoles? Sorry, current gen consoles. Xbox One and PS4 have been out an entire year and they probably no longer have that new console smell. PC always gets interesting games and shitty ports while Xbone and PS4 are seeing brand new games and stupid old franchises. Not me though! My laptop is suited to low-end experiences like Psychonauts, I've still been steadily playing my 3DS which has lost some steam, and bought a Wii U which has been gaining steam. Of course, there's a cap to all that steam because this is Nintendo we're talking about because of course its fucking Nintendo.
This year was a bit awkward in terms of judging the best games. The first half of the year, I still had an Xbox 360 and enjoyed games that weren't even released this year. Then during the later half of the year, I put it towards a Wii U and had to play catch up to some of Nintendo's big Fall beginning line up. I still haven't caught up because I'm not made of unlimited money but I think I tried admirably. In the meantime, here's my list of GOTY with some filler near the end for games I played this year but weren't released this year. Always go to where you want to play games after all.
Shovel Knight is a masterful example of true throwback game development. We've come a long way from 8-bit gaming but do we really want to play literal, actual 8-bit games to relive our childhood? There are a lot of commodities that I'd miss like expanded sound boards and saving. Shovel Knight skillfully triggers the nostalgia section of our brains without hurtling us back into the dark ages of game development.
It's blocky and pixilated! And yet it moves smoothly and has the color range of something modern. It has all those classic sounds and tunes we love! And yet it composes music that goes far beyond what a paltry NES could ever hope to achieve. It moves perfectly, plays perfectly, and has a surprising amount of charm. Like Mega Man's robot masters but better, everyone probably has a favorite. Treasure Knight was mine! And that's because stages are crafted with laser precision and attention to presentation. From Polar Knight's twilight ice caps to Mole Knight's lava filled caverns, every setting, enemy, and step of the way feels perfectly deliberate. The backgrounds, animations, and especially sound design and music, are so easily enjoyable without the guilt that it's nostalgia whoring.
It's hard to believe more is on the way. Free DLC, adding to the world, changing how we see it, and continuing the high watermark of quality in general. When it was already such a perfect game, Yacht Club Games is truly making this a labor of love.
Shovel Knight has no glaring flaws worth mentioning. And it also paradoxically triggers the love for things long past and what games are capable of doing now. I love this game because its timeless. I could've played this game 20 years ago and loved. I played it this year amongst games with lens flare and 1080p HD graphics and I loved it. Its not dated at all because every bit of its art and design makes it enjoyable to experience no matter what year it is. And there's never a substitute for great levels, great characters, and great design.
It's these qualities that make Shovel Knight my true choice for game of the year.
Both the Wii U and the 3DS versions deserve to be mentioned together. They weren't just a game that was released in October and November respectively. It was a season long experience with yearlong reveals, shocking unveilings (Pac-Man!? It's not April 1st!), starting with a portable game I took everywhere, then the definitive HD release.
Like any game that pits your mettle against another, it was a long journey from figuring the game out, picking a main, and learning the ins and out for the diverse move sets. But of course every Smash game since Melee has been celebrating Nintendo's, and now for the fourth game, video game's history. You've got 600 plus trophies depicting a long line of iconic characters, rapidly changing and detailed stages, and over 400 tracks of music in between the two games. That's before we get into things such as improvements to sociability like a whopping 8 players duking it out at once, local wireless fights on the street, and not to mention the return of in-game snapshots complete with in game painting.
It is in essence what every Smash game is but improved: a love letter to Nintendo games and the video game experience, wrapped around a flexibly fun and hardcore fighting experience.
I almost forgot this was released this year, outside of Japan anyways. Who knew this once mild mannered JRPG would show us all that we could still have fun with a genre we've grown so accustomed to making fun of?
It's sometimes described as a Final Fantasy game made for people who hate Final Fantasy. Or maybe it's a Final Fantasy game made for fans who are tired of the genre? Regardless, the classic formula, reinvigorated by an exciting new take on turn based combat, is incredibly well made. Simply take the concept of normal turn-based combat and introduce the ability to freely bank your turns or take out a line of credit on extra turns changes combat in fun ways. Instead of a boss simply having access to powerful spells and a larger health pool, bosses and monsters can have unique behavioral patterns such as defaults a few turns before braving twice for extra powerful wipes. Wipes you can survive if you recognize the pattern, guard and default through the assault, then return the favor. After all, your dedicated healer doesn't have to waste turns simply defending. Healers in Bravely Default can bank their turns in order to perform emergency first aid from unexpected damage.
The last act may be tedious but that doesn't mean the combat is any less fun, the customization for jobs isn't any less interesting, and the characters are still enthralling despite the stall in story. I grew to love Agnes, Tiz, Ringabel, and Edea as well as the recurring cast of enemies with an incredible amount of depth. If beating an enemy summoner sounds simple, just wait until a piece of their back story is revealed as a painful drama you'd never be aware of unless you'd spank her in battle twice. And even if you don't take a liking to the canon drama, there's still the head canon you develop about your unique warriors of light, such as my Ringabel always being the chivalrous defender, Agnes being the compassionate healer, and Tiz being the reckless glass cannon. Edea for me was a variety of roles though, but she always looked good doing it.
Before Bravely Default came to us, JRPG seemed like a derogatory slander. But it singlehandedly proves that there's still room for a classic formula if you know how to pull it off. And thanks to that, there may be more where that came from yet with Bravely Second in our futures.
Since this game was first unveiled last year, I had not fully realized its conceit was basically the puzzle stages from Mario 3D World. All I knew was that this game is as charming as the devil himself. How could I resist the undaunted smile of Captain Toad?
In a world dominated by violence, shooters, and heavy themes, Treasure Tracker is the bright spot that isn't some childish baby game. It is a cheerful game that doesn't ask me to rush myself but rather take it all in. The fact that wrestling the camera around a diorama like stage is a testament to what the game sets out to achieve successfully. Slow down, smell the roses, explore your world, and take it easy. Don't expect to 100% a level on your first try. Enjoy it on your first run, and casually explore the nooks and crannies.
Those nooks are precisely why Treasure Tracker is a gift to me. There's tons of personality not only on the characters but the levels too. Each level is a unique diorama that presents a unique challenge like pressing buttons with the Double Cherry or float up and down a clear beachy basin to pull level triggers.
Come for Captain Toad but stay for the levels! At a budget price, it more than pays itself with charm alone.
Mario Kart 8 was our sneak preview to what to expect in enjoying Smash 4. We've had the same exact experience before but never before in such a compelling presentation. But I can't just say MK8 is incredible due to HD graphics and 60 frames per second.
Anti-grav karts aren't a cheap gimmick. Mario didn't just slap on Back to the Future hover wheels and call it a day. The track design is some of the most elaborate and creative I've ever seen. A track as simple as a circular loop is more interesting when half of it lifts itself completely vertical. You can ramp off jumps from a wall and land onto level track. And there's more than one track where you race against your rivals who are completely upside-down to you. Some of my favorite tracks are humongous speedway jams in one direction down a behemoth of a track like Mount Wario or Special Cup Rainbow Road. And anyone outside Nintendo's influence probably won't believe me when I say MK8 has an excellent soundtrack but you haven't lived until you've heard Mario Kart 8's rendition of Mute City. There's a saxophone and it goes completely bonkers.
Mario Kart is only the same experience to you if you keep a narrow view. The incredibly inventive track design, especially in redesigning retro tracks to include anti-grav segments, plus the completely redone music and orchestrated music, are the real treat of this installment of Nintendo's main stay kart racer.
Titanfall is a conundrum to me. I stopped playing really early but every memory I have of it was enjoyable. Scaling a high tower for the ultimate sniper perch, wallrunning into goons to lock on with a smart pistol, and completely running laps around fools with a Stryder while dropping electric smoke.
Titanfall never claimed to have good single player. I must have more in common with the rich than I thought because I think people with no internet are either mythical creatures or bottom feeding mud fish, just like how the rich don't care about the poor. But if it were up to me, I'd praise Titanfall for its nerve to focus on multiplayer and forgo a typical single player experience.
The real story is how Titanfall encourages players to run rather then camp, and the emergent gameplay that comes from moving around a map like there's a bomb strapped to your chest. Then when you get a Titan, it becomes MechWarrior but good. Strafe, punch, dash, gun, and missile your way to metal monstrosity bliss with a multitude of tools. Nothing to me is more fun than Stryder dashing into an Atlas, popping electric smoke, and dashing out to unload a Seattle storm front of Arc Cannon blasts while they fry in a blinding haze.
Something needs to be said about a multiplayer game capable of making the experience fun for terrible players. Bots ready to be picked off before your glorious Titan drops. And burn cards became an instant hit. Who cares about careful balance when you have a one time use privilege to whip out infinite cloak or bottomless satchel charges or a sniper rifle with x-ray vision?
In case you can't tell, Titanfall deserves to stay relevant. Advanced Warfare might have exo suits but Titanfall still has mechs, wallrunning, and burn cards.
