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.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Publisher/developer: The Astronauts
The jaw-droppingly beautiful supernatural adventure/mystery The Vanishing of Ethan Carter sucks you in from the opening scene. “This game is a narrative experience that will not hold your hand,” the handwriting says in the intro, and the it delivers just what it promises.
You play Paul Prospero, an “occult-minded detective” responding to a troubling letter from a little boy. You explore the boy’s area of Red Creek Valley, where folks are dying in mysterious ways and the titular kid has, well, vanished.
The world is open. Nothing directs you to the next place to go. You’ll wander across clues that lead to more clues, in a twisty narrative that keeps you driving forward. It’s possible to lose the trail, but the game’s gorgeous graphics and thoughtful supernatural storyline will keep you engrossed. I want scenes from this game as the moving desktop on my PC.
GamesBeat previewed, but did not review, this game. Metacritic awarded an 82/100 score from reviewers and a remarkably consistent 8.2/10 from its readers. It’s short, at around 4 hours, but also cheap, at around $20.
The developer plans a PS4 version in 2015.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platform: Xbox One
Some entries on this list are Serious Business. Sunset Overdrive is anything but. Set in a near-future where a soda company launches an energy drink that turns everyone into slavering zombie-aliens, this game is an irreverent lark, pure violent and platforming fun.
The platforming bits are hectic and wildly unrealistic, asking you to grind skateboard-style on rails and building edges, launching off with wild multijumps that catapult you in physics-defying arcs across the landscape. Stay on the ground and you die; live in the air and win, often with the help of over-the-top weaponry.
You use that weaponry to blow up the mutants into explosions of orange soda, and buildings into mushroom clouds. The game manages to poke fun at a half-dozen genres and itself in the process.
GamesBeat gave Sunset Overdrive 85/100 in our review, declaring it a “gleeful combination of Tony Hawk Pro Skater and combat.” It’s even more fun in multiplayer.
Publisher/developer: Yacht Club Games
Platform: Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
It’s rare to see a new platformer that can challenge the classics, the Marios and Mega Mans who dominated the field for decades. Shovel Knight may just be it.
Yacht Club Games developed this hit; I didn’t know them before, either, but I’ll sure be paying attention to them now. Shovel Knight combines superior action and silky-smooth production values to create retro-platforming, side-scrolling fun.
You’ll happily careen, running, massively leaping, and shovel-smacking your way through the levels. You never die; you just lose the gold you use to buy desperate-needed upgrades. The 8-bit aesthetic somehow pairs nicely with the more-modern aspects: the endless, deathless run, the cool weapons and power-ups that make you invisible or give you added abilities.
GamesBeat gave Shovel Knight a well-deserved 93/100 in our review, saying it could be a classic. I’d say it already is. The developer tells us PlayStation 4, PS3, and Vita versions are in the works.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
I wrestled with including either Titanfall or Destiny on this list and then struggled with which to list before the other.
In truth, they both offer the same thing: a sci-fi shooter experience that does not rely on previous games or source material. Both show that you can build a blockbuster experience without trodding down the same tired intellectual property paths previously broken by other games. Both are, despite their issues, excellent games for both graphics and gameplay. Titanfall offered smooth transitions between wall-running, superagile pilots and heavy, collect-all-the-bullets-and-throw-them-at-all-the-things mechs.
But in the same way a small-budget game can delight with how much it achieves, both of these megamillion hits had significant flaws that led them to accomplish less than their potential.
Titanfall included a few too many tropes in its mech/soldier combat, and its reliance on multiplayer-only action limited gamers. Destiny suffered from bugs, and its pricing model, which doesn’t allow players to participate in all content without buying new downloads, leaves a sour taste.
The Talos Principle
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
A first-person puzzler for PC, The Talos Principle provides one of the most immersive experiences I’ve seen since Portal. You are an android, designed for who knows what, set loose in re-creations of Earth’s most meaningful human ruins.
You solve locked-door puzzles with large objects, redirecting lasers, jamming bombs, floating yourself and your tools with fans, and so on. As you work, you hear the voice of Elohim, your master and jailor, see traces of other androids who have been there before you, and learn more about what happened to the human race — and what role you might play.
It offers both physical challenges and philosophical ones. The voluminous supporting materials (primarily text and audio clips) you consume inside the game lead you to question the very nature of existence and what it means to be a person.
GamesBeat gave this a 90 out of 100 in our review, declaring it “one of the better puzzle game presentations [we’ve] ever played.”
Want still more great games? Check out our gallery of six games that almost made the list: