Darren Nakamura’s personal picks for Game of the Year 2014

PC and handheld gems

This has been an unusual year for me. In previous years, coming up with my favorite games has amounted to listing the ten games I played and then ranking them. In 2014 I took on many more reviews than I have in the past, so now I have some actual trimming to do. For the first time, there are games I enjoyed that did not make the cut.

A more striking aspect I noticed after building my list is that my preferred platform has shifted. Where my favorite games in previous years mostly released on major consoles, this year it is almost all PC and 3DS. Heck, I moved across the country in September, and while my PC was the first thing I set up in the new place, I still have not hooked my Xbox 360 up.

Here are my favorite games of 2014.

10. Mario Kart 8

Growing up, I played way too much Mario Kart. I started with Super Mario Kart, I mastered Mario Kart 64, and I had some fun with Double Dash!! After that, none of the games really grabbed me. They were fine, but I would play each track once and never really touch them again. That changed with Mario Kart 8.

For the first time in years, I was not only playing through every cup, but I was also playing to win with each of the (many) characters, and shooting for the elusive three star gold medals. It is difficult to say exactly what unique about this iteration in the franchise that it has been able to hold my attention better than the last few have. It may just be that all of the little things come together to form a dense, quality experience.

Also there is a submarine kart called “Steel Driver.” 

9. Octodad: Dadliest Catch

On paper, Octodad sounds like a miserable experience. Simple locomotion is taken for granted in almost every videogame, and breaking it down into each individual physical interaction can lead to impossibly frustrating gameplay (see: QWOP). Octodad: Dadliest Catch succeeds in this light, presenting control that is just awkward enough to convey the discomfort of living as an octopus disguised as a human, but not awkward enough to be infuriating.

Couple the unorthodox control scheme with some exploration, light stealth, physical gags, and a Saturday morning cartoon-style story, and Octodad: Dadliest Catch ends up as a charming little game that made me smile throughout.

8. OlliOlli

Where Octodad is about living a normal life with stretchy, slippery control, OlliOlli is about being the raddest skater on the helicopter blades with sharp, timing-based control. I have always had a soft spot for skateboarding games, and I never thought a 2D take would ever be able to capture the right feel, but OlliOlli does it.

There’s something about going for the perfect run, spending an hour and a few layers of thumb skin in the process. Achieving success after such a trial is a powerful high, but since the levels are so short, it’s one that I found myself constantly chasing after. Sure, I just finished this really hard challenge and it was intrinsically rewarding… I wonder what the next level has in store for me.

7. The Wolf Among Us

I have become a steady fan of Telltale’s recent games. The studio has carved out its niche in crafting stories set in interesting worlds full of introspective decisions. That said, I didn’t get into The Walking Dead Season 2 as much as I did Season 1, and though I loved the first episodes of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones, we are not far enough into either series to claim best of the year.

The Wolf Among Us was the Telltale game that hit me the hardest this year. Unlike with The Walking Dead, I knew next to nothing about the Fables series going into The Wolf Among Us, so it had the unenviable task of drawing me into the sketchy neighborhood of Fabletown on its merits alone. It succeeded in that endeavor.

Though many lament that the choices involved have little impact on the overall plot, there are some that stick with me. Perhaps the most poignant for me is when Snow White asks Bigby if he enjoys becoming the Big Bad Wolf. Despite directing Bigby toward the morally righteous actions more often than not, I had to be truthful: I do enjoy dropping the niceties and tearing off limbs from time to time.

6. Bravely Default

Back when I had all the time in the world, I was pretty big on JRPGs. I caught the bug from EarthBound and went into a frenzy on the PlayStation. Since then, I have been saddled with all these dumb responsibilities that keep me from spending hundreds of hours on a single game. Now, I only touch a JRPG about once every couple years. Dragon Quest IX was my previous obsession, but Bravely Default took over early this year.

It is no coincidence that the last two role-playing games I dug deep into are handheld titles. The ability to flip open a 3DS, grind out a battle or two, then put it to sleep just as quickly helps tremendously with getting around the time constraints. Past that, the Brave and Default system is such a clever addition to traditional turn-based battles that I will miss it in any other JRPGs I play.

But of course, the main strength of a role-playing game is its story, and Bravely Default has a great one. Each of the main characters is interesting in his or her own right, cultivating genuine sympathy by the end. And what an end! Seriously, I don’t even know how Bravely Second plans to top that ending. How do you raise the stakes from [SPOILERS REDACTED]?

5. Super Smash Bros.

There is a running theme with my Nintendo experience in 2014. As with Mario Kart, I played a ton of Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube, but couldn’t cultivate lasting interest for the Wii entry. I would only start up Brawl when people were over, and they would say, “Wait, you don’t even have all the characters unlocked!” and then we would put it away and play something else, and I would never go back to do single player to unlock the characters.

