Freezing Inferno's Top Games of 2013
by Freezing Inferno

Here we go again. There's less than three weeks left to the year of 2013 as I type this up, but wow. What a year this turned out to be. I actually have the advantage of record-keeping this time around; every time I beat a video game I stuck it into a little notepad file. The thing's blossomed, and now it's time to check it and write about all the memorable experiences I've had. Alright, 2013... what did you do for me?

The Angry Video Game Adventures (PC)

Let's start with the crap. I've harped on this game for over 3000 words after I beat it, so we'll keep things short and to the point. This thing is lacking in redeemable qualities. It wanted to make you angry like the main character, and it did so by debasing itself to the lowest common denominator. The only hard game I can think of where the goal actually is to piss you off, done in the name of parody. Worse yet is the way this game treats old video game nostalgia, as if they were all this malicious back then. No. Mega Man 2 may have been unpolished. It was not this. Those old games were built around replicating arcade experiences and extending play time, but they were actually fun. This is not. Bleh. At least it opened me up to hilarious ad hominem attacks when I tore into it, and won me 30 dollars in stuff.

Runner Up: Legend Of The Mystical Ninja (Game Boy)

The Goemon games are supposed to be good. This is garbage. It starts off innocently enough, with a top-down perspective that reminds one of Zelda. Not the best, and it has that damned annoying system I hate where taking a hit also downgrades your weapon. The SNES Goemon game we got had that too and it drove me ballistic, but that at least had other redeeming features. What killed it for me was the "boss battles". They're little quick time events where you mash a button really fast... but failure gets you AN AUTOMATIC GAME OVER. This wouldn't be so bad if you didn't have to mash that button faster than the god damned Flash. I ended up using turbo to beat this. I have no shame because this is not worth it.

Fez (PC)

Okay, back to the good. This category isn't so much for the game as it is for things outside of the game that enhanced the experience... and the winner of that is Fez here. Say what you will about Phil Fish and his tweets and attitude, but I can divorce content from creator. He made one hell of an intricate platformer here. Intricate enough that I joined several of our SMPS brethren in playing this game when it came out in early May, and working together to help decipher its secrets. I still have handfuls of notes regarding this game stacked in my pile of notepad paper. The culmination of it all was a group chat between me, Crono Maniac, Rhete and Polly, with the latter two dropping hints to help Crono and I. It was a great experience, and I ended up getting everything there was to get in the game. Thanks for the help, guys.

Runner Up: Little Big Planet 2 (PS3)

Late July and early August were kind of a downer for me, personally. Not to get too deep into it, but I had some... financial difficulties and scary letters in the mail from official-sounding people wanting money. The only thing that cheered me up was a visit from one of my very good friends, a Mr. Blaze Fury. With him crashing at my place, many good times were had. The most fun, by far, was our co-op run of Little Big Planet 2. Our little sackpeople jumped and grappled across god knows how many levels, working together while also competing to get the most loot in a stage. It was an incredible time, and even though everything I was worried about was sorted out eventually... I can't thank him enough for giving me a light in the darkness at that time. Thank you, sir. We had a blast beating that game.

The Legend Of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (Game Boy Color)

I had beaten this game before 2013, but it must have been like ten years ago on an emulator. This year I finally managed to score a 3DS, thanks to a dubious wager with the aforementioned Blaze Fury that I will not go into detail about here. This system will pop up again as we go through, but the long story short is that Club Nintendo gave me a choice of free prizes for being a good boy and registering Nintendo games and my new portable. I chose the Virtual Console version of Link's Awakening, since it was free. Now, I had already bought the Zelda Oracle games on the 3DS and toyed with them. They had been my preferred GB Zeldas... until I played through Link's Awakening again with fresh eyes. Holy mother of god. It's so GOOD. It may be in the running for the best Zelda game ever. Nearly everything about this game is done flawlessly; the only part I didn't like was Eagle's Tower, due to the nature of its backtracking and switches. It annoyed me, but the rest of the game did not. I get it now. Link's Awakening is an absolute gem, and I can't put into words why it's good. I just know that it is.

