Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Game game game of the Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaar Awards!!!!!!!!!!!! Part 2

at 8:39 PM
Continued from yesterday. You can see the rules in that post - remember, the top three are picks of games I played for the first time in 2013, not games that were released in 2013.

Game game game of the Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaar Awards!!!!!!!!!!!! 2013 Ed.

Special Baby Retard Category: Best Game released in 2013
You folks asked for it, so here it is: my vote for best game that was released in 2013. The reason I would never bother orienting a peer-to-teen choice awards contest around this idea alone is that I don't actually play enough games that come out in any given year to choose anything even remotely representative of "best of that year". I played maybe 20 of the, I dunno, 500+ (mainstream) releases of 2013. I'm not gonna judge a game I haven't played, no matter how much I've read about it. That's why... well, I'm not going to criticize the big boys. I'm sure they know what they're doing and they have their integrity and we all respect that. Anyway, the second runner-up to Best Game Released in 2013 WOULD HAVE TO BE:

#3: Killer Is Dead, Xbox 360, Grasshopper Manufacture, 2013
It's action. Reaction. Random interaction. Now who's afraid of a little abstraction?
Not I. And neither should be you. I like a nice formal narrative. Okay, does it really count as formalism versus bland David Lynch symbolism when a guy's secret twin brother appears in his dream and slices his breakfast of a single fried egg perfectly in two? No, but that's exactly what makes it funny! There's a fine line Suda walks here between depth and mockery, and that's what makes for great satire. Killer works as a compelling mystery of its own, carefully exploring the facets of Mondo Zappa's buried psyche, and also takes every opportunity to send up the video game industry's self-seriousness about sexuality while being incredibly sexist (see the Gigolo segments), existentialism while being incredibly preposterous (see the Alice-meets-lobster boss), and even bromance while being incredibly... bromantic (see the hilarious Gears of War mission). I must admit I wasn't left wanting for more of Killer Is Dead's combat, but it was fun while it lasted and tough enough that there was mastery on offer. [I also have to comment that my combat fatigue is probably more a testament to having played too many of this type of action game in the past year or two... Killer Is Dead is more unique than Platinum fare, but doesn't transcend the crowd like Arkham Asylum or No More Heroes 2] Considering that the game is nice and short (praise short!), looks like a impressionist painting, and has a soundtrack ranging from thrash to hip-hop to classical remixes (by Akira Yamaoka of course), it certainly justifies further plays to investigate the themes.

#2 DmC: Devil may Cry, Xbox 360, Ninja Theory, 2013
S-Stutter!!!!
Certainly this is one of the combat action games of the generation. This is combat that derives its depth from clever reactivity, the ability of the player to quickly analyze a split-second situation and be prepared with which tools can be deployed to handle it. Those tools are what make DmC particularly rewarding - like the original Devil May Cry, this isn't a game where you'll be stressing to remember which combo string does what and spending hours mastering the input timing to pull it off (a la Bayonetta or BlazBlue) - DmC is based around simple inputs with wildly varying results. If you want to play a game where you fight demons with swords and guns, it is hard to pick one that will make you feel more powerful and graceful than this. The chains (uh, physical chains that is, not combo chains) that pull Dante or enemies across the battlefield add such speed, dynamism, and - yes - chaos to the battles that you'll never feel you're repeating the same conflicts, and the bit of platforming they provide between fights strings the adventure along all the more fluidly. I may not have been a huge fan of the story, but few players will have time to worry about that amidst the endless combat variations. In fact, this is kinda the opposite of Killer Is Dead - where there the story inspires replays that the gameplay is just good enough to support, here the story is successfully kept out of the way enough not to ruin a first play-through which is sure to inspire more gameplay-based reruns. The stages are loaded with unique enemy combinations and scenarios that'll draw you back for score- (and collection-) based runs.

#1: Bit.Trip Runner 2: The Legend Runs On, XBLA, Gaijin Games, 2013
It's actually called Bit.Trip Presents... Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. For those worried about copyright infringement. If that's how that works.
I actually like my name better than the real one. Can we do anything about that? Tim? Name change? Tim's giving me a no. Runner 2 is the type of sequel that does exactly what the Bit.Trip series wasn't all about. Bit.Trip told a succinct and fluid story through gameplay, music, imagery, and a tiny handful of abstract cutscenes. Gaijin didn't have time for a typical video game sequel that reiterated gameplay concepts with better graphics, more songs, multiple playable characters, a world map, and dancing. They had an artistic vision to uphold. But people loved Bit.Trip Runner and they didn't give a shit about Artistic Vision: The Game, so Runner 2 is exactly that typical sequel I described. Thing is, as far below the genius of the original saga as it is, it's still an absolute blast. It is everything an arcade-style rhythm platformer could hope to be, overflowing with charm, style, gorgeous visuals, toe-tappin' tunes, a great sense of humor (if you like pickles), and one HELL of an addictive structure. I couldn't stop playing for days, and the game is cleverly crafted arcade greatness that always allows room for improvement while still providing multiple levels of satisfaction for skilled runs.

This is the epitome of a fun video game - one that is memorable and delightful even for unskilled players, and a sensory treat that demands mastery.

