For me, 2014 was one of those years, you know the one; where one bad thing happens, and then something else happens, and then it just keep snowballing and before long you're getting intimate with a bottle of Captain Morgan. I won't go into more detail than that, but let's just say the sooner 2014 ends the better. It seems the game industry has also had one of those years this year as well, even more so than usual. This year, we've seen Ubisoft put it's foot in its mouth over having playable female characters, numerous games that came out this year were either buggy at launch or didn't live up to hype (as well as many big games getting delayed to next year), and just recently Grand Theft Auto V was in the news again for stupid reasons. Of course, all of this is nothing when compared to the mine field that is called GamerGate, the impact of which can be explained by people more informed and smarter than myself.
But despite all the bad stuff that happened this year, a lot of great stuff happened too. The PS4 helped Sony start 2014 strong, Microsoft was able to somewhat turn around the Xbox One and has started to pick up steam, and while it's home console still hasn't become as popular as the other two sales-wise, Nintendo is still finding some level of success by releasing a string of well recieved games like Super Smash Bros. 4, Mario Kart 8, and Bayonetta 2. And speaking of games, while there have been a couple of major disappointments and/or delays of some big titles, this year has seen the release of quite a few amazing games, more so than in previous years in my opinion. And so, as the year slowly winds down, I thought I would share with you guys (in no particular order) the games that came out this year that I enjoyed the most, and believe me there were a lot. The only two guidelines for this list were games that came out in 2014 (obvs), and I'm not counting remakes and remasters, so sorry Grand Theft Auto V and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby; but you're sitting this one out.
Bravely Default (3DS)
The Groundhog Day of JRPGs.
Okay, so technically this game came out in Europe late 2013, and those of us in the US of A didn't get it until early this year, but Bravely Default is such a good JRPG that it didn't matter if it came out 2014 AD or 2014 BC; I'd still be talking about this game. That's because Bravely Default is one of those rare games that strikes a perfect balance between paying homage to classic 16-bit JRPGs (in this case, the job system of Final Fantasy V) and having some new ideas of it's own, such as being able to turn control the random encounter rate of monsters and having your party autobattle to ease grinding. Perhaps the best thing Bravely Default has going for it however is it's battle system, in which your party, enemies and bosses have the option to either Brave, in which you move more than once per turn at the cost of being vulernable for a certain number of turns afterwards, or Default, which is like defending in other games, but it gives you Brave Points that you can use in battle later; it strikes an excellent balance between playing it safe and going all out in battle, and encourages you as a player to try multiple party combinations, especially since there isn't one end all be all party combination that you can use all the way to the end. While the story itself may not win a BAFTA for Best Storytelling, it has a surprising amount of depth later on in the game, with a plot twist that I legitimately didn't see coming. The characters are also like this, as they start off one dimensional and generic before growing into well rounded and deep characters; this is especially true with many of the Job Holders that you meet in the game, as they're intially seen in the beginning of the game as crazy, corrupt, or just plain evil, only to find out later that most of them have tragic backstories and aren't completely terrible people, though there are some that are still wonderfully evil villians (looking at you Qada).
Of course, no mention of Bravely Default would be complete without mentioning the big major twist of the game, which is that you have to replay the main dungeons not once, not twice, but FIVE times. Now I know that when a lot of people first heard about this, they either stopped playing game or just refused to pick it up, and while I myself personally didn't mind, I can see why a lot people weren't big fans of this design decision; hell, even I was getting tired of it somewhat by the fourth go around. However, if you decide to give the game a chance, you won't be disappointed, as this is one of the best JRPG on the 3DS (a system where games of this genre are quite abudant) that looks and sounds as beautiful as it is to play. And with the sequel coming out in Japan of April next year (under the original title of Bravely Second), now's a perfect chance for you to get on this train and see what the big deal is. That being said, I do hope the sequel stays away from repeating dungeons, or else they're going to have an angry Goof on their hands, and no one wants that.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
HEYO! DONKEY KONG LET'S GO LET'S GO! HERE HE COMES BANANA-SLAMA!