Runner Up: 3D Classics Kid Icarus (3DS)

I told you that you'd be seeing it again. Hell, this one is another Club Nintendo freebie, too! I should rename this category to "best Club Nintendo games of 2013", but the hell with it. These both were surprises. Kid Icarus is a game I never really "liked", so to speak. There's a reason it died out after two games while Metroid lived on. Kid Icarus came back, though, and good for him. I was hesitant about this because of my bad experiences on the NES version, but the price was right. So it was that, in my basement retreat in scenic Grand Bank, Newfoundland, I played Kid Icarus in 3D. I mapped out the dungeons on notepad paper, as I didn't have Internet. You know what? Once you get past the first three levels, this game becomes a blast! Hell, it controls a little better on 3DS than on NES. It's not the greatest game ever from the 8-bit era, but it's certainly fun. I'm glad that the 3D Classic version exists to make this thing better. Shame that those opening levels stink, though... but what can you do?

Winner: Metal Storm (Expert Mode, NES)

Oh yeah. Got to stick this category in here. I play a lot of hard games, after all... but very few that I beat this year were the "hardest ever". Maybe the AVGN game, but that's bad hard and we've talked about it. We've also talked about Metal Storm before. It topped my 10 Hardest Games Ever list, and it still stands. I've said my piece on it, but to sum up quickly so you don't have to go looking for what I said months ago: the normal playthrough of this game is a little tough but not so bad. It's a great little action platformer with a unique gimmick. Then you try Expert Mode and it expects absolute perfection from you. Plain and simple perfection. Perfection isn't easy to come by, and it takes persistence. Christ, I think this took years off of my life.

Runner Up: Bucky O'Hare (NES)

It's a game about a space rabbit who fights toads. If I were to redo that top 10 list, Bucky here would probably end up on the back end. This game is like a greatest hits compilation of hard video game obstacles. You've got crushers, fire arcs from Gradius 2, the snakes from Battletoads, conveyor belts, and a billion goddamn spikes ready to kill you. Like Metal Storm, it requires total perfection from you. However, it's a lot more merciful in the way it handles the quantity of checkpoints, and extra lives, and passwords. It's imposing, but god damn if it ain't a ride.

Fugitive (PC)

Hell yeah. One of our own became a game developer this year. Hats off to you, Crono. This space is for you and your work, because it impressed me. A lot of people have written words about Fugitive, and now here I am to do just that. On the face of it, it's reverse Metroid. You start off with lots of powers and lose them as the game progresses... thus making things harder for you. Which Metroid? Metroid 2, of course. It ain't a secret that Crono loves that game, and it shows. Grayscale graphics and a certain ambiance light up Fugitive and make you want to delve deeper. Plenty of checkpoints, too, but you'll likely die a bunch. I still say that last boss didn't need a midpoint, but oh well. You did good. Also my name is in the credits so that's cool.

Runner Up: Quarantine (PC)

Yeah, everyone's been singing praise for Fugitive, but what about Quarantine? Crono's first game is a bit of a jam session. It's got something it wants to do, and you end up having to use your head and your fingers to do it. I won't lie, Quarantine is a bit rough around the edges and I definitely swore directly at you for some of its tricks. Swapping blocks in and out of existance in the middle of a jump on a keyboard is super tricky. Yeesh. Still, you knew what you wanted and it showed through. Minimalist and short but sweet. You did good... again.

Winner: Gunman Clive (3DS)

The 3DS strikes back! This category is for really cheap games that still managed to amaze me, and Gunman Clive fits the bill perfectly. It is two dollars on the 3DS eShop, and by god is it worth every penny. It's basically Mega Man, set in the wild west with cowboys and bandits, with sepia-toned Take On Me graphics. Yeah, this game totally wears Mega Man right on its sleeve, as quite a few of the obstacles are ripped straight from that series... but it works! The hell else do you want? How about lots of different guns to use? How about weird steampunk elements tossed in there, like a transforming train or a Bionic Commando boss? How about playing as the damsel in distress? HOW ABOUT PLAYING AS A DUCK AND BEATING THE GAME COMPLETELY PACIFIST? The main game might be a bit short, but you get replay value out of it. All that for two bucks. Good lord. Gunman Clive rocks.

