Ayla’s Top 10 Games of 2014
This year, I thew away all expectations I had about games and just played them because I wanted to. Not because of “hype”, not because of scores or averages or grades; I wanted varied experiences, fresh mechanics, undiscovered aesthetics, and most of all, I wanted some positive stuff to share with others (because it’s been a long and trying year for us all, let’s be honest). I realized this year that games are a medium that are inherently subjective, and it doesn’t do anyone good to say, “The music’s good, but I hate the menus. 8/10.” Those analyses are boring, and frankly, that doesn’t spark interest or stir creativity in a medium that is changing, changing, changing.
So, I’m not gonna waste time stroking the AAA-ego, listing out all the titles that everyone and their mother apparently already owns. Instead, I’m gonna give you a list of titles that deserve way more attention than they got for various reasons (it didn’t get much press, “not-a-game” syndrome, “weirdo games”, etc.)
So, no more deliberation, here’s the good stuff:
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re about to scroll down to the comments section to post about how I screwed up and put Dark Souls 1 instead of 2. Well, joke’s on you, because there are no comments and I meant the first one anyway, so
Dark Souls 2 was mildly disappointing when I first played it. Initially, I had no idea how to describe to my friends that DS2 just felt like it was emulating what DS1 did, except it also simultaneously had no clue what DS1 did. Dark Souls 2 wanted to improve upon mechanics, to make the game look cooler, to make more bosses about dudes in armor. And if that was their intent, they succeeded. But, it was boring.
DS1 brought up notions of gods as fucked up and totally self-servient beings, not willing to mess with the status quo because it works for them and them alone. It was about discovering why Gwynevere left. Why the decrepit dragon that was falling off the cliff was still clinging desperately to life, and how that mirrors your struggles. Why kindling the flame at the end was super not-the-way-to-end-the-game because wow, you are literally a human sacrifice for these fucking cretins that are already at the top.
It was social commentary under the guise of mythology, which didn’t register until I revisited the game after playing DS2 and feeling so empty about it. So an honorable mention goes to DS2 and it’s complete reversal of what made DS1 cool.
Y’know Adventure Time? The series that effectively created the notion of a post-post apocalyptic universe thinly veiled as a cartoon wonderland? I like to think of Nuclear Throne as the direct response to that game, the prequel to a bright, cartoon future.
Nuclear Throne is great. You can play as a fish, or a crystal, or a person that is melting away from radiation poisoning. I was already a fan of Vlambeer’s approach to mechanics that make action oriented games more playable, but Nuclear Throne convinced me with just how well it all fits together, both in its look and its feel.
It harkens back to the old games, which gave no long expositions about their “underlying stories”. I don’t care where Horror came from or how they were created. The fact that Horror practically randomly shows up and tries to kill you is enough for the player to understand that they are a maleable threat, a constant ne’erdowell in your party that only wants to hang around because you’re feeding them radioactive shards.
In short, there is so much I love about Nuclear Throne. It’s cute and horrifying. It’s frustrating and simple. Its whimsy is the element that asks, “Why the Throne? Why not just stay at the campfire?”
That, and you get to shoot an electric laser gun, and that’s usually pretty rad.
If the sentence “Little Big Planet was great, but what it really needed was more throwing people into trash compactors,” titillates you at all, then you should probably go play Gang Beasts.
If you’ve got a lot of pent-up sexual tension between you and 3 other friends, go play Gang Beasts.
If you enjoy tiny chubby people socking each other in the face on top of moving vehicles, go play Gang Beasts.
What I’m trying to say is—
just…go play gang beasts.
ALERT: SERIOUS TIME INCOMING!
So once again, I know this game wasn’t technically released in 2014, but it did get a Steam release, and that’s huge because it’s the first Twine game to do that. This is, of course, an excuse to talk about how absolutely essential Depression Quest was for me personally this year, and how much I didn’t know I needed to play it until I did.
It’s a game that asks a lot of you. It asks you to be honest with yourself about how you’ve been treating your self. How you think about yourself, and how you interract with others during your depressive episodes. It asks you to examine how much you actually need help, because to be honest, that’s probably the most terrifying thing about being depressed: you will never, ever admit you need help until it’s already too late.
Depression Quest taught me that fighting depression is a constant struggle against a beast that will always win. But, you can and should still try to fight it. It taught me that games don’t have to be polished and beautiful to be beautiful. It taught me that I can make my own games, and that wallowing in stagnation means that your ideas will rot with you.
