2014 was a wild year for the gaming industry. So-called “Next-Gen” consoles floundered with a lack of quality content, while the previously maligned Nintendo offering, the Wii U, rose like a phoenix with maddeningly awesome first party titles. PC sales continued to grow – Steam posted a record 8.5 million concurrent users – strengthened by an indie scene that at times felt stretched thin. More games were released in the first three months of 2014 than in all of 2013 combined and many journalists began to ponder if we were on the precipice of an indie crash. That never happened, and if anything, the opposite was proven true. Independent creators are as innovative and resilient as ever.
Collectively, we also strode through the bullshit of GamerGate. It’s not over by any means, but things do seem to be quieting down. It’s time to refocus our attention to building a better gaming community, inclusive of everyone and free of the kind of sickening threats we saw throughout the autumn and beyond.
Regardless of trends and controversies, regardless of internet drama and negativity, there were tons of great games to be celebrated this year. As such, we present the second annual Platinum Jetpack Awards.
Here’s a reminder of what they are:
“We like to do things a little differently at Jetpack Joust. We question the status quo. As we started to peak into the New Year, websites across the internet began to post their yearly “Top 5” or “Top 10” Games of the Year. People love lists. They especially love lists that are ranked; because it inspires competition. But gaming has grown to a point where experiences are so varied that stacking one next to another feels dishonest and insincere. Instead, we want to celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments; not by how much better a game is than its compatriots, but by what it added to the culture and to the discussion of games’ as art.
Keep in mind that though our focus is on the independent experience, these awards encompass the industry as a whole. We aren’t indie fundamentalists and 2013’s enormous cache of titles is a great argument of every type of release. We should also note that though we made attempts to play as many games as possible, we weren’t able to fit all of them into our schedules. So if there’s a game that you think deserves to be on this list, comment down below.”
Drum roll, please. Here are our winners.
Best Use of Music in a Surreal Adventure Game
Kentucky Route Zero: Act III (Cardboard Computer)
I can’t bring myself to spoil the specifics of such a beautiful moment, but the instant that “Too Late to Love You” began to play in a dingy bar off the highway, I had a true revelation about Kentucky Route Zero. The game is a tough nut to crack – and seems to release at a snail’s pace – but it’s just as capable of profound wonder as it is existential confusion. If this title isn’t on your radar, it should be for this scene alone. It’s far and away the best dramatic moment in a game all year.
“What Would You Give” is just as amazing.
Best Mass Starvation Simulation
Banished (Shining Rock Software)
Banished is the first game I played in 2014, and it’s one that I wish I would’ve had more time to revisit. It’s an incredibly robust simulation, especially considering that it was made on the cheap by one ambitious guy. Though the endgame leaves a bit to be desired, few titles evoked such a sense of desperation as Banished in the moments when the player’s villagers began to starve. Winter is the enemy and you have to prepare a significant harvest to make it through the season without casualties. It’s a more difficult prospect than it sounds and the game might just give you a new found respect for the ancestors who lived on the brink of wild disaster.
Best First-Half of a Double Fine Adventure Adventure
Broken Age: Act One (Double Fine)
It’s become a bit of a trend to casually bash Double Fine on the internet; and though they’ve certainly made a few crucial PR mistakes in 2014, there is no denying the brilliance of their Kickstarter flagship, Broken Age. This game offered what it promised: Tim Schaefer’s nostalgic return to a classic point-and-click adventure format. There is so much imagination here; it’s bursting at the seams, like a children’s book that’s come to life. I ate it up, flaws and all. And though the second act seems forever delayed, I bet we’ll see it before we see Act IV of Kentucky Route Zero.
I can’t fucking wait to see what happens next.
Best Competitive Multiplayer in Which the Victor is Eaten by a Giant Snake
Some people would say that Super Smash Bros is the best fighting game of the year, but Nidhogg manages to take everything that’s great about Nintendo’s flagship franchise and package it into a fresh, minimalistic take on the genre. There are only two characters, only four stages to choose from, only broken, dirty pixels as a visual palette, yet every battle in Nidhogg feels clean and frantic and fun. It somehow turns fencing into the coolest, most surreal sport in the world.
Nidhogg was a severe candidate for game of the year. Pick it up and get some friends and room with a couple of controllers. I guarantee it’s one of the best local multiplayer experiences you’ll ever have.
Best Unfinished Early-Access Game
Rust (Facepunch Studios)
Oh Rust, what a weary road you’ve travelled this year. From Early Access darling, to a shining example of the excesses of the program, it’s still impossible to deny how much time this game sucked out of the Jetpack Joust “offices”. We played it more than any other title; except for maybe Hearthstone, but we’ll get to that later. Though Facepunch is still busy updating their graphically upgraded version of the game, Rust’s legacy will be its emphasis on crazy, collaborative experimentation.
“How high can we build this tower?”
“How much C4 do we need to blow through twelve layers of metal walls?”
“How can we one-up the crazy faction on the other side of the map who always seems to pick up the best equipment and air drops?”
These kinds of questions, and the answers they wrought, were what made Rust such a huge part of my gaming year. I only hope they can bring the same joyous experience to the new edition.
Best Reason to Hate the Blue Shell
Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo)
Until Mario Kart 8, I had no interest in owning a Nintendo Wii U. Suddenly; it became a must-own console. I felt like the same kid who demanded that his parents buy him a Nintendo 64 for Christmas because it was just so cool. This is the best Mario Kart ever made, not just because of the gorgeously colorful graphics or the brilliantly smooth gameplay, but because it reminded me why I love Nintendo so much. These are characters that are engrained in my psyche, that I adore as much as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny or any other character that spikes childhood wonder and awe. Mario Kart 8 brought that feeling back without relying too heavily on nostalgia; a crowning achievement for a franchise and a company that I thought was dead to me.
Best First-Person Tear Jerker
Ether One (White Paper Games)
“Ether One is all at once a riddle and a puzzle and a logic problem; each within the other, spiraling together until the mysteries and their answers can’t be separated. It’s not so much a game as it is a deeply emotional experience. All of this language may seem cryptic and unspecific, but that’s because it is truly hard to describe the lasting impact that Ether One has had on me. I’ve had a few days to separate myself from it, but still my mind wanders to the peaceful village of Pinwheel and the journey contained within. It’s an experience that I am still deciphering, but one that I’m sure I enjoyed.”
Best Digital Equivalent to Addiction
On any given night in 2014, if I had to guess blindly what Billy or Matt were doing with their free time, I’d probably say, “Playing Hearthstone.” They certainly weren’t the only one’s to be seduced by Blizzard’s lightning fast, effortlessly fun digital card game; the community is growing bigger with each passing day. What’s particularly brilliant about Hearthstone is its stream-lined approach to the CCG. Few games juggle simplicity of gameplay and strategic possibility with such poise. It’s easy to pick up and play, but incredibly difficult to master.
It’s also free – probably the best free-to-play game released this year – which is a damn good reason to give it a shot.
Best Verisimilitude (Big Words, People!)
Transistor (Supergiant Games)
Stunning imagery. Air-tight gameplay. Stellar sound design. What else have we come to expect from Supergiant Games? Transistor continues the work they started with Bastion, creating a lush, thriving, colorful environment for Red – a phenomenal female protagonist – to explore and engage with. Cloudbank is a gorgeous city to battle through. The mechanics are a bit intimidating at first, but they repay persistence with their depth and flexibility, allowing the player to truly customize their experience. Transistor looks and feels entirely unique and further cements the future of this brilliant indie company. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Best Jokes at the Expense of Old-School RPGs
South Park: The Stick of Truth (Obsidian)
I love South Park with the burning passion of a Chipotle-burdened asshole, so Obsidian announced they’d be adapting it into a video game, I was rightfully skeptical. South Park: The Stick of Truth perfectly translates the humor of Matt and Trey’s long-running animated series into a surprisingly thorough recreation of an old-school RPG. From anally probing aliens to underpants gnomes and Man-Bear-Pig, this game might be the most reverent we’ll ever see to its source material; yet never seems to rely on the nostalgia to propel its hilarious story. Instead, this is the most epic, surreal, and glorious episode the dynamic duo have ever written; and as the player, you get to impact its outcome. Infinitely enjoyable and side-splittingly humorous, South Park: The Stick of Truth may be the greatest satirical game ever made.
