Even with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One released in the West, 2014 still felt like a transitional year. That’s partly because it took the new consoles so long to gain speed, but also because we still heard about new hardware and company purchases, along with the departure of an influential figure.
In 2014, Sony announced PlayStation Now and PlayStation VR (known as Project Morpheus), Nintendo showed off New Nintendo 3DS, and Electronic Arts delivered EA Access for Xbox One. Meanwhile, Facebook shocked the world by purchasing Oculus VR, Amazon acquired Twitch, and Minecraft mastermind Notch rolled in the money when Microsoft bought his company, Mojang.
Ralph H. Baer, creator of the Magnavox Odyssey and billed as the “Father of Video Games,” died on December 6th at the age of 92. The impact of his contribution to the world simply cannot be measured.
To put things in music industry terms, if the first Theatrhythm is a greatest hits album, then Curtain Call is a box set. To clarify, Theatrhythm includes 70-ish songs, not including DLC, while Curtain Call offers 221 songs, plus 100 downloadable songs from, among others, Bravely Default, Chrono Trigger, Romancing SaGa, Xenogears, and The World Ends With You. That’s an incredible amount of content, and while the basic gameplay remains largely the same, who cares?
Why couldn’t Square Enix brought over Theatrhythm Dragon Quest, even if only as a downloadable game? Hell, why isn’t Theatrhythm (and knock-offs) regular releases for basically every publisher? Nintendo would make a killing with a music/rhythm game centered around Zelda music, and Microsoft could probably sell a decent number of copies with the memorable Halo theme.
Explain Jazzpunk? Okay. Jazzpunk is barely a game, but more of a first-person engine for delivering a regular supply of surreal/absurdist humor, and the rest of the game bends to the continued delivery of that humor. Similar to Super Mario 64, Jazzpunk is comprised of a handful of open spaces to explore and attempt to find a way to accomplish that location’s primary goal, but the main intent is obviously to subject the player to a non-stop variety of gags.
I love this type of humor, and while the early stages provided me with plenty of amusement, the later stages were a bit lacking in comedic punches. They’re hardly bad, but they do sometimes fall a bit flat. It’s really those early stages that earned Jazzpunk a place on this list.
When facing a single Abductor — roughly two-story mechs designed to kidnap people — Freedom Wars is plenty of fun. When the game tosses me into a mission with two Abductors, that’s when my blood pressure rises. Freedom Wars has little issue overwhelming the player during those instances, leading to instances where one Abductor knocks my character to the ground as another stomps on him as he tries to stand back up. At that point, there’s a good chance he’s KO’ed, forcing me to burn another precious life.
That’s with two Abductors, but I’m better able to focus and react to a single Abductor as my fellow AI-controlled allies attack the idiot enemy foot soldiers. I’m able to destroy one of the mech’s weapons, causing my character to leap off and grant me a chance to lassow to another appendage, and that’s plenty fun. Taking down an Abductor takes a bit of time, so doing so feels like a definite victory. Then I’m send back to the main base for the non-story and bland cast.
So I have a bit of a love/hate thing with Freedom Wars.
Forget the crap that surrounds the songs. The story mode is unnecessarily heavy with tutorials, while the various realms that contain the songs is fodder for children to play around with, buffered by surprisingly lengthy load times. The story itself barely rises above something you’re likely to watch on the Disney Channel. None of this would be a problem if you could just use quickplay, except you’re forced to unlock every song and its two remixes, meaning you’re forced to play every song multiple times in the story mode.
What I love is that at certain points during songs, it picks a specific instrument and allows you to change to another instrument being provided by one of two remixes. So instead of hearing the piano in the original song, I’m able to switch it out for dual acoustic guitars from one of the remixes. Sometimes the remixes are a bit too far from the original song to sound right inserted into what you’re hearing (these remixes contain too much techno!), but pulling this off feels incredible, like I created my own version.
For instance, I replaced the vocals for “Spoonman” from Soundgarden with an electric guitar that’s emulating Chris Cornell’s pitch for almost the entirety of the song. I switched back to Cornell only on the last chorus, and I loved the result. It felt like I created my own remix, and that feeling is why, despite my numerous complaints, why Fantasia: Music Evolved made this list.
I love any game that devotes a button to something as useless to humming, although that’s the closest we come to hearing Red’s voice throughout the game (or as far as I’ve progressed). She’s a singer who lost her voice and is now being actively hunted, forced to lug around a sword (literally dragging it on the ground) able to communicate with her.
Transistor is a beautiful indie RPG with a haunting soundtrack and an unconventional real-time battle system that sees the player freezing the world to plan out and follow through with attacks. It’s odd, but fun and tense. The battle system revolves around “Functions,” which can be used as one of four attacks or added to other roles, like altering attacks or creating unrelated effects. Transistor encourages mixing Functions to discover new combinations.
