Rhete's Best Games of 2013
by Rhete

Once again, I played a lot of games this year. Instead of attempting to talk about everything, or doing specific awards, we're just gunna do two countdowns! So first up is...

Top 10 Games Released in 2013

Now before we start, I feel I need a disclaimer here. I'm pretty, how you say, price sensitive, so when talking about games released this year, it's limited to the ones I actually played.

#10 - The Bridge
The Bridge is a puzzle platformer not entirely unlike Braid. The primary aspect here is that instead of being able to jump, you can rotate the screen around a full 360 degrees. Doing this alters gravity, allowing doors to slide open, balls to roll around, or your character to reach places he couldn't before. While the game starts simple due to the limited controls, by the end it gets very complicated as more and more rules and gravity altering devices get thrown into the mix. Even though a few levels almost made me tear my hair out, it's still a very enjoyable experience if you're a fan of the genre.

#9 - Electronic Super Joy
Electronic Super Joy is a pretty simple game. You run and jump, avoiding missiles, lasers, and frogs that spit shurikens. You can also cancel out of a jump and SLAM down towards the ground, which is a mechanic so simple I'm kind of shocked I haven't seen it before, and it feels great to use here. With the highly striking, colorful visuals, relentless techno soundtrack, and really tight controls, Electronic Super Joy is a really fun, if all too brief, platforming experience.

#8 - One Finger Death Punch
This game has no business being as good as it is, but goddamn if it isn't impressive what they did with so little. This is a two button game. When an enemy approaches you on the left, you left click to kill them. Right click for enemies on the right side. And that's it for controls. The game could have stayed that simple, but it quickly ramps up with enemies that take multiple hits to kill, boss fights, QTE based brawlers, equipable skills, weapons, and even more crazy stuff. But as the complexity grows and the enemies get faster and faster, you're still just clicking left and right. It's kind of unreal, and legitimately exciting and tense when the speed ramps up.

#7 - Ittle Dew
Ittle Dew is a game that uses The Legend of Zelda as a base, and then cuts away a lot of the fat. While combat is still in the game, the focus here is on puzzles. You start out with just a stick, and are tasked with finding three items: A flaming sword, an ice wand, and portal wand. Each of these items allows you do interact with the world in different ways, letting you solve puzzles you couldn't before.

Once you get all three, you're able to challenge the final boss, and that's the whole game. Or is it? For me the real meat of Ittle Dew didn't start until I'd completed it once. The achievements for the game clue you in on a big secret: You only need two of the items to beat the game. Beating the game with this restriction really demonstrates how well designed the game is as you try to find new ways to beat, or ways around puzzles that you don't have the item required for. There's also an optional master dungeon that will really fry your brain.

Ittle Dew seems short at first glance, but there is a lot of depth and replayability here for those who seek it out. And I haven't even talked about the adorable art style and characters yet!

#6 - Batman: Arkham Origins
A bit of backstory is needed for this one. I don't like Arkham Asylum. I found it painfully linear to the point where I honestly thought the first half of the game was the tutorial, until I realized, no that just is the game. Much later I played Arkham City, pretty skeptical of it, and somehow found myself totally blown away. Having the open world made it feel a lot less confining, and I was able to appreciate the other things, like the combat system, much more as a result.

Anyways, Arkham Origins is pretty much a copy of Arkham City gameplay wise, but I didn't find anything wrong with that. It's got the best story of the three games, the best boss fights, and doesn't mess with what already worked in City. I also had a lot of fun going slowly through the city looking at all the minor environmental details, and trying to deduce if the game was supposed to take place in the 70s or if that was something the art team just did on their own.

#5 - Tomb Raider
It's like Uncharted with with a girl, but I haven't played Uncharted, so I fully admit to not being able to fully contextualize this one. The combat just... felt so damn good. Just let me have one shooter on this list, please! The action and setpieces are spectacular, and I appreciated that the fact that the game just fucking went for it with the story. It's brutal as all hell to a crazy level. But in the end I felt the whole thing was perfectly contextualized by one line near the finale. "There are no heroes here, only survivors."

#4 - Antichamber
It's super hard to explain what Antichamber is. Calling it a first person puzzle game immediately makes one think of Portal, which is not a very good comparison. You should probably just play it.

#3 - The Swapper
Oh no, another puzzle platformer! Swapper elevates itself above the crowd with breathtaking visuals based on claymation and real world objects, a great soundtrack (my favorite of the year) and incredible atmosphere. It's hard to recommend this if you don't like puzzle platformers, because that is the bulk of the gameplay, but the other stuff around the puzzles is so fantastic that you'd be doing yourself a disservice to not give it a shot.

