I’ve always felt slight to major irritation at having to crank out year-end lists for two reasons:
1. My backlog is almost always deepest at the end of the year given that 80% of GOTY material is shat out in Nov/Dec, which ensures I’ll find 10 things to add to the list by January.
2. I’m a lazy asshole who likes having lots of excuses.
But without further ado here’s a list in no particular order of the shit I dug in 2013.
1. Papers, Please
Lucas Pope has proved once again that graphics don’t mean shit, and gamers won’t spontaneously combust when denied a happy ending. The grimy, greyscale, pixelated hellscape of Arstotzka was one of the most compelling game worlds available in 2013, immediately enveloping you in the life of a border agent stuck in a hopeless totalitarian nightmare. The game captured the sinister nature of bureaucracy perfectly; once you’ve been crushed under the mindless drudgery of day to day existence, committing truly evil acts is all in a day’s work.
2. The Wonderful 101
The Wonderful 101 was one of the strongest offerings in an already extremely strong year for Nintendo. To be fair, I’m a Platinum fanboy, but this game deserved way more praise than it got. The cast of the game and its localization is supremely charming and funny, embracing the inherent cheesiness of the Tokusatsu genre with open arms. The gameplay is classic Platinum, allowing thoughtful button mashers to just barely squeak by, but lavishly rewarding dedicated players willing to sink their teeth into the combat system. The Gamepad touch controls are also nowhere near as inaccurate or frustrating as some reviews made them out to be. Also kudos to whoever decided to release this the Sunday before GTAV.
3. Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies
While the Phoenix Wright games aren’t revolutionary ventures in game design, they’re excellently localized, funny, and manage to stay surprising enough to keep me coming back for more. Dual Destinies adds Athena Cykes and her Mood Matrix device, a new little gameplay feature that helps you pick out emotional inconsistencies in testimony. Athena is an awesome addition to the series and one of my favorite new characters of 2013, a fierce, headstrong go-getter with a slick design. She makes a great counterpoint to the more reserved Apollo and Phoenix.
4. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Blood Dragon is such an anomaly in this industry I can’t do anything but love it. It’s stand-alone DLC, it has fun with a serious AAA property, it’s actually funny, it’s fairly priced, the list of things it does right is vast. It’s also one of the most heartfelt love letters to the bygone era of Cannon Films and other over the top 80s Action films (including Over the Top) I’ve ever seen, I mean their credits music is a song from Miami Connection for chrissakes. While it may feel like the world’s most elaborate mod, I’m totally fine with that. Studios should be rewarded for having more fun with their properties, and I love seeing people make less self-serious games with AAA engines.
5. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate / Soul Sacrifice
I’m including both of these as a single entry since I’ll never finish either, and they both scratch the same itch. After much cajoling from two of my friends (guess which two), I picked up MH3U. Like most of the Western World, I had virtually no interest in this franchise, seeing it as a massive time sink that looked like a semi-offline action MMORPG. None of those assumptions proved inaccurate, but after the rocky honeymoon (this game takes a painfully long time to get you up to speed and actually hunting large monsters), I found myself hooked. Hunting the large monsters is a knock-down, drag- out test of endurance, as you chase and track them from point to point on the map, hoping they go down before you run out of supplies. It’s almost like it’s a hunting game! MH3U game really opens up when you start playing with other people, quite literally. Entire quest lines that would take hours and hours to get to are available when you play with other people, and it greatly accelerates the enjoyment of the game. Add to that the new level of strategy that emerges from each player assuming a role, tank, healer etc. during a big hunt, and it gets even better.
