2014 is nearly over and what better time than to list off our favourite titles of the last twelve months? While this year hasn’t been a real home run, it has seen its fair share of great games both big and small on all formats. Let’s continue by now moving onto games number eight, seven and six…
8. South Park: The Stick Of Truth
It was certainly a long wait with more than a few stumbles along the way (countless delays and the whole THQ going bankrupt thing) but 2014 was the year we finally got our hands on South Park: Stick of Truth. What could have easily been the biggest disappointment of the year actually turned out to be one of the best games of the first half and it’s certainly nice to see a title that delivers on its promise.
Clearly this was a game very much built with the South Park fan in mind. Everything from its look to its countless call backs to the show itself is spot on. Even better is it’s genuinely laugh out loud humour that not only perfectly nails the usual South Park tone but also lampoons a lot of video gaming tropes in the process. Little things like the brief TV stingers that play as you return to a saved game or hearing the Rob Schneider trailers playing as you walk through a cinema are literally just two out of hundreds of fantastic and always funny moments that are testament to Obsidian’s amazing attention to detail. It also doesn’t hurt that this is a solid RPG complete with plenty of customisable weapons and armour and more importantly a fun combat system. Mixing turn based combat with button prompts, this feels like a more adult version of the Paper Mario series and you know what, that’s a good thing. The general idea of a video game based on a TV show usually brings with it responses of disinterest and concern. Stick of Truth breaks the downward trend by delivering an outstanding South Park experience and a great RPG.
7. Shovel Knight
It’s so refreshing to see a success story coming from Kickstarter. With so many failed attempts especially in the gaming industry over the last couple of years backing one that not only manages to deliver a finished product (and a good one at that) are few and far between. Enter Shovel Knight, a love letter to old-school NES adventures that reminds us why we loved them so much whilst also injecting its own ideas. World maps, Duck Tales style pogo hopping, upgrades, boss battles, treasures and more await in this five or so hour quest.
Part platformer, part side scrolling adventure, Shovel Knight follows the travels of our blue suited hero as he looks to topple the evil Enchantress and solve the mystery behind his missing partner Shield Knight. With excellent 8-bit visuals full of character and an absolutely stellar soundtrack that wouldn’t feel out of place in a classic Mega Man title, it’s hard to fault what is essentially one of the most downright charming and joyous games to come from a developer in 2014. While the game uses nostalgia to its advantage very successfully it doesn’t outright rely on it and for that reason alone it makes the list. In a year filled with big, loud next generation attempts it’s so refreshing to relax back into a good old fashioned retro adventure.
6. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
I’ll admit, upon first hearing at E3 that the next project for Retro Studios would be another Donkey Kong Country title, disappointment washed over me. Nintendo’s first HD console and one of its strongest developers had only been working on yet another 2D platformer. No Metroid, no brand new IP. It felt like a missed opportunity. Then news broke that the game’s soundtrack would be created by none other than legend David Wise (the guy responsible for the excellent music in the first three Donkey Kong Country games). Now Nintendo had my interest.
Tropical Freeze is perhaps the best platformer the year has seen. Everything from the level design to its impressive pool of unique ideas is top of its genre. While the visuals may not blow minds, it’s attention to detail more than makes up for it. Running, swinging and leaping through beaches, jungles and snow-capped mountains is made all the more exciting thanks to each stage’s organic feel. While Mario may make his way across unexplainably floating platforms, here everything feels grounded and a lot more real. Temples crumble beneath your feet, icicles fall from the ceiling and trees sway with the wind. Of course the music is a real highlight with David Wise delivering on all fronts. Every stage features its own memorable tune with a few remixes also making an appearance. One stage in particular that sees the environment dancing with the beat feels like it’s been taken straight out of Disney’s Lion King. Like the environments themselves the music too feels so organic and unique. Retro Studios continues its course of home runs with a game that while not too adventurous manages to deliver one of the best platformers of the past few years.
Be sure to check out our later parts for our top five titles of 2014.