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Aspiring writer and 2010 Penn State Triwizard Champion. Sometimes I make funny lists.
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Xbox LIVE:EvilPopkin
Steam ID:Soda Popkinski
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Ten year olds are idiots. Let’s face facts – it is a miracle that any of us are sitting here today, instead of having perished during the age where the only thing preventing us from chugging down a gallon of dish detergent was a cartoon frowny face. I mean, how is it possible that I – a rational adult intelligent enough to understand at least half of the pseudo-philosophical nonsense Matthew McConaughey spouts on any given episode of True Detective – was at one point dumb enough to believe that the secret to unlocking Mew in Pokémon Red and Blue was held by an abandoned truck?

Yes, the truck. You know the truck. The truck. The seemingly innocuous automobile sitting outside the S.S. Anne in the first Pokémon games. The harmless scrap of scenery that, through a combination of schoolyard rumors and Internet conspiracy theories, became the key to the most coveted pocket monster in the original 151. The truck that became my white whale, my magic bullet, my singular obsession in my pursuit of catching ‘em all.

If I had to point to a single thing to define my gaming past – something that encapsulates all the wonder, imagination, and childlike stupidity of my earliest videogame memories – then it is without a doubt that godforsaken truck.

On its surface, Pokémon’s infamous truck is just one of gaming’s many silly urban legends. The idea that a player could catch the legendary Mew merely by shoving aside a car is absurd, even by the standards of a series whose central conceit involves magical monster fighting. I mean, think about it. Mew is essentially Pokémon’s Missing Link, an ancient creature whose existence has spanned millennia and whose genetic makeup forms the basis for all Pokémon life. An abandoned truck is an abandoned truck. You’ve probably driven by hundreds of them, left behind on the side of highways with plastic bags hanging out of their windows. The only “mysteries” those things are capable of containing are wasp’s nests and hobos.

But ten year olds aren’t normally ones to consult logic when confronted with ridiculous rumors. They have yet to be spurned by the harsh reality of life, their boundless capacity for hope yet to be ground to dust by the universe’s indifferent cruelty. They don’t know any better, because they are idiots. Which is why when I heard that Mew was hiding underneath that truck, my initial response wasn’t skepticism, but absolute conviction. Of course it was under there. In a game that limited its scenic flourishes to trees, patches of grass, and the occasional fence, that simple pickup stuck out like an extravagant sore thumb. Why else would it be there, other than to hide Pokémon’s most spectacular secret? 

While I can’t recall exactly where and when I learned of Mew’s rumored location, I do remember the knowledge basically transforming me into Russell Crowe’s character from A Beautiful Mind. I was a child possessed, deciphering coded messages in a vast conspiracy of my own creation. This was back in 1998, before you could just hop on an entire digital encyclopedia dedicated to Pokémon and bring up an article that helpfully informed you that the truck theory was a bunch of bullshit. I had to sift through countless seedy message boards, Yahoo! email groups, and eye-searing Angelfire fan sites, chasing down every half-baked lead in search of the truth.

Because, as you may know if your childhood was as consumed by the search for Mew as mine was, testing the rumor wasn’t as easy as swimming over to the truck and giving it the ol’ heave ho. The truck was inaccessible. Players reached the S.S. Anne before they had the Surf and Strength HMs, which were necessary for the swimming and heave ho-ing, respectively. After they set sail on ship, they couldn’t return to that area of the game, as it was forever blocked off by some punk sailor that turned trainers around if they tried to walk past him. Thus, the trick was finding a way to get back to the dock after the S.S. Anne had already left.

I can tell you with the utmost certainty that if I had dedicated the time I spent trying to get back to that dock on my fourth grade school work like I was supposed to, I would not be sitting in a Panera Bread writing my umpteenth blog post about Pokémon. I’d be a Zuckerberg-esque billionaire, swimming in his Scrooge McDuck money pool and smoking cigars made out of poor people’s defaulted bank loans. Learn your geometry, kids. It’s important.

But such is the sacrifice one must make in their quest for rare Pokémon. In hindsight, the whole endeavor smacks of childish ignorance, as I wasted hours testing every crackpot method of accessing that truck. I tried everything shy of defeating the Elite Four 365 times, which even I knew had to be an anonymous jerk’s attempt to screw with a bunch of little kids’ heads. Though, granted, I only reached that conclusion after seeing how many times I could beat the Elite Four in a single Saturday, and falling woefully short of 365.

At the time, however, my efforts didn’t seem trivial. They felt important. As if I were an intrepid sleuth unraveling Kanto’s greatest mysteries. Because if there’s one thing videogames do better than any other form of media, it’s secrets. Sure, books can have hidden meanings and movies can have shadows that look suspiciously like suicidal munchkins, but videogame secrets are more tangible. They’re characters for you to unlock, or bonus stages for you to explore, or all-powerful bosses at the end of back-breaking side quests. And as a kid, before you’ve been burned out on cynicism and knowing better, they take on a greater sense of importance than some measly additional content. They’re a personal discovery, as if you chipped away at a part of the world that no one else has ever seen. They make you feel like motherfucking Magellan, charting new territory in an electronic frontier. 

So when I finally was able to reach the truck – through a convoluted process of saving and rebooting in a specific spot while my trainer walked in a specific direction, which somehow allowed me to surf over the sailor standing guard – I wasn’t crushed by the inevitable lack of Mew. It wasn’t a harsh life lesson in disappointment and lowered expectations. I simply decided the truck was a dead end, while the real secret to finding the mythical Pokémon remained beyond our mortal grasp. My long, arduous journey had been worth the effort, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied until I found out the truth for myself. Besides, finding a way into an inaccessible area of the map was a minor victory in its own right. 

