These games were some of the best I have ever played. There were not that many games with innovative mechanics or genre-breaking features. Rather, they took the tried and true mechanics of the past and refined them to near perfection. So with that said, here are my top 10 games of 2014.
I am judging games based on how good they are in terms of gameplay, presentation, and content as well as how much I personally enjoyed them. I won’t be including any remakes or remasters, although honorable mentions go to Grand Theft Auto V and Pokemon: Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire.
10. Octodad: Dadliest Catch: PC, Mac, PS4, PSVita
While games like Surgeon Simulator and Goat Simulator were the first to feature unwieldy controls and frustrating yet oddly satisfying gameplay, Octodad was the first game to make the concept fun without making the game frustrating. Being an octopus, your controls are appropriately rubbery and slippery. But the controls are so simple and the gameplay so tight and glitch-free that every mistake you make is yours alone. And while slapstick is part of the enjoyment, there are also a whole bunch of well-crafted jokes in the dialogue and visual gags in the posters. The story is also very cute and even touching at times. So even though Octodad is pretty short, you will love every moment of the experience.
9. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse: Wii U, 3DS
How is it that no one talked about this game? This is the latest entry in the cult classic Shantae series, and it has as much attention to detail as all of the others. Tight controls, beautiful art and animation, and memorable level design are all what you would expect from the amazingly talented developers at WayForward. Although the mechanic of transforming into animals via belly dancing has been removed due to the events in the last entry, having all of your unlockable abilities at your disposal at the same time with a push of a button is a lot more convenient than having to wait in one place as you cycle through transformation dances.
This game also stands out from the others on this list for the quirky humor, which is a standard of the Shantae series. Seriously, in one part you fill a hot spring with dragon saliva and then bikini clad girls come over to frolic in it. And then the light reflecting off of their porcelain skin activates the runes on an ancient wall. And it only get wackier from there.
The only reason this game is so low on this list is because the difficulty curve fluctuates often and healing items and power ups are too abundant. But for fans of platformers, this is not a game to be overlooked.
8. Monument Valley: iOS, Android
It might be controversial to put a mobile game in a list filled with big console releases, but this is no ordinary mobile game. Monument Valley takes the wonderfully mesmerizing works of M. C. Eisner and uses them as inspiration for its puzzles. Certain parts of the environment allow you to manipulate the landscape, changing the illusions to allow new paths to be formed from your perception. The intractable parts are all clearly labeled without being too explicit, and they allow you to tinker around as you try to solve each puzzle. There are also new mechanics, like crows that block your path, sprinkled in to add variety. And to top it all off, there’s an interesting story reminiscent of Journey that invites you to interpret its events for yourself.
7. The Wolf Among Us: PC, Mac, PS4, PS3, PSVita, XBONE, XB360, iOS, Android
As much as I loved Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I can’t help but find The Wolf Among Us to be more enjoyable. It keeps the same themes of the blur between good and bad that recent Telltale games are known for but tells it in such a more dynamic style, which is made all the more strong by the integration of fairy tales into modern times. The lighting effects are all gorgeously rendered and add so much to the overall atmosphere, from the warm yellow glow of Bigby’s lighter to the dark neon lights of the Pudding and Pie strip club. Telltale once again crafts an experience that grabs you from start to finish.
6. Mario Kart 8: Wii U
This may be the same Mario kart you’ve been playing since the SNES, but this is the best version thus far. All aspects of the driving have been fine-tuned, from the handling, power-ups, and track design. The antigravity segments also add an interesting twist on the familiar gameplay. The presentation, especially the soundtrack, is some of the best Nintendo has ever created. The ability to save your best moments of a race, while limited, is a great touch even though Nintendo claims copyright if you upload it to YouTube. And the meaty DLC based on other Nintendo franchises is the icing on the cake. While the iconic battle mode is not that good in this version, it barely detracts from the overall experience. This is the first Nintendo game to be truly HD in every sense of the word.
5. This War of Mine: PC, Mac, Linux
This War of Mine is not a game that you necessarily enjoy. It certainly has elements that are enjoyable to players, but their ultimate purpose is to allow you to understand the sad reality grounded within the game. The dark, charcoal based graphics, brooding soundtrack, clunky yet functional inventory, shelter building system, and tense scavenging sections all add to the feelings of dread, fear, and even excitement associated with war. You will come across many moments that hit the themes of a story based around warfare. While these moments are not as polished as a scripted moment in The Walking Dead, but they are all the more organic. This is a game that reminds us what many other games often forget, war is not fun.
