GOTY 2014 - Top Ten - #2

Here it is: our list of the top ten games of 2014. The result of dozens of hours of preparation, discussion and debate, this list represents our consensus on the ten best and most-significant games of the year. Don't miss out on any of our Game of the Year coverage. Check out our full schedule here, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for instant updates.

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Shovel Knight

Yacht Club Games | June 26, 2014 | 3DS, Linux, OS X, PlayStation Network, Wii U, Windows

Let’s face it: the games industry is heavily influenced by its 8-bit past. Millennials pine for the fleeting euphoria that was beating Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES their parents saved up for. Nostalgia informs many of the business decisions made in traditional development (like HD re-releases) and independent, crowd-funded ventures (Wasteland 2 and Broken Age come to mind). Being appreciative of what came before isn’t a bad thing – it’s perhaps a tad unimaginative, but not inherently negative.

Shovel Knight isn’t lazy nostalgia. Yacht Club Games worked hard to make "the best NES game of 2014,” but it’s more than the sum history of its predecessors. Sure: blurt out the well-deserved comparisons to DuckTales, Mega Man and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, but aesthetic and core gameplay comparisons aside, Shovel Knight is the product of 30-plus years of game design advancements.

Rather than obfuscate its plot, Shovel Knight makes its villains memorable through their eccentric personalities and not just through their fighting mechanics, à la Mega Man. The Black Knight is the game’s anti-hero foil to the do-goodery of Shovel Knight, but he has depth. He fights for a reason, and while the story won’t be remembered as wholly original, it offers twists on tried-and-true heroic narratives, especially in how it makes Shield Knight into an unwilling antagonist and, in the end, heroine and protector of Shovel Knight. She's the opposite of a damsel in distress.

NES games are lauded (and loathed) for their difficulty, and while Shovel Knight takes a degree of skill to beat, it refuses to force players into impossible, no-win scenarios. Fun, above all else, is the guiding principle of Shovel Knight.

Nostalgia plays into its look and sound, featuring one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in my life, but the true hook of the game is besting a series of unique bosses without backtracking or a frustrating lack of direction as to what to do next. Less is always more. Shovel Knight borrows the best parts of the past—bold pixel art coupled with melodic neo-classic chiptune tracks—but didn’t proclaim that retro developers had it all right. What Yacht Club Games released was one of the best games of 2014, and a resounding answer to a question few people were asking: “Can you teach a retro game new tricks?”

Yes, you most certainly can. – Aaron Thayer