In a way, Depression Quest saved my life. And for that, it deserves a spot up here. If I could make this entire list just DQ, I would, but somehow I think that might be…
Pigeons. You date pigeons in this one. You are a human who dates pigeons.
But calling it a pigeon dating-sim doesn’t do this game justice. It’s about more than that. It’s a complete deconstruction of the Visual Novel, and how janky of a method it is for simulating human interraction. Each character-plotline is its own deconstruction of narratives that are often played out in games like these. They all boil those stories to their essence, and even write them better than most.
This game made me cry, and that frustrated me. I’ve played plenty of Visual Novels before, but this game helped me to understand that VNs are fabricated human interraction, no matter how well you dress them up and call them something else. You put in some “kindness coins” until your desired pigeon talks to you more. And then you initiate their storyline, and then you get to hear what their deal is. It helped guide me toward a realization that this is exactly what its like to play other VNs. The only difference are the character models.
Did I mention you live in a cave?
ONCE AGAIN: SENTIMENTAL STUFF INCOMING!
Broken Folx was another game that really hit hard. I played it around when Gamergate was in full-force, and several people I knew vestigially were being harassed and verbally abused out of their medium, their relationships with other devs, and their homes. It also came at a time when I felt completely alienated from my friends, like I was wrong, like I wasn’t worth talking to or even acknowledging. Like I was “broken”.
What this game helped me realize is that queer and trans experiences are inherently “broken” if the standards we use to refer to perfection are about a culmination, rather than an love-of-self. We are perfect as we are. There is nothing broken about you. You are fine.
