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2014 in review: Our favorite costume and character designs of the year

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Call us superficial, but a handsomely designed character can go a long way to making us appreciate a game a little bit more. If we're going to look at a video game character for dozens of hours, we want them to look good, whether they're the defined vision of a team of artists or the custom character of our dreams.

And, hey, sometimes we just like a video game character to sport a stylish hoodie and jacket combo. We appreciate a fashionable, fresh-looking character or two, so we're giving a few of our favorites some end of year accolades.

To reward the year's best style, deputy news editor Mike McWhertor and reporter Megan Farokhmanesh compiled their favorite character looks and design choices from 2014. Our selections are limited to games released in North America during the calendar year.

Bayonetta 2 - Bayonetta

I had mixed feelings about Platinum Games' new Bayonetta at first blush. I'll admit it: I didn't shine to the haircut. But Bayonetta's new style has more than grown on me; her aesthetic in the sequel feels superior in every way. Character designer Mari Shimazaki describes Bayonetta's new theme as "solid," and from costume to hairstyle to accessories, that concept comes through. "Taking a step back and looking at how Bayonetta's design turned out, I realize we went in a direction completely opposite from the last game," Shimazaki says. "That also makes me think Bayonetta's new look is possible because of her previous one, and will stand out because of that contrast."

Bayonetta's compatriot Jeanne also got a makeover in the Wii U sequel, a "casual" biker look that is a gorgeous change of pace from her original, more elegant design. — Michael

Bayonetta 2 art

Bayonetta 2 art

Bravely Default

I'm a sucker for pretty much anything Akihiko Yoshida does, and the cast of Bravely Default is no exception. Agnes and Ringabel are some of the best designed of the bunch. I love the use of materials, especially the fur trim, and the balance of ornate details with overall simplicity. — Michael

Bravely Default

Bravely Default

Bravely Default

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc - Makoto

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc's hero, Makoto, is one of my more subtle choices. Makoto's look is simple — its hallmark is a hoodie layered under a blazer — but it's an understated design that I just love. And try to imitate on occasion. — Megan

danganronpa

Dark Souls 2 - Looking Glass Knight and Executioner's Chariot

For as much as I loved Demon's Souls and Dark Souls' character designs, much of Dark Souls 2 felt disappointing. It may be that From Software was left with fewer dark medieval fantasy tropes to play with and things just felt less fresh. But Dark Souls 2 had a few brilliant character and monster designs. And as much as I loved Sweet Shalquoir, the cat vendor of Majula, it was the Looking Glass Knight and Executioner's Chariot that stood out most among the game's long list of bosses. — Michael

Dark Souls II artwork

Dark Souls 2 artwork

Destiny

Bungie's art team killed in the space knight design department. While not everything that we loved about the concept art and character design side of Destiny made it into the game — they still don't have space tiger pets, right? — Bungie made some seriously sexy loot and some of the most intriguing space aliens this side of Star Wars. There's a big, beautiful book full of Destiny's concept art if you're a fan. — Michael

Destiny artwork

Destiny concept art

Destiny

(And how about that hair?)

Destiny hair

Dreamfall Chapters - Zoe Castillo

Zoe of Dreamfall Chapters hits all the big checkmarks on this list. As a character, she's thoughtfully developed into a sassy, smart, relatable young woman — the kind you'd want as your best friend. Red Thread compliments this superbly written character with a great, grounded design to match.

Zoe rocks practical sneakers and hooded leather jackets like nobody's business. Oh, and one neat perk of Dreamfall Chapters: Zoe's look will slightly differ depending on an early, important choice you make in-game. — Megan

Dreamfall Chapters

Dreamfall Zoe

Hohokum - Everything

Hohokum is one of those rare games where literally everything about it is fantastically beautiful. There's not a single character I can think to single out above its peers, because it's all worth taking in. — Megan

A screenshot from Hohokum Honeyslug/SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Hohokum art

Hyrule Warriors - Impa

Omega Force and Team Ninja's hack-'n-slash version of The Legend of Zelda, Hyrule Warriors, has its drawbacks in terms of both design and gameplay. But there's one thing we absolutely cannot fault it for: Its stellar take on longtime franchise staple, Impa.

Impa is typically relegated to Zelda's attendant or bodyguard, but in Hyrule Warriors we really get to see her bust out and kick some ass. Armed with a giant sword, practical armor and a no-nonsense scowl, Impa looks fierce from top to bottom.

