2014 was a heck of a year for me. Lot’s of life transitions and health issues to deal with. It was also a time of reflection and gaming. What gaming meant to me, what I value in games, why I play them… It’s basically the reason why I started keeping this blog. The way I felt about games over the past year have changed, or at least changed back. I’m approaching a lot more of what I want to play and a lot less of what I feel I guilted into playing. I put to death the idea of a backlog in lieu of a philosophy of just playing whatever I want to play, however long I want to play it. Two of the titles I’ve clocked in enough time to clear 10-15 other game campaigns. In previous years I would have gotten itchy about spending too much time on one game. In 2014 I learned just to keep playing until I didn’t feel like playing anymore. It’s definitely paid back in dividends for my fulfillment during game time.
But onto the reason we’re here today, a review of 2014 games that I enjoyed. I’m making no attempt to be objective in my analysis, but purely addressing the amount of fun these games brought me. As a small recap I’ve completed the campaigns of 36 different games this year (some multiple times), but these are my standouts. The only restriction I’ve enforced is limiting the games to a 2014 release on that platform I played them on. With the way things get ported or updated and given the availability on platforms I’ve always found it unfair to lock a game’s eligibility to the original release year. Sometimes the experience is altered entirely by the new platform, as Deus Ex: Human Revolution proved on the Wii U. Either way, here are my favorite titles of 2014.
Placing with a bronze, Mario Kart 8 is a game that had a huge impact on my gaming this year. For starters, it was the game that inspired me to finally buy a Wii U. Too many Luigi Death Stare videos floating around just highlighted the fun aspect surrounding the game. It’s the first game in a long time where everyone talking about it made me feel like I was missing out. Finally after hunting for the Wii U and setting it up, my wife and I spent days playing just draining the battery on the Gamepad. Vibrant colors and a silky smooth 60 frames per second made the game a visual treat, but the incredibly tight gameplay kept us going until we completed all the cups on each difficulty. The weapons are perfectly balanced (with even a shield for the blue shell now in the form of a horn), the tracks are inspired or creatively remixed from previous games, and the cast of characters was really inviting. There’s nothing not to love here, even the online MP seems clear of exploits to encourage some endless challenge of play. So hats off to Mario Kart 8 for being the best form of an incredibly fun series.
Earning the silver medal for 2014, Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition has definitely earned it’s place. While a huge fan of the original release on PC (and then on PS1) – I’ve replayed Diablo’s campaign through at least a half dozen times by now. The random world seed for a seemingly infinite level of dungeon layouts, tons of enemies to slay, and randomized loot drops will keep me going for days, weeks, and months on a single game. While I missed out on Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 due to mostly not being a PC gamer, I’ve held a torch for the series with it’s derivatives. Games like the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance / Champions of Norrath series, or even the more directly related Torchlight. When word came of Diablo 3: UEE coming to console I was all in. An extremely polished version of a 2012 release… UEE not only includes all the tweaks, rebalances, major revisions, and additions to Diablo 3 that had nearly changed the game entirely since release… It also included a new expansion that extends the story and adds a new class, putting the final tally at six characters to choose from. Much like the original Diablo, the random loot tables and hordes of monsters are reason to go back again and again. Being able to co-op the experience with three friends and enjoyed the remixed versions of levels for a nearly endless rift-running mode… Diablo 3: UEE was shaped to possibly be the only game you buy in 2014 and keep you occupied. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only game to come out with those intentions this fall…
Coming in for the gold, Destiny is an entirely different beast of game. If you’ve read my blog before you know that it’s a game I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. While you may think you know what the game is, it isn’t that. Starting off it seems to be a continuation of the pedigree of Bungie… Epic space sci-fi FPS where lots of things are referred to by their proper terms… You’re ‘Guardians’ protecting ‘The Traveler’ with your ‘Ghost’, while taking orders from ‘The Speaker’ in ‘The Tower’ in your battle against ‘The Fallen’, ‘The Hive’, ‘The Vex’, and ‘The Cabal’. It’s easy enough to see they aren’t big on the idea of intricate details in this one, opting to paint with broad strokes the background for your battleground of death. For the first twenty levels they strung you along with tidbits of story, giving you settings and set pieces to explore. Challenges abound for twitch shooters, you’ll find no tactical cover here in the form of chest-high walls. Destiny has stolen over 250 hours from me in 2014 alone across three characters… Engaging with friends in groups of 3-6 players, we’ve tackled some crazy dungeons and quests. Yes, the game can be a bit grindy. Being a fan of RPGs though this is something I enjoy. There’s also always something to strive for. A new weapon you want, a new raid to tackle, a new upgrade to get. It’s king of ‘just one more mission’, and I don’t see that stopping anytime in 2015. As long as the mechanics stay sharp and there’s another piece of loot to strive for, I’ll be there with my friends in tow and we go guns-a-blazing through the latest offering from Destiny.
