2014 was such a consistently good year for gaming that, at some point, I forgot how good it really was. As I recapped what I played this year, I realized that I would have to cut several awesome games from my Top 10 list — a problem I definitely didn’t have last year.
Among the cuts are great games that simply aren’t as great as the others. Mario Golf: World Tour is the best game in that franchise, managing to finally merge its excellent mechanics with online play, though it is sorely missing the RPG aspects from the other handheld Mario Golf games. Also, 1001 Spikes is a masochistic platformer that I thoroughly enjoyed, despite all the yelling it caused.
Other great games didn’t make my list because they fail to meet their potential and leave me too disappointed to give them high praise. Dark Souls 2, the sequel to my favorite game of all time, falls short of its predecessor in unforgivable ways, such as a poorly design world and the lack of a mid-game aesthetic and gameplay shift, but it is still enjoyable. Bravely Default modernizes the traditional JRPG formula, but the actual structure of the game kills it. Xeodrifter is a clever take on a Metroid game, but it is too short to fully explore its creative mechanics.
I can praise the following games, however, without reservation:
10. Shovel Knight – 3DS, Wii U, PC
The most impressive aspect of Shovel Knight is how perfectly it recreates the look and sound of an NES game. The gameplay, however, is far more contemporary. I appreciate some of these aspects, like checkpoints, save files, and upgrade systems, but Shovel Knight would have been higher on my list if it played more like an NES game. In other words, it’s a bit too easy for what I look for in that style of game, but I still enjoy it for what it is.
The original Theatrhythm is one of my favorite 3DS games, but its main flaw is its limited song selection. Curtain Call, however, dwarfs its predecessor in scope with over 200 tracks and several game modes. It also improves on every part of the original formula, resulting in the definitive homage to Nobuo Uematsu and the music of Final Fantasy.
8. Titanfall – PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Even though competitive shooters aren’t really my thing, playing Titanfall with my two older brothers became a weekly ritual this year after they convinced me to buy it. Admittedly, virtually hanging out with my brothers for a few hours a week is part of the appeal, but the gameplay itself also lends well to my casual play style. The mobility of movement and addition of grunts as cannon fodder allows me to still have fun even if I don’t always finish at the top of the pack.
7. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker – Wii U
This game hits me in all the right spots. The puzzles are simple but clever, leaving me with a feeling of accomplishment after solving even the most obvious problems. The structure is OCD friendly, so I always know exactly what I need to do for completion. The art is cute, the music is hummable, and the presentation is straight to the point. Captain Toad is simply a fun game that nails everything it attempts.
6. Azure Striker Gunvolt – 3DS
Azure Striker Gunvolt is a masterpiece of game design. Every aspect of it works to create a tight, hectic, wonderfully satisfying experience. Even though it’s a cheap, relatively small package, I put 20 hours into it and finally had to pry myself away because I could have kept improving my skills for a dozen more. It’s a fantastic game that hasn’t received enough praise.
5. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U – Wii U
All of the Smash Bros. games have left me a little underwhelmed, but Smash for Wii U is different. I’m not sure if it’s the gameplay tweaks, functional online multiplayer, or plethora of game modes, but something makes this game way more fun than its predecessors, especially the single player experience. Somehow, Sakurai and Nintendo managed a miracle with this game.
4. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – Wii U
It’s good to have Donkey Kong Country back as a running franchise. No other platformer feels quite like a DKC game. The movement is weightier, the levels are livelier, and the structure is meatier than most in the genre. Tropical Freeze is probably the best in the series, full of charm and smart design. In an off year for Mario, Donkey Kong provides a nice alternative.
3. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – PC, Xbox One, PS4
Speaking of off years, my annual tradition of playing through an Assassin’s Creed game in the fall was thrown off by mediocre efforts in that franchise. Luckily, Monolith filled the gap with Shadow of Mordor, a surprise hit that scratched my Assassin’s Creed itch (which can be intense) better than any game in that franchise since Brotherhood. On top of that, the nemesis system might be the most innovative addition to video games this year.
2. Mario Kart 8 – Wii U
Although Mario Kart 8 only breaks from the previous game in a few places, the core mechanics are refined to a razor-sharp quality. With the fantastic DLC that arrived this fall and another batch scheduled for late spring of next year, this game will be in my rotation for awhile, at least a year after its original release. That’s pretty impressive.
1. Bayonetta 2 – Wii U
Even though I wasn’t a fan of the original Bayonetta, Platinum Games sold me on their character-action formula with The Wonderful 101. If it hadn’t been for that game, I probably wouldn’t have tried Bayonetta 2. Turns out, Bayonetta 2 fixes every single problem I had with the first game and with The Wonderful 101. It is as close to perfect as a game can get to epitomizing the joy of its genre and video games in general.
In a year capped with several miffed software launches, we shouldn’t forget all of the amazing games that came out and actually worked. As someone who doesn’t own either an XBox One or PlayStation 4, I was still overwhelmed with great games. Given another year or two, when all of the consoles are firmly established, the selection of games could rival that of last generation’s amazing library. That’s assuming that the major publishers get a better handle on releasing functioning games, of course, but even if they don’t, at least we’ll still have independent developers pumping out fantastic smaller games.