Well, another year is in the books. 2014 was widely expected to be a bit of a "down year", with all of the heavy-hitters that dropped last year and those expected to release in 2015. And up until the season changed to Autumn, it looked like 2014 was going to be an extraordinarily weak year for gaming. But having said that, the Fall and Winter games that I was looking forward to came out and lived up to my high expectations, and in addition to those, several games came out of left field to really surprise me (in a good way!). Looking over it, I'm very pleased with my final list, which I've narrowed down to 10 games. I thoroughly enjoyed each one of these titles, so much so that it's very tough for me to look back on 2014 as any sort of disappointment. It's a really strong lineup.
So without any further ado, here are my top 10 games of 2014:
One of my favorite games from last year was Super Mario 3D World, and one of that game's biggest strong suits was that I rarely felt like I played back-to-back stages that were too similar. The Captain Toad stages that were mixed in among the more traditional Mario platforming levels were a part of that game's impressive variety, and with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, that same philosophy is still in tact but with those types of levels now in the forefront. In many respects, it's a Mario-quality game where the platforming element has been stripped away, and yet it manages to be nearly as fun regardless.
The bulk of the stages are very well-designed, in that they are able to be completed in only a few minutes each, but are loaded with all sorts of surprises that demand 2, 3, and sometimes more replays. It's incredibly fun and satisfying to search every nook and cranny of these stages, especially when eventually finding a secret that was very cleverly hidden. As an appendix of sorts to 3D World, this could have been a phoned-in effort, but all of the super creative level designs and puzzles you'd expect from an EAD Tokyo game, it's all here on full display. And like all of Nintendo's first party stuff on Wii U, it looks stunningly good in HD.
When this game was first announced at this past E3, it was a pleasant surprise and immediately became one of the games I was most looking forward to playing. My one concern was whether a full game made out of these puzzles might possibly wear thin, but in hindsight that was a pretty silly thought: these guys have been making 3D Mario games. They know what they're doing!
Sunset Overdrive (Insomniac, Xbox One)
Give credit where credit is due: following the soulless and generic Fuse, Insomniac really goes for it all here. If this were "Silliest Games of the Year 2014", it would probably take the top spot. They're swinging for the fences, and well...there are quite a few whiffs, but they knock it out of the park when it matters most. Sunset Overdrive fully acknowledges that it's a video game, and this sort of breaking-the-4th-wall humor permeates throughout the whole game. Is it always funny? No, plenty of the jokes fall flat, but enough of them do work that it justifies their total commitment to it. The punk rock aesthetic is a bit one-note, but it fits for what they're going for. Which is to say that the goal was to make this the loudest, most vulgar statement that they could possibly make, and by and large it's a success.
Yes, it's still got a lot of the trappings of an open world shooter that are mostly run-of-the-mill. Plenty of missions are throwaways. But as with the humor, Sunset Overdrive hits when it matters most and above all else, I had a great fucking time while I was playing it. Traversing a game world has never felt so great, and by grinding, bouncing, air-dashing, and wall-running my way around such a hyper-stylized city, it has never looked this great either. It didn't matter if it was the 13th collect-a-thon mission to that point -- I wasn't doing it to get my completion % up, I kept on going because I was having fun.
Finally, the game brings the spectacle and bombast in spades at the biggest moments: the boss fights. By making the most of the large open world environment and all of your high-flying abilities, each boss encounter ranks as one of the more memorable moments of the year for me. They perfectly capture the level of audacity and ridiculousness that Sunset Overdrive was striving for.
The Evil Within (Tango Gameworks, Playstation 4)
What to make of The Evil Within? This latest journey into Shinji Mikami's nightmare world is not perfect by any stretch. But it's still a very satisfying survival horror game that hits most of the right notes, and is excellently-paced from beginning to end. You're never doing the same thing over and over for any significant length of time, as the game is always shaking up the gameplay and locales in such a way that is consistently interesting and rewarding. It's a double-edged sword, because while the game never feels repetitive at any point, the roller-coaster ride it takes you on doesn't really allow for much suspense building, which is paramount for a horror experience. I also found the inclusion of automatic checkpoints to be a disservice to the game, working against the survival/stealth gameplay by discouraging player creativity and greatly reducing the overall tension.
