2013 was an amazing year in gaming. While we got loads of sequels, we also got some beautiful new IPs, and plenty of new hardware to enjoy it all.
Naughty Dog took a break from Uncharted and gave us The Last of Us, BattleBlock Theater reminded us why we love The Behemoth, and Ken Levine and his crew unleashed BioShock: Infinite on the gaming world. And let’s not forget all the amazing ports, including Diablo III (on consoles), Fez (on the PC), and Hotline Miami (on the PS3 and Vita). Yes, this year took our breath away, and cramped our thumbs like the good old days of the NES. We here at Warp Zoned have been gaming our little fingers off the last 12 months, and we’ve been even harder at work the last few weeks trying to decide what we loved and hated about gaming in 2013. After several days of deliberation, here’s what we came up with. And now it’s time for us to get back to gaming… 2014 is ready for us.
The Apocalypse List
The bombs have fallen, the economy has collapsed, food is scarce, the zombie hordes are scratching at your door, and you’ve boarded yourself up in a bunker that’ll stand for a hundred years. What better way to spend your time in “The Vault” than by playing Warp Zoned’s favorite games from 2013? It doesn’t matter if you call it a “Top Ten List” or “Our Favorites From 2013,” but these are the games we plan to keep playing even if there was no game industry to keep making games.
BattleBlock Theater: “Although the wait between games is excruciating, the final product shows how much love and dedication the team at Behemoth puts into their games. They set out to make a game that is both challenging and fun, and they succeeded in both aspects. If I’m laughing one minute and cursing the next, then still humming the soundtrack days after my last session, then you’ve created a great game. Come onstage, Behemoth, and take a bow.”
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon: “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is so awesome that it broke our review scale…”
Fire Emblem: Awakening: “Anyone who enjoys strategy RPGs will love Fire Emblem: Awakening. It’s also the perfect game if you’re trying to get into the genre and don’t know where to start. With the multitude of characters and classes, and the varying plot choices, there’s a lot of gameplay time here – and a lot of enjoyment.”
Grand Theft Auto V: Three playable characters… A massive Los Santos that seems to sprawl out forever… And an online mode that nearly broke the Internet. Rockstar Games continues to be the biggest developer and they’ve produced yet another masterpiece. Honestly, there are no words.
The Last of Us: “To say that The Last of Us is one of the most important games going into the next generation is not an understatement. It is the perfect blend of enormous playability and stunning graphics fused with a serious, sprawling but most importantly, human story. It manages to scare and amaze in equal doses, slipping under your skin. The character development is such that Joel and Ellie remain with you days after you have left them to their fates. There are genuine moments of heartfelt loss, as well as grains of humour in between the grim settings. It captures the best of humanity, a rare beacon amidst a sea of chaos and social truths, a requiem for a dark future.”
Legend of Dungeon: Robot Loves Kitty busted onto the scene with this great dungeon crawler, in which you – and up to three of your friends – see how far down into the procedurally generated dungeon you can get. As you go from floor to floor, you fight monsters, drink strange potions, and pick up some of the best gear you’ve ever seen. Just this week, I found a bunny hat that let me jump twice as high, as well as a spellbook that let me shoot killer flying skulls out of it. The replayability of this game is off the charts, and the fun level isn’t far behind.
Ridiculous Fishing: “Ridiculous Fishing is a game that everyone should play to satiate the need to use those twitch reflexes but also as a way to end a long day – by relaxing and blowing some fish to smithereens. For $2.99, you’d be a fool not to own Ridiculous Fishing.”
The Starship Damrey: “The Starship Damrey is a fantastic game. I don’t mean ‘it’s good for a downloadable game,’ either – that would belittle its quality. It stands on its own as a terrific game, and belongs in the library of anyone who isn’t afraid to explore. The puzzles are challenging, the plot is rich, and you’ll find yourself hoping that the Japanese duo that made this game will bring more of their works to our shores so we can play those as well.”
Tomb Raider: Lady Lara is no longer video game royalty, but thanks to her latest reboot, Crystal Dynamics has relaunched an outstanding franchise that will continue for years to come. From the inventive puzzles to the visceral combat to the pulsating sense of survival, Tomb Raider had it all. Welcome back, Lara, the world missed you.
