When it comes to video games, 2014 is shaping up to be a year of hits and misses.
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One of the most highly-anticipated PS4/Xbox One titles, Thief, ended up missing quite badly, with a Metacritic score hovering around 70/100 at the moment, with some truly scathing reviews at the bottom end.
Others scored poorly but ended up being pretty fun games, while still others nestled firmly in the mediocre-but-still-fun range (I’m looking at you Strider.)
But flat-out bad and mediocre titles aside, 2014 has already seen plenty of games worth playing, on systems ranging from handhelds to the PC.
Here are my top picks for January and February 2014. I include Metacritic scores for comparison’s sake, not because I’d advise placing too much weight on these.
Bravely Default (3DS – 85/100 on Metacritic)
A new take on the tried-and-true JRP, Bravely Default is a charming, sprawling roleplaying game that tinkers with myriad little systems, sprinkling innovation into just about every facet of the genre.
The result is a brilliant, beautiful game, and yet another reason everyone should own Nintendo’s latest handheld system. Sure, there are still some irritating JRPG tropes and ticks here and there, but they’re much less noticeable here than in many of Bravely Default’s contemporaries.
This is partly because you can customize so many of the game’s systems, including random encounters, fight speed, and more. And partly because it’s just a tremendously polished game from beginning to end.
The Banner Saga (PC – 81/100 on Metacritic)
While it boasted one of the most beautiful art-styles I’ve seen in a video game ever, The Banner Saga didn’t quite match its gameplay to its aesthetic quality.
Nevertheless, this is one game I’d happily recommend to anyone interested in turn-based fantasy and resource management.
The score, by Journey composer Austin Wintory, is simply outstanding.
You can read my review here.
(The game also ran into legal problems with Candy Crush Saga maker King, which you can read about here.)
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4/Xbox One – 85 and 86/100 on Metacritic)
A prettier version of the last-gen Tomb Raider reboot, playing the game on my PS4 was still a delightful return to Murder Island.
Lara Croft has had a makeover, and both the PS4 and Xbox One have integrated voice commands and other bells and whistles such as new outfits and the Tomb of the Lost Adventurer DLC.
Lots of nice graphical touches make the PS4 version the true “definitive” version of the game when it comes to consoles, though the PC is the place to go for top-of-the-line visuals.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U – 82/100 on Metacritic)
I love the Donkey Kong Country franchise. I compare it to Dark Souls. It’s hard, but fair. You struggle to reach checkpoints. You die often, and engage in plenty of jolly cooperation. And then you throw your controller and rage-quit.
Tropical Freeze is everything wonderful about previous entries in the franchise, now in gorgeous HD thanks to the Wii U. Like its predecessors, it’s not a perfect game, but it’s an enormously fun and challenging platformer that makes games like Super Mario 3D World look like a pleasant walk in the park by comparison.
Rayman Legends HD (PS4/Xbox One – 90/100 on Metacritic)
Another HD re-release of a wonderful 2013 game, the “next/current-gen” Rayman Legends plays much like its last-gen counterparts, with some new special skins for the characters.
As much as I do think the PS4 version is fantastic, the Wii U Rayman Legends is still the one to buy as far as I’m concerned. This is a game that actually makes brilliant use of the Wii U gamepad, and it never quite feels right on any other system.
It does look absolutely tremendous on PS4, of course, and really this is a game you should play on whatever system you can. There’s not really a reason to upgrade to the next-gen version, but it’s a perfectly fine place to start.
The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC (PS3 – 88/100 on Metacritic)
While it may just be DLC (downloadable content) Left Behind is more story from Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. If you, like me and myriad other gamers, devoured that game right up to its startling conclusion, you’ll be happy to know that the expanded adventures of Ellie are well worth your while.
No spoilers, though. Just know that all of the tension, atmosphere, and emotional resonance from the game proper carries over into this addendum. It may not be as sprawling or surprising as the main game, but it’s an enormously effective piece of storytelling nonetheless.
Did I miss anything? Did you play any games over the past two months that really jumped out at you as excellent?
For my part, I think Nintendo is still in the lead when it comes to quality releases lately. Certainly their Christmas line-up was excellent, and to follow that with both Bravely Default on the 3DS and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on the Wii U is impressive.