Here’s to the originals, the unique, the next new classic games that began in 2014.
The video game industry, like Hollywood, has become famous for its retreads: sequels, prequels, spinoffs, and “It’s Aliens + The Notebook!” mashups. But every year, some games break new ground, fearlessly avoiding the stories and source materials and settings of yesteryear to bring us something tantalizing new.
GamesBeat rounded up the best of the best of these games, and they come from all genres and platforms. Want a massive online battle arena contest on a tablet? It’s here. Want a war game where you’ll never play a soldier? Take a gander.
Here are GamesBeat’s top 10 original games for 2014. Stick with me until the end and you’ll also get a gallery of six delicious runners-up.
This War of Mine
Publisher/developer: 11 Bit Studios
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
The charcoal-shaded, melancholy 2D wartime game This War of Mine combines strategy, foraging, a little crafting, and the occasional burst of action to depict the lives of civilians trapped in crumbling ruins during a time of war.
Developer and publisher 11 Bit Studios based the game on interviews with real survivors, and the tales it tells are often bleak. You spend your days crafting items, resting, healing the sick, and tending to the wounded. At night, some of your characters sleep; some stand guard; and one goes out into the night to forage for new supplies.
This War of Mine has a knack for making you care about your refugees, and its civilian-focused gameplay upends wargame traditions. I gave it an 80 out of 100 when I reviewed it, declaring it a bargain for $20 on PC.
The Floor is Jelly
Publisher/developer: Ian Snyder
Platform: PC, Mac
The Floor is Jelly is a deceptively simple platformer with a single, central premise: Everything is made of Jell-O. Well, it uses “jelly,” of course, because who wants to take on Kraft Foods? But every surface in The Floor is Jelly is bouncy and resilient, not soft and sticky.
Gameplay is simple: You bounce. The more times you bounce, if you time it correctly, the higher you go — sort of like a trampoline. That’s it. Somehow, The Floor is Jelly manages to take this simple mechanic and turn it into a wide variety of puzzles and levels, paired with a simple, classic guitar-filled soundtrack that’ll make you smile.
I ran across a couple of glitches in the game, which required restarting the level (a quick process); otherwise, it was pure creative delight.
GamesBeat didn’t review this title; it earned a critics’ score of 83/100 on Metacritic and a MC reader score of 7.9/10.
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, iOS, Android
Valiant Hearts uses its cartoony UbiArt graphics style to deliver a powerful set of stories from World War I on nearly every platform available.
Yes, the game includes battles set at major milestones during the war, and if you read the bonus materials you unlock as the game goes on, you’ll earn a deeper understanding of the war’s meaning and daily operation.
But the draw of Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts is its characters. Emile is a farmer, called up to serve in the French army. Karl is German, but married to Emile’s daughter; the German army claims him. Freddie, an American whose wedding trip to France turned to tragedy, voluntarily enlists in the French armed forces and soon makes friends with Emile. Anna, a minor character, is a medic; and Watt, a trained Doberman, helps keep the rest alive.
The gameplay is action-adventure, the pacing pleasant and engrossing, and the story … oh, the story. The intro is one of the better, nearly wordless depictions of story since the start of the movie Up, and the ending is especially bittersweet.
GamesBeat gave Valiant Hearts an 85/100 in our review.
Publisher/developer: Supergiant Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Transistor offers up another captivating action-RPG story with some fun real-time and turn-based gameplay. You play a gorgeously animated redheaded singer whose voice has been stolen, wielding a giant sword that looks like a circuit board, as you attempt to discover what’s happened — and how to fix it — in a futuristic city.
The view is isometric, with levels that sometimes feel like side-scrollers with a 3D visual background.
Supergiant Games mixes a superb modern art style with a soundtrack that would be worth listening to solo, but the action in this adventure is what makes it so delightful.
Battle bot-like demons in real time or plan your moves with a turn, which you can’t chain together (but the cooldown is short). Turns include freestyle movement and chains of superfast moves; their execution is a thing of beauty.
GamesBeat gave it a 75/100 score in our review, praising the gameplay but criticizing the narrator and the storyline. I cared for these characters and plot much more than our reviewer did; regardless, we agree this one is a ton of fun to play.
Publisher/developer: Super Evil Megacorp
Tablets hosted some tremendous games in 2014: Valiant Hearts, also on this list, brought blockbuster action-adventure to the platform, and Vainglory brought tremendous designed-for-mobile massive online battle arena (MOBA) gameplay.
Vainglory advertises itself as the MOBA perfected for touch, and it’s clear that Super Evil Megacorp designed it for tablets from the start. The graphics are attractive, the controls are simple to operate on a touchscreen (if sometimes a little slow), and while I’d recommend playing it on an iPad rather than an iPhone, it’s certainly possible to do both.
Vainglory offers the chance to play an excellent, if slightly smaller-in-scope, MOBA while sitting in the doctor’s office, the library, or your couch. Matches take up to 30 minutes in teams of three, and the challenge feels well-balanced and engaging. You level up in power and abilities as you travel down the game’s single lane, using your minions to deflect attacks by enemy turrets, and eventually siccing the Kraken on your opposition (if you’re lucky).
GamesBeat declared that Vainglory will “keep you tapping your mobile screen like a maniac” in our review, awarding an 85/100 score.
Check out five more great original games and the runners-up after the break.