A real close contender for top dog GOTY but I simply got started late. Even 6 to 8 hours in though I know Bayonetta 2 is basically the culmination of all of Platinum's hype-as-shit games and all of my skills as an action junkie. Of all of Platinum's titles, Bayonetta feels like the most cohesive package of pure, unadulterated hype and fun. I love all of Platinum's work but there's always something worth talking about (Vanquish's abrupt ending, lack of power creep in Revengeance, Wonderful 101 having a tough sell, Korra's camera work and slow start). Bayonetta 2 has awesome combos, meaningful weapon spreads, very manageable camera angles, and the presentation to compensate for the classic bonkers, indecipherable/who cares story. Even though story has always been something Platinum glazes over, Bayonetta gives us epic demon-angel struggles and time bending combat.
Games are supposed to be enjoyable when all is said and done and Bayo 2 is built from the ground up to be a pleasurable experience. Blazing fast action, gratuitous set pieces, a strong and hard-to-hate female lead, and controls that respond in an instant to the demanding setting. It helps that Bayonetta 2 is designed to reward good players as opposed to the Capcom philosophy of punishing bad players (Devil May Cry). There's something to be said when I finish a chapter and feel like I can do better and play it again. Racing games are supposed to be like that with time trials and leaderboards but Bayonetta 2 makes me want to push the boundaries of my skill and do better. I can do this scenario with one less hit, a few seconds faster, and eventually I'm on my way to trying for a perfect run with zero damage and seamless combos. It helps that I'll have fun experimenting with different weapons, different moves, and different combos across a wide range of punching bags that fight back.
Bayonetta 2, truly Nintendo did us a huge solid that no one has yet to thank them for. Thank you for coming into our lives Bayonetta 2. And thank you Nintendo for saving this title.
Easily the most silent 3DS release on this or any list. Azure Striker is basically the new Mega Man from Mega Man himself, Keiji Inafune. Azure Striker capitalizes on its newfound introduction with a unique attack: his buster shots are weak but tag potential targets. Gunvolt can release a weak pulse of electricity around him but when there are tagged enemies, electricity automatically arcs to them for constant damage. You can tag multiple enemies for multiple arcs or one enemy several times to stack the damage. Combined with familiar Mega Man design aesthetics but with a revamped approach to accommodate Gunvolt's unique method of attack and you have something that's enjoyable as a fan of the blue bomber without feeling like I'm just playing more Mega Man.
Even though your skill set is built with a method to negate damage as long as you have electricity and you have a way to instantly recharge your meter, the game still finds ways to challenge you despite some perceived imperviousness. Like true Mega Man games though, levels are designed to really encourage you to push your skill to the limits in order to score record setting points, break times, and encourage you on a combat system that is built to ask yourself just how you're going to go about doing it.
Gunvolt isn't afraid of presentation either. Boss masters are fully voiced and have dramatic introductions and attack patterns, reminiscent of over the top fight animes. It sounds goofy to describe one boss' attack is called Lazy Laser and he actually calls out its name before attacking but it won't be as goofy when you realize he just sits back while he causes a huge ass laser beam to cover the whole screen by way of crisscrossing dimensional portals. But that's alright because you have your own super powerful, limited use attacks to use as well, right down to your own attack call out animations.
While the lore and story are a bit stupid, what Mega Man story is smart? As far as I'm concerned though, games like Gunvolt and Mega Man are about the relationship between you, the stage, and the boss characters, and Gunvolt accomplishes this very well without even needing to be considered a full retail game.
Broforce is simple in conceit, ridiculous in practice, and just plain fun when you play it yourself. What if your favorite action movie heroes got thrown into a pulpy, cheesy action set piece and shot their way through hundreds of vaguely defined terrorists while pulling off all their iconic moves like a burst firing Auto9 or bare fisted kung fu strikes through hordes of identical enemies?
Can you argue Broforce is shallow? Maybe. But when I get to set people on fire as B.A. Baracus or shred people with Ash's chainsaw arm, what else is there to ask for? I find that I hate PC gaming because bigger properties of course demand more time. This is paradoxical to how I feel when I get on a PC because I want experiences quickly without waiting too much. I want to enjoy Super Time Force Ultra's zany humor but I can't fast read through its hilarious but tedious textboxes. It's either read it slowly for its effect or skip it entirely. Broforce rectifies this need for a fast and furious arcade experience by making all its humor occur incidentally with the game itself. How enemies squeal in fright when they fall long distances, how everything gets reduced to a bloody pulp from excessive gun fire, how corny and deep the voice of the announcer is, and how checkpoints are marked with patriotic American flags and the goal line is marked by killing a suit wearing devil.
