Inside Pulse 12

Diehard GameFAN’s 2014 Video Game Awards

So here we are, at the beginning of 2015, looking back on the accomplishments, good and bad, in gaming for the year 2014. It seems, to many, that 2014 was not a great year for gaming, and it’s not hard to see why people might feel that way, frankly. This was the first full year after the release of not one, but two new consoles, both of which had a lot to prove, and in the span of a year it’s become apparent that Sony is clearly the leader of the pack, having sold nearly twenty million units worldwide, while Microsoft and Nintendo combined are struggling to reach that number. Due to the expanded focus on the current generation consoles, however, this ended up meaning that all three consoles had less than stellar years creatively; while Nintendo saw an influx of strong in-house and financed releases, Sony and Microsoft were hampered by their new hardware, and the platforms that had the best overall years ended up being the handhelds and the PC, as there were no significant tech changes for them to deal with (though with Nintendo’s upcoming New 3DS that may change in 2015). This wasn’t just because of the technology changes in the console market, however; after a couple lackluster years, Sony’s handheld struck back hard, as a massive influx of must-have titles graced the handheld and made it a truly viable contender in the handheld ecosystem for the first time since its release… right as Sony announced the Playstation TV, a streaming box that also allows players to play some Vita games on their television, thus undermining the Vita right as it’s becoming strong. Perhaps most interesting, however, was the sudden rise of attention towards the mobile phone gaming market; after years of mobile games being little more than freemium releases that, if they were good enough, made it to the consoles or handhelds, this year saw developers sink real attention into the market that has been generally used for “free” games or rereleases of older games at exorbitant prices. The mobile phone market, in other words, is quickly ramping up to be a true competitor to the handheld game market, at a time when handheld gaming is starting to show a bit of flux, and it’ll be interesting to see where that goes from here.

On the release front, the aforementioned new consoles threw a bit of a wrench into things; developers who’d originally been planning releases for last generation’s consoles moved projects around, and new projects were delayed or pushed into readiness without being fully complete. The end result was a year where much-hyped projects were, in many cases, underwhelming, broken, or both, and very few console exclusives really popped up to make one console feel like a better investment than the other. Only Nintendo had a strong showing of exclusives this year, due to a combination of strong in-house support and personally financed projects, but their third-party support suffered astronomically as a result, leaving the Wii U a console that will be supported by them once again, so far. The handheld market flourished due to the aforementioned lack of hardware changes, and both the 3DS and Vita saw a good influx of content that made them worth owning. The PC continued its strong release lineup, as the indie game market has flourished under the Steam Greenlight program and numerous developers are also using Early Access to fine-tune their games to player expectations, making games more and more likely to catch the eyes of players before their “official” launch.

When choosing our games to award this year, our thought process going in considers a few major points when doling out awards. Due to time and reviewer constraints, we’ve allowed some winners that were not reviewed this year (unlike prior years), so as to represent the field a bit more evenly. Further, while we love remade versions of our favorite games as much as the next person, remakes generally aren’t considered for “major” awards, as a category should be able to stand on its original releases, no matter how amazing a remake is. Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We all discussed what were the best possible choices, and in the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head… but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2014.



BEST SONY CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed

Have you applied for a medical trial with the promise of anime figurines, only to wake up to find that you’ve been transformed into a vampire? Me neither, but such is the fate of the protagonist of Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed for the PS3, PS4, and Vita. Now you must defend the city from those who share your fate as well as lost all sense of self, all the while finding a way to get back to normal.

Unlike your standard vampire, these ones won’t be done in with stakes or cloves of garlic. No, you’ll be tearing their clothes off so that they may be exposed to light and burn up in the sun. However, the same can be done to you if you’re not careful, so you’ll have to browse all manner of Akihibara stores in order to equip more durable clothing items and wield such exotic weapons as cosplay swords and computer monitors. The satirical storyline is hilariously written, and exploring each district while clobbering every manner of male and female vampires is hopelessly addictive despite its simplicity.

– Sean Madson


BEST SONY PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Dangan Ronpa 1&2

DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc - Title SplashAs someone who purchased a Vita while its future was still uncertain, 2014 certainly made for a fantastic lineup for the system, especially if you were into niche Japanese titles. The Dangan Ronpa games rose to the top to become the best of the bunch, which is no surprise given they come from the same developers as the Zero Escape franchise. The decision to release both games in the same year seems a bit odd at first, but when you consider that the Japanese version included both on the same cartridge and that they fit together nicely as one continuous experience, it begins to make more sense.

Regardless of which entry you play, you’re cast in the role of a student who, along with his peers, is trapped with no means of escape. That is, unless they murder one of their fellow students without being caught. They are monitored every step of the way by a sadistic robot bear named Monokuma who uses psychological manipulation to coerce the students into murder, and the end result is an interesting tale of survival littered with a series of whodunnits. Once you have all of the clues, it’s a matter of winning debates and playing simple minigames to arrive at the correct answers. Once you start down this rabbit hole, you’ll bear-ly be able to stop.

