Games of the Year 2013
It’s the time of year when we look back and assess what games stood out over the past twelve months and prepare ourselves for another year of new games. Instead of declaring one game to be the true Game of the Year we decided to take this time to look back at what games made the biggest impact on us in 2013.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf – 3DS
People talk about the “Nintendo magic” as though the developers at Nintendo are techno-Merlins who wield some sort of sorcerous control over gamers. That kind of talk is generally pure hyperbole – Nintendo produces better games on average than your average schmo, but they have their stinkers – but Animal Crossing makes me believe in magic. I’m not a MMO’er. I’m not a casual gamer. I’ve never played a Facebook game in my life. Yet, Animal Crossing games suck me in every time. Every single time.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf, not only enraptured me, but did so more effectively and for a longer period of time than any of the previous games in the series. I spent the summer with my face buried in my 3DS, and while Shim Megami Tensei IV certainly claimed its share of that time, it was Animal Crossing that sunk its claws into me. Like clockwork, I’d sink two or three hours into the game each night, and I’d spend my days at work dreaming up improvements to the village of Panada. I’m not exactly the most masculine man that ever has lived, but it is pretty hilarious to think back on the amount of time I spent landscaping and decorating my little virtual town.
New Leaf may not appear on many “game of the year” lists – and honestly, it doesn’t top mine – but as the game that I played the most in 2013, it deserves to be remembered. As the lazy days of summer faded into the hectic rush of autumn, we all moved on to glitzy, more exciting spectacles. Yet, for a few exciting months, I loved my escape into an exotic – yet completely familiar – virtual reality. I thrilled at shaping my little village into my own, unique little corner of space. I enjoyed taking the train to my friends towns – and showing mine off to them in turn. I’ll never forget scrolling through Tumble blog after Tumblr blog for new patterns to scan.
Animal Crossing’s spell may have faded, but in 2013, no other game so exemplified the Nintendo magic in my mind – Nintendo’s keen understanding at what makes gamers tick, at what it takes to transform a multiplayer game into a true social experience. And, I suspect that – in a few years, like clockwork – another Animal Crossing will suck me in again just as intensely.
Kentucky Route Zero – PC
It’s late at night. You’ve been driving for hours – although it feels like days – with only a clunky old radio, a mutt, and the moon for company. Suddenly, you spot a campfire by the road, attended by a lone old man and, for whatever reason, you decide to stop and join for a spell. No harm in it. Just an old coot with a story or two to tell. We’ve all been there, right?
Well, fine. Maybe not all of us. But, take it from someone who grew up in ol’ West Virginia – stranger things have happened on old beat-up roads in the stillness of night. You hear tales. Some of those tales just sound like country songs – or go on to become country songs – and others… Well, others go down stranger paths. Those tales are not unlike the thread spun by Kentucky Route Zero.
Kentucky Route Zero seems like a strange game to place on this list – after all, it’s an episodic game that has only put out two out of five promised episodes – but, eh, stranger things have happened. For instance, most of the events that occur in the game are pretty damn strange. Most of the people you meet are even stranger. Strange is really just a word stamped all over this game – an adventure about a stranger in a strange land, a man who is just trying to deliver a package and get back home.
Like most games of the adventure genre, Kentucky Route Zero isn’t much of a “game” in the traditional sense. It isn’t about systems or mechanics. It isn’t about reflex-driven action. Like the greatest games of the genre, Kentucky Route Zero is about the experience. Both of the released episodes are relatively short, but they really suck you in and linger in your thoughts for weeks and months after you finish them.
I admit, I am pretty much the target audience for this game. I’m an adventure game nut who knows a thing or two about being lost in the pathways of Appalachia. Still, Kentucky Route Zero is a game that needs to be experienced. It isn’t The Last of Us, or Bioshock Infinite – there are no explosions, no million-dollar CG cutscenes. The gameplay and graphics might even be described as minimalistic, and yet, perhaps no other game in the past several years has lingered so much in my thoughts after putting down my mouse.
So, sit down for a spell, kick back, and let me tell you a little tale.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD – WiiU
Nintendo has always been good at making games that feel kind of timeless. If you can look past the graphics, many of their older games don’t feel all that dated at all. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is definitely a good example of that principle. In 2003, the game felt like a breath of fresh air, maintaining the familiar tropes of the Zelda series while simultaneously bringing the series into the 21st century by giving you a massive world to explore and painting that world in an absolutely gorgeous art style.
