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Our favourite games of 2014

In many respects 2014 was far from a vintage year for videogames.

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Game of 2014

There was a sense that the industry was stumbling somewhat as it tried to redefine itself in a world of new home consoles, an evolving mobile marketplace and an increasingly vocal playing community.

The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sold well but among the glut of re-masters and cross-generation titles, the hoped-for creative new dawn has yet to arrive.

As the new generation bedded in physical products became increasingly redundant. Many games required sizeable online patches or were delivered in installments via season passes and micro-transactions. Players were also asked to play the part of testers, with a worrying number of games arriving broken, unfinished and occasionally unplayable.

The balance between retail, digital, free-to-play games and expensive AAA titles has never been more strained. It was the year Nintendo fought back by releasing a range of toys, after all. It will be fascinating to see how the games landscape develops in 2015.

Of course, there was still plenty of creativity, artistry and technical excellence to be found. Here’s our pick from the many amazing games worth celebrating in 2014.[divider type=”thin”]

Dragon Age: Inquisition by Toni Haynes

My favourite game of 2014 was Dragon Age: Inquisition because not only is it a sequel done right, it is clearly a product of collaboration between Bioware and their fans. The issues with the somewhat disappointing (though still engaging) Dragon Age II have been tackled ferociously in Inquisition but the key components that made Origins so enjoyable are still in play, just on a larger scale.

Characters return from the first two games, such as Morrigan, Leliana and Hawke, but they serve only to inform and assist the player. This gives a sense of familiarity but also provides us with a fresh perspective, in this case the player’s individual Inquisitor.

Dragon Age: Inquisition captivates players by creating a richer open-world experience, implementing brand new features and combining them with the familiar and a wider variation of quests as well as significant customisation options. It shows that when the fans speak, Bioware listens.

Towerfall Ascension by Monish Khemani

Technologically, a next-generation console comes with the expectation of next-generation graphics (like that time when God of War 3 on the PS3 made God of War 2 on the PS2 look like garbage trash). So, quite naturally/unnaturally I was expecting my not-so-gaming-savvy friends to wince at the ‘supposedly dated’ visuals of Towerfall Ascension on the powerhouse-of-a-console PlayStation 4. And they didn’t disappoint, to say the least. But, where as one minute they were unsure of the game’s looks, the next they were wrestling for DualShock 4s to have a go at one of the year’s best games.

Towerfall is simple in design, yet complex and nuanced in game play; it has a traditional approach yet a non-conventional execution. And it requires two or more to play (with no online), which the strongest statement a multiplayer game can make in 2014.

Players partake in team death-matches that may slowly become a free-for-all, thanks to a misplaced arrow to a fellow archer; while your free-for-alls would see the players ganging up against the top player, team death-match style. Most of this shifting happens outside the game, however. Towerfall portrays fantastically how a gameplay experience is not always what’s happening on the screen, but beyond it: in the real world where people are playfully punching each-other when defeated, eagerly awaiting their turn to play, cheering and gasping at a successful arrow catch, smirking with hope at the sight of a shield, restlessly twitching at being arrowless and fearlessly intimidating an opponent who is arrowless.

Little did I know but my friends, who until now would restrict their gaming habits to FIFA and Call of Duty would eagerly await an evening of Towerfall Ascension. And that – I think – is the game’s greatest accomplishment.

Mario Kart 8 by Daniel New

My favourite game of 2014 was Mario Kart 8 because it demonstrated that, whatever the struggles of its host platform, when it comes to pure and polished game experiences, Nintendo are still masters of the craft.

This may be the eighth iteration of the series but rather than trading off past glories it’s a series that continues to add subtle layers of complexity and inventiveness.

The overall package is impressive. A wonderful range of courses, old and new. A roster of characters and customisable vehicles that offer differing experiences on the track. And a solid online experience that replicates the thrill of local play with some aplomb. Add in the well-implemented video sharing features and the simple, but somehow genius, highlights editor and you have a the ultimate Mario Kart game.

It’s not the generosity of the overall package that makes it my game of the year, however. It’s the moments. It’s the banana on the last turn. It’s the carefully held red shell, unleashed at the right moment. It’s every fumbled start and every well timed boost. It’s the joy and the tension and the exhilaration and the panic of each and every race. It’s the last second win. It’s the last second loss. It’s the game of the year.