– Sean Madson


BEST MICROSOFT CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Sunset Overdrive

Take Ratchet & Clank style gadgetry, Jet Grind Radio mechanics, and set them within an open world superhero style game during a zombie mutant apocalypse. What do you get? If you said an awesome Xbox One exclusive game, you would be correct. Sunset Overdrive allows you to grind on any manner of objects as you move from one destination to the next, completing tasks for such factions as a LARP community and Mexican ninja cheerleaders, all while using the most insane weaponry possible to fend off the OD’d.

Aside from having blowing up enemies while constantly on the move as a core mechanic, the game also features a wealth of customization options for your main character, many of which can be unlocked from the ton of side quests scattered around the city. A multiplayer mode is at your disposal, featuring eight player co-op, and any currency and items earned can be brought back into your single player game. There’s certainly room to grow, but you won’t find a better Microsoft exclusive for 2014.

– Sean Madson


BEST PC EXCLUSIVE GAME

Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut

2014-03-01_00013What started out as an expansion with an arguably stronger storyline and characters than the campaign that shipped with Shadowrun Returns saw an amazing re-release that made it into its own stand-alone game, but also was a means to upgrade many of the features in the original game. Harebrained Schemes went in and not only made some game updates, but also fleshed out the Dragonfall campaign as it was released and added more content, fleshed out the characters who were already far more than one-dimensional to begin with, and also made the game even more accessible to new players by giving them the option to just pick this version up. A really well done strategy RPG on top of everything else, Dragonfall had a great polish to it, an amazing soundtrack, options you don’t always see in a regular RPG and a return to the Shadowrun world in style. If you’re a long time tabletop player, someone who liked the original console releases or even a complete newcomer to the Shadowrun universe, you’ll find the developers did a fantastic job making sure you could pick this up and run with it. My only complaint is that I don’t have more time to play it.

– Ashe Collins


BEST NINTENDO CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Hyrule Warriors

When it was first announced, many Nintendo fans were split on how to react to Hyrule Warriors. On one hand, any new first/second party game with Link in the Zelda universe is welcome. However, the shallow and repetitive nature of many of the Warriors games left many fans wondering how the mashup would work out.

After actually playing it, almost everyone agreed that the mashup was a big success. While it doesn’t have the deep storyline and adventure elements of a normal Zelda game, the non stop action somehow worked. The ability to play as a wide variety of characters – including multiple notable female characters – made the somewhat repetitive gameplay seem more varied. The graphics burst with color and showed tons of characters on screen at once.

Much like Mario Kart 8, Nintendo supported Hyrule Warriors with multiple beefy packs of DLC that added huge segments to the game. Hyrule Warriors ended up as a showcase title for how Nintendo could work with their third party partners to create compelling, exclusive games for Nintendo platforms.

– Jonathan Widro


BEST NINTENDO PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

Persona Q was on five of the ten staff members who submitted staff commentaries this year. It has won a few of our other categories, namely Best Turn-Based RPG and Best Sound, and was a serious contender for our Game of the Year. So why does this game deserve the title of 3DS Game of the Year? The most compelling argument, perhaps, is the game’s ability to take the best of Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey, two well-loved franchises, and combine them to create an experience that fans and non-fans of either series can appreciate. People who generally dislike dungeon mapping found themselves triple checking their maps in order to unlock that last treasure box on each floor, and people who weren’t fond of Persona 3 and/or Persona 4‘s quirkiness found themselves immersed due to the loveable (or “love-to-hate”able) characters. The end result is an enjoyable experience unlike any other, and for that, Persona Q gets our 3DS Game of the Year.

– Crystal Steltenpohl


BEST MULTI-CONSOLE GAME

Valiant Hearts

I’ve said much about Valiant Hearts, between the review and my own Top Ten for the year, but it bears repeating: between its often ignored subject matter, its colorful visuals, its serious and often moving treatment of the concept, and its execution, Valiant Hearts is one of the most affecting games I’ve seen in a long time, and one of the best releases across platforms this year. What pushed it into the top spot has as much to do with Valiant Hearts taking the spot as what it did, as few games could compete with this on multiple levels, let alone every level in which it excelled. Even in a stronger year, though, Valiant Hearts would’ve been just as likely for a nod; it’s beautiful, easy to play, intelligent in its design, and able to evoke emotions of joy and despair evenly across the entire game. If this is a sign of the evolution of storytelling in games, it’s a reassuring one, and you’d be hard pressed to find an experience this year that was consistently as enjoyable and entertaining as Valiant Hearts across multiple platforms.

– Mark B.



