Every year-end I wish I played more new releases. I write a lot about video games and I find it important to expand and my knowledge and opinions on notable games, which often influences what I spend my time with. In 2014, I learned to stop caring about what games I should play and just played whatever I wanted to play. If anything, I should probably play fewer games.
I never got around to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Dragon Age: Inquisition or Destiny and I probably won’t ever. I’m sure each game ranks among this year’s best experiences, but you’ll need to read someone else’s Game of the Year list to find out exactly where.
5. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
Square Enix released Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call as fan service, but to me it’s a deep rhythm game filled with addictive midi tracks and energetic orchestrated scores. Any fan of music will look past the party system and Final Fantasy backdrops to just listen to the score. I don’t need to play Final Fantasy V to know the “Battle at the Big Bridge” track just outclasses music found in other games. It’s almost fact.
Curtain Call doesn’t draw from my nostalgia of the Final Fantasy series; I play for the music and rhythm game. Unlike other players, I can’t connect unlocked characters to specific events or choose characters from my favourite games. I just pick whoever looks cool. I still think majority of Japanese RPGs punish its players with angsty teens, terrible writing and uneven pacing, but Curtain Call saves me from the genre’s worst traits and just gives me the best part – the music.
4. Mario Kart 8
I thought I fulfilled my lifetime Mario Kart quota after Mario Kart 7, but Nintendo made the same game more exciting than ever before. While Double Dash tried to introduce racer variety and Mario Kart Wii tried to change kart handling, Mario Kart 8 refines what already exists. Nintendo developed a functional online multiplayer, expanded kart customization and even released DLC. Mario Kart 8, even with the introduction of anti-gravity tracks, won’t convince indifferent Wii U owners to purchase Nintendo’s newest racer, it’ll just convince those who love Mario Kart.
Anti-gravity tracks don’t drastically change races, but it lets Nintendo create looping tracks with underwater valleys or large gaps only crossed using gliders. With the ability to create tracks spiralling around erupting volcanoes and tracks on the facing of a flowing waterfall, Nintendo developed the best Mario Kart ever, and also one of the best games of 2014.
3. Sunset Overdrive
I feel like the solo punk-rock defence force when speaking about Sunset Overdrive, because for some reason guitars aren’t cool anymore. You’ll find plenty of orchestrated scores or synthesized soundtracks in other games, but very few games chug on power chords and pounds bass drums as you play. Sunset Overdrive’s fast tempo music fuels your adrenaline as you grind through Sunset City, air-dashing across building rooftops and bouncing off car hoods.
The learning curve of combining grinds, bounces and air-dashes makes the early parts of Sunset Overdrive slow and overwhelming. Only after some practice and familiarity with the controls does the game pace and punk-rock music sync together. The free flowing traversal sets up players for easy deployment of weapons at the mutant Overcharge Drinkers crowding the streets of Sunset City. Sunset Overdrive pushes game pace and makes travelling through a large city actually part of the game, not just the space between missions.
2. Bayonetta 2
With the enormous hair demons, frequent crotch shots and gun shoes, I still don’t get why people ignore Bayonetta 2. The strangeness layered throughout each fight or new area invites my curiosity. For other players, the strangeness scares away the fans of military shooters and medieval fantasy RPGs into their safe, comfortable corners. Bayonetta 2 doesn’t just hinge on its weirdness for attention; it succeeds with the best character action combat found in any game.
Platinum Games developed the best game in the character action genre, and because of the small install base of the Wii U, very few people will play it. Bayonetta 2 deserves attention and it rewards players with massive scale boss fights capable of making everything look good, even when you mash buttons. The combination of weapons, enemy types and difficulties builds the combat depth in Bayonetta 2, just in case the weirdness morphs into normality.
1. Forza Horizon 2
Forza Horizon 2, my most anticipated game of 2014, exceeds anything I envisioned about an open world racer focused around a music festival. Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios combined music and a racing simulation model to prove racing sims don’t always need rules, closed circuits and time penalties. The Xbox One sequel expands the open world, ditches the barricaded roads and takes players off-road into the fields of Northern Italy and Southern France.
Instead of exploring menus, players can roam freely and customize their difficulty to simulate real car handling or turn on assists for a simpler racing experience. I don’t want to shift gears and avoid car damage; I just want to hold the gas and drive through the circuit, taking turns while avoiding collisions. While my racing simulation friends shift gears and listen to the engine roar, I shift through radio stations and blast the music. Forza Horizon 2 shows simulation racers can infuse personality without losing the challenge of taking a perfect turn.
Playground Games rewards people who drive well in multiplayer, they don’t reward reckless drivers anxious to overtake first place. You can finish in fifth place and still rank ahead in the scoreboard because more often than not, the racer in first T-boned and bashed their wayto the top. Forza Horizon 2 rewards new players who want to improve or veterans looking for clean, competitive races. If an impatient racer wants to drive a S1 class SUV and play bumper cars throughout the race, let them. They won’t win in the end.
Forza Horizon 2 offers plenty of deep customization while also making it accessible for racers who don’t understand car specific lingo. I don’t understand what down force means for my car among other specifics, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the racing. Only after dozens of hours of racing did I start manually customizing my cars. The auto-upgrade feature performs a competitive upgrade for those unwilling to spend time to change each part. Whether it’s the music, racing or customization, Forza Horizon 2 gives you more than a boring simulation racing.