Everything that happens annually is great. My birthday? Amazing. A date with someone of the opposite sex? I mean, it’s okay I guess, but then so are dates with the same sex. An invasive full-body cavity search just to make sure you aren’t accidentally hiding anything? It feels so good, so reassuring. But what I also love is end-of-the-year lists of things. Karl Frampton’s list of the top six nights out this year? A real classic. I printed it off and put it on my wall. But this isn’t about Karl, you cheeky knave, this is about the video games. Last year I wrote a month-by-month breakdown of my favourite games of the year, and then picked my game of the year. That was on Tumblr. Some of the images aren’t linked properly now, because I was young and naïve. This time it will be different. This time it will be posted on this website and then probably reposted on Tumblr. That’s how you do websites, right?
The same rules as last time apply: “Gonna give game of the month and then an overall, providing I played a game that came out that month. Not going to include ports or re-releases unless there is a significant difference.” With the added rule that these don’t have to be followed if I forget or mess up or something. Because that happened last year anyway.
Okay, well, I didn’t really play anything that came out this month. January is mostly about releasing ports of games that came out in the end of 2012. The only game that properly came out in January that I have played is DmC: Devil May Cry, and it’s really not very good. But I guess it wins this month by default. At one point one of the main protagonists gives a woman a sniper-abortion. There is also a massive amount of dubstep, and a combat system with none of the nuance or depth I had previously come to love of the Devil May Cry series. This is the sort of game your fourteen-year-old cousin would be all over for his Xbox 360 and would get for his birthday, his greasy hands gleefully tearing away the wrapping paper. It’s fine if you like it, but it’s not for me I guess. What a fantastic winner.
As an aside, the Windows version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed came out this month. The PC version is pretty much the definitive version of the game, with extra and free bonus characters such as Football Manager or General Winter, and gorgeous visuals. Not to mention this game is so rad it makes Mario Kart look like Sonic Drift.
For someone like me who prefers to talk about video games and look forward to playing them over actually playing them, I’m honestly surprised at how tricky it is to pick my best game for February. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was a long-awaited follow-up to one of the best cartoon platformer series of all time. It wasn’t made by Sucker Punch Productions because they were too busy with their edgy Infamous series, but Sanzaru Games instead, and their obvious love for the franchise really shines through with their take on the series. The visuals are so gorgeous they almost make my brain hurt after coming from The Sly Collection, the HD-remastering of the original trilogy done under Sanzaru’s caring, eagle-like wings. With that said, I never really had the drive to finish Theives in Time, so I guess I wont pick it. Sorry to waste your time.
No, the actual winner of this month is Platinum Games’ Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, for being everything that DmC was not. You see that entry up there? January? Copy and paste it into a word document and delete it. Let’s forget it happened. While I really don’t care if you like DmC, it wasn’t a Devil May Cry game insofar as it simply wasn’t in the stylish action genre that originated with the first Devil May Cry. Platinum Games? They are the Kings of that genre, and that shows in Revengeance with the constant barrage of over-the-top action sequences, and the tough yet nuanced combat system that encourages replay.
I know what you’re thinking: it’s a tough month to pick a favourite again. You’ve got three major modern classics vying for attention here: Tomb Raider, BioShock Infinite, and of course the finely crafted The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. It would be close except it isn’t, as Tomb Raider is simply the better game. BioShock Infinite was pretty great, sure, but it felt like a game really confined by having to stick to the FPS roots of the franchise. The best bits of that game were where your guns vanished into your (fashionable) trousers. Tomb Raider instead throws out the rough gameplay and other caveats of its previous iterations for a fresh and fantastic reboot. No more sniping gorillas for 2-3 minutes from raised rocks or slowly pushing around large cubes. Now Lara runs and jumps around like Nathan Drake from Uncharted and scrambles all over the island she’s trapped on utilising new gear to find collectables like Batman from his Arkham series. Also, she has his detective vision for some reason. But you know what, Uncharted and Arkham are both great video game series’. Also, Tomb Raider is well-written, being penned by Rhianna Pratchett, Terry Pratchett’s daughter, so as to not be dumb and instead make Lara an actual character.
While Guacamelee!, Don’t Starve, and Papa & Yo (though this came out for PSN much earlier in Aug, 2012) are all great games, I haven’t really played them enough to give them the April spot over Telltale’s simply fantastic Poker Night 2. If anything the game’s amazingness can be proved through the simple fact that Claptrap, the representative at the table for Gearbox’s Borderlands series, isn’t extremely annoying, but is actually kind of nice and fun. When you can make the writing in Borderlands actually work, you know you’re onto a winner. Also at the table is Brock Samson, the best part of the best show on Adult Swim, The Venture Bros., whose voice acting is reprised by the ever-fantastic Patrick Warburton. There is also Ash from the Evil Dead film series, and Sam from Telltale’s own brilliant Sam & Max adventure game series. The table itself is controlled by GLaDOS, who takes the role of the dealer. If this combination of characters shooting the shit while playing poker doesn’t excite you on some level then you probably have no soul. Also, the poker is pretty well put together, and I like poker.
This month comes down to an almost thematic Wild West stand-off between Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. They’re both pretty different games, but they’re both on the smaller budget side of things, which is probably why both could afford to ooze so much charm and originality. Gunslinger was fantastically stylised, both with the gorgeous visuals and the narrative. The whole game is narrated by Silas Greaves in a saloon, and the fact that he’s an unreliable narrator comes into play a few times in the actual gameplay, such as exaggerating the amount of enemies, or springing a Native Indian attack on himself to check if someone is paying attention to what he’s saying.
