2013 was a goddamn great year for games if you ask me. And none of my reasons pertain to the new generations of consoles either! In fact, this year has been the year of the 3DS for me. Regardless of how much fun I was having on my 360 thanks to great, visionary games or the Games for Gold program really kicking in for me (Dead Rising 2 since Fall, Sleeping Dogs in January), the 3DS was what really brought a smile to my face this year.
So no more bibble babble! There's nothing more to talk about. Let's get on with the games of 2013 picked by Strider!
I remember early in the year the tension of waiting for Animal Crossing: New Leaf to be given a release date (spoilers!). Knowing ACNL wasn't coming late 2012 and only vaguely that it was planned for early 2013 was agonizing. Imagine my surprise when Fire Emblem: Awakening releases to very modest fanfare. Fire Emblem has always been a dark horse title with a cult following so that placed a great deal of expectations on Awakening when it became a high profile 3DS release to mark the beginning of its year.
And what a beginning it was because Awakening started off 2013 for me and it started a long, involving, month long obsession in min-maxing everyone in my party. If it's not the deep, tactical depth and strategy its the obsessive pairing and matchmaking between some of my favorite characters. I knew right away that I wanted my avatar character to pursue the bubbly Anna as a love interest and wanted Chrom to return Sumia's unrequited love. The relationships even pay off for more tactical choice! Waiting until the last minute to max Sumia's skills before entering her child's acquisition mission meant her and Chrom's child will have inherited both of their best skills like the epic Galeforce skill.
2013 was a busy year so I never got another chance to replay it but I know I wanted to start a new file with my avatar either pursuing Tharja because I love her or Aversa in DLC so my kid, Morgana, will inherit her Shadowgift skill.
I don't put a lot of value on developer names and pedigree. I know Ubisoft is very ubiquitous (huh?) and Activision is evil but asides from that, I don't have emotional attachment. The Behemoth is the exception and despite not understanding Battleblock Theater's concept at first, I patiently awaited what they could do to come back from Castle Crashers.
Mainly a grueling puzzle platformer, BBT has two hidden gems that make it a great experience: the hilarious narrator/announcer who provides constance ambiance and the co-op multiplayer stories you can tell. Death is a constant reality and Will Stamper's charming voice encourages you to keep going despite not actually being encouraging ("Try not dying next time!"). But when it comes to actual gameplay, some of the best puzzles do the best things to get the most fun cooperation/betrayal out of two players stuck in a theatric death room together!
If there's one comparison to make to Luigi's Mansion 2, it's that it's a modern point and click adventure game. Yes, that's right, Luigi is your cursor and you're clicking on everything with you vacuum cleaner in an effort to explore a variety of incredibly interesting mansions filled with hidden mechanisms, ghosts, and treasure.
But Dark Moon is more than the sum of its parts. It's more than a deep exploratory adventure with an extremely charming little bro who can't help but hum along with the music while he nervously romps through atmospheric halls. It was the beginning of the year of Luigi and began a year long look to re-examine what makes Luigi a cool character who's been long ignored in Nintendo's pantheon of Mario.
I've long been on the hunt for a fighting game that makes me feel at ease with the skill ceiling and my own skill. Marvel is crazy, nobody cares about Blazblue, and Persona 4 has really frustrating things to get used to (Narukami vortexes all day!) but in comes Injustice from Netherrealms Studios to show us their vision for the next iteration in fighting games.
At first, everyone could only complain about what Injustice brought to the table. Zoning was king and level interactables were difficult to work around. But given enough time, players who were dedicated to understanding Injustice's flavor gave rise to a new, stable metagame. Zoning was powerful but certain matchups and options allowed players to mindgame it to an extent. But best of all, interactive items became a new mindgame option not unlike learning wake up dragon punches and jump in attacks. One can easily avoid or break item usage with smart play or create inescapable damage opportunities on okizeme (wake up game).
The DLC plan was also well realized if not a little broken when it came to power creep. But there's still nothing quite like shooting someone out of the sky with Green Arrow's sky shot as they try to grab a TV screen to chuck at you.
Why did I care about Tomb Raider? I've never been a Tomb Raider gamer. Tank controls and weird puzzle platforming or whatever. But I heard a slow drip feed of buzz over the weeks after Tomb Raider released and when it showed up at my Redbox, I decided to jump in.
And I literally jumped in. To borrow another Dtoider's words about TR's impact, the trauma Lara goes through is so tangible that you can't help but get caught up in TR's flow for cinematic action and bodily injury. For every awesome set piece I burned through with Lara's survival skill and gunplay, there is a horrifying way for Lara Croft's fragile life to be snuffed out. Whether its sniping thugs with a bow, getting a tracheotomy with a tree branch, bashing heads in with your climbing ax, or getting graphically crushed by falling boulders, I felt for every moment of Lara's growth into a Croft. Every wall I climbed, every irredeemable criminal I blew apart, every wound I received and subsequently sealed closed was something that was brutally and viscerally displayed for full affect.
