Progress Report: The best and worst of 2013, part 2

September 2, 2013


While the industry divides the year into quarters, we realize that there are really three parts to the year: the (at least usually) barren early months, the gimmicky, convention-filled summer and the action-packed holiday season. This time, we look at May through August. (Check out part one here.)

Biggest Surprise

Chris Ingersoll: Mega Man is going to be in the new Smash Bros. titles! While I wish the 3DS and Wii U versions of this game would be compatible with each other (Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has spoiled me rotten there), one of the most iconic third-party stars has finally taken his rightful place among the Smash pantheon. About freaking time, I say.

Justin Last: Lucas Pope managed to not only craft an engaging narrative with Papers, Please, but he focused it through the lens of a lowly border checkpoint worker. In so doing, everything feels personal because the choices made are not as binary. The protagonist of Papers, Please is making decisions in which helping a husband and wife reunite might mean making his family go without food, heat or medicine. It’s weighty, it’s thoughtful, and it’s tense to wait after every admittance or denial hoping that the printer doesn’t go off and issue a citation for missing something.

Andrew Passafiume: Techland’s Call of Juarez series is hardly considered one of the best in the industry, yet the team managed to surprise back in 2009 with Bound in Blood and have done it yet again with the recent Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. This downloadable Western shooter strips away all just about everything except a basic, intriguing premise and excellent gunplay that matches the game’s silly tone. It won’t amaze, but it will provide you with four or five hours of solid outlaw shooting. Sometimes, that’s all you need.


Graham Russell: Even though the Ouya’s current software lineup is spotty, it has a few gems. The best of the bunch? Eric Froemling’s BombSquad, released on the system in May. I gave it a shot because it promised eight-player fun. Months later, it’s still a centerpiece of weekly game nights. I was hoping it would be worth its five bucks, and it ended up justifying the entire console purchase.

Henry Skey: If you fail hard in your first few months, you’re probably not going to succeed as an MMO. Did Square use a Phoenix Down? Elixir? Megalixir? Whatever it did with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, it listened to its fans; they wanted great visuals, fun quests, an innovative crafting system and a better story.

Shawn Vermette: As surprised as I was by Microsoft’s initial Xbox One policies, I was even more shocked when it backtracked on every single one in the weeks after E3. I was convinced that the hubris that had struck Microsoft was the same as Sony’s around the PS3’s release. I was certain that Microsoft would take a year or two of getting destroyed by Sony to snap out of it. Apparently all it took was a well-timed Sony jab at Microsoft’s expense.

Lucas White: The 2DS! It feels like the 3DS XL is still new and fresh, yet Nintendo has revealed a third redesign of the platform. However, this one takes a unique approach. This is a device designed expressly with children in mind, and as a parent I can tell just by looking at the thing. I think it’s a good idea, and a launch alongside Pokemon X and Y could mean an extra pile of money for Nintendo.


Biggest Disappointment

Finally seeing the opportunity for an Eternal Darkness “spiritual successor” to be made in Shadow of the Eternals, only for hatred towards Dennis Dyack and other questionable moves on the part of Precursor Games to completely poison that well (twice). I want this game to be made, and have backed it twice, but it just doesn’t look like it’s in the cards here for a variety of reasons. And maybe that’s for the best, in the end. There were a number of other items I could have put here (Wii U stagnation, a sub-par Ouya lineup, Ubisoft’s “franchises only” statement), but this one felt personal.

The original Plants vs. Zombies was released on just about everything. I was more than a little disappointed when PopCap announced that Plants vs. Zombies 2 was going to initially launch only on iOS. I hate to see games go free-to-play, because the monetization is front-and-center all of the time. “Spend $5 to bypass this gate!” “Spend $3 to buy this plant you loved in the first game!” “Spend $100 to get a load of in-game currency.” I know that video games are a business, but putting that guy in a suit asking me to open my wallet every few levels absolutely kills my enjoyment.

