2013 Game of the Year Awards: Tyler's Honorable Mentions
There's not much to say other than I played a lot of games in 2013, and not all of them made our Game of the Year list. Which is a shame for you, the reader, because a lot of great titles came out last year. But here's my opportunity to highlight my favorites! Read on for some of the other top games of last year.
Rachet & Clank: Into the Nexus
November | Insomniac Games | PlayStation 3
I've had a soft spot for the Lombax and his robot companion since their debut on the PlayStation 2. The Ratchet & Clank series of games are reliably entertaining platformers with creative weaponry and gadgets, imaginative worlds and an endearing cast of alien-yet-familiar characters. I consider the last substantial retail offering from Insomniac, Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time, to be the high note of the franchise. Since then Insomniac hasn't known quite what to do with its characters. The primary development team moved on to other, more seemingly high-profile shooters such as Resistance, Fuse and the as-yet-unreleased Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive. The latest R & C games have been the sole dominion of Insomniac's Raleigh, NC offices.
A Crack in Time didn't light the PS3 on fire sales-wise, so the series has become a prime subject for poor experimentation: releases like the co-op All 4 One, the MOBA Full Frontal Assault, neither of which did very well in their own right, alienated part of the fanbase.
Into the Nexus revisits the classic, successful format, albeit an abridged version. However, the game didn't make our list because it brought nothing new to the table. It's my gaming comfort food and I love it for that. Insomniac considers this release to be an epilogue to the PS3 games, and with the developer now working on exclusives for Microsoft, the state of the series is once again left to an uncertain future. Regardless of whether or not the intergalactic heroes are given their own adventure again, Into the Nexus is an adequate send-off for now.
Bit.Trip Runner 2: The Legend of Rhythm Alien
February | Gaijin Games | iOS, Linux, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360
I wasn't the biggest fan of Gaijin Games' Bit.Trip series of micro-games until now. Though I understood the hook -- retro-styled graphics paired with simple-yet-challenging gameplay -- the overall concept didn't appeal to me until this latest entry changed my mind. Runner 2 throws away the dated looks (aside from some optional challenge levels "rewarded" for collecting golden cartridges) and is now fully HD, and quite lovely to look at. The music has also been expanded upon, and rather than mimic chiptune sounds from a bygone era the score plays thoroughly modern and suits the gameplay well.
The style of Runner is difficult to describe: Neither a platformer nor an endless runner, the playable character, Captain Video (though the game can be played with unlockable cameo characters) has a destination but never stops. Mechanics are introduced slowly to expand upon his navigation, jumping, kicking, sliding, etc. but the runner is never stationary. Runner 2 is full of hidden exits and bonus items to unlock, but as a game lives and dies by its level design I'm pleased to report that Gaijin Games nails its design. Runner 2 is not a deep game, but it is a thoroughly entertaining one was certainly one of the best games I played this year.
September | SCE Japan Studio | PlayStation 3
When I remember the games of 2013 it'll be for the quality and creativity they brought to the idea of "presentation." Realism can only be pushed so far on any hardware (The Last of Us is pretty firmly pushing up against that wall), and in a long console cycle like the previous generation with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 developers had to discover unique ways to make their games look and feel more impressive. Puppeteer, developed by Sony's Japan Studio but directed by the creator of The Getaway and Siren: Blood Curse, oozes with charm and high-concept presentation.
The game's concept is that everything operates within the context of being a professional puppet with its own show and an active audience. Levels don't change, but sets do; when the player fails the audience lets out a collective empathetic moan, when they succeed they cheer and when a boss appears they gasp. The game deserves accolades alone for its voice acting, with actors playing voice actors within the puppet show, some so deliberately terrible they are replaced between acts. The whole thing is a subtly humorous meta-joke.
The reason Puppeteer didn't make our top 10 is that the gameplay is more LittleBigPlanet than Mario or Rayman. The different heads, which provide different abilities, work but aren't utilized very fully. However, the main reason it missed the cut was because I wasn't going to win a push for two high-concept, Sony-exclusive platformers in our list. C'est la vie.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
May | Techland | PlayStation Network, Windows, Xbox Live Arcade
This is a game that surprised me like no other last year. The Call of Juarez series ranges from being alright to awful. Uniqueness comes from being westerns in a genre typically set in modern, futuristic or sci-fi locales. The last game, Call of Juarez: The Cartel, wasn't even a western. Otherwise, the Juarez games are largely forgettable. Gunslinger succeeds not only in being a fun shooter but doing wonders for narrative interaction in an FPS.
Gunslinger is obviously a low-budget title. This is reflected both in its price (released for $15 digitally) and its reused assets: levels and enemies are repeated and remixed throughout. Admittedly this thin veneer can be potentially frustrating, but thankfully the story plays as a wonderfully exaggerated tale being told over drinks at a saloon.
The narrator is unreliable: his memory fuzzy with age, weakened further with drinks; meanwhile other patrons are frequently interrupting the story to add their own details or spin the events. The acting and story work well enough that replaying a sequence with a slightly different layout or enemy placement never bothered me. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger challenges developers' by proving that a lower budget is no excuse for laziness in design. With any luck this game will show next-gen developers that, with the right talent and creativity, lead can be made into gold.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
February | Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD | Nintendo 3DS
My fellow Sasquatches are sometimes under the impression that I bear some grudge against Nintendo. I don't, but if I did it would be be a grudge held against the company that makes the games, and not the games themselves. Nintendo makes fantastic titles for poor hardware under worse business practices. Still, in every device since the Nintendo 64 there exists an eventual threshold of high-quality software to which I can no longer turn my back. At some point the great software overwhelms me, and I invest in the platform as a gaming enthusiast. 2013 was a stellar year for Nintendo's 3DS and it was also the year they broke me. The proverbial straw to my camel's back was Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Much like Pokémon X/Y, Awakening is something of an iterative game that benefits from tremendous advancement in presentation. Even when compared alongside the last Fire Emblem on the Wii, Awakening holds stronger art direction, voice acting and writing. The gameplay bears similarity to its forebears, but the relationships forged between troops on the battlefield and the existence of a player character influencing the story are a fantastic direction for the series.
In many ways 2013 was the year that Nintendo stopped treating its handhelds like afterthoughts to give the 3DS its strongest titles since launch, and some of the best overall Nintendo releases in years. Fire Emblem: Awakening isn't my favorite 3DS game of the year, but is the the one that finally got me to take Nintendo seriously.