Although it's Impa that really won us over, Zelda's fancy getup is is worth a shoutout, too. Now, can someone please explained what happened with Cia? — Megan

Impa Hyrule Warriors

Zelda Hyrule Warriors

Infamous: Second Son/First Light - Fetch

"Fetch is such a badass." These are words that I find myself repeating over and over when I think about the star of Infamous: Second Son standalone DLC First Light. Fetch won my heart with her neon powers, matching purple hair and nose ring, to say nothing of her spunk. Her look is one I can only describe as garbage-chic-punk-meets-Seattle— and I really, truly dig it. — Megan

Fetch

Mario Kart 8 - Link and the Master Cycle

The Link that came to Mario Kart 8 as downloadable content was a great-looking Link, but it was his beautifully realized Master Cycle that really blew us away. Technically, this should probably fall under vehicle design, but we'll call it a re-imagining of Epona, so it counts. — Michael

Link with Master Cycle

Murasaki Baby - Baby's world

If you play Murasaki Baby, you may begin to feel as though you've fallen into a Tim Burton film, or perhaps a sketch from Edward Gorey. Don't be alarmed; that's part of its charm. It difficult for me to narrow down what I love about this game's look to just one character, so I'd like to nominate the entire world. Upside-down faces, boogeymen in bunny suits — it's all creepy in a really beautiful way. — Megan

Murasaki Baby

Octodad: Dadliest Catch - Octodad

It's not easy being Octodad, but this snazzy cephalopod manages to find time to be a loving husband, father and snazzy dresser. Octodad pulls off a classic go-getter look look with a crisp suit and tie combo that really complement his tentacles. — Megan

Octodad

Shovel Knight - Bosses

The bosses of Shovel Knight are basically a medieval spin on the Robot Masters of Mega Man, a series that has thoroughly explored the concept of themed boss characters. But Yacht Club Games managed to build out a group of bosses that felt fun and original, without getting too weird or obscure. Characters like Propeller Knight and Plague Knight were some of the strongest looking of the bunch — and I love Polar Knight's use of a snow shovel — but even Shovel Knight and Shield Knight were beautifully rendered cartoon characters. — Michael

Shovel Knight Yacht Club Games

Sunset Overdrive - Everyone

Insomniac Games cherry picked the best of streetwear, couture and punk rock fashion in Sunset Overdrive, a big visual melting pot of styles that enabled some of the coolest custom character creation in 2014. Their monster designs, built on the visual foundation of a fizzy energy drink gone horribly wrong — some are part leaf blower, some part construction equipment — aren't so bad either. The best part about Sunset Overdrive's costume design might be its gender-neutral clothing, which can lead to slick, sometimes amusing self-expression. — Michael

Sunset Overdrive art

Sunset Overdrive costumes

Transistor - Red

Supergiant Games has a knack for creating beautiful worlds and stunning characters to inhabit them, and Transistor is no exception with its art nouveau-meets-sci-fi-city feel. The real visual gem of this game, however, is its humming protagonist, Red. Red's design is both sexy and classic, thanks to a tastefully torn dress and that killer feathered collar. Toss in her heavy coat, courtesy of her mysterious savior, and those gold-tipped boots and you have a woman who looks tough with a feminine touch. The only shame is that because of the game's isometric view, we don't get to see more of her. — Megan

Transistor

Valiant Hearts: The Great War - Walt

Set during World War I, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is the story of five characters whose lives are tied together by a medic dog named Walt. Because he thinks he's people, Walt wears a special medic jacket and collar that's just the most endearing thing in the world. In fact, we recommend you actually stop reading now and just go look at pictures of him online.

I'm serious. There's nothing else for you here, besides incomprehensible babbling about how cute he is. Those brown paws! That lil sausage tail! Oh god, my heart hurts. — Megan

valiant hearts walt

Wolfenstein: The New Order - B.J. Blazkowicz and Gen. Deathshead

Machinegames' take on Wolfenstein was a welcome surprise. Not only is The New Order a fantastic first-person shooter, its character designs are just interesting enough, just slightly out of the norm, to deserve kudos. B.J. Blazkowicz has been a bland-looking action hero in the past and something of a crazed killer in his original 8-bit incarnation, but in The New Order, his design is firm, intimidating and yet a little bit soft. Blazkowicz manages to look stylish without being fancy, heroic, charming and relatable. He's both a Nazi-slaying superhero and, well, a pretty sweet guy.

His nemesis, Gen. Deathshead, looks exceptionally creepy without being overly cartoonish. Maybe it's a little on the nose, but Deathshead's wrinkly, fleshy face serves his namesake well. His Nazi cohorts, Frau Engel and Bubi, are similarly memorable for their striking silhouettes and costume design. — Michael

Wolfenstein artwork

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.