So, we’re finally here. The final installment to close out my Top Tens of 2014 is here. Now that Gaming Month 2014 is coming to an end, it would be appropriate to close with my Top Ten Games of 2014. If you need to catch up on the rest of the month, you can find the previous three articles here. This category only applies to games released in 2014 leading up to this date, meaning that certain big titles that I got enough satisfactory playtime with released in the past week may qualify. These are my favorite games of 2014 and as is the case with the numerous amount of Top Ten Games of 2014 lists, you may not agree with my choices or placement. With that said, let’s dive in!
10) Child of Light
You may have heard words like “whimsical” and “charming” attributed to games like this, and I would be lying if I said that wasn’t fitting. Its European folklore inspirations are obvious and it’s the kind of game that could be easily translated into something equivalent to a children’s book or movie. The UbiArt engine makes the watercolor effect of the game’s assets look gorgeous and the musical tones match this, both in combat and while exploring Lemuria. Its presentation is rather intriguing, as the entire story is conveyed in rhyme. There are moments where this shines, but as I mentioned in last week’s Top Ten with Rubella, it can get grating after several hours of play.
Regardless, I still love the gameplay enough to get past many of the little annoyances I may have with the rhyming. Child of Light makes use of classic active-time-battle systems, while also having asymmetrical design by way of controlling Igniculus in real time. Even though its element system is weaker for the genre, having techniques like interrupting enemy actions adds a good amount of complexity while still keeping the game accessible. The combat is just deep enough for the kind of game that Child of Light is, and there isn’t really much else like it to be honest. As a whole, it was one of my favorite downloadable experiences this year and deserves a place in this list.
9) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Leading up to 2014, I was starting to get tired of 2D platformers, which is rather funny considering how many have shown up in these lists. Sure, many were good such as Limbo and Rogue Legacy, but many felt generic and not challenging enough. Even after getting the chance to play New Super Mario Bros. U on my newly bought Wii U, it felt boring despite its Nintendo 2D platforming pedigree. It’s pretty funny in hindsight that it would take another Nintendo 2D platforming game to change my tune.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze does an awesome job with its gameplay in many ways. Its platforming style and use of the other Kongs’ abilities makes the core gameplay feel different. The level variety keeps the game interesting and the momentum of the story going. The boss fights are some of my favorites and are challenging for the genre. The part I most appreciate about this game is its difficulty. Many levels, especially the later ones, don’t hold back. The pinnacle of this is the secret levels, which require precise timing with no checkpoints. All together makes for a tight package with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and makes it one of my favorite games this year.
8) Azure Striker Gunvolt
My initial experience with Azure Striker Gunvolt was not a great one. It took me a while to get a feel for it and I still didn’t appreciate it as much back when I wrote my review as I do now. Since then, my appreciation for it has grown, and I still love its memorable anime design both aesthetically and mechanically. The individual levels can be somewhat weak at times, but the big picture that is the game world is striking, especially in the later scenarios. The character designs are extravagant and really play on different personality traits, with Elise and Zonda as stand-out examples. On top of this, the sound design is also fitting, adding J-Pop to the mix in certain situations.
The combat is equally as flashy. Your basic moveset may not change much mechanically, but this style makes combat very enjoyable. In reality, it’s good that the moveset doesn’t change too drastically, since you’ll quickly learn that the real charm of the level design comes from your speedrun and Kudos skills. The boss battles are probably the best example of incorporating the game’s flashy design. Bosses have cool designs for themselves, their attacks, and their Special Moves. When facing off with these villains equipped with arguably flashy techniques is where the game really shines. Although I really love its visual design, Azure Striker Gunvolt would not be worth it if the gameplay wasn’t up to snuff. Luckily it is, and it even goes as far as to be included in this list.
