Hey, everyone. I’m taking some time off from the podcasting and social media side of things to weigh in on the gaming year that has been 2014, and the top games that came with it.
As a more traditional gamer whose tastes never really moved with the industry, gaming brought with it a real sense of “coming home” in 2014. So much, in fact, that I didn’t have time to review everything that found its way through my consoles and handhelds. (Some possible contenders are going to be left off the list primarily for this reason. I’m looking at you, Fairy Fencer F and Ultra Street Fighter IV.) Sadly, I also have to look back on 2014 as the fantastic gaming year that got overshadowed by unwelcome craziness ranging from misplaced peanut gallery commentary to outright terroristic threats, but there will be a time to discuss that later. This is about celebrating all the great things gaming gave us in 2014.
Without any further ado, here’s my top ten.
10. Mario Kart 8 – Wii U
Full disclosure: I did not buy Mario Kart 8 expecting a great game, and as a result, I held off until Black Friday to pick it up for $30. Further disclosure: It is still guilty of the biggest infractions that have a lot of gamers, myself included, leaning toward the Sonic & All-Stars series. Transformed is still the better game. However, with overall handling so good I thought they outsourced it to Sega at first, genre-expanding ideas about track design, and gobs of content with or without the reasonably-priced season pass ($12), Mario Kart 8 has absolutely proven itself worthy of a spot in my top ten of 2014.
9. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax – PS3, 360
Anime fighters seldom appeal to me, just because of how over-the-top and execution-heavy they tend to be. Ultimax, however, is remarkably well-paced for an Arc System Works title, and offers fighting gamers a rare draw in its story mode, too. That it also serves as an unlikely but outstanding apparent conclusion to the Persona 4 story is a cherry on top, and should stand to get the attention of the JRPG crowd while bringing its A-game to win over the fighting faithful.
8. Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed – PS3, PS Vita, PS4
This one almost missed my radar completely, only catching my attention in the form of a PS4 review copy that rolled our way. I’m glad it found its way to me, because Acquire’s quirky beat-em-up went on to become one of my favorite titles of the year. If the core concept wasn’t amusing enough, the extra mile Acquire went in delivering the atmosphere of Akihabara and the otaku culture that powers it, in addition to Xseed’s great localization work, are more than enough to make Akiba’s Trip something thoroughly enjoyable. It may not be a must-own, but you won’t regret slipping it in between your Trails in the Skys and Bravely Defaults. (Hint hint.)
7. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U – Wii U
New generation, new iteration of Smash Bros. This one doesn’t break the mold by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly refines the core gameplay of the series to its strongest degree yet, and it only helps that the game inspired Nintendo to provide a USB adaptor for GameCube controllers and rerelease the gamepads themselves. (So how about some Virtual Console support ASAP, Nintendo?) It’s just a shame that Nintendo has bought so completely into the image of the series as a faux-fighting game, because the adventure mode from Melee is still greatly missed, and an installment that follows up on that with some real length to it will contend as one of the best games ever crafted…if and when that ever happens.
6. Transistor – PlayStation 4, PC
The team over at Supergiant Games is quickly establishing itself as an Action RPG powerhouse, proving that there will be no sophomore slump by following up the stellar Bastion with an equally impressive and unique offering in Transistor. Recently, on SmashPad Live, we compared them to a young Rare or Atlus – a comparison I would like to reiterate here. Transistor is also the game that added an item to my list of dream games I’ll never get to see happen: Supergiant making a Kamen Rider Kabuto title with the Transistor battle system as a foundation. Hey, it’s fun to imagine.
