I played quite a few games this year. Most of them I enjoyed. I like to think that’s partly because I know how to spot a good game, and partly because the people making games were in top-form this past year. Although I’m still playing through some games released in 2014 (and I've forgotten many of the games I've played, I'm sure), that doesn’t mean I don’t already know which games I think deserve special recognition for various reasons.
Here are the games I want to personally reflect on and award for reasons that I think are important.
A story doesn’t have to be original for it to be good. Great writing, a tight plot, eccentric characters – most of the time, despite my love of books and great storytelling, I find myself not caring about the plot of most games because I think the writers try too hard for it to be amazing. The simplest concepts coupled with mystery and twists and turns can turn a has-been into a must-play. For me, this story was Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.
I’ve seen it compared to Battle Royale before and that isn’t an unfair comparison. Of course, Battle Royale isn’t quite as original as many people believe, either. There’s a short story called Arena by Fredric Brown, written in 1944, preceding Battle Royale by a little over 50 years. It involves the same basic theme of people in an enclosed space tasked with killing each other, too. We could even go back farther than that and mention the Roman Colosseum, but we won’t. Instead, we’ll discuss that Dangangronpa introduces us to a situation that involves high school students murdering each other at the behest of a sadistic bear, and that each and every character is interesting if mostly stereotypical.
Still, I bought Danganronpa on a whim and didn’t put it down until I finished it. I just had to know what happened next. I also don’t generally care for visual novels, although I have to say that I definitely see their potential after playing Danganronpa.
To me, that’s worthy of an award.
One summer my friends and I completed Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. When I say we completed it, I mean one-hundred percent finished every single thing the game had for us to complete. Every level, grind, gap, everything. If there were Achievements or Trophies or what-have-you we’d have received the Ultimate One; instead, the game told us to go outside and skateboard for real. We were skateboarders in real life, too. It was awesome.
When I first saw OlliOlli I thought it looked like a neat game, although I’m not personally into endless runners. I think they’re cheap and boring and only possibly good to kill a quick minute. When OlliOlli finally launched on Steam, I had money burning a hole in my Steam Wallet so I bought it.
I wasn’t really prepared for the wave of nostalgic feelings OlliOlli would bring upon me. Suddenly, I didn’t mind the endless runner spirit in the game because I was back on a board, grinding, kickflipping, and wrecking my special no-no place on a handrail. I’ll probably never be good enough to get to the end levels, but I had buckets of fun ruminating on my old half-pipe dreams.
I also want to give a special shout-out to the music. Good music should go hand-in-hand with every game, but especially skateboard games.
I passed on The Banner Saga when I saw the Kickstarter. I really wasn’t sure what to think when I first saw it, despite instantly loving the look of it all. When it came out though, I couldn’t resist any longer. I enjoy a good tactics game and I grew up watching Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animated film, so I just had to play The Banner Saga.
I was pleasantly surprised how utterly bleak The Banner Saga is. It isn’t just a bleak story, either; fighting feels very hopeless at times, and conversations are grim. It was truly absorbing playing a game that allowed a theme to permeate every aspect of it. It made me realize how most games lack a cohesiveness that makes the world come alive.
Like Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, The Banner Saga isn’t perfect, but I couldn’t help but love how much heart was poured into its creation.
I saw one of my Steam friends playing it before it was released and found out if I purchased from the developer’s website (or was it the Humble Store? I can’t recall) I could have my very own Steam key to enjoy the life of a goat. Obviously, I couldn’t wait for release and I bought it.
It is seriously one of the stupidest, most glorious fun and funny game I’ve played. I smiled like an idiot while playing, and I’ve gone back a few times to goat all of the achievements, something I never do.
Although I think the idea of using the word ‘simulator’ to indicate a joke game is becoming disingenuous to the actual simulators, I am quite happy that Goat Simulator exists.
Sometimes I won’t play a game because everyone is saying how amazing it is – don’t be like hipster me, Goat Simulator is really fun.
In the world of video games, 2011 was, like, 20 years ago. I still boot up Skyrim and just explore. I’ve never finished the main quest; I’m not sure I ever will. I’ve heard walking-simulator used negatively before (and usually rightfully so), but Skyrim encapsulates the idea of walking-simulator in a way that makes me want to explore every inch of the world. I had to award this game something because I still play it instead of playing one of the many games I’ve purchased “supporting charity” through Humble Bundle and various other wanna-be bundle sites. Seriously, I started counting my Steam games that have zero play time and I stopped at 50 because I was crying uncontrollably thinking of the poor Chinese kids that don’t have enough games for everyone to play.