Jordan's Top 5 Games of 2014

"Indecisive" would probably be the best word to describe the 2014 games industry with. 7th and 8th generation consoles had seemingly identical release schedules. The indie community continued to improve as it has in previous years, even as Steam began to buckle under the weight of all the games that squeezed by its lack of quality control. For the first 9 months of the year, almost nothing worthwhile was being released...and then Q4 hit, and suddenly notable games were seemingly being released every day. Mostly for this last reason, I primarily caught up on backlog titles in 2014, and have barely played any Game of the Year contenders. In fact, my honourable mentions list is basically going to be the list of 2014 games I plan to play that are likely to be my 

actual

 Game of the Year when all is said and done. Nevertheless, I did play 

some

good games this year, and here they are.

Favorite Game Released Before 2014, Played in 2014: Kirby Air Ride

Easily one of the most underrated games of all time, 

Kirby Air Ride

is to racers what 

Super Smash Bros.

is to fighters: accessible, chaotic, and much deeper than it looks. The idea of controlling a racing game with just the control stick and A button sounds absurd, and indeed doesn't work perfectly, but it works well enough that it succeeds as both a novelty and a gateway for younger players. The main mode, Air Ride, is full of twisting tracks that require vastly different approaches depending on which vehicle is selected. The secondary City Trial mode is unprecedented: sandbox powerup collection concluded with a minigame tackled using your custom vehicle. Even the largely unnecessary Top Ride mode is full of simple, hectic fun. The GameCube is probably the best system for local multiplayer in existence, and

Kirby Air Ride

deserves to be one of the fundamental pillars of that reputation.

5. DeadCore

For the longest time, I had no idea what to make of 

DeadCore

. It's a first-person puzzle-platformer with an emphasis on speedruns and an exploration component. What I eventually realized was that 

DeadCore

 is a retro-style game – just not the usual kind with pandering pixel art, chiptune soundtracks, and intentional Engrish. 

DeadCore

 recaptures the

feel

of older games, without reverting to their antiquated design techniques. The game practically 

begs

players to sequence-break and discover as many unintended shortcuts as possible. There's an abstract story told via collectibles, but only if you want to find them. If not, the game has plenty of clever movement-based puzzles to keep you occupied. It's not a perfect game by any means – the term "first-person platformer" probably gave that away – but it's considerably more interesting than it seems.

4. Gods Will Be Watching

An immensely polarizing game, everything about 

Gods Will Be Watching

, from its extreme difficulty to its ambiguous ending, seems designed to divide opinions. Imagine 

The Walking Dead

, but with a ton of traditional challenge on top of the moral and practical decision-making. The game's intense narrative and complex characters demand an emotional investment, and its gameplay centered on risk management is as gripping as menu-based controls can possibly get. The game is a delicate balancing act for both the players and the developers. Players must learn to balance safe, time-consuming actions with fast, risky ones, and the gameplay is tuned perfectly so that players can 

just barely

succeed. The use of chance elements makes it more frustrating than it needed to be, but

Gods Will Be Watching

 is so unique that it should absolutely be played by everyone. You'll love it...if you don't hate it.

3. Enemy Mind

This list is turning into "Most Surprisingly Good Games of 2014". 

Enemy Mind

looks like something released on the Sega Genesis, and it's in a genre that's been considered stale for quite a few years now (the scrolling space shooter). But it's invigorated with a brilliant and thoroughly-implemented mechanic: the ability to psychically commandeer enemy ships. With that, the previously straightforward genre is injected with incredible variety, as players hop between all kinds of unorthodox human and alien ships. But 

Enemy Mind

is more than just a fresh twist on established gameplay. Its boss fights are some of the most inventive and entertaining I've ever played, featuring enormous structures whose individual pieces must be controlled, even as they try to eject them from the main body. There's even an interesting story to be uncovered by finishing levels with each faction's ships.

2. Child of Light

Child of Light

will likely become my go-to example for how a game's target demographic shouldn't influence one's opinion of it. The game was clearly designed with a younger audience in mind, and likely a female one at that. In other words, not me. Yet the game's sweeping, fairy tale setting is no less beautiful and serene just because preteen girls would probably like it. Additionally, the distillation of the standard JRPG combat system, focusing entirely on cooldown times and real-time elements, makes the combat both accessible and surprisingly engaging. Throw in a poetic narrative with lots of hidden depth and a great cast of characters, and you have a game that can (and should) be enjoyed by anyone who isn't complete dead inside.

1. Transistor

I loved 

Bastion

, so if someone asked me in 2013 what my most anticipated game for 2014 was, 

Transistor

would've been the answer. The only thing I was worried about was that 

Transistor 

would merely iterate on 

Bastion

's successes. Fortunately, Supergiant Games proved me wrong. 

Transistor 

is grounded in the structure of its predecessor, but its content is entirely its own. At its heart is a superb mechanic: skills that can be assigned as standalone abilities, upgrades for other abilities, or passive buffs. Supplementing this is a laundry list of excellent design choices that force players to adapt to every possible play style the game offers, and balance periods of player weakness with skills dedicated to avoiding damage. Unsurprisingly, the game is also a one-of-a-kind artistic powerhouse. The extravagant visuals, genre-warping soundtrack, and sublime voice acting make the game a treat for the senses. Top it all off with a customizable difficulty level and enemies that evolve their abilities to avoid becoming dull, and you have the best game of 2014 (for now).

Honorable Mention: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shovel Knight, This War of Mine, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, The Talos Principle