If I were to start predicting my game of the year lists in January of that year, I think I’d usually be able to get at least one or two games correct. There’s often a notable game from a favorite developer or series that seems like a safe bet—sure things like Monster Hunter, Metal Gear, or anything by Yasumi Matsuno. Had I guessed at 2014’s list I would have struck out completely, which is disappointing because it means some of the games I was most looking forward to ended up falling short of my expectations. On the other hand, so many fun and surprising games appeared last year that I had no trouble filling the empty spaces.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
Existing somewhere between Call of Duty and Unreal Tournament, Titanfall is one of the freshest first-person shooters I’ve played in years. The giant Titan mech suits, sort of a democratized version of other games’ killstreaks and vehicles, may be the feature attraction, but I found the parkour-inspired, out-of-mech movement system to be the real star. I quickly reached a point where I’d only climb into my Titan if I really had to—it was too much fun running on walls or discovering a new aerial route to the next objective.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
A fun, jump-free twist on the modern Mario formula, and a welcome expansion on one of Super Mario 3D World‘s best surprises.
A gorgeous world filled with low pressure, but still very satisfying puzzles. Much of my enjoyment came from being able to manipulate the MC Escher-like world directly via the touchscreen—a complete change from Captain Toad.
Super Win the Game
The sequel to the ultra-minimal You Have to Win the Game does modern retro better than almost anything else out there, from unguided (but achievable) exploration to the uncannily authentic CRT filter over the game’s bright, blocky visuals. I eagerly await the series’s step into the 16-bit era. (This is in the works, right?)
0h h1 (based on Takuzu) is not exactly picross, but it scratches an itch in the same grid-puzzling part of my brain. It also continues to amaze me just how solvable each puzzle is, by which I mean that it’s never necessary to start guessing or penciling in squares. All the clues you need are on the board—it’s just a matter of uncovering them.
5. The Last of Us: Left Behind
I’m sure developer Naughty Dog’s blend of shooting, platforming, and action set pieces are what primarily draws the crowds whenever they release a new game. I like all of that as well, and they do a great job with it, but with each new game that comes out, I’m increasingly interested in seeing what they’ve created that doesn’t fit into one of those categories, like the banter between Uncharted‘s Nate and Sully, or the precious moments of calm in 2013’s The Last of Us. I was thrilled that Left Behind, the bonus episode that came out early last year, found more opportunities to stray from (or repurpose) its parent game’s more mainstream shooting and stealth gameplay and into some of the most memorable moments of 2014. Played from the perspective of a young girl, Left Behind was heartwarming, daring, and filled with transcendant moments that everyone should experience.
4. Rex Rocket
Don’t be fooled by its cheery color palette—Rex Rocket is platforming brutality, with many area of the game leaving me staring at the screen in disbelief after realizing the feats of dexterity its creators apparently expected out of their audience. But don’t let that be a deterrent—all the challenges in Rex Rocket are overcome with some old-fashioned perseverance and mastery of its clever, ever-expanding mechanics. And the boss fights—while maybe just a hair too long—are up there with classics like Gunstar Heroes and Mega Man.
3. Freedom Wars
While none of the countless wannabes during the PSP era could convince me I needed an alternative Monster Hunter in my life, Freedom Wars brings enough new gameplay ideas (and style) to the table that I’ve decided there’s room after all. The fast-paced battle—largely thanks to the mobility and tactical options granted by the “thorn” grappling hook—and greater focus on a single-player campaign make this feel less like it’s trying to distract me from an established series and more something that can stand on its own.
2. 80 Days
Does it make sense to call a touchscreen video game a “page turner”? Despite its largely text-based interface, 80 Days imparts an incredible feeling of urgency as you weave through conversation trees and, in turn, cities and countries on your race around the globe. It creates a vivid sense of adventure as well, with journeys slowly becoming more about meeting new characters instead of the 80-day deadline. There are still some game-y elements and it’s fun to play with them to see how fast you can complete the trip, but there’s so much intrigue scattered around 80 Days‘ globe that it feels wrong not to seek out as much of it as possible.
1. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
My journey in the realm of Eorzea may have begun towards the end of 2013, but last year was truly the year of Final Fantasy XIV. Although I’d never played an MMO of this scale, I had some idea of what was in store–an organic player community, challenging endgame raids, and lots of offbeat side activities, to name a few things. Over the last year, I’ve experienced all of those and discovered yet more facets of the game that are only possible in its massive, persistent world. I’ve played the markets, crossbred rare crops, and fought for real estate. I’ve even gone days hardly lifting a weapon–there’s just so much else to do. It’s been a fascinating experience, and with the dev team tirelessly coming up with new features and expansions, it’s one I look forward to revisiting for years to come.
Get the games on my list here:
Final Fantasy XIV: Amazon, Steam
80 Days: iOS, Android
Freedom Wars: Amazon, PSN
Rex Rocket: Steam
The Last of Us: Left Behind: Amazon, PSN
0h h1: web, iOS, Android
Super Win the Game: Steam
Monument Valley: iOS, Android
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker: Amazon, Nintendo
Titanfall: Amazon, Microsoft