Now, in 2013 – where “open world” has moved from being a buzzword to a genre of its own – Wind Waker feels more timely than ever. Some games from that generation are hard to play, even with an HD coat of paint, but Wind Waker still plays well – in some ways, it’s more fun than the more recent Zelda games – and it’s incredible art direction is even more awe inspiring than ever after a bit of texture polish.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably played Wind Waker. But, if you’ve somehow missed out on it, go out and get this game. Get a Wii U if you need to. The Wind Waker is one of gaming’s most compelling experiences, with a huge world full of fun little secrets, compelling characters, and just the right balance of story and adventure. Oh, and it single-handedly justifies the existence of Miiverse – it is stupidly fun taking selfies of Link as a boss looms menacingly behind him.
Even ten years after release, The Wind Waker feels like it hasn’t aged a day. In another ten years, I imagine my feelings will remain the same.
Grand Theft Auto 5 – XBox 360/PS3
Grand Theft Auto V is the game that couldn’t fail and Rockstar pulled it off with a rousing success. If only for that, including answering some of the most unrealistic expectations, GTA V is one of the most fully realized video game of the year.
But, beyond its multi million dollars production and omnipresent marketing, GTA V was a its core a true video game, perhaps even more than any recent Rockstar games. It is a fast, refined and tightly designed open world game that borrows more from the arcade tradition than a realistic take on the gruesome world of crime. And, this is where GTA V excels; by slightly distancing itself from realism to create a more believable world. Shooting feels more fluid, driving is almost on par with Criterion’s latest productions by being forgiving but far more satisfying and even if your character has that usual weird weight to him, the level of control you have over him has been simplified for a more comfortable experience.
Still, the real star of the show is the world of Los Santo with its subtly saturated colors and impossible sunsets complimenting the incredibly detailed and awfully huge map. In this world, Rockstar have scenarised some incredible missions that will take you in air, underwater, at the edge of a building and escaping the law enforcers at a blazing speed just to name a few, often within the same mission.
The three protagonists of game, Michael, Trevor and Franklin not only enhances the classic GTA gameplay by enabling three points of view within a single event but also drives the game’s progression more elegantly. Even though the story isn’t necessarily spectacular often tackling social issues in a clumsy perhaps even inappropriate way, the main characters are nicely tailored and proves to be likable despite their condemning actions.
I haven’t the chance to dive into the online portion of the game, but GTA V is one of the video game that impressed me the most this year but, more importantly, one that I had the most fun with it.
Bit.Trip presents: Runner2, Future Legend of Rhythm Alien – PC/WiiU
Runner2 was the game I was looking the most forward to in 2013. I have been a huge fan of Gaijin’s productions since the first day Bit.Trip Beat appeared on the Wii and I could almost say they’ve been my introduction to the “indie scene”. But, I was concerned by the reveal of the new art style direction, simultaneous multi-platform release and the overall bigger scale of the new game. I feared the small Santa Cruz couldn’t do it, that the tightly designed simplicity of their first games would have buried under blind ambitions. But I was wrong, I was terribly wrong and it took me merely seconds of playtime to realize it.
Runner2 might be bigger, better and faster but it’s first and foremost a playful, joyful game. Even in its more demanding moments; because Runner2 is asking your reflexes, sense of rhythm and memorization to be in top shape, the game always retain this sense of silly fun and happiness. It was a video game in its purest form, challenging but satisfying, often merciless but rewarding. All this with some of the most silly characters (and costumes), cool music and colorful art style. My true game of the year.
Fire Emblem: Awakening – 3DS
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a bit of an unexpected game of the year for me. I’m not the biggest fan of RPGs, and the only other Fire Emblem game I’ve played was the 3DS Ambassador release of Sacred Stones. I had to give up on Sacred Stones because it wasn’t compatible with the way I play games. I like to do things “right,” but I also don’t like to do things “perfectly.” In a game like Fire Emblem, that means I can’t let myself lose characters to permadeath, but on the other hand, I’m not going to play obsessively enough to keep characters alive. The result was I’d just end up re-doing levels over and over as I made dumb mistakes each time, until eventually, I just quit the game forever.
The addition of a “causal” mode without permadeath in Awakening really changed the experience of Fire Emblem for me. I was able to go through the game the first time just enjoying the characters (8-4′s localization is amazing*!*) and learning to love the mechanics. By the time I got to the end, I was so in love that I went through the game a second time on a higher difficulty in the classic permadeath mode. Now, it’s almost a year a later I still kill time playing StreetPass matches a couple of times a week. Truly, an outstanding game.
Attack of the Friday Monsters – 3DS
Attack of the Friday Monsters is a strange game for me because it made me nostalgic for a childhood I didn’t really have at a time of radical change in my own life. I grew up in South Carolina, but after I graduated college, I taught English in suburban Japan for two years.