TowerFall: There are few games more lovable than TowerFall, a game that is like Super Smash Bros. but with retro-style graphics and archers. Don’t let the retro graphics fool you, though – the physics are exquisite, and once you get them down, you’ll be able to kill someone with a well-placed arrow almost anywhere on the screen. Be sure you learn how to dodge, because that can be the difference between surviving and just becoming another (exploding) corpse. Matt Thorson’s amazing game is only available on Ouya right now, but will be available on the PS4 in 2014.
The Participation Trophy
The Participation Trophy is awarded to a game that wasn’t necessarily great, but it was great that we got to play it.
Winner: The Typing of the Dead: Overkill
The Dreamcast collected castoffs and one-offs like a reunion of The Goonies. If it was a weird game and it was released between 1999 and 2002, odds are it was available on the Dreamcast. The Typing of the Dead, a typing tutor reskin of House of the Dead 2, was just another face in the horde. But fans loved it and they wanted more. It just took Sega 12 years.
The Typing of the Dead: Overkill added a typing mechanic to 2009’s fantastic light gun game The House of the Dead: Overkill in exactly the same way as the original Typing of the Dead. The word choices are still wild and the ridiculous “death-by-keyboard” plot still brings a smile to my face. Best of all, Sega didn’t even promote Typing: Overkill. One day, it didn’t exist, and the next day, it did. That’s because the development team at Modern Dream completed the game in a span of just six weeks after original developer Blitz Games went bankrupt.
In this case, the fact that we got to play Typing of the Dead: Overkill at all is a gift.
Best Game Where an Alien’s Head Pops Like a Grape
Spaceships, little green men, giant mecha… the world of science fiction will always have a place in video games. This is our favorite game where an alien/robot/mutant gets an RPG to the face in 2013.
Winner: The Wonderful 101
From Our Review: “The main characters of the game are the Wonder agents (who are named after colors), and as you meet them, you progress in your mastery of seven weapons. The further into the game you delve, the more first-tier Wonderful 100 agents you meet, increasing your arsenal. Initially, you have access to only Wonder-Red’s fist or Wonder-Blue’s Valiantium Sword, but later you get access to Wonder-Green’s gun, Wonder-Pink’s whip, or Wonder-White’s Wolverine-style claws. These primary agents can be swapped out for secondary Wonderful 100 agents who have similar weapons but bizarre themed-names, such as Wonder-Beer or Wonder-Cheerleader.
The wide array of Geathjerk minions and robots are susceptible to attacks by certain weapons. This forces you to think, strategise and co-ordinate your approach, rather than go headlong into throwing fists and firing guns. For example, the brilliantly named Gedie Dough-Goo is an upgraded version of the Dough-Goo, an enemy you encounter earlier on. However, the newer model is now protected by spiked armor plates. In order to defeat it, you must first use the whip to rip the plates off, before striking with your weapon of choice.”
Jason Voorhees Memorial Award
The rotting corpse of Jason Voorhees has shambled his way through 12 movies since 1980 and horror fans can always be counted on to return to Camp Crystal Lake. The hockey mask-wearing slasher is so perennially popular that the “Memorial” part of this award will always be in question. And so it is with video games, which often manage to get better after the 11th or 12th iteration of a series.
Winner: Super Mario 3D World
Mario. Whether you’re the former governor of New York, a world class race car driver, an actor forever linked to Saved by the Bell, or a Hall of Fame hockey player, you are playing second fiddle to Nintendo’s mascot. With the release of Super Mario 3D World, the “main series” of Mario games currently numbers 17, and the plumber from Brooklyn is showing no signs of slowing down.
Merging the 2D and 3D play styles of previous Mario games, Super Mario 3D World creates something that feels both classic and revolutionary. Nintendo managed to include nods to practically every previous Mario adventure while jamming the game with new features. Oh, and did I mention that it included simultaneous multiplayer and brought Peach back as a playable character for the first time in decades? I didn’t? Well, I probably should, because the multiplayer and Peach were fantastic.
