10-6 GotY 2013.67
Onto the top ten! As I mentioned briefly before, I played two of these games into this year so they can only break the back half of the list, though, only one of them could’ve cracked the top five. Hope you enjoyed a break from indie puzzle platformers, because this list brings my favorite of 2013. To the list!
State of Decay – State of Decay is a broken mess of a game. It’s exactly the kind of game I can sink my teeth into, though, if there’s enough to explore, interact with, and upgrade. This is the latest entry on the list – I only just finished playing it. Where it fails, which is pretty much everywhere, it also provides a kernel of interesting or fun gameplay. Games like this and I Am Alive tend to feel like better representations of the apocalypse because of how fragile and tedious they are. It heightens the illusion for me. Fairly standard third-person adventure is decorated with home management, RPG, and survival systems. As the requests from other survivors stack up asking players to grasp new systems immediately, play becomes oppressive. When one of your survivors goes missing because of bad A.I., it becomes much more stressful. This occasionally breaks my masochistic demeanor and leads to frustration that can also plays into the scenario.
What I love most about State of Decay (and what I default to immediately when playing) is gathering resources among hordes of zombies. So far this has resulted in losing more than a few survivors; some in pretty intense moments. I give a lot of credit to Undead Labs for the approach they took with the game. People become depressed, actions align with this, but sometimes the fact this is all tracked (shoddily) by some invisible ledger rears its stupid head. On more than one occasion, deceased survivors will reappear to state their displeasure with how things are going, then wander off again to wherever the dead (not to be confused with the “undead”) are. This can be forgiven, though, when I’m on a supply run as one of the few survivors I’ve invested time and resources in (if they die, they are gone) narrowly escapes a zombie horde after searching an abandoned house with nothing but a badly damaged machete, a snack cake, and a sliver of health. State of Decay fights itself from being a good game, but I’m willing to keep fighting it one errant zombie spawn at a time.
Kingdom Rush Frontiers – I’ve had a soft spot for tower defense since I played so many hours of of VR Defender Y3K in the mid 2000’s. Many games have succeeded at gussying up this genre since then, none among them has the charm *and* difficulty curve balance I’m looking for besides the Kingdom Rush games. Sequel to 2011’s Kingdom Rush, Frontiers adjusts weaker in-game purchases, level design, and enemy types with great results. They coaxed me into purchasing five heroes (many of them cost $3-5 apiece), made more constructions feel viable due to enemies travelling multiple paths, and added occasional interactive bits to various levels (a dragon guarding gold, giant flytraps, pirate mercenaries, etc.) that all spice up play. Kingdom Rush hasn’t left my game rotation since I’ve had them on my iDevices, and I eagerly await whatever comes next.
Ridiculous Fishing – After a clone delayed the final product, it was a surprise that Ridiculous Fishing came out, let alone that it became one of my favorite mobile games ever. The simple, tactile gameplay of catching fish, then decimating them with firearms seems so far fetched, but the perfect feel, controls, and style makes Vlambeer’s second mobile release one of the best games for motion/touch capable devices. It uses all these features seamlessly and creates a joyous experience that’s just challenging enough while offering plenty of satisfying unlocks; sinking your lure to new depths is as exciting as blasting fish away with your new blunderbuss. Each unlock evokes its predecessor Radical Fishing’s flash roots, so while not all upgrades are necessary, each one is worthy of a trial. The colorful Fish-o-pedia, ‘Byrdr’ an in-game Twitter analog where the game’s characters chat about fishing and other nonsense, the upbeat soundtrack, and a tangram-esque art style make every cast feel special.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – With Summer of Arcade just a memory in 2014, it seems incredible that once a year a slew of good-spectacular indies dropped from Microsoft one week after the next, for over half a decade. Going into last summer felt like a sure loss for the service, which would have seen it go out with a whimper. Fortunately, these Brothers saved us. Its mechanics forced me to quickly adjust to controlling one brother per stick. The feeling can only be described as disorienting, which felt appropriate as the brothers set out beyond their village to save their one remaining family member. The game slugged me in the gut almost immediately with the death of the mother and set a mood with me in particular that was difficult to overcome. Brothers managed, though.
As the game revealed more whimsical settings and fantastical characters, I became lost in the journey. The family and its tragedies faded into the cracks of an enormous world while the boys overcame problems much too large for them to handle, time after time. But the terrors of the world were around every corner, and they eventually get the best of the boys. The coming of age tale finds a tragic climax as the eldest perishes. In the moments that followed, I stifled tears as the stick for the big brother became unresponsive while trying to use it instinctively. The loss was present and persistent. I felt it, in a lesser manner. Upon return of the younger boy, the game asks him to swim, which terrifies him because it reminds him of their mother’s death. In tandem with the big brother’s controls, the younger brother finds it within what little he has left to make the crossing and save his father. Brothers still goes out on a whimper, but it’s one of courage.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – The last time I attempted a Zelda game was Skyward Sword where I couldn’t manage to drag myself through the tutorial. Before that was A Link to the Past where I neutered the experience by having a guide by my side the whole time and came out the other side thoroughly unimpressed by a game many of my friends and peers hold to be the greatest Zelda (or game in general) of all time. I started with Ocarina of Time and the 2D Zelda’s never clicked for me, so I was worried. Was I ever happy to be wrong about my assumptions. LBW is a true force of Nintendo design at its best and helped me appreciate both dimensions of Zelda gameplay.
The updated art style is easy on the eyes, but my familiarity with this Hyrule made me feel at home. The new legend concedes a Hero of Time once banished a dark power, sound familiar? This establishes an overtone in everything you do aside from turning into a painting or renting weapons. The game feels very much in touch with an era of gaming I, sadly, missed; however, it made it more relevant to me. LBW is a Zelda game, so I won’t go into how it plays or its structure, but the rentals and new mechanics felt right at home. It showed me The Legend of Zelda is at its best when its unafraid of blazing new trails; and when its design walks hand-in-hand with its gameplay. No funny business; just one of the best games I’ve played since 2013.