2014 Year in Review: Video Games

As this year comes to a close, I am wrapping up my ‘year in review’ lists, including my top anime and video game picks for 2014. Below is a list of every video game in the order that I played them this year, complete with a brief summary of my full review and the final score I provided each. Keep an eye out for my picks of the top ten video games of the year later this month, and please note that this list will be updated within the next week or so to account for my review of Pokémon: Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

Grand Theft Auto V – Blending action-packed heists with parodies of contemporary culture in a setting as true to the west coast as possible, GTA V never seems to stop dealing out entertainment, whether from its cleverly-scripted story of three crooks in over their heads, or simply driving freely across the massive expanse of forests, desert, and bustling city streets. There is so much to do and see, it’s truly baffling that the game runs so seamlessly, not only in its load times, but in the way it develops each character and shapes the grand plot. While many games of this genre sacrifice quality for quantity, GTA V still looks quite visually impressive for a late seventh generation console release, and the myriad of alternative, electronic, and classic rock tunes add some welcome flavor to the depiction of Los Santos. My rating: 9.25

Super Mario 3D World – The follow-up to the 3DS’ Super Mario 3D Land, this Wii U platformer sticks to the 2D/3D hybrid design, and features levels that are much shorter than most Mario games would offer. That said, the game looks gorgeous, and offers plenty of variety and replayability, with drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, secret areas abound, and an extra challenge from post-game bonus stages. The Cat Suit, while fun for a while, overshadows many of the other more interesting items, which could have been more consistently utilized. My rating: 8

DmC: Devil May Cry – A new vision of one of the biggest action gaming series out there, DmC sports a new punky, foul-mouthed Dante as he pairs with his more calm and collected brother Vergil to free the humans of the city of Limbo from the influence of the demon Mundus. Everything has been given a gritty, yet colorful look, with Dante smashing and hacking apart grotesque statue-like enemies in environments that draw heavy inspiration from modern eastern European urban areas. The dialogue is cheesy, no doubt, and the story over a bit more quickly than it could have been, but it is unquestionably the smoothest-playing entry in the Devil May Cry franchise, and plenty of fun to boot. My rating: 9.25

- Vergil’s Downfall: 6.75

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – Attempting to build upon the foundation laid by what is easily one of the most popular Zelda titles is a gutsy feat, and A Link Between Worlds displays how to go about delivering the bare minimum to fans of the series. Selling itself entirely on nostalgia, A Link Between Worlds rips almost everything in its overworld directly from the SNES classic, while showing a general lack of inspiration in the boss and dungeon layouts - these can be challenged in any order, but the tradeoff for such open-ended adventuring is that the difficulty factor peaks within the first two hours of gameplay. The story is bland, the characters generally uninteresting, and the whole package simply a lazy offering for what is one of the most renowned series in adventure gaming today. My rating: 6.5

Killer7 – A cel-shaded hybrid of multiple gaming genres, Killer7 conveys the bold and bizarre ideas that culminated from Suda51 and Shinji Mikami’s brains, albeit in a much different light than the action/comedy seen in Grasshopper Manufacture’s other modern masterpiece, No More Heroes. In a not-too-distant future, six assassins and one liaison take on corporeal form and carry out missions on behalf of their host, Garcian Smith, and elderly man who was once an ace assassin. With political intrigue, science fiction, and psychological horror all mixed into a singular product, Killer7 is a game like no other. Its on-rails control scheme and emphasis on solving puzzles while seeking out and dispatching invisible walking time bomb enemies may sound both a convoluted and repetitive process, but the unique abilities of each assassin continue to offer up new spins on familiar gameplay elements up until the very end. My rating: 10

Kirby: Triple Deluxe – While the 3D effects do well to explore new creativity in level design and the signature simplistic combat the series is known for, the real surprise in Kirby: Triple Deluxe is the degree to which the game utilizes the 3DS’ internal gyroscope, requiring players to tilt their systems back and forth to overcome puzzles within the varied environments. At its core, Triple Deluxe is a familiar path for longtime fans of the series, but the new power-ups and unexpected spins on boss encounters add an air of newness to this latest Kirby title, as well as a welcome (though not overly intense) challenge. Despite being a bit on the short side and hosting a story that is even more simplistic than that of many of its predecessors, Triple Deluxe is a wonderfully polished experience that emphasizes a ‘fun factor’ through every facet of its design. My rating: 9.25

Mario Kart 8 – Introducing zero-gravity segments to the Mario Kart series, number eight is quite a far cry from where it started back on the SNES, and yet, it could not play more smoothly. A few new items adjust the ‘rubber band’ balancing issues many players had with some of the recent installments, while the Grand Prix mode provides both fun and inventive new locales as well as flat-out gorgeous reimaginings of retro tracks. The one major drawback that Mario Kart 8 faces is that its battle mode has been relegated to the race tracks themselves, and lacks any proper battle arenas, effectively nullifying the enjoyment of that bonus game mode. My rating: 8