And my failure didn’t prevent me from tackling similarly ludicrous rumors in other games. I spent just as many hours hunting down Mew as I did trying to acquire the Triforce in Ocarina of Time, or figuring out how to collect the Stop ‘n’ Swop items in Banjo-Kazooie, or eventually turning my Pokémon trainer’s sights on how to catch Missingno. I divided my time between actually playing videogames and scouring AOL message boards for ways to reveal their innermost secrets. My Nintendo 64 and Game Boy weren’t just consoles – they were elaborate puzzle boxes, and I was intent on divining their every solution.

As much as I want to write off my grandiose investigations as the work of a dumb kid with too few friends and too much time on his hands, the fact is that nothing has informed my current gaming habits more than that maddening truck. To this day, I adore any game that can make me feel like a ten year old chasing wild Internet myths again. My most-played title on Steam is The Binding of Isaac, a Zelda-inspired labyrinth of steadily unlocking secrets. For me, Dark Souls biggest draw wasn’t its punishing difficulty, but the game’s cryptic mystique, where every new area and boss felt imbued with the sense of a terrible discovery. And for all of its supposed pretentions, I maintain that Fez is one of the best platformers ever made, because it nails an atmosphere of greater meaning, its obtuse puzzles, Tetris-inspired symbols, and strange collectibles hinting that there’s much more to the pixilated universe than the game lets on.

My gaming past is one shrouded in secrecy and stupidity. I still don’t know who the hell puts Mew under a truck, but in a way, I’ve spent my adult gaming life trying to figure out the answer. I’m enamored with the unique ability of videogames to contain hidden rewards for the most dedicated explorers. And as I grow ever more jaded in my later years, it can be nice to remember a time where something as simple as an 8-bit truck could inspire such passionate speculation.
Even if it did coincide with a time where I had to be actively told not to jam toys into electrical sockets.
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The holidays are over, which means it’s time to put away the Christmas lights, stop pretending like you can tolerate your loved ones, and survey the smoking crater the latest Steam sale has left behind in place of your bank account. And like the morning after any seasonal bacchanal, it can be difficult to recall the exact details of all the poor decisions you made, which is why I’ve chosen to compile a list of my Steam Holiday Sale purchases so I can remember exactly what I was thinking when I decided I suddenly needed nine You Don’t Know Jack games in my life.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $19.99
Rationale for Buying: Having not played Metal Gear Solid 4, I don’t know the story behind Raiden’s magical girl transformation from franchise goat to bad ass cyborg ninja. But I’m fine with whatever convoluted plot point paved the way for me to feed on people’s spinal cords and beat on buffed-up GOP allegories.

Stick it to the Man!
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $8.99
Rationale for Buying: Is this game related to Psychonauts? It looks like Psychonauts. It has nothing to do with Psychonauts? Whatever, it reminds me of Psychonauts, so now it has my money.

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill
Regular Price: $19.99
Paid: $9.99
Rationale for Buying: The strange, alchemic brew of Mavis Beacon and an on-rails light gun shooter is the kind of novel combination that simultaneously makes no sense and absolutely perfect sense, like folk covers of Katy Perry songs or ranch dressing and everything.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches
Regular Price: $9.99
Paid: $4.99
Rationale for Buying: I picked up Dishonored in this year’s Steam Summer Sale, foolishly doing so before The Brigmore Witches was released and the whole Game of the Year edition was put up for even cheaper than what I originally paid. The $6.67 I wasted will haunt me even more than the main campaign’s unbearably mediocre ending. 

You Don’t Know Jack Classic Pack
Regular Price: $19.99
Paid: $4.99
Rationale for Buying: If you don’t know why I bought nine entries of a multiplayer trivia game that I will only every play by myself, then obviously you don’t know... the symptoms of a severely lonely individual.

King of Fighters XIII
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $10.19
Rationale for Buying: Gorgeous 2D fighters are like an irresistible siren song. I’m seduced by their pixilated beauty, only to have my soul crushed by intricate button combinations and move lists that I don’t have the patience to memorize. I essentially purchased a few hours of enthusiastic button mashing and giggling Japanese voice actresses, which sounds less like a videogame and more like the perfect idea for a themed bar in Tokyo.

Regular Price: $49.99
Paid: $12.49
Rationale for Buying: I only ever played the first Devil May Cry, so my love for the franchise is not sacred enough to be ruined by Dante’s radical transformation from cocky half-demon adonis to even cockier half-demon adonis with not white hair. So long as the game allows me to shoot ‘n slice various grotesqueries all while being judged by an arbitrary combo system, I’ll be able to tolerate whatever Gen X ‘tude the game shoves down my throat.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $4.49
Rationale for Buying: It’s an indie that marries gameplay with emotional storytelling, and I’m the kind of delicate butterfly that cries when he listens to Neko Case, so this one is kind of a no brainer.

Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $10.19
Rationale for Buying: Putting aside the insufferable spelling of “Komplete,” the Mortal Kombat reboot allows me to relive my halcyon days of playing obscenely violent video games under my parents’ noses. I’m not sure how thrilling the excessive gore will be now that I’m an adult and nobody gives a damn how much graphic media I consume (ie, a lot), but at least the MRI-quality zooms of multiple bone fractures will be a sobering reminder of the seriousness of shuriken-related facial injuries.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $3.74
Rationale for Buying: There will be a day when I don’t have a Pavlovian urge to immediately buy any game described as a Metroidvania. Today is not that day.

Total Regular Price: $234.90
Total Spent: $90.05
Total “Saved”: $144.85
Guilt Level: Oh god what have I done where is my money
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Time marches on. A tide sweeping over us in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. Orchestrating the rise and fall of civilizations. Establishing cities of elaborate wonder before reducing them to dust and ashes. The cruel mistress to which we must all one day succumb. Inescapable. Inexorable. Mortality.

Which means it’s time to tell everyone about the videogames I really liked in 2013!

