Every year with video games in it is a good year, as far as we’re concerned, here at TechnoBuffalo.
But some years are better than others.
The gaming staff had an argument, and then some hugs, over Skype, about which games would make this year’s list.
We had a ton of fun this year, but Microsoft and Sony’s new consoles were marred by a series of unfinished games and major server problems that kept some of what might’ve been the year’s best out of the running.
With those out of the way, we took what was left over and carved off pieces until you see the magnificent statue of a list we have here.
Here are the best games of 2014 according to Eric Frederiksen, Joey Davidson, and Ron Duwell at TechnoBuffalo.
This is an alphabetical list based on the personal preferences of our gaming staff, who each had equal pull when picking our favorites for the year. What did we miss? What did we get wrong? Let us know in the comments!
To call Bayonetta 2 anything less than perfect would be a shame to the level of craftsmanship that Platinum Games has brought. This glamorous hack n’ slash comes equipped with a near infinite level of customization, a slick looking style with flashy visuals, and a general demanding sense to be mastered. Once is never enough with a game of this kind, and players who blast through Bayonetta 2 more than once will find more and more value each time.
The original Bayonetta was a strong game that re-established Platinum Games as a force to be reckoned with after its employees split from Capcom. Bayonetta 2 though is proof that this is a company more than a one-hit wonder. The developers at Platinum can learn, evolve, bring aging genres back into relevancy, and make better games after every release, a sure fire-formula that is built to last.
Here’s to hoping for many more years of Platinum Games making our ‘Game of the Year’ lists from now on.
JRPG nerds like myself are still riding high on the Nintendo 3DS, which is clearly the best place for genre since the PlayStation 2. While many of its new-age games bring a new sense of style to the fold, sometimes its best to kick it old-school and re-examine the roots of what made this genre take off in the first place.
Bravely Default is the perfect game to do just that. Using classic job classes, brilliant music, and the immortally pleasing aesthetic of character artist Akihiko Yoshida, Silicon Studio and Square Enix have created the perfect “old” game for the modern age. In spite of this age though, the game also adds a brilliant asynchronous social network through the Street Pass, allowing you to play when you aren’t playing! Other brilliant options include fast button mapping and the ability to speed up battle animations.
Bravely Default’s classic style story gets a little clouded by its own ambition in the closing chapters, but by then, you’ll be so wrapped up in toying with its brilliant mechanics and optional bosses that you won’t even notice. Thank goodness this game was a hit, ensuring more like it are to come from a Square Enix looking to get back in touch with its roots.
Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze
If you like 2D platformers, a genre that’s had its chance to slowly evolve into something truly engaging and challenging over the last 25 or so years, then I’d point to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as one of the best entries the category has ever seen.
This Wii U title was released so early in the year makes that it is a bit forgettable as we press on into 2015. As such, I understand why it’s been overlooked by a few critics for the best of 2014. I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse, but I understand it.
This is a brutally difficult platformer from Retro Studios. Tropical Freeze takes all the things that DKCR brought to the table on the Wii and, later, 3DS and improves upon them, adding more characters, better levels, higher fidelity and, somehow, even a better soundtrack. This game is a standout in every sense of the word, and Wii U owners must have Tropical Freeze in their library. I loved this title.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
I don’t want to be writing this. I want to be playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. I don’t really want to be playing other games. Or eating. Sleeping. That kind of thing.
It’s not just that it hits the exact same “clear the map” trigger that Skyrim is so well known for, though that’s certainly part of it. It’s not just the big, impressive set-piece story missions, either. The small moments in between are part of it, too.
Before writing this, I spent an hour literally just talking to my party members around my base of operations. We had a lot of great conversations, too. I found out one of them is a huge nerd. Another is really freaked out by the demons we’d been fighting. Another one is a demon and is really worried about being forcibly removed from our group. Each of these conversations was a well written piece of dialogue, each incorporated decisions I’d made earlier or added in parts based on party members I’d chosen to include in my inquisition.
Dragon Age isn’t exactly the same kind of open world as something like Skyrim, but it does a great job carving out its own version of what it means to be open. Admittedly, there are some pretty serious bugs that might warrant waiting for a bit before picking it up. Even with glitches, though, I’m having so much fun playing Dragon Age: Inquisition that they hardly bother me.
Far Cry 4
I don’t think a single game let me get lost in its world in 2014 quite as well as Far Cry 4 did. I’ve been with this series since its inception, bungles and all. I liked Far Cry 3, and I’ll probably always look at Blood Dragon as one of the best DLCs ever released.
The base game of Far Cry 4, though, was just unbelievable. The world was massive, the graphics were amazing, the wildlife felt real and threatening, the storyline was decent and the main villain, once again, was fantastic.