Another comparison to Super Time Force is how it handles character select. There's a curve to getting how STFU works with its character select and time reversing mechanics. But Broforce challenges you to be a true bro and just gives you a random bro when you rescue POWs. Does that sound unfair? At their core, each bro has an insane way of plowing through dozens of nameless terrorists and robots, whether it's a spray of machine guns or spamming dynamite all over the battlefield. The greatest fun is finding out who you got and what kind of mayhem you'll be spreading like an STD in a 70's backstage party. Will it be Brobocop's lock-on bullets? Or Brommando's missile barrage? What about Mr. Anderbro's bullet time? Did I mention the hilarious shock value of seeing your favorite action heroes' names twisted with bro? Brobocop is obviously my favorite but Blade becoming Brade must be simeltaneously dumb and great. And Indiana Brones? For some reason I think that's pure genius.
An under represented 3DS game. While its certainly still the easy Kirby game everyone expects, it can be surprisingly challenging in certain sections. The hidden levels and some bosses can genuinely push you and some puzzles will make you scratch your head. Not a lot of course, or even the majority. The real draw for me is charm, like Captain Toad.
Each stage has something new to introduce you to and feels like a fresh experience, even if its going to be easy. Not to mention the 3D effect is actually somewhat worthwhile which is a compliment not a lot of 3DS games get. Being specifically designed with a Mutant Mudds style of background/foreground 3D is cool but the fact that background elements will also actively interact with foreground elements is cool to see in action, such as when you're carrying an electrified pole that extends into the background. You'll even need the 3D sometimes to judge depth in certain fights and puzzles.
Triple Deluxe also carries a criminal amount of bonus content that's borderline Smash levels of extra. Hundreds of keychains to collect that celebrate Kirby's history, boss rush mode, Kirby Fighters, Dedede's Drum Dash, and even a full on Dedede mode to time trial in as King Dedede himself. The brand new variety of powers also lends itself a level of care and favoritism while each power has its own level of use and interest. The archer is extremely useful but there's no discounting the leaf or bell powers either.
I am the biggest hypocrite in the world. I actually do like Dynasty Warriors but I already knew that because I liked the first Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. Still, not many care about Chinese period history. Finally playing as Impa and Samurai Showdowning 40 enemies at once with a giant's knife quickdraw special attack is ridiculous and fun. Watching established Zelda character just mow down armies should just be a shameless, awesome bullet point to alleviate all the stress that comes from arguing about how little Zelda games have changed but how much we still like it. It's notable to mention that Hyrule Warriors' DLC plan has been nuts too. True Form Midna? Epona as a weapon? Link in hot pants? Jesus Christ.
Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sappire
I've played this game last year. No, actually, 12 years ago. But battling eco-terrorists who think its a good idea to awaken climate changing monsters has its own little charm, especially when they give it a major contemporary face lift with characters like a smug, battle hungry pirate or a computer nerd fascist who threatens to bury you. Seeing new mega evolutions amongst the likes of Swampert and Metagross are also their own little small victories (steel-type's coming back yo!). Not to mention being the first Pokemon game available post-bank which let me enjoy the story in a unique way with all the low level Pokemon I'd kept but never got around to leveling up.
It's still basically Pokemon XY though. At least XY had major metagame shifts. This remake only brought minor shifts due to the resurgence of old move tutors. But you don't care that I can finally teach Storm Drain-Cradily Seed Bomb, do you?
Metal Gear Rising: Revengance
Thanks to the magic of sales, I played Platinum's last big game before Bayonetta 2 this year. I mentioned it in the Bayonetta entry but while I absolutely and unconditionally love Revengeance, there's never much incentive to purchase new combos or weapons asides from upgrades to health and blade mode. The boss weapons, though interesting, don't really hold a candle to simply keeping your sword and using its heavy attack to slip that sword in between your toes for some crazy foot-sword slicing absurdity. Your combos won't change too much compared to what you can unlock in Bayonetta.
I must emphasize though that though I'm saying all this for a game that isn't even from 2014, slicing fools with a hype-inducing high frequency blade, using blade mode to mincemeat anyone not on your side, engaging insane boss encounters, and generally leaving a path of destruction as a cyber ninja is truly the video game equivalent of cranking the 10 point dial to 11.
Super Mario 3D World
It's Mario. Whatever. I played it this year, not last. But they know what they're doing. Besides, cats are awesome.