While the whole editorial staff contributed to our 2014 awards, we wanted to allow everybody the opportunity to publicly name their personal top 10 games of the year. While many did play the majority of releases in 2014, please remember that unlike our main awards, the editors are not naming the best games, but their personal favorites out of the selection they played.
10. Velocity 2X (PS4/Vita, FuturLab)
Velocity 2X’s focus on momentum hearkens back to the 16-bit days of Sonic the Hedgehog, built with the idea of speed runs in mind, but even if you drop that greased lightning mindset, Velocity 2X’s incredible controls and level design are made for each other. The stylized art only makes the pitch-perfect pacing better, a rush of adrenaline fueled with an endless desire to step up your game. The multiple play styles break up tedium at every occurrence, keeping your eyes on the prize and your sweaty palms on your controller. Whether on PS4 or Vita, Velocity 2X is an indie game that constantly demands improvement from the player, but when it’s this fun and energized, that’s nowhere near a bad thing.
9. Goat Simulator (PC/iOS, Coffee Stain Studios)
One of my favorite minigames ever is Saints Row’s Insurance Fraud, a game where you earn money by hurling your character into traffic. Goat Simulator is what happens when you make Insurance Fraud into its own game…and add goats. Goat Simulator is a stupid idea, but it benefits so much from that. Coffee Stain Studios’ exercise in absurdity is a mesmerizing one, one that abandons all obligations to coherence and aims to make a game fun, first and foremost. Goat Simulator is a playground of the bizarre, one of the most shamelessly weird games released in years, but one that kept me hooked with its constant desire to entertain.
8. Infamous Second Son (PS4, Sucker Punch)
In a year where the PS4 lineup felt devoid of first-party hits, Infamous: Second Son proves the technical power of the system and the bottomless ingenuity of developers Sucker Punch. The graphical polish pulsing from the game’s version of Seattle was untouchable in 2014. The various powers given to protagonist Delsin Rowe kick the game’s energy into overdrive, especially the superbly evolved mobility options, which make exploring the city all the more enjoyable. Infamous: Second Son offers a next-gen progression for one of Sony’s finest series. If you own a PS4, this is easily one of the best games on the system right now. Get it.
7. Bravely Default (3DS, Square Enix/Silicon Studio)
With the Final Fantasy series in an identity crisis, Bravely Default strips off the bloody cape of excess that latched onto Square Enix’s series, and as a result, becomes everything that a JRPG should be. With more customization and options to satisfy even the pickiest of gamers, Bravely Default gives the player constant command over their party. The movesets, the jobs, even the side-quests are filled to the brim with depth. Hell, Bravely Default makes microtransactions work. That alone is worth noting. But as a collective package, Bravely Default is one of the best RPG’s released in the last ten years, handheld or otherwise. It exists to challenge the deficiencies of the current JRPG climate and it does so without missing a beat.
6. Shovel Knight (3DS/Wii U/PC, Yacht Club Games)
The folks at Yacht Club Games clearly have a love for everything that made the NES and SNES great, and with Shovel Knight, that reverence for retro becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. The nods toward Castlevania and DuckTales are clear as day, but Yacht Club Games builds upon these mechanics with some of the best level design to ever grace the side-scroller genre. Every challenge is conscientiously crafted to mix up traditional gameplay and put players outside of their comfort zone. Shovel Knight delivers new mechanics at every turn, but they never feel forced. Shovel Knight is a mastery of retro gaming that manages to trump many of the AAA titles occupying both its release month and all of 2014.
5. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U, Retro Studios)
The reboot of the Donkey Kong Country series might have been a strange direction for the powerhouse Retro Studios to have taken, especially after their masterpiece of the Metroid Prime series, but it ended up only honing Retro’s skills more. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is when you give an already tough-as-nails platformer even sharper teeth. It’s an assault on your confidence, a game that isn’t afraid to make you toughen up and own up to whatever shortcomings you have as a gamer. But beneath that ravenous desire to challenge you is a game bursting with imagination. Levels change in construction on the fly; you’re always given some out-of-left-field twist in the stage to keep you on your toes. Retro Studios prove their mastery of level design in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, a monster sequel to an already superb series revitalization.
4. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PS4/Xbox One/360/PS3/PC, Kojima Productions/Konami)
Let’s be real here: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is not a “paid demo.” It may be brief considering its retail price, but every second of Ground Zeroes is Metal Gear Solid shedding its skin, giving birth to new life for the series and stealth action in general. In a single, enormous map, players are given a look into a whole ‘nother world, a world free of confining linear paths and forced progression. It’s amazing what an open world can do for a series like Metal Gear Solid and Ground Zeroes is that split-second glimpse into nirvana. If The Phantom Pain is even the slightest bit like Ground Zeroes, prepare to be floored, because Ground Zeroes is joyous evolution for one of gaming’s most iconic series. No “demo” can do that.
3. Murasaki Baby (Vita, Ovosonico)
I’ve always been one of the more vocal critics of the Vita, but Murasaki Baby made me smile with every moment I held the system in my hands. Ovosonico’s debut title remains the most intelligent use of the Vita hardware I’ve ever seen, with mind-bending puzzles that use every single feature the Vita has, no matter how auxiliary. The Edward Gorey-esque art design looks amazing on the Vita screen and the various mechanics of leading Baby to safety made me treasure both the character and her journey. From its captivating graphic style to its pitch-perfect use of the Vita system, Murasaki Baby is one adventure that I will never forget.
2. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U, Nintendo/Sora Ltd./Bandai Namco Games)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U shows that Nintendo still holds the throne of party multiplayer. As the first HD version of the classic fighting series, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a content-packed joyride featuring so many iconic characters and entertaining modes. It’s staggering that Masahiro Sakurai and his team were able to pack in so much into Smash Wii U. It makes Melee and Brawl look like opening acts. The gameplay is as tight and furious as ever, while a massively improved online suite shows that Smash is destined to conquer the world. But the party multiplayer is where the game shines brightest: it’s darn near flawless. With Smash Wii U, Nintendo’s flagship fighter continues its rule over the living room and beyond.
1. Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, Platinum Games)
Bayonetta 2 is a roar. It is a pristine example of an action game firing on all cylinders. Bathed in stylized flair, the second coming of one of gaming’s greatest heroines is Platinum Games shouting from the tops of the towers, kings of their craft. The combat is all the more varied and buttery smooth, richly choreographed in HD polish and subtly layered with deep and engaging mechanics. Bayonetta 2 is a focused game, free of the pointless fluff and distracting side-quests that plague other AAA titles. Everything in Bayonetta 2 is sharpened to a fine point. Hideki Kamiya and his team made something truly legendary; Bayonetta 2 is one of those rare examples of game design that commands its essence with a hungry finesse, never once losing its footing. This is the new benchmark for action games.