Top honors this year, the platinum medal goes to Final Fantasy X HD. As I mentioned at the head, sometimes a new platform can really alter the experience of a game. Playing FFX HD offered the International Version with additional bosses, sphere grids, post-game cut scenes that branch it to FFX-2 among other offerings. The updated models given to accommodate the HD era of gaming really brings out the beauty of the game though. At first I wasn’t a big fan of the remixed soundtrack, but it grew on me with the game. When FFX HD was first announced for Vita it was the primary reason I wanted to buy a Vita. Oddly enough though I opted for the PS3 version. It just felt wonderful to have the cinematics of Spira pushed out to a big screen TV over a portable device with surround sound. The presentation in this game preserves the memory of the story so perfectly, it’s easily worth the purchase for those who had fond memories of FFX before. While it’s never been my favorite game of the series, replaying it has grown it’s place in my heart and made me reconsider gaming as a whole this year. I was taken back to my life over ten years ago when I first played this… Gaming wasn’t complicated, life was simpler, times were good. For better or worse, the nostalgia summoned by revisiting Spira is powerful in ways that no other game released in 2014 had a chance to work against. I already had memories tied to this game, and much like the Zanarkand that Tidus yearned to return to, I was more than ready to return to the place I once knew.
Other notable games played in 2014 for me…
- Persona 4 Golden is a game that I’ve held off on for a long time. I purchased it around the same time I got my Vita and sat on playing it for a year… The length of the game discouraged me from wanting to start it, again fretting about how to ‘maximize’ my game time to shrink my backlog. Stupid idea and so glad that I shirked that plan. P4G is a game worthy of the praise it’s gotten, offering a JRPG life-sim that has you questioning humanity and toying with your emotions in the process. I can’t recall the last time I’ve gotten so angry and up in arms regarding a plot point in a game then the events that lead into the Heaven dungeon… Either way, P4G was something I’m very happy to have taken the time to play.
- Transistor, the follow up game to Bastion from Supergiant Games, was one of my most anticipated titles of 2014. I loved Bastion, and the tone set by the trailers from E3 2013 had me in a tizzy for Transistor. When it finally released I was of mixed feelings. Personally, outside of the game I was peaking with my depression and anxiety so that may have skewed my initial impressions. Revisiting the game at a later time helped. The art, music, and game play were fantastic. The setting and tone were definitely right up my alley with pseudo-programming themes. Equipping functions, executing abilities, downloading allies into your weapon. The only part that seemed off was how abstract the story was. It’s open to interpretation in a lot of segments which makes for interesting conversation, but unfortunately it discourages casual players from being able to enjoy it as they did Bastion.
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 – Where to start…? Literally, should you start with FF13, 13-2, or jump right in? Because a lot of individuals were burned on FF13 after being long time fans of the series. It’s awkward pacing pushed just as many newcomers away too. Lightning Returns is shoulders above it’s predecessors, while continuing to build on the world and characters established before. Mechanically it’s not to be missed, but I feel without having played the first two the story will be all over the place. Thankfully I had played through and came to enjoy 13 and 13-2 for what they were, so it felt like Lightning Returns was the perfect finale for me to the series. Even the characters I hated the first trip through managed a tear or two from me on this round (I’m looking at you, Mr. Estheim).
- OlliOlli was such a unique and awesome throwback to the extreme skateboarding games I used to love. It felt like the heart of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, the technicality of Skate, squished down into a charming 2D action trick-fest on my Vita. The difficulty curve definitely works you in gradually, thinking there’s no way in hell you could manage the hardest challenges… Then a week or two later you’re unlocking the next difficulty tier while vibing with the sick electronica beats that fuel your skate session. It’s available on PS4 as well now, which I couldn’t recommend highly enough for any former fan of the Tony Hawk franchise.