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GOTY 2014

Games 11-14 are the honorable mentions!

List items

  • I loved Mario Kart Double Dash. I played that game more than just about any other game of that entire console generation, and was then unable to get into the Mario Kart entries on Wii or 3DS. Mario Kart 8 is my new favorite game in the franchise.

    It's hard to know where to begin with the list of things this game does well, but the most immediately noticeable aspect of the game is the audio-visual experience right from booting it up. While tons of PS4 and XBONE releases were plagued with technical issues throughout this year, MK 8 on the WiiU was one of the best looking games I've seen on any platform. The artists at Nintendo only need a fraction of the horsepower to put out gorgeous colorful visuals that jump off the screen. The accompanying soundtrack is a high quality recording of some kind of jazz big band that jumps from sambas to swing tunes to rock anthems with flawless execution. Just race on the Mount Wario track and tell me that the musical build up doesn't get you pumped up every time.

    As far as the game goes, the tracks are an ideal selection of modified tracks from past games with a truly great set of new ones. The turns are satisfying and difficult to nail on the higher difficulties, and the deep kart customization allows for a ton of variety in play style.

    And Nintendo continues to improve their online support, with a stable online multiplayer mode that has had me in races with people from 7 and 8 different countries at once, all without noticeable lag or slowdown. The split-screen online mode is great for times when I'm hanging with one or two other people and we want to race together against some real opponents rather than just bots.

    The DLC is crazy cheap considering it adds another 16 tracks to the game, and is definitely an example of how to do additional paid content for a game.

    My only negatives to include are the frame-rate cut with 4 player split screen and what I consider to be a pretty terrible roster downgrade from Double Dash. Instead of the 4 creepy baby characters that no one likes, how about we bring back Diddy Kong, King Boo, Petey Piranha, and Walugi. Aside from these minor gripes, this easily comes out as my game of 2014, and I can see myself enjoying it for a long time to come.

  • This is a game that I think will get largely ignored since it came out for the WiiU before people started picking them up for Mario Kart and Smash Bros, and it came out super early in the year. And that's a shame because this is the best side-scrolling platformer I've played in a long time.

    Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2 were the first games I got truly hooked on as a kid, and Retro Studios did a great job of capturing the spirit of the original games while intensifying the tightness of the controls and the insanely difficult skill curve throughout the game. The game takes you through the wide variety of colorful worlds you would expect, but is filled with secret levels, collectibles, and challenge zones that really tested my skill. I had to spend several hours straight on a few of the challenge levels and the borderline infuriating final boss. But that sort of Meatboy-esque challenge is welcome in my platformers so long as I feel like I'm learning from my mistakes throughout.

    Retro was also able to get the original composer of the fantastic Donkey Kong Country 1-3 soundtracks, David Wise, to pen the soundtrack to Tropical Freeze. The result is another one of the best game soundtracks of the year.

    I know a lot of people are bummed that Retro Studios' efforts are not being focused towards a new Metroid game, but I couldn't be more thrilled with their efforts on the Donkey Kong revival.

  • Transistor had the impossible task of following up one of the most beloved games in recent memory (Bastion). To that effect, I think people had some ungodly expectations for this game and were perhaps bummed out that it didn't do what they dreamed the follow up to Bastion would do.

    I went in looking for a game with a subtle story, a deep and engrained sense of style and place, and killer music. I got all of these things in spades. What I also got that I was not expecting was a crazy deep skill system that I would hope to see in many games to come.

    The gorgeous visuals and killer music only need to be seen and heard to be understood, but the way that the skills level up and compliment each other in this game is genius. Essentially, you're given 4 skill slots for your character, but you eventually acquire upwards of a dozen skills. Those skills have primary usages, but they also have complex side-perks that alter each other primary skill upon application. And you can assign two modifications to every one of your four skills. So things get crazy real quick.

    I could write several more paragraphs about this system but instead I implore you to go dig around with it yourself. You will be rewarded with cool backstories for every major character in the game universe (which, by the way, completely fills out the story that many complained was too vague.)

