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Matt Welsh’s Top 10 Games of 2014

This year has been one of transition.  As is the case with most new console generations, it takes a year or so to really get going, and this is exactly what this past year has been.  While certainly not a bad year for games, there did seem to be a noticeable void of major must-have titles.  Neither the PS4 nor Xbox One has had a truly console-defining game yet, and have mostly been offering some games that were certainly entertaining, but still mostly felt like last-gen fare.

That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some great titles, though.  In fact, I’d actually venture to say that 2014 was a year filled with some big surprises, both good and bad.  Games that were seemingly positioned to kickstart the new generation of gaming, such as Destiny and Assassin’s Creed Unity, failed to make an impact with me, but there were also other titles that were not even on my radar which eventually rocked my world.

2014 may not have been the monumental year that I had hoped for, but it was still one heck of a year for gaming.  Here are the 10 titles that I enjoyed most this year:

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

10. Freedom Wars

I absolutely love my PlayStation Vita.  Over the past few years, my free time has dwindled as my career responsibilities and quality time with my wife have become priority, leaving me with much smaller windows of game time.  The Vita has become my go-to video game machine, as I can quickly load up a game during my lunch break, or stream a PS4 game with remote play while my wife occupies the television.

The only problem is the comparative dearth of titles that the handheld sees.

2014 has been particularly barren when it comes to exclusive AAA releases for the handheld, and for a while, it looked as though Sony was giving up support for the handheld.  Thankfully Freedom Wars released this fall and scratched that Vita itch.

Freedom Wars, a title about a dystopian society in which citizens must contribute to the well-being of their society by battling large monsters in team-based missions, is a game that is as fun to play as it is packed with content.  Similar to games like Monster Hunter, teaming up with friends and coming up with a strategy to conquer your foes and gain more impressive loot is a rewarding and addicting experience.  The story may leave something to be desired, and the teammate A.I. is frustratingly inept in the game’s second half, but there’s plenty of awesome action to keep Vita owners entertained for quite a while.  I know I’ll be enjoying Freedom Wars well into the spring.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

9. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition

Diablo III is, surprisingly, my first Diablo title.  My PC gaming has always been kept to a minimum, and while I was interested in the Xbox 360 and PS3 release of the game in 2013, the fact that it released just a few short weeks before Grand Theft Auto V kept me from taking the plunge.  Having missed one of gaming’s most cherished franchises for the entirety of my life so far, I decided I finally needed to commit to Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition.

Wow, what took me so long to enjoy this series?

I was instantly hooked to the simple and mindless hack-and-slash gameplay that Diablo employs.  There is just something so appealing about button-mashing your way through dozens of enemies at a time.  The amount of content is staggering too, with the entire Reaper of Souls expansion included alongside the core game.  Forming a demon-hunting team online is even more fun, as each player begins to coordinate their attacks and abilities towards the overall success of the team.

The game may admittedly be a few years old at this point, but there was enough new and addictive content in this package to warrant a place on my top 10.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

8. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

This is one of those games that falls under that list of surprises that I mentioned earlier.

Captain Toad proudly takes everything that is enjoyable about Super Mario games and puts a new spin on it.  Toad may not be able to jump and attack enemies the same way that Mario can, but he is every bit the hero that the mustachioed plumber is.

Toad’s first solo adventure revolves around reaching a star on each stage.  The premise seems simple, but I promise that it isn’t always that easy, as Nintendo employs some of the strongest puzzle design that I’ve seen in years.  Changing the camera angle to reveal hidden passages, tapping the touch screen to move platforms around, and using the perfect combination of skills and smarts all contribute to a gaming experience that will leave you smiling at the end of each stage.

It may be a slower experience compared to a 3D Mario platformer, but Captain Toad should not be overlooked by any Mario fan.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

7. The Walking Dead: Season 2

Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead was my personal Game of the Year in 2012.  I also have a secret to confess:

I’m a grown-man who cried at the end of season one.

There’s just something so poignant about the way that Telltale is able to convey a story.  Every character is someone that you can instantly familiarize yourself with, and whether your actions save someone for one more day or result in devastating tragedy, it tugs at the heart strings every time.

Season 2 is no different.  Taking place years after the original and casting players as a more mature Clementine was a stroke of genius.  Seeing the fragile young girl whom you protected in the first game evolve into a self-sufficient teenager who has lost her youthful personality and innocence represents character development rarely seen in video games.  Despite Clementine’s new survival skills, what is perhaps most significant is that players still find themselves attached to this girl’s well-being.  Every one of the game’s choices provided me reason to think about what the best outcome would be for Clementine and I felt a bond with this character unlike most games I’ve ever played.

The Walking Dead is a game series where every choice carries significant weight, and I find myself constantly worried about making a fatal mistake that will impact a character who I genuinely care about.  That kind of storytelling ability is powerful, man.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

6. Mario Kart 8

I have owned and played every single Mario Kart game in the entire series and I am confident when I say that Mario Kart 8 is the best installment in the bunch.

Instantly noticeable are the game’s beautiful visuals, all running at a crisp 60 frames per second.  Mario Kart has never before felt as fast-paced, yet still silky smooth.  Equally impressive is the game’s playability; the game controls and handles wonderfully, whether playing with the Wii U GamePad, Pro Controller, or Wii Remote.  The  huge roster of characters and stages was also impressive, but the DLC add-ons from The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero and Excite Bike were just icing on an already amazing cake.  The online component also worked wonderfully, allowing players to take place in races with opponents around the globe.  There’s just so much here that captures the magic of Mario Kart, while also going above and beyond to make this the definitive installment.

Mario Kart 8 is a game with an insane amount of polish and it shows; everything about the game just oozes with Nintendo charm and MK8 reminds us all why the series is one of gaming’s finest.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

5. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Mixing the excellent combat and stealth of the Batman: Arkham series with the easy-to-learn parkour elements of Assassin’s Creed, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor managed to carve its own unique adventure while capturing the essence of the aforementioned games.

Set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Shadow of Mordor featured a compelling story right from the get-go, where familiar characters fit appropriately into the narrative while new ones mixed in seamlessly.  Talion, the game’s protagonist, may have been one of the weaker elements of the story, but the quest that he goes on is filled with epic gameplay moments.

Perhaps what is most admirable about Shadow of Mordor is its nemesis system.  This is a game where death actually has consequences, as Sauron’s army continues to grow stronger every time you fall in battle.  On the other side of that coin, though, it is often incredibly fun to manipulate enemy captains to level up, feud with their peers and eventually reach the top of Sauron’s ranks, all with your careful oversight.  The combat in Shadow of Mordor is excellent, but the game will really be remembered by how well the nemesis system made me care about my opponents’ every move.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

4. South Park: The Stick of Truth

By the time that South Park: The Stick of Truth hit store shelves, I had already purchased my PlayStation4 and mostly moved on from the previous console generation.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in South Park (the TV show is one of my absolute favorite programs, after all) but I was way too caught up in anticipation for new “next gen” experiences such as Infamous: Second Son.  Still, with a lack of games to play last winter, I decided to pick up South Park as my Xbox 360’s swan song.

I am so glad that I did.

South Park is a perfect example of what a licensed game should be.  It perfectly captures the spirit and humor of the show and builds excellent gameplay that caters to that style.  Yeah, there have been South Park games before, but none of them have been given the care and attention that the franchise deserved, until now.

The Stick of Truth features a fun story, filled with perfect satirical comedy that South Park excels at.  The game is absolutely loaded with memorable moments that will have you laughing over and over again, and that’s really what South Park is all about.  The RPG-style gameplay also works wonderfully, with entertaining combat encounters littered throughout the game’s roughly 12-15 hour long story.

This game took years to make and the overall polish on the finished product shows.  I just hope that Matt Stone and Trey Parker can muster the patience to create a sequel with just as much care.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

3. Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition

In 2013, Guacamelee! was the game that sold me on indie games.  It featured incredible, yet simple, 2D combat combined with excellent platforming that rewarded exploration.  I played through the Vita version four times that year, purchasing every DLC pack and earning every PlayStation trophy in the game.  I was addicted to the game and was starving for more.

Thankfully, Drinkbox Studios had been working on a follow-up, and while it wasn’t a full sequel (yet…) Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition provided more than enough new content to satisfy my luchador cravings.

Featuring two entirely new areas, new enemy types, a new boss and an “intenso” meter that gives you a temporary combat boost when filled, STCE felt like a worthy expansion to the formula that I already loved last year.  I played this new version twice this year, once again earning the coveted platinum trophy and I still look find myself wanting to play it again.  The game is that good.

It is rare for me to rebuy games, but Guacamelee! is one that I have no doubts about.  I already owned the game on PS3 and Vita, had no hesitation buying again on PS4, and now also own it on Xbox One from when it was a free Games With Gold game.

I own Guacamelee! on four different consoles, but when you love a game as much as I love Guacamelee!, I see no problem with that whatsoever.  Bring on the sequel.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

2. Super Smash Bros. For Wii U

Super Smash Bros. Melee is one of my absolute favorite games of all time.  I was slightly let down by Brawl, though, because even though they managed to add some awesome new characters and features to the franchise, the game lost a lot of what made its predecessor so addicting when the combat was made noticeably slower.

Personally, I feel that not only does Super Smash Bros. for Wii U bring the series back to its former glory, it achieves a level of greatness that even Melee didn’t reach.  Every issue that I had with Brawl has been remedied, and this new version packs-in some truly awesome new content for good measure.

Nearly every one of the game’s new characters is a blast to play with, with only a few exceptions.  (Mega Man and Rosalina, I’m looking at you)  I never thought I’d hear myself say that I actually enjoy playing as Wii Fit Trainer or Bowser Jr., but here I am singing the praises of Smash Bros.’ often zany roster.  That’s exactly what makes Super Smash Bros. so much fun, though – throwing together references from decades of gaming history and mixing them together for hugely entertaining throwdowns.

I’ve sunk about 30 hours into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U so far in the month that the game has been out and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  There’s plenty here to keep me coming back for years.  Not only does the game succeed at rejuvenating the franchise, it serves as a reminder that when it comes to local multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. is the undeniable king.

Matt Welsh's Top 10 Games of 2014

1. Sunset Overdrive

My top pick for 2014 was one that I really did not see coming.  I bought my Xbox One console this fall, and while the Sunset Overdrive game that was bundled with the console looked fun, I was really buying the machine to play Halo.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Sunset Overdrive is just a blast to play.  One part Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and one part Ratchet and Clank, Sunset Overdrive is a gameplay mash-up that I never knew I wanted, but one that will ruin me for parkour action games moving forward.

I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I had upgrading my over-the-top arsenal of weapons while grinding, swinging and wall-riding my way through Sunset City.  Every moment was one of high adrenaline because the traversal in this game flows so well.  The game also has an awesome presentation to it; in addition to the bright and beautiful art style, visual cues in this game are incredibly charming.  For example, when the hero manages to burst open one of the popper-type enemies, a comic-style “POP!” gets written above them in blood (read: toxic soda) in a fun aesthetic style that is instantly likable.  Sunset Overdrive is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and goes all-out in having fun with its virtual playground.

That’s actually what makes Sunset Overdrive so appealing.  The game is just pure fun and, in the end, that’s what video games are all about.

For more of the Gaming Trend staff’s favorite games of the year, check out our GOTY coverage hub.

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