Eric’s Top 10 Games of 2014

Eric’s Top 10 Games of 2014

The prodigal son returns to bestow upon the masses his best games of 2014.

When compiling a “best games of 20XX” it can be easy to assume that every game from that year has been played, analyzed, critiqued, and replayed once again before succumbing to a life of collecting dust on the shelf only to be looked upon with fond memories from a distance. In an ideal world where work does not exist and families take care of themselves, that might be possible, but I certainly live in no such world.

I’m just going to get this out of the way and say that I played nowhere near all the games this year and I even outright neglected some that many are hailing as their GotY. Dragon Age? Doesn’t interest me. Smash Bros. Wii U? Pass. (Although, I did enjoy a brief 8 player session, so there may be hope yet.) But for all the games I didn’t play, there were quite a solid few that I did play and enjoy the crap out of, so long as they weren’t broken.

Broken. That’s a great way to describe the games of 2014. I’ve come understand that things are inevitably going to slip through Q&A and pop up in the game from time to time; especially as games become far more complex to build. But, the extent to which things were unpolished and broken this year has caused me to take a step back from new games and rather than wonder how great a game is going to be, wonder how broken it’s going to be upon release.

Couple the number of broken games with the general lackluster releases from this year (mainly due to that annoying transition between consoles were developers aren’t ready to completely leave the old behind and embrace the new) and you’re left with some pretty slim pickings. In the end, I think it all worked out for the best as I was able to really sink my teeth into some rather obscure titles that would have otherwise gone by without so much as a second glance, many of which top my list.

With that being said, the depressing year that was 2014 doesn’t make it any easier to choose a GotY, so below are top 10 games of the year with 2-10 being listed in no specific order.

 

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

Theathythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

If we want to split hairs, this game technically came out in 2012, but only came equipped with 70 some odd songs before going on to expand its library to over 200 with downloadable songs. At roughly .99 per song, I asked myself, “What would Kevin do?” and then I did the complete opposite, hoping against hope that someday a definitive edition would release. Enter Curtain Call.

Although recent games may be foreshadowing the series’ demise, Final Fantasy arguably has some of the best music in the gaming industry and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy at least one Final Fantasy song. Hell, my wife and I walked down the aisle to Final Fantasy VIII’s Ending Theme and ended our wedding with a 200 pipe organ version of Final Fantasy VII’s Gold Saucer theme. To say I like Final Fantasy music is an understatement.

Music games kind of ran their course a few years back, but the Theatrhythm series does a great job of blending RPG elements into a rhythm-based game that is almost impossible to put down, making the whole genre feel fresh again. With nearly three decades of games and hundreds of songs to choose from the initial release of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy did an excellent job of cherry picking the best of the best songs, but Curtain Call has expanded the list to include songs from some of the lesser known Final Fantasy titles such as Type-0 and Mystic Quest. I’ve even been known in a pinch to pop in some headphones and use my 3DS as a pseudo MP3 player and listen to the tracks through the games audio player mode. As far as music games go, this one has topped Guitar Hero and Rock Band in my eyes.

 

Titanfall

For a game that really didn’t have a whole lot to offer, I couldn’t put this one down. For awhile at least. What Titanfall lacked in content, it tried to make up for with ingenuity and polish. Although we’ve had verticality in games before (Tribes), Titanfall took the concept, polished it, and made it functional.  It wasn’t uncommon to find me aimlessly wall running and jumping around a map, completely ignoring what I was supposed to be doing for a few minutes. Just moving around in this game was an absolute blast and watching Titans come screaming in from orbit never got old, especially when some sucker found himself on the receiving end of the drop. Piloting the Titans was simple, but entertaining; as long as you were able to keep the thing in once piece long enough to do something productive.  But the giant target on your back just added to the challenge. Unlike many multiplayer FPS titles, Titanfall’s barrier to entry was quite low and the inclusion of the grunts made every player feel like they could be a valuable member of the team, regardless of skill. Unfortunately, the gunplay was par for the course and ultimately became the game’s undoing for me. A total lack of any true skill progression or weapon unlocking led to the game becoming stale rather quickly, but I still drop in from time to time just to run a across a few walls, slide under the crotch of a giant Titan, and pick off a few grunts.