Flaws aside, The Evil Within still brings a lot to the table in the gameplay department. It's remarkably well-balanced, where you have barely enough ammo and/or health to get by if you play perfectly, and at no point did I feel overpowered like I did in Resident Evil 4. But in those instances where you don't make the most of your resources, there are plenty of other avenues that the game allows you to take, including stealth, utilizing environmental traps, crafting a wide variety of crossbow bolts, or evading enemies altogether. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the boss fights, some of which were among the most frantic and terrifying enemy encounters I've come across in a long time.
In the end, it doesn't re-invent the wheel and a lot of what this game does great has been done before. But if you liked something like The Last of Us, and wouldn't mind playing a darker, scarier version of that (with some REmake and RE4 sprinkled in), you could do far worse than The Evil Within. It's a really good survival horror game, if still falling short of being another "Mikami masterpiece".
Shovel Knight (Yacht Club Games, Wii U)
Much more than just a trip down memory lane, Shovel Knight is what you'd expect from a NES Mega Man or Castlevania-inspired game made in 2014. It hits all of the sensibilities of that era, nailing the retro visuals and sound in such a way that brings back fond childhood memories, highlighted by a delightfully addicting soundtrack. While respecting the games of that era, Shovel Knight also takes into account all of the lessons learned in the 20-some-odd years since, settling for gameplay that manages to strike that delicate balance between being too simple and being too challenging.
It's an unabashed love letter to old-school video games, true, but above and beyond the nostalgia factor Shovel Knight brings more than enough to the table to stand tall among its modern peers.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Namco/Sora, Wii U)
Back and better than ever, the latest Smash Bros. for the Wii U checks off nearly every box that a 2014 Smash Bros. has to. Multiplayer has been a blast, both online and locally, and the sheer volume of modes and customization options available in both realms is staggering and very much welcome. Whether I'm looking for complete and utter chaos or a more purist-route at any given time, it's all there at my fingertips and has been a ton of fun in the short time I've spent with it so far. And let's not forget about the single-player, which is filled to the brim with content and sports dozens of challenges that I suspect will keep me busy for many months and years to come.
With the newest entry into the franchise, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U maintains the series standing as one of the most fun multiplayer experiences and a celebration of all things Nintendo.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (MachineGames, Playstation 4)
This is, without a doubt, the surprise of the year. I had absolutely zero hype for this game, didn't give it much of a look when it came out, and only picked it up after hearing a lot of positive word of mouth regarding it. Well, "word of mouth" was certainly correct this time, because Wolfenstein: The New Order is a really good game.
Developed by former Starbreeze employees that worked on Escape From Butcher Bay, Wolfenstein is a throwback of sorts to games of that era, of pre-Modern Warfare FPS games that wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice ultra-realism in the interest of fun. The shooting feels great, as do the stealth mechanics, and each mission practically can be played with either approach or a mix of both styles interchangeably. Each level is designed smartly with multiple routes that you can take and oftentimes allowing you to be as stealthy as you'd like, but the game doesn't miss a beat once everything degenerates into a shootout.
With tight mechanics, a satisfying and rewarding perk system and pretty good pacing (it's far from being non-stop shooting), The New Order easily does enough to be an enjoyable gameplay experience. But on top of all of that, it has an unexpectedly well-written narrative that includes a number of characters that I actually cared about, elevating B.J. Blazkowicz's latest exploits to the point where I felt like I was fighting for a lot more than simply killing Nazis and saving the world. It's the best first-person shooter I've played in several years.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Retro Studios, Wii U)
When describing Rayman Legends' placement on my Best of 2013 list, I mentioned how with platforming games, the phrase "more of the same" is often much more of a compliment from me than a pejorative, especially when you're following up a great experience that I want more of. That same adage applies to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and once again, it's a good thing. A very good thing. Donkey Kong Country Returns was one of my favorite games from the previous generation (as well as one of my absolute favorite 2D platforming games ever) and getting a sequel to that on the Wii U is undeniably great, but saying it's just more DKC Returns is selling it a bit short.
Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way: You've got the visual overhaul, with Retro's always-top-notch art now looking better than ever in high definition. The controls have been improved over the Wii game. There's more variety, with new playable characters and new types of stages -- underwater and ice (and get this: they're just as good as the other stuff!) -- that each make a substantial impact on the traditional gameplay. And let's make no mistake about it: David Wise's soundtrack is an unequivocal highlight, and is without question the best collection of music I've heard in a game all year.
But it's the little things that make this game great too. Like how each level is filled with all sorts of calamity taking place in the background, and how each world tells its story through the sequencing of these stages and everything that's going on within them. Or how the game progresses in such a way that it consistently gets better and better until the very end. And while I found Tropical Freeze to be a little bit easier than Returns, the flipside is that I had a more enjoyable time 100%-ing this one. It's challenging and on rare occasions it even gets frustratingly hard, but going for completion was always a "fun challenge" through and through.
Ultimately, it's not as impressive of a game now as Donkey Kong Country Returns was back on the Wii, but that doesn't mean it can't still be one of the very best games I played all year. And through the first three-fourths of the year, it was the best.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Monolith, Playstation 4)
There are a number of reasons why I did not expect to like this game nearly as much as I do. I've found open-world games to be largely underwhelming and disappointing over the past couple of years. Ubisoft's open-world games, most notably Assassin's Creed, I have burned out on completely. I do like the Batman combat, but after Arkham Origins I've begun to tire out on that series as well. I have no real interest in the Tolkien universe; I saw the Lord of the Rings trilogy and thought they were fine films, but I'm hardly what you'd consider a fan of the material.
On the surface, Shadow of Mordor is all of those things wrapped into one game. Best case scenario, I expected my time with it would be no different from any other recent open-world game: I'd climb a tower or two, see my map get cluttered with an overwhelming amount of icons, feel compelled to do those quests and find those collectibles so that I could look at the map again and be able to think at the same time, lose interest fast after doing a handful of them and realizing that it's straight filler and busy-work, before finally saying "screw it" and start doing only the main story missions, only to find out that the story sucks and the missions are little more than tutorials for the side content that I already lost interest in.
The weird part is, that's not an entirely inaccurate description of the game, but a funny thing happened in the end...I completed it 100% and loved just about every second of it. Huh, what?! It just goes to show what can happen when your game is built on super-tight gameplay mechanics and numerous in-game systems constantly interplaying with each other -- the experience can be fun and engaging and addicting and satisfying, even if the content itself isn't interesting on its own. Shadow of Mordor does borrow from Assassin's Creed and Batman and others, but it implements everything the right way, making sure that it's fun to play first and foremost.
Its one big new feature, the Nemesis system, is what puts it over the top for me. For the first time in a while, it was nice to have an open game world where my actions could make a tangible influence on it, whenever and as often as I wanted to. Whether it's the main missions, the side missions or any of the in-between traversal, there's always an element of spontaneity and fluidity in play that makes even the mundane into something compelling and fresh. It's not the most ground-breaking game of 2014, but damned if it isn't a well-made one.
Bayonetta 2 (Platinum Games, Wii U)
Like Donkey Kong Country Returns, the original Bayonetta is one of my favorite games of the prior generation, and up until that point was certainly my favorite character-action game. The combat mechanics offered a ton of variety that was all easy and fun to pull off, in turn encouraging you to try just about everything at your disposal. It was amazing, and I didn't think it was possible to perfect it much further.
Well, I was wrong. Bayonetta 2 not only plays better than the first game, it actually plays a lot better. There's more variety to the gameplay on top of a foundation that was already quite varied, while combat is faster and smoother and just feels better overall. Each new enemy encounter is a lot of fun, and it never gets old because of how many different abilities you have (all of which are equally awesome), and because of how enjoyable it is to have all of that power while never feeling overwhelmed at the same time. The ease and intuitiveness involved with mixing up your arsenal is very liberating, making it more possible now to dominate as Bayonetta while doing it just as stylishly as she does it in the cinematics.