- The Legend of Zelda x Mario Kart 8: 8

LEGO Marvel Superheroes – A love letter to fans of Marvel’s comics and films, this LEGO version of Manhattan incorporates a ludicrous number of heroes and villains, from the iconic Iron Man, Wolverine, Thor, and Captain America, to less mainstream and sometimes oddball picks like Taskmaster, Black Bolt, Super Skrull, and M.O.D.O.K. There’s plenty of distractions in the form of races and combat challenges, both in New York City and on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier stationed overhead. It’s a fun story that does well to aim itself at younger players and older fans alike, and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, with members of the Avengers commenting on how silly some of their foes plans are. My rating: 8.25

Shovel Knight – A brilliant homage to NES icons like The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy, Shovel Knight conveys charm in its 8-bit aesthetic while offering smooth platforming action controls more appropriate for a 2014 release. The crew at Yacht Club games has done a masterful job in balancing fun elements with a fair but challenging degree of trial-and-error routines. The quirky and colorful villains of the Order of No Quarter are a humorous and memorable lot, and though it may not be as long a quest as many major retail releases this year, Shovel Knight offers up plenty of variety and replayability via its StreetPass arena, wandering warriors, and bonus challenge stages. My rating: 8.75

The Wolf Among Us – Hot off the heels of their success with the first season of The Walking Dead video game, Telltale Games has opted to take on the more fantastical and magic-oriented realm of the Fables comics. As Sherriff Bigby Wolf, you must search for clues regarding the death of one of the Fables now living in Fabletown, New York. It quickly becomes apparent that there are larger motives at play, and that Bigby will have to pay attention to the finest of details if he is to bring the case to justice. Favoring clue hunting and quick-time prompted action sequences, The Wolf Among Us is as much an ‘interactive story’ as it predecessor, not controlling in a manner typical to most video games in this day and age. Still, its cel-shaded styling is distinct, its storytelling generally solid and engaging, and its characters all decently developed by the time the final chapter comes to a close. My rating: 7.5

Skullgirls Encore – Designed with fighting game fans in mind, Skullgirls is surprisingly accessible to those lacking an intimate history with genre mainstays like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. While the nearly-all-female cast conveys a curious charm with their designs all being inspired by monster movies and horror fiction, the most impressive feat Skullgirls pulls off – aside from its buttery-smooth gameplay – is the fact that every single character is animated by hand, a design choice unheard of in today’s industry. Though the roster may not be as large as other fighting games, each character is designed with specialized playstyles in mind that fit major staples of the genre while adding a little bit of a different flair to the mix. Story modes are rarely the highlight of any arcade style combo-fest, yet Skullgirls handles its world and characters in such a way that will leave players wanting more when the single player modes have been conquered – and with more DLC characters on the way, one can only be excited for what lies ahead. My rating: 9.25

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – A glorified demo of what is planned for the next proper numbered installment in the MGS series, Ground Zeroes has Snake running around a small camp in search of his former Peace Walker comrades Chico and Paz. The story is far too short and simple for player to care about, and lacks any real semblance to a proper Metal Gear tale. Likewise, the gameplay has been dulled across the board to grant mainstream gamers ease of access, which in turn effectively robs the entire experience of the Metal Gear spirit. My rating: 4.5

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D – A port of the Wii’s recent resurrection of DK’s platforming adventures, this game is riddled with many worlds and stages to explore, each with secret areas and bonus collectibles. Aside from a few upgrades courtesy of Cranky Kong’s shop, the gameplay is rather straightforward, asking that players progress to the end of the stage while stomping and rolling on enemy wildlife that have been possessed by resident villain tiki masks. The emphasis on twitch-memorization movement drags down the fun factor in later worlds, however, as the game is effectively asking you to go through the motions in a very specific pattern as opposed to throwing any real learning curve at you or asking you to strategize with experience. My rating: 6.5

Sin and Punishment: Star Successor – Letting up on the difficulty factor from its predecessor, this Wii sequel offers greater creativity in both enemy and environment designs. More general science fiction, the cyberpunk aesthetic is still at play in Star Successor, though not as heavily as in the original Sin and Punishment. The story of Isa and Kachi running from the Nebulox forces is light, but this is a game that is more about fine-tuned arcade-style action gameplay than it is about a gripping story, and to that end, Star Successor does a fine job of continuing the cult-following legacy of Sin and Punishment. My rating: 8