That’s right! December is “Best Of” season, the magical part of the year when we attempt to capture the essence of the last 365 days by crowning something “Best Cooperative Multiplayer SRPG FPS 3D Soundtrack.” Because how else are we to define the intangible human experience if not by the pop culture we enjoyed? You can’t make a year-end list of the “10 Best Infant’s Smiles” or “Top 20 Sweet Nothings Whispered in the Early Dawn After an Evening of Lovemaking in Which You and Your Lover’s Souls Were One.” I mean, you can try, but unless you spice that dish up with some Nene Leakes GIFs a la BuzzFeed, ain’t nobody clicking.

Thus your good pal UsurpMyProse is here to offer up his own list of favorites, so that you may look upon them and be satisfied in the knowledge that a no-name blogger’s adoration of Grand Theft Auto V has heralded another step closer to your grave.

So without further ado, I give you...


Best Game I Watched a Complete Stranger Play - The Last of Us

I don’t understand the whole “Let’s Play” phenomenon. As someone who barely has enough time to actually play videogames, the notion of devoting a portion of my day to watching someone else have fun doesn't make much sense. But the cavalcades of noble YouTube gamers do have their uses, as I learned after an entire weekend spent watching a playthrough of the not-quite-zombies-but-okay-they’re-totally-zombies classic The Last of Us.

Lacking the bags of Sony bribe money that come with being a “real” videogame journalist, I do not own a PS3, and thus had to resort to experiencing Naughty Dogs’ tragic tale of spores and survival through 15-minute chunks of low quality video. Which was fine, considering The Last of Us is as close to a cinematic experience as a videogame can get, albeit one where a considerable portion of the running time is devoted to watching people scrounge for gauze and rubbing alcohol.

The hours I spent squinting at the trials of Joel and Ellie were worth it, however, as The Last of Us is a beautifully bold spin on the “bleak and unforgiving apocalypse” genre, with the kind of potent moral ambiguity usually reserved for cable network dramas.

Runner-Up: Dota 2: Alliance vs. Na’Vi Championship Game – I don’t understand a single thing about Dota 2, but that didn’t stop me from watching three-plus hours of The International finals for no other reason than the infectious enthusiasm of announcers David “LD” Gorman and David “Luminous” Zhang. The dynamite duo combine the amateur earnestness of college radio DJs with the hyped-up jargon of WWE commentators.

Best Game I Paid to Not Play in 2013 – Armikrog

I arrived a year late to the crowd funding party, as Kickstarter rose to prominence in 2012 when Double Fine raised approximately enough money to secede from the US and start their own secret psychic summer camp (which, by the sound of Broken Age’s development issues, is probably what really happened).

But 2013 saw even more big name Kickstarters, and I was no longer able to resist the allure of playing pretend Shark Tank by having developers vie for my pledge money. I helped fund six projects this year, chief among them Armikrog, the spiritual successor to claymation cult hit The Neverhood. While I’ve expressed some concerns about the involvement of Doug “Icky Homophobic Elf” TenNapel, ultimately my inflated sense of social justice is trumped by my love of talking alien dogs voiced by Yakko Warner.

I mean, come on, we’re getting a pseudo-sequel to The Neverhood. In 2013. Because of the internet. Barring the sudden invention of cancer-curing hoverboards, that’s the best damn proof we’re living in the future that we’re going to get.

Runner-Up: Torment: Tides of NumeneraMighty No. 9Shantae: Half-Genie HeroHyper Light DrifterParadise Lost: First Contact – Officially making 2013 the best year for games from 2014!

Best Non-2013 Game I Played in 2013 - Final Fantasy IX

2013 was a big year for many of my friends and family. I watched as loved ones got engaged, announced pregnancies, were hired for dream jobs, and just generally developed as people. But more importantly, I finally got around to playing the best JRPG of 2000!

I’ve seen many people claim that Final Fantasy IX is their favorite of the series, and it’s easy to see why. The game captures the simple magic of SNES-era Final Fantasys, while benefiting from the striking pre-rendered backgrounds of the PS1-era. Plus, as the last entry before the franchise began to look more and more like a J-pop music video with every new Roman numeral, I can see why FFIX might have a special place in the adolescent memories of some gamers.

Though I did have a few quibbles. Namely, the standard Final Fantasy plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense, the cartoonish one-dimensionality of a few members of the cast, the urge to set fire to my brain every time Zorn and Thorn popped up. But FFIX’s zealous charm covers for any shortcomings, and Vivi’s struggle with identity was the rare instance of me emotionally investing in a Final Fantasy character, easily making it the best JRPG I played all year.

Runner-Up: Dead Rising 2: Off the Record – On a scale from one to seeing Blue is the Warmest Color with my parents, how uncomfortable were the Psychopaths in Dead Rising 2 supposed to make me?

Best Game I’m Going to be Defending in a Comments Section in Five Years – Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve noticed a troubling trend with modern blockbuster releases. These days, big titles will be released with a tremendous deal of fanfare, all the reviewers will whip out their highest grades and their “Masterpiece!” superlatives, and the game in question will have seemingly cemented its coveted spot in the greater videogame canon.

Fast forward a few years, and an inexplicable backlash has festered in the community. Any mention of the game will prompt cries of “Overrated!”, and an unspoken consensus has been reached that the critical darling was actually a towering monument of suck the whole time. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try striking up a conversation about Skyward Sword, or Skyrim, or the original “next-gen Grand Theft Auto,” GTA IV, and see how quickly you get shouted down by naysayers.

So to the inevitable future detractors I say this: Grand Theft Auto V is an amazing game. Yes, the game has its issues: a writing team apparently comprised of porn-addled fourteen year olds, a plot that’s more wacky caper than thrilling crime epic, and satire that’s as subtle as a Kanye West track. But the sheer scope and the, I don’t know, that thing, that magic of Los Santos cannot be understated. Rockstar crafted one of the most compelling and absurdly detailed videogame worlds in recent memory, and the unpretentious joy of terrorizing a herd of helpless cows with a forklift was unmatched by anything else I played this year. And in Trevor, the GTA series finally gave us an honest-to-god protagonist, a messy, complicated, whirling dervish of chaos and sadness.