Take all of that and put it over a mechanically sound shooter and you’ve got the reason why Far Cry 4 worked so darn well for me. Every piece of the game felt well put together, and that made it one of the most enjoyable experiences of 2014. Was it perfect? Certainly not. It was, though, a lot of fun.
Forza Horizon 2
When Turn 10 and Playground Games initially announced Forza Horizon, I was seriously doubtful that the Forza name would lend anything important to the style of game they were suggesting – a hardcore sim racer branching out into an arcade-style free-roaming car fantasy – and even less sure that the concept would actually be fun.
Not only did Playground do a better job than I could’ve ever guessed, they managed it a second time.
Forza Horizon 2 expands on what worked about the original and rolls back on a lot of what didn’t. The game is bigger and prettier, progression and car collection are easier. The flimsy plot of the original has been, for better or worse, replaced with a less dramatic flimsy plot that skips the boss showdowns and lets you level up how you like.
Lots of car games focused on realism hit the digital track this year – GRID Autosport, Driveclub and The Crew all come to mind. Forza Horizon 2 was easily the best, though, with a combination of great driving, fun races, and the kind of stellar visuals racing games are known for.
While I do tend to gravitate toward bigger games, more often than not, every year I’ll manage to find a few smaller games that get a hold on me. While most games get left behind after a week or two of play, it’s one of these indie games that always ends up pulling me back throughout the rest of the year.
This year, it was Heavy Bullets. Heavy Bullets, the first game created by Brazilian developer Terri Vellmann, is a unique take on a first person shooter. The game takes a pretty common staple of the indie games scene – you guessed it, roguelike elements – and puts them into a trippy shooter environment made up of hard polygons and neon colors.
The twist, though, comes from the titular bullets. The weapon you wield is more of a hand-cannon than it is a gun. You load massive rounds into the revolving chamber and, after you’ve used your precise aim to obliterate your target, you’ll watch the bullet bounce around on the ground. Ammo is sparse in Heavy Bullets. That bullet bouncing on the ground needs to be picked up and reloaded.
This change creates a simple but addictive hook that had me going back over and over, seeing how far I could get before a turret was faster than my aim, or a bomb bug got the drop on me. Even just writing this, I wound up playing a few rounds. And now I’m going to go play another.
Mario Kart 8
It seems like the Wii U took 2014 to slowly become the local multiplayer machine of choice. Over the span of the entire year, I don’t think any of my other consoles or my PC really pushed groups of people over to my house the same way the Wii U did. One other major game was a source of this push, which I’ll get too in a bit, but a huge reason why I played so much Wii U this year was Mario Kart 8.
I don’t think Nintendo will ever be able to recapture the magic that was Mario Kart 64 again. That game was a once in a lifetime meeting of great racing, amazing glitches, nostalgia and a unique sense of self. So many clones, so much polish and such a different shade of Nintendo has come along since then that I don’t think we’ll ever see a Mario Kart title in quite the same light.
Still, Mario Kart 8 is easily the best we’ve seen from this franchise in a very, very, very long time. Fantastic tracks, wonderful visuals, Nintendo’s penchant for supporting every controller under the sun and the couch based multiplayer make this game one of the best of the year. It’s nearly flawless, and I loved all the time I spent with it.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
I had pegged Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor as a dark horse and a sleeper hit earlier in the summer, and Monolith Production delivered just that. On its surface, this game is a culmination of mechanics from every big hit on the market like Assassins Creed, Batman: Arkham City, and Splinter Cell.
In spite of its reliance on other game’s ideas, the true star of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is its Nemesis system, manipulating the inner ranks of Mordor’s orc army. Monolith’s excellent “behind the scene” mechanics are always lurking over your shoulder somewhere in the world, and the genius of it all comes from its generic combat and exploration making it all the more accessible to experiment with.
Some might call Shadow of Mordor’s weak story a low point for the game, but others have praised it for never getting in the way of finding your own fun. Like all the best open-world games, Shadow of Mordor sets you off on a fantasy insurrection at your own pace with few distractions, and its constant stream of executions and ode to violence are perhaps the most shocking since Fallout 3
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Who would have guessed that a fanservice game would emerge as one of the best and most balanced RPGs of 2014? Those familiar with Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey team might have a little bit of presight into guessing this, but ultimately, even fans were unprepared for how well Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth simply works.
Nothing is out of place in this game. Etrian Odyssey’s exploration and map-building flow even more naturally than it does in its home series, and the simplification of Persona’s demon fusing works perfectly within the context of the two franchises’ combined battle systems. Combat is fast, intelligent, and finds that perfect balance between challenging and frustrating.
Best of all though, those looking to explore the inner depths of Persona Q are not only rewarded with a wonderful RPG but also plenty of opportunity to hang out with the Persona 3 and 4 gangs. As a fanservice game, watching these ragtag misfit high schoolers interact with each other is this game’s main purpose for existing, and it never fails to deliver laughs and fun.
