I have kept a list of every game I played this year, from the tiniest mobile distraction to the biggest AAA blockbuster.
I didn't come close to trying everything notable in 2014 - you'd need far more time and money than any one person can offer - and some of what I did play, multi-player stalwarts like Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart 8 and Nidhogg, weren't tested in the situations in which they'd absolutely shine.
Culled from that list, then, are my nine favourite games of 2014; games that in their variety and splendour proved to me once again that this art form is truly unlike any other.
Dark Souls II
Let’s get this out of the way: it’s not as good as Dark Souls. Having more bonfires rips away some of the tension of exploring somewhere new and hostile, robbing you of much of the relief of spotting one too. Allowing the player to warp from bonfire to bonfire at will means the caverns and passageways of Drangleic never carve their way into your mind the way Dark Souls’ Lordran did.
Still - there’s nothing else quite like Dark Souls II, from the way its sometimes crushingly difficult boss fights give you just enough of a fighting chance to claw your way to a desperate, daring victory, to the way the land and its twisted inhabitants seep into you, beckoning you back for more. It turns out to be not as good as Dark Souls, but still means it is better than nearly everything out there.
Who would have guessed that a game built around the limitations of a 30-year-old console would have as emotionally resonant a moment as any that video games can offer? The relationship between Shovel Knight and Shield Knight, his partner thought lost, may be played out in pixels and chip tunes but is as affecting and touching as anything photo-realistic talking heads can muster. Behind it was a platform action game as joyful as any of the classics its designers had looked up to.
Diablo III: Reaper Of Souls - Ultimate Evil Edition
For a gleeful 30 hours or so, this definitive version of Diablo III had me in its spell. Every button press prompts a splash of colour as you activate one of a handful of spectacular skills, while demons, skeletons and cultists fall around you. It may be strange to describe one of my favourite games of the year as “mindless”, but that’s just what Diablo III is - a game, played at the right difficulty, to shut off your brain and watch things explode.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
It’s impossible not to feel happy playing Captain Toad, as you guide the titular mushroom guy around intricate puzzle box levels that you spin around in your hands as you will them to reveal their secrets. No one but Nintendo makes games that are this innocent, this gentle, this adorable, yet still packed with ideas and crafted with a surgeon’s precision. A real delight.
The most visually striking thing I played all year, TxK is what you imagine when you think “80s arcade game”, all neon shapes exploding in space, but it’s as intense and thrilling as anything more rooted in the modern day. I reviewed it here.
Like Nokia’s Snake, you could take your snake to the skies to explore some of the most imaginative sights and sounds in gaming, with every brush of your head triggering something in the background, whether stars coming aglow or fruits sprouting on a bush. This trailer shows it better than I could ever tell, and there’s a little puzzle to figure out in each vista that ensures the game isn’t just about sightseeing. A game to take in with wide-eyed wonder.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
There is a place for the brash, explosive first-person shooter campaign in the modern day, it turns out, especially when they’re crafted with the singular vision of MachineGames’ post-World War II, Nazi-dominated nightmare. The New Order remembers that the simple act of pointing a large gun at a cartoon villain and pulling the trigger should be a booming thrill.
Why fast travel in this open world game when moving around is this fun? Grinding on power lines, bouncing off cars, dashing through the air - Insomniac has turned what usually amounts to downtime, moving from point to point, into something to be savoured. With that to build on, the game can hardly go wrong, and Sunset Overdrive doesn’t put a foot wrong anywhere, with its brand of inspired lunacy propelling you all the way to its over-the-top end.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2015
I didn't expect it, but Konami managed to claw their way back from being written off by all and sundry to come up with the best football game of the year, surpassing Fifa 15. Passing, dribbling and shooting instantly click when you get a controller in your hands, and from there springs forth stories you'll be retelling for weeks; tales of last-minute equalisers and audacious volleys from distance.