Maybe I’m not exactly bold for defending the game when it’s about to be drowned in an avalanche of “Best of the Year” awards, but I assure you I’ll be a hero when the time comes for “Best of the ‘10s” deliberations.

Runner-Up: The Last of Us – Okay, hypothetical future tough guy, you can pretend like those opening ten minutes didn’t make you bawl your eyes out all you want, but that would make you a filthy liar.

Best Insta-Death That Still Haunts Me in Waking Nightmares –Tomb Raider’s Quick Time Tracheotomy


Runner-Up: Spelunky – I’ll just gently ease myself off this cliff edge here aaaaaand an arrow ricocheted by body into a bed of spikes again ffffffffff-

Best New Pokémon - Dark Lord Klefki, Devourer of Souls

Allow me to direct your attention to a little article that was published on this very website shortly before the release of Pokémon X & Y. In this article the reveal of Klefki, one of the new Generation VI Pokémon, was met with disbelief and derision. Many, myself included, wrote off the sentient key ring as definitive proof that Game Freak was scraping the bottom of the monster design barrel. We all laughed Klefki off. Because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t know.

Now, anyone who has faced this eight inch behemoth in battle can tell you that it’s evil incarnate. It is steel forged in hatred. Its keys unlock nothing but madness.

For those of you who are not Pokémon masters, allow me to explain. Klefki is equipped with the Prankster ability, which gives priority to all status moves. Klefki can potentially paralyze and confuse an entire team before they’re able to land a single hit. This turns the finely-tuned chess match of Pokémon battling into a miserable game of luck. Twitching, crippled opponents struggle to attack while Klefki gorges itself on Leftovers and pops off Substitutes like a mogwai after a spritz.

Klefki is basically Rage Quit: the Pokémon.

Some people will tell you that Klefki is just an irritating gimmick that can easily be countered. Those people are hiding the deep scars this malicious, jangly bastard has inflicted on them. When Generation VII rolls around and the series inevitably turns another useless inanimate object into a Pokémon, we should all be prepared for that thing to be Satan made manifest.

Runner-Up: Hawlucha – It’s a luchador bird. Why would I even need to explain the appeal of a luchador bird to you?

Best Blatant GLaDOS Ripoff - The Stanley Parable’s Narrator

If there’s one emerging videogame trend I love even more than cramming Ellen Page or Ellen Page approximations into every major release, it is the inevitable spawning of countless GLaDOS clones. The sardonic narrator is a rich tradition that dates all the way back to the very dawn of time. Or at least, dates back to Monty Python and the Holy Grai. Which, if we’re being honest, is when time only just started to get interesting.

GLaDOS was a legendary addition to the pantheon – half omnipresent color commentator, half classic villain. The droll Brit serving as The Stanley Parable’s Narrator is a worthy successor, and with Portal references sprinkled liberally throughout the game, there’s an explicit acknowledgment that he’s a shameless parody of everyone’s favorite homicidal AI.

What puts The Stanley Parable’s Narrator over the top is how he operates as GLaDOS in his own uniquely meta way. He’s an antagonistic force running the player through obstacles like a rat in a maze, yes, but his primary purpose is to highlight the game’s greater points about narrative limitations. The Narrator’s most chilling moment isn’t when he’s mocking your futile attempts to stop a doomsday countdown. It’s when he’s pleading for you to get back on the one “true” path, showing the seams in The Stanley Parable’s grand design, and revealing that even the gentlemanly voice dictating your every action with effacing British wit is a prisoner to the shackles of story and structure.

Runner-UpBattleBlock Theater Narrator – I’m fairly certain Will Stamper was chosen purely for his exquisite pronunciation of the name “Hatty Hattington.”

Best Ending I Needed a Diagram to Understand - Bioshock Infinite

I’m an intelligent guy. That is to say, I ain’t no dummy. I enjoy the occasional cerebral stimulation, the occasional hoity-toity foreign film, the occasional rumination on the day’s sociopolitical events over a glass of cognac and a pipe packed with flavored tobacco.

But even I – esteemed paragon of sophistication and culture that I am – needed a godforsaken map to navigate the choppy waters that were Bioshock Infinite’s metaphysical mind fuck of an ending. Now, the particulars of the game’s closing minutes weren’t necessarily difficult to discern. Alternate dimensions, yadda yadda yadda, murder myself so I can be murdered by my daughter, blah blah blah, who are we but carbon copies carrying out our predetermined fates across infinite parallel universes, something something ragtime R.E.M.

It was the motivations of the whole sordid affair that eluded me, particularly those of aloof brother and sister comedy duo the Lutece twins. I felt as if I had missed a voxophone or twelve that explained why the cosmic pranksters were setting the whole doomed rescue mission in motion when they, y’know, were mostly responsible for Elizabeth’s role in the “drowning in fire the mountains of man” business in the first place.

Someone eventually explained to me that it was partly because Comstock had the Lutece twins killed, but finding that out just made me want to curl up and watch Duck Dynasty until I fell into a coma.

Runner-Up: The Swapper – So... hive-minded space rocks and disembodied talking brains try to make me have an identity crisis. No thanks, guys, that’s what high school was for.

Best Game I Should Have Played More and Will Probably Lie to People About Finishing to Sound Like More of a Discerning Gamer Than I Really Am - Monaco

Fantastic co-op games are the bane of my existence. It’s not like I don’t have friends. I have plenty of friends. I have more friends than you! But what I don’t have are friends who salivate over the idea of cooperative heists staged in a glorious orgy of color and 2D pixels. I know, I know – any friends who can’t appreciate Pac-Man as filtered through a cool French heist flick aren’t really your friends. But the two-bit boosters I played with in random online games weren’t my friends either, which took some of the excitement out of Monaco’s madcap thievery.