The “Great Scott” Award for Best Trilogy Ender
Everyone loves a trilogy. And no one loves a trilogy more than game publishers. Getting three games out into the marketplace that can sell, sell, sell is a publisher’s dream. Thankfully, a few people still take this trilogy business seriously as we look at 2013’s favorite finale (until the inevitable fourth entry).
Winner: BioShock Infinite
From Our Review: “So what makes BioShock Infinite so different? Why shouldn’t you just go revisit the original BioShock and call it a day? The best reason I can give you is the true star of the game: the narrative. With complicated characters and a compelling storyline, BioShock Infinite has done something not many other games have been able to do: drawn me in and kept me playing for hours just on the story alone. I needed to know what happened next – I had to find out what was going on, what the truth was, and how it was going to end. It was like lying in bed on a weeknight at 2 AM reading a good book, being unable to stop turning the pages. Just one more chapter, I kept telling myself. The argument of video games as art has reached its apex here, and BioShock Infinite is at the heart.”
Most Disappointing Sequel
It’s a Hollywood adage that a sequel is always worse in some way. But for video games, it’s just the opposite. Taking everything they’ve learned from the first game, developers are able to put much more into a sequel (even after a dozen tries: for example, see above). Sometimes, things don’t work out that way.
Winner: Dead Space 3
From Our Review: “The whole idea behind Dead Space is that you’re fighting against Necromorphs, horrible monsters that can only be killed if you dismember them. But in Dead Space 3, your initial enemies are humans, which changes the entire feeling of the game. You’re not playing a survival horror game anymore; all of a sudden, you’re playing a plain old third-person shooter. There’s nothing wrong with third-person shooters, mind you. But being in the boots of Isaac Clarke is about precision dismemberment and jumping out of your skin, not dudes tossing grenades at you and catching you in their sights.
Anyone who isn’t invested in Isaac Clarke or this universe will either feel that this game is a rip-off (I’ve heard it called ‘Gears of Dead Space’) or won’t understand the appeal of the series, especially if they’re starting here.”
Al Gore Award for Best Use of Environment In a Game
Ever since games moved beyond being about a simple character moving against a black background, they’ve used the environment to help tell their story. Who can forget the unique playground of Super Mario 64 or the hostile terrain of Half-Life 2? And because sometimes you just want to stop and look around at the world.
Media Molecule, the team that brought the world the beloved LittleBigPlanet series, is at it again with their first full Vita game. In Tearaway, the environment isn’t just beautiful – it’s a character of its own. Everything in the game is made out of paper, from the characters Iota and Atoi, to the many enemies, to the vast and adorable background, and you must solve puzzles by utilizing the front touchscreen and the back touchpad. The result is that you can interact with your character in strange, unusual, and often beautiful ways. There are even ways to take pictures and use them, bringing your own environment into the game. Tearaway is lovely, and one of the main reasons to get a Vita.
Miles Dyson Memorial Award
AKA “The One Step Closer to SkyNet Award.” Video game technology is advancing at a lightning fast pace and now that next generation consoles have practically reached the limits of photorealistic graphics; the only other place to go is to make the game world as realistic as possible. There’s no fate but what we make and no limit to what a talented developer can do with the right piece of new technology.
Winner: Oculus Rift
The Oculus Rift, originally Kickstarted tech, made it into the hands of a lot of game developers in 2013… with some incredible results. While it’s still very limited, just hearing the words “you can play Hawken with the Oculus Rift” is enough to send shivers down my spine. I can also attest to the fact that getting your head chopped off while wearing it – even if you know what’s about to happen – will probably make you scream. And with the Omni on its way, there are seemingly endless possibilities available.
Thrifty Time-Reversal Award
Maybe you missed it the first time around. Or maybe it was your favorite game back in the day and you want to play it again. Whatever the reason, it’s back in 2013 with eye-popping 3D or a high definition makeover or some other update. And you can’t imagine not parting with your money and playing it all over again.
Winner: Diablo III
What was a decent game on the PC ended up being an utterly incredible experience on consoles: yes, I’m talking about Diablo III, the trilogy-ender for Blizzard’s beloved Diablo series.