The sequel also trims out a lot of the filler that the first game had, smartly focusing on making the whole experience faster and crazier. Hands down, it's one of the best-paced action games I've ever played. I didn't find the humor to be at the level of the first game, but in every other respect, Bayonetta 2 is a resounding improvement over the original. I've never had more fun kicking ass in a video game.
Alien: Isolation (Creative Assembly, Playstation 4)
I had high hopes for this game since it was first announced and shown, but I was always a little nervous about it; like it was too good to be true. A triple-A survival horror game with little emphasis on combat -- in 2014? Yeah, right. It will end up being all action-y, just wait and see. You'll truly feel like you're fighting for survival, when being stalked by an unstoppable enemy with nothing to defend yourself with? Nah, there's no way they'll pull that off. The creature's AI will undoubtedly suck, you'll be able to predict what happens, it'll end up being really scripted, yada yada yada... Oh, and it's an ALIEN game??? Yup, it's totally gonna suck! But lo and behold, Alien: Isolation is everything it was cracked up to be, and then some.
It is survival horror at its finest, emphasizing the need for patience and careful decision-making, and the result is a game that is incredibly tense throughout and, at times, downright terrifying. The persistent threat of the Alien (as well as the not-as-deadly-but-still-really-fucking-creepy Working Joe androids) coupled with a fantastic representation of the original film's sci-fi aesthetic works to create an unbelievably strong atmosphere, taking this relentless cat & mouse game and making it a truly heart-pounding experience.
It's the scariest game I've played in quite some time, and it was probably the most challenging game I played all year. But in spite of the sometimes unforgiving difficulty, the game and its enemy AI was absolutely fair, and my ability to survive through to the end really felt largely predicated on the slow and methodical play-style that the game allowed me to carry out. It's not perfect, but Creative Assembly delivered about as well as you could have asked for in making Alien: Isolation feel like a true fight for survival.
Of all of the great games I played in 2014, this is the one that made the biggest impression on me, and the experience that I had is one that I expect will continue to resonate with me for a long time. It's the real deal.
That's it for 2014! One thing you'll notice is how often I used the word "fun" to describe these games, and there's a good reason for that. Just about every year, there are a number of games I really like for a variety of reasons, whether it's for having compelling gameplay, or a really good storyline, or a strong/distinctive artstyle, or simply for being unique and/or innovative. But this time around, each of the games on my top 10 list share a common distinction, and it's how strong all of them are in the gameplay department. Each one delivered mechanics that just felt good to controlunder nearly all circumstances, and there weren't many occasions out of the hundreds of hours I spent playing these games where I wasn't having an enjoyable time. It's not often that I can say that, and it needs to be stated just how impressive of an accomplishment it really is. These ten games really nailed it.
Still, there was a lot more that I played and enjoyed over the course of the past year, and here are a few games that deserve to be recognized despite just missing the cut:
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea, Episode 2: A much stronger episode than the first one, Episode 2 is a fitting coda to both the Bioshock series and to its developer, Irrational Games. The stealth-focused gameplay is something I would have liked to have seen a lot more of in the main Infinite campaign as it fits better thematically than the non-stop gunfights, but the lack of a quick save option in favor of a poorly-implemented checkpoint system is a big reason why it didn't crack the Top 10 despite everything else it does really well. (Irrational Games, PS3)
D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die: Well, I've gotten my Swery fix for the year. Imagine Deadly Premonition without the open world and combat, just the cutscenes. And instead of tackling Twin Peaks, this time around he's taking on Memento. That's D4 in a nutshell...if you like Swery, this is for you. (Access Games, XB1)
Far Cry 4: I probably would have gotten more out of it if I hadn't just played Far Cry 3 earlier in the year, as it's very similar to its predecessor. But that also means that it's still pretty darned good. (Ubisoft, PS4)
inFamous: Second Son: At the time, traversing the environments in Second Son were the most fun I've had in an open-world game in a while, but then games came out that did it better (Mordor, Sunset). Still a very solid game, and it provided my first "next-gen moments" from a visual standpoint. (Sucker Punch, PS4)
Mario Kart 8: I had been off of the Mario Kart bandwagon since the GameCube-era, but the newest edition for Wii U brought me back on-board. Mario Kart 8 is the best-looking Nintendo game ever made, which stands to reason given that this is easily the Mario Kart game Nintendo has put the most effort into making great in a long time. There are still some aspects held-over from previous Mario Kart games that still irritate the heck out of me, but my overall experience with Mario Kart 8 has been largely positive and my time with the game is far from being over. (Nintendo, Wii U)
Best platform: Wii U. No other system in 2014 had as many great games that you couldn't play anywhere else, and it's really not even close.