But I’ve really got to give this month to Monaco even though the only lengthy session I’ve spent with it was playing the entire normal campaign through in one evening with my pal George. It’s a top-down heist game where you get to pick from a bunch of different characters with a bunch of different skills. With just the two of us as opposed to the maximum four we sometimes had to give it a few tries to find the right combination to bumble our way through our thefts, but it was great fun.
This was another nice gaming month for me, as quite a few things came out that I’ve managed to play. But what will I pick as my number one? Will it be Marvel Heroes, the free-to-play MMORPG Diablo-like that wasn’t very good when it came out but is much better now I swear and I know I said “free-to-play” but I’ve spent upwards of £30 on it because it’s so addictive? Will it be Deadpool, a game that’s only possible to enjoy if you’re already a Deadpool fan and can somehow convince yourself that the combination of Daniel Way’s usual lowest common denominator mediocre writing of the character and the sub-par Devil May Cry-esque gameplay actually sort of kind of work together? Or maybe it will be Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, a charming Professor Layton spin-off for tablets that plays sort of like Ace Attorney if it vomited out all of its excess charm and story after a weekend binging on meth and salty noodles? Nah. It’s gonna be Gunpoint, an amazing indie game developed by Tom Francis where you play a noir detective who can hurl himself great distances with his Bullfrog Hypertrousers. The infiltration gameplay is tight, and the writing is stellar. Gunpoint is a game that will leave you more Charmed than my DVD shelf (and I have all eight seasons).
Easy. Hands down The Smurfs 2 for Nintendo DS. Yeah, that’s right there’s no “3” there. This game didn’t come out for Nintendo 3DS, despite being released in July 2013, about two-and-a-half years after the Nintendo 3DS came out. I didn’t even know a The Smurfs 2 movie came out, but I guess it did. So what is The Smurfs 2 for Nintendo DS? It’s like a collection of mini games in a storybook format or something, nothing like the probably dumb and awful platformer that came out on home consoles. Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t play this game. But I didn’t play anything else in July so whatever, stop complaining.
What is this, the year of the indie? Some fantastic indie games released in August. The fantastically atmospheric Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons developed by Starbreeze Studios along with the Swedish film director Josef Fares; the gorgeous oppressiveness and forceful moral narrative of Lucas Pope’s ingenious Papers, Please; and the special Wii/Wii U edition of Angry Birds: Trilogy, that particular version being developed by Fun Labs, the team behind the Cabela series.
Naturally I have to give this month to Papers, Please. While Brothers was a wonderful experience and the gameplay is pretty much unique, I find Papers, Please to be actually more distinctive in that it makes paperwork compelling, dangerous, tense, and more than anything incredibly more-ish. Everyone would be able to tell Brothers would probably be quite nice on paper, but it takes real skill to make bring a game like Papers, Please off the paper…? Some sort of paper metaphor or something. It’s a joke.
What even came out in September? Rayman Legends? All right, then.
October! What can you say about October? Chilly. But video game-wise? Sonic Lost World. But what can you say without throwing up while you do so? Oh, well, in that case: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Pokémon X and Y. Now we’re talking. But let’s break it down. Assassin’s Creed IV? A welcome return to form after the worst entry in the series, but a bit stale and probably not the pinnacle of the franchise. Batman: Arkham Origins? More like Batman: Arkham City.5. It’s a fun game but it’s hardly the best in the series. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, though? It’s easily the best LEGO game yet. It took what worked with LEGO Batman 2, and rolled it up into a fantastically refined Marvel package. I haven’t played Pokémon X and Y, so whatever. I can only really in good conscience let LEGO Marvel Super Heroes come out on top for this month.
If I was one of the six people who owns a Wii U then maybe I’d put Super Mario 3D World in for the running here, as it looks pretty good and I hear it’s amazing. But I don’t. But even if I had played SM3DW, I doubt it’d hold a torch to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A direct sequel to A Link to the Past (it’s even called Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce 2 in Japan), the game is packed full of more nostalgia than a cake baked from actual flakes of your dead skin from when you were a baby. It’s one of only a handful of 3DS games where the 3D actually feels beneficial, and you’d be missing out playing this in 2D, the subtle depth not only looking great, but also helping to judge fall-distance for gameplay purposes. The best Zelda in a long time, handheld or otherwise.
December was an awful month. Let’s forget it happened, and just move on.
Overall Game of the Year (just for this year)
While there were some undoubtedly solid AAA releases this year which show that stale is still a few best-before dates away for some franchises, 2013 was definitely the year of the indie game. Indie gaming has swooped past the Renaissance that arguably occurred around the time Braid and Castle Crashers came out on XBLA, did a series of flips through the flaming sky-ring of Steam’s Greenlight, and has now landed gracefully in the field that it’s in now.
So my Game of the Year is a bit of a cop-out, then. I’m awarding it to the combined might of Monaco: What’s Your’s is Mine; Gunpoint; Papers, Please; and tentatively Poker Night 2, which sort of counts as an indie game. These have been breaths of fresh air; welcome vistas emerging from a foggy cliff that shows creativity and innovation still exists. But if I really had to pick just one of them to recommend for the year it would be Monaco, unless you don’t have any friends, in which case I would recommend socialising more. Just think of it like The Sims.
I will be writing more about video games in the new year as part of my Avoid Drowning project, which we be launching early in 2014.
Also, I own no rights whatsoever to any of the images used in this post. I think they come under fair use, but maybe they don’t, in which case, shoot me a message.