AND FINALLY: GOTYE 2013

Yes ladies and gentlemen, the moment has arrived. It is time to unveil my three very favorite games I played in the last year that every single one of you should go out and play right this very instant. The second runner-up, bronze-medalist, almost as good as the other ones Game of the Year 2013 IS:

#3: Mark of the Ninja, XBLA, Klei, 2012
Playing to terrify guards is one of the most challenging and satisfying strategies
Mark of the Ninja is a game that knows what it wants to be. It's a ninja game and it's a stealth game and it's a platformer. It's not a stealth-platformer starring a ninja. It's a ninja game and it's a stealth game and it's a platformer. To clarify the seemingly arbitrary semantic distinction I'm making here: over the course of the game, Klei cranks up all of its design elements independently and allows the player to choose how to approach each situation using distinctive gameplay methods. Your "tools" aren't just a set of interchangeable maguffins like night-vision goggles and lazer trip wires, they're gameplay styles like "slow and strategic, using items" or "fast as possible using precisely timed jumps". This gives the game an almost Sonic-the-Hedgehog-high-path-low-path feel, where knowledge, skill mastery, and choices can be applied to result in a totally different gameplay payoff. It's amazing how naturally Klei pulled this off without ever making the game feel like a series of discrete choices. Partly that owes to the stealth framework, wherein a mistake gives the player a chance to adapt (as in Sonic when a player falls to a lower path) rather than immediately sending them back to an earlier checkpoint. There's so much variable gameplay here, especially once the extra playable characters (costumes) are thrown into the mix. This game demonstrates that there are still new ways to do the classic platformer (without just throwing in puzzles, fuck you "indie" gaming). [it wasn't my #1 platformer just cuz I wanted to make it clear it was one of my absolute favorite games of the year, transcending genre, and that everyone should play it].

#2: Retro Game Challenge, Nintendo DS, indieszero, 2009/2007(JP)
This is such a great total experience that was completely undersold by everyone who pitched it as an anthology of faux-classics or a nostalgia trip. Retro Game Challenge is the story of two Japanese kids (one of whom happens to be a young Shinya Arino) growing up in the late '80s indulging in video game culture. The beauty of the game doesn't come from the neo-retro "8-bit" games (which are a dime a dozen these days anyway), it comes from the fictionalized experience of anticipating a new game, finally getting your hands on it, sitting down and going nuts trying to master it, reading magazines with fan letters and hints, and going through the entire cycle again with the next game. It's meta as hell, but it's a game about the experience of being a gamer, set in an idealized time we imagine as more optimistic and which many of us associate with our youth. Still, I think this experience would resonate with anyone who's ever been excited about games. The fact that you actually get to dig into eight cool original titles (that are just as fun as those they're based upon) is really just a bonus. 

#1: Ys: The Oath in Felghana, PC/Steam, Falcom 2012/2005(JP)
Oath is actually a remake of the SNES/Genesis/Turbo16 Ys III
This game made me so happy. I don't know how else to put it. I just felt extreme, unadulterated happiness every time I sat down to play it. Okay, that made it sound a little creepy. But there's a child-like sweetness to Oath in Felghana, a romantic simplicity to the classic story of innocence lost that pairs wonderfully with the gung-ho "cool" metal and hardcore action that characterizes the game's underworld. I think I can best explain it using the soundtrack. The game goes from the track on the left when you first arrive in town to the track on the right when you're in a dungeon. That's the span.

    

It's just... a perfectly straightforward, honest video game. It's a fairy tale, not an epic, a stylized adventure that serves theme over story or character. If there is action, there are fucking wailing guitars. If there is sensitive stuff, there are sad violins. The dialogue and cut-scenes are just enough to carry a through-line, the rest is entirely mood.

The essentially-one-button action follows that fuck-it-just-get-to-the-point mentality. Just because it's button-mashing doesn't mean it's easy or mindless - your character is so fragile and everything moves so quickly that you'll need to learn enemy patterns and probably die (or at least restart dungeons - no healing items here) a lot of times to perfect your skills. Once you get it down you'll feel like a steamroller completely crushing everything in your path - until, of course, you hit the shmup-style bosses with their strict patterned mechanics. Will you have to match your magic charge attacks to a color-changing boss' periods of vulnerability while dodging his attacks specifically designed to capitalize on that element's weakness? Or perhaps you'll be up against a trio of spirits who adapt their aggression as you pick them off? There's even a side-perspective 2D fight that had me thinking of Castlevania. The boss fights are the game's absolute highlights, calling back to the style of classic Treasure and Konami action. 

Ys: The Oath in Felghana is my game of the year because it captures what is for me the absolute essence of a video game experience. It immediately puts all the cards on the table and develops challenges from established mechanics, putting me into a continuous state of adaptation. Each situation is a puzzle in and of itself, fun to learn because of the enjoyable core action and a different kind of fun once perfected because of the uniqueness of the setting. The fighting is contextualized with a concise, purposeful story about the consequences of action and responsibility and adorned with a sweeping, roaring soundtrack and minutely detailed graphics that bring the game's inhabitants to life. The action doesn't have to be the greatest ever conceived nor the tale the greatest ever told for the experience as a whole to be what every action/adventure should aspire to parallel. 

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