Games of the Year 2013

Making lists is fun, so here’s a list of my favourite games released in the year of our lord 2013. I haven’t played almost all of the games, but I have played some of the games. No, I haven’t played Skyoshock, or Gone Home, or The Stanley Parable. I’m so, so sorry.

Oh and, I did play The Last of Us, but not enough of it to give it a place here. Soz bbz xoxo.

For the second year running (here’s last year’s picks) I’ve failed to narrow down a top ten, because I’m an indecisive buffoon. Here’s my top 13, because 2013!! Geddit? I did it on purpose.

GAME THE THIRTEENTH

Pitman

Pitman, Rat King Entertainment (Android, PC, iOS)

This lovely wee roguelike has actually been available on PC for a good while now, but it was 2013 which saw it make the jump to Android. If I’m being honest, I’d still rate PC as the preferable platform, but Rat King did a very good job with this port. The content’s all there, it controls nicely on a touchscreen, and I can take it with me wherever I go. Can’t complain, really.

GAME THE TWELFTH

Ridiculous Fishing

Ridiculous Fishing, Vlambeer (iOS, Android)

My favourite description of Ridiculous Fishing is from Pocket Gamer’s Rob Hearn in this end-of-year article:

“it feels almost as though Vlambeer broke into the neural research laboratory of a successful freemium game developer, stole its reward centre-stimulating, addiction-inducing secrets, and defiantly chose to use them for good instead of evil.”

This is a perfect description, because Ridiculous Fishing could so easily have been an evil game. For a bigger developer, or at least a less nice one, it would’ve been a no-brainer to make RF‘s tasty, compulsive chain of progression a hungry freemium monster. In a market in which freemium makes the most money, the fact that Vlambeer didn’t take this path is novel and commendable in itself — it being brilliant fun is a nice bonus.

GAME THE ELEVENTH

Hedonist

Velocity Ultra, FuturLab (PS Vita, PS3, PC)

Velocity was a surprise hit in 2012, rising from the by-then barren landscape of PlayStation minis. It was my game of the year.

This one’s better — the graphics are enhanced for PS Vita, and there’s new input options — but I questioned how much this edition added, with the new control options largely impractical and the original minis version playable on the Vita anyway. Regardless of these quibbles, if you’ve never played Velocity then you absolutely need to play this. It’s an impeccably-designed shmup, looking prettier than ever on Vita.

The excellent Curve Studios have now brought the game to PC and PlayStation 3 too, so it’s no longer limited to Vita owners.

GAME THE TENTH

PixelNew_ZXSpec2

Life of Pixel, Super Icon (PS Vita, PSM-certified devices)

Speaking of PlayStation minis, Life of Pixel is a game released on PlayStation Mobile — Sony’s second swing at a low-priced, bite-sized, indie-friendly marketplace. It’s one of the few great adverts for PSM, in that it offers something that iOS and Android can’t. At £1.59 it’s a little pricier than your average mobile game, but being designed with physical controls in mind really helps Life of Pixel no end. The Vita’s buttons have allowed the devs to focus on precise, old-school platforming in a way in which a touchscreen developer could not, without fear of courting smudgy-thumbed frustration.

As a result, Life of Pixel is an excellent and uncompromised platformer which takes you on a whistle-stop tour of 8bit hardware, from Speccy to NES. Seeing the progression of these systems, and getting to know the visual palette of each new batch of levels is a joy to behold, even for a younger gamer. Even better, though the authentic charm of the visuals remains, Pixel himself is very much a slick product of 2013, and he’s never a burden to control. A highly recommended history lesson.

GAME THE NINTH

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Polygon Storm, Glass Knuckle Games (Android, PC)

Polygon Storm is intense. As I wrote on Appstorm, ‘watch Polygon Storm in action, and you’ll probably become dazed at the swirling, ceaseless parade of coloured blobs between which you’re supposed to dodge and weave, like a claustrophobe’s nightmare of a busy high-street.’

And yet, it’s one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played. I’ve always loved  games which derive a sense of zen-like daze from reactions elevated to the level of unconscious instinct, and this is pretty much a perfect example of that. Swipe your finger around, avoid stuff, listen to chiptunes from ABSRDST. Simple as that. Brilliant.