 

Dagonronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Dagonronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

If you have a Vita and don’t own this title yet, stop reading and go buy yourself a copy right now. There is so much to love about this game that I could write volumes singing its praises. Yes, the voice acting can be annoying, but for anyone who frequents the anime scene, it’s surprisingly not terrible compared to some of the other titles from NIS.

If you do pick this up, please allow yourself a few hours before passing judgment as this game takes an exceptionally long time to get on its feet. But once it does, oh man, you are in for a treat. Unfortunately, there is very little to say about this game that doesn’t spoil one thing or another, so take a chance and buy this game now. You will not regret it.

 

Oddworld: New ‘n Tasty

abe

To quote Lorne Lanning on the media’s mislabeling of this game:

“…it’s not a fucking HD remake.”

Every gamer has their list of guilty pleasures and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee is at the top of mine. When my parents initially refused to let me buy Tomb Raider 2 for my brand news PlayStation based solely on the size of Lara’s breasts, they compromised and allowed me to get a title that put farting center stage. As a teenage boy, boobs always come first, but farting is never far behind, so needless to say, I wasn’t too disappointed.

The Oddworld franchise died and slow and quiet death, but the release of Oddworld: New ‘n Tasty has given me hope that we are going to see more than just revivals of past games. However, I am not going to turn a stink eye to another game like this because Oddworld: New ‘n Tastee is how a remake should be done. We live in an era of HD remakes and it seems like a lot of companies are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to squeeze a few extra bucks of those long gone titles. But New ‘n Tastee sets the standard for which all other ‘remakes’ should be judged against.

This game is not simply a reskinning of the old 90’s version to give it a more polished look. No, they rebuilt the game from the ground up using new technology to make it look, feel, and play exactly like the original, just modernized. Everything little nuance from the original is there, so if you whiled away countless hours perfecting your rock tosses, elum jumps, and scarab dodges, rest assured that your muscle memory will remain unchanged.

Stitch lips has never looked better.

 

Fantasy Life


Fantasy Life 3DS

Stop laughing. Fantasy Life proves that if you take something that is really annoying and just repeat it long enough it eventually becomes enjoyable. Fantasy Life is nothing more than a life simulator filled with level grinding, item hunting, and fetch questing. That’s it. Over and over for hundreds of hours on end. The closest game I can compare this to is Animal Crossing, but if video games were drugs, Animal Crossing would be a full blown intervention with a 3 month stint in rehab, where Fantasy Life would be a whirlwind rise to the top of an expanding meth empire.

What makes all of this tedium tolerable? Variety. The 12 jobs are varied enough that, although you’re technically doing the same thing, each one feels fresh enough to keep you motivated. When you hit a brick wall with one class, you simply pop over to a new one or return to an old class and continue right along. The game is surprisingly deep as the 12 classes are intricately woven together to support each other, almost requiring you bounce between them all. While cooking and sewing are about as exciting as they sound, mining, blacksmithing, adventuring, and casting spells are among the most entertaining.

Although my experience with MMOs is rather limited, the quest system is similar in many ways. People around the various lands need stuff done and many of those quests require your expertise in a certain class to find or craft an item. If you aren’t careful, it can easily become overwhelming.

All of this is underscored by a quirky and surprisingly funny story along with an absolutely wonderful soundtrack. Handheld gaming was made for titles like Fantasy Life.

 

Dark Souls 2

Dark_Souls_2_62700

March 3rd, 2014 was more than just the release date for Dark Souls 2; it was also the day my daughter was born. In the end we decided against naming her in honor of the game, but don’t for one second think I didn’t try. Although, Quelaag pales in comparison to some of the names I’ve seen in the schools around here. I suppose we could have gone with Gwynevere, Princess of Sunlight.