4. Super Smash Brothers for Wii U: Wii U
Do I even need to tell you why Smash Bros is so high on this list? The Super Smash Bros. series is so popular that the release of a new game isn’t just a release, it’s a celebration. This entry, like the previous offerings, doesn’t change much of the classic formula. Rather, the formula is further refined, making the balance between competitive and casual play tighter than ever. It also adds more content than any other entry. The single player and multiplayer modes, achievements, and unlockables all keep you invested for hours and hours.
My one regret is that I let myself get sucked into all of the press releases and leaks before I played the game. So when I finally played it, I felt like I’ve been playing it all this time. I would have appreciated all of the improvements and extra content had I been surprised by it.
Regardless, this is still one of the best experiences you can have from Nintendo. Few games can claim to have such a robust yet accessible fighting system. Few games can claim to have such a high volume of rich content not sectioned off to overpriced DLC. Few games can claim to have such a rich history of all-star characters at its disposal. Few games can claim to allow you to wipe Sonic’s smug little grin off his face as you double drop kick him into oblivion as Bowser.
3. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor: PC, PS4, PS3, XBONE, XB360
I almost missed out on this game. But after gamespot.com gave it the game of the year award for 2014, I had to go out and get it. At first glance, Shadow of Mordor may look no different than the other triple A games of this generation. But while it takes a lot of cues from popular games, it blends them all into a thoroughly engaging experience. From Assassin’s Creed, it takes the satisfying and fluid stealth and parkour. From Batman: Arkham Asylum, it take the detective mode vision and fluid combat that’s accessible while still rewarding skill. And from Far Cry, it takes the addictive open world icon collection, random encounters, and skill tree system.
But Shadow of Mordor adds in its own twist into the recipe for success, namely the nemesis system. This system keeps track of all the enemy captains and the conflicts among themselves. Hunting down each captain offers a new experience, as they all offer new strengths and weaknesses as well as different personalities. They even remember your failed attempts to take them down and death threats against them. They also get stronger as time passes and conflicts are resolved, meaning that dying or not intervening in certain conflicts have actual consequences.
Shadow of Mordor may not be too different from its other triple A contemporaries, but it takes all the elements it borrows and refines them while adding new and organic mechanics to distinguish it from the pack. The only thing holding this game back is its lackluster story, while it’s good enough to allow you to care about the world and its characters, it is still pretty lukewarm and derivative. I also found the wall climbing mechanics to be a bit sticky, which ruined some attempts at stealth. Nevertheless, this game is a blockbuster as great and huge as the books and films that inspired it.
2. Shovel Knight: PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U, 3DS
Shovel Knight is not only the best retro revival I have ever played, but one of my all-time favorite games ever. The passion the developers have are evident through each element. It takes all the best elements of classic NES platformers and uses them to create a truly masterful game. The controls and pace of movement allows you to weave your way through the world with precision and skill. The levels are all well-crafted and filled with new obstacles for each stage and secret areas to find with great little challenges of their own. The difficulty curve is very strong and has a steady increase in difficulty. The mechanic of losing precious gold instead of lives when you die provides a rush of adrenaline as you try to win it back, which adds to the hard but fair difficulty. And the graphics, music, story, and everything else overshadows most of the NES classics of late. I cannot express in words how truly great this game is. If you haven’t played it, then you’re really missing out.
1. Bayonetta 2: Wii U
Bayonetta 2 is literally unbelievable. The sheer amount of polish to every facet of the game is staggering. Thanks to the mechanic of slowing down time briefly with every last-second dodge, you’re allowed to plan out combo extensions and tactics without slowing down the fast and fluid gameplay. All of the power-ups, weapons, and accessories allow for experimentation and variety in combat. The unlockable costumes are a joy to unlock, especially the Nintendo themed costumes that actually change some of Bayonetta attributes. There are a ton of levels, all with a huge variety of enemies and many different and well hidden secrets to find. The design of the world, characters, enemies, and bosses are breathtaking and detailed without feeling cluttered. And it all runs at a constant 60 frames per second at 1080p, which puts some PS4 games to shame. And to top it all off, it comes with a copy of the remastered edition of the original Bayonetta game.
While the story may be a bit too silly and unfocused at times, the overall style and tone is consistent throughout. Bayonetta is a wonderful character, showing lots of swagger while still having a few human moments. Its games like these that make me want to buy the systems they are on. Never have I seen such care, polish, effort, and love put into a project. This is by far the best hack and slash game, the best Wii U game thus far, and one of the best game I ever played.
Feel free to talk about your favorite games in the comments below because I might have missed out on some truly great ones.