Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Game of the Year: My Five Favorites of 2014

I've been meaning to write this one for a while now, but there were still a few games I wanted to try beforehand. Now that I've gone through most of them (reviews forthcoming, too), I feel much better about committing to a top 5.

So, here they are: my favorite games initially released in 2014.

5. Bravely Default
Played on: 3DS

More classic Final Fantasy than any Final Fantasy game in recent memory, Bravely Default is proof that Square Enix can still put out a truly fantastic Japanese RPG. Its old school sensibilities are enhanced by a lot of neat innovations, such as a the Brave/Default combat model and a Mega Man-esque "defeat the bosses, get their abilities" mechanic. The sequel, Bravely Second, should come out this year in Japan, making it immediately one of my most anticipated 3DS titles.

4. Fantasy Life
Played on: 3DS

A hundred hours in, I can safely say that Fantasy Life is one of the most underrated games in recent memory. Half life-sim, half epic RPG, it has all the right pieces to generate obsession. It's the kind of game you should take at your own pace, no matter if you are battling monsters as a paladin, chopping trees as a woodcutter, or concocting potions as an alchemist (or living any of the game's twelve occupations, really). Living in Reveria is an experience I don't expect to forget anytime soon.

3. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Played on: Wii U

A giant celebration of Nintendo's rich history, featuring the sort of gameplay that creates unforgettable moments. A ridiculously large number of modes. Trophies and heaps of unlockables for obsessive completionists. The great addition of Mii fighters, allowing you to create all of your favorite characters (or join the battle yourself!). All of this in pristine HD graphics and a steady 60 frames per second. There's no two ways about it: Smash for Wii U is simpy one of the best and most extensive multiplayer experiences of recent memory.

2. Shovel Knight 
Played on: Wii U
Also available on: 3DS, PC

I've asked myself many times what makes Shovel Knight so special. The best answer I found is that it manages a nearly perfect balance of nostalgia value and modern game design sensibilities. It doesn't really look like an NES game; rather, it looks like how our selective memories remember NES games, and the gameplay follows suit, with super tight platforming and more laid back village segments. And of course, it boasts what may well be the best chiptune soundtrack of all time. I guess I could almost say that Yacht Club Games's debut masterpiece is the very best sidescrolling game since the 90's heyday, except...

1. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze 
Played on: Wii U

...for this one. Really, I've never hidden my fondness for the Donkey Kong Country series, and perhaps someday I'll write about why I think DKC2: Diddy's Kong Quest is a better game than Super Mario World. But that also means new titles in the series have to work especially hard to win me over in face of such a memorable past. Tropical Freeze, for its part, wears the series' legacy of impeccable gameplay and cleverly-hidden secrets like a badge of honor. The level design is unreal, with excellent ideas everywhere you look. Also astonishing is the way the game just comes alive on the screen, thanks to the way its breathtaking graphics intertwine seamlessly with the incredible David Wise soundtrack. In a nutshell, this is why no 2014 game entertained me as much as this one.

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