Top 10 Games of 2013

This was supposed to go up more than a month ago, but I somehow lost it in the shuffle.  I thought about just letting it go, the end of February is an odd time for a best of the last year list, but I wrote this and want to post. So here are my Top 10 Games for 2013.

2013 was the year that the 3DS really came into its own.  It was a good system before that, but this year it really ruled.  The hits started early, with Fire Emblem Awakening in February and never really stopped.  Plus, there were a ton of great downloadable games as well.   The WiiU, while a failure from a sales standpoint, also had a decent amount of good games.  Plus a couple truly great games. I wish I’d have been able to afford a few more PS3 games, but I’m so far behind with that system it is hard to justify new game purchases.

Before I get to the list, I really should mention a few games that missed the list.  Mostly because I didn’t play them, or didn’t play them enough.  Pandora’s Tower was the last hurrah for the Wii.  I bought it and gave it a try.  It seemed okay, but was kind of janky.  I need to give it another chance, but it got lost in my Monster Hunter mania. Pikmin 3 is by all reports excellent.  Somehow, I just never made time for it.  It slipped through the cracks.  Likewise, I never really found the time for SMT Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers.  I just added it to the ever growing pile of unplayed SMT games.

The two Zelda games released this year, A Link Between Worlds and Wind Waker HD, were also excluded.  A Link Between Worlds because it is my Christmas present so I haven’t gotten to play it.  Wind Waker HD, though, I Ieft out because it is a remake.  That is also why I left out DuckTales Remastered, as excellent as it may be.   Continue reading

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Still a Super Mario World

Super Mario 3D World was the best game to come out last year. There was some fierce competition, most of it from Nintendo themselves. A Link Between Worlds was great and The Wonderful 101 was something special. Still, 3D World was better. At this point, excellence is so routine to the Mario series it is expected. Somehow, Super Mario 3D World still surprises with it quality.

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While the game largely plays the same as the seminal 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land, 3D World does feature ton of new stuff. There are new power-ups, most notably the catsuit and the double cherry. Both of those work well with the main focus of the game: the multiplayer. Like the New Super Mario series, 3D World is designed for up to four players. While making a 2D game, like NSMBU, accessible for multiple players is relatively easy. The game usually only has to track the players across one plane. Creating a 3D game with single screen multiplayer is much more difficult. 3D World accomplished this, primarily by fixing the camera high in the sky.

The problem with that method is that it makes some jumps hard to judge. Not impossible, but it is occasionally unclear where exactly where Mario is. This problem is becomes bigger with a full four characters on the screen. The camera doesn’t track any one player’s movements, so sometimes you end up in the background, trying to complete difficult jumps blind. This would be a huge problem if it weren’t for the game’s most prominent power-up. The catsuit gives the player a ton of leeway on those jumps, since it lets the player climb on things. It is extra mobility in a game all about mobility.

Even with that, multiplayer can get hectic. That is where the double cherry comes into play. No, it doesn’t alleviate the confusion of multiplayer, it multiplies it. In single player the cherry duplicates can be hard to track, it is nigh impossible with extra players. This is far from a bad thing. They craziness happening on the screen turns a delicate ballet of speed and momentum into an overcrowded party.

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Both of 3D World’s signature power ups play with the constraints of multiplayer. The biggest “new” feature of the game is also focuses on that. The Super Mario Bros 2 gang is present in 3D World, along with their unique gameplay styles. Mario is the all-around character, Luigi jumps the highest, Peach floats and I guess Toad runs the fastest. I mean, who uses Toad?

All the focus on multiplayer did not cause the single player to suffer. All the things that help the multiplayer also work well in single player. The double cherry is fun every time it shows up, and the catsuit is fits naturally in with Mario’s usual power ups like the fire flower. The greatest boon are the multiple characters. Switching from character to character drastically changes how you approach levels. Peach acts as an easy mode, with her ability to float to out of reach collectables . 3D World is genuinely smartly designed, with elements that work with each of its different styles of play.

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All this and I didn’t really mention that the difficulty curve is pitch perfect and that the level design ranges from great to inspired. Or how the music is delightfully jazzy. Really, the game is just about perfect. Mario is still the king. Since Nintendo tends to limit their Mario releases to one per subseries per console, it will likely be a while before we see another Mario game. I am more than happy to savor this one for a while.

Assassin’s Creed 3 Thoughts

I have been out of the blockbuster video game loop for a while now. For this whole generation, actually. This wasn’t entirely by choice, but I haven’t felt like I’ve been missing out. I’ve been more than happy with the games I’ve been playing. I choose the Wii 5 years ago and have had little cause to regret that choice. While I have had access to a PS3 for a couple years now, but I still haven’t really scratched the games available on it. Plus, the preponderance of shooters has left me with less to catch up on than I expected. (My position of shooters is that I don’t like them very much, so I don’t play them.) However, a couple of months ago, flush with dropping 400 bones on a WiiU and eager to have things to play on it, I decided to tip my toe back in the blockbuster pool with Assassin’s Creed 3. If this is the sort of experience I have been missing while playing my Wii and DS, I think I’ll stick with what I’ve been playing.

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Assassin’s Creed 3 is not that bad of a game, but it is severely flawed. The frustrating thing about it is that parts of the game a nearly excellent, but the broken and stupid parts really drag the whole experience down. To start with, and this is a problem I’ve found to be prevalent on HD consoles, this game is buggy as shit. I really don’t understand how a game that crashes this often made it on to the shelves. The gameplay framework that ACIII is built on is very good. Running across rooftops in Boston and New York and through the trees on the frontier is a blast. And through the combat can get tedious, it works well. The problem is that the majority of the story sequences focus on bullshit minigames and stealth crap like eavesdropping . Assassin’s Creed III falters because its story sequences are just no damn fun to play.

The story itself is not much better. The setting is great and underused. There are tons of points in history with plenty of gameplay to mine, and the Revolutionary War/Colonial America is near the top of the list. In their desire to get most bang for the historical buck, the completely fumbled the story that holds it all together. Sure, you get to hang out with George Washington and Sam Adams, but don’t expect anything coherent in the development of Conner, Haytham and Achilles. Since I haven’t played any of the other Assassin’s Creed games, I won’t comment on the Desmond sections except to say that what is there is nowhere close to a complete story. Connor’s story jumps from scene to scene with only the slightest bit of continuity. Characters change opinions and motivations with no warning or reason and the game forces actions on the player that make no sense. Really, the story is a complete mess.

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If I disliked so much about AC3, why did I play it for more than 20 hours? Because removed from the story sequences, the game is a lot of fun. The assassin recruitment missions are fun, as is picking up a group of fellow assassins. Too bad they are almost completely optional and have little to do outside of recruitment. Exploring is great fun; I found nearly all of the trinkets. There is also significant side-quest about building a community on the frontier. While I wish it was more fleshed out, the stories of those townsfolk make more sense than the main story.

At its best, Assassin’s Creed III is a nearly great game. Unfortunately, anything good is equaled by broken, stupid and frustrating bad parts. It is a flawed experience that is just barely worth the player’s time.