When I sit down every December to think about the game I will hold up as the best of that year, generally there are one or two that have been occupying that space in my mind beforehand. 2014 has been no different.
Thinking back to this summer, I remember hearing people in the games industry talking about many unique and fun games, but Yacht Club’s masterful Shovel Night and Ubisoft’s enchanting Child of Light were by far the most interesting to me. I surprised even myself at first when I realised that here, at the end of the year, I wasn’t even considering a AAA title as the best I’d played in the last 12 months.
Sure, Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, or Far Cry are all great picks, but there was something special about Shovel Knight and Child of Light that resonated with me long past their respective releases. While part of me would like to nominate them both, my end decision for the best game of 2014 goes to Child of Light, leaving Shovel Knight to begrudgingly slip into Honorable Mention.
Game of the Year: Child of Light
I hardly knew anything about these two games beyond vague ideas of their decidedly indie origins. Granted, it’s fair to say that Child of Light is not an indie game, as it was produced by one of the game industry’s biggest names. But, even at face value, it’s clear the game goes off the beaten path and houses that same free spirit that has come to define indies. Highly artistic in visuals, writing, and its portrayal of both to the player, Child of Light offered something which is all to often missing in today’s AAA space: Risk. It was simply unafraid to be something niche and the final product was a critically acclaimed masterpiece of visuals, combat, and writing.
I haven’t played a particularly large amount of RPGs, and I’ll admit the moniker seems daunting more often than not. But for my preferences, Child of Light seemed perfect. Feeling a bit like Goldilocks in a world of RPGs, what I needed was a game that was not too deep or complicated in its mechanics, but also not so shallow that my experience felt pre-fabricated and impersonal. The combat and experience systems are both beautifully simple, yet surprisingly versatile. The game has some challenging enemies that required me to get the most I could out of the timeline-based attack system, and it only got better with time. As I learned the mechanics and grew as a player, it gave me a space to do so.
The writing was also very impressive. The use of rhyming in all of the dialogue was not only ambitious, but quite beautiful, especially when paired with the watercolour art style and music that has stayed with me ever since. Those three elements intertwined with a powerful story that felt exactly like a fairy tale. In fact, when I describe this game to friends, “like playing a fairy tale” is the phrase that often comes to mind, and it does this incredibly well. The art in this game is what some would call hyper-stylized, and it is one of the most beautiful and touching games on the market because of it.
Honorable Mention: Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight is also non-traditional, but for a myriad of reasons other than those that differentiate Child of Light. Being both a crowdfunded and very much retro game, Shovel Knight is fresh, funny, and extremely well designed. It took in elements from old Metroid and Mega Man games and turned them into something unique and charming. The characters were whacky and hilarious while the platforming was some of the best I’ve seen since the days in which we still counted bits.
In the end, I’ve always chosen the game that had me thinking back to it, long after I put down the controller. Thanks to its power and beauty, Child of Light is still leaving its mark on me.