Biggest surprise: The aforementioned Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Biggest disappointment: Fortunately, I wasn't THAT disappointed in anything this year, but if I had to pick one game, it would be The Walking Dead: Season Two. Season One was my game of the year in an admittedly weak 2012, and I didn't expect Season Two to be able to match that, but it really wasn't anywhere near the same level in quality. Inconsistent writing, recycled elements from Season One and a less interesting cast of characters held it back from being a strong follow-up.
Best 2013 game I played in 2014: Pikmin 3. My first Pikmin game, and all it managed to do was make me feel foolish for not checking out the series sooner. Like, a decade ago or something...
My five most-wanted games of 2015 (in alphabetical order):
Batman: Arkham Knight (Rocksteady) Bloodborne (From Software) The Legend of Zelda Wii U (Nintendo) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Konami) Xenoblade Chronicles X (Monolith Soft)
A big surprise for me was Tales from the Borderlands. Dare I say it was my favorite first episode of a Telltale game yet? The humor was there, the graphics and style was a perfect fit for Telltale and the Borderlands universe. The pacing was awesome. The length was great. It just had everything you'd look for in a Telltale game. Can't wait for Episode 2.
Cool list, man. I'm always interested in reading lists like these, because I often forget how much of a "backseat" handhelds are for most gamers - or at least, gamers here on Negative World. I kept expecting to see a Bravely Default mention pop up, or a reference to the action in Azure Striker Gunvolt...or the ridiculous, bizarre humor and crazy antics of Tomodachi Life. But then I came to the realization that,
1.) He may not have even played these games
2.) He did play them, but he enjoys the console games listed more.
I like your write-ups, and I'm actually looking forward to several of your "anticipated" games for this year as well. Mostly Zelda and Metal Gear, but 2015 looks promising with lots of great titles.
By the way, are you interested in Might No. 9 at all? That's one of my most anticipated games for this year. For sure.
A little more interesting than the typical GotY lists out there, nice choices. Sunset Overdrive is one of the few games on other systems that looks interesting to me, it's unfortunate it's exclusive to XBONE which is a system I don't want and will never own.
@GameDadGrant In my experience, believe it or not, NegWorld is actually more handheld-friendly than most sites.
It's interesting. I thought Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us was really strong, and then it kinda went into the tank for the rest of the season. I'm worried that TellTale is spreading themselves a bit thin, between that and Walking Dead S2 not being so great either. Hopefully Borderlands won't have the same fate.
Yeah, I just don't play much on handhelds. Never has been my thing, and admittedly I don't play enough portable games for them to get more recognition on my Top 10. Generally, I've never been big on handhelds (3DS is the first handheld that I've owned, and I got two of 'em ) but there have been some great games on the 3DS that I really wanted to play. All things being equal, I'd rather play on a console but obviously when something is so undeniably good like A Link Between Worlds, a 3DS game can still get the top spot. It's more about my time devotion than anything else.
As for Mighty No. 9, yep, I'm looking forward to it. A while back in the chat, I was mentioning the brain drain from Capcom and how Kamiya went and made Bayonetta (which is a better Devil May Cry than anything Capcom has made since he left). And then Mikami goes and does The Evil Within, which is a better Resident Evil than anything Capcom has done since he was there. So, I'm fully expecting Inafune to complete the trifecta.
