Is the Wii U a complete failure? No, No, No! I messed up my intro already. 2013 has been a pretty good year for games. There hasn't really been a Binary Domain type-thing that came out of nowhere for me to latch onto and a lot of the games in my top 10 are games that will appear on a bunch of other peoples lists.
There was a few games I probably should have tried, but a game like Fire Emblem doesn't seem like my kind of thing and a handful of games people absolutely adored felt like they had significant issues like Saints Row and Assassin's Creed.
There were a couple of games that were very nearly in my top ten including: DmC (beautiful/fun) Metal Gear Rising (incredibly flashy/stupid)Splinter Cell (well designed stealth) Tomb Raider (like Uncharted with good shooting/pretty)and Killer is Dead (gorgeous/ very, very gamey)I'm glad I purchased a Wii U even if it was after a hugely significant price cut and almost nothing on the new systems seems like it is worth spending £400-500 on. I regret buying Call of Duty after skipping a year,The mermaid song in Puppeteer is incredible, Luigi's Mansion is charming, but too long and I spent far more hours playing Payday 2 and RE: Revelations Raid mode than was probably good for my health.
Oh, and Beyond was probably the worst game I played all year.
Spoiler list for people that can't be bothered to read anything and need to know immediately what some random on the internet has to say about a bunch of games. (+ awesome bonus reason why!)
10 Animal Crossing: New leaf - I like this game.
09 Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - I like this game.
08 Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus - I like this game.
07 The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - I like this game.
06 The Wonderful 101 - I like this game.
05 Bioshock Infinite - I like this game.
04 The Last of Us - I like this game.
03 Grand Theft Auto V - I like this game.
02 Super Mario 3D World - I like this game.
01 Rayman Legends - I like this game.
So here goes. I'm not so great at writing up my thoughts on things and I have edited, added, chopped things out and re-added them for nearly a week and I think I'm happy with it. It's probably completely nonsensical at this point. THERE IS A BUNCH OF SPOILERS IN THIS.
For the longest time the idea of playing an Animal Crossing game seemed like one of the least appealing things to do with my time. New Leaf just wants to let itself breezily wash over you, which is easy to do when my little town of Wonk is so laid back. Animal people give me presents for telling them they look pretty in a dress, and my home is full of bizarre furniture I have knocked out of trees and swapped with neighbours. Animal Crossing is the kind of thing that consumes a lot of your time without any stress or time pressure. It's one of the most relaxing things I have ever played. I never thought I'd enjoy virtual fishing in a game, but hunting for sharks, wandering my beach at night time for seashells and buying silly outfits was an incredibly soul refreshing experience. FEAR THE BEES IN THE TREES!
There are occasionally games that consume my brain for hours, even days where I find myself unable to think of anything else, and Brothers was one of the few that I managed to have bounce around the back of my head for a huge chunk of the year.
It isn't about all of the feely stuff, and yes, Brothers has its moment. A pretty powerful moment, and one that is only possible due to the controls, but this was not the moment that stuck out to me. The storybook adventures come to life gave this adventure a real sense of wonder, the kind you very rarely get in games. I helped a family of turtles, fought off hungry wolves, hid from an invisible monster in the snow, flew a glider through the rocky mountains and scrambled through the aftermath of battling giants. I could point out a dozen more moments that all felt natural in this beautiful world Starbreeze have created, but the one moment I fell head over heels in love with the game was when rowing a boat through an icy river, a beautiful whale-like creature jumped out of the water right in front of me. It was completely magical and unlike anything else in the other games I played this year. Brothers was very clearly crafted with a lot of love and care and it shows in every sequence and hidden moment, balancing the whimsical and the dark almost perfectly. Brothers is unlikely to be forgotten by me any time soon.
Oh, and you get to ride a goat up a hill.
I have had an incredibly Ratchet-y year. I have replayed through all the PS3 games, most of the HD collection and Deadlocked HD (In some cases multiple times.) and I have enjoyed almost every minute of doing so. Ratchet was probably my biggest love during the PS2 days and continues to be the one franchise that I always look forward to despite Insomniac seemingly wanting to take all of the fun out of everything these days.
