If you’re a gamer, it’s hard to miss games like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Far Cry 4, or even Watch_Dogs. Some games are easily missed, quickly forgotten in a flood of bigger games, or don’t get the hype they deserve. I wanted to pick out a few of the highlights from 2014 that might’ve flown under the radar if you don’t spend as much time in front of a console or gaming PC as you’d like.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved
Disney Fantasia was, for me, absolute proof that the Kinect can be and is a solid gaming peripheral. While the Plastic Instrument Revolution of the mid-2000s may have died out, people still listen to and love moving to music. Harmonix is still making music games, too. They teamed up with Disney this time to give us a Fantasia-inspired experience that puts you in the place of the conductor and lets you mix music to your liking.
Not even in Rock Band will you get a mix of songs like Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” (Op 71a, if we’re getting specific), but in Fantasia, it all kind of makes sense.
The game strikes the right balance of challenging combinations of movements, varying difficulty, and forgiving mechanics that help keep the game fun and engaging. The Kinect controls, by and large, work. There are a few times where it’ll drop a sweep or a punch, but I don’t know that I miss jumps and shots in other games any less often.
The game was finishing development when Microsoft decided to drop the Kinect from its lineup, essentially cutting the game’s potential off at the knee before it even hit shelves. If you have a Kinect, don’t miss picking up Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved.
Roll7 makes tight, fun, visually striking games. OlliOlli hit the PS Vita at the very beginning of the year, and then made it out to a wider audience this summer as it hit PC and PlayStation 4 (Xbox One, Wii U and 3DS are coming in 2015 as well).
OlliOlli is – you guessed it – a skateboarding game. Instead of taking the approach that games like Tony Hawk and Skate have all but milked dry, though, OlliOlli goes strictly 2D. The game uses just a few buttons on the controller and focuses on timing more than on complicated moves, though those are certainly there. It’s just as important to time you landing perfectly as it is to pull off a sweet trick.
The game is tough, no doubt, and it’ll take about an hour of play, if you’re anything like me, before you feel like you really grasp the controls. But then you’ll be five-starring levels and taking on bonus stages one after another. You only get one chance in each level. If you fall, it’s all over. Levels take a split second to restart, though, so retrying a level a hundred times is fast and, surprisingly, fun.
If you watch anime, you know that ninjas run at a forward slant with at least one arm behind them. They can usually jump off walls, and when their sword swings, it’s just a crescent arc in the air. Yep, Strider is definitely a ninja. He’s also the star of an unexpectedly entertaining game. Strider games have a bad habit of being cooler than they are fun, but the reboot of the character for this generation bucks the trend.
Capcom’s newest Strider sits firmly in the Metroidvania category of game design. You start with just a simple jump and sword swing, but eventually you’ll end up with projectiles, different types of swords and new abilities as you progress, going back to previous areas to open up what were once impassable doors. I ended up playing through Strider two or three times before I finally moved onto something else. The combat is fast, fun – even challenging at times, and the puzzles are just tough enough to be entertaining.
Child of Light
Ubisoft’s had a tough year, but Child of Light is definitely one of the highlights. After making the most bro-tastic game you can imagine, the director of Far Cry 3 took a small team and built Child of Light in the Ubiart engine. The game is sort of a JRPG-platformer hybrid. You play the part of a young girl who takes ill. Instead of waking up in her bed, though, she wakes up in a fantasy world falling to a darkness that only she can stop. This girl, Aurora, will find friends and take on enemies as she discovers the source of the darkness.
The game is all done in a gorgeous, smooth watercolor style that makes the game feel as close to a moving painting as any I’ve ever seen and tells a touching story that does a great job tugging at the heart. Yeah, the fairy tale rhymes go a little overboard at times, but if Ubisoft wants to make more small, artsy games, I’m all for it.
I’d never have guessed that the most visceral combat of the year would take place between two featureless silhouettes. The combat in Nidhogg, one of this year’s best multiplayer games, is just that, though. Despite the characters on the screen being nothing more than human shapes, I still cringe each time one of the fencers’ thrusts makes contact. Taking on either a computer opponent or a friend, you must fence your way out of purgatory. As the winner, you’re eaten by the Nidhogg, the worm-like dragon that chews on the roots of the world tree. I think that’s a good thing? And then you do it all again.
Of all the local mulitplayer games this year, Nidhogg might be my favorite.
Honorable Mentions: D4, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Towerfall Ascension, This War of Mine, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions, Valiant Hearts
This list certainly doesn’t cover all of the great, under-hyped games from this year – many, like a couple entries in the Honorable Mentions list, we might not have had time to play quite yet, and there might be others we missed. What was your favorite hidden gem from the last year of gaming?