Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top 10 Video Games of 2014 - Part Two

As in years past, I’ve compiled a list of the best games I played in 2014. While some might say 2014 was a slump year for gaming, I felt the case was quite the opposite – granted, some of the titles on this list were not released in this year, but a large chunk of the titles I played this year were released in a window between late 2013 through 2014. In each year prior to this one, I narrowed my ‘games of the year’ down to a select five. However, I felt that doing so this year would serve a great injustice to many of the titles I found to be simply exceptional this year. As such, this year’s list will consist of the ten best games I played in 2014, and will be split into two parts. Keep in mind that the order of these games on this list is not necessarily representative of the score I gave each of them in my reviews, rather a ranking based on which games were the most enjoyable and impressed me the most.

#5) Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U: As a pair, these two new Smash Bros. titles might just be my new favorites in Nintendo’s all-star fighting franchise. The Wii U version offers a wider variety of game modes, many of them fast-paced, and while the 3DS’ controls might hold a little less appeal in the longterm, the handheld version’s classic mode is more in line with that of previous Smash installments. The roster includes some curious characters, each of whom makes use of highly inventive movesets and feels right at home with the veteran characters. Coupling that with the intelligent repurposing of final smashes, these two latest titles offer up the most balanced fighting frenzy Smash Bros. has seen since its N64 debut.

#4) Bayonetta 2: One of the smoothest-playing action games I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting my hands on, Bayonetta 2 is equally impressive in its visual presentation. It’s easily one of the most graphically impressive games on the market right now, and the polar opposite designs of statuesque Angels and mechanical Demons provides a great variety of designs to coincide with their various attack and defense patterns. Bayonetta 2 is thoroughly unapologetic, in both its demanding combo system of close encounters and pinpoint-accuracy dodging, as well as its sense of flash and flair, which, much like its very vocal and very confident protagonist, it owns and flaunts in every possible angle.

#3) Skullgirls Encore: I’ve never been one to claim I’m particularly skilled at popular combo-heavy fighting games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, but Skullgirls was something of a game-changer for me. It is designed with the hardcore fighting game crowd in mind, but somehow opens up to a wider audience with tutorials and combo chains that prove far more intuitive than heavyweights of the genre typically offer. While the default character roster may be smaller than in most fighting games, each character is designed with a very specific play style in mind, and with more DLC characters on the way, fights are bound to push forth more complex team strategies and fast-paced action as they are added to the lineup. The hand-drawn character models are absolutely gorgeous, and a further testament to the love of labor that the creative team behind Skullgirls has poured into this magnificent creation.

#2) Killer7: It’s no secret that I love the utterly bizarre creations of Suda51 and the team at Grasshopper Manufacture, and Killer7 is no exception. Polar opposite in themes and presentation to No More Heroes, Killer7 is a dark and serious tale, albeit an incredibly weird one, that weaves political intrigue, a terrorist organization that mutates its loyalists into walking time-bombs, the personas of multiple assassins given corporeal form, and heavily cel-shaded graphics into one effectively perfect gaming experience. Of all the aspects of Killer7 I found myself simply in awe of, it was the fact that – despite its unorthodox combination of on-rails progression, third-person action, first-person shooting, and character-specific puzzles – I was unable to find any noteworthy flaws in the design or mechanics of this game.

#1) Shovel Knight: Shovel Knight is a case of David holding his own with the Goliaths of the gaming industry, an indie title that shows as much love and polish, if not more, than most of its AAA-title competitors. It’s a love song to NES-era icons like Mega Man, Zelda, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy, and yet is able to craft its own identity that feels right at home in the company of Nintendo’s long-since-famous mascots. Shovel Knight is not a cakewalk of a game, by any means, but its smooth controls and wacky items prove a wonderful pairing to the game’s 8-bit aesthetic. Shovel Knight is great for its classic fantasy vibe, its comedic cast, and its addictive gameplay that is great for both brief sessions on the go, or a long haul of taking down the nefarious Order of No Quarter.

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