Runner Up: Manos: The Hands Of Fate (PC)

What in the holy hell is this? A game based on one of the worst movies ever made? Already the fact that this makes it on a "best of" list is surprising, but then the clincher: it was developed by the same folks who made the AVGN game I complained about. I got it in a Humble Bundle recently, and I wasn't expecting much. What I got was... a decent game. I don't know what happened between this and the AVGN game, but this ain't bad! It's short, but pretty fun. It's an actual game, as opposed to a series of instant death traps designed to upset you. The aesthetic of a horror B-movie makes for an interesting atmosphere, and it combines very well with the 8-bit style they're trying to emulate here. Unlike the AVGN game, which was all over the place with its retro style, this is straight-up 8-bit and evocative of the spooky platformers of that time, kind of like Monster Party if it played like Mega Man. Speaking of monsters and parties, you've got lots of B-movie references in here! Hell, even the shmup section that has one hit kills gives you 1-Ups that respawn! YOU KNOW, BEING FAIR! It's a nice effort, and I wouldn't mind if this developer tried something like this again without attempting to upset the player. In other words... a fun game. Come on, Freakzone. 2014 can be your year. You can do it, sweetie.

Winner: Etrian Odyssey IV (3DS)

Full disclosure: I've not beaten this game yet. I don't care. It's the best RPG of the year. I've tinkered with the EO series before, in its original incarnation, and kind of liked it. This version makes things a little friendlier, without being too kind and holding your hand. Make no mistake, this game wants you dead. That's part of the draw for me with EO4: the atmosphere. The idea is, you're a guild of ragtag adventurers going on missions to explore uncharted labyrinths. These places are hostile unknown lands crawling with horrific beasties... and the occasional super monster, the FOE. Armed with whatever swords and armor you can afford, your party delves into the dungeon... and begins exploring. EO's main gimmick is making your own map on the touch screen with virtual graph paper, and I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. I love dungeon crawling, and it fits like a glove with the atmosphere. Step by step, this hostile place becomes known. It becomes a little less of an enigma, and as you destroy its denizens you get more raw materials to craft into better equipment. Survival becomes a little easier, and you may even level up and learn new skills. Gradually, your guild becomes some sort of a legend. As of now, I can imagine the townsfolk gossiping in the pub about that Michelin guild. Anna Michelin, Landsknecht extraordinaire, and her little guild of specialist. Ellie the Fortress, Terry the Dancer, Alex the Medic, and Matt the Sniper. Forces of good who strive to explore brave new lands, and face whatever dangers lay within. Maybe deadly giant mantises with sickle claws. Ancient natives from a time long gone. Some even whisper of dragons large enough to dwarf the Michelin guild's flying airship, the Zodiac. Whatever the case, they have the spirit of adventure, and nothing but death will quelch that thirst.

Basically what I'm saying is that Etrian Odyssey IV is really good.

Runner Up: Live A Live (SNES)

Most of Square's 16-bit heavy hitters are known to me. Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger, Mario RPG, Secret Of Mana, et cetera. Live A Live slipped between the cracks, due to not actually getting an English release. It got a fan translation, though, and a damn good one too. Live A Live is pretty fantastic, but not the greatest thing in the world. It's sort of like Dragon Quest IV, but with a lot more freedom and variety; you can choose from seven scenarios in any order, and each scenario is a different genre with a different playing style. The wrestler's chapter is basically a boss rush (and my least favorite), the wild west chapter has you setting up traps to stop bandits, the ninja chapter has you sneaking into an enemy base... things like that. By far my favorite chapter is the sci-fi chapter where you play as a little egg-shaped robot. It's got almost no combat, and is inspired by Alien and 2001 and things of that nature. Way cool. Live A Live makes it on this list not just for being innovative with scenarios, or its cool grid-based combat system. Nah. It makes it there for something I can't even talk about. A plot twist. A plot twist in a 16-bit RPG that just about made my jaw drop. This would have been unexpected in 2013. To see it in 1994 is incredible. Live A Live may be a bit rough around the edges, but damn if it ain't worth it.

WINNER: Ducktales Remastered (PC)

Four months later, it's still brilliant. It's still beautiful to me. I wrote a lot of nice words about Ducktales Remastered back then, and they're all still true. Wayforward pulled a miracle by taking one of the pillars of the 8-bit era and making it better. They nailed just about everything, and proved that nostalgia is not an impossible feat to top. They topped one of the most beloved games on the NES. They topped one of the best soundtracks on the NES. They topped everything else I played this year. About the only thing they didn't top was the review sites. Since August, at least one big reviewer complaint was addressed; you can now toggle an option to turn the cutscenes completely off. It wasn't an issue for me, but it removes one of the gripes those folks had about the game. The other? The "difficulty"? This is why Easy mode exists. I'm not trying to be condescending. If those folks get frustrated by the old video game sin of "having to go back when losing all your "lives" and doing the level over", then Easy mode with its infinite tries is the right fit. For the rest of us who want a challenge, crank that pogo up. Thank you, Wayforward. Thank you for showing me that nostalgia can be improved.