Games these days want to layer on more and more skills to progressively earn through a sense of growth in gritty worlds with gritty colors and gruff people. Blood Dragon recognizes that these things exist outside its world and decides to just make you an 80s cyber commando armed to the teeth with lever-action shotguns and a glowing Tron machetes and ninja stars. Where you have to be careful of minor falls in the main game, Rex Power Colt can fall from towering fort walls, driving his machete into the back of a nameless Cobra Commando reject before blasting two other red shirts with a laser rifle straight out of GI Joe, all in a world covered in a Tron layer effect on the mixing board.
Rather then appearing deep and thoughtful, Blood Dragon takes the shortest possible path to fun, even if that means getting rid of things like fall damage, running stamina, and realistic gunplay. Core Far Cry 3 might be just as ridiculous in how you dismantle your fellow man, Blood Dragon is an 80s homage made in the year 2013. Who knew $15 could get you so far?
Tell me if you've heard this before. While riding you bike down the Vinewood sign hills, you spot an exotic high end car. After stealing it and taking it for a high speed police chase down the Great Ocean Freeway, you notice you're passing a military base and use your superior horsepower to break in and dodge tank fire in order to steal a military grade fighter jet. You then take it for a destructive crime spree where you proceed to wreak havoc on San Andreas' highway system before crashing in burning from one too many stray bullets from ground police.
This was singleplayer. Asides from the bombastic crime drama that unfolds for the up-and-coming Franklin, the burned out Micheal, and the ever psychopathic Trevor, there's also the emergent stories that come out of playing online with random douchebags with the same idea as you: how do I fuck over my fellow man for shits and giggles using an automobile and copious amounts of explosives?
Better yet, grab a helicopter with a winch and see if you can snatch someone off the roads for an unexpected trip into the sky followed promptly by a swim in the sea.
I don't need to go too far to describe my love of Animal Crossing. I've had the fortunate history of playing each one save City Folk. I loved setting up shop in my town in being pleasantly surprised to see Hopper from my DS game, Wild World, in my New Leaf town. What's to explain about that inexplicable trigger to collect every pointless thing for your museum and catalog?
Should I describe how Dtoider AlphaDeus was a regular philanthropist on the forums, offering to visit your town with a variety of goods? Or how every day brought a new joy like a traveling art merchant, a washed up sailor, or a high fashion giraffe. How you can construct your own stories and headcanon like designing your own clothes, how two neighbors are secret best friends, or how the frog down the street has a house packed with blue things because he's color blind.
Or maybe I should mention how I bought my girlfriend her own 3DS with New Leaf pre-installed so that we could enjoy its tiny, magical moments together and make our long distance relationship that much more bearable. Sharing tiny moments like dancing in a club with DJ KK or introducing each other to our town's neighbors.
New Lead was a magical break from the usual blood soaked shooters or gritty stories of death, redemption, and emotional trauma. A place where you can go to break away from the mundane doldrums of life and talk to a perky bunny rabbit wearing an adorable peacoat who wants to eat a fresh orange together.
There's nothing particularly new worth mentioning to an outsider about Pokemon. The new fairy-type is interesting to the metagame, mega evolutions are a tremendous shake up to battle flow, and new moves create a new ecosystem for battles but the same turn-based battles remain and the fundamental remain.
What's interesting about Pokemon X/Y is that it is the perfect storm of features on the 3DS. Probably the most important change to the feature set and UI is the constant connection to the social features on your main screen. Rather than going to the Pokecenter to connect socially, the PSS screen allows you to seamlessly remain connected to the friends who are online and the people who are online with you so that you can quickly request trades, battles, and power ups without ever breaking the flow.
The new Super Training screen makes it more transparent to how well trained your Pokemon are so that you can have more competitive battles with friends and strangers alike.
Pokebank and Transporter aren't even out yet to help us see our favorite legacy Pokemon in glorious 3D.
Coming in last on my list for 2013 is a last minute entry. After receiving money for Christmas, I promptly decided to spend it on eShop currency to download the newest addition of Zelda onto my 3DS.
Everyone at some point knows what to expect from a Zelda game. You progress through a series of dungeons, collect relevant equipment to gain more diversity and strength, occasionally go on a sub-quest, and fight a great evil. And yet as I've found in LBW, the entire package is altogether more cohesive and efficient. You're fighting stuff in 5 minutes flat, everyone you meet has a point where you connect with them, and the dungeon design is amazing. The 3D is used well without being detrimental on something like the 2DS and the world is just fun and easy to move around in. 10 minutes in you receive your fast travel method.
Story has never exactly been something you praise in Zelda and yet LBW has subtle flashes of charm and interest. And most of all, it's also probably the most enjoyably challenging Zelda ever with its approach in item management. You can undertake the main quest in any order you want by renting important equipment from Ravio the rabbitman. And if you get a game over, alll rented equipment gets returned and you have to re-rent what you've lost. And believe me, the game ups the challenge in order to make the stakes matter. At the same time, this makes money actually matter for the first time in a longtime and creates a Zelda economy that's fun to engage.
Link Between Worlds is fun. It isn't simply fun because it's a Zelda. It's fun without the flash or fluff. It's a Zelda game that respects your time and legitimately fun while still being an epic quest tale. Every little thing, every mechanic, every layer of level design is made to be accessibly fun without any overbearing design flaws.