There are so many games coming in 2015 that I have at least a passing interest in, it's crazy. I stopped at 5 because it was an easy cut-off...6 through 30 or whatever, and taking the top 5 from that....eh, too much thinking for right now.
Yeah, the situation over at Capcom is...so depressing. That company was like, my #2 most favorite video game developer/producer, back as far as the NES days and as recent as...honestly, just the past few years. I'm hoping that the stumbles they are experiencing lately are just that...stumbles. And not complete face-plants, lulz. At the very least, they haven't completely screwed up their Street Fighter series (*knocks on wood*) so we know there are still talented people over there. We just need to get them on the right projects.
Speaking of "right" projects, glad to hear you're also on board for Mighty No. 9! That's arguably my most anticipated game for 2015. The only other contender is really Starfox. Or maybe Zelda. I'm probably more excited/nervous about Starfox, since at this point I think we pretty much can rest assured that both Zelda and Mighty No. 9 will turn out great. But there is so much unknown about Fox McCloud's latest adventure...it could be great. Or it could be another Assault.
Yeah, it's a shame. I'd say as recently as 5 years ago, if someone asked me who my favorite third party developer was, I'd have said "Capcom" without hesitation. The current Capcom probably isn't even my Top 10.
Star Fox is interesting...I got the sense back at E3 that there wasn't much (if anything) actually done on the game at that point, beyond a concept that they really didn't want us to see clearly! I'm curious to see what they'll have ready to release this year.
No Bumpie's Party?? After all we went through together!?!? jk jk
Got some good stuff on this list!
@TheBigG753 Great list Greg... well written.. I still need to finish Tropical freeze - arg. Oh and I'm also late to the Pikmin party. +1 for Pikmin 3 being my first to play in the series. What were we thinking??
Very cool list, sir. I own 7 on your list. I got the One for Christmas and have been enjoying it quite a bit. I'm itching to jump into Sunset overdrive soon, but the wife actually expressed mild interest, so I've been waiting. Not sure I can wait too much longer. And I have played a bit of Shadow of Mordor. It was quite impressive. Haven't played it that much, though, because I'm spending too much time with Forza 5.
Not sure, man. Do you dislike strategy games like I do? I never cared for Civilization, Warcraft, etc. I think that always scared me away from Pikmin. As it turned out, it's not nearly as impenetrable as I always thought it would be.
Nice! The PS4 is primed to be my "go-to" system for multiplats, but the Black Friday deals for the Xbox were too appetizing and I'm sure in 3, 4 years time, there will be a handful of exclusives that I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on. It will turn out to be worth it in the long run I suspect.
Sunset is cool, though I'll say it takes a little while before you really start to get into it. Like, being able to basically swag your way around the city is so much fun, but it's a little ways into the game before you have all of those core abilities and the controls become second nature. It's all worth sticking around to see, though. That game has some really neat moments where you're like, "Hm, I wonder why more games don't do this."
I'm playing Wolfenstein right now and, man, this is my kind of game through and through, so fun, and so much content, it's insane, if you go for all off the power ups and collectables and the alternate timelines and high difficulties... wow, a lot to do.
Not sure if I'll be able to survive on the highest difficulty though, even normal is pretty hard, harder than "hard" on most FPS games these days, it's pretty unforgiving, forces you to play smart and not be sloppy, unlike Halo or CoD you don't just have endless life so you can't just run into a room guns blazing not worrying about getting shot.
This may be my favorite "Best of List" out of all the ones I've seen. Many of the games in your top 10 are on mine as well, such as Tropical Freeze, Bayonetta 2, Shovel Knight, Wolfenstein and The Evil Within. I own both Alien Isolation and Shadow of Mordor but have yet to play them.
I'm playing Wolfenstein right now and, man, this is my kind of game through and through, so fun, and so much content, it's insane, if you go for all off the power ups and collectables and the alternate timelines and high difficulties... wow, a lot to do.
Agreed....this game really took me by surprise. I absolutely loved it. Played through the entire thing in two days.