Going it alone was certainly a viable option, as Monaco’s addictively simple mechanics and gorgeous visuals are more than enough to buoy a single-player campaign. But a one-man job almost always ends in disaster. Rather than an intricate clockwork of color-coded archetypes executing a perfect plan, you’re usually reduced to a panicked, painfully unhip dash through multiple tripped alarms and tenacious guard dogs. It’s less The Italian Job and more The Thomas Crown Affair. The lame Pierce Brosnan one.

I’ll still tell everyone I beat the game, and that I didn’t just drop it after the first few levels, because not playing Monaco is a bigger crime than... whatever it is the characters do in Monaco. I don’t know, I didn’t really get that far.

Runner-Up: Don’t Starve – As someone who bursts into apocalyptic hysterics when the Wi-Fi is particularly slow at a Starbucks, the survival genre is a little too stressful for me.

Best Game That Consumed Hours of My Life I Could Have Better Devoted to Literally Anything Else - Cookie Clicker

Cookie Clicker isn’t a game; it’s a state of depression. The amusing thrill of establishing a confectionery empire draws you in, but the novelty lasts for all of five seconds before giving way to an endless slog of gradually rising digits. And just like depression, you find yourself unable to claw your way out of the misery, sinking deeper with each passing second into a morass of numbing banality and unlockable antimatter condensers.

You can interpret Cookie Clicker as a clever deconstruction of the meaningless number games that power most videogames, but to do so is to admit defeat. The compulsive click-a-thon actively mocks the “bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers!” principle that governs our lives as gamers, revealing that the hours you’ve whittled away plumbing for cookie dough in other dimensions is nothing compared to the lifetime you’ve wasted on electronic entertainment. Sure, we connect to the stories and characters and fantastical settings, but Cookie Clicker strips all of that away to reveal the cold, merciless engine running beneath.

“You feel like making cookies. But nobody wants to eat your cookies,” the game tells you before you make your first click, as fitting a tagline for the unfillable void in our lives as any in all of literature.

Runner-Up: Surgeon Simulator 2013 – Time I spent learning how to tear out a man’s kidneys with my bare hands is time I could have spent learning how to better communicate in a relationship.

Best Game I Want to Buy Based Entirely on Hearing 60 Seconds of the Soundtrack - Super Mario World 3D

It is the year 2013. An antiquated Italian stereotype should not still have the power to move consoles. And yet every single second I’ve seen of Super Mario World 3D has made me want to run out and buy a Wii U, a system I spent a solid year thinking was some kind of Sega CD-esque add-on for the original Wii.

I’m not likely to follow through on my impulse anytime soon, but Super Mario World 3D has guaranteed that I will pick up the console at some point, and that every second until that point will be spent in agonizing anticipation. The game just looks fun. Pure, unadulterated, Nintendo-brand fun. The catsuits! The Saturday morning cartoon visuals! A whole gaggle of Marios! (Flock of Marios? Herd of Marios? Murder of Marios? Whatever.)

But more than anything else, it’s the bombastic, jazzy score that has me foaming at the mouth. I’ve seen comparisons made to Studio Ghibli soundtracks, the undisputed kings of highly concentrated, swelling orchestral crack. But no comparison can adequately prepare you for the sheer joy of hearing Super Mario 3D World’s opening cut scene for the first time. It’s like a 1920’s screwball comedy distilled into its purest musical notes.

The game’s aural prowess shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering this is the series that gave us “Swing! Your! Arms! From side to side!” But seeing the old plumber rock a horn section like that is still nothing short of amazing.

Runner-Up: Rayman Legends – Whoever thought to combine '80s power ballads with a desperado-led mariachi band deserves a Nobel Prize in Goddamn Everything.

Best Decision I Made - Writing More Blogs on Destructoid

2013 marked the first time I had a blog post promoted to Destructoid’s front page, a validating achievement that I’ve been trying to recapture ever since. It’s like seeing your work put up on the refrigerators of hundreds of anonymous strangers. Only the refrigerators are computer screens, and all the anonymous strangers call you an idiot for saying Gaping Dragon was a difficult Dark Souls boss.

My first promoted post motivated me to write even more blogs. Some were also promoted, and some weren’t. The important thing is that I wrote them, putting forth the time and effort to bring my opinions squalling into existence in the bright, beautiful ether of the web. And I hope to do even more of that in 2014! Which certainly beats the plan I originally had before getting my first blog post promoted: wandering into the sea never to be seen again.

But I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the community for providing a word of encouragement here, or some thought-provoking words there, and paying even a modicum of attention to my dumb thoughts. The reason I consider Destructoid to be the best gaming news thing out of all the other gaming news things is due in no small part to all you magnificent bastards who call this place home. You people are the real heroes.

I’m just grateful to play some small part in the madness, and hope to do so until this website is nothing but a shambling shell of its former self, overrun by spyware bots advertising cheap PC parts, eventually returning to the loam as we all one day must. Which, by my calculations, will probably happen sometime... March-ish?

Runner-Up: Seeing 12 Years A Slave – What are you doing reading another useless "Best Of" list? Go see 12 Years A Slave and do something important with your life!

Heroes will always disappoint you. I don’t mean to sound like a fourteen year old who just discovered Morrissey, but the sad truth is that no amount of faith in the inherent good of humanity can guard us against inevitable heartbreak by those we look up to. The ones we admire most – the shining paragons of everything we value – will eventually crumble before our eyes like false idols. Elmo will solicit sex from minors, Lance Armstrong will inject tiger blood into his veins, Will Smith will flirt with Scientology, and the world will keep on spinning, some terrible truth about someone we believe in just waiting to come to light.

So I was hardly surprised when I found out two years ago that Doug TenNapel, creator of Earthworm JimThe Neverhood, and some of my most cherished videogame memories, is actually a staunchly religious, homophobic wingnut. Because of course he is. Of course the brilliant imagination behind one of my favorite adventure games is brimming with hatred. Of course the man who gave us Klaymen, Big Robot Bil, Bob the Killer Goldfish, and The Evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-For-A-Butt would deny gays the right to marry, because we can’t ever have nice things.