    I enjoyed this game enough that I immediately went in to new game plus upon completing it for the first time, and took that opportunity to 100% the game which is something I rarely find myself doing anymore. Super Giant Games crafted an awesome world that was a joy to be in and was able to pull together a game that had as much substance as it had style. That is exactly the type of game I dig.

  • Wolfenstein is not a franchise that has ever been on my radar. Wolfenstein: The New Order, was not a game I had heard about or was interested in. MachineGames definitely got my attention with this title.

    The game opens with a pretty typical corridor shooter first level that did not have me feeling optimistic going in. But once your main character goes into his Coma and awakes years later to see the world under the control of alternate reality/steampunk/dark magician Nazis, things get much more interesting.

    The game is well paced, has a nice balance of fun stealth and bombastic shooting, and a fun little skill system that encourages experimentation. The real surprise is that there are plentiful moments of skillful writing and truly effecting emotional moments (that emotion usually being shock and horror, but not always). It's definitely campy, but it's well written and acted enough that I totally bought in to the world. Just goes to show that you don't have to shake things up too much to make a great game. Good writing, a cool universe, and strong FPS fundamentals go a long way to crafting a memorable experience that now sits among many folk's favorite games of year.

  • OlliOlli took me about twenty-five minutes to make it's trick and landing mechanics understood to me. Once I got the hang of it, I was completely hooked until I had completed every level and side objective. The graphical style is very low-key and muted, with most of the color really coming from the intensely groovy soundtrack. This is yet another game where I felt myself improving from level to level and pulling off maneuvers that would have been impossible just an hour before. I really enjoyed popping in my headphones and getting into a zone with this game, and it was definitely my portable "zen mode" game of the year.

  • Just...hit the button to zoom in on Captain Toad and just watch him walk around. Now run a bit. Now pluck a little smiling turnip out of the ground and give it a toss. If you aren't won over by this process then you have a black heart filled with soot.

    Seriously, the animations and characters in this game are heart-meltingly adorable and this game put me in a happy place throughout some pretty stressful months. The actual game is a charming and brain tickling puzzle platformer with bite sized levels that provide the perfect level of engagement. And like the Mario game that Captain Toad is derived from, pursuing the 3 crystals and special goals in each level is where the real challenge and depth begins to appear. The game is also not without the customary Nintendo bass grooves and the same beautifully vibrant visuals that brought Mario 3D World to life, albeit on a smaller scale.

    Some reviewers said the game was short, and I guess if you're talking about the first time you hit credits that might be accurate. But I've spent well over fifteen hours with the game going through the three chapters of puzzles and still have a few left to go. There is plenty of game here to make it a great value at 40 bucks!

  • Persona 4: The Golden is my favorite game of all time. I also love the Hell out of Persona 3. So any sort of fan service that throws them together will probably get the money out of my wallet.

    Fan boy plague aside: This is a meaty and satisfying RPG that provides an intense level of depth in the dungeon mapping mechanics, punishingly difficult enemy encounters, and returning demon fusion system. Did I mention dungeon mapping? The game requires that you hand draw maps of each dungeon floor with your stylus on a grid on the lower screen. But as tedious as this sounds, it really does lead to a feeling of real exploration and eventually satisfaction as you look at the mapped out floor you've drawn.

    The twists on the Persona combat system to fit the Etrian Odyssey mold are really smart, where the exploitation of enemy weaknesses allows for free skill usage on following turns in combat rather than fully incapacitating enemies. Since health and mana are your primary resources in exploration that determine the length of each incursion into the dungeons, learning enemy weaknesses and fielding a party that can exploit them is key to survival.

    The game also provides really great music as is standard for the Persona games. The tracks fuse jazz, hip-hop, and smokey vocals on new tracks as well as crazy remixes of old tracks that will bring back waves of memories for Persona fans and that I actually dig more than the originals in some cases.

    I'm only about 20% of the way through on this game as it came out late in the year and moves at a slow pace, but I can already say that it provides the good type of RPG customization and grindyness that other RPG's just weren't able to provide me with this year (I'm looking at you, Dragon Age).