Nexus is the perfect fan game, a nice epilogue to the Future series and a good reminder of why the Ratchet formula works so well. I would have been ok with A Crack in Time ending the series, but Nexus manages to streamline everything good about these games and give it to you in a shorter, tighter experience. Scaling down the gun leveling, returning to the mod system from Tools of Destruction and giving each world its own unique twist. There's a swamp for using your jet boots, a level designed for you to use a gun that creates hover streams and an opening level with an anti gravity sequence that is oddly reminiscent of the original Dead Space.
Sure, the humour isn't as present (Although there are a couple of the funniest jokes in the entire series in there.), but this is the nicest looking of the PS3 games, and Insomniac have some really wonderful and expressive animators that bring the characters to life. I miss this kind of platformer and I'm very happy this came along to erase their past mistakes, even if Sony sent it out into the woods ready to put a couple of bullets into the back of its head.
I really hope with the upcoming movie and the return to the more traditional Ratchet someone, somewhere is working on a new game for the PS4, even if it's another one of these smaller titles. I'm just happy that I got to see Ratchet and the adorable Clank leave this generation on a high.
And there's a gun that plays Jingle Bells as you murder things.
I have a lot of love for A Link to the Past. It was very probably the Zelda game that I have the best memories of. I spent a really long time during my childhood exploring that top down world, hunting for every item and secret while humming along to the splendid music.
A Link Between Worlds on the surface seems designed to prey on your nostalgia for the SNES game, but the longer you play it the more it seems to be its own thing entirely. Sure, the renting of the items changes the structure of the game meaning you have a variety of dungeons to complete or come back to at a later date when you've discovered what you needed to do. (You needed to merge into a wall was the answer.) But the way the dungeons are designed requiring you to shift between dimensions and use the verticality of the stage to drop off of ledges or fire yourself up to higher levels are yet another reason to praise Nintendo's decision for the 3D screen. The dungeons are the real stand out here, and while they're not the hardest things in the world they do give the appropriate amount of satisfaction to complete, often making you feel incredibly clever.
ALBW has some great design and some amazing versions of older tunes including the Lorule/Dark world theme and a breezy guitar and violin version of the overworld theme at the beginning of the game.I'm happy that the game has a bunch of little secrets with many items completely missable, it never really explains where you need to go or what to do beyond a few crosses on the map. I don't really want to call it one of the best games in the series, and it would be hard to say it was better than ALTTP. It clearly has some of the boldest moves Nintendo have ever made with these games, and it will be nice to see how/if they expand on the ideas in the Wii U game. Easily one of the most delightful 25 hours I have spent in any game world this year.
That baseball minigame that looks wonderful in 3D can eat a dick though... And I never found a single use for the boomerang.
I like Roger Craig Smith a bunch. It's hard not to seeing as the guy is the new Batman, but as well as being Bruce Redfield he gave us the wonderful Wonder Blue. A completely dickish superhero that would rather be cutting some evil alien fools than chatting about it. The interactions between the equally fantastic Wonder Green where they bicker about how things should get done is one of my favourite parts of this incredibly strange game.TW101 is essentially an isometric character action game with a lot more in common with Bayonetta than the people that claim it is like Pikmin (It isn't like Pikmin at all.) You can even use Witch-time later in the game and if you're crazy enough able to unlock the lady herself and her friends.
The thing I really liked about The Wonderful 101 is its insistence on always being at 11. It isn't content with throwing a boss at you at the end of a chapter, it's quite happy to throw two or three of them in a row. And the bosses in this game are easily the highlight, often requiring you to switch around your different weapon types in rapid succession.
I love how everything has this shiny look to it like you're playing with toys. It's like the most insane episode of Power Rangers with miniature plastic figures. TW101 just gets bigger and dumber as things go on. By the end of the game you're fighting giant, planet destroying alien robots using a mech named after the developers of the game. It is as big and silly as anything in Kamiya's previous game, while also being full of some genuinely good writing and humour. I know the game has some control issues and some of the platforming although very light can be incredibly frustrating, but the amount of fun compared to the frustrations I had in what is a pretty long action game balance a lot of that out. I'd love to see a slightly more refined version of the game(never happening) or at least some kind of return to these wonderful characters. Even if we don't I am incredibly glad a game that is as weird and fun as this ever got made.
I liked the shooting in Bioshock Infinite. Is it ok to say that? I have always been a fan of the gun/plasmid/vigor combo these games use, and I found the shooting to be the best it has ever been in the series (I never really had a problem with it in past games.) I adore the combat arenas where you get to fly around using the skyhook crashing down on top one enemy, firing off some powers or opening some tears and then zipping off to another part of the area to continue the chaos.
