Hi Tappers! Thanks for tuning in for our Games of the Year lists. Once again it seems like I’m the one to kick this series off here in January, so let’s ring in the new year and with a list of my favorite or most interesting games of 2014.
You’ll notice right away that this is a bit of an Xbox-heavy list, because XBox One is the first console that we picked up of this new generation. This is also related to reasons of my employment, which I’ll discuss below, but I know other Tap writers will pick up some of the slack of games I didn’t get around to this year.
Game of the Year (AAA): Shadow of Mordor
I originally bought Shadow of Mordor because I kept seeing handwringing thinkpieces condemning the brutal torture and violence. Cool, I thought. That sounds like it’s for me. I am glad I did that, because this is a really cool game.
Shadow of Mordor looks a lot like an Assassin’s Creed game on the surface, though it’s an Assassin’s Creed game with Gollum in it. But the stealth-in-bushes and leaping-off-towers mechanics are just the surface. Something deeper is running underneath: an interactive chess-match versus armies of orcs. Maneuver and position them against one another. Meet interesting people, and then slice them to pieces. Everything is generated procedurally past a certain point, so no player will have an identical story experience. It’s a true step forward for interactive character development.
I do wish they hadn’t bothered to kill the wife at the beginning; it doesn’t add much. But my true dance of romance was with the one they called The Executioner, and his poisoned axe. The beauty of it is that if you play the game, it will be different for you.
The annual tradition of the list of games I also bought in 2014 but haven’t gotten around to yet, about which I hear great things: Alien: Isolation, Wolfenstein: the New Order, Bayonetta 2, Hyrule Warriors…. Sorry, I bought all of these basically as the ball dropped. Then the WiiU came with Super Mario 3D World, and that’s pretty damn good so I played that instead, but it’s technically a 2013 game. That’s the kind of thing that happens at Tap-Repeatedly, but I promise I’ll see you all this year.
Game of the Year 2D Pixel Edition: Super Time Force
I made time this year to play Super Time Force, a game where a determined gang of time travelers visit different eras in time, joined by time-displaced copies of themselves. The game is mechanically a blast, with chaos increasing as you continue to layer character after character into the fray. And the sharp self-referential writing during the short, snappy cut scenes made it stick in my brain long after play time was up.
Other Best 2D Game of the Year: Escape Goat 2. Do not believe other hypes; Escape Goat 2 was the best game this year to feature a goat.
Game of the Year Most Surreal: D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
If I hadn’t bought the XBox One because of Microsoft, I’d have bought it anyway to play a Kinect exclusive from Deadly Premonition director Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro, amazing game designer and all-around class act. D4 is a different game from Deadly Premonition, save for a few crossover references. But it doesn’t disappoint. It’s hard to describe this game totally, but it’s a bit like if Heavy Rain went all-in on weirdness and used your entire body instead of the controller (thanks to Kinect), including sometimes just plain screaming at the screen to accomplish things. As an example, using a miming motion with Kinect, you direct your avatar to swing a detached mannequin leg like a baseball bat to knock out a crazed drug dealer on an airplane. How you got to that point makes some kind of loose sense in the story, but it involves psychic time travel and a woman who is sometimes a cat. Obviously. The game is episodic, so I hope it keeps selling for purely selfish reasons: that is to say, I want more D4.
Runner-Up Most Surreal: Kentucky Route Zero Pt. 3. I wish Kentucky Route Zero chapters were coming out faster, but wow, I always enjoy them when they do come. More of my thoughts here.
Game of the Year Most Controversial: Threes!
I fooled you; this is actually the “Mobile Handheld” category. Remember when the biggest controversy in video games this year was whether or not a well-meaning programming student accidentally ripped off a paid game by creating a clone of a free game that was originally cloned from a paid game? Oh, those were more innocent times. Anyway, Threes!, the paid game, was a hard sell for me at first because the free version is so easy to access, but is well worth your two dollars or whatever it’s going for now. It’s a charming and polished puzzler. (But if you like 2048, I don’t judge. Sometimes easy access is king.)
Runner-up Most Controversial: Flappy Bird. Shoot, I mean mobile handheld but no I still really mean controversial. Flappy Bird instantly if lamely flapped his way into all of our hearts and all of my “intro to mobile game programming” classes. A simple idea that works. A game that will live in infamy.
