Here you can find all of my 2015 Video Game Awards (celebrating the best of 2014) in one convenient place.
And of course, Game of the Year.
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.
A game’s graphics are often the first aspect to get noticed. Before we play games, we often have screenshots and videos to get us hyped. Naturally, it’s the visuals that almost always catch our eye immediately. Oftentimes it’s the games with the most photorealistic graphics that get all the praise. But I tend to prefer games with unique visual styles over something that merely looks “realistic.” The Ni no Kunis, Wind Wakers and Okamis. The Neverhoods and the Kirby’s Epic Yarns. Here’s a game that deserves credit for its visual beauty.
Winner: Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-
There are probably two things you’ll instantly notice about Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-: One of those things is the incomprehensible title (seriously, what is an Xrd?), the other is the beautiful cel-shading.
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- boasts some of the most stunning cel shading I’ve ever seen. The characters look like fully three-dimensional anime characters as opposed to polygonal recreations. No ridiculously thick outlines or other such tricks to make the characters look more like anime drawings brought to the world of gaming. They actually look like hand-drawn characters that have become three-dimensional. It’s gorgeous.
Funny thing is, this was kind of a last minute game I just found out about towards the very end of 2014. But as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with these visuals. I hope other developers can find ways to replicate what Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- has done with its animations. They’re just too good.
Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
From the fluidity of controls to the structure of a game’s world and/or stages, the design of a game is at the core of the entire experience. This core can be summed up in one word: Gameplay. No matter how many technical and artistic achievements games make, it’s the gameplay that’s the heart and soul of game design.
Winner: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the most fun sidescroller in years. Retro Studios did a great job bringing the fun of DKC back with Donkey Kong Country Returns, but with Tropical Freeze, Retro Studios seems to have mastered the formula.
Every last one of Tropical Freeze’s stages is a delight (even at their most infuriatingly difficult). There’s just so much creativity going on. From mine cart rides through sawmills to a level themed around frozen treats, Tropical Freeze uses each idea to the fullest, and they constantly add something new to the formula. It’s so creative that even Mario would have to tip his hat in respect.
The additions of Dixie and Cranky add to the mix as well. Like Diddy, they add their own little twists to the gameplay. There’s so much variety in the gameplay and level design that there is simply never a dull moment in Tropical Freeze (except maybe those load times). Part of me is begging for Retro Studios to give DK another go, but another part of me wonders if Retro Studios can top what they’ve done here with Tropical Freeze.
Runner-up: Bayonetta 2
These days, video games seem to try to cram in as much content as possible to ensure gamers keep coming back for more. Sometimes it all ends up being little more than filler, with some games feeling bloated with additional content. But every now and again, a game seems to throw everything it can at you, and it succeeds in giving players reason to keep coming back again and again.
Winner: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
If there is another game that better represents an “Everything and the kitchen sink” mentality than Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I have yet to play it. Ever since Melee, the Super Smash Bros. games have been filled with bonus content, but none of its predecessors even comes close to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
There are more modes than ever before, with each mode being made more dynamic than ever. There are enough collectibles to make Donkey Kong 64 blush, and a seemingly never ending list of things to do. Play a few rounds of online matches – either For Fun or For Glory – or replay Classic and All-Star Modes a few extra times. Or how about taking on the game’s many Challenges? Or the Stage Builder? Heck, you can even just goof off and take a few screenshots, and then scribble all over them and post them to Miiverse.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the most fully realized Smash Bros. yet (sorry Super Smash Bros. for 3DS), as it represents the series’ love of all things fun better than any of its predecessors. I’m still frequently revisiting it months later!
Runner-up: Mario Kart 8
Not every game dares to do something different. But sometimes, a game comes along that changes things up. Sometimes these are radical, game-changing innovations. Other times they may be smaller, but no less influential, with imitators soon to come by the dozens. Either way, games that dare stretch their imaginations deserve a bit of credit.
Winner: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Nemesis System)
While Shadow of Mordor may not exactly be the most original game in many respect (it’s basically Assasin’s Creed meets Arkham Asylum with a Tolkien makeover), it does have one key attribute that it can boast as its own: The Nemesis System.
The Nemesis System has your enemies – those filthy, filthy Mordor Orcs – gaining in experience and prestige as you play through the game. Should you fall to them in battle, the Orc who felled you will get a promotion. Even the player’s actions have a part to play in how intimidating these Orcs become. Naturally, the more these foes grow in legend, the greater the reward for defeating them.
It’s a simple but deep mechanic that gives Shadow of Mordor a lot more life and replayability than it would otherwise have. And it’s a mechanic that I can see other developers emulating for plenty of other games down the road.
Runner-up: Dark Souls 2 (finite enemy respawns)
Today, it seems most games give players from all over the world the opportunity to face one another. Online gaming has become a huge part of the gaming community, and it’s hard to argue the addictive nature of battling faceless opponents from around the globe. It was tough deciding which game was the most addictive online experience of the year, but in the end…
Winner: Mario Kart 8
It was a bit of a coin toss which game would get Best Online Multiplayer between Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, as both have taken countless hours of my free time. In the end it boiled down to smoothness. Smash Bros., while mostly a solid online experience, can get really laggy when it wants to. So while they may be equals in terms of their addictive nature, I have never encountered a slow race in Mario Kart 8, so it gets the edge.
But why not one of the more hyped FPSs of 2014? Simple, because Mario Kart 8 represents Mario Kart at its very best, and its online functionality is at the height of the series. There’s no game-breaking mechanics like Mario Kart DS, the items feel less chaotic than Mario Kart Wii, and it allows more players (and better level design) than Mario Kart 7.
In a nutshell, it’s the very best Mario Kart has to offer, for up to twelve players in matches that are as smooth as silk. You can even record your races and upload them directly to YouTube, a feature I hope Nintendo revisits down the road.
The items will fly, the racers will drift, and Luigi will death stare. Be weary though, a ‘few quick rounds might just turn into hours of cursing at your television screen as you get knocked off course repeatedly and lose first place.
Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U