7) Mario Kart 8
When you really think about it, does Mario Kart 8 bring anything new to the table? Most of the main features in this version are just updates from Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. Even the cool Crazy Eight power-up you get is the Lucky Seven + 1. That’s not to say Mario Kart 8 has nothing new. Having an item that destroys blue shells could be considered a major plus by fans and the anti-gravity mechanic really does add a new angle to how players interact with one another. That alone may not have been enough to put Mario Kart 8 at this point on the list, or even in this list at all. What really makes the game, however, is the amount of polish it has.
Sure, the game options are very limited, like not even having sound options just to name an example. The Battle Mode this time around also can be an indication of limited budget or resources. Nevertheless, Mario Kart 8 is at its best where it truly matters, in the gameplay. Visually impressive karts and characters racing on beautiful tracks, both new and classic, all in a silky-smooth 60 FPS. I especially love the way that the game emulates real-world sponsors with Mario brands like GXA (Galaxy Air) and Burning DK Sports Drink. On top of that, the music is excellent as well and really makes the tracks stand out. The base game is really worth on its own, but the addition of even more karts, racers and tracks through the recently released DLC makes Mario Kart 8 even better. I’ve gotta say, I’m really happy with the game, and it’s one of those Top Tens that I can’t wait to get back to playing.
6) Hyrule Warriors
I feel like I’ve reiterated this point quite a few times since release, but here’s one last go; I’ve never been able to get into the Dynasty Warriors series. Something about the source material surrounding the Romance of the Three Kingdoms just didn’t really appeal to me. I was also younger and not as much into gaming as I am now when I last tried playing. As I’ve grown, I started to appreciate what the series was, but it took one spin-off for me to give this style a chance, and that spin-off is Hyrule Warriors.
The Dynasty Warriors style was not enough to bring me in, but Hyrule Warriors does so much more than I initially expected. I reveled in the chance to play as many different Legend of Zelda characters besides Link, like Impa, Ruto, and even Ganondorf (all of whom are my favorites). Even though she can be annoying to some, I really love playing with the new girl Lana as well. Some of the characters get alternate weapons, which in themselves are additional characters. I’m still loving the power rock soundtrack, and it still holds its Top Ten Original Soundtracks place near the end of Gaming Month. The main scenarios in Legend Mode are a lot of fun as it is, but the pure completion addiction that is Adventure Mode will be sure to satiate. Hyrule Warriors in its entirety feels like a complete package, and does an excellent job of paying homage to the series on top of just being an awesome game.
5) Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “How could a game that hasn’t even been out for a week possibly be one of your games of the year? Well, let me give you a little bit of backstory. When it came to reviewing Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, I was left disappointed. At its core, the gameplay was fantastic, but virtually every issue that I had with the game was because it was on the 3DS. The screen size made it hard to see your characters. The controls made combat inaccurate. The processing power limited stage designs both visually and structurally. The memory capacity limited content in regards to the amount of stages, music, and modes. Although it has improved since launch, the network card still can make online play lag.
All that Super Smash Bros. for Wii U needed to do to get on this list was fix those problems, and it does that incredibly well. The 1080p 60fps display looks gorgeous. The variety and tightness of controls feels fantastic. The stages have massive variety in both design and size. The 25GB capacity of the Wii U Disc allows for massive amounts of content with 40+ stages, 400+ music tracks, and a variety of modes like 8-Player, Smash Tour, and Special Smash. While the online play isn’t perfect, it is a HUGE improvement over the 3DS version. This feels like the penultimate Super Smash Bros., and it well deserves its placement on this list. However, it’s not perfect, and its placement is the most appropriate for a game I haven’t done an official review for yet. Be sure to check out my review in the near future, but be assured that i think this game is absolutely worth getting.
4) Bravely Default
I didn’t grow up with JRPGs. On top of that, the first JRPG I ever played was Final Fantasy XII, so I never got any exposure to the turn-based RPG genre. To me, the idea of turn-based combat was too bizarre. It took hours of playing time with Fire Emblem: Awakening to get used to turn-based systems, so after seeing many recommendations for Bravely Default I finally decided to try a turn-based RPG proper.