GAME THE EIGHTH

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X-Orbtek II, Oxygen Addict (PCXbox 360)

It doesn’t look like much, but X-Orbtek II is one of my favourite indie games of 2013, just as the original X-Orbtek won my heart in 2012. This score-chasing avoid-’em-up doesn’t reveal its appeal until you actually start playing — and then it gets its hooks in.

It builds upon the core principles of the original — metaphorically plate-spinning the fast-diminishing orbs of life force and avoiding marauding nasties — while doing what any good sequel should: adding a heap of new stuff. New modes, the addition of weapons, and local multiplayer all combine to make this a worthy and generous upgrade to the original.

As if more incentive were needed, it’s available pay-what-you-want on itch.io, so all you Scrooges can pay nowt if you want.

GAME THE SEVENTH

ls_01

Lone Survivor, Superflat Games / Curve Studios (PS Vita, PS3, PC)

Okay, re-releases may be a tricky subject, but for the purposes of this list they count. If it came to a new platform in 2013, then in my mind it’s eligible.

Lone Survivor was a game I never dreamed I’d like. I was given the game to review on Vita, but otherwise I would have probably never pursued it — horror games aren’t usually my bag, and I’m not a huge PC gamer. It was incredible, though. Everything from the enemy design to the use of sound and psychology was unsettling in the best possible way, getting inside my head and dropping narrative clues like the best horror fiction does. ‘A haze of confusion shrouds Lone Survivor‘, I wrote in my review. ‘Life is strange, ever-shifting, and untrustworthy.’

And yes, it is weird. But it’s never so surreal that it loses sight of its seriousness, and it never enters the realms of farce. A superb game.

GAME THE SIXTH

HL

Hotline Miami, Dennaton Games (PS Vita, PS3, PC)

Another PlayStation re-release of a formerly PC-only indie game.

Well, what can you say about Hotline Miami that hasn’t already been said? Nothing, really. So let’s move on.

But before we go: if you haven’t played it, the hype is worth believing. Grab it.

GAME THE FIFTH

Artwork_low

Skies, Cuve Games (PC)

Skies is like playing a Saturday-morning cartoon, and I’m very happy with that. There’s a wonderful atmosphere to simply flying around the world map. Maybe hoovering up cash from shootin’ up goons, maybe trading, maybe even progressing the (pleasant, yet largely incidental) story — but whatever you’re up to in Skies, it’s rarely stressful, it’s always fun, and it just has this great feel that I always struggle to explain. I struggled to articulate my feelings on the game earlier in the year:

‘Skies is far from flawless, but its problems were not enough to stop me having a great time playing through it. Whether or not it was just thanks to vivid imagery that stirred my nostalgia, the game conjured a great atmosphere  that I haven’t seen a game achieve for a long time. Skies felt like a genuine adventure. When assessed in terms of cold analysis, it is very clear that each part of the game – some parts in particular – could be improved. However, a great sense of style, some genuine moments of gameplay and thematic excellence, and a cohesion of ideas make this a superb package. Especially given the low price, which must be taken into account, Skies easily makes its way into my favorite indie games of the year so far.’

Oh, and that price I mentioned? £1.99. An amazing bargain. Buy it.

GAME THE FOURTH

Attack-of-the-Friday-Monsters-A-Tokyo-Tale

Attack of the Friday Monsters, Millenium Kitchen (3DS eShop)

I fell in love with Attack of the Friday Monsters. A labour of love by Millenium Kitchen, and a product of the same Guild project which brought us Crimson Shroud and Liberation Maiden, it’s not really a game about monsters; it’s a game about childhood. There’s fart jokes, wide-eyed superhero-worship, a group of kids in the grip of a card game obsession, and a uniquely childlike thrill of discovery.

Attack of the Friday Monsters is, I suppose, a pint-sized RPG, but it feels more like an adventure game. However, instead of taxing puzzles there’s a soothing to and fro to the gameplay, in a contained rural setting with bags of personality. It tells a weirdly heartwarming story of love, friendship, and ambition — while also featuring giant monsters smashing the shit out of one another on a hilltop. So yeah, cool.