Best Reason to Tear Your Hair Out in Joyous Frustration
“Luftrausers is a nearly flawless experience. It’s an adrenaline pumping, action-packed shooter that is unabashedly about raw entertainment. There’s nothing to think deeply about, you just have to learn be dexterous enough with your fingers to accomplish the maneuvers that will help you survive. I felt like an ace pilot playing Luftrausers and that was purely exhilarating.”
Best RPG to Conquer Your Life
Dragon Age: Inquisition (BioWare)
Dragon Age is not a franchise that I’ve loved in the past. I found Origins to be too strictly contained by its influences and Dragon Age II to be too excited by its own advances. Inquisition strikes the perfect balance, and even if its story isn’t particularly fresh, it allows the player freedom and influence over a world that’s as boundless as it is culturally complex. In some ways, its side quests are more interesting than the over-arching plot, because every NPC has some interesting observation or opinion. Like Mass Effect, Inquisition is a game that’s more concerned with the relationships between its characters than the epic conflict their involved in. This is a good thing and it makes for one of the most profound RPG experiences I’ve had in years.
Best Game With the Lowest Score, But The Longest Impact
Always Sometimes Monsters (Vagabond Dog)
“I loved this game’s innovative approach to storytelling and its attempts to dig deeper for meaning. I was enamored by its climax and the emotional devastation that followed. But I strongly disliked the extraordinarily tedious gameplay and the equally burdensome lead character. It was almost enough to force me to give up; but I’m so glad that I didn’t.
Always Sometimes Monsters is not a game that is easy to classify or categorize or rate. It’s a prime example of why not to use a numeric system for game reviews. Overall, I had a positive experience, but I’m not sure that everyone else would. That’s why I’ll remind you what a 6 out of 10 score means at Jetpack Joust: ‘Imperfect, but maybe you should play this if it sounds interesting to you.’ This sums up Always Sometimes Monsters perfectly in my mind. It’s a divisive game, but perhaps you’ll lean in my direction.”
Best Heart-Rending Choice-Making
The Walking Dead: Season Two (Telltale Games)
“The Walking Dead: Season Two has been a powerhouse of video game storytelling. ‘No Going Back’ is a perfectly bittersweet finale that pounds the player with heartbreak after heartbreak, but gives them just enough hope to keep them pressing forward. Few games are capable of the complex emotional depth that is evoked in the final moments of this harrowing episode. I laughed, I cried, and I lost a good friend; but I loved every single moment of it.”
Best Criminally Underrated Game
The Floor is Jelly (Ian Snyder)
“Everyone once and a while, a game comes along that is magical in its simplicity, inspiring the imagination of the player without burdening them with complex mechanics. It’s rare to see the right ingredients come together to create this kind of experience, but when they do, it’s a glorious reminder of why we play video games in the first place…
…The Floor is Jelly is a joyful, beautiful, and perpetually entertaining experience that will hearken back to the days when you sat mystified by the sprites on your television screen. It has that unspeakable quality that transforms a good game into a great game and it’s almost certainly the best platformer I’ve played all year.”
Best Games We’re Looking Forward to Playing Still
Super Time Force (CAPY)
Shovel Knight (Yacht Club Games)
Talos Principle (Croteam)
2014 Platinum Jetpack Game of the Year
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (The Astronauts)
“The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the culminating masterpiece of a genre that’s been spreading its wings in the last few years: the first-person adventure. There is no combat to speak of, no blockbuster action pieces. Instead, the game weighs on your soul and worms its way into your mind. Like Gone Home and Ether One, the joy is in exploration and discovery; in finding that final clue to solve the case. But this game is superior in its execution and surmounts its predecessors in nearly every category. It will likely leave you feeling a bit hollow and disturbed, but it will also provoke hidden thoughts buried in the back of your head. This is the first game to perfect the essence of the natural world in digital form, but it won’t be the last. In all of its bleakness, there is a bit of light; at least for games of its kind.”