Yet as much as it pained me to discover that an artist I respected was a bigoted monster, his misguided personal beliefs didn’t retroactively invalidate the joy I had once derived from his work. Maybe the theological undertones of The Neverhood took on a more sinister meaning, but because I had played TenNapel’s games long before the internet gave him a platform to turn into everyone’s overly opinionated uncle at Thanksgiving, I was able to preserve my memories in a hazy bubble of ignorant bliss. Besides, the dude hadn’t been in the gaming business since the ‘90s. I could just go on not buying any of his comics and be satisfied that I wasn’t supporting his bible thumping with any of my money.

But then came Armikrog.

A spiritual successor to The Neverhood. An old school adventure game made entirely out of clay. Classic stop-motion animation. The vocal talents of Yakko Warner and Mike Fuckin’ Nelson. Soundtrack by Terry S. Taylor, the man responsible for the single greatest song ever recorded for a videogame. A talking alien dog named Beak-Beak.

I pledged $45 the second it was announced.

I wish I could tell you that supporting Armikrog was a difficult decision. That I spent days mired in an internal struggle to even consider the idea. That ultimately I stuck to my values and decided having a really cool videogame wasn’t worth supporting a man who likened same-sex marriage to a guy taking a dump in a women’s bathroom, a statement that makes me feel dirty just typing out.

But I can’t. I just told you the exact opposite of that. No matter how I try to rationalize my choice, I’ll have to live knowing that I’m willing to sell out my morals for a few tons of clay.

Though let me try rationalizing it anyway.

At the most basic level of the Armikrog Kickstarter, we have a classic scenario of having to separate the art from the artist. That’s step one, because unless you adhere to TenNapel’s beliefs that roving gangs of commitment-seeking gays are terrorizing our idyllic American towns, every dollar contributed to the campaign requires you to weigh the value of the product against the continued success of a man who would deprive people of their rights because of their sexual orientation.

Now, this is a conflict that’s raged since time immemorial, beginning with the first caveman to scrawl a couple of bison on a wall before declaring bison shouldn't be able to marry other bison. We’re not going to solve the conflict between creations and their creators in one half-baked blog post and a boycotted Kickstarter campaign. Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that art should be able to stand on its own, viewed independently of any and all outside factors. In terms of videogames, this means ignoring every delusional word that comes out of the mouths of people like David Cage or Phil Fish, and playing their games separate from the influence of their embittered Twitter rants. 

Though the issue with Cage and Fish as examples, besides the combination of their names sounding like a TV show about a pair of crime-solving longshoremen, is that while they’ve said some pretty incendiary things, they haven’t said them out of outright hatred for another group of human beings. Well, except Fish, who seems to have a grudge against the entire nation of Japan. But TenNapel is an entirely different beast. He can gussy up his intolerance as unassailable religious belief all he wants, but the fact remains that he’s trying to impede a basic liberty that should be afforded to everyone. I stand by my argument of always separating art from the artist, but I acknowledge I’ve had to do some serious mental back flips to reconcile my desire for a unique and innovative videogame with my desire to not give money to a raging asshole.

The next stop on this beautiful sightseeing tour through Suspect Reasoningville is the kneejerk argument you’ll see anyone defending Armikrog make, and that is that a videogame is not the work of one person. No artistic endeavor is, except maybe those street performers who pretend to be dancing robots in Times Square, but even those people are the product of years of neglect and abuse by the whole of society. Armikrog is the work of Pencil Test Studios, an independent game and animation company founded by Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield, two people who worked with Doug TenNapel on Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood, but who are very much not Doug TenNapel.

Then there are the previously mentioned voices of Rob Paulsen and Michael Nelson, men I grew up watching on Saturday mornings, and who I’ve idealized to the point where I firmly believe their off hours are spent inoculating sick children and spreading hope and prosperity to the disenfranchised, hopefully through the use of robot puppets. And the entire reason I jumped in on the $45 tier is because that’s the first tier the game’s soundtrack is available on, and I can’t begin to describe the pure, unadulterated pleasure Terry S. Taylor’s honky tonk guitar strumming and charcoal-smoked babbling brings me. Just take a listen to “The Neverhood Theme,” or “The Battle of Robot Bil,” and try to resist the urge to throw money at your screen until this man makes more music.

Yes, it’s possible all of these talented people are part of one big, shadowy cabal who meet every Tuesday to bemoan the loss of “traditional values” and discuss the best way to rid the world of their archnemesis Neil Patrick Harris. Or, more likely, they’re all individuals who are putting forth an immense effort to lovingly craft a work of art that they believe is special and worth their time. Doug TenNapel may be the creative voice driving the project, but he’s a single part of a team, and the money put into Armikrog will go toward helping that team bring a fictional clay space fortress to life, and not toward supporting one man’s awful, myopic bigotry.

All of this isn’t to begrudge anyone for not supporting Armikrog out of principle. I wish I had the strength to stand by my convictions like that, and not sell out like a total consumer whore. Because by the look of countless comment sections, think pieces and, most tellingly, a pledge total that's going to need some kind of Daddy Warbucks miracle to reach its $900,000 goal in two days, it seems there are plenty of people who are much stronger than I am.

I’m simply trying to talk through my own decision in what is unfortunately a complex issue. This should be a no brainer. I mean, we’re talking a full-fledged semi-sequel to The Neverhood, the kind of weird, hyper niche game that could have only been put out by a major studio in the experimental days of the ‘90s. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Or if they do, they’re made by an indie developer on a much smaller scale, like The Dream Machine. Which I’m sure is an absolute delight but, no offense, kind of looks like what would happen if Ben Wyatt finally finished Requiem for a Tuesday.

