Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's certainly been a long year, so Dustin takes some time to review some of his favorite games from 2013.

10. Gunpoint

Starting off my GOTY list is a bit of a smaller game, but one well deserved.
Gunpoint is a great game just for how it takes the ideas behind a stealth game and manages to size it down into something smaller, but manage to not compromise the  in gameplay mechanics of the genre. A small indie game done primarily by one man, it combines stealth elements and puzzle elements to create a fantastic game.  Armed with what’s called the Crosslink, you play as a freelance spy whose objective on the missions he takes from all sorts of people, you’re tasked with infiltrating buildings, hacking computers, stealing schematics, looking at laptops, planting bugs, all variety of different objectives, by rewiring switches, motion sensors, and security cameras to aid you in getting around buildings and past guards.

The neat thing about how Gunpoint is structures is the quick reload function after you die. It’ll give you either the option to restart the mission entirely, or from a variety of going back different amounts of seconds. The ability to go back a small amount of time back to right before you made that crucial mistake that led to you getting shot and being able to just go back on the fly is really great, and takes out a lot of the tedium of a stealth game, while still being able to remain stealthy with how the game is constructed. It’s a nice addition that doesn’t compromise on any core design.

The music is a soothing jazz that fits the espionage and the hatted, trenchcoat wearing character, and the writing feels on point. The main character is quick-witted and always ready to strike back with something witty or sarcastic to say in the pre-mission dialogue. Gunpoint is a rather short game that can be breezed through pretty easily, but despite that, it’s fun to be able to go back to, run through a couple of levels quick, and then leave it be for a little while to return to at another point. The game is simply, but solid, and I would love to see the concept expanded upon in the future.

9. The Stanley Parable

Without a doubt, 2013 was a year for incredibly inventive, incredibly interesting games. The Stanley Parable was one of those games. Based on an old Source mod, The Stanley Parable is a first person game that is focused on exploring the environment and what it may hold. One of the most enjoyable things about The Stanley Parable was just how subversive it generally was. Whatever you would go into the game expecting, the game would find some way to mess with your expectations of what you would expect from a game. Even what would probably be the simplest achievement, clicking on a door five times, is made absolutely ridiculous in what should be a rather simple achievement.

The narrator proves to be probably the shining spot of the game as well. Filled with wit and snark, the narrator constantly goes over every event and action that the main character does, and even disobeying him leads to a lot of sarcasm and quite a bit of hilarity. The Stanley Parable is one of the few games that had me laughing out loud from the writing. Although the gameplay is simple walking around with the occasional clicking objects in the environment, simply exploring the environment, finding out how events unravel in certain endings, and listening to the narrator speak made this an unexpected, yet very enjoyable experience. 

8. Shelter

For those who have been following Zero Second Cooldown from very early on, you may remember the stream and video I did of the small indie game Shelter, by Might and Delight. It was a game that I heard about, was surprised was even being made, but the concept seemed so unusual and interesting to me that I couldn’t help but want to try it out. The very concept sounds almost unheard of in a video game: you play as a mother badger guiding her five young cubs through the wilderness, making sure to protect them from other animals, starvation, and nature. The whole premise of the game sounds a bit strange and unexpected, but I think that may have been what drew me to liking it so much. In an age where we’re only now starting to get these types of experiences, Shelter is a very special one, evoking plenty of emotion in urgency in very real ways.

The small family of badgers ends up having to face all sorts of dangers ramping up with each chapter, and the urgency that you experience ramps up as well, starting from simple darkness and fetching food all the way to forest fires.  The game constantly had me on edge, due to the very real consequence that if something happened to my badger cubs, they were dead for good. The game did a great job at showing just how protective a person can become, and that definitely held true for me. I was near screaming by the end of the game due to how poorly everything started to unravel for my playthrough of the game. The environments were gorgeously crafted, and the ambience from the music helped make the experience come together even more. Despite being a rather short experience, it was a wonderful one, and talking to one of the developers helped affirm how much I enjoyed Shelter even more.

7. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Aside from Anarchy Reigns, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was my first Platinum Games romp, and my first traditional one at that. Having never really been a part of any Metal Gear Solid craze, this was, admittedly, my first time playing a Metal Gear Solid game, and a spin-off at that. And it was definitely a really fun game, without a doubt. The music was absolutely insane and fantastic, not to mention unexpected considering my only exposure to any Metal Gear music was the Snake Eater song, I was definitely thrown though a loop.

That it was possible to cut nearly anything and everything, while it was a bit silly, was a surprisingly fun novelty to the game that I never seemed to tire of. I remember having to restart the game due to cutting away too much from a ledge that I needed to jump onto just because I was having so much fun with the sheer absurdity with the ability to cut just about whatever I wanted to in the environment. Even continuing on to being able to chop up random foot soldiers and Geckos up into thousands of pieces was bizarre and fantastic in its own right. The gameplay was as tight and fast-paced as I’ve heard of a Platinum Games game, and it never felt too overbearing or difficult to get a handle of, especially for a person like me that’s, at best, average at action games. From the beginning of the game to the very end, the sheer absurdity and fun I had with Revengeance is not something I can say of many other games, and the game just managed to have what will probably end up forever being my favorite line from this past generation of video games.