When Nintendo first announced that Retro's new game was going to be another Donkey Kong Country game at E3 2013, I admit that I was a little disapponted, since I was really hoping that Retro would either go back to making Metroid or even try their hand at another Nintendo property (Starfox perhaps). This disappointment lasted for about two seconds (possibly less), because it instantly occured to me that OH MY GOD RETRO IS MAKING ANOTHER DONKEY KONG COUNTRY GAME AND IT'S IN HD AND NOW I HAVE TO CHANGE MY PANTS! And so after a minor delay, Wii U owners were treated to an excellent platforming experince this Februrary with the release of Tropical Freeze, and it was good; like really good. Tropical Freeze doesn't change too much of what made Returns so much fun to play, but what little it does change makes the game feel fresh and new again. For starters, swimming and underwater segments are back this time, and while you don't have Enguarde the Swordfish to help you this time, they're still pretty fun sections to play; in addition, some levels now have multiple exits, with some leading to hidden levels that you can't access any other way.
But perhaps the biggest change that Tropical Freeze added was the incluson of two additional playable characters; fan favorite Dixie Kong returns to use her helicopter hair to float in the air for a bit (as well as hover down slowly like in previous games), and everyone's favorite old grandpa Cranky Kong makes his debut as a playable character, using his cane to jump a bit higher and to cross spiked areas. The addition of these two (plus the return of Diddy Kong) bring a ton of variety to both the gameplay and stages, as there are certain enemies and stage hazards that can be cleared using a specific Kong, and since Donkey can only have one other Kong with him at a time, the game encourages you to both experiment and explore the levels multiple times, because unless you use a guide, you aren't going to grab everything in one go. Of course, this would be a problem if the levels themselves weren't that fun to play, but thankfully that isn't the case, as each level is an absolute blast to play, each one offering something new and exciting, with my personal favorite being Grassland Groove; they even brought back the minecart and rocket barrel levels from Returns, and they don't make me want to punch a kitten this time. Take all of this platforming goodness and give it an HD coat of paint and music done by David Wise himself, and you have one of the best platformers to ever grace the Wii U. Huh, I have to say, I'm pretty proud of myself: I went that entire time without make a monkey or banana joke or pun; that's pretty bananas---GOD DAMNIT!
Goat Simulator (PC)
While doing a Google Image search of this game , I accidently added an extra 'T', so it spelt out Goat Stimulator. Don't make the same mistake I did.
I know this entry is going to raise a few eyebrows. Originally a joke by developer Coffee Stain Studios, Goat Simulator was never meant to be a real game, until the studio released a video of it on Youtube, causing the Internet to demand it get made into a real game. Coffee Stain Studios delievered and released the game on April 1st of this year, and boy what a game it is. There's no overarching narrative or online multiplayer(though there is local multiplayer, and they did add some MMO elements in the latest update); it's just you as a goat, causing as much mayhem and destructions as possible while witnessing some truly hiliarious, non-game breaking bugs. And I absolutely love it.
Okay look, not every game has to have a rich narrative or have an innovative mechanic. Sometimes a game just needs to be fun, and that's what Goat Simulator is. Yeah, it's sometimes broken, the physics are weird, and it's a joke that not everyone will find funny, but I still had a blast with it. And at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. Plus, it runs better than Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric!
South Park: The Stick of Truth (360,PS3, PC)
Friendly faces everywhere, humble folks without temptation!