When I played Friday Monsters, it was almost ten years later and I was subletting a room in a apartment while I looked for a new apartment of my own after moving from Hawaii to the Washington, DC area. I was starting a new job and a entirely new career, but Monsters sent me back in time to my time in Japan and then to a time before that, to the old Japan I’ve only ever seen in movies and read about in books. It’s strange seeing things through the eyes of someone else’s childhood, but at the same time, reassuring that whatever childhood one has, the golden days are never really gone, as long as we can remember what they were like and say the magic words: “Muchoon! Bo-bo-bo-byuun! Suddenly! Fall down! Start dancing!”
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – 3DS
Everyone always has their own personal Game of the Year. Just as there is always an Oscar given out for Best Picture, a game that is deemed the best for the year of its release may not be fondly remembered for years to come as a high water mark for storytelling, sales, or innovation. Ultimately game of the year accolades are as subjective as the overall tastes and opinions of the gaming community as a whole. Accordingly I rarely put much stake in them as anything more than a marketing tool that gets some extra text on the box to wow the casual player. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is not one of those games. It’s rare that a sequel so deep into the life of a franchise does anything revolutionary without completely refocusing or rebranding the series, but A Link Between Worlds managed to innovate and reinvigorate the series while not just sticking to the tenets of the series, but while utilizing the actual world from what is arguably the best game in the series, A Link to the Past.
The thing that really makes A Link Between Worlds a great game is the new system for weapon acquisition. Unlike previous Zelda games, weapons aren’t gained in each dungeon, but are available for “rental” almost from the start of the game. Each dungeon still requires specific weapons to survive, but it creates a truly non-linear experience that focuses more on the exploration of Hyrule. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, but they even managed to wrap the framing story for weapon rentals up into the overall story in a supremely satisfying way.
I rarely replay games, but A Link Between Worlds had me starting up a new game in hard mode barely a week after completing it the first time. So far I’m finding it just as satisfying the second time around. That in itself is a huge accomplishment for any game, but especially for an RPG.
Rogue Legacy – PC
Rogue Legacy isn’t a game that has made many best of lists this year and it’s really a shame. So many perma-death dungeon crawlers were released over the last twelve months that 2013 felt like the year of the indie roguelike. There were certainly a few stand-out titles, but because they were largely indie games or published for Android and iOS they didn’t get a whole lot of mainstream attention. Moreover, Rogue Legacy really managed to capture the feeling of exploration and advancement of the metroidvania game style in a way that both emulated and honored.
Perhaps the thing that really made Rogue Legacy stand out against a wealth of roguelike games this year was its innovative heritage mechanic which added flavor and interest to the game. The idea that you pass on your wealth, property, and genetic predispositions to your progeny as they continue the family quest was a unique way to integrate leveling up and extend gameplay in a unique way without breaking the fiction of the game. The wealth of genetic traits that run the gamut from helpful to hindering or silly also added flavor to the game and made it more memorable than other games in the genre. Anyone can make a dungeon crawler, but it is the rare developer who makes a dungeon crawler featuring a clan of nearsighted ectomorphs who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.
Lego City Undercover – WiiU
Lego City Undercover had a lot of reasons to be overlooked in 2013: it was released on the then-undesired Wii U console, it lacked the popular movie licenses usually associated with the Lego games (Harry Potter, Star Wars, LotR, etc.) and, as an urban sandbox game, it was in competition against the behemoth Grand Theft Auto 5. No wonder it’s not appearing on a lot of “best games of 2013” lists. However, those who did play the game loved it.
It’s easy to think of Lego City Undercover as a “dumbed down GTA for kids”, but that’s not really accurate. There’s no shooting and, while there are car pursuits, they’re not exactly the emphasis of the game. The gameplay is closer to the “classic” Lego games with platforming, simple fighting and a LOT of collectibles, but this time on a huge open-world scale. Every single building or location in the game’s world is hiding collectibles (costumes, lego pieces to build new vehicles, etc.), and these collectibles are usually reached by completing a gameplay challenge: platforming, puzzle, driving, etc. I became quite addicted, spending hours between story missions just to collect everything for fun. It is a huge game, but nothing really feels like useless filler.
The writing is also surprisingly entertaining. Like in the best family movies, there’s a lot for the kids to enjoy (funny characters, slapstick humor) while the older audience will get the more subtle jokes. For instance, LCU is full of winks to classic movies like Shawshank Redemption or Dirty Harry. If the lack of an official movie license associated to the game can be seen as a negative at first, it is in fact a positive as it allowed the game’s writers to really go wild: the story starts as a police investigation, but through the course of the game you fight ninjas, work on a farm, infiltrate an ice cream factory, and even go into space!