“Nanomachines, son.”

Just the perfect, absurd end to a perfectly absurd game.

6. Fire Emblem Awakening

Despite coming out so early in the year, Fire Emblem Awakening has remained one of my favorite games of the year because it’s been so absolutely solid despite all of the other releases. After games like Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, Fire Emblem more or less fell off the radar for me, so the news that they were actually going to localize Awakening was not only a bit of a surprise, but something that helped work up my interest in the Fire Emblem games again. And when I had heard that Fire Emblem Awakening was turning out to be a great game that a lot of people liked, I just readied myself even more for another romp in the realm of medieval strategy.

Fire Emblem Awakening was another good return to form to the Fire Emblem series when I ended up actually playing it. It took a good mix of past games and refined them, as well as taking a mechanic that was only featured in a Japanese only Fire Emblem, the “My Unit” and brought it to the US, but the great thing about the Avatar character in Awakening was that they actually mattered to the story in an important way. Awakening also had tons of content at its disposal, between near 30 chapters for the main game and plenty of DLC, not to mention Streetpass battles if you can manage to find someone to Streetpass, there’s plenty to do in this Fire Emblem, far more than any past Fire Emblem. And with the music being solid, the switch from sprites into 3D, while a bit jarring (those sprites in Fire Emblem and Sacred Stones were fantastic, after all) and the gameplay being fantastic, Fire Emblem Awakening was a bit of surprise that turned out to be one of my favorites.

5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a bit of an interesting case as to why I’ve loved it so much this year. More or less, it’s a lot of the same as past games. There’s an absolute ton of improvements from the past games, without a doubt (especially for those who remember playing Wild World, ugh) and they’re all solid improvements. While the addition of being the Mayor of your town is a bit inconsequential at a certain point, it’s just a neat addition that adds a bit to the series that’s never been there before. All of the additions of happenings with your fellow villagers in the town, returning holidays and new holidays, the game is just packed with content that, as to be expected from Animal Crossing, definitely takes a long time to just see everything, assuming you’re not altering the time.

But, the nice thing about the game is that it’s just relaxing. It came out at a good time for me, just as a school year was wrapping up, so to be able to take some time with a nice, laidback game was one of the best things I could ask for. It’s a simple game that is rather similar to past games in the series, but it executes everything very well, and it’s just a treat to play, whether you go to a villager’s birthday party, or come back to your town a few weeks later to see your favorite villager has packed up and moved on, the game has some strange ways of evoking emotion in its own way. It’s so simple and so serene, yet at the same time, an absolute joy to play. While at first I played an hour plus every day for the first few weeks after the game was released, now I’m playing thirty or so minutes every other day, and I still love it just as much. While I can’t give the time and dedication to New Leaf as I would love to, even what I can give I’m happy giving to the game, because I have such a relaxing time with it each time I turn it on. It’s without a doubt the game I’ve spent the most hours with in 2013, and I still see myself spending many more hours into it without a doubt.

4. Pokemon X and Y

While, normally, I might not consider a Pokemon game to be quite as high up on a Game of the Year list of mine, Pokemon X and Y bucks the trend with good reason. Pokemon X (the version I played, though, as always, the two versions are near identical) is such a paramount improvement over the rest of the series, that it’s almost crazy to think about how much the series has grown with this release. The move away from sprites into an all 3D was probably one of the most notable changes, and, while there weren’t as many new Pokemon this time around, the sheer effort that went into the creation of not only a full on 3D world, but rather nice 3D models for all of the Pokemon is definitely impressive to me.

Alongside that, the game is just fun to play. There’s always been a point in Pokemon games where I eventually just erase my save file after the Elite Four and becoming the champion, and then doing all sorts of theme runs and Nuzlockes, but here I’ve managed to stick with the same file for a surprising 205 hours now (and yes, I did check this). For me, that’s incredibly surprising, but it’s due to all of the improvements that GameFreak has made to a lot of the systems in Pokemon X and Y a lot easier to get used to, such as breeding (and boy, did they make breeding easier) and EV training. Breeding a competitive team is no longer a chore like it was when I tried in past generations, but instead an easy process that allows you to get to the part of the game that is the best: the actual battling. Overall, Pokemon X has been one of the best games I've played just due to the sheer number of hours I’ve not only put into it, but enjoyed from it.

3. Pikmin 3

To the people that know me, it’s no surprise that I absolutely love Pikmon. Heck, even for those who read my Pikmin 3 review, you can easily tell that I love Pikmin. So of course, a Pikmin 3 being released was easily one of my most hyped and anticipated releases for the year. And, quite frankly, it didn’t fail to impress. The game looked absolutely gorgeous, one of my favorite looking games to date, with gorgeous creature designs that strike both awe and terror, as well as wonderful environments that are as fun to go through as they are to look at.

The gameplay was the same Pikmin gameplay that I knew and loved, too. However, and maybe it is just my getting better at games with age and determination, but the game feels much easier to get used to and adapt to, considering the extra captains to take control of in the game and the two different types of Pikmin that are vastly different than any type of Pikmin from any game in the series, but still, the game remains deep and challenging, especially considering the side modes that there are. The fact that the game also makes sure to keep a great balance between the story and the gameplay is something that has sorely been needed for the series, and is incredibly appreciated. The series has had its fair share of bumps between Pikmin and Pikmin 2, but 3 is by far the sharpest, most refined entry yet.

2. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

I don’t think many people were really expecting a new Phoenix Wright game anytime soon. At least, people probably weren’t expecting a Phoenix Wright game that wasn’t a crossover or iOS. Well, I wasn’t, at least. When it was announced that Dual Destinies would be digital only on the 3DS, my hopes weren’t exactly high. Alongside that, Capcom’s track record this generation has been a bit hit or miss, so I was a bit nervous about their ability to deliver a great Ace Attorney game. And while I did enjoy Apollo Justice and Trials and Tribulations, I never was the biggest fan of Ace Attorney. So, to come back to the series with a newfound appreciation for non-conventional types of games (which I feel like I owe partially to games like 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward) I was incredibly surprised.

The graphics looked quite nice, and as I mentioned in my review, even the 3D effect, while not necessary for anything, added a nice pop to certain parts. The music had a great mix of old that was finely updated, and new ones that were at the top with the best of the classic Ace Attorney music. Not only that but they just improved the gameplay as a whole. Whenever you were finished in an investigation area you were told right away, finding things was much easier, and the courtroom sections of the game never felt too tough or too easy, just right, just about.

However, one of the best parts about the game, as to be expected of an Ace Attorney game, is the writing. It’s absolutely top notch, which, as bad as it may sound, left me a bit surprised. But, as surprised as I was, I love Dual Destinies, and enjoyed every minute of what I played of it.

1b. Earthbound

Ok, so I’m sure a lot of you are wondering, “Earthbound? Really? Really? That game was released in 1995! That doesn’t count!” And, well, you guys are probably right. However, Earthbound WAS released on the Wii U Virtual Console back in July, so I’m putting it as an alternate number one. Due to the fact that, yes, Earthbound wasn’t originally released this year, nor is this a remake of any kind, it isn’t occupying the number one spot, but instead, an alternate spot so to speak. It might be a bit unfair to give the Wii U Virtual Console release of Earthbound my alternate number one spot, but, well, I feel that, even in the year 2013, it definitely deserves a top listing in regards to a game of the year list.

To me, it’s what a fantastic game is. A great story, though a bit simple at times, solid gameplay with just enough deviations from standard RPG norms to make some great decisions and still work well, and some of the best writing I feel like I’ve experienced in a game to date. The game, each time I play it, is always a great experience to me, and. Even to this day, is a game I feel can’t be rivaled by others. Even with plenty of advancements in not just the RPG genre, but in video games as a whole, Earthbound is an incredibly special experience. Upon finding out that Earthbound was going to be released this year on the Wii U was sheer confusion and excitement for me—it was unexpected by everyone, to say the least. But I’m glad it happened. It’s allowed me to go through my favorite game and, in a day and age where spectacle is quickly becoming a big part of video games, it allowed me to enjoy a game that’s simple, but has always meant a lot to me.

1a. The Wonderful 101

Last, but certainly not least, it is time for my actual Game of the Year for 2013.

Seeing The Wonderful 101 at E3 back in 2012, I was confused, to say the least. It was hard from the get-go to really tell much about the game with what little was seen about it, and with what was seen in the first footage, while it looked good, it was, well, confusing. Back when it was announced as Project P-100, I didn’t know a lot about Platinum Games or Hideki Kamiya. I’ve read about both the company and the man on NeoGAF a ton, and knew that they were both thought highly of, so I definitely had confidence in the project, despite not knowing a lot about it. Of course, with 2013, playing different games from Platinum left me all the more excited about how crazy and over the top The Wonderful 101 would probably be.

And, with seeing The Wonderful 101 Nintendo Direct, my excitement for the game shot through the roof and then some. The game looked to be as what I hoped it would be—something over the top, crazy, ridiculous, and most of all, something that looked to take pride in the fact that it was a game. And from the moment I first started it up all the way to the last boss battle, I felt like I was definitely right about it. The Wonderful 101 is a game that really is over the top in story, cinematics, and gameplay, but also doesn’t compromise on solid gameplay mechanics either. The Wonderful 101 is an incredibly solid action game, constantly keeping you on your feet, but never being (at least when I played it on Normal) too tough to the point of not being fun anymore. The story was absolutely silly and ridiculous in all of the best ways, and the ramping up of the action with each boss battle, by the end of the game; I had a huge smile on my face and loved every moment of what I was playing.  Out of all of the games I’ve played this year (and believe me, I played a lot of games this year), The Wonderful 101 is far and away my favorite, even with me not expecting to like it as much as I would at first. It is without a doubt my game of the year.


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