Rhete's Best Games of 2014
by Rhete

Another year, another look back at the best in interactive video-based entertainment. I'm not big on introduction paragraphs, so without further ado..

Top 5 Games Released in 2014

I didn't really play a whole lot of new games this year, so in the end I didn't feel comfortable doing a top 10 if it meant reaching into stuff I didn't like that much. So here's a top 5 from the handful of 2014 releases I have played so far.

#5 - Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode 2

Burial at Sea - Episode 1 was strange. It took Bioshock Infinite out of the clouds of Columbia and back to Rapture, the underwater city of the original game. Parts of the gameplay felt awkward as well, such as sky-lines suddenly being in Rapture. Right when the story started to get going, it ended. Episode 2 is a substantial improvement over the first, with the gameplay going under massive changes. The game is much more stealth focused, which is a weird change for the series to make, but feels much more appropriate given the darker setting of Rapture, and brings back the horror elements from the original, and a sense of vulnerability that the series has always been lacking. Perhaps Episode 2 does play a bit too much like a poor-mans Dishonored, but I loved that game so that's not too much of a slight. Burial at Sea - Episode 2 also has one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful intros, and overall feels like a very appropriate send-off and farewell to the Bioshock series.

#4 - Shovel Knight

I played decent number a lot of retro and NES inspired games this year, and despite being part of a fairly crowded genre, Shovel Knight manages to stand above the rest. It does so with a relentless level of polish and care put into every element. The level design is immaculate and extremely well thought out, with unique stage elements being smoothly introduced, expanded upon, and discarded before getting repetitive. The bosses are all unique, well animated, and a ton of fun to learn the patterns of and battle against. Other elements too, like the town, the music, the upgrade system, the map screen, are extremely well done. The only thing you can really hold against Shovel Knight is that it treads old ground without doing much new itself. It's an homage to NES classics, particularly Mega Man, but comfortably stands among them, not as an imitator, but an equal.

#3 - Cloudbuilt

I found that this year, I was a lot less forgiving towards bad and mediocre games. I play a lot of games, and we're just now getting past the longest console generation, where fatigue had definitely set in. Genres stagnated, sequels fail to innovate. I called out to the video game heavens, "Show me something new already!"

Cloudbuilt was that something new. It's a 3D platformer with an emphasis on speedrunning. You dash, double jump, and wallrun though massive areas of ruins floating in the sky. The sense of movement, freedom, and speed is unlike anything I've ever seen before. Cloudbuilt achieved that very rare "I've never played anything like this before". But loving it was difficult, as the difficulty of the game got completely fucked in the later levels. Cloudbuilt was simultaneously the most amazing game I'd played all year, and the most frustrating.

Luckily, the developers heard the community feedback, and sought to improve the game. First with a free expansion that introduced five new enemy-free levels, and then a later patch that drastically toned down the strength of the enemies across the entire game.

While the second DLC, Defiance, added some new extremely hard levels, it did so in some very smart ways with new mechanics that made them less frustrating compared to the original game. They also forced me to learn the intricacies of the game in ways I hadn't before through some clever level design. After completing Defiance I was able to go back to the original game and get A-Rank on almost all of the original levels because I'd become so much better at the game as a result.

Over the year Cloudbuilt went from a game that I loved but was hard to recommend, to something I think everyone should try. There's nothing out there like it.

#2 - Dark Souls II

I feel strange putting Dark Souls II so high on this list. On paper, it's a terribly disappointing sequel to one of the greatest games ever, and has a ton of bafflingly awful design decisions that I won't even get into here. As much as I saw wrong or disappointing about it, I still spent a ridiculous amount of time the game. The combat is easily the best in the series, the co-op actually worked this time, and PVP felt significantly better to me than it did in the past. It's no Dark Souls, but in the end, a bad Souls game is still better than 99% of games released. It's a flawed game, but playing it when it was new and full of people helped smooth out the rough edges.

#1 - Twitch Plays Pokemon

In February, an anonymous programmer connected an emulator playing Pokemon Red to a chat room, allowing people to control the game via text commands. It got popular. Really popular. 100,000 people playing at once popular. Several months later, people had completed the entire Pokemon series this way.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend that calling Twitch Plays Pokemon the best game of 2014 is in any way rational. But for me personally, it was the most engaged I'd been in a "game" and community in ages. Twitch Plays Pokemon fans created a ridiculous amount of content, ranging from fan art, to dramatic readings of the lore, and even some religious hymns. All of this was backed up by a game that, while normally very easy, was excruciatingly difficult when played with thousands of people at once. Everything was a struggle, many people believed it would be impossible to complete the game, and it made the whole thing much more dramatic.

And in a crazy way, it made me sort of understand the appeal of Pokemon. Twitch Plays Pokemon accidentally added in a new element, perma-death. Occasionally Pokemon would be accidentally released when button mashing at the PC, and every time it was a sad shocking loss. If the series is about bonding with your Pokemon, then the risk of losing them forever makes you appreciate the ones left even more.

Twitch Plays Pokemon was a crazy ride, I'm glad to have participated in part of it (Red and Emerald). It's something unique that we'll never quite see the likes of again.

Some Other Good Games I Played In 2014
(AKA Honorable Mentions)

Max Payne 3

While making Max fat and bald for most of the game certainly wasn't the direction any fans expected the series to go in, and it ditches the noir style of the originals, Max Payne 3 is just a really great shooter. The story is pretty decent as well, and just when I thought it was over, the last level happened and totally blew my mind.