After a long development cycle that saw multiple delays and the fear of cancellation when THQ closed it's doors last year (R.I.P.), South Park: The Stick of Truth was finally released this year, and it's well worth the wait. As the new kid in South Park, your job is to help protect the Stick of Truth and the mysteries it wields as you interact with the locals of everyone's favorite quiet little mountain town, get analed probed by aliens, travel to Canada, fight gingers and stop Zombie Nazis. Yeah, in case it wasn't obvious, Stick of Truth's biggest strength is the writing and the humor, which are great on both accounts. I know it was said a lot after release, but it really does feel like you're playing an episode of the show, helped immensly by the graphics using the same artstyle as the show as well as getting the cast of the show to voice their respective characters (Trey Parker totally beats Kevin Spacey for acting), with references to some of the show's best moments. I lost it the first time I heard "Let's Fighting Love" while walking into a store and when I was collecting Chinpokomon.
I also know a lot of people weren't fans of it, but I really liked the combat in this game, as it reminded a lot Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, and the Mario & Luigi games, in which you have to press the attack button at the right time or press the button the right time to block. I always enjoyed this kind of combat since it rewarded you for paying attention in combat, as attacks work or fail based on your timing, and enemies have tells and stances to show how they're going to attack or block. I really hope Obsidian take the combat system they used in Stick of Truth and use it in another game going forward. South Park: The Stick of Truth is not the first game based on the show, and it's far from the last. However, it is the first game that is fun for both fans and non-fans alike, and it was well worth the wait.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PC)
SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER! AND GERMANY TOO!
Anyone who's read a history book or watched the History Channel back when it was still about history (and not giving the people who aren't aware that the Stargate movie and TV show aren't real relevancy) knows that Hitler and the Nazis were absolutley terrible human beings who did a lot of super messed up stuff. Of course the one (AND ONLY ONE) good thing about the Nazis being Grade A assholes is that you don't need to justify mercilessly killing thousands of them in comics, movies, TV shows, and video games. Which is why Wolfenstein: The New Order is so special; developer MachineGames didn't have to give us a reason to shoot Nazis for the millionth time, but they did, as the game takes place in alternate history in which the Nazis won World War II and have now taken over the world. I know that for a lot of people were divided on it, but overall I really dug the story in The New Order, as the main characters were interesting and in depth (Blazkowicz in particular surprisngly grew on me), and while I did eventually stop caring about the plot as it went along, it was good on the devs to put this much effort into a story and characters when they really didn't need to. Of course, story can only take you so far if the gameplay wasn't up to snuff, but thankfully the New Order is fun to play; oh how fun it is.
Sure, the main thing you're doing in The New Order is killing Nazis, but it's how you do it in each level that really sets the game apart, as you can go about the missions in one of four ways (stealth, tactical, assault and demolition), with each method offering unique perks and abilities that you can pick and choose to use how you see fit. And while I mostly ended up going in guns blazing (BECAUSE THESE COLORS DON'T RUN), it's nice to see more openess and freedom in the genre. If I were to give out actual awards (Game of The Year, Best Fighter, etc), I would easily give Wolfenstein: The New Order the award "Biggest Surprise", since when I first saw it, it looked really generic, then I sat down and played it and it was much better than I expected it to be. It takes elements from older games in the FPS (medkits, huge open maps) with elements seen in more recent games (regenerating health, cover) and makes them work together beautifully. And while the game does absolutlely nothing new to push the genre forward, everything it does is polished to such an incredible shine that any lack of innovation is made up by the fact that it's just a fun game to play.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
I'd probably watch NASCAR if the drivers threw shells and banana peels at each other; keyword being "probably"
At its core, Mario Kart 8 is the same Mario Kart that you played when you were a kid on the SNES, the same Mario Kart that you played on the N64 in college with your friends in between Goldeneye and Super Smash Bros. matches, etc. Yeah, there are some tracks that have you driving upside down, and gliders and underwater sections return from Mario Kart 7, but at the end of the day it's still the same power sliding, item grabbing, F-bomb dropping, friendship ending game that we've been playing on every Nintendo console since the Super Nintendo, except this time it's in HD. But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. Mario Kart 8 takes the core gameplay that we've all grown to love and hate at the same time and polishes it to a prestine shine, fixing a lot of the major problems of the previous entries (such as changing how items are used and changing the A.I. of the CPU racers) while at the same time keeping the mayhem of the series intact.
