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The Best of 2014

The year 2014 has been a bit of a blur for me.

I had a kid, I had some major changes at work, and the world in general seemed to a state of constant tumult.

But that’s still no reason not get in some gaming.

It’s been a bit of a tradition around here that at the end of every year, I pick out a Best of and a Worst of. But this year, in the interest of spreading some more positivity into the world, I’m going to forgo the Worst part and just focus on what brought me some gaming joy this year…

smashbrosSuper Smash Bros (WiiU)

The Smash Bros series holds a special place in my heart. During my college years, the original was probably the single game I played the most. People would simply walk down the halls, knocking on dorm room doors, asking “Smash?” And we would always answer the call.

The latest entry in the series has come a long way from those humble N64 beginnings. The active roster is now somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 characters and there are more stages than my puny human mind can comprehend. At its core, though, Smash remains a beautifully chaotic experience with very tight controls. Fights are frenetic as ever, but you always feel like you in the driver’s seat of your own success (or failure).  And in a merciful first for Nintendo, the online experience works pretty darn well, meaning now I can knock on doors globally and “Smash?” friends and strangers alike.

Beyond the core battles, Nintendo has jammed an insane amount of content into the game. Trophy collection still exists, with more ways to gather them than ever before. There are Event Battles, training battles, Master Hand Battles, and a multitude of other words followed by “battle” that I could touch upon. But the point, really, is that it’s a lot. Even if you don’t feel like battling, you can fiddle and customize your characters to your own liking, expanding them beyond the static fighters they once were. And finally, simply browsing the Collections area is an adventure unto itself, with a massive view into all corners of Nintendo’s history back to the beginning.

Shovel_knight_coverShovel Knight (Various)

Shovel Knight is a story of dedication. When Yacht Club Games set out to make a game in the style of a NES platformer, they didn’t just mean it would have a retro aesthetic. No, they went the extra mile and built something that felt like I should need to blow into it before playing.

With Shovel Knight, they capture the essence of the NES era without any of the frustrations. In terms of gameplay, it’s a sort of mish-mash of Mega Man, Castlevania, and Uncle Scrooge’s pogo-bounce from Duck Tales (among others). Levels are carefully crafted, the graphics don’t go flickering in and out, and the soundtrack is just downright fantastic.If the Shovel Knight himself shows up in Smash Bros someday down the line, I think he’d find himself right at home.

Dungeon of the Endless (PC)

I don’t know exactly what Dungeon of the Endless is, but I know I like it. Part roguelike dungeon crawl and part tower defense, it is a genuinely unique experience among games I’ve played recently. Part of Amplitude’s Endless trilogy (Space, Dungeon, and Legend), the game carries through some of the world threads of the others while remaining a wholly unique creation unto itself.

Like all good roguelikes, Dungeon is brutal. What makes it especially brutal is the unique tower defense-esque twist that takes some time to wrap your mind around. If you simply go charging forward in Dungeon, prepared to fight your way to the next level, your adventure will be exceedingly short.

Dungeon makes me think differently, and that is a thrill that can’t be underestimated. It has also made me want to throw my keyboard through the wall a few times, but I keep coming back for more.

Twine 2 (Browsers)

Twine, for those not familiar with it, is not a game. What it is is a tool for writing pieces of interactive fiction. These can be as simple as a basic Choose Your Own Adventure, or as complex as a sprawling epic with animations, sounds, and, well, pretty much whatever you want to code into it. The point is, Twine is easy to use, and an incredibly powerful tool for helping anybody who can type make a game and tell their story.

Twine 2 was just released last week, and it goes even further in making Twine accessible to all. And, in a year that gave rise to #gamergate and all of the associated terribleness, I think anything that can help more people have a voice in gaming is a good thing.

[full disclosure: I do make games with the creator of Twine as part of Twofold Secret, but trust me, he wouldn’t give me a kickback even if I begged him. I disclose simply because, actually, it’s about ethics in games journalism.]

Honorable Mentions in Haiku

Legend of Zelda
made a new Link Between Worlds
I rented some bombs.

Mario Kart 8
Rubber banding? Yes, still there
But makes winning sweet

Twenty-four year wait
And then, Wasteland 2 arrived
Next one in thirty?

 

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