Self-love is incredibly difficult to internalize when no one is reinforcing those notions. I began to hate myself simply in the absense of good faith.
This game taught me that being trans and being queer and being poly and being weird are not things that make me less. I am not a ratio. I am a person. And if I’m broken, then so is everyone else.
the uncle who works for nintendo
This is a game about a friend who has an uncle that works for Nintendo.
Your friend is really good at video games.
You wonder when mom’s gonna come pick you up.
Y̷̸̨̨͇͍͇͚̟͎͇̗̫͇͔͈̤͗ͮͩ̎͛̄ͯ̉̈́ͬ͛ͯ̕͟ơ̵̛̹͇͇̦͔͇̮̦͇̹̹ͨ͛ͭ͐᷆̎ͥ͊̐͂͛ͪ́͑̕͜͡ṷ̢͇̉̂̽͛̚͏͇̘̖͙̮̲͇͕̼͇̫̎ͦ͌͛̆᷆ͫ̕͢͟͏ ̩͇̜͔̩͇̟͇͚͇̀̃͗͛̐᷃᷀̽᷇̌ͬ̂͛͌᷀̈̍͋̒͘͠w̧͇̠̖᷿̟͇̤̟͍̱͉͇̻̲͇̮̫̠̉̔᷇᷀͛̍͆̅͛͋ͭ͘o̴̱͇᷊͇᷊͇̖͖͇͒̐̑͛͆ͮͭ̓̏̅͑̿̍̎͛́͂͐̈͡ͅn̡͇̭̣͉͇͎̰͇̙͇̽̎̂̐͛̏̈̓᷃ͬ᷄ͣ͛ͭ᷆͒̎᷅ͬ͝d̷̨̢̧̡͇͇̤͈̝̼͇͇̭̼͉̋ͫ͛͂̈́̾ͥ͑̔͛̇ͩͯ͝ͅe̸̢̛͕̣̗͇͉͎̯͇̟͇̫͇̼̭ͤ͛̈́͛̒̉̇̉̔̄ͨ͛̍͛r̜͇̯̹̥͔͇̥̣᷊̤͇͖̮͇̦̙̼᷉̋͛̽̃ͧ᷆ͭ̇͛͐᷾͜ ̡̡̧̧᷂͇̘̪͇᷿͚͇͍͉͇̖̥ͧ̔͛̏͋ͯͨ̇̑͛᷉͂̾ͅw̵̸̷᷊̞͇͎͇̤͇̩͍̠͇̔̂᷾͛̏̒͂̍̾̈̀͛̇̊͐͜ͅh̸̵̴̙͇͈͇̰͕̞̠͇̰̤͇͒ͭͣ͋᷅͛᷾ͩͪ̿͛ͧ̆͜͜͡ä̷̷̡̘̝͇͇̥͇̱̭̯̺͇̗̭̂ͪ͛̆ͧ͛ͧ͒̓᷈̃͛͐͜t̵̸̖͇̺̲͇̰̖̟̭̟͇̪͇͇͚̿̆ͬ͛͌᷅᷄͐᷆͛̓ͦ͘͡ ̷̷̶̛͇̻͇̣͖̙͇̳͚̳͇̞̆̏̔ͩͤͧ͛ͫ̍ͬ͛͆̋͞͞h̶̟͇̻͇᷿̺͌͒̓͛̌̔̔́̈͘ͅ͏͇͉͇̼͊̿͛̓᷀ͬ̎́e̴̶̢̧͇̯͇̰᷊̺͇̫̜͚͇̦ͯͪ̐ͪ͛̔̓̈᷀̃͛᷀̏͡ͅr̴͇͈̺͚͇̙͇͉̘͙͇̮͍᷃̾̍᷈͛ͭ᷆̅́̽̍̌᷅͛͛ͦͨ ̶̡̨̛̤͇̗̘͈͇̜͇̤͇̻̿̍᷉͛͂̔ͭ᷇̇̑͗ͨ͛ͩ̓͗u̧̧͇͙͇̘̜͇̩͇̥̦̾̏᷾̌͛ͬ͒̓́᷆͒̅ͨ͛̍͛᷁͘͠n̴̺͇̼̬͇̯͙̺͇̟͍̭͇̞͍͂̓̓ͪ͛͆̔͒᷅̄͛̓̚͞͞c̸͖͇̞͇̥̭̞͇͇̜͇̝̬͔͇̼᷂ͩ̊̎̂͛̌͂᷈͂ͫ̈́ͥ̀͆᷄͛̌᷁́̕͝l̴̢̨̛͇̲̩͇͇̲͇̦͇̳̿̂̂͛ͩ̑ͥ̓̾᷀͛ͪ̈͐̕͘͟ę̱̝͇̹̰͓͇͍͇̮͇̽͑ͮ͛᷃᷅̒̍̍᷁̄͛͗͛͒ͧ͟͝͞ ̡̡̛͉͇̬͇̻̗͇᷿͇̮̊̋̔ͬ͛ͫ̐̂̓̈ͥ̏́͛ͦͭ̒ͅi̯̹̞͇̟͇͔̠̲͈͇̬̦͇̣᷉᷃͛̿̆̌ͦ͛̆̉̄̇ͭ͠͠ͅş̸͖̹͇̣᷂̘͇̟̖͇̮̟͇̘ͣ͛̌͛̈́ͦͤ̈͛͂́͗͢͟͞ ͇̤͙̙͇̹᷿͔͇̺̳̲͇̝̏̒᷁ͣ͛̆᷉̀᷅͛̉̒͛̽͊̅͢l̷̶̦̖͇᷂͇᷊̪̰᷊͇̼̬͇͇̲̋͛̃͌᷇̐̃᷃͛͌̉̿̚̕ĩ̶̱͇͇͖͓͙͇̖͇͚͕̒͌͊̓͛᷀͊̏ͥ́̓᷄ͨ͛᷉᷾͢͠k̲̭͇̖᷿͚͇͖̫̼͈͈̩͇͍͚͇̒̽͛͊͆̈͛᷄ͧ̋᷆᷾͟͠e̢̟͇̻͇̼̬͍͇̯̩͇͉͛̄͛̋͊ͪͩͯ͑͛̊̀ͭ̇᷁͢͞͝.̴̛̩͇̠̥͇̠̰᷿͇̹̟͇᷂᷉᷾̐͗̈͛ͩ᷾͊̄̈́᷁͛̏͢͝
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
So I know that I said that I wouldn’t cater to the AAA echo chamber, but I guess I’m a liar, because I’ve got a complicated love for this game. First and foremost, it’s a stunningly gorgeous homage to A Link to the Past, complete with graphical assets that were literally skewed in perspective to suit the unique angle of the game. I’m no modeller, but that’s some real dedication.