The tracks are really amazing and a blast to play on, with the new ones like Mount Wario and Electrodome quickly becoming some of my new favorites in the series, while the retro tracks have been redone to include new concepts like ramps and anti-gravity sections and they feel like brand new tracks because of it. They even did the impossible and took Toad's Turnpike (and in the DLC Wario's Gold Mine) and made it not terrible! While there aren't as many new ones introduced this time around, the new items in Mario Kart 8 are actually really awesome; the Boomerang is great for hitting players in front if you can time it right, the Piranha Plant snaps at anyone and anything in front of you and give you a boost, and the Super Horn creates shockwaves to stun players, destroy bananas and shells, but more importantly, it can stop the dreaded Blue Shell, thus bringing its reign of terror to a satsifying end. And while it's still lacking in some areas, the online component of the game is great, with next to almost no lag (at least for me anyway). Overall, everything about the game feels both familar and fresh at the same time, and is easily the best game in the series.
Civilization: Beyond Earth (PC)
I claim this planet in the name of Mars! Isn't that lovely?
Upon seeing Civilization: Beyond Earth in action for the first time, you might think it's just Civilization but IN SPACE! And you'd be right; well sort of. You see, even though it has the same "just one more time" gameplay that the series is famous for, there are small tweaks and additions from previous games that almost make Beyond Earth a brand new game. For example, you're no longer controlling a specific civilization with unique abilities and units, but rather you're picking a corporation to fund you, and you get to choose which abilities and units you start our with, making each playthrough a unique experince. But that's only the beginning, as throughout the game you are given quests to complete, which range from discovering a certain number of relics to making a choice on what to do with a newly discovered material; while they're mostly optional, completing these quests can grant you unique bonuses, XP, new resources to use, and Affinity points.
Speaking of Affinities, they're easily one of my favorite part of the game; similar to Ideologies in Civilization V: Brave New World (in that they both grant you special perks and upgrades for your units based on which one you're aligned with), Affinities are different in that A)all three are avilable early in the game (as opposed to Ideologies being chosen late into the game) and B) Affinities develop based on how you play the game, as opposed to the other way around. Each of the three Affinities (Harmony, Purity, and Supermacy) level up based on what decisions you make throughout the game, and while you can add points in any of the three, if you want to obtain one of the thee victories associated with the Affinites, you need to pick one and develop it; or not if you don't want to. Moreso than any other Civ game, you're free to develop the course your colony takes as you see fit, and it's a blast, as it encourages expermintation, trial and error (huge emphasis on error), and multiple playthroughs. The only real complaint I have with this approach is that while it does grant you a new level of freedom, it comes at the cost of some of the personality that the series is famous for; I'm sorry, but telling some random Russian guy to eat missles just isn't the same as Gandhi dropping nukes on Napoleon because he gave Gandhi a funny look (and by Gandhi, I of course mean me). But that's one minor complaint in the grand scale of things, as Beyond Earth is an excellent game that any Civilization fan would be silly not to play.
Shovel Knight (Wii U, 3DS, PC)
I'll try to refrain from making shovel and digging jokes, but I make no promises. You have been warned.
Without a doubt, the easiest way for me to lose interest in an indie game is if the developers make the game look, sound, and play like an NES game, or they said that games from that era are their inspiration for their game. Nothing against the NES or the games of that time mind you, it's just that most developers think "8-bit game" means "let's make our game with a bunch of cheap deaths"; yeah NES games were hard, but the good ones were games that were tough but fair and rewarded the player for figuring out how to properly use the game's mechanics to advance. So when Yacht Club Games started a Kickstarter in March of last year to fund their debut game Shovel Knight, I was admittedly skeptical for the reasons I listed earlier. But then I finally got my hands on the game, and a strange thing happened. I really liked it; a lot actually.