While it might not be, technically, the best platformer or open-world game of the year, Lego City Undercover is still one of the most charming, imaginative, relaxing and just plain enjoyable experiences of 2013.
Metal Gear Rising – PS3
As a Metal Gear Solid fan, I was angry when it was first revealed that the next title in the long-running stealth series would be a super-violent hack ‘n slash starring Raiden, one of the least likable characters of the MGS universe. One of the things I enjoy about the MGS games is being able to complete them by staying undetected and killing the least amount of enemies possible, so this emphasis on cutting everybody into small pieces of meat didn’t sit well with me.
However, many things happened between the announcement and the release of the game in 2013. First, it was confirmed that Metal Gear Rising was effectively a spinoff, and that a proper stealth-based Metal Gear Solid 5 was coming. I could put my mind at ease: MGR would be, at worst, a bad spin-off, and the MGS series I love would continue normally. At one point, it was also announced that Metal Gear Rising would be made by Platinum Games, a developer I absolutely love and the creator of Bayonetta, one of the most enjoyable action games of all times in my opinion. I still wasn’t entirely convinced by MGR’s concept, but I was intrigued.
And then the game was released in February 2013, nearly 4 years after the initial announcement. I finally discovered how wrong I was to ever doubt its quality. The only thing I had to acknowledge was that it iss NOT a Metal Gear Solid game: it shares the same universe and a couple of characters, and there’s a few winks here and there to the classic MGS gameplay, but that’s it. It is much, much closer to other action games like Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden or Platinum’s own Bayonetta. In fact, it’s the complete opposite to Metal Gear Solid on a lot of points: where MGS is all about progressing safely and slowly, MGR is blazing fast and constantly pushes you to take risks if you want to succeed (block an enemy’s attack exactly at the right moment to open up his defense, kill enemies to restore your health, etc.).
There’s so much to say about Metal Gear Rising if you’re an action game aficionado, but just know that if you have even just a passing interest in the genre, you have to try it as it’s easily one of the best games in its category. The only negative I can think of is its very short length, but the game is so good I played it 2 times in a row without being bored one bit. MGR is also perfectly enjoyable if you’re not familiar with the MGS universe as it’s a completely standalone story. And if you’re a hardcore MGS fan like me, just throw away all your assumptions of what a Metal Gear game should be, and prepare for one hell of a ride.
Puppeteer is one of the games I had a lot of fun with in 2013. The premise sees main character Kutaro being turned into a wood puppet and having his head ripped apart in one swift move from the main villain for the story. Kutaro needs a head over his shoulder or else he’ll cease to exist, and he will find dozens of different heads during his adventure, from hamburgers and spiders, to trains and whales and anything else you can think of.
Unfortunately, it is one of the greatest games released in 2013 that no one played. The game struggled to sell and sits at over 130,000 copies worldwide. I loved this game from JAPAN Studio thanks to the charming look, the writing and the superb voice acting, and its one great looking game thanks to some clever display for 3D enabled TVs.
SteamWorld Dig came out of nowhere to ignite the 3DS eshop, becoming one of the best-selling games for the portable for all of 2013! Rusty finds himself as the new owner of an old mine that used to belong to his uncle, so he decides to dig, dig, dig deep into the mine to try and uncover what really happened to his uncle.
All the digging rewards you with minerals that can be sold back at the town, and the money earned can then be used to upgrade your tools or to buy one use items to allow you to explore deeper into the mine, or to get back to the surface in one piece (thanks to a handy but expensive teleporter).
But, as in life, there are just some things that money can’t buy. Rusty will eventually find upgrades to his base skill set thanks to the mysterious machines he will find inside of puzzle-filled rooms in the mine. Being able to run faster and jump higher might not sound that great, but said skills can mean the difference between life and death when you carelessly dig too deep into the unknown.
Remember Ducktales on the NES? How many of you wished that said awesome game looked JUST like the cartoon? Well, your wish has now been granted! CAPCOM decided to revive Ducktales by letting WayForward work their 2D magic into the series, upgrading all sprites to hand-drawn HD images that look like this:
On top of that, they added new content here and there (and a whole new level at the start), and they even brought back the original voice cast from the cartoon to lend their voices for the game. In the original, all the money you collected didn’t have a proper use (other than bragging rights), but for the Remake money is used to unlock sketches, paintings, drawings and character design sheets which is a nice bonus.