2014’s Surprise Great Games – GameSided Roundtable

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Daniel George (Twitter)

When I think of the games that have emotionally moved me most over the past few years, they tend to be from independent studios. Papers, Please best exemplified empathy last year over other titles, with its unspoken moral ambiguity that puts you in the sole chair of who gains entry into your country. It was up to you whether or not someone could gain access to Arstotzka, even if it meant bending the rules one way or another. Sometimes, the consequences meant the eventual death of unseen family members. Its darkness was rooted in the knowledge that what you do can affect the lives of others.

This War Of Mine is my surprise hit of the year because of its ability to force me to weigh my empathy over the absolute necessity to survive. That means choosing between helping your neighbors by giving them your medicine or by refusing to aid your own ailing party. It means looting a church to get essential food and parts that staves off starvation at a morally-questionable cost of taking from the destitute. It means killing a man, the worst thing to happen to a person, to protect a woman from suffering from what is likely the second-worst thing. Or, even more gut-wrenching, walking away because you know you can do nothing against an assault rifle-bearing monster with just a shovel.

Putting you in the place where your direct decisions immediately have known effects against known people makes This War of Mine so brutally excellent. I will have a full review up soon, but that the game made its money back in 2 days of being launched, while releasing in the games-heavy middle of November, is well deserved of 11 bit Studios.

Erik Sugay

It’s really amazing how much traction Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has gained considering it’s a niche title that released on the flagging PlayStation Vita. There were also so many other factors going against it – its youthful anime-inspired characters, cute mascot, and bright designs – but the game still managed to find some success in western territories.

A lot of that has to be attributed Danganronpa’s grim themes. The game sees a group of amnesiac students locked in a prestigious school and the only method of escape is for one student to murder another without getting caught. Gamers are tasked with exploring the massive school for clues, building relationships with other students, and then breaking down their classmates’ lies and alibis in various trial segments to successfully pinpoint the killer in each chapter.

Danganronpa is a simple visual novel adventure game, but the narrative’s twists are so strong and the character motivations and developments are so compelling that the concept probably couldn’t be better executed in any other video game genre. If I didn’t already have a PS Vita, this is easily one title I would purchase the handheld for; it’s just that good.

Barrett Womack (Twitter)

Looking back on this year, it’s hard to imagine Shovel Knight as anything but a mainstream success. It’s received nearly universal critical acclaim including an award at this weekend’s The Game Awards. But leading up up its release, it was just another indie platformer fighting to make its name in the world. Made by probably the smallest team you’ve heard of in the past decade, Shovel Knight was a massive success built purely on word of mouth and awesome gameplay, and I consider it my sleeper game of the year.

Next: Ending With A Horror Game You Need To Hear About