Top 10 Games of 2014

It is the end of the year, the perfect time for pointless lists. I feel the burning need to toss mine on the fire. I played a ton of games in 2014, but all of the new ones were for Nintendo consoles. Which is fine, all of the best games came out on Nintendo consoles. There were a handful of games I would have liked to play on PS3, but I can’t say there was anything I really missed. The 3DS and WiiU are more than any person needs. So let’s get on with the Top 10 list.

aapl3 10) Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy/Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright –It is my list, so I can cheat and include two games in the last spot. I couldn’t separate these two. The Professor Layton game and his side of the team up are a perfect send off for one of the best video game characters to be seen in the last decade. This seems to be the end for Professor Layton, at least as we currently know him. There is more hope for Phoenix Wright, whose series recently had a revival. At least we got these two games, even if they are the last.

pq1 9) Persona Q – Like Layton v Wright, this is another mash up of my favorite series, this time Persona mixing with Etrian Odyssey. I was incredibly excited by this game, but it didn’t quite work out as well as I’d hoped. Not that it is bad, but the combination is not quite as smooth as I’d hoped. The combined casts of Persona 3 & 4 are mashed together and there just isn’t enough space to go around. It kind of kills the feeling of the big team up when the teams are reduced to one-note annoyances for the most part. Still, it is an excellent game if not quite as excellent as I’d hoped it would be.

mk82 8) Mario Kart 8 – This long and illustrious series has never really had a bad game. Still, this game manages to stand above most of the other Mario Kart games. Especially with the recent dlc that started expanding the game beyond just Mario, adding F-Zero, Excitebike and Zelda to the mix. The racing is great as always, but this time the junk items seem to be much less frequent. Just a great way to spend some time.

bayo2-2 7) Bayonetta 2 – The first Bayonetta was a great game, but it wasn’t really a hit, sales wise. Bayonetta 2’s existence seems like something of a minor miracle. Platinum Games hit it out of the park like usual, though. Bayonetta 2 might not quite reach the delirious highs of the first game, but it is a much more even game. It is great all the way through. Bayonetta 2 is just one of the best action games ever made.

satpc2 6) Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse – This game was delay a long time, but when it finally came out it was certainly worth the wait. It looks and plays almost perfectly, through it teases the idea of being a Metroidvania without really following through as well as it could. That is a small gripe, though, in an excellent game. It is just enough of a gripe to knock it from my top 5.

spikes2 5) 1001 Spikes – This game is one that I seem to enjoy much more than anyone else. This game is hard. It is cruel and mean, downright insidious. It is also addictive and delightful. Each victory is hard earned and all the more memorable for it. Then there are all the extra modes. The Tower of Nanaar would almost make my top 10 on its own. There is just so much charm in this game’s little sprites and its cruel difficulty makes it all the more memorable.

ct2 4) Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker – Not an overly ambitious game, but a perfectly realized one. This game oozes charm and there has hardly been a more appealing protagonist in a game this year. And while the puzzle platform gameplay is rather simple, it is done perfectly. This game might be getting a little bit of a boost by being so fresh in mind, but I want to just sit and play it all day right now, so it gets pushed up the list.

sk1 3) Shovel Knight – Kickstarter’s big success story. Shovel Knight actually came out just about on time and at least as good as promised. This game is the perfect distillation of what made NES games great, with 20 years of further game development to inform its design and make it all the better. Everything about this game is great, from the graphics to the music to the gameplay.

sm41 2) Smash Bros 4 – I am just going to combine both versions of the game and slot it here. This is where the WiiU game would go on its own; the 3DS might have made the list significantly lower. I have written enough about this game, but it was definitely one of the highlights of the year. It is almost everything someone could want out of a Smash game, except for the single player. The only game I enjoyed more was:

dk3 1) Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze – Taking the crown this year is DKC Tropical Freeze. I loved DKC Returns, and this game takes the same basic gameplay, removes some of the crappier aspects of the game, and piles on fun new stuff. Like extra companions besides Diddy. Dixie and Cranky Kong add a ton of variety in how players attack certain challenges. Then there is stuff like the theme level, such as the one that looks like the stage version of The Lion King. The game is just one of the best 2D (or 2.5D) platformers in years, including the recent New Super Mario Bros games.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies


The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies is almost certainly the last time viewers will get to see Peter’s Jackson’s take on Middle Earth. It is sad, but also absolutely time. While this one is possible the weakest of the six, it is still a delight to watch. Thanks to the last minute split of The Hobbit into three films rather than two, The Battle of Five Armies is narratively slight. It is just a battle. Even though it has the shortest running time of the three movies it still feels padded. That was unavoidable, but there are still some odd decisions in the editing and adaptation of this part of the story. I don’t truly mourn the split into three movies, I am happy for every second of these movies, but makes me wonder about what might have been. Still, The Battle of Five Armies is an enjoyable romp with emotional moments that largely hit perfectly.

The biggest problem with this movie is that there just isn’t much story left to be told. It opens following up on the previous film’s cliffhanger with the dragon Smaug bearing down on Laketown. After he razes the town and is subsequently dealt with, it moves on to the titular battle. Thorin, Bilbo and the rest of the dwarves have taken the mountain. The Men of Laketown, having slayed the dragon but now left homeless want the share of the treasure promised them by Thorin. And Thranduil the Elf King arrives, wanting part of the treasure as well. Thorin begins to act erratically of goads the others into war, saved only from having his small band overrun by the arrival of a dwarven army. Just before they can start fighting, an orc army arrives and the three groups must put aside their differences and fight together.

While there are twists and turns to the battle and how it starts and progresses, that is nearly all the plot in this movie. While it is the confrontation that this series had been building to, it is a rather light. This movie is all action; really good action. There are plenty of personal conflicts. Thorin’s growing erratic behavior strains the friendship that has developed between him and Bilbo through the first two movies. Their arc is almost perfect. Their closeness at the start of the film is well earned and their break hurts. The other big one is the romance between not in the book lady elf Tauriel and the young dwarf Kili. That one feels more forced. There is some chemistry between them, but they haven’t spent enough time together for there to be anything more than infatuation.

The things the previous Hobbit movies do extraordinarily well, frenetic, rollicking action scenes, are continued here. While Lord of the Rings went almost exclusively for high drama, being super serious nearly all the time, The Hobbit is significantly looser. It does have the serious themes and moments, but it is also not afraid to be silly. It has trolls with rocks on their heads acting as living battering rams, dwarves riding around on hogs and headbutting orcs to death and Legolas grabbing a bat and riding it to battle. The action comes fast of is ingeniously choreographed. It is simply delightful.

There are some adaptation and editing issues on display here. For one, they added a ton of Legolas. His inclusion makes some sense, the elves fighting here are his people, but his prominence is distraction and seems to come at the expense of characters who were actually in the book. They also added the character Alfrid. He appeared briefly in the second film, but here he shows up again and again, adding nothing to the film but refusing to go away. Then there is the ending, which comes rather abruptly. While the battle rages forever, the ending almost doesn’t exist. In contrast to how long the warp up to Return of the King was, The Hobbit hits its climax and then just sort of ends. Many questions are left unanswered and plot threads left unaddressed, though the movie does take time to give Legolas plenty of closure. This seems like a problem that will be solved with the inevitable extended edition, which for the first time seems almost essential.

It is very much a continuation to the previous Hobbit movies. What was good in them is good in this one. Like with them, I love it. It is a rollercoaster of movie in the best possible way. It ranges far and wide in tone and emotion, each of them feeling completely natural. It does silly and serious equally well and rarely do the tones seem incongruent. The Battle of Five Armies really hurts from being the unnecessary third movie, but it continues Peter Jackson’s long run of excellence with Tolkien films.