2014 was quite an interesting year for video games. Most of the hyped, high-profile titles that were “destined for greatness” ended up disappointing most. Destiny, Titanfall and Watchdogs, which were all supposed to be the year’s biggest games, quickly fizzled out upon release. But that doesn’t mean 2014 was full of duds.
Quite the opposite, actually. 2014 saw a few truly great games. Namely, fantastic sequels to greats like Dark Souls and Bayonetta shined, and 2014 turned out to be the year the Wii U truly proved its mettle, with the Big N releasing one quality title after another.
So maybe the memorable games of 2014 didn’t come in the forms everyone expected, but when they did show up, they came in full force. Here are the five games that had the biggest impact on me.
5: Dark Souls 2
The Dark Souls series is one of the best showcases of classic game design made new. It abandons many of the tropes of today’s gaming scene in favor of strategic hack and slash action, immense boss fights, and a steep difficulty curve.
Dark Souls 2 doesn’t necessarily better its predecessor, but it does add some fresh twists to the gameplay. Notably, the finite enemy respawns mean you have to be all the more weary with how you approach every situation. You can farm Souls from enemies for only so long, and should you lose those Souls, you may miss your opportunity to regain them. No small task in a game as difficult as this. But Dark Souls 2 isn’t unfair, you can always leave summon signs for other players to call on you for aid, where you can compensate some Souls from your shared victories.
Dark Souls 2 is a demanding game. But what it demands is that its players take caution and approach every encounter intelligently. There’s no room for error. It’s a dark and dreary experience, one that keeps stacking on challenge after challenge. For those willing to answer those challenges, it was one of 2014’s very best.
4: Bayonetta 2
Bayonetta 2 definitely earns the title of most ridiculous game of the year. It’s so over-the-top, and so full of energy that the original Bayonetta actually seems mundane by comparison. Constant barrages of extravagant enemies, incomprehensible scenarios, and an explosion of styles all ensure that there is never a dull moment in Bayonetta 2.
At the heart of it all is Bayonetta herself. A combination of ridiculous sex appeal, charm, humor, flair and genuine entertainment. She represents everything that her games are about, and she leaves no room for subtlety.
Best of all is how well she controls. You’d be hard-pressed to find very many characters in any 3D action game who play so beautifully. Every button-press is precise and every combo fluid. Combine the sheer joy of Bayonetta’s playability and pair it with the most outlandish action scenarios imaginable, and you have one of the best action games in recent memory, as well as one of 2014’s best games.
3: Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8 may not be the most original game out there, but it is a refinement to what is probably the most popular multiplayer franchise ever. Mario Kart 8 features all the colorful characters and crazy items you’ve come to expect from the series, but the core racing element is given a lot more attention this time around.
While past Mario Karts have often favored the luck of whoever managed to grab the best items, Mario Kart 8 instead rewards better racing. Boosts are given every time you perform a stunt, and how you handle sharp turns is now a key ingredient to achieving first place. The Koopa shells and banana peels are still there of course, but victory is no longer reliant on them.
Combine this polish with some of the best race tracks in the series’ history (with new anti-gravity segments allowing for fun new tweaks to the level design), and you have what might be the most fun Mario Kart ever. Play a few games of Grand Prix or watch the hours tick by as you take on the world in online matches. Mario Kart 8 is simply an unabashed source of fun.
2: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a seemingly endless box of entertainment. The core Smash Bros. gameplay has been balanced and fine-tuned like never before. It has more characters than ever, with returning favorites being joined by some great new additions (Little Mac, Rosalina, Shulk), and some admittedly not-so-great additions (Dark Pit… Seriously, why is he here?). There are more modes of play and bonus content than ever before, with wonderful music and visuals to boot!
Sure, the 3DS version of Smash Bros. arrived first, but it was just the appetizer to the Wii U’s main course. The 3DS version still had the polish, but the Wii U edition added more depth, and then super sized all of it. It’s the biggest Smash Bros. of them all, adopting the best parts of its predecessors while tossing away most of their drawbacks (unfortunately, lag still remains in many online matches).
Best of all is how well Smash Wii U understands its differing fanbases. The tournament crowd can play the game as a full-on fighter with For Glory, while those who want to experience Smash Bros. in all its madness can do so in For Fun.
It’s everything we love about Smash Bros. taken to the extreme, with an attention to detail and polish that outdoes any of its predecessors. I imagine I’ll be putting countless more hours into this one for years to come.
I’m going to be honest, between my top two games, 2014 was one of the hardest Game of the Year decisions I’ve made. I have already put in more hours into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U than most humans would care to admit, and I honestly believe that, in terms of technical polish and creativity, it’s the best Smash Bros. ever. That alone should have all but guaranteed it top honors from me. But another game won my heart as well – even more than I thought it would – and I was left with quite a stumper. I even thought about tying the top two games before I decided that was too much of a cop-out. I still consider the top two as equals, but when naming Game of the Year, there can be only one!
1 (Game of the Year): Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is my favorite game of 2014. It’s the best platformer since Super Mario Galaxy 2, and quite possibly the best sidescroller since the genre’s heyday in the 90s. Its levels are among the most imaginative in any platformer I’ve played, and its steep challenge ranks it among the most difficult games in Nintendo’s history.
But why Tropical Freeze over Smash Bros? As previously stated, I do consider them equals, so to name my Game of the Year I basically had to resort to nitpicking. While both games may be equal in greatness, I feel Smash Bros. made a couple of questionable creative decisions, whereas Tropical Freeze did not. Case in point: Smash Bros. should have had Dixie Kong in it. Instead it had Dark Pit. Tropical Freeze should have had Dixie Kong in it, and it did. There you go.
2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns was an apt return to form for Donkey Kong, and certainly a Game of the Year runner-up in my book. But everything that made Retro Studio’s first outing with the Donkey Kong Country series so great has been bettered (considerably) with Tropical Freeze.
The gameplay is as fun as ever, with new additions such as Dixie and Cranky Kong adding more variety to the formula. There’s a painstaking attention to detail in the level design and visuals, with Retro Studios seemingly throwing in as many ideas as they could dream up. And the soundtrack, by original DKC composer David Wise, is one of the best in years.
To believe that when the game was first showcased at E3, many gamers immediately dismissed Tropical Freeze, instead wishing that Retro had tackled (yet another) Metroid or a revival of Star Fox. But Retro made the right call. Tropical Freeze may not be the game people asked for, but it is something much better. It’s a labor of love by Retro Studios, a group of people who are great at what they do, who clearly have a great admiration for what they’re doing. Tropical Freeze loves platformers, it loves a good challenge, and most of all, it loves video games.
With Returns, Retro Studios had the duty of reviving DKC. With Tropical Freeze, they may have mastered it.