BEST SPORTS GAME

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball

The idea of Nintendo doing a free-to-play game with in-game purchases probably seems rather strange. The idea of being able to haggle over the prices of said purchases seems even stranger (and not one seen in mobile games, an area ripe with IAP laden free to download games). Yet Nintendo combined both ideas together to make Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball. While each minigame by itself is not particularly complex or deep, they provide a small slice of different aspects of baseball, ranging from batting to making calls as an umpire to crafting your own bat. There’s even a story attached to buying these minigames, with the shop where you buy them being run by the beleaguered Rusty, a former pro ball player whose wife left him with 10 mouths to feed. You learn these details bit by bit through the course of haggling and bribing Rusty with donuts and sundry items. Even if you fail, you can try again without penalty. It’s a wacky concept, but Nintendo made it work.

– Aileen Coe


BEST FIGHTING GAME

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

Persona 4 Arena was a welcome surprise when it first released in 2012. Developed by Arc System Works, of Blazblue fame, the fighter brought together characters from both Persona 3 and Persona 4 and tied them together into a direct canonical followup to the latter. Given the success of the first release, it’s no surprise to see that Atlus greenlighted a followup, and the end result is Persona 4 Arena Ultimax.

Introducing a followup storyline that is arguably better constructed than its predecessor, P4AU adds even more characters to the roster, including Junpei, Yukari, Ken & Koramaru and more. Each character also has a shadow version of themselves that can be controlled, and the soundtrack and locales have been further expanded. If you haven’t gotten on the Persona fighting game hype train by now, this is the game to do it with.

– Sean Madson


BEST DRIVING GAME

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart Wii is one of the top selling games of all time. Mario Kart 7, released in 2011 for Nintendo 3DS, introduced a variety of new concepts to the series including transformations and kart modifications. Mario Kart 8 seemed poised to continue building on these games, but this time in glorious HD for the first time. The end result was the best driving game of the year and one of the best examples of arcade racing ever created.

Mario Kart 8 dropped in late May, right before E3. In a year filled with huge, sprawling open world racing games (Forza Horizon 2, The Crew, Driveclub), Nintendo kept Mario Kart the same at its core with compact, self contained tracks split into groups of four. Mario Kart 8‘s 32 core tracks – 16 all new tracks and 16 remixed tracks from games in the series – are all unique. In addition to incorporating the water and air segments of the 3DS game, there are new anti-gravity sections that allow for new twists and turns.

Despite the lower power of the Nintendo Wii U versus the PS4 and Xbox One, Nintendo managed to create one of the most impressive looking games of 2014. Mario Kart 8 stands up with any game ever released in terms of sheer graphical splendor.

Just when it couldn’t get any better, Nintendo upped the ante with incredible DLC. The first batch, released in November, featured Link as a playable driver and a Hyrule-inspired track. Add in tracks based on Excitebike and F-Zero, and Mario Kart 8 became a shining example of how DLC could expand and enhance an already complete game.

– Jonathan Widro


BEST ACTION ROLE-PLAYING GAME

Dark Souls II

From Software has an entire catalog under their belt, yet it’s the Demon’s/Dark Souls games that they seem to be best known for. This is for good reason, as the focus on providing a sense of accomplishment when any bit of progress is made harkens back to an era where games had to be difficult by necessity. Yet, the way they achieve it made the franchise go from niche success to critically acclaimed franchise practically overnight.

Which brings us to the latest release. It’s dark, it’s difficult, and it’s not plot driven at all. Yet Dark Souls II manages to be so damn fun. Following hot on the heels of its predecessor, the game tweaks the formula by adding more covenants, shipping away at your health bar upon death, and adds the threat of invasion even when not in human form. Despite these challenges, the combat is still superb and the boss fights make for some of the most intense battles you’ll find all year.

– Sean Madson


BEST TURN BASED ROLE-PLAYING GAME

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

It’s fairly rare for a game to take concepts from another game and somehow manage to do them better than the original game, but that’s what many people are arguing Persona Q has done with the Etrian Odyssey series, and it combines these features with the Shin Megami Tenseifighting system that fans are more familiar with. The adjustable difficulty also works in its favor, as it allowed for newcomers to the original franchises to safely enjoy the game while also letting veterans of either/both series challenge themselves.

– Crystal Steltenpohl


BEST STRATEGY ROLE-PLAYING GAME

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon

Hey, you! Are you a fan of tactical gameplay? Grid-based maps where you move lots of troops all over trying to conquer your opponent’s army? Do you like games like Advance Wars , Makai Kingdom, Panzer Corps, Fire Emblem, Brigandine or Master of Monsters? Then you will absolutely love Warmhammer, 40,000: Armageddon – even if you’ve never fought for the Emperor amongst his Space Marines before.

While Armageddon isn’t the typical SRPG where you have a small group of troops set in a fantasy setting, it does have all the tactical trappings you are looking for. There are scores of maps and literally HUNDREDS of troop options for you to pick from. From a small platoon of Astra Militarium troops to Space Marines from the Ultramarines, Blood Angels or Dark Angels division, you have more options than you’ve seen in any other sci-fi/fantasy military tactics game you’ve ever played. You also have tons of vehicles. The are a dozen Leman Russ tank variants alone! At times, deciding what troops you want to enlist into your army can take as long as the battles the computer has planned out for you. Best of all, your troops get experience with each successful attack and/or kill, making them stronger and tougher. Be careful though, because when a troop dies, it dies. There is permadeath a plenty in this game, making each of your moves all the more important.