Runner Up: Tomb Raider (2013, Xbox 360)

I have to apologize to this game. It's just a game, but I misjudged it when first hearing about it. There was all this talk about Lara Croft becoming a peril monkey, and the player wanting to protect her, and I thought OH MY GOD THIS IS GOING TO BE TOMB RAIDER'S OTHER M ISN'T IT. I was way off. It takes a special sort of "current-gen" game to get its hooks into me, and Tomb Raider managed to do it. For one, it plays great and you get to do lots of cool things with a bow. Things that would make Katniss Everdeen look down in shame. Having not really played a Tomb Raider game since the original in 1996 (indeed, I played the original this January!), the leap forward was stunning. The times they are a-changin, and this game is pretty brutal. Lara does get beat around a lot and put into horrible painful situations, true... but that really is part of what this game is trying to do. Here's what makes this almost beat Ducktales; it does what Other M could not. It gives Lara Croft, this former sort of "blank slate" of a female video game protagonist, a mythic status. I'd like to quote something here. This is from a critical analysis of Other M, via... TV Tropes. Hear me out. The context is how Samus could have dealt with an in-game crisis to better serve her character arc, versus what actually happened:

Samus Aran defies cynicism. She slams Adam into a wall, suits up, goes into Sector Zero, blows it straight to hell, and still manages to escape in the nick of time. Because Samus Aran is That. Damn. Good. She's no longer the slave of reality; she makes her own reality. Her failure from before was in listening to Adam, in not going with her instincts, in not trusting herself to be able to get the job done. She has now grown beyond the no-win scenario; Samus can turn defeat into victory by her presence, her will, and her boundless courage to see the job done.

That never happened in Metroid Other M... but it's what Lara Croft becomes in Tomb Raider. At first, she's just a shipwrecked girl looking for her friends. Conflict forces itself upon her, and she has no choice but to take up arms. Her first kill is nothing glorious. She struggles with a man, she shoots him in the face in self-defense, and when it's all said and done, a man is dead and she can do little but weep at the pointlessness of it all... but only for a moment. There is a bit of disconnect between the regretful cutscene Lara and the in-game one who won't hesitate to score headshots with her bow... but whatever. As the game goes on, we see Lara get more confident. Upon beating a squad of hostile men with guns, she taunts them. HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT, YOU BASTARDS? Gradually, you make your own way. In Metroid Prime, there are lore entries about the Space Pirates fearing Samus Aran as some wrathful destructor. Lara Croft becomes a blood-soaked beast in the shape of a woman, and in doing so she makes her own reality. The game's ending states that "a survivor is born". Nah. Not quite. What was born here will survive... but Lara is more than a survivor.

She's a warrior.


This section is for honorable mentions. Games I liked that I played this year, but not enough to get their own categories or beat out the big names. Here's to you, lesser folks. I did play a lot of things, so I'll try and keep it short. Some things just don't need to be written about by me. Let's see what we've got here.

Castlevania Chronicles (PS1)

With this (and Bloodlines) I've done all of the classic 2D Castlevania games. It's the end of an era, now that Castlevania has moved on from endlessly trying to cash in on the success of Symphony Of The Night to doing its own weird God of War thing. The world may never see a 2D stage-based Castlevania again, and that saddens me. Chronicles was great, though. It didn't skimp out on the difficulty, and was a proper challenge. The last great vampire challenge I may ever have. I salute you.

Super House Of Dead Ninjas (PC)

It's an action platforming roguelike starring a ninja. I could end this right here. It's also fast-paced and a hell of a lot of fun. Sort of like Spelunky took a bunch of the Genesis era's fast pace or something. I would have compared it to Ninja Gaiden but Ninja Gaiden ain't this goddamn fast. It's quick, it's fun, and it's wildly replayable. What else do you want?

