The Dark Souls of Podcasts
Myles Cox is the occasional graphics design expert and cameraman for Video Game Choo Choo. You can follow his Twitter here.
2014 was, comparatively, kind of a shitty year for video games. Have you ever really really wanted something, and then the moment you got it, you had to take a step back and wonder what it is you wanted in the first place? This year felt a lot like that. Several big promising releases fell flat on their faces while the coolest moments of the year, well, kind of came out of nowhere. I mean, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare ending up being an actually good game? My third-favorite game this year being a game I hadn’t heard of until only a day before this writing? Mike Cosimano himself paying for my Lyft after beating me up in the streets of Seattle? Nonetheless, it was Mike who came to me on practically one knee for a list of my favorite video games this year. “But Michelangelo,” I said, “I don’t even know if I played ten games this year.” He looked me straight in the eye and said one word that I knew would spell doom for the rest of humanity: “Johnathan.”
Let’s get on to this god-damned list, shall we?
10. Mount Your Friends
For some reason goofy physics-based competitive video games will always have a soft spot in my heart. It might sound like the type of game better fit for the type of person who would typically play something like QWOP, Happy Wheels, Surgeon Simulator, I Am Bread – the list goes on and on – but for me, Mount Your Friends is the type of game I would take to a friends house and let hilarity ensue. There’s something in the fact that the game takes itself so seriously that I absolutely adore. It’s a fantastic multiplayer stupid fun-time game for when you just feel like passing a controller around and yelling a bunch, and I can play it for hours.
9. Shovel Knight
Normally I would go so far as to call Shovel Knight a “love letter to video games” but since that’s thrown around all the time with little regard to what that might actually entail I’m not going to say that. What I am going to say is that I’ve never seen a game that goes harder with the NES aesthetic – Shovel Knight actually feels like it could be a legit release, and it’s not just the art style I’m talking about either. It’s the gameplay, mechanics, the soundtrack, everything about the entire game feels amazing and faithful to the restraints and mechanics seen in the actual late eighties. It’s not a love letter to video games, but a love letter to game design and it definitely sets the bar for retro-indie games in the future.
Jazzpunk is perhaps the hardest game for me to talk about at all without spoiling the entire experience for you. There’s not too much I can talk about, so I’m just going to say I really wish I hadn’t played this game so that I can play it again for the first time and experience the insanely clever writing, unique gameplay, and absolutely crazy story, if you can even call it that. Jazzpunk defined and redefined the concept of the jump laugh, which is, as you might be able to guess, the exact opposite of a jump scare. Grab it on Steam and see what all the fuss is about. But please, don’t look it up beforehand – you’ll ruin the surprise.
7. Mario Kart 8
Short version: It’s a Mario Kart game.
Slightly less short version: It’s perhaps the prettiest game on the Wii U and one of the best local multiplayer experiences you can have, ever. I very much enjoyed the remastered courses from older games, updated to accommodate the new mechanics introduced since. It’s a fresh take on the original Mario Kart formula and there’s just enough that’s different to warrant buying what most would call a “rehash”.
6. Dark Souls 2
Dark Souls (the first one) was rather frustrating to me and after playing for a few hours I ended up dropping it for whatever other game was huge at the time. For some reason I couldn’t grow to appreciate the animation-based combat system, the areas and depth of the level design, placement of enemies, and strategy/patience required to run through the game. When I picked up Dark Souls II (stylized Dark SoulsH) something clicked for me, and I was blazing my way through the game and learning all sorts of secrets and “pro strategies” that made the game genuinely enjoyable for me. Not to mention the PC release being a way better port than that of the original. It’s hard to explain why I like this game in a timely manner so I encourage you to go play it as soon as you can.
5. Far Cry 4
I really don’t have much to say about this one, but what I do have to say is that I really liked Far Cry 3. Far Cry 4 at its core is really just more of its predecessor, and that is not a bad thing in the slightest. Not to mention the varied amount of events, crazy situations, outposts, and the fact that the protagonist (from what I played) isn’t an absolute dick. The natural evolution from 3 to 4 added several new features that make getting around that much easier and less frustrating, like the gyrocopter and the elephant. One of my favorite moments from this game was liberating an outpost from atop an elephant, without being seen at all.
4. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
I absolutely hated the original Binding of Isaac mainly for two large reasons – one being the fact that it was a generic-looking Flash game with an art style that reminded me of poop out of a bad butt, and the second being the fact that it straight up didn’t support controllers or analogue movement at all. Rebirth fixes every single problem I’ve ever had with the original, and then some. The sheer amount of content and polish in this game almost make me wish I hadn’t said bad things about the game it was based on. In fact, I think I am really starting to take a liking to games with replayability and randomly generated maps because of the experiences I’ve had with Rebirth. My best friend and trusted video game dude Braden Gilmore showed me the light and helped me get started with my first few runs – and once I started I couldn’t stop.
3. Lethal League
Last year I spent a lot of my time playing Windjammers, which if you’re a fan of Giant Bomb, you might already know. At its most basic, both Windjammers and Lethal League are based on the concept of knocking a projectile back and forth, bouncing it off walls and using super moves. Both are super fun and I can play them for hours on end without getting tired. But while Windjammers is centered around a top-down experience and trying to get a disc into a goal behind the player, Lethal League is a 2D fighter about hitting your opponent with the ball. Those two changes can make an entirely different dynamic and a more mobile, hectic, crazy game. The aesthetic and premise of Lethal League are rather unique for the format it’s given, and often remind me of other unique gameplay experiences like last year’s Divekick or Samurai Gunn. This is also the one game on this list that I’ve spent less than 6 hours playing, as the few days before this writeup I had never heard of it at all. Go play Lethal League.
2. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U
As a competitive Smash Bros. player, I get to read all of the discourse on the internet about which Smash Bros. games are “good” and whether or not the differences in mechanics really matter. One might make the assumption that, since I’m a wavedashin’, Project M lovin’, L-cancelin’ scoundrel, obviously I’m going to hate the new entry in the series because, at it’s core, it’s just an evolution of the oft-hated Brawl. I’m proud to say I can dispel those statements once and for all. The Wii U and 3DS versions contain both the most content and creativity I’ve seen in a Smash game to date. Never mind the characters or stages, the mere existence of Eight Player Smash might just be the most fun I’ve had in a social gathering, ever. Also, Pac-Man is hella cute.
1. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes
[DISCLAIMER FROM MYLES: Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, while it may be a very good game strictly in terms of gameplay, also contains some of the most problematic and disappointing writing in the history of the series. Even though it is my game of the year, please note that I in no way at all support the portrayal of the circumstances and situations presented in the story. If you’d like to read more about it, please look here.]
It’s really disheartening to see internet commenters and forum threads dedicated to the topic of “there’s not enough content, I would never pay for a demo”. To that I say this – you’re not taking advantage of all the gameplay has to offer. Ground Zeroes is basically Groundhog Day: The Game. Each mission (the side ops being the meat of the experience and also were mostly ignored by the aforementioned commenters) has a set goal, a set starting point, and literally no direction as to what to do in between. The guards always spawn in the same place, have the same interaction and behavior patterns, and it’s up to you to see how disrupting those patterns affect the AI. Yes, it is technically possible to speedrun every mission in less than ten minutes just running through and ignoring the guards, but where’s the fun in that? I spent the most time with Ground Zeroes experimenting and setting insane goals for myself. To call Ground Zeroes a demo is to dismiss creative and innovative gameplay that both improves on the series’ staple stealth operations and wacky hijinks.