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Gamasutra's Best of 2013: Christian Nutt's Top 5 Video Games
Gamasutra's Best of 2013: Christian Nutt's Top 5 Video Games Exclusive
December 16, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

December 16, 2013 | By Christian Nutt
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More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive



Gamasutra's Christian Nutt (@ferricide) continues our 2013 games of year series with his personal picks, in this, the year of…Nintendo.

Is it strange to have a list with so many Nintendo games? I feel like it must be, but on the other hand, I feel like there's not really another option.

Partially it's because Nintendo's ethos has been thrown into such sharp contrast against other publishers, as they've faltered or turned away from the kind of games -- and more crucially, the kind of design -- Nintendo excels at. More to the point, I feel Nintendo possibly had its best year ever for games.

There's more to life, and 2013, than Nintendo. You'll find out all about that on the other writers' lists. And for my part, I'll spend 2014 catching up with some of those games. For 2013, well, one company pretty much owned my heart.

The games, not in ranked order:

Super Mario 3D World by Nintendo EAD Tokyo

I've enjoyed all of the Mario games Nintendo has put out in the last few years, but one stood out: 2011's 3D Land. Its designers understood that they weren't just making another Mario game; they strove to make the definitive Mario game, the one to blend the best of what 2D and 3D Mario have to offer. And, somehow, they did it.

supermario3dworld1.jpg3D World continues that work. It's a complete survey of the entire franchise's history, taking in all of its gameplay ideas and aesthetic flourishes and, despite the difficulty, blending them into a seamless whole. 28 years of game design ideas, yet everything fits -- including the new stuff.

The game is long, polished, playful, and beautiful. You'd think Mario would be out of ways to surprise someone like me, who's played every game in the franchise, but 3D World still managed to.

SteamWorld Dig by Image & Form

Yet if I had to pick the game I love best this year, it's SteamWorld Dig. I love it so much that I had to barf up this convoluted love letter to during a transatlantic flight because the game ended, but I wasn't prepared to let it.

I didn't have a choice. It got under my skin and made me think.

steamworlddig.jpgSteamWorld Dig is a survey of many of the best games of the 1990s without being stale or unoriginal. There's a wide gulf between shamelessly copying games of the past and understanding what makes them work and then integrating those principles into your design, and SteamWorld Dig is assuredly a game that does the latter. The designers of this game just get it.

But beyond that, Image & Form, with its mobile background, also knows that times have changed, and that there are ways to make games more accessible and engaging without dumbing them down, and that is a fantastic insight expertly applied. A blend of old and new: SteamWorld Dig is a triumph of carefully implementing the right designs at the right times in the right ways. It is totally engrossing.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf by Nintendo EAD

What more can I say about New Leaf? I've been over this before. Repeatedly.

Let me break it down for you from a practical perspective: If you want to understand how to make a game endless without being exploitative -- which is (or at least ought to be) the goal of pretty much the entire mobile industry right now -- this one should be your guidebook.

animalcrossingnewleaf.jpgThe developers of this game are no less serious or technique-driven than the metrics-driven data-heads at other studios, but the guiding principle of Animal Crossing seems to be to present a charming, continuously evolving world that welcomes the player and presents an array of activities designed to be both open-ended and complimentary to one another in varied ways.

The design is a tapestry where the threads touch each other again and again, and wherever they do, they change color. The fabric looks plain from a distance, but get close, and you can see how variegated and strong the weave really is.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds by Nintendo EAD

This is literally the most polished game I have ever played in my life. When it's more satisfying to organize your inventory than it is to actually play other games, you know the developers have exerted the utmost care.

alinkbetweenworlds.jpgOut of the five games on the list, this is the one I keep thinking of dropping. I have to keep reminding myself just how good it is, because it's so slick, polished, and seamless that it almost seems like it just somehow exists, and was not actually developed. It's like finding a smooth piece of obsidian on the desert floor.

But no. Clearly it's the work of a team fundamentally considering what a Zelda game can and should be, and exerting effort to ensure that the franchise doesn't fall into the broken-down, banal confusion that it's been veering toward. That's a really respectable goal, and it resulted in a truly great game that bridges the past to the future.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Nintendo EAD

I don't love A Link Between Worlds. The Wind Waker, I love. I never played it back in 2003 -- which is clearly a good thing, because it's anachronistic. Consequently it seems less a "what were they thinking?" mess and more a deliberately designed antidote to what's wrong with mainstream games today. It feels like an out-of-place artifact, not a throwback.

windwakerhd.jpgExploring this world, fighting your way through it -- it all feels so very good. The combat is deeper and more satisfying than the rest of the franchise; the nonlinear, do-what-you-want exploration feels so apropos to 2013. The Toon Link aesthetics are charming and nuanced and feel so necessary as console games slide into an imagination-starved grimdark purgatory.

A lot of people think this game is a mess, and it kinda is, but it's a fantastic mess made out of really lovely chunks that add up to an uneven yet serene experience. While A Link Between Worlds is preternaturally polished, even (important, justified, significant) tweaks can't sand off The Wind Waker HD's rough corners, and that's okay; the game is much more than the sum of its parts.

