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Game of the Year 2014: Jonathan's Picks


Jonathan Higgins

Another year will soon be behind us. And while it may be easier to recall the many things that happened involving the gaming industry this year versus the games themselves, there are a handful of titles that many believe will stand the test of time.

 

I've done my best to create a Top Ten List absent of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS/Wii U (an easy choice for most) and Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (because I've certainly made my adoration for that franchise known around these parts). I've even made a last minute substitution!

 

There are a myriad of honorable mentions (like Xeodrifter from Renegade Kid, which I didn't include because I'd need more time to think critically about how it compares to these others; and Bravely Default, the game I booted at the last minute), but without further ado... here are the ten greatest games I've played this year, and a few reasons why.

 


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10. Kero Blaster

 

After being in the dark for over a year, the newest game from Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya made its way to iOS devices and PC by way of Playism. There are many things that set this game apart from Cave Story (the game Pixel is known for), but the two games were born from the same school of thought. Some of these differences are actually interesting to learn about, like the fact that this game's level designs are Pixel's first collaborative effort, among other things. Kero Blaster makes my list because it feels like a natural evolution of one of my favorite games of all time. (Fun fact: I actually got to meet and interview Pixel at PAX East this year; it was the first time Playism attended a convention in the west.)

 


 

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9. NES Remix 2

 

When the first NES Remix was announced and promptly released less than an hour later, I ate up the premise like a kid at a candy store. The small, bite-sized chunks of retro-gaming goodness were varied enough to be entertaining, and consistent enough to be completely addicting. The only problem with the first game was its lack of NES staples like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Kirby's Adventure. Enter: NES Remix 2. Indeed, it's more of the same. But this time, it featured all of the choices the previous entry was sorely missing and a bonus, backwards version of Super Mario Bros. in its entirety. NES Remix 2 makes my list because I have a problem. Here's to hours of my life gone by...

 


 

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8. 1,001 Spikes

 

Oh, my goodness. I don't even know where to begin with 1,0001 Spikes from Nicalis. It's like Indiana Jones for the truly sadistic at heart. You're going to die a lot. The game's platforming cruelty will push you to the point of madness. You're given 1,001 lives total, and if you lose them all... your only choice is to start all over again from the very beginning, forsaking hours of progress. The game auto-saves, so there's no escaping death. You're going to scream and say curse words in six different languages because of how many blatantly cheap shots this game lands on you. But if the kind of torture that makes LA-MULANA look like child's play is your idea of fun (like it is mine) then you're in for one wild, crazy ride. 1,001 Spikes makes my list because I'm a glutton for punishment.

 


 

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7. Kirby Triple Deluxe

 

True story: I've purchased every single Kirby game at launch since his debut in the early nineties. While that may show my age a little, his games have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Kirby's Return to Dreamland, in my opinion, is a mark of how far the pink puffball has come since his grey-scaled origins. Kirby Triple Deluxe makes a decent portable follow-up to the Wii's successful entry. There are a great many things that hold the new 3DS game back from being everything it could be, but I still spent almost fifteen hours with the game. Kirby Triple Deluxe makes my list because, even if I felt like Return to Dreamland did a bunch of things better, I still enjoyed every moment I spent with the game. (And the Beetle Copy Ability is so ridiculously overpowered, too. You've got to love it.)

 


 

 

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6. Tomodachi Life

 

I don't think I'll forget the

anytime soon. Prior to those ten minutes or so, I'd heard about the game, but I had no idea what it was actually all about. The game gets a special mention on my list, somewhere close to the middle, because it's actually one of the only games this year my girlfriend and I enjoyed together. Since your apartments can be populated with Miis of your choosing, since love and friendship are complex, and since you can even generate QR codes to send your Miis to other systems and make your stories part of your friend's island... this game makes my list because no one person's Tomodachi Life experience is the same.

 


 

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5. Transistor

 

Transistor, I think, proves a point that the developers at Supergiant Games are definitely not a one-trick pony. I actually played through Bastion for the first time this year (as a proper lead-in to this game) and I expected Transistor to be more like it, if I'm being perfectly honest. In this game's case, I was certainly happy to be wrong. I don't think I've seen a style of gameplay quite like it. It's one part action, one part... move-management, almost like a Strategy RPG because of its time-based mechanics.

 

I know an idea must be good when it's easy to learn and possible to master, but hard to explain. And Red's story, soundtrack and world show off a unique sense of style that you don't often see. Transistor makes my list because even my friends are starting to memorize the lyrics to "Paper Boats". This game is destined to stick with me for a long while.

 


 

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4. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

 

NES Remix 2 barely made the cut for my list this year because its premise is addicting. The latest Theatrhythm Final Fantasy game is on my list because of the same reasons; I'll admit that. But it's ranked quite a bit higher in my eyes because of how much it improves upon the game that came before it, as well as how much I still have to do in it even after thirty-nine hours of play. The Quest Medleys make sure you won't become excessively frustrated trying to unlock characters. Downloadable Content isn't afraid to venture outside of the mainline Final Fantasy music. I could go on. But Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call makes my list simply because I'm musically inclined, and this game marks what I hope is the beginning of many possible Square-Enix musical tributes.

 


 

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3. Fantasy Life

 

It's been a long time since I first started Fantasy Life. I've now Mastered three different lives, my review for the game has long since been written, and that game's script/sense of humor is still sticking with me, ladies and gentlemen. While it may take a minute for the game to hook you, and there are probably comparable games out there, when I'm thinking about how much fun I had in 2014, Fantasy Life is one of the three games that comes to mind immediately. And no one's more surprised as me that this is the case. The latest collaboration from Nintendo and Level-5 makes my list because, while its gameplay and ambiance are memorable enough, its script and the personality of its characters are what will make it truly timeless, in my eyes.

 


 

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2. Rex Rocket

 

Eat your heart out, Azure Striker Gunvolt. Don't get me wrong, that game is definitely fun. But you folks on the lookout for Mighty No. 9 next year, as well as anything from Comcept because Mega Man... I think you should look towards Castle Pixel while you wait. I keep coming back to Rex Rocket whenever I get the itch to play something inspired by Mega Man, because there's no better example without knocking on Inafune's door.

 

My review should do most of the talking, but really... this game is so good that I now have eyes and ears pointed towards Castle Pixel for whatever they're up to next. Seeing as their next project is a Zelda-like...yes, please. Seeing as I had no idea this game even existed before attending PAX East... I'm happy that a game and a studio could be launched so high on my proverbial "things to look out for" list in so short a time. Rex Rocket makes my list for being everything modern Mega Man should be.

 


 

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1. Shovel Knight

 

When the Shovel Knight Kickstarter first went live, I figured the game would be good. If I had any idea how good, I would have put hundreds of dollars towards making this project a success. I beat the game a good number of times. I got the soundtrack and the t-shirt and heaven knows what else. While games like Rex Rocket and Fantasy Life ranked high on my list for their originality, and Tomodachi Life made it because it affected my lady as much as it did me... everyone who interacts with me regularly knows how much I love Shovel Knight.

 

Most of the games on my list light a torch in homage to various games I love; Shovel Knight manages to take the torch and run with it. There is no better example of an indie studio taking the ideas of its backers and creators and turning it into something that can become the next great franchise than Shovel Knight, in my opinion. And that's why I consider it to be the greatest game I've played this year.

 

And yes, even if Pokémon or Smash had made my list, I still think Shovel Knight would rank above them. It may not be the game I've spent the most time with, but it is definitely the game I've had the most fun with this year.

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