Although Armageddon looks twenty years old, content is king. The campaign for the game is amazing, complete with a terrific story and solid voice acting. Story-wise this might be the best 40K game ever released, with cameos from some of the iconic characters from the 40K universe. The campaign will last you dozens of hours, and when you are done with that, you still have competitive mode (one player is humanity, the other is WAAAAAAAAAAAUGH Orks Orks Orks!). You have a map editor to design and play out your own battles. You can spend dozens of hours in the game without even touching campaign mode. There isn’t a deeper, more complex tactical game released this year and it wonderfully captures all the good of 40K without any of the bad (like the sheer time it takes to put together and paint minis). Building an army of this size with actual 40K figures would costs thousands of dollars. Here, it’s less than $40. If you ever wanted to see what the tabletop version of 40K was like but don’t have anyone in your area that plays the game, Armageddon is about as close as you’ll get to the real thing.

– Alex Lucard


BEST FIRST PERSON GAME

Five Nights at Freddy’s

You’d be forgiven for expecting an FPS to make its yearly appearance in this spot, but as it happens, the term “Firs Person Game” is ambiguous on purpose, because sometimes there will be an absolute dearth of FPS titles that aren’t also-ran, a non-shooting first person will steal the show, or in some cases, both. This year was mostly a case of the third thing; while there were some solid FPS titles this year, like Wolfenstein: The New Order, the VAST majority of FPS titles released this year were… not great. Meanwhile, a man by the name of Scott Cawthon came along and basically dropped an unassuming first person horror game onto the market that instantly lit a fire under everyone who played it, and with good reason: it was scary as hell. Make no mistake, Five Nights at Freddy’s is an amazing experience for its asking price and then some, and the fact that this game could be developed in an application meant for far simpler games than this, come out at this price, and be this good is something I’m still not entirely able to believe. Whether you’ve seen livestreams of play, videos on Youtube after the fact, or even played the game yourself, you almost certainly have at least some idea what I mean; Five Nights at Freddy’s does the absolute most with the absolute least, and it’s a testament to the game and its creator that it’s easily the best first person experience to be released this year, hands down. When a five dollar horror game can provide (relatively speaking) a better experience than some of the top-tier, heavily hyped releases this year, that says something, and Five Nights at Freddy’s definitely says that exact thing, even if it’s from inside a decrepit robot bear head.

– Mark B.


BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER

Procyon

On its face, Procyon might seem to be Just Another Shooter. In some ways, it is, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The controls are tight and the mechanics come together well. Different difficulties cater to both people less experienced with bullet hells and veterans of the genre. The story is basic, but told in amusing snippets between stages. The faceless commander has all the faith in the world in you (to probably die in an explosion) as humanity’s last hope against the aliens who’ve taken over (no pressure, right?). While there’s only five stages, there are also other modes to play through as incentive to replay (well, besides the leaderboards and earning higher scores). You can even play it either as a side scroller or vertical scroller. All the action (flashy explosions and bendy lasers oh my) is complemented by a “faux orchestral” (their words not mine) soundtrack. All of this comes in an inexpensive package, so pew-pew away.

– Aileen Coe


BEST ACTION GAME

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta hit Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in late 2009, and while it’s only 5 years old, things have changed considerably in the world of video games. Despite strong sales at the time, the market’s appetite for Japanese third person action titles was shrinking. Developer Platinum Games wanted to move forward with a sequel, but publisher Sega, as conservative as they’ve ever been, simply wouldn’t green light the game.

In stepped Nintendo to publish the sequel. Bayonetta 2, which exists because Nintendo funded it, released in October complete with a revamped version of the first game. Bayonetta 2 is a tour-de-force, with ridiculous, over-the-top action spread across insane locations and against wild enemies. The size of some of the bosses is truly staggering. The graphics are top notch, and while they aren’t quite on par with some new generation PS4/Xbox One games, they are bright, crisp, well animated and colorful.

Bayonetta herself returns as “chic-y” as ever, with a sassy kid sidekick and a near nonsensical storyline. Most of the characters from the first game return as well.

In a year filled with serious AAA games, Bayonetta 2 shone through as a top notch action game that any gamer should enjoy.

– Jonathan Widro


BEST ADVENTURE GAME

Dangan Ronpa 1&2

It’s always a bit of a tough call whether to include visual novel as adventure games. You spend as much time in Dangan Ronpa clicking through text as you do anything else after all. However, both games have enough classic adventure gameplay to see them through. Whether it was exploring to find the hidden Monokumas, puzzling out which statement to turn into a Truth Bullet, or trying to max out the report card for each of your fellow classmates, there was plenty of gameplay to be had here.

