We’re a bunch of culture geeks here at Loser City, which means we love nothing so much as conformity, lists, and faux definitive rankings of things. With that in mind, this month we’re bringing you our Loser City Best Ofs, lists on lists on lists of our picks for top video games, comics, and everything else, along with personal lists from our authors on the things that kept us from crying now and then during this terrible, terrible year.
First up on our listravaganza is 2014’s slate of video games. This was a rough year for video games, full of angry mobs, broken games, angry mobs, rampant delays, and angry mobs. There were still some gems this year, with enough good ideas and fun experiences to give us at least some hope for the future of the medium. This list isn’t ranked, and isn’t meant to represent the entirety of gaming in 2014, as we didn’t play ‘em all, but it does represent our personal bests, the games that provided us the most interesting and memorable experiences in 2014.
Alright, nerds, put on your Power Gloves, let’s do this.
Desert Golfing is Angry Birds plus the cruel, crushing certainty that life has no meaning. In Desert Golfing, the whole world is your sandtrap, and you are supposed to play through an increasingly nefarious series of side-scrolling holes in the vast, never ending desert of the real. And as if designed to keep you awake at night, the game never stops tabulating the amount of shots you take, always showing you your total par, which can easily move into the thousands as you progress through the nearly unending stages.
With its minimalist design and consistent and consistently stubborn physics engine, this would be Rust Cohle’s favorite game, equal parts enthralling and depressing. It’s a brilliant and simple deconstruction of the Angry Birds style of phone games that is definitely worth the time you normally spend staring into the void of the unknowable. I’m about to switch phone carriers, which means I’ll lose my progress and terrible score in Desert Golfing, and I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or relieved. —Jake Muncy
SUPER T.I.M.E. FORCE (ULTRA)
[Xbox and PC]
For so long, Capybara Games’ Super Time Force seemed like it was stuck in a prison of space and… well… time. Development of the 2D run-and-gun platformer featuring sweet ’80s action distillations like the chaingun-toting Jean Rambois solidified the indie developer’s place as Valve’s successor. “The game will be done when it’s done,” they told us. December turned to January, January turned into summer, 2013 turned into 2014. As things crept on, we all soon realized that the game’s unique time mechanic wasn’t its rewind-and-replay structure but rather a persistent miasma that crept around us and made us lose track of hours, days, weeks.
But then it all changed. Super T.I.M.E. Force was released on my birthday, August 25th, 2014. It was kind of a big deal. The game seamlessly weaved together bullet hell, resource management and twitch-based shooting. It oozes life and blood and ‘splosions no matter how slow or fast you choose to play it. It is one of the purest syntheses of American and Japanese game design that has existed. When you play Super T.I.M.E. Force, you’ll die immediately. You’ll feel like a scrub, but you’ll wipe it away. And it’ll happen again. And again. But you’ll learn. You’ll use your charge shot to pick off that hiding enemy before he can toast your friend. You’ll absorb his ghostly essence into your soul not just because it is rad, but because it is the right thing to do. You’ll build upon your skills until you command a phantom army of past selves. The enemy is relentless, but you will CONQUER THEM. You will SAVE TIME. And it will be AWESOME. —Liam Conlon
[PC, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita]
I had the luxury of first playing Nidhogg two years ago during its Alpha phase at Fantastic Fest Arcade. The developer, Meshof, had it rigged in an arcade cabinet. Some friends and I crowded around that cabinet challenging each other over and over again for a few solid hours. From that moment on Nidhogg had its juicy norse serpentry hooks in me. For those that don’t know, Nidhogg is a subtly complex side scrolling fighter centered around fencing. You can jab hi, mid and low. You can jump, drop kick, crawl, climb, and cartwheel. You can block and parry away your opponents attacks by matching tip to tip or disarm them with a nifty upward movement of your sword against theirs. Such simplicity on the surface led to some of the most intense and balanced fights I’ve ever experienced in a fighting game. If you’re a fan of poking things with swords or getting eaten by ancient norse serpents then you should definitely give it a shot. It is lacking on the single player but you can go online or gather some friends at the house for some old school couch gaming. —Dylan Tano
The best two hours I spent behind a game machine this year were easily the ones I spent terrified and curious, playing Hideo Kojima’s and Guillermo del Toro’s “Playable Teaser” for their upcoming Silent Hill game. Released without no fanfare and with its connection to the Silent Hill franchise obscured, P.T. only revealed its secrets after players completed its final terrorpuzzle, triggering a teaser trailer through a series of actions that…I still haven’t quite figured out. This unwillingness to explain itself is part of what made P.T. such a great experience, but it was elevated by sharp, minimalist design, confining you to a single hallway through its entire runtime, forcing you to revisit the hallway again and again as it slowly descends into hell or madness and you try to figure out how to escape the infinite loop.
