If we're going to be honest here (and why wouldn't we be?), I'm far from the ideal person to write a post such as this.
Unlike a lot of folks, I'm not all that interested in the "next gen" consoles (as opposed to handhelds) that tend to dominate online gaming discussions these days, plus I spend at least half of my annual games budget on retro titles and systems.
Still, I've played through good number of games this year, so I'm publishing a pair of posts that focus on the handful I've enjoyed the most. Today's post covers titles that actually were released in 2014, while tomorrow's will cover those that were released earlier.
One thing to keep in mind as you review this particular write-up: I played zero Vita games this year--because I still don't own a Vita system, although I can guarantee that will change shortly--and I failed to play a number of highly acclaimed 3DS games that hit the streets in in the last 12 months, including Kirby: Triple Deluxe, Persona Q, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Shovel Knight (although all of these take up space on my lengthy "wish list").
With that out of the way, let's get to some blurbs about my favorite games of 2014 (that actually were released in 2014):
Bravely Default--This Square Enix-made stunner, released early in the year in my neck of the woods, ably straddles the line between being an old-school RPG and a next-gen one. On the old-school side of things, there are the random, turn-based battles and the chibi character designs that harken back to the 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy titles (as well as The 4 Heroes of Light spin-off, of course), while on the next-gen side there are the bevy of combat options (one of which allows players to avoid enemy encounters or otherwise alter how often they pop up), the online and multiplayer components and the surprisingly well implemented use of augmented reality. If you've read anything about Bravely Default, you're likely already aware of the fact that the second half of the game's story is a bit controversial (to put it mildly), and while it unquestionably deserves the criticism, I have to say that, for me, most of the related annoyance was forgotten following the final battle, the credit roll and what came after that--to the point that I'm pretty sure I'll willingly put myself through it all again (maybe more than once) in the not-so-distant future.
Fantasy Life--I don't know about you, but I've long been one of those gamers who want to wander off the beaten path in an RPG while in the shoes of something other than a sword-wielding warrior. Specifically, I've wanted to boot up a role-playing game that let me spend time as a shop owner or a weapon maker or even an inn keeper. Fantasy Life promises some of that and more--to an extent. On offer in this 3DS title are 12 different "lives" (jobs, basically) that allow players to act as miners, woodcutters, blacksmiths and cooks. As I'm sure you can imagine, some of these professions are more engaging than others. For me, angler, miner and woodcutter have proven to be the most fun so far, although I've also enjoyed the time I've spent as a blacksmith and carpenter--despite the fact that the latter pair's focus on repetitive and too-similar mini-games is sure to get on the nerves of some gamers. That's one area I hope is improved upon should a sequel ever see the light of day. Other than that, there isn't much wrong with the current iteration, as its art style is the stuff of childhood dreams, its gameplay is more entertaining than it has any right to be and its soundtrack ties all of the above together before topping it with a pretty bow.
Tomodachi Life--Following its Japanese release in 2013, the word on the Internet was that Tomodachi Life was a shockingly alluring mixture of Animal Crossing and The Sims. Although those folks were right on the money in attaching Electronic Arts' life-sim series to this similarly themed 3DS release, they were pretty far off the mark in adding Nintendo's animal-packed fave. That's because Tomodachi Life is all about populating an island-locked apartment building with family members, friends, celebrities and more and then watching them get into all sorts of wacky situations. The experience is more interactive than that description makes it sound, thankfully, but it has to be said that interactivity isn't the name of the game (pun intended) here. No, the point of Tomodachi Life is to revel in the hilarity of it all--and mark my words, it's often pretty darn hilarious (or at least that was my impression during the 100-plus hours I spent with it this past year).
Woah Dave!--It's pretty telling that this 3DS eShop game (iOS, Mac and PC versions also are available, and PS4 and Vita versions are on the way) has been available for just a couple of months and yet it still managed to make this list. Given my nearly lifelong love of simple, pick-up-and-play titles like Bubble Bobble, Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man, though, I guess its inclusion here shouldn't be too shocking. Speaking of the afore-menitoned games, the developers responsible for Woah Dave! looked past them and toward Nintendo's original Mario Bros. for inspiration instead, which was a pretty genius move, in my humble opinion. After all, that sewer-centric platformer has been begging for some sort of modernist update for ages now. My only issue with this otherwise-enthralling affair: the titular Dave and his abstract adversaries are nowhere near as appealing as Mario, Luigi and their quarter-munching co-stars. Thankfully, you probably won't even notice, as if you're anything like me you'll be too busy scurrying about in an attempt to stay alive and nab as many coins as you can while you're at it to notice the humdrum character designs.
Honorable mentions: Coming Out on Top (PC/Mac), THE "DENPA" MEN 3 (3DS), Tappingo 2 (3DS) and Yoshi's New Island (3DS)