Playing it the first time through, with having to be online constantly, getting kicked off of Battle.Net, and barely getting any rare loot thanks to the auction house, all added up to a bummer of an experience. But port it to consoles and get rid of all of that junk… and add in couch co-op? Yes, please. Blizzard wasn’t sure it could be done, but do it they did, and it was like a dream come true.
The “This Game Rocks” Award
Games need more than a good story and gameplay sometimes. Sometimes they need to rock (or pop or jazz or what have you). This award honors the game with the best music of the year.
Winner: Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians
From Our Review: “The best part about Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is, obviously, the music. Designed to be in sync with the gameplay, it worked beautifully and drew me in more than I expected, even after adoring the game at PAX East. As you explore the world, the music comes together in small pieces, culminating in the scenes when you’re in your vehicle. I found myself bopping along to the music, especially when there were moments that I needed to perform something in time with the music. I would hold my breath and start counting and then move myself in time with the beat as I pulled off whatever move I needed to do. Successes felt so sweet when they also culminated in the perfect timing of the snare drum.”
The “Shoeless” Joe Jackson Award
“If you build it, he will come.” Most games are victims of overinflated expectations, but sometime there is no hype and no warning. Sometimes a game just completely surprises you. Like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson emerging from the corn, this game came completely out of left field to thrill you.
TowerFall came out of nowhere, rising up from its 8-bit origins into its current 16-bit glory. Matt Thorson totally nailed it at PAX Prime – no game was as flooded with people as his in the PAX 10 all weekend long. We included it in our PAXPocalypse list, which may seem unfair, since we didn’t play it there, but we had been playing it for months at our friends’ video game studio, where they had a beta copy of it. It arrived on the scene first on the Ouya, and is scheduled to come out later this year on the PS4. It’s a beautiful, fun, and unique game, similar enough to games like Super Smash Bros. to draw in the competitive crowd yet different enough to bring in an entirely new set of people – and get them hooked.
The What? Award
The game that most perfectly encapsulates a single thought process as you play it: “What did I just see?”
Winner: BattleBlock Theater
From Our Review: “The story in BattleBlock Theater is a sad, yet strangely hilarious tale: socialite Hatty Hattington is perhaps the best friend one could have. He is a kind, generous soul, who takes much joy in spending time with those he loves. One day, Hatty takes his cavalcade of compadres on his luxurious yacht for a relaxing journey at sea. And, like any three-hour tour, Mother Nature decides to put a quick end to the festivities.
Having been shipwrecked on a strange island (for that matter, aren’t all shipwreckable islands strange?), Hatty and his friends are quickly taken captive by the denizens of the island: cats. Mean cats. Mean, nasty, cats. Horrible cats, who take sick pleasure in forcing their prisoners into a theater-turned-prison, where they navigate treacherous courses trying to find gems and exit with their body still intact. And to make matters worse, they’ve placed an evil, glowing hat upon Hatty Hattington, making him their evil leader. You know that scene in Temple of Doom where Indy is forced to drink that weird juice and became a slave to Mola Ram? Think of it like that. But, you know, with cats. Your duty in the game as Hatty’s friend/prisoner is to navigate these obstacle courses, find gems, liberate your companions, and ultimately, free Hatty from the evil felines.”
The Video Game Librarian Award
Being a gamer is about more than just playing video games. As we all know, movie studios are still looking for that breakout title that’ll make “video game movies” the next great genre. But writers of fiction and non-fiction have been turning out some great stuff based on video games for years now.
Winner: Doom: ScaryDarkFast
From Nicole’s review at Geekadelphia: “Pinchbeck’s research and interviews, along with his analysis of each and every episode of Doom, bring the game to life in a way never before seen. He shows the strategy behind the levels, intersplicing his own playthroughs with information he found online as well as direct comments from those who created them. He references the Doom Bible frequently, going back to the team’s original ideas and expanding on the differences – and similarities – between their early dreams and what became reality.
Doom: ScaryDarkFast is a book that video game geeks need to read. Even if you don’t love Doom, or aren’t into shooters, it’s a detailed look at the early days of the industry as we know it today. It sheds light on the magic that id software was at the center of, and shows what a small team can do when they’re driven with the madness of creation.”