With the end of each of the past few years, I've written a blog on what I perceived to be the best and worst games, hardware and trends of the year. My intent was to do one as usual for this year as well, but before I get to that, I thought that, with all of the 3DS games I've played this year, it might be better if I spent some time highlighting the highs and lows of Nintendo's newest handheld. As is normal for awards like these, this is solely my opinion, so deal with it if you don't like it.
Worst Game of the Year: Madden NFL Football
The Madden game so half-assed, EA couldn't be bothered enough to put a year in the title. While it's true that Electronic Arts is notorious for releasing feature-barren versions of Madden in the first year of a new console's release, this 3DS version of Madden is just sad. No online is one thing, but no local multiplayer? Not even single-card multiplayer? And who exactly buys Madden for 5-on-5 football? This game was nothing more than a shameless bid by EA to get something out the door for launch. Then again, even if EA had waited until the usual late summer release date that marks the normal Madden cycle, this turd would likely still be a turd given that it's missing nearly everything a fan of the Madden series wants out of these games. Launch window desires aside, there's no excuse for a Madden game to be released in such a low-rent state at this point. And to think its publisher had previously canned a more feature rich NBA game due to quality issues.
Seriously, EA. What the hell?
Best Launch Title: Samurai Warriors Chronicles
I know what you're all thinking. Now put those copies of Super Street Fighter IV down and shut up while I explain myself.
Past handheld editions of the Warriors titles have been direct console ports at best, and heavily stripped down at worst. Samurai Warriors Chronicles is by and large the most unique handheld Warriors title to date because it actually plays to the strengths of the hardware, and it's not just a port with a gimmicky 3D mode (see: SSFIV). The game allows for the control of up to four characters in a single battle, and swapping between control of each is done using the touch screen. It's also possible to issue orders to the officers not currently under your direct control. It even gives the Spirit Gauge introduced Samurai Warriors 3 some new uses with the partner skills and abilities.
And suddenly, things get a whole lot more wild. Throw in a few more extras like a character relationship system, a basic StreetPass-based strategy game, and a couple of characters that weren't playable in Samurai Warriors 3, and well, that ain't half bad. Especially for a game released on launch day.
Best Fighting Game: Dead or Alive: Dimensions
I said put those copies of Super Street Fighter IV down, god damn it. Again, allow me to explain.
The 3DS had a relatively busy year when it came to handheld fighting games. In the span of a few months, it received SSFIV, Dead or Alive: Dimensions, and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II. All three are actually pretty good, but when it came down to it, DOA won out. And while I imagine that a few of you that are particularly hardcore in the tournament scene are restraining the urge to murder me for picking a game that's mostly known for an abnormally high jiggle factor, I'm not going to get into the heavy duty ins and outs because I'm not that guy.
Here's why DOA wins: Of the three, it is the most complete game. It has an online component that, while more basic than SSFIV's (BlazBlue doesn't even have online), it works well. Though to be fair, when I tried getting back online with the game a few weeks ago out of curiosity, I could no longer find anyone else playing it. But such are the risks of any game with an online component.
The game also features a full-on story mode that is in some ways better than the similar mode presented in this year's Mortal Kombat game. I mean, again, to be fair, Dead or Alive does not have a good story; it's obvious that in order to link the stories of DOA1-4 together, they had to stretch some threads mighty thin in order to get it to work. But it at least makes the attempt at making something both cohesive and coherent out of the series timeline, which like the stories of many fighting games was pretty much a clusterfuck. The story mode also doubles as a tutorial, teaching the basics as it progresses, and the final cinematics recycled from DOA4 no longer feature Aerosmith in the soundtrack, which should really be considered a plus to all concerned.
The game also makes better use of both StreetPass and SpotPass than most 3DS games released thus far. While the main attraction of SpotPass as far as DOA is concerned are downloadable costumes, both it and StreetPass also offer throwdowns; matches against AI opponents based on profiles downloaded from other people. The SpotPass versions of throwdowns are designed to be special challenges, while a match in StreetPass is much more random. Your opponent could be a tomato can or a god. DOA StreetPass also kept me very busy at PAX this past year while I was waiting in various lines.