Dangan Ronpa 2 / Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze by Shaun Roopra

Let me just get the honourable mentions out of the way first if you wouldn’t mind. Smash Bros For Wii U is something I’ll play for the next six years and thus would be closer to my ’Game of the Generation’ than of the year.

Although (for some curious reason) Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker released here in the UK earlier than expected, I didn’t manage to finish it in time for writing this, so the Tokyo EAD manufactured marvel just misses out.

Tomodatchi Life, the completely out-there Yoshio Sakamoto designed 3DS game (for all its illogicality), deserves mention as does The Mysterious Murasame Castle (only released in the west this year). Both Pixel’s Kero Blaster and Spike Chunsoft’s Banshee’s Last Cry were phenomenal and were great examples of iOS games, while Bayonetta 2 and Mario Kart 8 were just short of greatness but nonetheless had exceptional gameplay.

My ‘Game of the Year’ has to be shared, as both Dangan Ronpa 2: Goodbye Despair and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze destroyed my expectations.

Tropical Freeze is one of the best modern-day 2D platformers created, with superb level design, music and spectacle. I doubt there’s been an instance in a game as audio-visually stimulating as World 3-1 Grassland Groove. The art-direction in tandem with the level design is the real star. Being someone who’s dabbled in game development myself, creating gameplay functioning assets that also fit into the environment is an incredibly difficult task. Retro Studios artists’ and level designers massacred the competition in this department.

Dangan Ronpa 2, while just below the Zero Escape series in terms of greatness, completely obliterated the first game, Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. What a rare occurrence to have a game and its sequel released in the same year, especially as in a story based series. The Masafumi Takada soundtrack, island setting and Twilight Syndrome references pretty much echoed my early feelings that this was a pseudo-sequel to Flower, Sun and Rain, and thus cementing Dangan Ronpa 2 as something more than just simple visual novel—it was a truly exceptional experience.

I should apologise for turning this into a list, but I thought it would be nice to have a road map that leads to the destination rather than just to arrive, anyway, on to next year!

Ace Attorney Trilogy by James Sweeting

2014 has been the year of the remake, the re-release and the HD update. Whilst the preference would be for new games, there is always a place for existing games to be brought back, looking better than their original outings.

Even though the new consoles were largely propped up by these remakes, it is a remake on the 3DS that has managed to shine brightest among the various releases of 2014. This remake being Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy.

Last year saw the release of the latest entry to the series with Duel Destinies. The first entry on the 3DS and also the first to move away from the 2D character designs, as well as utilising the stereoscopic 3D. Despite being the fifth game in the main Ace Attorney series provided a good jumping-in point. I got hours upon hours of enjoyment out of the game and subsequently considered tracking down the previous DS entries, but at the same time it was announced that Capcom were going to release a compilation of the first three Ace Attorney games in one package, along with graphical improvements, the addition of 3D and some improved text translations.

The downside to this re-release was that even though the Japanese release in April 2014 included the English text, the Western release was still eight months away. I eagerly, but patiently, waited for December 11th. I downloaded it as soon as I could and within five minutes I knew it was everything I wanted from the game. Some people would have liked the trilogy to have been remade utilising the graphical enhancements of Duel Destinies, but that would have taken away from the originals. The character designs are wonderfully drawn (but now slightly more detailed and smoother) and do an excellent job of capturing the over-the-top expressions found throughout the games.

I have to admit that so far I have only finished the first game (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney) in the collection. However, I have enjoyed my time with the first entry just as much as I did Duel Destinies, and I now have two further games to look forward to playing in 2015. These games (which were originally for the Game Boy Advance) have been carefully ported for the 3DS and play like they were originally designed for the system. The stories are full of intrigue and it always amazes me how different seemingly unrelated cases are interconnected. Having a eureka moment when presenting the right piece of evidence is one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming and this differentiates it from the other (excellent) games I have played during 2014.[divider type=”thin”]

Honorable mentions:

  • Monument Valley
  • Dark Souls 2
  • Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
  • Far Cry 4
  • Destiny
  • FIFA 15
  • Shovel Knight

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This wasn't written by any one individual. This was written by the Thumbsticks hive mind. Resistance is futile.