Story is what matters most in an adventure game, though. Whether you’re talking about the first Dangan Ronpa or its sequel, they’re damn near impossible to beat in that department. Rarely is such a promising setup followed by such smart delivery. Interesting characters and shocking plot twists keep the player engaged for hours at a time. It may be a bit too much like a book for some, but it’s a damned good book at least.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST RE-MAKE/RE-RELEASE

The Lost Crown

lostcrown2The Lost Crown was a darn good game that picked up its fair share of awards from us when it was first released. For this re-release, they did some basic patchwork and cleaned things up a bit. From a gameplay standpoint, the experience is much better. Being able to skip dialogue you’ve seen before/being able to quickly move through locations saves a ton of time without sacrificing the feel of the game one bit.

What this game is, really though, is one hell of a spooky ride. Teaming up with Nigel to track down ghost in a quite coastal town is one of the most unnerving experiences you can get on your PC. Anyone who thought a point-and-click adventure game didn’t have the ability to scare was proven dead wrong by this modern classic.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST PLATFORMER

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2014 was a little lighter on epic platformers than the last few years, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze stood atop the year.

After slipping from its late 2013 release date to early 2014, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze seemed to fly under the radar of many gamers as a quiet release early in the year. That is a mistake though, as DKC: TF features some of the best looking and most challenging platforming ever seen in a Nintendo game.

The game is a bit shorter than its prequel with only 6 worlds, but the levels are varied, long and well crafted. The ability to play not only with Diddy Kong, but also with Cranky Kong and Dixie Kong is a fun addition to the gameplay. Usually the game will direct who is best to use in any situation, but really, any of the side characters can be used in most areas.

As with the last game, the challenge is high. The 3DS remake added additional hearts and helpers, but those are absent in Tropical Freeze. Instead, you will die many times in trial and error, finding just the right timing through some areas. The dreaded barrel sections are back and are also challenging, but I’m glad they were included.

– Jonathan Widro


BEST HORROR GAME

Five Nights at Freddy’s

When I mentioned above that Five Nights at Freddy’s was scary, I absolutely meant that; it was easily scary enough to get various and sundry notable livestreamers screaming at the top of their lungs, and when I played it for my group of followers they seemed suitably pants-fillingly scared. In theory, it was an easy pick for “Best Horror Game,” given that it generally received near-universal praise, and most every other horror game to come out this year… came not even close to accomplishing this task. What’s interesting, though, is that even in a year with lots of top-tier banner-winning releases, FNAF would’ve almost certainly taken the duke, because it’s honestly just a very complete package. It’s inexpensive and delivers value beyond its meager asking price, it’s clever and creative while also being evocative of games from yesteryear, and it creates a simple to understand and play experience that’s interesting and immersive. Those are a lot of buzzwords, sure, but they mean something here; for every game labeled with those words that’s trying to tell you a story about a novelist and his family or a dude waiting for his date, this is one of those rare games that manages to make those words mean something, while still being an actual game, and not one that’s frustrating for the wrong reasons. In a year featuring plenty of divisive horror releases, if not outright bad ones, Five Nights at Freddy’s stood head and shoulders above the rest, and reinforced that sometimes the scariest thing isn’t zombies or aliens, but screaming chicken robots.

– Mark B.


BEST ALL-AGES GAME

Detective Grimoire

Who wants to talk about murder (mysteries)? While Detective Grimoire features only one case (as opposed to 4-5 in a typical Ace Attorney game), it packs plenty of charm in the quirky characters, full voice acting, and slick presentation. There’s a good balance of puzzles and talking to people trying to get them to drop important clues. The puzzles are a bit on the easy side, but that helps in keeping things moving. It was fun examining everything in each place to see what I would find and presenting them to everyone I encountered just to see what they would say. Piecing together sentences using clues you’d found and information you’d learned was an interesting mechanic, and the challenge topics were reminiscent of the psyche-locks in Ace Attorney. While the game can be beaten in about a few hours (depending on how much poking around and going around showing everything to everyone you do), the experience never feels rushed, but rather well paced, with most loose ends being tied up while leaving enough room for another game (yes please).

– Aileen Coe


BEST RHYTHM GAME

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F

2014-11-20-152950Miku has started her takeover. It seems unlikely that she could cross over to the U.S., but this is the second year in a row her Project Diva series has landed our award for best rhythm game. While PDF2 didn’t do too much different, it made the necessary incremental improvements to be considered a true sequel rather than just an expansion. New note types and a steeper difficulty curve made the game a blast to play, a new unlock system kept players coming back for more, and not even the odd mechanics in the Diva Room could hold the game back. With another Miku game already announced for 2015, it’s looking like the virtual idol is preparing for the hat trick. It will be interesting to see if she can pull it off.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST DIGITAL/DOWNLOADABLE GAME

Velocity 2X

01When they first announced this I was excited. Velocity Ultra was a great game on the Vita and a nice upgrade over the original that had come out for Playstation Mobile. What they did with the sequel was amazing though. Instead of just dumping new levels on us and calling it good, Futurlab went in and decided to tweak the game, add to it and expand on their ideas so that what they gave us was leaps beyond what we got with the first game. Velocity 2X combined side-scrolling platforming with shooting and physics mechanics, and did so in a way that it feels like an extension of the ship combat and is integral to the whole game instead of begin tacked on. They expanded on the game’s story line and opened it up by letting us get to know not only the female pilot we were controlling, but everyone she was interacting with. It’s a huge step up over the first game in the series and is an amazing game just taken on its own.