Kid Icarus: Uprising – Part on-rails shooter, part action-adventure game, Kid Icarus: Uprising is a bold reimagining of a long-dormant Nintendo property that doesn’t take itself too seriously, poking fun not only at the previous Kid Icarus titles, but also Nintendo’s long history of iconic video game characters and creations. With Hades pulling the strings behind a grand bid at expanding his forces from the Underworld into the realm of the living, Palutena calls upon her most trusted Angel Pit to seek out ancient artifacts and take up the mantle of unlikely savior. Along the way, Pit will become sidetracked as he squares off with the Forces of Nature and beings from beyond the Earth, all of which bear beautiful, highly-detailed designs fitting of the classic Greek and Roman influences the series is known for. My rating: 9.25

Persona 4 – Designed in the vein of old-school JRPGs, but incorporating modern sensibilities to its design, gameplay, and story, Persona 4 follows a group of classmates/friends as they try to unravel the mysteries surrounding a series of murders and the television world of the Midnight Channel. The party members are, by and large, a genuinely entertaining lot, which is just as well, considering how much time will be spent in their company, both while scouring dungeons for experience points and treasure, and during your free time in town and at school as you forge stronger social links to increases their combat capabilities. The symbols of the arcana that you choose to pursue will influence the types of Personas you are able to fuse and summon, and taking on a local job or after-school activity will boost personal stats. The dungeons each hold an aesthetic unique to the characters they correlate to, though the endgame stretch streamlines everything into a suddenly straightforward and deflated experience compared to everything that preceded it. My rating: 8.75

Hyrule Warriors – A hack-and-slash spinoff in the vein of Dynasty Warriors, this is certainly one strange but not unwelcome combination of franchises. While the core mechanics are more in line with the DW combat system, the incorporation of classic items like the Bow, Bombs, Hookshot, and more give Hyrule Warriors a flavor just different enough to identify it as its own beast. The story may be light, but the game offer plenty of missions between its three core modes of gameplay, and a reasonable amount of depth in upgrading character stats and weapon bonuses. As a whole, it may not be as strong as most Zelda titles, but it does well to cater to longtime fans of the series, while refining many elements carried over from Dynasty Warriors. My rating: 8.25

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS – Overpowered characters from the series’ last outing on the Wii have been toned down in favor of greater balance across the board, while final smash moves have similarly been evened out for the better. Classic mode grants players freedom to select from one of three matches before each encounter, throwing metal, giant, and horde battles into the mix, and offering greater rewards at higher difficulty settings, while the time-sensitive gathering of stat boosts in Smash Run is, in stark comparison, a largely forgettable portion of the handheld Smash experience. 3D effects are used for little more than added depth perception, which is just as well, given the often chaotic nature of fights, and players who find it difficult to keep track of their fighter on screen can increases the thickness on the outline of their character model – the renders of which, along with the environments and collectible trophies, look exceptional on the small screen. My rating: 9.25

Bayonetta 2 – Pairing silky smooth gameplay with an unapologetic sense of flair that many other action games strive to achieve but few actually manage to do, Bayonetta 2 is not only one of the best showings in its genre, it is one of the best games of this eighth generation of consoles. With wacky humor, battles that constantly escalate in scale and ridiculousness, and a protagonist that commands with every backflip and shot from her pistols, Bayonetta 2 is not just an absolute visual treat, it’s a no-holds-barred wild ride from start to finish. The majestic soundtrack, bonus levels, and Nintendo easter eggs only add to this utterly delicious package. My rating: 9.75

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U – While Smash Bros. does well on the 3DS, it feels properly at home on the Wii U, with tight controls and the ability to enter (admittedly chaotic and fast-paced) 8-player bouts. There’s an abundance of modes represented in this new home console Smash Bros., and even more in the way of unlockables. While Classic mode does break from its traditional patterns a bit, the roster of playable fighters is top-notch, and easily the most diverse and balanced group the series has seen in years. The returning stages may not boast as strong of a showing as on the 3DS, but the new stages for this Wii U counterpart are a strong showing, by and large, and pair well with the move away from Brawl’s gimmicky gameplay and design elements. My rating: 9.25

Pokemon: Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire – While generation III did well during its original Gameboy Advance release to introduce plenty of new and interesting typing combos that proved both enjoyable and useful in the long run, this pair of 3DS remakes only adds so much to the formula. Some new features from the Pokenav aid in catching specific Pokémon in the wild, while the experience share system carried over from last year’s Pokémon X and Y lead your party members to reach much higher levels than necessary shortly after the halfway point of the journey through the now fully-3D Hoenn region. The bonus post-game Delta Episode content is easily among the highlights of the game, and makes up for many of missteps encountered during the core story of Team Magma and Team Aqua. A lack of new offerings, combined with the generally less-inspired layout of the Hoenn region when compared to its brethren in the franchise, lead Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire to be less impressive than what most fans have come to expect in the overall quality of Pokémon titles. My rating: 7

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