It’s the rose-tinted glasses talking, but this was the first time I’ve revisisted an old stomping ground in a game and genuinely felt curious about it. On it’s own, A Link Between Worlds isn’t very interesting: it’s got that musty Zelda formula, those horrible fetch quests, a forgettable new villain, and a boring take on the Dark World of ALttP. It should be a dry game, but what made it new for me was discovering how you could speedrun it.
I know it’s stupid to say, “This game was my favorite because I put a lot of effort into it,” but there it is. I love the way you can skip half of a dungeon by running over it’s walls. I love that rush you get when you’re still green tunic link and you’ve gotta run through a temple with enemies that deal 4 hearts in one hit. I love .
Again, this game is—at surface level—startlingly easy. It is in breaking this game that I found true enjoyment. It felt like taking my old frustrations from playing ALttP and just stomping them with a steel-toed boot, complete with little spike-studs on the heels.
It feels good to obliterate a homage to old games, to destroy your nostalgia in a timely fashion (under 2 hours!). Try it sometime: I promise it feels good~
So, if you’re like me, and you used to want to live in video game worlds because reality was this painful experience for you and escapism works in mysterious ways, then Steven Universe ought to resonate something fierce.
Maybe it isn’t a game. I don’t care. It feels like a game to me, and that’s enough. It’s a wonderful foray back into my childhood, of days when video games and reality collided in my imagination in ways that were both awesome and totally not healthy. It accurately describes that feeling of wanting magic to be real, but also feeling like if it was, it would be mundane and most of your friends would know how to harness it.
It’s playful and full of intent to evoke those feelings. It doesn’t pay homage to the series’ it borrows from; but it does ask that you recall those feelings and hold them close as you watch. Somehow, Steven Universe does what no game is capable of doing: recreating the feeling of playing a video game for the first time, and for just 10 minutes, showing the whimsy of the medium.
also i like the music and the graphics are good
Towerfall is one of those games I wish I had made. It takes the elements of Smash Bros. and 2D platformers and combines them for a local multiplayer game that stands out above the plethora of local multiplayer games. It’s got arrows and magic and towers and falling.
The art is rad.
Shooting at people is really fun. Getting shot at is even more fun.
And the skill-cap is astronomically high.
So if you’re into that, play it.
Dangan Ronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
This is undoubtedly my GOTY. Sorry, everyone else. This game takes the fucking cake. I wish I could describe this game without totally spoiling the entire plot, but this is just the kind of beast we’re dealing with here.
For those that don’t know, this is a game about a group of 16 students that were transported to a deserted island. They are told that in order to leave, they must kill someone and get away with it. The game is split into chapters, each with three gameplay sections: hanging out with friends, the discovery of a body and the investigation into their death, and a trial section.
Much more eloquent people have talked about why this game is absolutely brilliant, but I’ll try to do it justice. This game is anime in its purest form. It simultaneously gives you as much plot as you’ll need to understand the “why” of the game, but it will never tell you anything else. It doesn’t bother trying to explain its intricacies, because it knows the audience doesn’t care. It isn’t here to frustrate you with plotholes or pesky logic. In fact, half of the time, the game even tells you, “This is the motive for the next killer.”
It’s a completely transparent game, and I love it, and all its silly caricatures, and all its fanservice-y bullshit, and…
Just play it. Even if you don’t like VNs. Even if you don’t like anime. Especially if you don’t like anime or VNs.
Glitchhikers- It’s a game about driving and meeting aliens and hitchhiker creatures. And since I drive around late at night sometimes just to think, this hit home.
Nidhogg- You stab people with foils. It’s got a smarter, more responsive combat system that calls back to The Legend of Zelda II. It’s also got a giant wyrm thing that eats you if you win, symbolizing the futility of our victories. Or maybe it’s just a wyrm. Idk
Shovel Knight- Cute game about Shovels and Knights, in that order. I liked this game, mostly because I tried to superimpose that Shovel Knight is a queer lady. So kudos to the dev team for not showing their gender! (Even though I’m pretty sure Shovel Knight is constantly referred to as “he”, but whatever. Let me have this.)
Bravely Default- The only reason this game is on the list is for personifying the jobs from the Final Fantasy series. Keep doing this, Square. Just, keep doing this.
Persona Q- I didn’t know I wanted to see Kanji and Naoto just hang out like a couple of lovebirds until this game, but…hey Atlus. While you’re making fanservice-y type stuff, just make a game about Kanji and Naoto making out. It’s really important, I swear.