2014 In Gaming: Z’s Top 5

The year past has been a rather difficult time to be a player of video games. Even the word “gamer” has become passé, tainted by the vociferous minority. Still, despite the efforts of certain people I could name, 2014 has been one of the best years for video games since the halcyon days of the Super NES/Genesis. Bungie released their first post-Halo work; Professor Layton teamed up with Phoenix Wright (finally); Hearthstone tried to do for digital card games what Ascension did for deck-building games; and Freddy Fazbear charmed his way into our hearts and urinary tracts. Those are the big successes of 2014, and more power to them. But they’re (largely) not what I played.

Let’s take a closer look at the five games I played the hell out of in 2014, and why you should drop that Duty disc, stop staring at those gaming monitors and and put your eyeballs on these.

5: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (NIS America, PS Vita, February/September)

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

I reviewed Danganronpa back in February, and found it to be a thrilling, hilarious trip through a twisted high school. When the sequel came out in September, I was a little busy and it fell through the cracks, but it’s no less fun and no less enthralling; it manages to correct a few of the problems I had with the first game and introduce me to a new cast of defectively apex classmates. Visual novels are still a hard sell in North America, though, so honestly it’s not that much of a surprise if these slipped past you, too. If you love detective games or ridiculous dialogue, there’s no need for despair: just go grab them.

4: Puyo Puyo Tetris (Sega, PS3/PS4/PS Vita/Wii U/3DS/Xbox One, February/December)

Puyo Puyo Tetris

I feel pretty confident in saying that in all likelihood you haven’t played these. This is because there has been a perfect storm of problems making it too difficult to bring into North America: the PS3 version wasn’t available digitally until the summer, and pretty much every other version has some form of region locking or inconvenience. That’s a real shame, because this is probably the definitive version of both Puyo Puyo and Tetris available today. This even unseats my previous favorite version of Tetris (The Next Tetris Online for Dreamcast). I had to resort to ordering yen-based PS Network cards to get the game, and I don’t regret it at all. With the next-gen versions having been released this past month, hope is renewed for a potential North American release… but with Ubisoft having locked up the Tetris license, it ain’t looking likely.

3: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (Nicalis, PC/Mac/Linux/PS4/PS Vita, November)

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Poop is funny. Let’s just get that out of the way right now, poop is funny and this game has a lot of poop. It’s also got a lot to say about religion, but the message is subtle underneath the hybridization of Rogue-like procedural generation and Zelda-like top-down gameplay. The game is fast-paced and challenging, and is deep enough that it’s a new experience every time you play. The PS4 and Vita versions are a little twitchy in terms of some nasty save-game bugs, but they’re mostly ironed out by the time you read this. I hope. Oh, and one more thing: poop. Funny. Trust me.

2: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (Square-Enix, 3DS, September)

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

I love music games. LOVE THEM. But ever since Harmonix wound down the production of Rock Band, it’s been really difficult to find good music games. Granted, the Kickstarter to revive Frequency was successful, but there’s something about jamming to music that brings back memories of casting Firaga that really speaks to me. The original Theatrhythm was all right, but had a few hiccups such as a too-strict main mode and a too-small set of on-card tracks. Curtain Call fixes these and grants access to a massive catalog of music almost right away. Plus, including one of my favorite characters from Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t hurt.

1: Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo, Wii U, May)

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart is one of those games that’s most analogous to pizza: even when it’s bad (ahem, Double Dash) it’s still pretty good. But the game’s notable in the year not necessarily for what it does well– it’s the best racing game since Split/Second— but for signalling the shift in Nintendo’s approach to DLC and titles-as-platforms. The announcement of the two DLC packs, which would include favorite retro tracks not initially included on-disc, completely upended the established paradigm of the games not necessarily obsolescing their past iterations. When Super Smash Bros. announced DLC, we knew it was the beginning of a new era. Mario Kart 8 doesn’t just improve upon its history, it improves upon every game Nintendo publishes thereafter. And not even Luigi can be angry about that.

Dishonorable Mention: Driveclub (Sony, PS4, October)

We live in an era where we no longer expect games to be “finished” by the time they are released. This has resulted in day-zero patches that creep into the gigabyte range (I’m looking at you, Halo). Being a former software developer, I get it. I really do. Marketing writes checks that developers can’t cash. But there is no excuse for a game to be launched broken, to remain broken months after release, and to be actively detrimental to its own sales. Driveclub hits all those rather awful marks. It was announced as a free title for Playstation Plus members, but when the game couldn’t even handle the artificially-suppressed number of paying customers, that offer was suspended indefinitely. And because the game still doesn’t really work online, nobody’s buying it. So it honestly doesn’t matter if the game’s a worthy successor to Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport; if nobody’s playing, it might as well be the entire text of this review pressed into a disc repeatedly.

As always, folks, thanks for supporting OTDT in 2014, and we look forward to serving you in 2015.