#2 - Rogue Legacy
I haven't played a game this addicting in ages, Rogue Legacy is the modern day quarter muncher. Gather up as much gold as you can, die, buy upgrades, repeat. This simple gameplay loop perpetually keeps you saying "Just one more run!" over and over. It all could have gone horribly wrong too, as I've played a lot of upgrade based flash games where upgrades are the only thing that matters, but Rogue Legacy manages to sidestep that by still requiring a decent amount of player skill. Upgrades are the carrot on the stick to keep you going, not the only thing that matters.

Rogue Legacy also has some of the tightest damn controls I've seen in a while, moving, jumping, and slashing enemies just feels great. The game actually just updated with a pretty huge content update that I haven't checked out, reading about it makes me want to wipe my save file and get addicted all over again.

Top 10 Games I played in 2013

#10 - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Came for the Sega fanservice, stayed for a fantastic kart racing action. This game has Panzer Dragoon and Burning Rangers levels! You can play as a Dreamcast controller! It's also a really damn good kart racer, and the online works flawlessly. It's the total package.

#9 - Dust: An Elysian Tail
When narrowing down the list of games I played this year, I wasn't sure if Dust would make it. I know several people who are in the game as voice actors, but I didn't want to let any bias get in the way. After trimming lists down though, it felt right for Dust to make the cut. It's one of the only action RPGs (besides some others later on the list) to not drive me completely insane with unbalanced equipment and stats (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, Ys). It's also the only game this year to evoke a serious emotional reaction out of me. It really gets the water runnin', if you know what I mean.

Oh and the voice acting is kinda good I dunno lol.

#8 - Rayman Origins
I know that Rayman Legends is out now, and by most accounts the better game, but this is the one I've played, and it's still really goddamn good. I beat the the game (including Land of the Livid Dead) early in the year, and then ended coming back 6 months later to beat all the speedrun times and get more electoons for no real reason at all, other than that it was fun.

#7 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Coming off of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, Skyrim took a little bit of getting used to. Quests that have different outcomes based on your actions? Gone, replaced with long questlines where the player's only role is to do what other NPCs tell them to. So while the Fallout games felt more like RPGs, Skyrim felt more like playing a part in a place. Once I was able to mentally get over this fundamental different though, I still really enjoyed the game.

This is actually the only game on the list I haven't beaten yet, because the breadth of sidecontent and number of things you can get distracted by is simply staggering. I became arch-mage, I revived the thieves guild, I found an elder scroll, I became a master assassin, I slayed elder dragons... all before learning Fus Ro Dah. Since then I've become a war hero and turned into a werewolf. Eventually I played this game so much that with no end in sight, I had to stop and take a long break, but I will certainly come back to it soon enough.

#6 - Sleeping Dogs
Some may look at this as another generic open world crime game, and they might be right! But for me, Sleeping Dogs is the first game that finally nails every aspect. There are no weak links here. The hand to hand combat is fun and brutal, the driving and races are buttery smooth, the shooting is snappy and satisfying, and the world is detailed as all hell and fun to explore. This is a game I consistently come back to, just to mess around and cause some chaos in for a few minutes, and I feel eventually I'll just end up starting a new save and doing it all over again.

#5 - Dishonored
Dishonored is a stealth game that gives you a set of incredibly fun to use tools. Blink in particular, an ability that lets you teleport in any direction about 10 meters, is a total game changer when it comes to navigating 3D environments. Ledges don't need to be highlighted or contextualized as "HEY THIS IS A PLACE YOU CAN GO!" You just see a ledge and blink up to it. It's a breath of fresh air for modern games, and forces the player to be much more aware of their environment.

The fact that this game exists at all in this industry climate is kind of amazing. This is a short game built for multiple playthroughs and speedruns. Who even does that anymore? If the enemy AI was better, this might be the perfect game. I rarely replay games, and I ended up beating this one three times in a row. Now I really need to get around to playing the expansions.

#4 - Divekick
(#1 of 2013)

Divekick is a two button fighting game where you can only do two things: Dive and Kick. It started as a joke, well, it still is a joke really, and somehow actually god fleshed out enough to become a sellable product. I followed this game for a long time before it came out. Giant Bomb regularly played the game during various stages of development, and each time they showed it there seemed to be a new, game breaking character. Now there is a character who can teleport? Wait, that guy just turns into lightning and fills the screen? I began to grow skeptical, and while I still found the game fun to watch be played, I honestly didn't think it would be fun to play myself.

Boy was I wrong. Divekick is really damn fun, a perfect distillation of the fighting game genre. As many before me have said, it removes most barriers of entry to the genre: learning moves, learning combos, and the physical execution of those things. What remains is the heart of the genre, things like specific character matchups, spacing and footsies, and mindgames with your opponent. Maybe the saddest thing I can say about Divekick is that in the end I realized I don't like fighting games that much. Or maybe I like them too much, because I get so goddamn stressed when playing against people online that I can't do it for long.

