When Rami Ismail isn't gallivanting about the globe giving talks, he's working at Vlambeer making games you have probably enjoyed at one time or another, like Ridiculous Fishing, Luftrausers, and the currently in Early Access Nuclear Throne. Keep up with his travels by following him on Twitter.
Best Game: Mario Kart 8
I had expected Super Smash Bros. for Wii U to be my Nintendo party game of the year, but Mario Kart 8 ended up being such a flawless game that that honor must go to it. Not only was it an extremely solid party racer in a genre where Split/Second and Blur still linger in my party routine, Mario Kart 8 held my spot for game with best Art Direction for the majority of the year. Mario Kart 8 was a game that brought me tremendous fun and frustration, and Blue Spiny Shells are the worst.
Best AAA Game: Destiny
I make action games, and if you’ve ever played a Vlambeer game you know that the feel of things is what makes our games tick. It’s the little details in recoil, the slowness of the camera, the muzzle flash, the impact effects--a good game is something you feel in your fingers minutes after you put down the controller. Destiny’s double jump is a perfect example of exactly that. The weight of your character in the camera movement, the feeling of a tight skirmish, the projectiles flying past your head as you run, the subtle differences in how the double jump effects your jump based on timing… Destiny feels amazing, and that makes a game hard to put down.
Best Indie: Threes!
Having gone through a cloning debacle myself with Ridiculous Fishing, it was awful seeing the whole range of emotions impact Threes! developers Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend. Threes! is wonderfully whimsical, strategically sound and aesthetically appealing. The game brings such a deceptive level of depth that Tumblr started analyzing the systems behind it under the nomer ThreesPorn. When I have to explain what videogames are to my neighboring passenger on an airplane, Threes! remains one of the games that I show.
Best Atmosphere: Alien: Isolation
For years, it’s been a joke in the industry that movie games simply don’t work, but mostly that an Alien game does not work. It makes sense when you think about it: games are a medium that allows players to take the role of a terrified person in an unmanageable situation relying on their wits and instincts, and that rarely translated to gameplay very well.
Audio is critical in horror games, and the adaptive audio engine in Alien: Isolation is brilliant. Where normally the audio in a game is based on many different things, here the audio is triggered only by things the player is aware of directly. No audio cues that something bad is about to happen, or that you’ve manage to lose the alien. It’s the opposite of what we’re used to in games, but it might just be a new default.
I think the best compliment I can give Alien: Isolation is that I didn’t finish it. Based on me just not mustering the courage to continue playing the game, I guess I wouldn’t be a survivor aboard the Nostromo or the Sevestapol--I’d hide in a cupboard and give up.
Best B-Game: Earth Defense Force 2025
As a fan of the Earth Defense Force games, I’d been clamoring for a new chance to shoot giant bugs and bipedal laser artillery robots since EDF 2017. The in-between release, Insect Armageddon, had been made by a studio that tried to make a proper game out of Earth Defense Force, but that’s not what this series is about. EDF is a game that would proudly write "frame drops" on its feature list, and 2025 does not disappoint--it’s bigger, better and more ridiculous every step of the way. Where the whole goal of Earth Defense Force 2017 was to destroy the alien mothership, this new installment notifies you that ten alien motherships are coming to Earth from the dark side of the moon before the third mission is over.
Best Whimsical: Tomodachi Life
Tomodachi Life’s European release was anything but smooth, and I personally think the criticisms towards the game not allowing for non-heterosexual relationships are more than valid. It wasn’t until I played the game that I realized just how nice it is to have a little character that represents you wandering around without direct control.
Since me and my partner are both game developers and we both travel a lot, having our little character fall in love, live together and do silly things was one of the most calming and funny things I’ve seen in a video game.
Offering the player so little control over the events in the game made me lose interest relatively soon, but the sense of wonder and amusement Tomodachi Life offered me through seeing myself, my partner and my friends act on their own surely placed it on my list of favorite games of 2014.
Best Multiplayer: Lethal League
2014 brought even more local multiplayer madness to the forefront of gaming, and as someone that loves to invite some friends over for some gaming when I happen to be in the Netherlands, that’s fine by me. And sure, while I love getting a round of Street Fighter or Super Smash in, it’s the indie multiplayer games that really get me. Samurai Gunn, TowerFall, Gang Beasts and Nidhogg were among my most-played games of 2014, but Lethal League was just that little bit more.
Lethal League strikes an amazing balance between being fun to play and amazing to spectate, a match happens as much during the action as during the moments you hit the ball, and in charges in a completely over-the-top anime effect that can last seconds that seem like hours, and it’s impossible to not shout at the game while you await the incoming blur that is the ball.
Best Mobile: FRAMED
FRAMED is exactly that type of game that I feel iOS deserves more of. Clever, different and polished, the game offers players an interesting twist on narrative structure in games through a simple comic book metaphor. FRAMED joins games like the brilliant 80 Days, Monument Valley, Sword & Sworcery and any Simogo title ever in proving that the mobile platforms have a bright future ahead of them, if only we treat the platform as a whole and serious part of the industry.
Best Emerging Territory: Dynetzzle Extended
Part of what I do includes flying to places around the world where the games industry is starting to grow and seeing how I can help. I see hundreds of games that barely anybody in the world will ever hear of in places like India, Taiwan and Uruguay--and some of them surely deserve more attention. Dynetzzle is one of those games. Made by Indian developer Vishnu Vadakke Pariyarath, Dynetzzle replaced Sudoku as my favorite solving game by being really simple to understand and really rewarding to solve. More than anything, I believe games can be made by anyone nowadays, and I think that giving attention to people making great games in places we normally don’t check will make games a better medium in the future.
So many interesting games were made in 2014. Shadow of Mordor was pretty good. I’ve been told Dragon Age: Inquisition is great. Transistor was cool. Ledoliel was wonderful, but felt out of place on this list. I really think Sportsfriends is an important thing. Watch_Dogs really wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be. I never got into Desert Golfing. I laughed when one of the games on the 7DFPS jam that the other half of Vlambeer organizes was called GAME OF THE YEAR: 420BLAZEIT vs. xxXilluminatiXxx [wow/10 #rekt edition] Montage Parody The Game. I played for weeks on my PlayStation Vita. I was so excited to play Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and I wasn’t disappointed. I browsed indie store itch.io for hours, playing game after game with a smile.
But being challenged with adding a tenth game to this list, I’ll have to admit that I honestly don’t know. 2014 was an odd year. We’re clearly reeling from new console launches, we’re trying to endure growth pains as our medium becomes more accessible, we’re shocked by the organized harassment against (mostly female) developers and we’re recovering from being the year after the big indie year that was 2013.
When I think about my favorite gaming memories from 2014, I think my favorite thing was seeing not just how normal gaming is becoming, but how normal game development is becoming.
So more than celebrating a tenth game, I’d like to mention Hack ‘n Slash, the hundredth re-release of Minecraft, GlitchSpace and Machineers, which all join Spacechem and other programming-based games in a list of being wonderful games that also teach you how to code.