P.T. might have ended up being a marketing ploy, but it was a damn interesting one, and it provided the sharpest horror experience I’ve ever encountered in a game. In a year of barely iterative followups and disappointingly conventional experiments, P.T. was the weirdest, wackiest thing to come out of a major studio this year, and as a preview of a game that Hideo Kojima wants to literally make you shit your pants, it’s damn scary, too. —Jake Muncy
This War of Mine
Video games about war mostly suck. Or rather, they aren’t about war. There’s too much triumph, too much victory. Because of agency, most companies make war video games so people can stroke their murderboners. This War of Mine kills all boners. Developed by 11 bit studios, the focus of TWoM is squarely on civilians in wartime. It’s about all those people whose homes you trampled through while trying to shoot them Nazis. It’s about the kids on the streets you see wandering around looking for food but you need bullets, so fuck ‘em. It’s about the folks whose only comfort in life is huddling around a radio (“but can I shoot it?!”). TWoM has you lead a group of survivors to scavenge and struggle against blight and death to survive in a bombed-out house in Pogoren. As you slowly get more materials, you can regain some control in your life, but it’s tinged with despair. You’ll rebuild your shelter, but the sunlight always lances through the sides of it.
That’s the brilliance of TWoM; its simulation elements make you the ultimate utilitarian bastard. You start to ask yourself, does Roman really need some cigarettes or should I just stock the fuck up on materials? Every decision has a cost. But it isn’t long before reality snaps back into focus and you can see that your only connections to this cruel world are horribly depressed. Unlike other games where the bullshit morality meters cheapen the meaning, the cold, hard facts of hunger and fatigue in this game just make things hurt more. They make decisions harder because you only have so many hours in the day to choose from. You might even be swayed by Bruno’s disdain for helping other survivors lest you forsake your own group. These people care for each other and the only “reward” we get for surviving in the game is that we learn more about their stories before the war—it makes every loss that much harder. I couldn’t play TWoM for a long time after Pavle died when I wasn’t careful enough while scavenging for food. It was too much. This War of Mine is almost always too much, and we’re all the richer for it. —Liam Conlon
Full disclosure? I had a Magic: The Gathering problem. Thankfully, it’s past tense. Hearthstone came out this year and my wallet could breath a sigh of relief. Does it have the years of history that Magic had? No, but the fundamentals are just as solid, cards can be balanced in real time, and you don’t have to pay for anything. Granted, if I had one complaint it would be that playing in ranked matches should give you a bit of coin. Currently the only way to gather coin is to accomplish quests or use real money. While typing this I just played a match with my mage deck and annihilated someone. That’s another thing, you don’t need all the crazy cards to at least be competitive in the early ranks. My play has slacked off a bit as of late, but that’s only because I’ve been waiting for the Android release. It’s a game that screams, “play me on a tablet,” so much so that I almost bought an iPad instead of a Nexus 10 just so I could play it sooner. It’s a great game to just hop in and play a few quick matches and then hop back out. There’s strategy there for those that want it as well. —Dylan Tano
Lethal League is the cure for baseball. Lethal League is “Hitstop: The Game.” Lethal League is the aesthetic minimalist-indie-fighting game successor to Street Fighter III: Third Strike. This is a game that was lovingly crafted by fighting game players who thought, how can we use all the space in a 2D fighter to the fullest? Slapping beats on top of balls, Lethal League quietly sauntered onto Steam after years of development and feature time at premiere fighting game tourneys like UFGT in Illinois. Much like its siblings Nidhogg and Divekick, Lethal League isn’t concerned with execution-heavy gameplay but instead relies on strategy and reading the opponent to deliver an amazing contest. An anti-gravity ball will continue to bounce in a direction if you give it the gentlest push, so when your characters are swinging bats, canes, and subwoofer-hammers, you know shit’s about to get real. As more hits mount on the ball, it accelerates, quickening the pace of the match. Simultaneously, the hitstop whenever someone makes contact with the ball increases. This creates a tense trough and crest to every movement of the ball, and it gradually shifts the focus of the match from twitch-decision making to deliberate sniping shots.