But while Armikrog promises to provide the kind of indelible, imaginative experience that I crave in videogames, it comes at the price of knowingly supporting a man with some reprehensible ideas. I mean, he wrote an article on how Republican women are happier than other women because “they don't mope around like victims or screech about how terrible men are for being men.” Seriously. He wrote that. That awful thought occupied his head, and then he transcribed it for other people to see. Horrible, right? I just gave $45 to that. How do you think I feel? 

I wish this was easier. I want so badly for there to be a correct, clear cut stance on this issue. Armikrog looks like a lush, colorful blip of hope in the endless slog of military shooters and mindless face-stabby murder simulators, but the loathsome qualities of its primary creative mind place the adventures of Tommynaut and Beak-Beak squarely in a moral grey area.

Which, I guess for a videogame made entirely out of clay, is kind of fitting.

I’m cheap.

Frugal. Miserly. A man of generic brands and packed lunches. Of 2-for-1 deals and 10% tips. Someone who feels a twinge of regret over every cent that leaves their bank account. 

Naturally, my penny pinching methodology extends to my gaming habits. I am an unabashed bargain bin gamer. When I patronize one of my three dozen local GameStops, I stride past the shiny new releases and go straight for the pre-owned racks. I even peruse that sad row of misbegotten titles stacked along the floor, where unlovable shovelware and old editions of Madden are banished to languish forever. 

Hell, I admit to actively warranting GameStop, an act that in and of itself is a declaration that I'm willing to throw my scruples to the wind if it means saving a few dollars on someone’s chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3

But while I acknowledge some trepidation whenever I opt for the sad sack of knockoff Honey Nut Cheerios over the real deal, I'm perfectly at peace with never spending $60 on a new videogame ever again. In fact, I’d argue that being a gamer on the cheap is not only pragmatic, but a lifestyle the entire community should be embracing. 

That’s right. I’m about to get preachy on all y’all. Obnoxious vegan friend preachy.

First and foremost, we can all agree that the monetary value of videogames depreciate at an alarmingly fast rate. The only thing that loses value quicker than a $60 videogame is my stock with women once they find out I look nothing like my JDate profile picture. I won’t pretend to understand the economics behind how videogames are priced, but what I do know is that I could have picked up Tomb Raider on Steam last weekend – a game which came out a little more than two months ago – for a full $35 cheaper than if I had purchased the grungy Lara Croft reboot on its release date. 

What incentives, then, did I have to buy Tomb Raider before its price crashed harder than a boat full of adventurous multiethnic archetypes? Those who pre-ordered had the Sophie's Choice of deciding between a snazzy in-game bomber jacket, a throwaway challenge dungeon, and the option to make Lara Croft look even more like Andy Dufresne after he crawled through a river of shit, minus the redemptive rain storm. I'm not sure any one of those is worth $35 and 60-some days free of the traumatic experience of having to kill my first innocent deer.

In addition to underwhelming pre-order incentives, there's also the increasing sense that the red-blooded consumers who are happy to pay full price for a brand new videogame are spending their money on incomplete products. The debate over downloadable content will rage for millenia, but there's no denying the now common money-grubbing tactic of releasing “Game of the Year” editions is beginning to diminish the base worth of today's popular releases.

From a business standpoint, there’s an understandable need for companies to wring a few extra dollars out of an aging property by dressing it up in a tantalizingly more robust package. “Game of the Year” editions – or “Legendary,” “Prepare to Die,” “Ultimate,” or “Overzealous Superlative of Your Choosing” editions – offer an opportunity to pick up any straggling customers who have been holding out for a sweeter deal. But by releasing a definitive version a year or two down the line, loyal early adopters are being forced to put together their games piecemeal while the jerks who have waited for companies to come crawling to them bearing tribute are the ones being catered to.

For instance, this past month I picked up Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. I had been waiting for the original game's price to drop and, lo and behold, during that time Capcom announced they’d be releasing an updated version loaded with extra content and a number of technical improvements, all at a respectable $40. What's more is that the expansion would only be available as a standalone retail disc, meaning those players who had helped make the IP a surprise hit in the first place would have to essentially buy the game twice if they wanted to experience any of the new content.

What would I have gained from buying the game at full price when it was first released? The satisfaction of knowing I had bought an inferior Dark Souls with a menu layout more complicated than Building Stories? That warm feeling you get when you know you contributed in some small way to the marble counter tops on a Japanese business man’s luxurious dirigible? The chance to once again enable a company who has turned shameless rereleases into a business model?

No, I would have felt like that schnook who buys his groceries right before the 10,000th customer. The one stuck with a bottle of hand lotion and a stack of Lean Cuisines without an oversized novelty check to show for it.

Besides the obvious quantifiable benefits, there’s the intangible upside of gaining a greater appreciation of games that are cheap by nature. Those who subsist off a diet entirely of triple-A titles may disregard the indie scene as the work of a bunch of art house elitists with severe emotional issues – which, sometimes, yeah – but it’s astounding what smaller developers have accomplished with products they’re going to sell for, at most, $15 and, at least, two ha’pennies as a part of some bundle. 

Many of my favorite games of this current generation have been cooked up by a handful of intrepid DIYers. Fez, Shadow Complex, Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac, World of Goo – I spent more on the standard indie gamer turtleneck and scarf than I spent on all those games combined.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one niggling downside. As someone who only buys games months after their release, I’m constantly falling out of conversation with the gaming community at large. I would have loved to offer an opinion on why BioShock Infinite was or wasn’t a face-grinding assault on good taste. I would have loved to offer any opinion on BioShock Infinite, seeing as how it apparently touched on every topic from racism to quantum physics to the unappreciated genius of Cyndi Lauper.

But nobody is going to care what I have to say when the game’s price is slashed six months from now and I finally find out what all the ludonarrative think pieces are about. I’m in a perpetual state of being that guy at the office who only just watched The Wire and is trying to explain the “king stay the king” speech to everyone.