What I found was that I really enjoyed the game beyond the combat system. It took me a little bit, but I got behind the characters of Luxendarc. I found myself immersed the story, even getting past the rather awkward world reset in Chapter 4. After taking a breather for a little bit, I jumped right back in and was awarded with a satisfactory ending. Even the combat with its simple format added a ton of variety and strategy with the Brave and Default systems, as well as 24 classes with tons of cool skills. Altogether, this makes for an awesome JRPG experience that I would play all over again. Luckily, the game gives you many chances to do that in its second half.
3) Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the game industry has gotten pretty huge. Games and gamer creators from different walks of life and the indie boom has made the past few years of gaming rather interesting in terms of the kinds of games we’re seeing. While games that experiment with different mechanical and narrative elements are great, sometimes you want to get away from the explosive setpieces, the gaudy skyboxes, the serious stories, and the “games as art” overachievers. Sometimes, you just want a video game to be a video game.
While this isn’t the first game I played this year that made me feel that way, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse stands out as one of my favorite examples. How so? Every part is just fun. It’s not edgy, not controversial, and definitely not disappointing. The story and presentation is engaging, the characters and scenarios are cute and genuinely funny, and the gameplay is solid and a ton of fun with the introduction of Pirate weapons. I know I’ve been gushing over Shantae as a character, but it’s that character that makes the game, as if everything else is built around her. All together, its makes for a rather interesting game, one that makes me want to trek back through the series and play the first two installments. It goes without saying, but that also makes this game worthy of being one of my top ten games of 2014.
2) Shovel Knight
Speaking of games that just want to be a video game, another 2D action platformer that unsurprisingly made its way onto my Top Ten Games list is Shovel Knight. At first, the previously mentioned “video game” effect that I had with Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse didn’t really set in with Shovel Knight. Perhaps that is because this was my first venture into the 2D action platformer genre. Once I got a few boss battles under my belt, however, that feeling of playing games as a kid welled up inside and still thoroughly enjoy playing this game in the months since launch.
Harkening back to old game design and its action platformer roots like Mega Man, Shovel Knight feels like the modern poster child. You can tell that the developers at Yacht Club Games put their heart and soul into this game in every regard. The gameplay design is impeccable, and it’s obvious that everything else was built around it. Art design is fantastically retro, the world is interesting, and the music is by far the best this year as evident by my first Top Ten list. Still, there is one more game that has Shovel Knight beat, and it’s definitely justified.
From the way I’ve been talking about the game over the past few lists, you’d think that Shovel Knight would be my game of the year. However, Transistor beats out Shovel Knight for one simple reason; I haven’t played anything else like it. At first glance it’s pretty obvious that this is a SuperGiant game, complete with isometric 3D perspective and the dulcet tones from the narration. Luckily, SuperGiant was able to step outside of its comfort zone a little bit, and Transistor is not a simple cut-and-paste of Bastion.
A game can be unique and not good, but what makes Transistor unique works perfectly. Everything about this game screams originality. The presentation is striking and beautiful. The story is minimalistic, yet mechanics like unlocking backstories of characters by varying the use of your skills is smart and well implemented. The gameplay is a hybrid of real-time and turn-based strategy that makes for fun combat design. The fact that each of the 16 Function()s you obtain can be equipped as an attack, effect or buff is insane, with the total amount of possible combinations exceeding 20 billion! The ending and subsequent New Game+ is satisfying and the anticipated challenge prompted by the phrase “The Process will respond in kind” is a great feeling. Each piece of the puzzle is great on its own, but when put together, it makes for my Game of the Year.
So, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? This is likely the big one that’s gets people riled up, but having that discussion and sharing of opinions is great. Whatever your favorites are, leave them in the comments below, and thank you for joining us for Gaming Month. I had a lot of fun doing this, and I look forward to doing Top Tens for 2015. Who knows, maybe I’ll even mix up the categories a bit, only time will tell.