Despite being a self-proclaimed Souls purist who will always point out the shortcomings of every game in the series beyond Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 2 did a fantastic job of moving the franchise forward while sticking to the traditional roots that makes the series to engaging.

When Dark Souls brought the series into the mainstream I was admittedly afraid that Dark Souls 2 would end up a being watered down in an effort to make the game accessible to more people who might be on the fence about taking the dive into easily the most brutal game since anything on the NES. Thankfully, Dark Souls 2 remains true to the formula that made me fall in love with the franchise while at the same time expanding upon the lore. It may not be readily apparent, but there is an intricately woven story to be found, one that is not immediately, nor explicitly given to you beyond the opening cutscene and occasional cryptic message from some ailing NPC. The fact that you are left to uncover as much or as little of the lore as you want is what makes the immersion so much more meaningful. Where many games rely solely on their story to keep their gameplay aloft, Dark Souls 2 treats the story a mystery that almost becomes another game in itself to uncover.

While I will admit that as the series continues, I find myself playing fewer and fewer NG+ runs and to be entirely honestly, I have yet to start NG+ with this title. Much of that has to do with the fact that a remastered edition is making its way to PS4 this Spring (which I’ll reluctantly buy despite my general reluctance to remastered games.)

My only complaint with this game is that it felt like From Software just decided to pack as much stuff into this game as they could possibly think of and in the end, the game felt a bit fatty and at times overwhelming, especially considering these games give you absolutely no indication of where to go or what to do next. Thankfully, Dark Souls 2 proves that a great game can be made by sticking to what works and giving people more of what they want.

 

Shadow of Mordor

Man, this game came out of absolutely nowhere. My only knowledge of this title came from a few teaser trailers and one gameplay video several months before release. And aside from it looking cool, I had mostly written it off as a pass simply based on the fact that it was another LotR game.

At first I thought I was enjoying Shadow of Mordor more than I really should have simply because it was rinsing my pallet of the collosal turd that was Destiny (more on that later), but as the hours ticked by, I found myself unable to put the game down. Mordor brought next to nothing new to the table. The combat was lifted almost verbatim from the Batman titles and the exploration/collecting/climbing were near clones of Assassin’s Creed. As one who never cared much for the Assassin’s Creed games and even less for the Batman Arkham games, Mordor proves that two wrongs do make a right, because this game was pure gold.

The exceptionally polished animations along with the intricately detailed variety Orcs picked up the slack left behind from the almost laughable terrible story. But you don’t play Shadow or Mordor for the story, you play it for the Nemesis system and cutting off Orc heads. While not perfect, the Nemesis system was one of the most unique features I’ve seen in a video game in recent memory. Watching the game learn and adapt to my play style was truly incredible. Cutting a giant swath through horde after horde of Orc is endlessly entertaining, but once you reach the end of the journey and see all that there is to see, don’t expect even an ounce of replay value.

 

Far Cry 4

fc4

Plenty of people told me to take a pass on Far Cry 4 stating that it was nothing more than a rehash of Far Cry 3, just set in a new country. For a while I listened and steered clear, until I remembered that I never played Far Cry 3. Boy do I wish I had because Far Cry 4 is incredible.

Open world sandbox games are a dime a dozen, but few do the genre justice and even fewer entice me enough to strive for 100% completion. The last open world game I went for 100% (or in this case the platinum trophy) was Skyrim. The sheer size and scope of Far Cry 4 is astounding. There is so much to do and so much to see that you’ll likely log on to pound out a few story missions only to find you’ve been sidetracked hunting honey badgers with a grenade launcher, ramming villages atop an elephant, challenging rhinos with an ATV, and desperately attempting to outmaneuver those god damned bald eagles who seem to have an insatiable thirst for human blood.

The game features a cast of surprisingly likable characters, some of whom made me laugh out loud a number of times, but in the end, this game is about nothing more than travelling to an exotic war torn country and laying waste to absolutely anything that moves.