A few months later I got my hands on Soul Sacrifice, a game designed by Kenji Inafune in one of the more blatant games industry fuck-yous I’ve seen in a while. This thing basically plays like a re-skinned Monster Hunter, and as a Vita exclusive, was clearly trying to slice into the hunk of the market desperate for a Monster Hunter game on Vita. This dickwaving is funny because it’s pretty much entirely contained within the Japanese market and grandly exhibits the total disregard for the rest of the planet Japan is famous for. Anyways, I’m an emo/goth at my core and Soul Sacrifice’s absurdly gonzo dark fantasy design really rekindled my Demon’s/Dark Souls fanboy. Get it? Kindled? I found Soul Sacrifice to be a more rewarding game to play solo than MH3U, and I actually enjoyed its comically angsty story and jumbled up narrative.
As with all Capcom products these days, the online conversation surrounding it was immediately put into a headlock by grognards who hate Capcom but still purchase and play everything they release. Fortunately DMC turned out to be a quality effort and one of the rare Capcom collaborations with the West that didn’t shit the bed. Ninja Theory’s visual reboot for the series is excellent, and several of the level designs, specifically the club and the News Broadcast portion, are extremely creative and fun. While the gameplay may be technically less complicated than previous games, that’s not always a bad thing; it still controls wonderfully and allows enough creativity to easily justify 2-3 playthroughs. That may be less than the 10-15 playthroughs previous games offered, but if you’re the kind of person that played through DMC3 15 times, you certainly already hate me for liking this game and have already closed the tab.
7. Rogue Legacy
I don’t remember why I bought this, I think it was a Steam sale? But I got it shortly after it came out when the hype was sort of low. I think my main reason for purchasing it was the character’s jaunty as fuck running animation and the gimmick that my character could have IBS. Anyway, I chose wisely, as Yoda once said, cause this game was awesome. The pitch is that you’re trying to avenge your Mom/Dad who died before you trying to avenge their Mom/Dad, so it’s basically an endless cycle of revenge where, when you die, you play as your son/daughter, who has a randomized set of traits. Some are totally cosmetic, like the aforementioned IBS, but others can subtly change how you play, like giagantism, increased hitboxes all around, or colorblindness, which can make it hard to detect projectiles. It’s essentially a 2-D action game with RPG elements tacked on, but the controls are just wonderful, and everything feels right.
8. Gone Home
Smarter people than me have written better pieces than I could about why Gone Home is important and essential, but all that aside, I really enjoyed the experience and it stuck with me. If you’ve ever spent an afternoon rifling through your attic looking at the old drawings and crafts projects you made as a kid, just remembering, Gone Home will provide a similar unique feeling.
9. The Swapper
Another last minute Steam Winter Sale purchase, The Swapper was a big surprise for me. A 2-D, sci-fi puzzle/platformer game, The Swapper puts you in the space boots of a guy investigating a derelict space station who quickly encounters a special gun that allows him to make copies of himself. If you ever played the 2-D demake of Portal, it’s not entirely unlike that, though the game’s mood, music, and themes are much, much darker, as you’re basically continuously transferring your soul/consciousness between an endless number of clones who frequently sacrifice themselves for the sake of whatever puzzle you happen to be noodling out. The sickening crunch of one of your clones breaking its legs/neck after falling down a shaft never gets not creepy. The game also features an almost perfect difficulty curve, with each puzzle being just good enough to stump you for the right amount of time before the “A-Ha!” moment happens.
Easily the best fighting game of the year, Divekick basically boils down everything that makes a fighting game fun into a super condensed stock and seasons it with a liberal dose of FGC in-jokes. Created by SRK guru Adam ‘Keits’ Heart, Divekick is a two button, one hit kill fighting game where players are incapable of any horizontal movement without jumping. This may sound crazy, but it’s incredibly intuitive once you play it. In fact, this game drew in people from all over my office to play because the barrier of entry was so low. Don’t read that as the game being dumb though, there’s a bunch of tactics to be plumbed from the various characters, each with their own moveset and special abilities. It’s tense, it’s smart, it’s fun, it’s silly, and it should be mandatory for anyone interested in fighting game design.
11. Kentucky Route Zero
Answer the following question:
Do you appreciate that poetry is a thing? Yes/No
No: Don’t play this game
Yes: Play this game