Game of the Year 2014: Overall winner and finalists

January 2, 2015


We’ve named our picks for best game on each system, as well as doled out some special awards, but today we share our overall Game of the Year winner.


Runner-up: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Tropical Freeze takes the lessons learned from Returns and fixes nearly all of them. The result is a game that fits in everything it could to make a Donkey Kong Country game engaging and make it feel like not a thing is missing, without seeming overburdened. It is one of the first games in a long while that has truly felt complete. – Chris Dominowski

It might not completely make up for the disappointment some felt after Dragon Age II, but Dragon Age: Inquisition takes the series to expansive new heights. Its politically-focused story gives you new appreciation for the world of Thedas and its inhabitants and its cast, with some of them ranking among BioWare’s best, are as endearing a bunch as you’ll find in any RPG. It’s safe to say that Inquisition is a worthy successor to the 2009 game that started it all. – Andrew Passafiume

It’s not just a replication of what made Origins so beloved; I’m not sure that would garner the same acclaim in 2014. No, Dragon Age: Inquisition knows how it has to adapt to new conditions as well as right the wrongs of Dragon Age II, which is why you see the scope of Elder Scrolls and the character relationship development of Mass Effect brought into a world that was a bit more manageable, free-form and unfocused. And it does it without the ugliness associated with “modernizing” games; it’s still a largely solo experience and better for it. – Graham Russell


Runner-up: Transistor

Games like Transistor build sci-fi worlds we want to explore. It leave us clues and alludes to many character interactions but never shoves exposition in our face. We see gorgeous cities, and a glimpse of how the rich and powerful lived before the process attacked. I’d be thrilled to play another five games in Transistor‘s universe, but the heart of the game lies with the main character, Red, and her interaction with the talking sword. – Henry Skey

Full of old ideas yet feeling like a breath of fresh air, Shovel Knight is an excellent example of honoring the past while still managing to play just as well as any other modern platformer. Even if you never had much experience with the NES era, Shovel Knight manages to bring you back to a simpler time, with its satisfying controls and memorable level design without the requirement of nostalgia goggles. – Andrew Passafiume

Shovel Knight plays like a love letter to the NES generation while smoothing over the frustrating edges that have been blurred by time. The soundtrack is chiptune greatness that holds up to any of the best tracks of the era. The graphics and animations fit perfectly, and the levels are open-ended enough to encourage exploration without being so large that the player gets lost. Shovel Knight may look old, but it plays like a game from 2014 and should not be missed. – Ryan Dunn


Runner-up: Fantasy Life

There’s something comforting about a world in which you can always make solid progress. Fantasy Life is that world, and it’s charming to boot. Level-5 knows how to keep you occupied and content, and this is the company’s best effort toward that end. Heck, you can just cook for a while, if you want. And just doing that is a fun game by itself. – Graham Russell

The Wii U isn’t normally the system that comes to mind for intense action gameplay, although apparently nobody told that to Platinum Games. Bayonetta 2 is every bit as insane and crisp as the original, with nothing held back for the sake of being on Nintendo’s console. Implausible weaponry, bizarre enemy design, nonsensical plot, fast-flowing action and one of the best (and only) female protagonists in video games combine to make Bayonetta a can’t-miss title. – Chris Ingersoll

If any of the exclusive titles on the Wii U have proven anything over its life so far, it’s that the system is totally capable of handling a game like this and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Bayonetta 2 delivers exactly what we want in action games: beautiful visuals, constant action, outrageous boss battles and fluid controls to make it all come together. Without a doubt, this game delivers from beginning to end. – Eric Albuen


Runner-up: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Valiant Hearts takes one of the worst events of human history and builds a game around it without trivializing it. The game has a way of making you connect with its characters, something traditional wartime FPS titles rarely manage to accomplish. Valiant Hearts is one of the most touching stories in a downloadable game, and one of Ubisoft’s greatest titles. – Jeff deSolla

The Super Smash Bros. series has definitely had its ups and downs. Creating a competitive scene with Melee and a casual one with Brawl, Nintendo managed to combine the two in a way that caters to both groups and perhaps even combines them. With a solid net code for online play and a slew of controller options to fit your needs, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U manages to provide an experience that both beginners and veterans can enjoy. Oh, and Eight-Player Smash is pretty much insanity. – Eric Albuen

I think it shows just how much love and care director Masahiro Sakurai put into the new version of Smash. There had been rumblings of just how run-down the process made him, and if you look at what made it into the final product, that’s not shocking: it could’ve absolutely sported a more manageable feature set than it ended up with. But all that effort put in all this game, and players will likely be grateful for that extra push. – Graham Russell


Runner-up: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

I feel like we at Snackbar Games have covered Captain Toad more than enough, but that’s only because of just how amazing it is. Taking arguably the best levels from last year’s Super Mario 3D World and turning them into a full game could have failed miserably, but Captain Toad’s levels are excellently designed and provide plenty of reason to give them a second (or third) play. It may be short on content, but it more than makes up for it with clever puzzles and plenty of charm. – Andrew Passafiume

How many single-player games released this year provided you with unique stories to tell? Shadow of Mordor is entirely based around an open world where the enemies you encounter remember you, showing up when you least expect it or perhaps being prepared for your inevitable arrival. The core of Shadow of Mordor isn’t particularly innovative, but its improvements on well-worn ideas, combined with a system that gives an initially unremarkable world life, makes it one of the most memorable gaming experiences you can have. – Andrew Passafiume

I had more fun hunting down captains and exploiting their weaknesses than I expected. It’s been over a month since I did it, and I still remember Thakrak killing me three times while I was trying to accomplish other things. At that point my mission was no longer to defeat the Black Hand of Sauron; it was to kill Thakrak. As he increased in power, he became a legitimate monster. He was immune to stealth, ranged attack, melee attack and combat finishers. Those are… all of the ways to hurt a guy. I had to analyze his weaknesses, track down a carragor, ride it into battle to induce a fear state in Thakrak and then chase him all over the map before I was able to take him down, and it was amazing– Justin Last


Surprised? Don’t be. Despite delivering something that largely resembles an experience you’ve had before, Mario Kart 8 doesn’t feel tired, somehow. It’s silky-smooth and super-gorgeous, justifying the power of the hardware in a way you weren’t expecting from Mario Kart, and a smart online and add-on content strategy will give the package legs in a way previous games never could. Mario Kart games have been great, but in a year when Nintendo really took out all the stops in its Wii U quality blitz, 8 still sticks out as the one you need to play. – Graham Russell

Truth be told, Mario Kart 8 doesn’t really make many changes to the franchise formula. But when you consider the historical near-perfection of the Mario Kart series, that isn’t really a problem. Zero-gravity track segments do add a bit of a twist (and the occasional loop), but mostly what you get here is more of the same top-shelf racing action that you have come to expect. – Chris Ingersoll

Nintendo keeps showing its desire to innovate with its games, while never losing the level of polish that characterizes the company. The new tracks take the game’s gimmick in creative new directions, as is expected of a Mario Kart game. The rock-solid framerate and smooth online play make multiplayer a joy, something the series prides itself on. Mario Kart 8 is everything a Mario Kart game should be for the Wii U, and shows that Nintendo knows exactly how to get the most out of its prized franchises. – Chris Dominowski