 

Walking Dead Season 2

I would have been perfectly content letting the Telltale Games’ Walking Dead series die after Season 1, but boy am I glad they didn’t let that happen. While Lee was at the heart of 99% of Season 1’s gameplay, I think every player was immediately taken with Clementine and became emotionally invested in her plight. So when Season 2 kicked off with you behind the wheel of Clementine, I knew things we about to get emotional.

Season 2 had some of the most gut wrenching decisions I’ve made in a video game, but when put into context of the world in which Clem now exists, I tried to make the obvious choice. Suddenly Clem was on her own and left to make some tough decisions without the safety net of Lee to fall back on and that caused her to do some serious growing up. Even still, that didn’t make those tough decisions any easier. For the first three episodes I found myself annoyed with Sarah and her inability to recognize the hand basket she was in and where it had landed. She was a liability who was bound to get people killed, but when the time finally came to make that decision to let her die, everyone knew what had to be done. But knowing it was the right thing to do didn’t make it any easier. Watching Clem’s rapid ascent into maturity alongside Kenny’s downward spiral into Carver-like insanity makes for some of the best drama currently available. Even those who are not fans of the TV series around bound to find this game irresistible.

Game of the Year 2014:

Shovel Knight

Shovel_Knight_Logo

This game would have probably been a pass for me had I not read one man’s comparison of Shovel Knight to three other games. His statement amounted to something along the lines of “Shovel Knight is Mega Man meets Mario 3 meets Castlevania.” No matter how absurd, a recommendation like that is worth investigating and with that I set out to purchase my first ever 3DS eshop title.

This game absolutely has it all. A killer sound track, spot on platforming, great skill progression, a great retro look, and bone crushing difficulty. At its core, Shovel Knight plays exactly like the old NES Mega Man games, except instead of the Buster Cannon, you have a shovel that you can swing and hop around on. However, instead of just choosing a boss at random, you move about a world map a la Mario 3. Strewn about the map are towns in which you can visit shops, buy items, upgrade weapons, and increase your skills, much like the old Castlevania games.

This game is platforming perfection. Unlike the Mega Man games of old that were often plagued with the dreaded screen stutter, Shovel Knight runs flawlessly and is just one giant nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up on NES games.

You wouldn’t think so, but these three games mesh together beautifully to create one of this year’s best gaming experiences that almost nobody has played. Thankfully, Shovel Knight has been announced for PS4 with a few extra additions, so hopefully this game is destined to find its way into more people’s hands this year.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Grand Theft Auto V (remaster)

 

Hottest Piles of Garbage from 2014:

Destiny

Do I even need to explain this one? The hype train that Destiny came rolling in on made the one for the original Fable look like that old electric Lionel train set circling beneath your grandparent’s tree at Christmas. No game has ever failed to live up to its hype quite like Destiny has, and we had three Fable games and a handful of other Peter Molyneux games to set the precedent. It’s amazing how a game with almost nothing of interest to do can be such a sweeping success. For awhile I thought I was the one who was missing something, but when people began confessing that they were addicted to Destiny despite having no idea why because the game was crap, that’s when I knew I had made the right choice. Destiny is like a pack of cigarettes. Some people get hooked while others are able to recognize the dangers and walk away happier and healthier because of it.

Thief

Just don’t play this game. Seriously.

 

I’ve heard it said that 2014 sucked for video games. I’m reluctant to agree entirely, but I do admit that we can only go up from here. Here’s hoping that the disasters that plagued the gaming community this year help set the standard moving forward and developers begin to take a closer look at the quality of their products they are asking consumers to shell out for before they decided to just “fix it in a patch.” I’d rather have 2015 known as the year of delays over having another year of broken games.

However uncertain the future may be, there is a lot of exciting technology on the horizon that has the potential to change the course of gaming, as long as we begin expecting a higher quality product by refusing to buy broken, unfinished products. That and we get out of this rut of remaking games we’ve already played. Go forward into uncharted territory, my friends! Make games people actually want to play.

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