#3 - Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone
Oh look Rhete is putting the game about little girls on his list, how predictable. But hear me out! Fortune Summoners feels like a rare case where gameplay, and story work in perfect tandem to create one singular feeling. Yes you play as a young girl, but the game uses several old-school design elements to support it. For example, there are no maps in the game. Trying to find a town? Better stop and read the signs on the road. Cleared a dungeon? Good for you, now walk your ass back out of there, hope you remembered the way you came. The game is also very difficult, with some pretty advanced enemy AI that doesn't just let you beat on it, but will read your moves and counter attack you with perfect timing.

The culmination of these design choices really makes you feel like a small part of a huge world. You are not some legendary hero off to save the world, you're a normal girl who goes on adventures with her friends. It reminded me a bit of Costume Quest, I liked to think what was being shown on screen was really just an exaggerated version produced by the girls imagination.

Overall Fortune Summoners really surprised me. I picked it up on a bit of a whim because of who localized it, having not even liked the demo much, and it completely blew me a way with its characters, music, and gameplay. It's worth a look, just mind the difficulty curve.

#2 - Fez
When I first saw Fez, before it came out last year on Xbox 360, I thought it looked dumb. Here was another indie platformer with pixel art that seems to miss the point entirely. When you die, you respawn on the platform you fell from, eliminating nearly all challenge whatsoever. Why people were so excited about what was being shown, I'm still not sure.

But then the game came out, and people soon discovered that there was more here than just a harmless platformer. Hidden deep inside were, to be vague, some pretty mind-bending puzzles. It feels kind of unprecedented that the game had managed to hide its hand so well.

Anyways a year later the game finally came to PCs, and I got to try it myself. Maybe the biggest surprise for me ended up being how much I enjoyed the first half of the game. Yes it's not really a platformer, but the art, music, and level design creates an incredible sense of place and just begs you to explore and poke around it.

But in the end where Fez really shines is the second half, when a few key revelations end up cracking the whole game wide open. In the end Fez didn't miss the point of retro games, it just took a different approach. This is a game where you'll end up sitting around with a notebook, drawing symbols, maps, and other bits of info. This is the closest I've seen a game get to capturing the feel of trading rumors at school, before the internet ruined any mystery games had.

The puzzles themselves are also very well designed. While I wish there had been more of them, the difficulty of the game on the whole is greatly overexaggerated, and with some patience and careful observation, I found it pretty approachable, excluding a few insane optional ones at the end.

#1 - Dark Souls
I almost quit Dark Souls. I was trapped in my own mental cage, unable to think even a bit outside the box. After a few hours of struggling against the Taurus Demon, the first real boss of all things, Polly gave me a protip to not fight him head on like I had been doing, but jump on him from atop the tower, and then simply run away and repeat once he was far enough away. Sure enough, it worked, and I could begin my journey proper.

And what a hell of a ride it's been. Dark Souls is a game that almost feels like it is about video games at times. Towards the start it feels like you have to exploit to win. Running away from bosses, tricking the AI, shooting enemies that can't reach you with bows, it's all fair game. It feels fair because Dark Souls gives you no quarter, so you don't feel bad fighting back with your own dirty tricks. Once you dig in a bit though, and get a feel for the game, you learn that it's not a game that is so hard you have to exploit to win at. Everything is manageable if you pay attention to your surroundings and not try to rush things.

Dark Souls does however, prey on your worst habits as a player. It thrives on your overconfidence, waiting for you to rush through an area you've been through several times, or punishing you for running headfirst into an unexplored area. The game also has an incredible sense of tension as you explore new ground, as you get further and further, and your number of souls increases, the urge to retreat back to safe place continues to rises. The sense of dread, rising tension, and having a game where death matters are all almost unheard of for modern games.

And eventually you will die, and have to risk running back to where you were to recover your souls. This mechanic is in itself genius, as it continues to raise the tension. If you manage to recover your souls, you find yourself right back where you started, but now you have even more souls and want to retreat even more. This cycle may repeat itself a few times, but eventually, as mentioned earlier, you'll get sloppy in an area you've run through a few times, die twice, and lose everything. And that is ok! After giving so much weight to death, it can be incredibly freeing to not have to worry about it for a while, and it gives you the chance to explore and take more risks than you normally would.

Anyways I will wrap this up before it gets too long. You should play Dark Souls. It's an incredible experience with a world that, while harsh and uninviting, begs you to explore every nook and cranny of it, and conquering it is one of the most satisfying experiences in all of video games.

Biggest Disappointment

Phantasy Star Online 2

OK, fine. I can take a hint. Heck, the official twitter didn't update once all year. We all know it's dead, and probably has been for a while.

But may I ask why? Why do you claim to love the PC and then not even bring over one of your flagship titles? It's not like you don't own any developers that could do it. Oh but wait, PSO 2 is already a PC game? Well then you just need someone to translate it. But I guess this is just another case of Sega of Japan not getting along with Sega of the west. Because they just hate money or something.

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