Game of the Year Award for Local Multiplayer: Sportsfriends
It seems like it’s been out forever, but no! Sportsfriends (featuring Johann Sebastian Joust and others) actually just got wide release this year, after a delay in the Kickstarter. I almost didn’t back this Kickstarter until a conversation on Electron Dance where I was reminded that I do, in fact, like this sort of thing. When I initially backed I didn’t have the PS3, and was pretty sure that I was just backing the game as a favor since it seemed unlikely we’d be able to get a multiplayer setup crowded around the PC. But now we do have the PlayStation 3! A bigger living room also helps. We as of yet have no Move controllers, so I still have to save Joust for festivals or visits with others. But the rest of the package available for Sportsfriends is slick enough to make up for it. Our local favorite here turned out to be Super Pole Riders, the futuresport where men and bears launch balls into nets using floppy pool noodles.
Bonus video! Here’s our own Gregg B and Joel from Electron Dance playing JS Joust for Windows. (JS Joust for Windows is not a thing, but I won’t ruin this with logic.)
Other Fantastic Local Multiplayer Games of 2014: Broforce! TowerFall: Ascension! Nidhogg! This year was really a bountiful one for fans of playing silly games on the couch with friends. The developers said they were worried that local co-op was dying when the Sportsfriends Kickstarter was launched. Here in early 2015, though, local co-op is alive and well.
Nintendo also released some kind of local multiplayer melee thing that I know is pretty popular. Let me be the curmudgeon to confess that I thought long and hard about it, and 2014 was the year I decided I don’t actually like Smash. I like Smash in theory. I like the part of Smash where we all watch Nintendo Directs hoping for character announcements, like kids on Christmas Eve trying to peek at presents. But I don’t like Smash in practice. As a technical game, it’s always been kind of a rough fit, but as a party game, it’s still just a little too technical. I’m able to have fun with the game provided no one around me is taking it seriously, but the minute that guy (or girl) shows up who is really good at the game (and in any one group of gamer friends this person always emerges) and cares about it all fun is sucked dry and blown away as dust. This is a problem baked into Smash that is to me unfixable, so if you come over to visit, I’d rather just play any of the other above.
Now here is the part where instead of writing about specific game titles, I write about other important game industry things that happened in 2014. Such as:
I Changed Jobs
I try to be above console war stuff, but it’s not a huge secret here that I was a laggard in getting a PlayStation 3 and generally favor the XBox and its exclusives to those on the other consoles. So I applied for a job at Microsoft and got it. This is important to note because, while I am honest about what games I like best and I write these lists based on my own opinion and not for my company, it makes for a change in which games I’ll write reviews about, and is something you should be aware of when reading games writing from me. Which brings me to:
Something Something Ethics
A thing also happened this year that, as a woman who makes games and writes about them, was pretty much impossible for me to ignore. Of course for the above reason, I’m not particularly interested in writing about that thing either. Next!
Every year I like to coin a totally genius term for all the other game critics to ignore. My Word of the Year 2014 is fauxstalgia, a nostalgia for things remembered incorrectly. In the recent years, aging gamers have yearned for games exactly like, not the games we actually played as a kid, but what we remember those games being like, which is close but wrong. This is a popular track thanks to Kickstarters and shows no signs of stopping. Bravely Default is this for the JRPG; several classic adventure games were also re-released this year or have spiritual successors on the way. The exemplar of this is the above-pictured Shovel Knight, which is just like an NES game except in all situations where not being like an NES game was cooler.
I Just Like to Watch
Let’s Plays used to be a strange hobby, but the popularity of livestreaming services like Twitch and the increasing accessibility of YouTube gaming has made them more popular than ever. The practice of watching a person play game on the internet got so normalized this year that South Park did an episode about PewDiePie. As I write this I’m watching Awesome Games Done Quick on my TV through the Twitch streaming on XBox One… and so are thousands of other people. Any time I am not playing games, I can watch other people play games. It’s actually pretty awesome.
Here’s to a year of playing many games, watching many games, and more games for everyone in 2015.
Email the author of this post at aj@Tap-Repeatedly.com.