It still feels like we're in the lame-duck period between the old console and new, and as a result, it took a lot of the year before things for the consoles started to really come out and impress. But I don't have a new console, and I mostly spent the year catching up on old stuff. But what I did play from this year is a disparate mix of nonsense, indie games or AAA titles, and that's just the way I like it. So without further ado, here's my top 5!
Favorite Game Released Before 2014, Played in 2014: Bayonetta
I picked up Bayonetta 2 this year, and while I'd love to have it on this list, I can't because I've yet to play it. I've been instead playing through the incredible first game, which is just... I'm kicking myself for having missed it when the game first game out, but now that I actually have the chance, the endless creativity and stupid nonsense that spouts forth from that game is kind of jarring. It's always coming at you, only rarely stopping, but then you're right back in, summoning a pair of giant hair fists to beat up a flying snake angel. The character herself may make me feel conflicted, but the mechanics are tight, the enemy and encounter design excellent, and the difficulty challenging, but usually achievable. I can't wait to move onto the second, but this first game is a powerhouse.
5. Hatoful Boyfriend
The beauty of Hatoful Boyfriend is that it's not the weird game that you think it is- it's an entirely different one, with a more ridiculous and convoluted story that discusses way more about the world than you'd think it ever would have. Before you even get to that, though, the game drops in weird little hints about the nature of everything, from broken-down skyscrapers to the fact your character lives in a cave and constantly refers to her "hunter-gatherer instincts". And even if you don't discover the real endings, at least the characters and dating elements are well written enough to stand on their own.
Luftrausers' perfection comes in the ability to just fire it up whenever and play. It loads quick, you get into a screen, and then you press up and off you go. Whether it's for a few minutes or hours, the game's frenetic pace and driving score always propel you towards trying to one-up yourself with more and more impressive feats. Working against the game's high difficulty to try and meet the criteria for the next new piece of equipment always works for me, and the game takes advantage of it smartly, especially once you factor in the Vita version--it's a perfect game to take on the go.
3. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Checklist for enjoying a new Borderlands game:
Is it Borderlands? Yes or no.
It's one of the best series to come out of the last generation, and I've played all three hungrily, devouring the new guns, reveling in the feeling of shooting and watching a bunch of damage numbers fly off of a guy, and just finding new loot. While some thought the move to the moon and the introduction of the Oz tanks was risky, I thought it added a cool new element- awesome new movement options but with an extra limit put in place over it that wasn't invasive, and shooting guys so that their oxygen masks broke was extremely satisfying. The chaos introduced from playing as Claptrap is also an excellent addition, and while the missions weren't all as good as in previous entries, there are enough strong ones (and random, nonsensical ones) that, capped with a series-best final boss, the game was just a joy to play.
2. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
The Donkey Kong games being made by Retro seem like they actively hate the player being good at them. And where Returns had its challenging levels, Tropical Freeze just immediately goes "oh you think you're so tough? You're not so tough" and starts laying on challenging and imaginative levels from the get go. It's also an excellent co-op game, and the new abilities brought by Dixie and Cranky really help the variety and replayability. Plus the game just looks so nice and crisp in HD, colors everywhere, and the mine cart and rocket barrel stages are still impressive set pieces or chaotic challenges.
1. Shovel Knight
This is the beauty of the personal top 10 list. Shovel Knight will never get recognized as a site's game of the year--it's not "important" enough, it doesn't have the story, grittiness, graphical whiz-bang of some of these other games. But personally, it's some of the most fun I've had with games all year. The music and look are incredible, and the challenge is just right to make me die a lot, but still have fun with it. The mechanics aren't deep but they're incredibly well executed, and exploring the world, watching the Troupple King dance, or beating enemy knights with my shovel were all super satisfying. The 3D on the 3DS version is amazing, and the music is incredible. I'm kind of surprised myself to see this sitting at number one, but I can't think of a real reason why not. Shovel Knight is an incredible game, and you owe it to yourself to pick it up.
Honorable mentions: Nidhogg, Jazzpunk, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy