On 2013’s Best Games
It’s that time of the year again – when people who make a living by sharing their opinions on videogames and assigning arbitrary values as ranking get to tell their readers which games are the best of the year. Unquestionably, within the next month readers will be able to read about how a Zelda re-release is the greatest adventure RPG of the year, Call of Duty: Ghost is the best FPS this year and the game with the best visuals, and Assassin’s Creed VI has the greatest exploration system. Skyrim will receive some awards based on its world, Ni No Kuni will get best JRPG (because being “Japanese” or “Western” is a genre, apparently), and The Walking Dead will win some sort of award for mixing storytelling and gameplay – because it was really different from, and way more interactive than, the much hated Beyond: Two Souls (which will no doubt win awards such as “worst game by David Cage, despite it being great). Depending on the reviewer, either Grand Theft Auto V or The Last of Us will be nominated for the greatest game of the year. The other will get some sort of great gameplay award.
I don’t really care about that. I’m not going to rank games. Instead, I’m going to write about the games that got me excited this year – and if you, dear reader, haven’t tried some of them, perhaps you should.
Super Hexagon (iOS, Linux, Android, PC)
Originally released on 2013 and later re-released on 2013 for Android (when I discovered it), the concept behind Super Hexagon is simple – players control a small arrow and have to avoid collapsing hexagons. The game’s difficulty sets it apart from every other game ever made. It is quite possibly the hardest game in existence. It costs between 1$ and 3$ depending on where and when it’s purchased (I recommend iOS or Android) and can sometimes be bought in bundles along with a collection of great and interesting games. Although it’s not the type of game one sits down to beat in one sitting, it is a game that will keep players coming back for a long time.
Ni No Kuni (PS3)
No doubt, this game will win the award of “best JRPG” in several publications, and it will be well deserved. Ni No Kuni features a young Oliver as he travels between two worlds in order to rescue his mother Great Sage in Another World and wrestles with having lost his mother in This World. The game has been called magical, charming, and enchanting – and with good reason. With Studio Ghibli designing the art for a story written by Akihiko Hino (who worked in gems such as Rogue Galaxy, Dragon Quest VIII, and the Professor Layton series) and scored by Joe Hisaishi (known for his work on Laputa, Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, among many others), this game is all about the child-like wonder we all have during childhood.
Bioshock Infinite (Multiplatform)
Bioshock Infinite wasn’t as extraordinary as most reviewers made it out to be. It is a great FPS game with an interesting story, but neither of these elements really set it aside. What really make Bioshock Infinite shine (besides its amazing box art), is the setting. This year we saw a number of incredible and fantastic settings, but none as interesting as the floating city of Colombia. The visuals are awe-inspiring, and some of the events that happen as a matter-of-fact (what happens after picking Ball 77, for example) will make the player feel downright horrible (or right at home).
Guacamelee! is a great Metroidvania game. What sets it apart is how the game uses “the internet” and gaming culture as inspiration for its setting, with fliers proudly promoting luchador fights between “La Mascara” (from Majora’s Mask) and “Mega Hombre” (Megaman) and “Los Super Hermanos” (Mario Bros). Check out this list of all the memes “cited” in the game. The bad Mexican stereotypes, while offensive to some, do give the game a certain charm and unique personality. It is most certainly worth a play.
The Last of Us (PS3)
Predicted (by me) to be the winner of countless “Game of the Year” awards, The Last of Us is the pinnacle of action / adventure gaming. The game features great stealth / cover mechanics and great shooting and fighting mechanics that work well in the context presented. It also features a good narrative, interesting characters, mature topics, and possibly the second best ending in any videogame (the first belonging to Shining Force for the Sega Genesis). Indeed, this game is one of this year’s must play titles.
Time and Eternity (PS3)
This game is a great example of a poorly executed concept that shows promise. The game uses hand drawn art as its main appeal. However, the relatively low number of frames, the repetitive animations, and the small number of enemies make the visuals quickly repetitive. The environments feel like simple re-colors of previously used environments, and the story repeats itself thrice. If this game had been released as a budget title and cut the second and third quests, it might be worth playing. As it is, my recommendation is to avoid this title until it hits $10 or less – and that is why I include it. Not because it’s great, but because it tried something unique worth mentioning.
Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS) and Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers (3DS)
The Shin Megami series always make for great RPGs. These have always been darker and more mature than other games. With Soul Hackers being a remaster of the Sega Saturn title and SMT 4 being a new release, Atlus is really bringing quality RPGs to the 3DS. But… why must they be so hard? That’s what is worth mentioning the most from these games – their difficulty. Although they are not Super Hexagon, they’re pretty close.
Castle of Illusion (Multi)
Perhaps this is nostalgia speaking, but Castle of Illusion is a great platform game. It has solid controls, interesting boss battles, and clever stage design. This game is classic Disney in game form, and for $15 one can’t go wrong, specially if one has kids. This is a game that I played with my son, and we both loved (he did most of the jumping parts, I did most of the bosses).
Beyond: Two Souls (PS 3)
A great game revolving around narrative, this game shows how videogames can tell interesting and compelling stories and explore mature and even controversial topics. My recent review can be read here.
Sonic: The Lost Worlds (Wii U)
During the mid 90s, Sega announced a 3D Sonic game for the Sega Saturn called Sonic X-Treme. Sadly it was cancelled. This year, Sonic: The Lost World delivers on everything that X-Treme promised. This title is full of fun stages, solid platforming, clever design, and enough speed to satisfy all the “Sonic is about teh speed!” folk. It is proof that the Sonic Cycle was broken with Sonic Colors.
Grand Theft Auto V (PS 3)
Another game that will make countless Game of the Year awards, Grand Theft Auto V is the most immersive GTA experience to date. With interesting characters, compelling quests, and an enormous open world, this game will give players a large number of hours of play. The fact that it brings Grand Theft Auto Online included makes it a great buy, specially if it can be found at a discounted price (with few exceptions, I’m not one to pay $60 on a game).
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
For a long time, those of us with nostalgia lenses have thought of Super Mario Bros. 3 as the greatest 2D Mario game and of Super Mario 64 as the greatest 3D Mario game. Super Mario 3D World easily takes the title of simply “Best Mario Game Ever”. It is certainly one of the most fun platform games in this generation, and perhaps one of the top 5 platform games of all time. Level design and solid platforming is certainly part of this, but the magic happens when four people sit down and play co-op. Personally, I haven’t had as much fun playing a game with friends since the days of Goldeneye in the N 64 or since the days of Mortal Kombat for the Sega Genesis.
The above-mentioned games are the most interesting games this year. Some of them may not be the BEST games, but they are certainly games that give us something to talk about.
And to close this post, I want to end up with one question: didn’t Sega promise that Phantasy Star Online 2 would be released in the US sometime in 2012?
Where is Phantasy Star Online 2???
A colleague who is also heavily invested in gaming culture, John Hussman (grad student from UTA) also recommended two gems for the 3DS. He writes the following:
“A Link Between Worlds and Awakening really do deserve extra praise and attention. Awakening is not only great like the rest of the Fire Emblems, it is greatER than any of the others and is my favorite of the series. It has an epic quality that literally spans generations. You do need to spend way more time with it, I can assure you, but be warned, the difficulty is off the charts. THIS Is a hardcore game.”
The generations concept sounds like it will bring me back to the days of Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom. I’m very much looking forward to my conference travels next year so I can spend some time with this gem. And yes, the Fire Emblem games have always been notoriously difficult. Honestly, I can’t imagine it being any more difficult than Radiant Dawn (I couldn’t pass the third battle), but I guess we’ll see.
John also writes:
“All of the Zeldas are of high quality, but A Link Between Worlds deserves special attention for being the least hand-holding Zelda since A Link to the Past, allowing you to acquire items and complete dungeons in any order. While at first glance this does not seem like a huge deal it really transforms the game for the better, and I believe this change will make its way to the Wii U Zelda in some form, which has me excited after the very linear (but still enjoyable) Skyward Sword.”
Let’s get one thing straight – the best Zelda games are on the Phillips CD-i.
Just kidding. But joking aside, if the game is as open as John writes, it then harkens back to days before A Link to the Past. The only truly open Zelda game, in my assessment, has been the original The Legend of Zelda for the NES. Although A Link to the Past was certainly open (players had over 30 possible orders to tackle the dungeons), it felt as if the map guided players. The original The Legend of Zelda gave players a feeling of a truly open world. At any rate, Between Worlds is another gem I’m looking forward to spending time with.