It also doesn't hurt that the game is very easy to just pick up and play for a few minutes at a time. If I was in the mood to play a game, I'd often gravitate toward DOA based on that ease. And while neither SSFIV nor BlazBlue are difficult to pick up, I just found a few quick matches in DOA's Freeplay mode more satisfying.
Best Online: Mario Kart 7
Nintendo may have a long way to go in getting their online service as a whole up to par with their competitors, but that doesn't mean that they can't craft a pretty fun online experience. Mario Kart 7 has solid net code (I've played against people from North America, Japan, and Europe without issue), offers races with up to eight people at a time, and is easy to just jump in and play. It's also a lot less frustrating to be hit with a blue shell when it's being launched at me by another human being and not by an AI.
The "Wait, This Game IS Supposed to be in 3D, Right?" Award: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
This, er, "award" shouldn't be seen as a major slight against the game. Devil Survivor Overclocked is an excellent strategy RPG with some nice upgrades over the original DS version. Difficulty selection, more demons, voice acting, it has pretty much everything it really needed to make it a better experience over all. But 99% of the game makes absolutely no use of the 3D effect. It can't really be helped in some ways; the active gameplay on the battlefield is on the touch screen, but it would have just been nice to have seen more use of the 3D effect, even if all it was was a more pronounced layering of the character portraits over backgrounds during the dialogue sequences.
Then again, 3D obviously isn't a major concern of the Devil Survivor team since Devil Survivor 2 is a DS game with no 3DS version in sight.
Best Use of 3D: Super Mario 3D Land
Leave it to Nintendo to show everyone else how it's done. Super Mario 3D Land technically doesn't need the 3D effect turned on in order to be playable, but to play it in 2D is to miss the point. The game is loaded with visual puzzles and tricks of he eye that never feel gimmicky. Super Mario 3D Land is simply a cornucopia of excellent 3D visuals, and it never at any point feels disorienting.
Best Remake: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
In addition to Devil Survivor Overclocked, the 3DS saw two other remakes of note in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Star Fox 64 3D. While Devil Survivor is a great upgrade over the original version and Star Fox 64 3D does a fair job of revisiting Fox McCloud's glory days (you know, before fighting dinosaurs and wonky controls), Ocarina of Time had the most to lose from the prospect of a remake. Although there are a few extras included as bonuses on the side, the game is, in essence, the same Ocarina of Time from the days of the Nintendo 64. The game is widely perceived as one of the best ever made, and certainly one of the most influential from a basic design perspective. So how good could it be in this day and age?
Excellent, as it turns out. Although Ocarina of Time 3D shows its age with features like a largely empty overworld, this is still the game so many people fell in love with, and what made it fun back then still makes it fun now; even with only the most basic of gameplay tweaks. And in some ways, it's actually better, as anyone that's played through the Water Temple in both versions should be able to attest.
Now if only Nintendo would get around to remaking Majora's Mask.
Best Downloadable: The 3DS Ambassador Program
I was an early adopter. As it turned out, one of a far fewer number than Nintendo had really hoped for. But rather than get the short end of the stick when the inevitable price drop hit, I was granted access to a number of NES and GBA titles for free. And while I've played some of those older games more times than I could possibly count, to be able to play Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones again after my old GBA cartridge disappeared into the ether is fantastic. And in a year of publishers offering mea culpas for a variety of reasons, Nintendo provided one of the better peace offerings.
(I will now take a moment to offer a scornful gaze in Sony's direction. "Welcome Back" indeed.)
3DS Game of the Year: Super Mario 3D Land
It came well after the launch, but Super Mario 3D Land is easily the system's best selling point. A Mario game through, it mixes the aforementioned 3D usage with stellar gameplay and some at times ridiculous callbacks to the Mario games of yore. It feels in some ways like a cross between New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy. Above all else, it feels exactly like what a Mario game should be; something fun that anyone of any skill level should be able to enjoy, whether you've been playing Mario games since the NES era or just getting started.
Predictable winner? Yeah, probably, but there's no doubt in my mind that it's deserving. Next year should be a lot more interesting if you're into rooting for oddball games and dark horses, though.