Taking elements from Super Mario Bros. 3, DuckTales, and the Mega Man series to name a few, Shovel Knight plays like the kind of old school game that I'd love to design one day. Yeah it's tough, but it's fair in it's difficulty; checkpoints are frequent (though you can break them for money if you want), enemies drop plenty of money and items, new abilities, healing items and magic powers are incredibly inexpensive, there's no lives system to deal with, and the levels are both fun to play and designed incredibly well. It really does feel like Yacht Club Games loves game of that era, but not so much that they become oblivious to the flaws and design problems many games of this era had. Combine all of this with an excellent art style, cool characters, a surprisingly deep story, and an awesome soundtrack done by Jake "virt" Kaufman, and you have an indie game that I can really dig. Get it, because it's called Shovel Knight, and you use shovels to dig holes, and......I'll let myself out.
Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)
She's a KILLER QUEEN!
Gunpowder and Gelatine!
Hey guys, remember when Bayonetta 2 came out on the Wii U? And it sucked because Platnium were forced to shoe-horn Gamepad functionality, thus ruining the flow of the combat? And because the Wii U wasn't as powerful as the PS4 and Xbox One, the game looked nowhere near as good as any game that showed up on either of those consoles? And because Nintendo were publishing the game, all the violence, nudity, swearing, and sexual innuendo were removed completely? And all of this culminated in Bayonetta 2 being the worse game Platnium ever made, becoming a black eye on the stellar Wii U library, and ultimately going down in history as the worse game of 2014?
Yeah, me neither.
Super Smash Bros. 4 (Wii U, 3DS)
All together now: SETTLE IT IN SMASH!
Don't act surprised; I've been hyped for Smash 4 since the release of Brawl (by the way, Smash 5 is my most anticpated game of 2018, right behind Half-Life 3). But instead of getting one Smash game, we got two this time around, one for the Wii U and the 3DS, the first time the series has been on a handheld; and both are spectular games. The roster is easily the best I've seen in any game ever, striking a perfect balance between popular veterans and newcomers, with some of the newcomers (like Little Mac, Rosalina, and Robin to name a few) quickly becoming some of my favorite characters in the series. The stages and music are absolutely amazing and offer a nice diversity and are a perfect love letter to anyone who loves Nintendo and its franchises. And while I can't talk about the intricacies of the combat, I can say that the game plays and feels as lovely as ever, even on the 3DS version surprsingly; so yeah, basically the game is super fun to play and you should get it.
That's not even getting into the stuff that each version offers, as each of the versions offer something truly unique. On the Wii U version, you have 8-player Smash, Special Orders, and Event Matches, while the 3DS offers up Smash Run, a mode in which you have five minutes to explore an area, collect power-ups, and fight familiar Nintendo enemies, with a random match played at the end with your powered up character. Smash Run may not seem like much compared to what the Wii U version offers, but it's still surpisingly fun to play in quick bursts, and is a fun mode to play for people who missed Adventure mode from Melee; it's also better than Smash Tour (which is for people who thought Mario Party made too much sense and wasn't chaotic enough). Overall, it's still too early to tell whether Smash 4 will steal the crown from Melee as the "BEST GAEM EVAR!" But I do know this much; Smash 4 is some of the most fun I've had in a long time, and the only reason I'm not playing it right now is because my 3DS is recharging and I'm not a fan of playing it on the Wii U Gamepad screen.
So yeah, those were the best games of 2014. I do want to point out that these games are listed in NO PARTICULAR ORDER, so if you're wondering why Game X isn't higher than Game Y, it's because these are the first ones that I thought of. However, if I were to rank them, they would be....a complete and totally secret to everyone but me. In any case, thanks for reading this, and if you agree, disagree, or if there's a game you think I missed, let me know. Of course it won't matter because as the title says, I'm totally right and this is infallible because I'm infallible and everything I say should totally be taken seriously and at face value.
Anyway, have a happy holiday season, play a lot of games, and stay classy. Good night, and good luck.