In no particular order, here are five of my favorite games that came out in 2014.
Mountain blew my mind for the entire journey I spent with it, from O’Reilly’s awkward IGF announcement for the game to the response to my IGI piece on it. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t seem like a video game, and everyone I talk to about it looks at me like I’m speaking backwards. It confused the crap out of me and I loved every second of it. O’Reilly created something that breaks most of the molds that we hold about games while still providing a stimulating, controlled experience that we demand as players. I include it on this list because it sticks out in my mind as one of the weirdest games of the year, but also one that I resonated with deeply, one that I enjoyed every time I started it up, and one that I’ve recommended to most people I know this year.
Continuing on the trend of weird games, I found Captain Games’ Desert Golfing to be another game that really messes with players’ expectations, but on a different, more game-y level than Mountain. Most mobile golfing-style games are very similar, with mechanics that focus on power and accuracy on very bizarre holes that do weird things like teleport the ball, or make the ball extremely bouncy, or some other outlandish, impossible golf thing. Desert Golfing has an infinite amount of holes. It has almost no HUD, and it has one type of terrain: sand. Just sand, for thousands and thousands of holes. The generation of the holes is great, providing easy, filler holes that can be interspersed by holes that take over twenty strokes to beat. There’s no indication of when the game is going to end, or when you’re going to get to something different, save for the leaderboards that unlock at 1000 holes (whoops, spoiler.) But the lack of stimulation in the game somehow creates stimulation in itself. The holes seem so easy to complete, why not spend another ten seconds completing it? It’s a gourmet chocolate wrapped in dollar paper towels, but it still tastes amazing.
Blizzard’s Hearthstone did not appeal to me when it was in Beta late last year, but after a quick introduction by a co-worker of mine, I was instantly intrigued. Best described as a simple, electronic version of Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone is a simple card game that pits you against random opponents with constructed decks. On the surface, it doesn’t really bring much new to the world of collectible card games. There is a main resource used to play cards, there are attack and defense on creature cards, There is a card limit on decks, etc. etc. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before if you play card games, but the real amazement comes in two places: The technological brilliance of their cross-platform play system (which reaches across THREE platforms!), and the depth of the multiplayer. Hearthstone‘s meta-game is baffling. The importance of a single card’s effectiveness in a deck can win or lose multiple games. The cards included are balanced and still immense fun to use, and the game runs smoothly with a rapidly-approaching-zero disconnect rate. In classic Blizzard fashion, the game is one that players can see themselves sinking hours upon hours into, all while finding more and more content to harvest.
This Thanksgiving, my dad sat with me for a solid half-hour and showed me his infallible strategy for high scores in Sirvo’s mobile puzzle game (that actually isn’t a match-three) Threes! He showed me exactly what he does on his morning train ride to work, and told me about how he almost never gets a score below 7,000 anymore. The mechanics of Threes! are fumblingly simple, but for a puzzle game to have as much depth, possible strategy, and replayability as Threes! does seems impossible. The team behind the game released their email string after the inevitable mobile attack of the clones, and it gives a ton of insight to the development of such a simple game. This team’s passion for creating something so fantastic over such a long period of time has made me respect them just as much as the top mobile developers I know, and their game was so fantastic that it’s been on many GOTY lists before mine.
If you met me in 2014, there’s a solid chance that we played Game Oven’s brilliant ballet game Bounden together. Never has there been a game so compelling, so flowing, so gorgeous that I feel the need to show it to people that have never played a game before. The combination of orchestrated tracks and timed dances can bring players closer than any other video game I’ve ever played. It’s an 8th grade party game for adults. It’s a game to break the touch barrier with, while still maintaining an air of playfulness and fun. It’s a game that your precious phone battery life is worth. I was fortunate enough to meet Game Oven at PAX East last April, and because of that I found something so innovative, so new, so refreshing, that it erased the chalkboard in my mind of what I thought a game was about, and I could not have been happier that it did.