Ultima: Quest Of The Avatar (NES)

What a game. It almost made best RPG. This is the NES version of Ultima IV, and we'll just call it that for the rest of this. Ultima IV is not an RPG about killing the most guys or saving the world from the 1000 year-old Destructor. Ultima IV is just about a guy seeking Enlightenment. You have to master eight virtues, and generally be a good person. This system can be cheesed, as can an exploit to get gold fast. I may have taken advantage of at least one of these, but Ultima IV stands as one of the most unique experiences ever. It's not perfect, but it gets points for effort.

Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Sega Master System)

It's Ghouls 'n Ghosts, but for normal human beings instead of masochists like me! The main game and its stock of enemies are the same as the Genesis version, but this SMS game changes how you power up. Now you upgrade your equipment by finding doors... and the upgrades stick. In other words, the more you play, the better you do until you become this rolling force of death that can take five hits, run like Sonic, and activate invincibility magic whenever you want. It feels GOOD to totally crush a mainline Ghosts n Goblins game under your heel like this. MM. YEAH. TAKE THAT YOU SON OF A BITCH.

Sonic And All-Stars Racing Transformed (PC)

This gets on here just for being fun as hell. It's Sega's answer to Mario Kart, and you have a lot of their characters in there. Joe Musashi for life, yo... but then you have weird choices for characters. Like Wreck-It Ralph. Or Danica Patrick. Or some dudes from Team Fortress. What does any of this have to do with Sega? Who knows? Who cares? I can turn into a jet and blast Alex Kidd from behind with a firework. This rocks.

Naya's Quest (PC)

This is a flash game from Terry Cavanagh, that guy what made Super Hexagon and VVVVVV. It's essentially Solstice crossed with Fez. Isometric grid platforming with weird perspectives that are hidden due to the 2D nature of the game. You get a flippy power to reveal the proper perspectives, and need to make tricky jumps in order to survive. This game gets real hard, real fast, but it was worth the hour or two it took me to clear it. Twice. Enjoyable! I was going to add a "best free Flash game" but the hell with it. I don't even know if this is Flash or not. You play it in the browser. That's what I mean. "Best free game you play in your browser" isn't so succint. You know?

BS Zelda Third Quest (SNES)

It's that Zelda 1 remake... thing... for the Satelliview! Only hacked into a cool new mode by some nice folks to be more like the NES Zelda game! It's Zelda 1 All-Stars, only a bit shorter now. The smaller world map means there's not as much running around wondering what the hell to do. It makes the game a lot simpler, but seeing as how I was in that Grand Bank basement when I played this, I lacked any means of looking things up. I beat it that same night, and I discovered pretty much everything. Super cool.

Pokemon Y (3DS)

Yeah, a new Pokemon dropped. Didn't beat out EO4 for me. Pokemon games are like a big flash in the pan for me. They're all I think about for the week or two I spend playing them, and then they just fade into the background, becoming an occasional distraction. This one might be even worse in that regard, since the post-game is all but non-existant. The main game was a fun ride and I eventually got a ninja frog that I nicknamed Rash, however. There's a bit of an attempt at story, but the basic game is still "become the Pokemon master". Nothing wrong with that. A fun diversion!

Bayonetta (360)

I bought this game last year. Did not touch it until this year. God, I feel bad for hoarding the thing for a year. It was good! Not Tomb Raider good, but a nice kinetic action game. I kind of sucked at it and got a bad rank for the most part, but who gives a shit about rank? I don't care if you give me a whole screen of Joe Pesci awards because I died. OH, WHAT A DAY! Yeah, what a day to shut up and let me enjoy the game. I pulled through at the end, and I got what I needed out of Bayonetta. Thanks, guys.

Electronic Super Joy (PC)

Thanks, Pauncho! So this is like... Super Meat Boy at a rave. Had a neat graphical style and soundtrack. Way tricky, though. I have yet to get all the stars and unlock some secret levels because holy hell is this tough. I died a lot, and every time I died a lady voice would go OOOOH YEAHHHHHH, all sexy-like. Uh, no. No, when I die that's not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. This game is a good thing, though. I beat a guy called the GROOVE WIZARD. Ain't that neat?

That's it. That's the list. See you next year, when we play lots more wild and crazy games and hopefully write about them. I'm tired now. I want to lie down or something. See ya.

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