FireEmblemAwakening1

The Top 5 Best Games I Played In 2014

While 2014 wasn’t the best year for video games, it was a spectacular one if you’re a Nintendo fanboy like myself.  I got to play some amazing games across the platforms I play most: Wii U, 3DS, PSP, Mac, and iPhone.  I picked out my five favorites and it was definitely not easy. Before we begin, take note that not all these games were actually released in 2014…but I played them for the first time this year.

Alright, here we go…my Top 5 Best Games I Played in 2014!

5. Hero Academy

I was introduced to Hero Academy by a friend of mine when I was looking for a good, strategic game to play on iPhone.  I was not disappointed as I spent dozens of hours playing and watching training YouTube videos for this one!  Originally released in 2012, Hero Academy is a turn-based strategy game which feels very much like an evolved form of chess.  You take turns introducing fighters and items in a fight on a dynamic playfield which demands so much attention to tactics.

The gameplay alone is great, but what puts this game into my Top 5 is that there are versions for various platforms and you can play opponents across them all.  I played a lot on my iPhone, but found the Mac version even better.  It’s one of the few games I have ever bought DLC for, too, in the form of new teams and sprites.  There’s just so much interesting gameplay to be found here, but none of the complexity that plagues this genre sometimes.  Definitely give it a shot if you haven’t!

Hero Academy is free for iPhone and Android.

Hero Academy: You get 5 moves per turn.  Do you add to your army, advance them, attack, or use an item?  Make your turn, and if you don't like the outcome just reset and do it again!

Hero Academy: You get 5 moves per turn. Do you add to your army, advance them, attack, or use an item? Make your moves, and if you don’t like the outcome just reset and do it again!

4. Super Mario 3D World

With the Wii U fledgling in the consumer market and console owners complaining due to the lack of enough high-quality titles, Super Mario 3D World (November 2013) became the first salvo in what has become a 13-month-long onslaught of top entries for the console that could.  I was blown away by this one from Stage 1-1.  This was the first time a true Mario game was released in HD and the Mushroom Kingdom never looked so good.

Based largely on Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, it goes to the next level with unbelievable level design and variety along with 5 playable characters. (Rosalyn included!) My whole family had a blast playing it as my wife and kids would call out coins and stars I didn’t see in our effort to complete it 100%.  The epic final stage is easily one of the hardest levels I’ve ever had to beat and I almost wavered.  I almost gave up hope!  But when I finally did it, it was a fantastic feeling!  And then…and then you find out you have so much more to do…

I won’t ruin it, but if you want to fully complete the game you have a lot to do.  BRING FRIENDS.  I laughed at the idea of even trying, but we’d fallen in love with the game so much (and were so disappointed with our next game, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze) that we just couldn’t help but to keep playing.  And complete it we did.

There’s very few games you can sink dozens of hours into and, when you’re done, spend dozens more because you just want to keep playing. You simply can’t stop playing!  This game was definitely one of them.

Due to the game’s critical acclaim, Nintendo now bundles it with every new Wii U!

Super Mario 3D World: Bowser is at it again, but this time he leaves the Princess alone.  Fairies are his flavor now!

Super Mario 3D World: Bowser is at it again, but this time he leaves the Princess alone. Fairies are his flavor now and Peach is a playable character!

3. Mario Kart 8

When Mario Kart 8 came out in May, 2014, the Wii U officially became a must-buy system as it started flying off the shelves and hasn’t stopped since.  The 8th entry in the Kart series, Mario Kart 8, is easily the BEST version ever and it’s not even close.  As the first HD Mario Kart, the game is gorgeous.  I mean, absolutely beautiful.  Nobody who sees this game doesn’t want to play it, and from the moment I started I didn’t stop playing for months.

This game is loaded with playable characters and karts.  You can spend hours unlocking new vehicles and motorcycles, using upgraded equipment to compete online with 12 players in a virtually lag-less race experience.  Want to play alone?  Time trials put you to the test against top “ghosts” that will force you to gain a command of each level and find the best shortcuts.  You can also race in various 4-track Cups and try to get Gold in each.  There’s SO MUCH to do!

To top the whole thing off, a few months ago Nintendo released DLC for the game which is a pretty new thing for them.  You can purchase new characters and vehicles, but best of all you get new tracks!  Eight of them were released!  And there’s eight more coming in Spring 2015!  This will surely continue and it helps keep Mario Kart fresh and engaging.

This is an absolute must-own game if you have a Wii U.  It may be the best racing game ever made.  In fact, it is.

Mario Kart 8: These aren't just race tracks, these are experiences.  And this is in-game footage.  An amazing accomplishment for Nintendo!