GGPO-enabled (practically) lagless netplay makes playing this game a joy, even when your opponent isn’t right next to you. When you hear the poppin’ combination of acid jazz, hip-hop, trance and house tunes, the beats just become a part of you. When you learn the entire cast of uniquely asymmetrical but balanced characters, they become a part of you. And when you start to hit the ball so fast that you break the spacetime continuum, you’ll know that Lethal League has become a part of you. —Liam Conlon
Dragon Age: Inquisition
[PC, Playstation 4, XBox One]
I’m not sure where to begin with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a near perfect blend of the combat from Origins and Dragon Age II, balancing the tactile combat of the former with the action of the latter. It’s one of the first games I’ve played that really bridged the graphical gap between current gen and the previous console generation. There are some breathtaking scenery and the game operates quite smoothly. The story is just good enough to keep me moving forward. The environments are varied and the crafting system is very rewarding. Is is perfect? No. There are some audio bugs and glitches and I hear the PC version has a ton of problems. However, when you factor in Mass Effect 3 style multiplayer (without making it mandatory) an already long game suddenly gets a lot longer. It’ll be interesting to see if they patch in PVP combat in a future update. There is a ton of content in this one, fast and tactical combat, and a story with just enough hooks to keep you moving forward. An amazing early offering to this new generation of consoles. —Dylan Tano
[Playstation 4, PC, Mac, Linux]
Transistor is the only game I have for the PS4. I’ll be buying more, certainly, but it was the only game that made me feel that I had to buy and experience it. In what I can only assume is some kind of cosmic coincidence, Jake Muncy reviewed Transistor for us on my birthday [ed. note: Happy belated birthday!], and I was impressed enough by his praise for the title and its trailer to dive in.
Transistor isn’t a perfect game – I actually find myself getting a bit bored with the repetitive feel of the gameplay and the sometimes slow pacing of the story – but it feels like I’m reconnecting with an old friend every time I sit down to play. The atmosphere of the game is reminiscent of some of my favorite anime from my high school years. Every scene looks positively beautiful and alive, and the soundtrack is entrancing to the point that I’ve left the game idle and gone about making dinner or doing a bit of writing because I didn’t want to stop listening to it. The combat system is fun, and while it does seem like something that’s likely been done before, it feels fresh to me nonetheless. I know we’ve mostly buried Roger Ebert’s assertion that video games aren’t art, but I feel like Transistor is very clear evidence of the art in video games. It has a beauty to it that causes me to stop and appreciate both it and the parts of my life that it recalls. —David Fairbanks
And, finally, we couldn’t decide between Super Smash Bros. on the Wi U vs. the 3DS, so here’s our take on both:
Super Smash Bros
I just turned 24, and I am on my third 3DS. I left my first one at a bus stop and stepped on the second one, so for a game to come out that forces me to drop another $150, it must be something great. Super Smash Bros, the game of a generation for white dudes my age, finally made the leap from dorm room tournaments to handhelds. The chaotic gameplay translates perfectly to the small screen and as a testament to Nintendo’s masterful hardware design, my thumbpad has yet to break despite my hours of gameplay. The addition of a plethora of new characters, including the weird ass Wii Fit Trainer and Animal Crossing Villager, has made the subtle surrealism of the previous games full-on text. While I look forward to the long running series to actually do a drastic change for the fifth iteration (mostly I just want it to turn into Power Stone) a game as solid and confident in its strengths that can still find new ways to delight is fine with me. —Dylan Garsee
Super Smash Bros
As far as I know, Super Smash Bros. Wii U is almost the same as the 3DS version, aside from the platform, but that’s based almost exclusively on conversations had with gamer/cartoonists at SPX 2014. I don’t think there’s ever been a time I would have called myself a gamer in the video game sense, but Nintendo has always been a part of my life, with Smash Bros. being the game my friends and I have gathered around since its days on the Nintendo 64. The joy of Smash Bros. is much like the joy of the giant company-wide crossover event like Secret Wars or Secret Wars (by Jonathan Hickman): you get to take a bunch of your favorite toys and smash them up together with your friends. I’m convinced that I’m the only person on this earth who likes using the Wiimote and nunchuck, but playing on the Wii U gamepad was surprisingly intuitive, letting me get my smash on when I should probably be trying to sleep. Because that’s the thing about Super Smash Bros: it never really stops being fun to play.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the new characters shake things up quite a bit, and it feels like they fixed some of the balance issues with characters in Brawl. The 8-person smash is interesting and fun to watch others play on YouTube, but cramming 8 folks into my apartment is not really a thing that’s doable. I would recommend avoiding the larger levels if you aren’t doing the 8-person smash; they’re just a bit too immense for fewer players. As far as complaints go, though, that’s all I’ve got. While Melee became really intense and unforgiving, the latest incarnation continued with Brawl’s fun-for-everyone mentality while still offering characters that are challenging and fun to master. I’m sure I’ll be playing it for years, just like every other title in the series. —David Fairbanks