I never finished Transistor, but I loved everything I played. It’s unusual and an easy recommendation.
My biggest beef with the Ace Attorney franchise is that the investigations — the stuff between the courtroom antics — are boring at best, but Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright manages to sidestep this frustration by solving puzzles instead. No breaking magical locks by offering the right piece of evidence or hunting a static environment for the necessary object that advances the plot. Just a bunch of neat puzzles that barely (if at all) connects with whatever’s happening in the story at the moment.
The problem is that neither puzzles nor courtroom proceedings are as challenging as what’s found in their respective franchises, but that’s okay because it gives the game a breeziness that I appreciate. Sometimes I want to run through the surprisingly entertaining story without worrying about replaying an interrogation or getting stuck on a certain puzzle? Layton v. Wright is fun and light, and I hope the two come together again in the future.
Another game that didn’t make the original list, but I’ve played enough that I feel comfortable adding it. I don’t wish to retread what I’ve already written, so allow me to say that Omega Ruby improves on the original GBA release by being a game that I enjoy playing. It’s a beautiful, user-friendly remake that adds in features previously stripped away, and might be my favorite Pokémon game since Diamond/Pearl.
Against a foggy gray backdrop, Shovel Knight spots his beloved Shield Knight falling from the black, starry night. The world around them slows as our hero leaps to catch his beloved, but before he reaches her… Shovel Knight awakens by the smoldering ashes of last night’s campfire.
Even if you go into Shovel Knight blind and skip the introductory cutscene, this event tells us everything we need to know about the hero. He failed to save Shield Knight, and regrets this enough that he dreams about his beloved. These dreams are reminders of what he seeks — revenge — as he travels to the imposing tower in the distance, the same tower that cost him Shield Knight, which helps set the story for the finale and that last, somber cutscene.
Even with words and voice acting, too many games fail to create a connection between the hero’s desires and the player, but Shovel Knight accomplishes that beautifully with a playable scene lacking words or voices. This is an outstanding game that everyone should play, but it also deserves praise for what amounts to a dream. It’s a simple, beautiful example of storytelling.
Toss any complaints that Mario Kart barely changes with each sequel and enjoy this colorful, chaotic racer that tosses players everywhere from below the waves to above the clouds. Including the (wonderfully priced) DLC tracks, Mario Kart 8 features some of the franchise’s best maps, while the beautiful visuals gives returning tracks new life. The only thing I can complain about is how battle mode uses existing tracks that clearly weren’t designed for battle mode instead of maps that were.
Regardless, Mario Kart 8 is the best game in the franchise.
Yes, as a Fire Emblem fan, every criticism that Smash Bros. 4 contains too many FE characters is like a little needle to the heart. Okay, that’s being a bit dramatic, but such complaints feel a tad tired while looking at the rest of the character line-up. What other game combines Mario and Link with Pac-Man and Bayonetta? Or Wario and Mega Man? Or Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud? It’s a dream line-up that I have a hard time imagining could ever be upstaged in sequels.
Smash 4 finds a happy medium between the chaotic Melee and the comparatively slow-paced Brawl, and offers 55 new and old arenas from the past three Smash games. The newer stages look great in HD, as do some of the older ones. It’s a shame that online never runs smoothly, but Smash 4 on Wii U is tons of fun, as long as you stay offline.
I’m thrilled whenever a game does more than cast us as the protagonist, but allows us to build our heroes with their own beliefs. Sylvan, my Inquisitor, is an elven mage with a charming accent and pink eyes. He’s a skeptical sort, questioning everything from his role as the so-called Herald of Andraste to the Dalish’s attempts to regain their long forgotten past. Yet, when it comes to the biggest decisions, he sides with organizations that keeps Thedas running over the many decades and centuries. Sylvan is a skeptic, so it makes sense he’d pass over the untested upstarts.
Not surprisingly, many of these decision are made in the heat of the moment. BioWare crafted a number of incredible moments that forces decisions without easy answer. One choice required that I choose between two characters from prior games that I’ve grown to love. I’ve built an emotional investment with these characters, and developed relationships between dozens of other characters, and BioWare is asking me to choose one over the other?
I made my decision and quickly felt like shit about it, and only partially because one of my favorite Dragon Age characters clearly died a little himself. Take away that investment built over the past two games and that decision becomes significantly easier. Of course, had I chose the other guy, I’d feel equally crappy about it. BioWare handed Sylvan a crappy choice, and he, and I, chose the guy from the centuries-old organization. Because that’s the character I created, and Dragon Age: Inquisition gave me plenty of opportunities to reveal that.