I had high hopes for Remember Me, even if I had a feeling it might be an underwhelming game. With every new promising trailer and gameplay demo, there was a small piece of news that soured me on what could have been one of the year’s best (or at least most intriguing titles). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a game well worth playing, but its linearity combined with some mechanics that don’t quite click make for a pretty average experience. There is plenty of potential here, it’s just a shame that very little of it is explored to its fullest.


This is the spot to talk about Dragon’s Crown, isn’t it? And not because it’s bad at all. It’s actually frustrating how good it is, since the game’s divisive character art combines with a tedious menu system to kill much of its appeal in local party play. It’s still a great game if you play solo or online and can ignore its failings, but as a game that was destined to be a game night cornerstone, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

The name of Microsoft’s new console: Xbox One. I would say that everything is disappointing about it, but Microsoft pulled a crazy 180 and essentially eliminated every feature about the system that everybody hated. I don’t know what’s stranger; that it changed so quickly, or that people find it strange it changed so quickly. Shouldn’t a company listen to its fans? Eliminating the always-on DRM is a good start, but Xbox One is a stupid name for a console, particularly since this is the third Xbox.

As a huge Xbox 360 fan, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I am no longer part of Microsoft’s core audience. There are a lot of interesting games coming out for its Xbox One, but only one interests me personally at all. It’ll be a nice system, I’m sure, but for now, and because of my suspicion that always-on DRM (among other policies) will make a return later, I’ll be watching and waiting.

I’ve been a big fan of Grasshopper Manufacture’s work since No More Heroes, and was eagerly looking forward to Killer is Dead since it was announced. It was especially exciting after XSEED took the localization reins. Unfortunately, not only does the game not do anything new or interesting with the usual Suda 51 formula, but it is also laced with some of the worst instances of misogyny I’ve ever seen in a game.


Game of Part Two

There’s no way anything is dethroning Animal Crossing: New Leaf. It amazes me how Nintendo keeps finding ways to add to this franchise without taking anything significant away. Being in charge of the town just feels right, since we were basically running it anyway in previous editions. Now if only I could exert any mayoral influence on where Tom Nook builds new houses…

The Year of Luigi is making 2013 the year of the 3DS for me. First, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon took up my free time, and now Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is doing the same thing. I love that I can walk around the world map, get into entertaining and active battles and put the 3DS to sleep whenever I need to do to something else. The aesthetic is colorful and vibrant, the supporting cast is entertaining and the combat system is just as engaging as it has ever been. Jumping, hammering and executing special attacks puts a smile on my face whether I’m able to play for ten minutes or two hours.

I consider myself a huge fan of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, and while Shin Megami Tensei IV might just be one of the best of the bunch, it isn’t my pick here. It was a tough call, but I have to say The Last of Us is one of the finest games I’ve played in quite some time. I could go on about its excellent characters, well-realized world and mechanics that support its hefty themes in spectacular ways, but there’s really nothing else to be said. Standing right next to BioShock Infinite as one of the best of the year, I believe The Last of Us is a game everybody needs to experience.


Whether it’s the best game of Part Two is up for debate, but there’s no denying how all-consuming Animal Crossing: New Leaf was in the middle months of 2013. More than previous games in the series, New Leaf captured the zeitgeist in a time when that’s more and more significant.

The Last of Us. I’m sorry, was there anything else in the running? Naughty Dog’s latest earns every word of praise. I already wrote about how it’s a realistic, brutal, gritty drama set in a believable, frightening, post-apocalyptic America with appealing characters and a grand story. The gameplay complements the story (and vice-versa), the ending isn’t cliche and it’s one of the best-looking games on the PS3.

This summer had more high-quality games in it than usual, but no other game I played had quite as much of an impact as Shin Megami Tensei IV. It is brutally difficult, yet not unfair. It mocks you when you die, but gives you ample room to continue playing. The gameplay mechanics are as refined as this series has ever been, and the characters and story are intriguing.

No game this year has garnered my attention quite like Shin Megami Tensei IV. The fact that the game refuses to end is only part of the reason. I don’t have as much free time as I did when I could carelessly drop 90 hours on Persona 3, so all of the new mechanical changes designed to facilitate shorter play sessions and ease of use for some of the more complicated systems really make the experience more digestible.