Columbia is beautiful and full of some of the best world building I have ever seen in a game, managing to be both vibrant and creepy at the same time. I love the way Elizabeth moves around and throws you coins and ammo while exploring or in combat, and the little scripted touches and conversations really bring her to life.
I have always liked this alternate take on history kind of sci-fi, and the ending blew me away. The moment it dumped me back into the opening areas of Rapture were both sudden and completely unexpected. I really liked the different timeline stuff with the Lutece twins, and they're easily two of the most memorable characters of the year. I thought I had forgotten a lot about the game when I sat down to write this, but the moment I remembered one thing, I'd remember another ten I wanted to ramble on about. There is a moment later in the game with an older Elizabeth standing over an alternate 1980's New York on fire. It was one of those "holy shit" moments in video games that I won't forget any time soon.
There was a point where The Last of Us could go fuck itself. My first eight hours of the game didn't save requiring me to start over from the beginning. It was a tough decision to make and there was a moment in time where I had no intention of returning to a game that had eaten all of my progress. You have no idea how glad I am that I just took a deep breath and started over the next day. It took a huge chunk of the game for me to fully appreciate it. Joel is initially quite unlikeable, Ellie doesn't really come into her own until about the time she starts stabbing dudes in the back and some of the A.I is quite laughable. (I ended up with quite a few body-pile moments) Unfortunately a lot of the predictable behavior made most of the sequences with the infected less frightening than I would have expected. I always felt like I could move around them with little danger. The moments where you're up against a lot of humans were when the game really shined. I loved sneaking around picking a few of the men off one by one until the inevitable moment where everything turns on it's head. The action in TLoU requires a lot of moving around the pretty large, open areas and firing off a couple of shots here and there. Every headshot counts in these gunfights and they're as well made as any of the story stuff. I think praising the game for its character building and acting without acknowledging how good the gameplay is sells a significant part of TLoU really short. None of the winter chapters would have the same impact without playing as Ellie, and the way the game takes away all of the things you have accumulated minus the knowledge you have gained from past encounters is truly great giving the player character development without the aid of a single cutscene. The game kicks into another gear from the end of the university onwards and never really lets up until the very last scene.
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson are truly magnificent, and without them at the core I doubt the storytelling would be half as good. Never before have such well drawn characters been portrayed in a game, and while it is riddled with some of the same old zombie movie clichés and a very simplistic story, the character interactions are the best the medium has ever given us. The final scene is probably the most interesting thing about the whole game, the way it manages to avoid the predictable and be neither good or bad. The Last of Us somehow manages to be a lot of different things. An action game, a survival game, a stealth game, but also one of the most human... The Walking Dead TV show would sacrifice a few newborns to be as good as this.
While TLoU wasn't the bleakest of bleak experiences known to man I was lead to believe it was, it did feature one of the most joyous moments in anything this year. The giraffe sequence is one of the most magical things to bring a smile to my face in 2013.
GTA V is a big dumb action movie. GTA V has as much in common with Michael Bay as any Call of Duty and I absolutely adore it. I have never been the biggest fan of Rockstar. Red Dead was the first game of theirs that I truly loved. I liked GTA IV, the world they created and the memorable characters were really special, but the way the missions were designed with the oddly clunky shooting still felt like the same old problems I had with the PS2 games.
Checkpoints changed everything. No longer did it feel like a chore to get through missions, in fact a lot of missions in the game are incredibly easy compared to previous games. Very rarely did I need to retry missions, but in the place of challenge the game had a real flow. Occasionally throwing two or three big set piece moments at you in a row that sometimes spawn out of these really basic missions. The most impressive thing about a lot of these missions is that they are all contained within the world. The mission where you shoot down the plane and chase it down the hill is a great example of this. Other games like Saints Row put you into self contained areas to give you those "big"moments, but GTA V gives you something on a far grander scale without a loading screen and an exhilarating chase down a steep hillside on a motorbike.
I don't come to these games for the exhaustive side activities, so any comparisons to the amount of content available to you in past games is meaningless to me, but I spent nearly seventy hours in Los Santos and loved almost every minute of it, getting all I possibly wanted out of that game and more. The heists are absolutely wonderful with the small raid on the bank that turns into all out war being a real stand out, and possibly the moment I went from liking to loving the game. That whole mission puts the entirety of Payday 2 to shame. It would have been nice to see a few more of them and it was the little moments like the tense lead up to the Italian Job-esque heist that made the payoff all the more sweeter. I could pick faults in the characters all day, and that the story really loses its focus in the back half, but the characters dialogue is well written and superbly acted, especially Michael and Trevor. And while I flip-flopped on my feelings about Trevor he's a character I will never forget with some of the funniest dialogue in any game released this year.
I guess I should mention GTA Online. I have put literally days of time into this mode and have enjoyed a lot of my time within that world. I have pretty much exhausted all there is to do in the game's current form from a structured point of view, but I will return to it when they add more content such as heists. Poor team death match and boring Horde modes are not what I want from the game, but the amount of self created fun and memorable, un-recreatable moments I have had online have made GTO a really flawed but unforgettable experience. (Seriously, that time I ran you over on your bike was an accident.)
Look. I'm just gonna come out and say it. I know it's gonna make me sound like a heartless piece of shit, and it explains why I hate about 90% of the internet, but I hate cats. I hate them, probably stemming from the time my sisters kitten ate some brand new headphones I had just bought. Whatever the reason for my irrational hatred I would probably place cats highly on a list of things I'd happily ban from the planet earth... The biggest and most confusing question I have had to ask myself recently is this - Why do I think Cat-Mario is so great?
Obviously Cat Mario could never compare to Tanooki Mario. I mean Raccoons are waaaaaay better than cats. Princess Peach looks awesome in a Tanooki suit, Toad too. (Yeah, and like Luigi whatever.) The unfortunate part about Tanooki suits in 3D World is that they're pretty few and far between. Cat suits on the other hand pretty much (and occasionally literally) grow on trees, and they're the most useful item in the game for Peach... and lets face it, if you're not using Peach you're playing the game wrong. Cat-peach is OP!
I have spent hours upon hours fighting against my hatred of cats, but am unable to not adore the little cat suited digital people that inhabit this insane world. I hope this isn't permanent and that Super Mario 3D world has not changed me forever. I could say a million things at this point about the visuals, stage variety and creativity contained within the game, and most of the reviews out there give a far more coherent version of what I could write here. In fact you could probably just scroll through my blog history to my top 10 of 2011, see what I said about 3D land and pretend it's about 3D World. Although back then I don't think I mentioned anything about how utterly weird the world Mario lives in is or furries...
Mario is (probably) a furry. Luigi is definitely one.
I never thought I'd be saying this. It almost feels like I'm about so say something dirty, like I should be punished for saying it, but here goes. RaymanLegendsisthebestgamerealeasedthisyearandisbetterthanMarioandIknowhowindrediblycrazythatsoundsbecausey'knowlikeRaymanfuckingRayman!?!?mywholeentireworldisbrokennowsoIwillshutup.
I don't really know where to start with this as a lot of the nice things I'd have to say about 3D World I could say about Rayman. Even games like the fun but flawed Puppeteer have things in common. This year saw a lot of traditional platformers with incredibly high production values. The visuals in Rayman are some of the most beautiful 2D artwork I have ever seen in a game. I never played Origins, but can tell from the videos and the demo that the shading they have done to the characters gives everything far more depth and detail making everything look incredibly sharp.
The music that swings between medieval themes, mariachi bands and James Bond-esque spy music is so varied and strange, but fits the game incredibly well. The musical levels that have some of the weirdest licensed songs (And bizarre compositions.) to ever grace a game of this kind are so wonderfully inventive it's hard to not look forward to the one at the end of every world.
All of the shiny visuals and sounds wouldn't matter if Rayman didn't play like a dream. Incredibly tight and responsive controls, level design bursting with so much variation and imagination and some of the best uses of the Wii U touch pad I have seen on the system. As I type this I find myself fighting against my decision to put this as my number one. It feels wrong to have anything made my Ubisoft topping any kind of end of year list, especially the limbless freak Rayman, but I know in my heart and countless hours of giggles and daily challenges that this was the game that gave me the most fun and the biggest smiles in 2013.
So that's my list. If you read it or skimmed it thanks a bunch. At the very least you got to see some pretty pictures.