GAME THE THIRD

rayman-legends-screenshot

Rayman Legends, Ubisoft Montpellier (PS Vita, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC)

Rayman Legends is not a perfect game and, for the most part, I prefer 2011’s Origins. The main reason for this is the addition of Murfy, a floaty green touchscreen-controlled turd who clears the path for Rayman to leg it through. I’ve heard the Murfy levels defended, even praised, but to me they felt like nothing more than a tedious leftover of Legends‘ since-abandoned Wii U exclusivity. Who wants to perform the boring tasks, dragging stuff out of the way and prodding enemies, while Rayman steals the limelight with his acrobatic platforming? Not me, that’s for sure.

However, this aside, Legends is the follow-up that Orgins deserved. The already-beautiful art has come on since 2011, with levels boasting more background depth and detail than ever. The musical levels — punchy platforming tuned and timed perfectly to the beat of catchy tunes — are works of absolute genius, the daily challenge stuff is cool, even though I haven’t got heavily involved in it, and it’s rammed full of content. It’s even got all the levels from Origins included, which is an astounding act of generosity which an oft-derided Ubisoft simply didn’t need to have to have done.

Rayman truly tightens his grip on the 2D platforming crown here, and I couldn’t be more glad to have him back.

GAME THE SECOND

guacamelee_3

Guacamelee!, Drinkbox Studios (PS Vita, PS3, PC)

Everyone loves a nice surprise, and Guacamelee was one of the year’s best. Sure, we all kind of suspected it’d be good, coming from the superb DrinkBox, but nobody was quite prepared for how good it was.

It is not, as I feared, all one big “oh-ho, aren’t we hilarious” wilfully wacky series of jokes with a luchador theme. This is not a metroidvania game with a luchador overlay slapped on — rather, the luchador theme informs everything cool about the game. The punchy combos, the excellent grapple finishers, and even the skeletal enemies all stem from the luchador theme and the Mexican setting.

I can imagine how, for onlooking indie developers, Guacamelee is like that annoying kid in school who can turn his hand to anything. It’s a satisfying and deep brawler with a complex colour-based attack system, an occasionally head-scratching puzzler with it’s dimension-swapping shenanigans, a solid platformer, and a metroidvania with all the backtracking and discovery trappings you’d expect. And fair play, that kid was a massive wanker, but I can’t help but love Guacamelee.

GAME THE FIRST

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Tearaway, Media Molecule (PS Vita)

Tearaway is one of the sweetest, most inventive games I’ve played in years, if not ever. It does the unthinkable – it makes the Vita’s obscene, showy amount of tech feel worthwhile, necessary even. Two cameras, Vita? Come on, that’s overkill isn’t it? A touchscreen and a rear touchpad? When are we ever going to use both of those? And really, a microphone?? Haven’t we exhausted all that with the volley of shit mic usage on the DS?

Media Molecule have bravely took on such questions, made a decent claim for the relevance of each, and created a final product that isn’t Little Deviants. Those lads do good work, don’t they?

But look, here it is in a nutshell: imagine the most charming platformer you’ve ever played, with the best of Little Big Planet‘s spirit condensed for the creatively challenged, but in a tactile papercraft world. A world which you, as mysterious godlike figure, can reach into and prod about with using the aforementioned plethora of inputs. It tackles the idea of the gamer as the ultimate controlling force, and gives the player the only role that makes sense – a God. It takes a while to get used to seeing your own stupid face reflected back at yourself in Tearaway‘s sun on the horizon, but it is cool to be acknowledged as a constant overseeing presence in a videogame.

And just as you enter the papery world of Tearaway, progression in the game expands your papercraft collection on Tearaway.me – a series of templates of in-game items and creatures which we can print out and bring into our own world.

Oh, and you get to design a crown for a squirrel! There’s also a moment about halfway through the game in which you get to see papery waves crashing against a lighthouse, and it’s truly stunning. Best water effect of 2013, and it’s made of paper. Nice one.

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