I'm aware that money is an expansive and multifaceted subject in videogames. Not everyone is coming from my income situation. There are those who can comfortably afford the latest releases, along with the jewel-encrusted chalices from which I assume they sup the tears of the impoverished. Idealistically, we should allow games to stand on their own merits, never factoring their price tag into how we engage with them. And, yes, I know buying used is not helping matters, as companies are now scrambling to find a way to make the most out of their initial sales.

But with evolving technology and bloated budgets and the advent of DLC, games are only growing more expensive.  And with those rising prices comes an equally rising tide of bullshit. We live in an age where we have to honestly ask ourselves if we should expect videogames to be playable at launch. Where games that ship more than 3.5 million units are considered colossal failures. Where mom and pop developers are creating imaginative and indelible gaming experiences for a fraction of what it costs a major studio to stamp out another generic Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty

These are the reasons I preach bargain gaming. It’s pure. It’s liberating. It frees you from the toxic expectations you attach to a game you've devoted a sizable chunk of your paycheck to. It allows you to combat the rampant consumer abuse perpetuated by companies who view their customers as rubes to be swindled. A bargain gamer is a better, happier gamer. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3 to finish. And you won’t see me complaining about the original ending, because I now have like twenty different DLC conclusions to choose from, and one of them has to end in the Shephard and Wrex dream wedding I’ve always wanted.
Photo Photo Photo

Look Game Freak, we need to talk. I know you’re hard at work on Pokémon X and Y – after all, that umpteenth boulder puzzle isn’t going to lay itself out – but we need to address this past weekend’s, shall we say, events. On this Sunday’s episode of Pokémon Smash, the weekly Pokémon variety show whose existence is apparently still warranted, you revealed what appeared to be a new form of Mewtwo, but what was in actuality a flagrant assault on my childhood.

I like to think of myself as a rational man, Game Freak. Open-minded, even. I consider myself to be someone who does not react to the announcement of a new character in what is ostensibly a children’s game with intense feelings of blind rage. But what the hell am I looking at here? People have been quick to label this offensive monstrosity as some kind of Dragon Ball Z reject, but that’s giving it too much credit. You just slapped Mewtwo’s tail on to its head. Then you added a weird futuristic flesh hood for, what exactly, aerodynamic reasons? Not only do you have the gall to repurpose the titan of the original 151 for your nefarious purposes, but you have the sheer chutzpah to do it in the most half-assed way possible.

Mind you, this is not coming from a fierce Generation I loyalist, either. I actually like Pokémon beyond Red and Blue. You know what my favorite Pokémon is? Garchomp. What’s there not to like about a face-eating land shark that moves at mach speeds? I also have a Milotic that I’ve used to beat the Elite Four in every region. I always make sure a Metagross is a part of my team, I have a Rotom that’s gotten me out of a lot of jams, and I think Victini is downright adorable. I look down on anyone who hasn’t played any of the series beyond its Game Boy days, because they’re missing out on the soul-enriching experience of catching a Bidoof.

But as much as I defend the nearly 500 other entries in the National Dex, there’s no denying that not every one of them is a winner. You made an ice cream cone Pokémon, Game Freak. You made three of them. You just slapped googly eyes on Mr. Tastee and you have to go to bed every night with that on your conscience. And that’s fine, really. You make all the sentient garbage bags you want. What’s not okay is applying the same level of forethought that you put into Stunfisk into an unnecessary update on my cherished childhood memories.

Listen, my frustration isn't entirely your fault. I’m in a very weird place right now. It just seems that recently the entire world is hell bent on stomping all over the things I once held dear. First Devil May Cry gets an Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show-style reboot with a Dante that has black hair and chugs energy drinks and, I don’t know, probably uses Snapchat to defeat Hell's unholy army. Then I learn that David Hayter wasn’t asked to voice Solid Snake for Metal Gear Solid 5, as if anyone could even fathom replacing that gravel-voiced angel. And now Disney is going all “Uncle Owen’s farm” on Lucasarts and torching the place, reminding me that nothing is forever and that everything beautiful in life eventually decays into a husk of its former glory before succumbing to an ignoble death.

Can’t we just have one thing that’s sacred in videogames? One thing that isn’t reimagined or replaced or ruined for the sake of a few easy bucks? I’m not saying Generation I Pokémon are some kind of untouchable ideal. They’re not. You guys made a transvestite in blackface that we all just kind of pretend never happened. And it’s not like updates on the original 151 can’t be done right. Electivire is pretty awesome, and Magmortar is a glorious realization of all the Pokémon I designed in 4th grade that had flaming cannons for hands.

But Mewtwo is different. Mewtwo is untouchable. Mewtwo represents everything I loved about Pokémon. The wonder I felt when I navigated Cerulean Cave’s labyrinthine passageways in search of the hulking genetic experiment lurking miles beneath Kanto. The triumph of capturing the telekinetic behemoth without chumping out and using a Master Ball. The escapist power trip of leveling that attempt-at-playing-God-gone-awry all the way to 100 and repeatedly tearing through the Elite Four to watch Professor Oak disown his grandson and crown me Champion in a delicious Schadenfreude loop.

Sure, maybe this Newtwo nonsense will provide a generation of kids all the same thrills I experienced. And sure, maybe this is all just the insane ramblings of someone who is ascribing too much meaning to a fictional children’s monster as the encroaching tide of adulthood threatens to sweep over them completely. But screw it. Let me have this, Game Freak. Mewtwo was a legendary back when that word still meant something. This abomination is only a reminder that the symbols of our youth – these silly totems that once held such significance – can be manipulated for a cheap nostalgic kick that keeps us chasing a feeling that we can never get back.

Seriously, seventeen years of fire/water/grass starters and this is what you jerks decide to change? I think it’s time you reevaluate your priorities Game Freak, and this is coming from a grown man who just took to the Internet to write a near 1,000 word rant about a new Pokémon.