– Ashe Collins


BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME

Singstar Ultimate Party

For a while it felt like Singstar was a dead game. Months went by without any new songs and there was no word from any of the team about, well… anything. Then out of nowhere came Singstar 3.0. We still don’t have any new songs, but the new interface was fantastic! From a retooling of the visual feel of the game, a completely new (and saner) scoring method, the ability to use your Android or iPhone smart phone as a wireless microphone (Download the app first!) and so much more, Singstar had new life breathed into it. The devs even listened to fans and restored some old aspects of 2.0, such as short song options and battle duets. With new features and a retooling of old ones for the better, Singstar for the Playstation 3 was better than ever. Sure there are still bugs to work out with the PS4 version regarding transferring your songs over, but for those smart enough to keep Singstar on their PS3, the game is the best it has ever been. My wife and I play at least once a week, belting out songs we love (or that are terrible but fun to sing) and it’s a great way to pass a few hours… even if Guin refuses to let me sing any Spice Girls songs when she’s around.

– Alex Lucard


BEST PUZZLE GAME

Wayward Manor

Let’s be honest. This was NOT a good year for pure puzzle games. There weren’t a lot released and most of those that did come out were far from the glory days of Tetris, Columns, Lumines and Bejeweled. However, the best of the bunch was definitely Wayward Manor. The game’s chief claim to fame is that Neil Gaiman wrote the game and also voiced the main character in it – a haunted house. You’ll use your ghostly powers (which grow as the game goes on and you gain sustenance from the inhabitants’ fear) to scare members of the family that dwell within you in hopes that they will eventually pack it in and leave. Each level of the game requires you to scare the human out of the room, but there is no set way or linear path to do it. It’s up to your own wits to figure out how to manipulate each location to get that fright meter up. The gameplay is clever and easy to control via nothing but your mouse, but it takes a while to master. There are laughs to be had and it’s interesting to see the twist that occurs with all of the characters towards the end. Wayward Manor definitely isn’t a game for everyone, but puzzle fans will have a blast with it.

– Alex Lucard


BEST DLC

South Park Pinball

I have to admit, when it comes to digital pinball, I prefer the Pinball Arcade to Zen Pinball/Pinball FX. However South Park Pinball isn’t just a great set of pinball tables – it might just be the best tables Zen Studios have ever made. When you purchase South Park Pinball, you get two very different tables. South Park’s Super Sweet Pinball Dude contains sounds and visual moments from many classic episodes of the cartoon series coupled with some excellent pinball action. You’ll find everything from Mr. Hankey multiball to a myriad of mini-games based on moments from specific episodes. It’s as funny as it is fun to play, and this table alone is well worth the asking price for the set. The second table, Butters Very Own Pinball Game, is even better. As the name suggests, this table specifically revolves around episodes featuring everyone’s favorite character – BUTTERS (that’s him!)! Whether you’re dealing with Awesome-O, losing an eye due to a ninja star or becoming a vampire, Butters’s table will make you laugh and want to hug the poor little guy all at the same time.

Both tables on their own are fantastic and will provide you with many hours of high quality pinball gaming. Both together on one ticket are pretty damn hard to beat – even if you’re not a big South Park fan.

– Alex Lucard



WORST GAME GAMING EVENT OF THE YEAR

Everything, Everywhere, is Broken (Especially AAA Games)

It used to be that bad games came out and everyone could universally band around one extremely terrible game, kick it a bit, and hand out the golden toilet that is a Worst Game of the Year award before moving on. These days, though, it’s getting harder to really accomplish that, as even when such games come out, they’re often just as heavily overshadowed by the top-tier, AAA titles that come out that are heavily broken at launch, and only marginally resemble the top-shelf titles they were supposed to be after extensive patching that takes months of work and effort. After last year’s Sim City debacle, where reviewers and fans alike screamed bloody murder because Electronic Arts kicked the game out the door in a basically unplayable state, you’d have thought that developers would have learned some kind of lesson from that. Well, WHOOPS, HAHA, the only lesson they learned was that we’ll pay for games that are broken if only no one knows about it until they launch, which ended up with us getting three games that were essentially broken as hell until multiple patches were pushed out to fix their issues (and a fourth that was almost that bad), and even then that still wasn’t enough.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity was touted as the logical next step in the franchise, but even after months of ridicule due to stating they couldn’t add in female player characters, the reality was, oops, they left out almost everything, as the game would routinely drop players out of the world, render characters as shown above, and otherwise just not work. The fact that Ubisoft then basically said, “Well if you bought the Season Pass you get a free game, so long as you don’t sue us,” speaks volumes, as does the fact that they fixed the real-money transaction system before the majority of the tech problems the game was suffering. Meanwhile, Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Driveclub both launched in a state that made them more or less improbable, if not impossible, to play online, and both companies have had to give away make-good DLC packages to compensate for the fact that they couldn’t wait a month and iron out all the issues. Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was even a staff favorite here for a lot of us, came with a day one patch and still featured glitches that rendered quests impossible to complete and caused players to get stuck in the game world, and a second patch totaling six pages of patches still didn’t resolve the issues.

