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Best of the Rest: Ludwig's picks of 2014

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ATTENTION: The year 2014 has concluded its temporal self-destruct sequence. If you are among the escapees, please join us in salvaging and preserving the best games from the irradiated chrono-debris.

Jazzpunk

Jazzpunk is likely to be misunderstood, or impossible to understand, by design. You could say explanation comes as an insult to its eccentricity.

The gist of it is that you're a spy completing missions in a surreal, robot-dominated world, the kind you might dream up after dozing off in the middle of a late-night Leslie Nielsen movie marathon. And while the convoluted wordplay wouldn't feel out of place in a Zucker spoof - in Japan, for example, you're asked if you prefer kimonos or kistereos – the barbs of reality are what really make Jazzpunk stick.

Take its odd vision of dystopia, which is regularly mocked through one-off minigames (like a first-person shooter dubbed ... Wedding Quake). Here, you can put on a special visor that lets you see and blast nonsensical Wi-Fi passwords as they dance in the air around you. I mean, that's weird, but ... think about it. The concept is kind of weird to begin with, right here on Earth. Taken as a form of escapism, then, Jazzpunk is silly without taking you too far from the truth.


Titanfall

Giant robots are the go-to artifice for making sci-fi seem bigger and brasher – not exactly something that speaks of a light touch. Titanfall is subversive in this way and many others, as a smartly designed, light-footed shooter that generates a unique conflict in the delta between its nimble pilots and the behemoths dropping from the sky. It's a multiplayer game with inequalities in its machinery, giving pilots unmatched fluidity and freedom of movement, but making them bugs beneath steel feet. Titans must be earned, though, and their arrival is less climactic and more an exchange of critical resources in the ongoing war. Brilliant in the moment, but perhaps less so in the long term, Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall made the biggest impact on me when it first struck. If it's to evolve, I hope it keeps that fresh perspective, realizing that not every multiplayer game needs to ensnare its players for manufactured year upon year.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

If Donkey Kong insists on wearing that stupid tie, at least he recalls the formal, craftsmanlike work put into his games by Retro Studios (formerly of Metroid Prime). Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is nearly as classic as classic gets: an inexhaustible supply of perilous situations, laid out across gorgeous environments and paired with a playful soundtrack by David Wise. Donkey Kong Country masters communication through design, unfurling its levels in ways that instruct, challenge and elevate the attentive player. Also: This is how minecart levels are done.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley is an essential game, and not just in the realm of portable entertainment. This thoughtfully built puzzle rewards your gaze and structural analysis not only with progress, but with beautiful vistas, music and a sense of solution in what should be unsolvable, impossible architecture. The elegant intersection of M.C. Escher and a touchscreen evokes the ideals of video games, which are found somewhere between art, utility and adventure.

Forza Horizon 2

Though it could do with some drastic bro reduction surgery, Forza Horizon 2 fosters an exotic personality you don't normally find on dry racetracks. In capturing Italy and the way a Ford Raptor or a Ferrari Challenge Stradale might slide along its sun-whipped coast, the developers of Forza Horizon 2 have also simulated something less tangible: the pleasures of driving in a car meant for you, in a place you haven't been.

Gods Will Be Watching

The cruelty of Gods Will Be Watching makes it hard to love, but easy to respect. This is what it's like to be in a game's grip, to find it both fascinating and approximately zero fun. I don't think "fun" should be the overriding goal for every game, nor do I believe subversive fare should strive to punish players for seeking the alternative. Gods Will Be Watching stands out, then, because it's smart and coldly fair throughout, forcing you to reduce brutal moral quandaries to mere statistics and predictable outcomes. There's a chance you'll hate it, and a chance you'll find your mind in tatters.


Nidhogg is a super-swift fencing game in which you have a sword and then there's this other guy with a sword and you're going to stab him in the face but oh then he blocks and you try poking him in the knees and he's dead so you run past and to the next screen but then HE'S THERE AGAIN and you jump over and keep running and then argh he threw his sword right into your butt so now you fight again and stab and kick and run and block and stab and fall and run and run and run AND AHHH die and bullshit and then you win and get eaten by a dragon from Yggdrasil.

Starwhal: Just the Tip

Like a neon-colored Nidhogg in space, except with four narwhals trying to stab the ever-lovingsquishy heart out of each other.

Crossy Road

The Dark Souls of Frogger? Frogger meets 3D Dot Game Heroes? Either way, Crossy Road is like Frogger, except as applied to a procedurally generated gauntlet and brought into competitive light with seamless leaderboards and cute characters unlocked at a steady pace. Easy to play with one hand thanks to simple controls and a phone-friendly field of view, Crossy Road is a clever little test of patience and pattern recognition, tightened with the ever-present threat of an eagle waiting to snatch those who linger a tad too long. With Far Cry 4 also in mind, 2014 was a bad year in the ongoing Human-Eagle War.

Roundabout

I guess it was a good year for road-crossing shenanigans, though, because Roundabout is my other favorite top-down game about dodging things in the middle of the road. The premise of an infinitely revolving limo crashing through town is not easily frowned about, but knowing that Dan Teasdale (of Rock Band fame) is involved should clue you in on the truth: Roundabout really hinges on the challenge of fitting an awkward, revolving rectangle through obstacles with the right timing and speed, much like helping a friend maneuver a couch down a spiral staircase – during an earthquake. The pace at which the map and missions open up feels just about right, providing an extrinsic component to Roundabout's finely repeated and modified mechanical test. It's good enough to make up for the sad fact that the story riles my genetic incompatibility with deliberately bad FMV cutscenes. Man, I just can't handle them.

Watch Dogs

Yup, Watch Dogs is bloated with activities and Ubi-quities, but I found a slick blend of stealth and shooting underneath it all. Reducing hacking to an elegant, location-based act deferred the spectacle to the outcome, making for a shooter in which planning and laying traps against enemies has a short lead time and a satisfying, immediate result. Sadly, for all the times when the tech-wizardry and gunplay spills over into Chicago's simulation, causing big pileups and explosions, there isn't one in which the game ... makes a point. It's bad enough that Aiden Pearce has less personality than a fart app (probably used to generate most of the plot), but Watch Dogs builds him up and then fails to be critical of him and his computer-aided ascent. There's no real cost to this central figure of power, which cheapens a topical theme that could have taken Watch Dogs beyond the walls of "good action game."

[Images: Adult Swim, EA, Nintendo, Ustwo, Ubisoft, Microsoft, No Goblin, Devolver, Hipster Whale, Breakfall, Meshoff]

Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2014 throughout the week. Keep reading for every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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