5. DriveClub – PlayStation 4
This is likely to be a controversial pick, but bear with me. Anyone who listens to the SmashPad Live podcast will know I’m sick to death of “action racers” packed with ambient traffic, twitchy controls, and more faux-badassery than you find oozing out of your typical big-budget summer action movie. (Shout out to The Crew.) DriveClub may have come in a little hot, but the core gameplay is almost ideal for a game of its nature, even if it could’ve embraced the arcade side of things a little more than it did. Even better, it checked any and all hints of attitude at the door, letting that core gameplay speak for itself, much like its spiritual predecessor, Project Gotham Racing. If you haven’t tried it yet, and are still on the fence, just give the PlayStation Plus version a try when it does finally drop, and you’ll see for yourself why DriveClub is a properly good, pure racing game.
4. Killer Instinct Season 2 – Xbox One
When Double Helix brought Rare’s intriguing but technically-wanting Killer Instinct out of 17 years of de facto retirement last year, it was seen as money for Microsoft, and one of the earliest mitigation factors against what was a horrible first impression of the Xbox One. Now, Double Helix has moved on, and Iron Galaxy has proven an ideal caretaker to the game that may very well have helped save a platform. We’re only halfway through the character releases, with TJ Combo, Maya, Kan-Ra, and Riptor having been added to the cast, but with Iron Galaxy’s well-documented fighting game minds on the case, balance updates have already proven that any future for this game is a good one. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, there’s no better time to get in on the action.
3. Bravely Default – 3DS
It’s impossible to understate the importance that Bravely Default has held since its North American release. Nintendo landing the publishing rights on this side of the Pacific was grand larceny that helped reverse their own poor fortunes, and the game’s stateside success did not go unnoticed by Square Enix and its new president, Yosuke Matsuda, nudging the long-standing JRPG heavyweight back to its roots. There’s much more to Bravely Default than just industry significance, however. After all, it couldn’t have inspired any of this change at Square Enix (which so far has manifested itself as a litany of SaGa and traditional Final Fantasy announcements, with more coming) if it wasn’t itself a great example of what’s so right about JRPGs when developed properly. If you’re eagerly anticipating the return of the JRPG heyday, don’t miss out on the game that changed everything.
2. Bayonetta 2 – Wii U
I’ll be completely honest, my original plan was to back off of this one until it came down in price a bit. Then word started getting out about it being one of the best examples of its genre to date – if not THE best example – and I just wanted to know where to sign up. Bayonetta 2 is a great example of the kind of serendipity that can materialize when everything in a development cycle just goes completely right. No matter how you like to play your character-action games – or even if you don’t know whether or not you like character-action games just yet – Bayonetta 2 just works out perfectly. That Platinum Games thought to include the original for a Nintendo playerbase that never experienced it just adds all the more value. Want a bold statement to drive this endorsement home? When it’s all said and done, Bayonetta 2 may well be a more definitive icon of Hideki Kamiya’s career than any of the Devil May Cry games.
1. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky – PC
Here it is, the big one, the Final Fantasy VII of the PC (even in the face of FFVII’s own arrival there!), the ideal title to champion the wave of PC JRPGs pummeling Steam, there’s just one little problem…it’s not getting nearly the buzz it deserves. I’ve tried going grass-roots myself, buying up several copies just to pass around to people and raise awareness leading up to its sequel next year, but this is a game that deserves it all, from a massive ad campaign to front-and-center critical and consumer praise. Everything is top-notch here, from the presentation and soundtrack to the battle system and storyline. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars in my own review? As an import gamer, I already know it gets even better.
So those are my top games of 2014, but in closing, I have to say that another reason I enjoyed 2014 so thoroughly as a gamer is because of the announcements of what’s still to come. Games like Imperial SaGa, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC, a mobile game that will undoubtedly be localized as Final Fantasy Dimensions II, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 5, Drift Stage, Brandish, 90s Arcade Racer (yes, that’s actually what it’s called…), Ys VIII, and Project CARS already have my attention going into the new year. 2015 is already looking amazing.
With that, I’m signing off for the year. You’ll be hearing from me again most likely on the January 4th episode of SmashPad Live, which we’re putting together as I type this. I’m already looking forward to bringing you some of the great stuff we have planned in 2015.
See you all next year!