Noitu Love 2: Devolution

Freedom Planet nothing, THIS is the game that should be winning the "Treasure spirit" award. Noitu Love 2 is pure 16 bit action start to finish. Once you get used to the unique mouse based control scheme, it's a ton of fun to run through this game due to its excellent pacing and non-stop action and bosses.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

This game could've been nothing but the first and last level and I'd still have to give it a nod. I love dumb over the top stuff, and this game is THE MOST dumb and over the top.

Demon's Souls

I'll be honest, Demon's Souls didn't grab me the way Dark Souls did last year, or even Dark Souls II did a few months after I played this one. But I can respect this game for setting the stage, establishing the formula, and having many standout moments of its own, especially Tower of Latria (3-1) which is quite possibly the best level in the entire series thus far.

Top 10 Games I played in 2014
(That weren't released in 2014)

#10 - Guacamelee!

Guacamelee! was a game that for a lot of it I wanted to love but didn't. It was a metroidvania that felt incredibly linear, and every attempt to backtrack and explore was frustrating, as every time I got a new powerup, I'd go look for paths it would open up in previous areas, only to be met by dead ends immediately after them.

That changed at the end of the game though, where in order to unlock the true ending, you have to explore and find some pretty well hidden areas, the size and difficulty of which really took me off guard. It's a bit crazy to say, "Don't bother exploring until you beat the game once" but that was when the game finally clicked for me. From the challenge rooms located in hell to a bizarre Super Meat Boy tribute, the endgame of Guacamelee! stands out as a huge "that was awesome" moment in games I played this year.

#9 - Rayman Legends

If I could describe this game in one word it would be joyous. Like, look at this damn trailer! You just don't see this kind of, fun, happy, colorful style of game anymore, especially not from fucking Ubisoft of all companies. While Legends does maybe stick a bit too close to the formula that Origins established, it's still a wonderful ride.

#8 - Saints Row IV

Similar to Rayman, Saints Row IV just wants you to have a good goddamn time. Actually funny humor, super-hero power fantasy gameplay, and several spot on video game parodies/tributes, this game kind of has it all. The conceit of the game taking place inside a simulation while your character's real body sits inside a spaceship also ends up making this the best Matrix game ever made to boot.

#7 - Shadow of the Colossus

Sometimes it's hard for games of this statue to live up to their larger than life reputations, but Shadow of the Colossus managed to do so and left me wondering why the hell no one has made anything like it since.

#6 - Puppeteer

Even more so than Rayman Legends, Puppeteer is a game that is just a non-stop barrage of energy, creativity, character, and charm. While yeah, I have some qualms about the platformer gameplay itself, the overall experience of playing the game is just so over the top amazing that I'd still recommend the game to anyone, as it's totally worth experiencing.

#5 - The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

To put it simply, this was a game that once I started I simply could not stop playing until I was done. The dungeons are simply fantastic with some great puzzles and combat, to the point where it felt like the "Zelda formula" made sense to me despite having played almost all of the others by this point. The ending is also really fantastic.

#4 - Bioshock Infinite

Oh don't give me that look it's a good game. I may be the only person who really loves the gunplay in Infinite, especially combined with the sky-lines and elemental tonics. It's just a lot of damn fun and doesn't feel anything like other modern shooters. The setting and story are also both extremely well done, and while the plot does have some holes if you really dig deep enough, I think the game is still a lot smarter than some people give it credit for and remains thematically consistent in what it wants to say.

#3 - Valkyria Chronicles

Valkyria Chronicles is a game that delivers on all fronts and becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The story is extremely well done, with every major character going through a personal arc, as well as the game touching on some pretty heavy subjects, but never for too long as to make the plot drag. The story also does an excellent job contextualizing the battles you take place in, each of them changing things up a bit with some gimmick to keep things fresh. The zoomed in, third person camera during combat does a great job bringing the battles to life, rather than just moving units on an aerial map, you're down there on the field with them. The music is also really good too! Basically, there's no aspect of the game I dislike and it all comes together into a wonderful cohesive package, with a real sense of love and craft behind the whole thing that you just don't see much anymore.

#2 - The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

I'm not even sure what to put here. After talking about the game for 3 hours on an early Sockscast, then kind of losing myself again when bringing it up on the Game of the Year podcast, I think I've said my piece on this game. It's good and you should play it and I'm really glad that I did.

#1 - Spelunky

I fucked up. I fucked up because Spelunky was actually a game I played last year. I was in a "beat it and move on" mode with games, so after defeating Olmec, I shelved the game and moved on to the next one. It ended up not making my best of 2013 list. And now here it is, sitting pretty atop my 2014 list. So what the heck happened?

Towards the start of the year, I started playing the game again. Over the next few months I dove into the true depths of Spelunky. The Black Market. The Golden City. Hell. I discovered just how true it is that beating Olmec is really just the start of the game. Acquiring the true ending of the game is incredibly difficult, and messing up any step along the way forces you all the way back to the start. Few games have ever gotten my adrenaline pumping like the first time I reached hell in Spelunky, and finally defeating Yama will remain one of my proudest gaming achievements.

And despite spending over a hundred hours playing Spelunky, it never got boring. The randomly generated dungeons allow for near infinite replayability, while the rules, physics, and interactions of the game allow for a tightly tuned experience that very rarely feels like it cheated you with something you couldn't have seen coming. Spelunky plays hard, and is really daunting at first, but it can be learned and mastered, and what a hell of a journey it is.

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