This week, the New Game Plus cast and crew reveal their favourite games of the year. Today, news/indie/Skylander correspondent Donald Duong stops copyediting our GOTY articles and writes one for a change.
2014 was a great year for the throat lozenge industry; it would have received quite the windfall from gamers with very sore throats.
We grumbled at our consoles when the servers were inevitably down or when they pushed yet another update on us. We yelled at developers and publishers for pushing out games that were either broken upon release, or withering shadows of the glorious monoliths we were promised. We actively shouted at each other in an increasingly vitriolic ideology war.
We whooped in gloating triumph as we all gathered on the couch and dived into the chaos that is eight-player Smash Brothers. We cheered on our favourite players and teams from stadium seats and sports bars during marquee events like The International and the EVO Championships. We cackled in delight as we rode into the sky in our gyrocopters and shot at exotic fishes with grenade launchers, creating the kinds of moments we can still only get from video games.
And it’s those moments that form the foundations of my Game of the Year list; those, and the embarrassing amount of money I’ve spent on throat lozenges.
[Watch New Game Plus’ impressions of Sportsfriends feature Johann Sebastian Joust]
There were so many quality local multiplayer games released this year. There’s Nidhogg, Lethal League, Mount Your Friends and Fibbage, just to name a few. But Sportsfriends stood out from all of them.
I backed the Sportsfriends Kickstarter project, so take that as you will, but my confidence was rewarded. BaraBariBall was a great little fusion of volleyball and Super Smash Brothers, whilst Super Pole Riders was fun with wobbly physics.
The true MVP of Sportfriends, however, is Johann Sebastian Joust. It is unique in its physical gameplay and universal in its appeal. I have shown it to gamers, high school kids, office workers and family members spanning multiple generations, and each of these groups lept into Joust with a speed and level of enthusiasm I have not seen with any other game. It was near-impossible to leave Joust without a big, doofy grin on your face.
Of course local multiplayer was going to make a comeback, but who would’ve thought it’d be spearheaded by the Playstation Move?
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Sunset Overdrive]
I originally put Hearthstone in this spot, a game which I had some great times with upon release but hadn’t properly touched since about June. Firing it up again recently, I remembered why I pumped the brakes on that game: I still suck at it. Victory was no longer an accomplishment; it merely brought upon anxious relief.
Sunset Overdrive, on the other hand, was the exact opposite.
It provided a completely carefree experience. I don’t know which was better: The vibrant and colourful world environment it presented, one perpetually lit by clear blue skies or fizzy nighttime fireworks; or actually exploring it from up upon the power lines you grind on, the walls you run along or the cars you bound from. And it charged forward unfettered by logic or reason; why, for instance, can your character grind and dash with such kinetic frenzy when nobody else can — because video games, that’s why!
Sunset Overdrive was a capital-V Video game, a worry-free romp far away from the srs bsns world of card-duelling.
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Transistor]
In Circles, from the Transistor soundtrack, is sincerely my favourite song of 2014; not just in gaming, but out of all songs. It is a beautiful, haunting piece of music exquisitely performed by Ashley Barrett.
Whenever I start playing it in my head (which I’ve done often), I’m brought back to the world of Cloudbank, the utopic yet unsettlingly sterile world created by Supergiant Games and exquisitely rendered by art director Jen Zee. Whenever I hum it (poorly), I recall the game’s combat system, which remained compelling through its encouragement of experimentation and combination of abilities. When I get to the refrain (“And I won’t save you / I won’t save you”), I hear the protagonist Red and her journey of discovery and revenge, as well as the rest of Darren Korb’s superlative soundtrack.
So yes, Transistor is a stellar game; it’s almost as good as In Circles.
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Bayonetta 2]
I half-knew what to expect with Bayonetta 2, but as I played through it, I realised I knew nothing, that I should just sit back and let the waves of grandiosity crash over me.
The game literally began with Bayonetta battling angels whilst plummeting down from the heavens on top of a chunk of destroyed church. Before you have time to catch your breath, she is fighting on top of a jet hurtling through modern-day New York, she’s battling a sage whilst in the background her towering hair-monster tussled with his giant magic-monster, she’s surfing down the eye of a typhoon chasing after a snake-demon!
Even the game itself was a surprise. Nobody expected a sequel to ‘that brawler with the hair lady,’ much less one that was published by the ostensibly family-friendly Nintendo and released exclusively on the unassuming Wii U. And no one expected the game to end up as pretty, mechanically rewarding or straight-up fun as it was.
Bayonetta 2 is not a mere video game; it is the embodiment of escalating bombast.
[Watch New Game Plus’ review of Valiant Hearts: The Great War]
It feels like the collective attention span of gamers is shorter than ever, even for the AAA titles. 2014 is the year that we saw Titanfall and Watch Dogs — remember those games? But there is one game in particular that still kicks around my head: Valiant Hearts: The Great War.
Back in June, this game stood out as a World War I game that, unlike others in its ilk, was not about the glory of war, of leading a whole army towards victory or single-handedly socking it to the Jerry. Instead, it put you deep in the trenches and the cities levelled by bombing runs, it mired you in the chlorine gas. Even with its cartoon visuals, it was a dirty, downtrodden game.
This was matched by the deeply melancholic tone. Sure, you were accomplishing things with the puzzle gameplay, and sure there were seeds of humour hidden in the story, but Valiant Hearts was quick to remind you that in the grand scheme, these amounted for all but nothing. All you could do is keep pushing forward for those you care for, and the game made you care for its cast of characters. I’m thankful the credits rolled on forever, as Ubisoft credits do — I needed that all time to recover from the game’s poignant ending.
Valiant Hearts may be the most accurate portrayal of war in gaming, which is a credit in and of itself. But more simply, it told an affecting, emotional story, something that even the loudest, most distracted zeitgeist can’t detract from.
Come back tomorrow for more games of the year from the NG+ cast and crew, or watch New Game Plus’ Game of the Year episode