10 Under-The-Radar Games Of 2014 You Probably Missed

by Kimberley Wallace on Dec 24, 2014 at 04:11 AM

In any given year, many great games slip through the cracks. Some games are niche, appealing to a specific crown, while others debut during a jam-packed release season. Either way, now that the year is winding down, we thought we’d look back at some solid games that may have passed you by.

Persona Q: Shadow of Labyrinth

Persona Q hit close to Thanksgiving and a glut of big games launched in weeks prior, such as Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Naturally, Persona Q got a little lost in the shuffle, which is a shame considering it’s one stellar cross-over. Persona Q brings back the casts from the third and fourth games for an adventure together, using Etrian Odyssey’s structure, where you map out dungeons, battle tough enemies, and collect resources to upgrade equipment. All the dungeons have unique themes, like romance and Alice in Wonderland; surviving and finding your way through these harrowing labyrinths is thrilling. The best part is the banter the characters bring along the way. Yes, Junpei and Yukari still like to argue.

For more on Persona Q, check out our review.

This War of Mine

War is ugly. Violence and death are ever present. However, most of the time we’re in the boots of a soldier when we play games, not a helpless civilian just trying to survive. This War of Mine has you managing a group of civilians during the dark times of war. You must make sure they have supplies, sleep, eat, and don’t lose their will to survive. Dangers are all around; you must defend your home base from raids and avoid snipers while scavenging. You also must do some regrettable things to subsist, like stealing and killing, and you’re constantly challenged to make even tougher decisions along the way. For instance, recruiting someone may get you extra help, but it also means you have another mouth to feed. This War of Mine is a powerful commentary on war and the innocents that suffer, who are often forgotten. If you’re looking for a different experience, This War of Mine definitely leaves you with one.

For more on This War of Mine, check out our review.

The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle released late in the year when many were still knee-deep in games that launched in October and November. However, you’d be mistaken to let this gem pass you by, especially if you enjoy puzzle games like Portal. The Talos Principle lets you explore Grecian ruins, but it also challenges you philosophically with questions about what it means to be human. You have a voice who claims to be God and an A.I. library assistant guiding you along the way. Your job? To locate sigils that are tucked away in mazes full of obstacles. You must create safe path to avoid the dangers by using the various tools at your disposal. For instance, you can use jammers to disable turrets and barriers. Your tools don’t change much throughout the game, but it’s how you use them that is constantly challenging you with new complexity. Still, The Talos Principle will leave you thinking beyond the puzzles, and that’s where it most intrigues.

For more on The Talos Principle, read our review

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Danganronpa launched back in February, but the visual novel adventure fell largely under the radar. Let’s face it, the genre isn’t exactly booming here in the U.S., but Danganronpa has such an intriguing premise that you shouldn’t let it pass you by. A group of elite students become trapped inside a school with only one way out: Murder. If a student successfully murders another and gets away with it after a tense class trial, freedom is theirs. If the killer gets caught, they are executed before your eyes in a twisted way. The adventure definitely taps into the survival of the fittest mentality, as it’s not long before students start to break and crack under the pressure as a demented, robotic bear torments them. Danganronpa is one of the more exciting games to hit this year; it blends a suspenseful story with eclectic characters. Better yet? A sequel, Goodbye Despair, also launched this past September.

Read our reviews of Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair for more information.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

We could understand if you’ve given up on Sherlock’s foray into video games. The games haven’t exactly lived up to the iconic character’s adventures, but there’s no doubt that Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is Frogwares’ best effort yet. This time around, the player has much more choice in how to use Sherlock’s powers, even if that means putting the wrong criminal behind bars. This lends to multiple outcomes and really challenging the player to thoroughly piece together all the evidence that’s uncovered. You also decide what type of punishment fits the crime. For instance, you could lie to the police, saving someone jail time if you didn’t think they deserve it. If you enjoy figuring out mysteries and having some say in the final matters, then Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment is definitely worth a look. 

For more on Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, check out our review

Up next: Toad steps up, two portable kings unite, and an unsettling, atmospheric tale.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad might be one of this year’s biggest surprises. Finding out Toad would have his own game was one thing, but not many people expected it to be this fun. Unfortunately, Super Smash Bros. hit a few weeks before it, and many Nintendo fans were hooked on that. Seeing Nintendo expand a series of minigames into a hefty retail release where the levels don’t get repetitive is a feat in itself. Those who played Super Mario 3D World should already be familiar with the gameplay, but Toad is set loose to explore, dodge traps, and find his way to the iconic golden star on 3D platforms. Yes, it’s simple, as Toad doesn’t jump or attack, but it’s how creative Nintendo gets with these simple mechanics that really shines. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker does the Mario name proud. 

For more on Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, check out our review

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a first-person exploration game focused on narrative. You play as a detective named Paul who received a letter from a boy named Ethan Carter who went missing in rural Wisconsin. As you explore, you find short stories written by Ethan that add to the eerie tone. Throw in that you’re often stumbling upon the bodies of Ethan’s relatives, and you get how disturbing the adventure is, but you’re so compelled to find out the why, who, what, like an episode of True Detective. Did we mention Paul can communicate with the dead once he uncovers enough clues? The deceased will then provide snapshots of the event. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter delivers on its great writing and haunting atmosphere, combining dark fantasy and gothic horror wonderfully. Plenty of intrigue will keep you invested, even if it’s somewhat unsettling all around. 

For more on The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, check out our review

The Banner Saga

Developer Stoic took the strategy genre to a new level when it added choice to the mix. The Banner Saga is a viking-themed tactical game, and the mature storyline keeps you on your toes with its unpredictability and in-the-moment decisions. Your job is to keep a growing army alive with a slew of decisions on and off the battlefield, like when to retreat and when to kick out recruits who are bringing down morale. Unforeseen circumstances like sickness and spoiled food also force you to constantly rethink your plan, à la The Oregon Trail. The tactical gameplay is also challenging; simply relying on brute force won’t win you the battle and sometimes you have to learn when it call it quits before things escalate. The Banner Saga will constantly make you wonder what you could have done differently, fostering multiple playthroughs.

For more on The Banner Saga, check out our review.

Neverending Nightmares

Neverending Nightmares tells a haunting tale about depression and mental illness. The director, Matt Gilgenbach, was inspired by his own struggles. You explore two-dimensional, oppressive environments, avoiding enemies while trying to escaping your nightmares through a series of doors. The imagery is intense; the game has minimalist black and white visuals, so when you spot crimson blood, it’s jarring. Neverending Nightmares’ biggest asset is how it succeeds in making you understand the struggle. The game is only a few hours long (and that’s if you see every path) and the gameplay is sparse, but the experience sticks with you. Depression isn’t easy to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but Neverending Nightmares does it's best to emulate how it feels. The result is a game drastically different from anything else on this list, which should be reason enough to give it a chance. 

For more on Neverending Nightmares, check out our review.

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

The Ace Attorney series is niche, but has a dedicated cult following who will tell you there’s nothing like the zany courtroom antics of Phoenix Wright and company. The Layton series has made a name for itself with its engrossing puzzles and top-hat sleuth, Professor Layton. Combining the two portable masters, Phoenix and Layton, for an adventure is a delight. A magical book transports the casts of each respective series to a strange town to solve its mysteries. Investigating this locale is fun, especially for Ace Attorney fans who usually experience places grounded in reality. However, the magical hook opens up the door for cool additions like witch trials. If you’re a fan of both series, don’t miss out your chance to see them come together for an adventure.

For more on Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, check out our review.

What games do you feel that people missed out on? Let us know in the comments below!