And that music! Just, wow!
They say that the best presents come in small packages, and 2014 in video gaming just goes one step further in proving that. Shovel Knight is easily a contender for the best game of the year not for pushing any boundaries, but rather for simply perfecting 30 years of 8-bit game design.
Simply put, Shovel Knight is everything you love about classic video games, and nothing you hate about them. The graphics and music perfectly capture the NES at its peak, but the animation isn’t bogged down by slowdown. Our protagonist has a serious death penalty of losing all his money, but he’ll never have to start the game over because of an aging “1up” system. Gameplay is challenging and rewarding, but never as brutal as your older favorites can be.
Dare I say that even its story is even the most touching of the year?
Shovel Knight was pitched as a throwback to our childhood favorites, but what we got was a perfect evolution. Best of all, Shovel Knight hasn’t even been completed yet with even more content promised to be released in 2015! The best presents are also the ones that keep on giving, and Shovel Knight can be enjoyed for as long as you have a soul in your body.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was a really special game for me this year. Much like Mario Kart 8, it drew friends to my TV. What it did that was really great, though, was it pushed those friends to try something a little more difficult than racing. Not that Smash is hard, mind you, but it pushed my friends a bit further out of their shells than Mario Kart.
Masahiro Sakurai outdid himself with this entry. You have one of the largest rosters ever, nods to the likes of Mega Man, Pac Man, Sonic and more in a single game, the first HD entry, the use of GameCube controllers for diehards and a pile of modes that really make any party atmosphere great. Smash was one of the brightest spots of the year for me.
While collecting amiibo hasn’t been as fun as I thought it was, Smash might also be looked back on as the game that launched the potential craze. If it catches on, that will be another of this title’s biggest reasons to shine.
Compared to its direct competitor, Microsoft had a pretty noteworthy list of exclusive titles on tap this fall. While Halo was certainly the center of attention for most – as usual – my interest was squarely on Sunset Overdrive. The initial reveal trailer caught me immediately, and I was more than pleased to see that the game Insomniac ended up with, for the most part, lived up to the promises set in the trailer.
Sunset Overdrive is color, motion, and punk rocking. Despite some more colorful games this generation, I’m still used to the brown and grey games of the previous generation, and I get excited when I see something as eye-popping as this game. In terms of sheer art design, it’s hard to top.
Insomniac built a solid game into this colorful world, as well. Sunset Overdrive is all about staying in motion and racking up big combos by destroying hordes of mutants. It’s basically a big game of “The Ground is Lava,” stretched across a whole city. The bigger your combo, the more points you get, the more overcharge you generate. There’s a nice balance between the need to keep moving and the challenge of actually hitting the enemies you’re shooting at.
I don’t normally hunt for achievements or trophies, but when I do decide to, it’s a pretty good sign. It means I’m looking for excuses to keep playing a game, and that’s exactly what’s going on with Sunset Overdrive, and it’s much too rare an experience.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
One of my all-time favorite TV shows is Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The writers took what was, let’s be honest, a pretty silly concept that sounds like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and really dug in. What they found were questions about humanity, intelligence, destiny, and free will. The show left an impact on me.
That’s exactly what happened with Wolfenstein: The New Order. There was no reason, before release, to believe that the game was going to be anything but a cash-in rehash. People had really only seen the gunplay in action at previews, and that was in non-final stages. Once the final package came together, though, the team at Machine Games had something truly special on its hands.
From a purely video game standpoint, Wolfenstein fuses a lot of what was great about old shooters and what works about new shooters. We ended up with a mechanically satisfying game that wasn’t also frustratingly punishing. It’s a beautiful game, too. Art direction bridges a gap between detailed realism and artistic style that allows for believable characters and the kind of towering, megalithic architecture that only a totalitarian regime could come up with.
The story, though, is what sells it all. From moment to moment on the battlefield, you’re still one man fighting All the Nazis. But in the greater context, you’re part of a small team of rebels, fighting a battle that doesn’t seem winnable. You meet people scarred by war, people that have been given plenty of reason not to trust even the “good guys.” Wolfenstein: The New Order takes a silly concept – an alternate history where the Nazis won the war with ancient technology – and figures out where the humanity is.
Sadly, we can’t put every game on the list. Here are the games – in alphabetical order – that almost made the cut. The game might’ve been a good idea with less impressive execution, the first part of a multi-episode game, or maybe even a little underwhelming for all the hype. If it reached for the stars but missed, it’s on this list.
- Banner Saga
- Broken Age: Act 1
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
- The Evil Within
- Mario Golf: World Tour
- Octodad: Dadliest Catch
- Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
- Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
- Shantae & the Pirates Curse