    The only real issue I'm having so far is that a lot of the story stuff so far has been pretty corny by Persona standards and has relied heavily on a lot of one-note character tropes ie: Teddie is always hitting on a girl, Chie is always talking about food, Yosuke is always calling Kanji a girl, etc. I thought the chibi art was just going to impact the look of the game, but the weightiness of the character interaction thus far hasn't quite been up to par with other Persona games. I'm still really enjoying being around a lot of great characters and watching the two worlds collide, but it certainly isn't all that I hoped for.

  • This is the perfect game for when I have 4 or more people over. The variety in levels and character mechanics is pretty mind boggling, and the skill curve is fantastic. I've already racked up countless fun evenings with this game in play sessions ranging from a couple of matches to dozens of competitive outings.

    I'm not super engaged by the single player stuff, even though the sheer amount of content in the game is astounding (perhaps it overwhelms me to the point that I don't want to dive in). But I didn't get this game to play solo anyways. It's a return to form after Brawl left many unsatisfied, and is the returning king of local multiplayer fun.

    A Gamecube controller is the way to play this game. Good luck finding an adapter!

  • Man I was excited for this game. I absolutely love the art style, and the Ratchet and Clank games have been some of my favorites since I played the first one back on PS2 when I was a young lad. I also really enjoy anyone who is able to get "AAA" funding for a game while mocking all the traditional types of game that get that sort of funding 90% of the time. What I got didn't quite live up to my expectations but was still an absolute blast.

    What Works:

    -A Jet Grind Radio level of fun traversal that I haven't experienced in an open world game in a while. Probably since Jet Grind Radio. I like Jet Grind Radio.

    -The visuals are pretty jaw dropping at times, often displaying hundreds of colorful enemies on screen with countless explosions of colorful weapons effects and sprays of orange gore. The draw distance and overall presentation actually made me feel like shelling out the money for next-gen consoles was worth something.

    -The weapons generally live up to the Insomniac standard of being crazy and really fun to use. There is definitely some overlap and a couple of duds, but my weapon wheel was full of more awesome tools than I could use at all times.

    -The flow of the game where traversal is combined with visceral combat is great. You really can't stand still or you are killed immediately, so the game actually forces you to play in a way that is unlike any other shooter I've messed with.

    -The theme of raver kids drinking energy drinks that turn them to monsters that you must then kill is great. You're right Sunset Overdrive, EDM culture is whack.

    -Best character creator ever. Dressing up my character was fun and I really felt like I could make something that no one else made.

    What Doesn't Work:

    -The writing. This game feels like a 50 year old dude sat down and tried to write something that "the hip youths" would enjoy. There are some decently clever pokes at video game tropes, but overall the writing is groan inducing throughout. I mostly hated my character, and every time any other characters tried to be funny it made me hate them too. The larpers at the end of the game are kinda funny at times but most of these jokes have been made and made better elsewhere. I thought R&C was pretty funny or at least charming throughout. Insomniac can do better.

    -The RPG stuff largely feels useless. Amps for weapons are good but the actual character progression feels pretty un-impactful. A 1% damage boost? How about I just don't waste time poking at these menus any more.

    -The soundtrack is one note. For a game that is all about expressing yourself, there should be some sort of option up front where they ask if you like hip-hop, alternative, or punk rock. Building up the soundtrack as your combo builds is sweet, but the one or two thrashy punk tracks that you listen to the entire time are super lame.

    This game just left me conflicted. I loved playing it and would totally play a sequel, but was very turned off by the overall vibe and writing.

  • Every time I played against someone in Super Pole Riders, people in our house at school stopped what they were doing and watched those phallic pole vaulting poles flop into each other. The easy to understand and difficult to master controls of these games allowed for way more people to get in on some competitive multiplayer fun while allowing for skill to shine through in some magnificent plays (particularly BaraBariBall).

    There were dozens upon dozens of times that we would start laughing as a result of the hilarious on screen animations paired with the crazy competitive intensity that these games created. Knocking someone out in BaraBariBall or making a sweet pass to your team mate for a goal feels badass and satisfying, and the map variety creates a ton of different tactics from arena to arena.

    I don't see how you could get more multiplayer goodness out of 15 dollars anywhere else. Wonderful aesthetic, perfect minimalist sound effects, crazy, crazy fun.

