[2014 Wrap-up]: Games.

[This post is part of the Gabriel’s Countdown to 2015 series.]

2014 has been a great year for games, or so I’ve heard/read. I wouldn’t know, having not played most of them (although that is not for lack of cash squandering). It’s just that between job transitions, the death of my PS3, lots of other hobbies hogging my time, and a general dearth of attention, games haven’t factored very heavily in my off time.

Having said that, I did get some quality gaming once in a while, mostly on my portable gaming devices and phone. Since it’s quite difficult and not very fair to compare tiny mobile timesuckers to console-level blocksters and try to arrive at some sort of “Best of” measure, I’m just going to talk about the games that I’ve spent the most time on instead. After all, they have to be pretty good (at least in my opinion) for me to devote any amount of time on them, right?

Games from 2014 that I spent the most time on are, in no particular order

Threes (iOS, Android, XBox One)

A popular choice in many 2014 gaming wrap-ups I’ve come across so far, Threes epitomizes the perfect mobile game. It’s easy to pick up (even my tech-phobic mum got the idea after a few tries) but difficult to master; the graphics and music are whimsically perky and adorable; game lengths can vary from the shortest of spurts (especially since you can just close the app and pick up where you left off later) to hour-long marathons; and it’s inexplicably addictive, one of the rare entries in the just-one-more-try genre that leads to sleep deprivation, over lengthy toilet breaks and the death of a social life (I kid on that last one. Barely).

Tiny Tower Vegas (iOS, Android)

Tiny Tower Vegas is another example of how great mobile games work. You can play for as short or as long as you want; the addition of casino games provide even more incentive to stay in the app for extended periods of time; and the freemium model is, as per Nimblebit’s MO, perfectly executed here – you can put money in if you want but you don’t have to. It takes the Tiny Tower formula and improves upon the original in every way, even if it doesn’t look like it – the graphics are smoother and more vibrant, there’s more to do and the general level of polish is still higher. Even half a year after its release, this is the one game that I turn on at least twice to three times a day.

Super Smash Bros 3DS (Nintendo 3DS, duh.)

Often, portable versions of console games tend to be watered down compromises that are nowhere near as brilliant as their bigger screen siblings. While I haven’t played Smash Bros Wii U yet (and I know that there are some features that the 3DS lacks), the 3DS version is surprisingly no slouch.

It comes with the full repertoire of characters (and it is one huge repertoire), most of whom are unique (if not terribly balanced), and despite the smaller screen and the manic pace of combat, I’ve never really gotten too lost in the action. Sure, I might not have otaku-ed as hardcore into the game as others have but I’ve played enough to know that purchasing it at full price on launch day wasn’t a big waste of time and money.

Hearthstone (iPads, Android tablets, PC)

Once a week, I meet some friends to play Magic: the Gathering and when I heard Blizzard was coming out with their own contribution to the TCG category, I scoffed at what I thought would surely be some cash-grabbing, overly simplistic, quality-free shadow of Wizards of the Coast’s best offerings.

While cards and packs are quite hard to come by without excessive grinding or,  yes, putting some real dough into the game and the mechanics are less complicated than MtG’s, Hearthstone has turned out to be quite the amazing, well, gem. Gameplay is easy to pick but not too watered down; the pacing of the battles is fantastic; the spread of cards is interesting while remaining manageable and the app just enjoys a very high level of polish overall – no other TCG online comes close to looking as great, or controlling as smoothly, as Hearthstone does.

Pokemon TCG (iPads, PC)

Speaking of TCGs, the Pokemon card game also came out on iPad later in the year and hogged quite a bit of my time post-launch. Sure, it’s nowhere near as polished as Hearthstone or MtG: Duels. Sure, the app is buggy as heck and occasionally crashes or just refuses to let me log in. Sure, the controls and animations are frustrating and slow. Still, it’s the Pokemon TCG and, even if I am looking at it through the tinted lenses of nostalgia, it still sucked me in.

Plus, I love that boosters are much easier to come by than in Hearthstone and the game actually seems intent on not letting us spend real money – the only way to spend real money on the game is to buy real boosters and add the code in.

Games I spent time on that weren’t released in 2014

Like with my music choices, the games that I spent considerable time on over the past months weren’t exclusively released this year.

Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita) took away several hours of my life, even if I still haven’t actually finished it.

Sims Freeplay (iOS, Android) is a game that I only dip into once in a while where every dip turns into a week-long plunge.

Also, being the tennis freak I am, I devoted an unhealthy amount of time to chasing grand slams on Virtua Tennis 4 (PS Vita).

Games I wished I had played/aim to play

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I haven’t played a lot of the fan favourites this year and aim to play at some time in the future.

Dragon Age Inquisition (PC) seems to be a late but heavy contender for best game of 2014 and is easily the most epic and largest game on this list in scale. I’m not normally a fan of PC RPGs, preferring to game on the go but this game comes laden with so many recommendations that I’d be a fool not to try it out some day (when it has hopefully dropped in price).

The only thing that’s preventing me from marathoning Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) is, like with most other people, the lack of a Wii U. I’m still waiting for just a few more must-play titles to arrive for the system (not to mention the inevitable price drop) before I get to experience what everyone is calling the best Mario Kart of all time.

Monument Valley (iOS, Android) is a game that so many have raved about and despite the fact that I already have it (having gotten it during an Amazon app store sale), I still haven’t given it a go. I heard it’s really short, though, so I’ll probably dip into it quite soon.

Lastly, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, I haven’t played Pokemon ORAS (3DS) yet!I preordered the game, collected it on launch day, then promptly left for my Taiwan trip. Since I’ve come back, I’ve been so busy preparing for work and meeting friends that I haven’t had much time to spend on my favourite little critters beyond obtaining my Adamant Mudkip starter. This is due to change soon, though.

Highly-rated popular games I tried and couldn’t get into

Lastly, there were some blockbusters that I did get to play but just couldn’t seem to get into.

Sims 4 (PC) didn’t have a perfect start, arriving without several key features from previous generations that had fans steaming. I didn’t think it was too bad, though, but I just couldn’t get into it (lack of swimming pools or not). The menus and controls were frustrating and after an afternoon or two of intensive micro managing, I just didn’t feel like returning to the game.

Wayward Souls (iOS, Android) is one of the most highly rated mobile games of the year and yet I couldn’t immerse myself into it as so many others apparently could. I can see where it does appeal – it is a very polished old-school throwback. I just didn’t find it particularly engaging.

The last game on this list is indie darling Steamworld Dig (PS 4, 3DS, PS Vita, Wii U, GNU/Linux, OS X, Windows). I can see where it would be addictive and I did spend a gleeful ten minutes or so tunneling happily around. Still, it felt really monotonous after those ten minutes and I haven’t returned to the game since.

Dear reader, which games have you spent the most time on this year? 


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