2013 Game of the Year Awards: Nick's Honorable Mentions
2013 was a weird, weird year for games. I've spent weeks scratching my head to figure out what my own top-ten list of games would end up being (which you can check out here) simply because there were a few games I really, deeply loved and a lot of other things that just missed the mark in some way. Maybe they didn't hook me in for more than a few hours, or maybe they were objectively solid games in a series that had seen better entries come before.
Either way, I had a few dark-horse candidates for our own Game of the Year top-ten list that, naturally, didn't make the final cut. And that's where the following games come from -- they're a rogues gallery of weird and wonderful games that were largely either forgotten or overlooked by the rest of the staff, and dammit, they deserve their own moment in the spotlight.
So here they are -- my honorable mentions for the year that was 2013.
DmC: Devil May Cry
January | Ninja Theory | PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360
I probably haven’t played enough of DmC to give it a fair evaluation, but the few hours I’ve surveyed were some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a character-action game.
The developer, Ninja Theory, is probably best known for the excellent but little-known action-adventure game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Enslaved had a capable and rewarding combat system, but it lacked the depth, challenge and high-risk/high-reward structure of Capcom’s Devil May Cry series.
I’ve always loved a good challenge, especially when it comes from a solid character-action game. I’ve demolished the God of War and Devil May Cry games on harder difficulties, and I’m pretty damn sure I could still list a hundred reasons why Bayonetta is a modern classic. So you’ll understand if I’m a little bit particular about what makes a great character-action game, and you might relate to my initial trepidation about Ninja Theory taking the reins on the series that arguably launched the genre.
I don’t know how they did it, but DmC might be the best game the series has ever seen. Ninja Theory inarguably nailed the complex, reflex-driven combat system that the series was revered for, and each enemy encounter is a joy—something to look forward to. Traversal is richly rewarding thanks to smart camera angles and an all-consuming devotion to detail in the game’s art direction. But the biggest improvement, surprisingly, comes from the game’s story.
Let’s be clear that Devil May Cry is a series that’s never won any awards for having a rich, complex and relatable narrative. Ninja Theory doesn’t try to legitimize the series’ bizarre mythology; instead, it embraces the inexplicable war between angels and demons or whatever the hell’s going on and makes it meaningful with sharp writing and excellent performances from the game’s cast of characters. It’s strange to think what a big difference a compelling narrative can make in a game that’s all about killing demons with swords and guns, but there’s no question that DmC is a much better game as a result.
Super Mario 3D World
November | Nintendo EAD | Wii U
It's crazy that this didn't make our top-ten list, but our calculus is imprecise and, frankly, more closely resembles witchcraft when you take a good, hard look at it.
So why is Super Mario 3D World so great? Simply put, it's the best of its kind no matter how you slice it: the best platformer, the best Wii U game, the best cooperative game -- hell, I'd even argue it's the best-looking game of 2013 (sorry, The Last of Us). Each level is imbued with Nintendo's trademark innovation and creativity, and the progression from breezy early stages to the frantic, borderline-frustrating bonus levels is pitch-perfect.
I don't know of another developer that can even hope to make games of this level of quality. If you enjoy having a big, stupid grin on your face and enjoy playing games with friends and family, here's your reason to go pick up a Wii U.
August | One True Game Studios, Iron Galaxy Studios | PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Windows
Man, what is there to say about Divekick? It’s an inside joke that somehow morphed into a real game, and one that happens to be a painstakingly balanced fighting game.
What makes Divekick exceptional is how it distills the complex mind game and reflexive challenge of the best fighting games down to a simple, two-button control scheme. These buttons —“dive” and “kick,” naturally -- enable players to perform a wide range of offensive and defensive maneuvers while they struggle for victory by landing a single kick against their foe.
If Divekick had simply been a sly wink in the direction of the Shoryuken forums, that would’ve been fine by me. But the game was so polished and so accessible that it unexpectedly wound up being the perfect introduction to the fighting game genre. It’s inviting enough for novices willing to give it a shot, and it’s challenging enough that hardcore fighting game veterans can give each other a run for their money.
But for me, it all comes down to one moment: waiting in line for the Giant Bomb panel at PAX this year and taking on dozens of challengers using the Vita version’s two-players-on-one-handheld mode. Since the game only requires two buttons per player, rivals can each grip one side of a Vita and go toe-to-toe anywhere. Playing a fighting game with strangers is a time-honored tradition, but there’s something wonderfully intimate about playing one where you’re both responsible for holding the controller.
June | Cellar Door Games | OS X, Linux, Windows
I fell in love with this game for two reasons, and they just so happen to comprise its title:
Rogue: As with any Roguelike, death has consequences. Every time you snuff it, the level rebuilds itself and you lose the majority of your progress (boss completion aside). However, thanks to some clearly delineated player expectations (the tower's always above the castle, and you basically never want to go into the basement) your sense of progression comes from your own ability to learn the game's language, hone your platforming skills and adapt to the countless permutations of enemy encounters and puzzles that the game throws your way. It's endlessly engrossing and always a good challenge.
Legacy: I confess that I still can't beat the last boss, even after 20 hours of slaying monsters, collecting loot and experimenting with the game's many distinct character classes. My character's at level 130 or something crazy, which is the sum total of all the upgrades I've committed to my own castle -- effectively a skills-upgrade tree that persists between player-character generations. This emphasis on collecting enough loot to invest in that much-needed upgrade is insanely compelling.
Simply put, if you enjoy Metroidvania-style games but are looking for a fresh and unpredictable challenge, you can't go wrong with this one.
April | Drinkbox Studios | PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Windows
One of the many things I miss about living in Austin was Juegos Rancheros, the city’s independent game collective. Juegos put on a bunch of awesome events, including monthly free gatherings with new indie games to play and a free day-long workshop on how to go independent as a game developer. But its best contribution might’ve been Fantasic Arcade, an indie-focused games festival hosted every year in Austin.
I stumbled upon an unassuming side-scroller with a terrifically punny name at Sony’s booth back in 2012. Guacamelee!, as it turned out, was a two-dimensional character-action game with a rich and angular art style, phenomenally fluid animation and a tight and rewarding combat system. That was enough to draw me in, but once I realized it could also be played cooperatively — and that it comprised a sprawling world to be explored in a traditional Metroidvania fashion — I knew I’d found a winner.
Now that I’ve almost wrapped up my second playthrough, I couldn’t be happier with Guacamelee! The game does a brilliant job of using the acquisition of new lucha-libre wrestling moves as a means to unlock previously inaccessible areas, which makes traversal an increasingly rewarding part of the game. The combat develops exceptionally well in its own right, providing such a satisfying experience that no single enemy encounter ever felt dull or repetitive to me. Fans of character-action games or two-dimensional exploration games like Super Metroid ought to get a serious kick out of this one.
March | Vlambeer | Android, iOS
1. Catch fish
2. Reel them in
3. Fling them into the air and shoot them to bits with the arsenal of a small army
Vlambeer's Ridiculous Fishing was the biggest surprise of 2013 for me. If nothing else, it reminded me that games on my phone could be fun, challenging, engrossing and -- most importantly -- absolutely hilarious. Every moment with this game was time well-spent.
I mean this sincerely: If you buy one game from 2013, make it Ridiculous Fishing.