The 25 Best Videogames of 2014

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There were videogames in 2014. Who knew?

It seems like the least interesting thing about videogames in 2014 were the games themselves. Or, if not “least interesting”, at least the least discussed. All of the oxygen got sucked up by new console wars, troubled launches, almost constant technical issues, and, oh yeah, a massive culture war that let everybody know exactly who to never pay attention to. It was a busy, newsworthy year, but probably not in the way the industry had hoped.

But yes, there were games, and some of them were excellent. From a streak of excellent Nintendo games for the Wii U and 3DS, to a refreshing spate of Japanese imports, to the continued strength of independent developers around the world, 2014 did not want for fun times or good vibes or insightful explorations of the human condition. Here are our favorite games of the year, as reviewed by our top-notch team of critics, and as determined by me, Paste’s games editor. Hello!

25. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a beautiful interactive mystery set a small, empty town with a twisted history. It’s tempting to compare it to Twin Peaks, because every mystery set in a small town with a twisted history has to be compared to Twin Peaks, and although it lacks the eye and voice of a David Lynch, it’s an arresting story that infuses the mundane realities of life with the thrill of the supernatural.—Garrett Martin

24. Luftrausers

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Luftrausers does what all great action games do: It becomes irreducible and vital. High-scores and completed objectives aside, the real thrill is in the primal strain to survive by chaining a series of small miracles to one another, until you can’t any longer.—Joseph Leray

23. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a beautiful game, in both appearance and demeanor. It is joyous in its joyousness, so happy to make us happy. Games should be beautiful and joyous. Games can be anything and can look like anything, and yet few games are beautiful or joyous—at least few games with the budget of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.—GM

22. Fantasy Life

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Fantasy Life made me realize just how parched I was for another truly kind game world: a world where hard work is rewarded, where progress is tangible, where people care and conflicts can be resolved with a bushel of freshly-picked apples as often as with a blade. It’s an engrossing and joy-filled way to unwind, and easily one of the most charming games I’ve played this fall.—Janine Hawkins

21. Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Dragon Age is always about characters; the game’s creators have done excellent work, once again, at making this band of weirdoes as real and relatable as in every other previous Dragon Age. [It] impresses with twisting conversation trees, tricky choices, and a refreshing level of believability and realism for a “fantasy” game. I love when Dragon Age subverts my expectations.—Maddy Myers

20. Drakengard 3

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Drakengard 3 is wretched, trashy, and totally amazing, the pinnacle of a B movie of videogames from budget to dialogue to mechanics. It’s not Duke Nukem, wallowing in the worst of games without a second thought, nor is it Spec Ops: The Line, a critique of games that conveniently passes over its own complicity. Rather, Drakengard 3 is endearingly awful, with bizarre, out-of-place humor, extreme violence, and, when you least expect it, wrenching sincerity.—Aevee Bee

19. Persona Q

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Etrian Odyssey was always a punishingly difficult game, but it was also fundamentally lovely. Persona Q doesn’t really have any of that. But it does have Persona’s signature music and cute and silly conversations between the characters, so in a lot of ways it actually does capture that same sort of charming low-stakes feeling between the exacting dungeons. It’s an energetic game, but it’s a game that’s about having fun, and the characters are clearly having a lot of it. It’s infectious!—AB

18. Mountain

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There’s a desire to see Mountain as profound. It wants to cultivate that, with its poetry, with its random objects, with its sometimes-soaring spouts of music. I’ll come out and say it: There’s nothing special about this mountain. It is like every other mountain, and if we wanted, we could try to mine that normality for profundity. That flips the relationship onto the player. The mountain becomes about how I relate to that mountain and what it does to me, and most importantly, how long I can stand to witness it. It becomes a game of endurance. How much Mountain can you take before you close it in boredom?—Cameron Kunzelman

17. Danganronpa 2

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In the same way that the title of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair appears to be a hodgepodge of words, the game is a hodgepodge of mechanics and themes. Part visual novel, part dating sim, and part something else entirely, Danganronpa 2 revels in every odd nook and cranny it can. The weirder Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair gets, the better it is.—Rollin Bishop

16. Titanfall

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The best thing about Titanfall is how little it cares for the laws of physics. Like every pilot in the game I wear some kind of rocket boot contraption that lets me jump obnoxiously high and far, and once I’m in the air I can jump again to get even higher/farther. (They call it a “double-jump”?) I can also wall-run like Mirror’s Edge, gliding along the sides of despoiled military buildings as if it’s my job. I can double-jump into a wall-run, leap across a gap and dance across another wall, and then double-jump again through a window into the opposing team’s command center, where I immediately get shot-gunned by two or three people at once. (Usually.) This commitment to fast, graceful, patently unrealistic movement is another factor that shreds whatever kind of verisimilitude might be expected from a modern-day shooter.—GM

15. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

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Nintendo excels with puzzle games built around three-dimensional space. Think Picross 3D and Crashmo, two fantastic 3DS games that you should be familiar with. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker isn’t as laser-focused on puzzle-solving as those two, but by dressing it up in the guise of a platformer Nintendo has created a deeper and more inviting game that also happens to be incredibly adorable. Almost thirty years after Mario first rescued him, Toad finally has a game that perfectly fits his friendly everyman persona.—GM

14. OlliOlli

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OlliOlli is a skateboarding game, but it shouldn’t be viewed in the same light as a Tony Hawk or Skate. Roll7’s game owes more to a variety of flash-fire mobile games, from the Ur-endless runner of Canabalt to the high score hijinks and level-specific goalposts of every other mobile game in existence. OlliOlli is basically a skateboard-themed mobile game that gives your left thumb a thorough workout.—GM

13. Never Alone

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Based on Iñupiat oral tradition, Never Alone;s environment may be alien, but the smallest of us summoning the bravery and wisdom to dance with and around nature never stops being humanity’s most inspiring, timeless narrative. The myth behind Never Alone shows a completely alien tongue and a burgeoning medium speaking the same language as everyone on Earth: A language of hope and courage. There’s nothing like discovering for yourself just how close that makes all of us.—Justin Clark

12. The Banner Saga

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The quality of the animations and vistas are almost Disney like, and the way the landscape shifts in layers behind you as your caravan rumbles through the tundra is utterly spellbinding. You’re made to look so small in this ancient, unforgiving world that it’s hard to not read the implied sense of history etched on the landscapes. You can’t play The Banner Saga without getting curious about the places you’re inhabiting. So many fantasy worlds fall by the wayside, but the transformative power of an iconic art style can never be underrated.—Luke Winkie

11. This War of Mine

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Too many games take themselves too seriously, but This War of Mine’s unrelenting tone is absolutely necessary. This tale of civilians struggling to exist in a city riven by civil war is a very real take on survival horror. It’s darker and more frightening than any so-called horror game and thankfully isn’t as maudlin as it could’ve been.—GM

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