2014 has come and gone. With it, from beginning to end, we saw some standout landmarks in gaming, both positive and negative. From the very highs to the very lows, 2014 offered up some extreme excellence in our preferred playable medium. In this list, you’ll find Zak’s Top 5 games of 2014!

In 2012 Nintendo brought the Wii U into the world, with barely anything of note alongside in. Then in 2013 Microsoft and Sony followed suit, each issuing their shiny new consoles with better, but still fairly lackluster launch fare. Now all three systems have had a chance to settle in and throughout 2014, particularly the latter half, they have begun what truly feels like the next generation of the console race. Each system has a solid line-up, and each system is worthy of your ownership.

Setting aside all the drama and stigma brought into the world of video gaming throughout the year, when you look back at the games it is glaringly obvious that 2014 was a wonderful year to be a gamer, regardless of your console of choice. Considering that more than 40 of our 75 reviews from the year were scored 7 or above, any “top 5″ list is going to be lacking, period.

Having said that, these are my top five games of 2014. These gave me the most fun, the most enjoyment, and the most satisfaction overall. Let’s get to it!

5. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U

The two games may have differing stages and exclusive modes not available on the other, but at their core they are both the new Smash Bros. for the new generation. With a whopping 50 characters overall (once Mewtwo joins next year), the roster has never been higher or more diverse. From the 3DS’ Smash Run (which I have slowly come to enjoy more since my review) to the Wii U’s excellent party mode, Smash Tour, to co-op Event matches and Stadium mini-games, the extra content in these games is packed to the brim and overflowing. Plus throw in the upgrade from 4 players to a potential 8 in standard Smash matches, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more frenetic, fast-paced, and surprisingly accessible fighting game on the market. If you own a 3DS or Wii U and you haven’t picked up at least one of these titles, you should probably re-evaluate your priorities.

4. Mario Kart 8

In May Nintendo launched Mario Kart 8 alongside the then super-hyped, AAA heavy-hitter, Watch_Dogs. Guess which one people have forgotten about, and which one is still played constantly? Honestly, is it any surprise? The Mario Kart series has come a long way from its days on the SNES, with many of those classic levels re-imagined in Mario Kart 8, including the original Rainbow Road, which released with November’s DLC pack. For those keeping score at home, that makes Mario Kart 8 the first game in the series to feature three, yes, THREE Rainbow Roads. You can race through land, sea, and air, defying gravity in tracks that twist and loop every which way. Just because you’re going fast and paying attention to the race doesn’t mean they skimped on the details though. Every track is polished to the nines, and it’s worth doing some solo races just to take things slow and admire the views. Mario Kart 8 is a constant at my monthly board game night with friends, most of whom aren’t even gamers. I think that alone says more than anything else I can tell you.

3. Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season Two

Save for a minor hiccup in episode 4, every episode of The Walking Dead’s sophomore season was a hit. Lee set the stage in season one for Clementine to take over and absolutely shine in season 2. Through the ever-dwindling sanity of those around her, Clem manages to follow Lee’s example and think quick, keep a cool head, and take charge. She is a leader, she is a hunter, and she is compassionate, but she also won’t take your shit. She’ll call a spade a spade, and tell what needs telling. Well that’s MY Clementine, anyway. Your Clementine may be a bit different, but in the end she has become so near and dear to so many, which is why I dread every new episode just as much as I anticipate them. Nobody is sacred in this world of the living dead. Season 1 showed that in its finale, and season 2 further proved it with the variety of endings. Telltale Games has confirmed a season 3 will happen, and with the wildly differing branches possible in episode 5’s conclusion, the “pick your own zombie apocalypse” series only seems to be getting better and better.

2. Far Cry 4

When I am given a game to review that I’m unfamiliar with I generally play it, review it, shelve it, and forget it. Far Cry 4 is the first such title to date I have continued playing – quite avidly, even – well past my review’s posting. The game offers dozens of side activities to keep you occupied during your trip to Kyrat. You’ll experience a psychedelic trip through the jungle, hunt down exotic animals, race through the mountains, destroy propaganda, embody a hunter in a mythical realm, and OH so much more. You can glide through the air in your wingsuit and plunge down on enemies from midair, or throw some sticky C4 on local wildlife just to see what happens (what happens is exactly what you would expect). You’ll scale radio towers and liberate enemy outposts and take down the fortresses of Pagan Min’s faithful followers as you seek to hunt him down and end Kyrat’s struggle. Simply put, Far Cry 4 is just insane amounts of fun. For those who prefer more varied gameplay and freedom to play at their own pace, this is your game. Even those who haven’t played a Far Cry title before (like myself) won’t have any trouble getting into this game.

1. Hyrule Warriors

How do you follow such superstars as The Walking Dead, Far Cry, and Super Smash Bros.? What could possibly take the cake? It’s not Bayonetta, it’s not Alien, and it’s not Destiny. No, Hyrule Warriors won me over more than anything else this year. I’m not even a fan of the Dynasty Warriors games, but somehow the mash-up of the play style from that series blended flawlessly with the Legend of Zelda makeover. The rich cast of characters each has a distinct move set that showcases their personality, highlights their strengths, and allows you to play as any number of good guys and bad guys, with more women playable than men – not common in today’s videos, but incredibly welcome. The plot is fluff, but plays out in stunningly beautiful graphics, showcasing the Wii U at its best. When you get right down to it, I put more hours into Hyrule Warriors than any other game in 2014, hands down. I still play it near daily over three months after launch, and with two more sets of DLC yet to arrive, I don’t see that trend slowing down any time soon. Hyrule Warriors is, without a doubt, my game of the year for 2014.

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