Mario Kart 8: These aren’t just race tracks, these are experiences. And this is in-game footage. An amazing accomplishment for Nintendo!

2. Shovel Knight

A retro gamer at heart, I love that indie games are all the rage nowadays with all the major players: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.  The indie games for these consoles are the best of all worlds: shorter game lengths and interesting new concepts, often in a 2D or 2.5D style, that are richer experiences than their mobile counterparts.

I downloaded Shovel Knight based on a video by ProJared I’d seen months earlier.  The gameplay instantly reminded me of classics like Mega Man and DuckTales and I hoped the game would live up to the hype.

OH MY GOD DID IT LIVE UP TO THE HYPE!

It  pained me to put this game at #2 because it’s easily one of the best games I’ve played in the last 10 years.  The game harkens you back to a time when gameplay was king.  This game has outstanding visuals, sound effects, and music, but the accurate controls and challenge are what make it great.  This game is “NES hard.” There’s so much progression, too, as you’ll start with a simple knight with a shovel that you improve your skills with throughout.  There’s none of the hours of boring storyline and dialogue here, but what is there is brilliant and intriguing.  The best part is that the game will take you between 10-15 hours which is my sweet spot.  Hey, I can’t invest 80 hours in an RPG where I spend 30 hours hearing characters talk to each other!  I have things to do!  The game ends long before you’re bored with it and you’ll be crying for more!

When I completed Shovel Knight, the first thing I did was play it all over again!  There’s feats (i.e. achievements) that can keep replays engaging and, while some of them are insane and only possible with save game trickery, there’s still so much fun to be had.  (Beat the game without dying?  Good luck!) Later this year, free DLC will be added that will let you play with other characters, play new levels, and even provide online play!  I simply can’t wait.  When it comes out, I’m going to play through the game all over again!! AND AGAIN!!

The game is available on Wii U and PC, but the version I got was for the 3DS, and let me tell you, make sure you turn the 3D all the way up because you won’t believe how good it looks!

Shovel Knight costs $10.

Shovel Knight: Everything a game should be with none of the time-wasting fat.  An unbelievably fun and challenging experience!

Shovel Knight: Everything a game should be with none of the time-wasting fat. An unbelievably fun and challenging experience!

1. Fire Emblem Awakenings

If Shovel Knight was one of the best games I played in a decade, how could it not be #1?  Easy, because I had the honor of playing Fire Emblem Awakenings for 3DS, too. Published by Nintendo in 2013, and created by my favorite developer, Intelligent Systems, this game took the Fire Emblem series to its pinnacle with the most accessible, turn-based strategy we’ve ever seen.

What makes the game so special is that the near-perfect gameplay is paired with an engaging story that looks so good with the stereoscopic visuals of the 3DS hardware.  It just looks…SOOOO good.  The animation has to be seen to be believed.

What makes the gameplay so good is that anyone can play it.  This is the same developer that made Advance Wars, too.  It’s very easy for these kinds of games to get too technical and demand you manage equipment at a microscopic level, but you don’t have to do it with this game.  Sometimes, you have to die over and over to understand what effects swords, axes, and other weapons have on enemies, but this game lets you get a virtual preview of the results before you make your play.  (There’s always a small chance of variance, though.) Each level offers unique challenges and strategies required to beat them, but none get too difficult.  Whereas in past games a character’s death was permanent, in this one you can have them resurrect if you want a lighter step into this genre.  Like I said, anyone can play it.  And I played the bejesus out of it, playing through the game no less than 3 times.

You can even customize your character and, depending on the survival of others the stories will change. You can grind if you like to increase the powers of your characters, but it’s not required and it’s only if you prefer that style.  There’s a map overlay that will show you all the areas the enemy can advance and attack in. Everyone will play it differently.  It’s just so unbelievably good I can’t stand it!

Oh, and Emmeryn.  Emmeryn…

If you’ve never played turn-based strategy games before, this is the one you want to start with.  Unbelievable.  Fire Emblem Awakenings, I stand and applaud you as the best game I played in 2014!

Fire Emblem Awakenings: This game has so much quality, polish, great storyline and visuals, stunning music, 3D effects, and stellar gameplay it's amazing that it even exists.

Fire Emblem Awakenings: This game has so much quality, polish, great storyline and visuals, stunning music, 3D effects, and stellar gameplay it’s like OH MY GOD I CAN’T STAND IT….

Honorable mentions: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS, a no-nonsense Zelda game with tons of replayability), Diablo III (PC and Mac, great mindless fun, but a little lengthy), Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles (PSP, a great remake of a Japanese classic with tons of secrets to find), Just Dance 2014 (Wii U, great musical selection and a good physical diversion), and Rayman Legends (Wii U, utterly fantastic platforming).

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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