Game of the Year 2014: Special awards, part one

December 23, 2014


We kick off our Game of the Year awards with some special staff-selected categories: Best Original Soundtrack, Best Licensed Game and Best Retro Re-Release.


Best Original Soundtrack: Transistor

Whenever I look back on the year in games, I always think about the music first and foremost. Listening to the soundtracks again is almost like experiencing the adventure a second (or third) time. With each track, I remember specific story beats and gameplay moments, giving me a rush of excitement; it allows me to recall everything I love about my favorites. Any halfway decent soundtrack has a few memorable tracks, but these are the ones we kept coming back to long after the credits rolled. – Andrew Passafiume

Sure, there were lots of great soundtracks this year, but Transistor seems almost built around its score. The game’s compact structure lets it use more drama in its powerful moments without pushing things too far, and even the combat themes help to pull you into the game world. It’s exactly as strong as you’d expect from Supergiant, with an iconic sound for the usual moments and an overwhelmingly provoking one when the narrative calls for it. It’s a great album outside of the game, but it’s enhanced by the gameplay it accompanies. – Graham Russell

Runner-up: A Bird Story

A Bird Story‘s soundtrack is the star of the short, experimental show. There’s very little gameplay or plot, but I like to think the emotional connection comes from the melancholy songs we hear sprinkled throughout make up for it. The strong use of piano and minimalist choices for other instruments fits the tone of the game perfectly. This is not a grand, epic story of saving the world, but rather a quaint tale of a young boy fixing a bird’s wing and looking up into the sky wishing he could be somewhere else, and be somebody else. – Henry Skey


Best Licensed Game: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Last year, I introduced this category in response to a lot of neat little games, such as WayForward’s DuckTales Remastered. This year, licensed games were not only fun, but they also invaded the AAA space in a huge way. Check out our picks for this year’s best, and marvel at how far we’ve come with making meaningful use with multimedia IP. Also, maybe forget about the blunders that still happen sometimes. – Lucas White

The true test of a licensed game is if it can satisfy die hard fans of a given license while pulling in those not lured in by the brand. By crafting a new narrative that fits within the Rings mythos, Shadow of Mordor is able to bring Tolkien’s world to life better than any other form of media I’ve encountered. There are some hooks back to the main plot of the Lord of the Rings games, but they are much subtler than overt cameos by the main characters of the novels (aside from, of course, Gollum). This proves to be so much more interesting than a rehashed version of events that we’ve seen and experienced before in the tales that brought the license to prominence in the first place. – Ryan Dunn

Runner-up: South Park: The Stick of Truth

Doing the impossible and making a solid game out of the South Park franchise, Stick of Truth managed to take the crude humor and art of the series and translate it into interactive form. Taking inspiration from games such as Earthbound, the game gets most of its non-narrative humor from the bizarre and unconventional combat options. This is the greatest success of Stick of Truth: the developers were able to figure out mechanical analogs to the tropes and tone of the show. It very much feels like the player is taking part in an episode of the show, which is what such adaptations should generally aim for. – Chris Dominowski


Best Retro Re-Release: Sam & Max Hit the Road

Sometimes, even games that aren’t new deserve praise for making a return to modern culture or availability. This can be due to rarity (like Suikoden II), technology (like Sam & Max) or a combination of both (like Vib-Ribbon), and of course licensing can be a pain as well. These games are great and have earned a second shot at your time and money, and we’re glad they got one.   – Graham Russell

The point-and-click adventure game genre has been kept alive by the crew at Telltale Games, many of whom got their start with LucasArts titles like Sam & Max Hit the Road and the Monkey Island series. The interface is a little wonky and the logic is somehow less sound than even Sam & Max standards, but the game is hilarious and the adventure unforgettable. If you enjoyed the Telltale Sam & Max games, be sure to give this one a shot to see where it all started. – Chris Ingersoll

Runner-up: Vib-Ribbon

Vib-Ribbon is an artifact of a time when the idea of playing a game along with your own music was novel. Its visuals, original soundtrack and core mechanics feel ripped straight out of that era, but it’s not any less enjoyable because of it. There’s not a lot to the game, especially if you don’t pop in any CDs, but its PSN re-release is a fantastic way to experience one of the weirder parts of gaming history many in North America completely missed. You’ll find yourself humming along with the some of the game’s catchy tunes in no time. – Andrew Passafiume