  • I'm not a Call of Duty guy. I haven't purchased or really played much of one since Modern Warfare 2. I always found them to be too similar from one to the next and was pretty quickly bored with the shooting galleries and occasional explosions.

    Advanced Warfare is big, dumb, action movie fun! With a couple of great characters that I actually kind of enjoyed seeing or fighting alongside. All of the future tech makes for some completely astounding set piece moments that also happen to look spectacular. It's another one of those games that makes you want to sit someone down and show them what your new console can do.

    The new mechanics that the future tech exo-suits introduce provide some great variety throughout the campaign, and completely change the way that multiplayer is played by adding a new degree of verticality and mobility to combat engagements. The initial set of maps are also pretty fantastic, with enough visual and mechanical variety to keep me engaged from match to match. As with other CoD games, it's still pretty much a reflex test in the online matches, but it has enough bells and whistles to keep things interesting.

    The reason that this game doesn't make the list is that I feel like it is a nice twist on something that has pretty much already been done a bunch of times already, and looking back on the year, this game doesn't have the same level of great memories or super strong feelings associated with it as the others in my top 10. Not to mention Call of Duty doesn't really need help getting attention on any game of the year lists. Call of Duty is going to be okay even though it didn't crack Peter Graham's top 10 games of the year.

    All I know is that even if the next yearly installment of Call of Duty falls flat for me as is typical, I will definitely be checking out the next entry by Sledgehammer Games when their turn comes back up in two or three years.

  • After playing it for about 4 hours, I'm almost certain that this is going to be my "2015's 2014 game of the year." I've already been solving puzzles that make me feel like a genius and I can tell I've just scratched the surface on the mechanics.

    The mysterious story is also pretty engaging thus far, as I'm trying to figure out how the world ended up in the state that it's in and just how far into the future I'm running around as this AI robot.

    Basically this game seems to be on the level of portal when it comes to ingenious first person puzzling with a much more serious and thought-provoking world. Looking forward to playing more of it.

  • This was pretty much my first real foray into the souls games, and I really dug it! I'm definitely going to check out whatever game this team makes next, and I'm on the Bloodbourne bandwagon.

    The issue is that about 60% of the way through, I started to summon guild members in game to help out with the bosses, and aside from The Rotten who I was really excited to defeat after figuring out his attack patterns, I was basically able to waltz through the tail end of the game.

    Everything I heard going in was that there is no such thing as cheating in a Souls game, and that any advantage you can get should be taken advantage of. So when the mechanic that allowed me to summon help presented itself, I wasn't going to turn it down.

    The reason for this, is that the game felt a good bit too long, with many uninteresting filler bosses and some really crummy check points for a couple of major bosses. So in the interest of saving several hours on a boss that I was trying to figure out, I instead gave in and summoned people to help out to avoid walking through an area for the 10th time and facing enemies that I had already killed before.

    So when this game is at its best, it is absolutely fantastic. But there was enough time in between those fantastic moments in a few uninspired zones that left me feeling less that stoked with the overall experience. Finishing it eventually felt like a point of pride rather than something I really wanted to do. But I definitely appreciate what this series does and am eagerly anticipating more games like it.

  • So I've already said I'm a Persona fan, and the character interactions between the Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters in this game are actually vastly superior to those in Persona Q. Seeing the characters after the events of their respective games with the Persona 3 characters aged a bit is really cool and exactly the right type of fan service.

    The issue is, I don't really like fighting games, and the real meat of the experience is a visual novel type exploration of a plot with a couple of fights thrown in to the mix. The game looks beautiful and it's really cool to see my favorite characters dancing around in pretty 2D art, but I just wasn't meant to get good at these sorts of fighting games, and no matter how much I try I don't think I ever will.

    To be fair though, this is a more accessible 2D fighter than any other I've tried to play, and the systems they put in that tie in to Persona mechanics are very clever and fun to mess with. But it still requires learning combos and understanding counters and all that fighting game stuff that I'm not willing to dedicate the time to figure out.

    So if you ask me what one of my favorite story experiences was this year, I would put Persona 4: Arena Ultimax high upon that list. But as a game? I'm merely putting up with it to get to the story bits.