Releasing on the 3DS addressed that. On the handheld, single player is the default for me. As with Bravely Default, the ability to just play one or two matches at a time has allowed me to invest in going through Classic and All-Star modes with every character. I have long since unlocked all of the characters, stages, and options, but I am still at it, going for trophies and customizations.

Despite owning both the 3DS and the Wii U versions, and despite liking the controls and graphics better on the Wii U, I still find myself playing the 3DS more often. The thing Super Smash Bros. for 3DS has over its big brother? I always have it with me in my pocket, ready for one match or ten.

4. The Talos Principle

For our official awards, December releases are excluded simply because most of the staff has not had the opportunity to play them yet. That said, I have played The Talos Principle, I am putting it on my personal list, and I fully expect it to end up somewhere on Destructoid’s Game of the Year awards in 2015. It certainly deserves it.

The Talos Principle is easily the smartest game I played all year, and in more ways than one. The base gameplay consists of mentally taxing tool-based puzzles, which are accompanied by thought-provoking philosophical discussions. If it contained the puzzles alone, it would be a great title, but the writing elevates it to one of the best of the year. The strength in Tom Jubert’s and Jonas Kyratzes’s script is that it not only presents ideas of consciousness, personhood, and morality, but it demands that the player carefully considers those ideas.

This is a must for anybody who is not averse to deep thought.

3. Extrasolar

I feel for Lazy 8 Studios. It has seen moderate success with Extrasolar, along with high praise from those who played it, but it deserves a lot more recognition than it has as one of the most innovative, fourth wall-breaking titles of 2014. Its fatal flaw is that telling others why it is so good robs those players from the full experience.

As I do every time I write about it, I will now urge you to skip the next two paragraphs, go sign up to play, and then come back to this list in a month or two when you are done. It’s free. You don’t have anything to lose but some time.

Extrasolar presents itself as a science simulator in which players control a robotic rover on an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. Players give instructions to the rover, sending it to certain coordinates and taking photographs of the surroundings. Eventually, the game bleeds out into other media: emails come in from characters, PDFs require downloading, faux video chats are held, and more. There is drama, suspense, deception, and murder.

Though it is easy to see the tricks it uses, they are robust enough that players can suspend disbelief long enough to really get into the story. It is clearly science fiction, but those who let go can be convinced, if only for a moment, that it is actually happening. There is nothing else like Extrasolar out there.

2. Civilization: Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth is time-travel software. I can start it up at just about any time during the evening, and then I am transported to 4AM, incredulous about being warped hours into the future with nothing to show for it except for a monstrous alien under my control.

There are some gripes with Beyond Earth, most notably that the Affinity system reduces the volume of unique factions in play and that the victory conditions are all too similar, but those don’t bother me too much. It still has the classic Civilization draw of building an efficient society, outmaneuvering opponents, and achieving greatness.

As a bonus, Beyond Earth includes a narrative that brings up salient points about the present state of the world and asks important questions about the future of the human race. Will our hubris eventually lead to the destruction of Earth? (Yes, probably.) Should we fight to retain what makes us human or speed up evolution to become something greater? (Well, one gets us control of city-sized alien titans and the other doesn’t, so…)

1. Tomodachi Life

Reflecting on my list, it runs the gamut of genres. There’s a racing game, an action adventure, an extreme sports title, an adventure game, a role-playing game, a fighter, a puzzler, a science simulator, and a strategy title. Some require intense dexterity and persistence, others careful thought and consideration. But the game that came out on top is Tomodachi Life, Nintendo’s out-of-left-field life simulator.

Why? Simple: Tomodachi Life has made me smile more than any other game I played in 2014. No matter what is happening on the bizarre island, I cannot help but have a big grin plastered to my face. When the avatars of people I know in real life do something weird or out of character, I imagine the real people doing it and I laugh. When the Miis say or do something particularly in character, I reminisce on my friends and family and all their goofy mannerisms. This game just makes me happy.

Tomodachi Life came out in June, and now in December I am still playing it. Maybe I just collect money and buy some new food, maybe I stick around long enough to play a silly game with my college roommate, or maybe I go all out with solving problems and setting up dates. No matter what I do in the game, it never fails to put a smile on my face.

Honorable mentions: Borderlands: The Pre-SequelConstant C, The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville, Size DOES Matter, Sokobond

Darren Nakamura
Darren is a scientist during the day. He has been a Destructoid community member since 2006, joining the front page as a contributor in 2011. While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strategy, and rhythm games, he takes particular interest in independent games. He produced the Zero Cool Podcast for about four years, and he plays board games quite a bit when he can find willing companions.