These aren’t small issues, either; these games almost certainly would have been eligible for awards had they launched in a shape that wasn’t “as painted by Escher.” The publishers are (mostly) making sure gamers get content for their losses, but it needs to be said, this is NOT the same thing as people being upset with an ending, ALA Mass Effect 3, where one can blow off the criticism as subjective dispute. These games objectively do not work as intended, and the publishers are giving you free things so you don’t sue them, which is nice as a gesture, but does nothing to ensure they won’t hand you another broken game. Hell, a lot of sites gave Dragon Age: Inquisition GAME OF THE YEAR, and while it was pretty good to be sure and probably would’ve deserved it otherwise, that is in ABSOLUTELY NO POSSIBLE WAY WHATSOEVER HELPING. In an ideal world, this would be a one-off thing that would never happen again, but in an ideal world it wouldn’t have happened to begin with, and most likely, it’ll continue until we get used to it and developers plan ahead with “free” DLC or stop giving it out altogether. Regardless, this was a shameful series of events by developers who have the money and the knowledge to do better, and honestly, if you want to be upset about the state of gaming, your target probably shouldn’t be the people writing about it, but the people who allow things like this to happen.

– Mark B.


CHARACTER OF THE YEAR

Monokuma

Let me start things off by saying how much I hate this bastard. If there were a real Monokuma in front of me, I’d smash the thing to tiny bits with a ball peen hammer, burn the scrap, and then piss on the ashes. Even then, I doubt my sense of vengeance would truly be satiated.

To win the character of the year award, you don’t have to be nice, well-liked, or even well known. You have to be memorable. Monokuma would have been a top tier candidate for this award if only one of his games had come out this year. With both DR and DR2 coming stateside in 2014, the maniacal mechanical bear is damn near unstoppable.

The self proclaimed Headmaster of Hope’s Peak Academy is one of the easiest character to hate in recent memory. While he rarely kills anyone directly, he’s the snarky bastard that convinces characters you like to kill other characters you like. Then, when the full truth comes out and hits you so hard you want to vomit, you have to deal with this laughing bastard, and you can’t do anything about it. He smiles, laughs, and cheers as your favorite character is brutally executed. That’s when you become filled with ultimate despair, which is what he wanted all along.

“Puhuhuhu” indeed, asshole.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST STORY

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Some games tell the best possible story in a way that’s meaningful, heartfelt, and brings you to tears… and then there’s The Stick of Truth. Let’s get this out of the way up front: this game in no way whatsoever was chosen for its meaningful dialogue, evocative narrative, or symbolism, it was chosen entirely because it’s hilarious. Even that assessment probably doesn’t do the plot justice, though; The Stick of Truth wields its humor like a master swordsman, cutting through pop culture and general humor expertly, in a way that is absolutely not afraid to be gross or horrifying when it needs to be. The game crosses all sorts of horrible boundaries, but in a way that not only celebrates the history of the series, but also manages to be funny not in spite of itself, but because it’s truly something amazing. Every part of the game is crammed full of hilarious content, from the zombie uprising plot point to the visit to the abortion clinic to the extended contact from Al Gore to the trip to Canada and beyond, and none of it overstays its welcome or feels rehashed. Sometimes, very rarely, a licensed game can do something special, and in this case, The Stick of Truth manages it; not only is this one of the best South Park games ever, but it also easily has the best storyline of any game released this year, and I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in ages.

– Mark B.


BEST GRAPHICS

Dreamfall Chapters – Book One: Reborn

The Longest Journey/Dreamfall have always had strong worldbuilding. For Dreamfall Chapters RedThread Games really pushed the Unity engine to make those worlds really come alive. Storytime feels appropriately surreal, with parts of people’s dreams visible in an expansive landscape. However, Europolis is the place people spend the most time in. It really looks and feels like a bustling city, with random groups of people talking whose conversations you can overhear as you pass by, vendors calling out to you to check out their wares, and a street musician. The neon lights and drones flying around added to the futuristic feel, and the campaign signs highlighted the political climate that’s likely to come more in play in later chapters. Dreamfall Chapters‘ graphics help bring the characters and world to life, and I look forward to playing future chapters.

– Aileen Coe


BEST AUDIO

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

It’s hard to imagine Shoji Meguro outdoing himself, but somehow he’s done it this year with Persona Q. By remixing music from Persona 3 and Persona 4 and adding in new tracks just for this game, the music doesn’t get any better than this. I find myself visiting the Nurse’s Office more often than I need to just so I can listen to the remix of “Paulownia Mall.” But the music isn’t the only attractive thing about this newest ATLUS entry: with return performances by Yuri Lowenthal (Yosuke, Minato/Makoto/Sakuya), Johnny Yong Bosch (Yu/Souji), Karen Strassman (Aigis, Nanako), Erin Fitzgerald (Chie), Amanda Win Lee (Yukiko), Vic Mignogna (Junpei), Sam Riegel (Teddie), Matthew Mercer (Kanji), and wowthisstarstuddedcastjustdoesn’tend, the voice acting is on point. The addition of Keith Silverstein (who actually was in Persona 2, so I mean new to Persona 3/4-era games) as Zen, Ashly Burch as Rei, Valerie Arem (replacing Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) as Naoto, and Marisha Ray (replacing Michelle Ann Dunphy) as Margaret are not to be overlooked either. These voice actors and actresses (as well as the many I’ve not listed) did an excellent job bringing these characters to life, helping boost Persona Q to the top spot on our list for best sound in 2014.

– Crystal Steltenpohl


BEST GAMEPLAY

Neo XYX

This is the second year in a row a Dreamcast game has won an award from us. Yes, they are still making games for the Dreamcast. 2015 might even have more releases than 2014 and they all tend to be good to excellent. Take the winner of this year’s “Best Gameplay” award. Neo XYX is one of the smoothest, most accurate vertical scrolling shooters I have ever played. Considering the entire genre is known for its precision gameplay, that says something. It also worth noting that a game made for a system originally designed in 1999 out-preformed every other shooter I played this year. Whether it was the disappointing R-Type Generations remake or even an amazing game like Procyon, Neo XYX just blew the competition away with its handling of the craft. The controls were lighting quick and never once did my command falter – not even for a single frame. That’s amazing considering the outdated hardware that is Sega’s last system. At times, the controller just felt like it was one with my hand – an experience I haven’t had with a shooter since Gradius V, and before that, Ikaruga. This is definitely one of those games you have to experience firsthand to understand just how good playing it is. You should also take a look at the graphics in Neo XYX. The visuals are on par with, if not better than, any shoot ’em up released in 2015 – which means it’s really pushing what the Dreamcast can do (or than modern shooters are lazy in the graphics department – maybe both!). The fact the game handles like a dream while having current-gen shooter visuals on a fifteen year old system is a true gameplay achievement. Neo XYX is well worth tracking down if you still own a Sega Dreamcast – it’s that good. It’s also available for the Neo*GEO AES if you own one of those as well.

– Alex Lucard


SYSTEM OF THE YEAR

PC

While our award winning games this year were largely multiplatform or handheld games, the PC was probably the most consistent this year with regard to the strength of its overall release schedule. We saw some Early Access content releasing complete games this year, like Divinity: Original Sin and Dungeon of the Endless, and other games launching their Early Access periods, like Shadowrun Online and Dungeon Defenders II. We also saw some games with surprising success, like Five Nights at Freddy’s and Another Star. It ultimately felt like the year of the visual novel/graphic adventure, however, with Actual Sunlight, Loren the Amazon Princess, Moebius: Empire Rising, Broken Age Act 1, and the various Telltale chapters that were released. It’s hard to argue that another system had that kind of lineup.

– Crystal Steltenpohl


GAME OF THE YEAR

Dangan Ronpa 1&2

This might seem like cheating. I mean, not only are we naming two games of the year, but they’re from the same franchise! Well honestly, how often is it that two games from the same franchise get released in the same calender year, let alone a mere half a year apart? More importantly, how often is it that two objectively great games in the same franchise are released in such a short time span? It doesn’t happen. Dangan Ronpa 1 and 2 are anomalies. What started out as one questionable port of a very Japanese game turned into a potentially system defining franchise for the Vita.

What really makes the game stand out is its story. The whole “students locked up and forced to kill each other” thing might not be the new kid on the block anymore, but it is far from run into the ground. Dangan Ronpa adds its own twist by the way of class trials. See, this isn’t just about survival. When someone does die, a class trial is held to figure out who the killer is. If the students guess right, the killer is executed and the game goes on. If they guess wrong, the killer goes free and the rest of them are executed as well. As you might imagine, this boosts up the stress level quite a bit .The characters that inhabit this story are interesting and well written enough that you’ll spend a serous amount of time between murders placing wagers on who’s going to die next and who the killer will be. And then what will happen is your favorite character will either be killed or become the killer and you’ll find yourself cursing the game. That’s not a problem at all. It’s just a sign that you’re invested.

Look. There might have been a lot more debate about game of the year if only one of these games came out in 2014. But the fact of the matter is that they both came out, and they both are game of the year quality games in their own right. For that, we had to give out this award. If you have a Vita, you owe it to yourself to play these games. If you don’t have a Vita, then go buy one and play these games anyway. You won’t regret it.

– Aaron Sirois