When I finished it, it was like waking up refreshed. I was reminded what video games are and can be.

Runners-up: The Wonderful 101 was widely misunderstood yet incredibly playable and extremely deep; Shin Megami Tensei IV didn't do anything new but did it briskly and well; Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate forced me to understand exactly why the series is worshipped in Japan -- it is very good; Rayman Legends delivered on the unrealized promise of Origins with a clever smirk; Crimson Shroud reaffirmed that Final Fantasy Tactics writer and director Yasumi Matsuno is a true industry talent and treasure.

Check back for more of Gamasutra's staff picks over the course of the week! Read EIC Kris Graft's top 5 right here.


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Comments


Zack Wood
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I want to play them allll! And I didn't know about SteamWorld Dig, so thanks.

Ardney Carter
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I was pleasantly suprised by SteamWorld as well. Picked it up on a whim and glad I did.

On a sidenote, I've played 2 or 3 games over the years where you're digging your way through areas and finding things in chunks of rock. Something about that tunneling gameplay is consistently fun. I'm surprised it doesn't show up more often. Or perhaps I've just missed it when it did.

At any rate, good list. The only titles I haven't had chance to check out were Animal Crossing and Crimson Shroud. And MH3: Ultimate, but I own MH Tri for the Wii so it kind of counts :P

Eric Geer
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While i do think there should be a bit more variation in the devs/publishers. I do believe that the imagination and color and fun worlds of yesteryear in gaming deserve to be celebrated. The further we go down this hope of making everything more realistic, the more drab and unimaginative the video game worlds are becoming, and the more wonder-worlds forgotten.

Christian Nutt
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I do think there should be too! But as much as I wanted to like similar games from other publishers, the only one that came close to inclusion was Rayman Legends, which is really great. Sony's trifecta of platformers this year (Knack, which isn't even really a platformer, Puppeteer, which is gorgeous but totally boring and even irritating, and Tearaway, which is beautiful but extremely dull) didn't do much for me, and none of the triple-A stuff I played came close to denting my top 5.

I am obviously deficient in indie games, which I intend to rectify soon. Just haven't had a great opportunity to sit down at a PC and play them, because I've been traveling a lot. (That also helps to explain the 3DS-heavy nature of the list.)

Eric Geer
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I liked your runner up picks! Wonderful 101 is fantastic and MonHun is a time-sink.
Another interesting game I would have included (at least IMHO) would be Runner2...as it was one of the first games that I got on WiiU that I played the hell out of. Had an awesome art style, great gameplay, and was perfectly suited to play on the gamepad!

Ardney Carter
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Runner 2 is another great game. Love the characters, the faux ads before each play session, the levels as sheet music concept. Plenty of fun to be had on that one.

[edit] Only complaint I had was the colors/lighting for the 'Mounting Sads' area. It was hard on my eyes after a while. Could be my setup ofc. Game was so enjoyable I powered through it though.

Eric Geer
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Ardney---Runner2 is out for PSVita today! Runner2 on the run!

Michael Hughes
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Runner2 is like a game made of the time attack challenges in Rayman Origins, which I found irresistible and eyebrow-pullingly difficult in equal measure. The ironic-hipster comedy of Runner2 may irritate some, but I appreciate its dedicated whimsy and its embrace of colors not to be found in nature.

A W
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Steamworld Dig is on the 3DS right? Should I wait for an HD translation to Wii U?

Christian Nutt
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Personally I think it's perfectly suited to the 3DS, a sentiment shared by the devs:
http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MikeRose/20131204/206208/Video_Int
erview_Porting_SteamWorld_Dig_from_3DS_to_PC.php

I'm sure it works just fine on Steam (didn't buy it yet) but it's REALLY great as a portable game. No idea what their port plans are beyond PC/Mac/Linux.

A W
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Well I will look it up on my 3DS then. I have heard a lot of good things about this game. Thanks for the reply back.

Dane MacMahon
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I wish I still liked Nintendo games this much. Unfortunately I don't, at all.

Chris Hendricks
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That's allowed. The game industry is bigger than Nintendo.

I'm just thankful that, in a year when I've heard a whole lot of gloom about Nintendo's future, there are still so many people that DO like them this much.

Dane MacMahon
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Right.

I just genuinely mean I wish I enjoyed them that much, or even at all really. I grew up with them the same as all the other 90's teens. I just moved on and can't seem to go back. It's sad.

Theresa Catalano
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Well everyone has thier own tastes. I wish I enjoyed indie games or AAA games more, because then I'd have more to play. But I have a hard time getting into most modern western games, with a few exceptions like Minecraft. If it weren't for the Wii-U and the 3DS, I'd have virtually nothing new to play.

Seth S Scott
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Great list man. Each time I scrolled down I thought "MAN! Me and this dude have the exact same taste!" :) But yeah, nice job on the brevity as well and getting to the point and beauty each game has to offer.

Seth S Scott
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I would definitely have put Pikmin 3 on there for me....and possibly The Last of Us.

Christian Nutt
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Pikmin 3 I haven't gotten to yet. BACKLOG in effect. TLoU I have mixed feelings about; it's not top 5 for me, personally.

Brjann Sigurgeirsson
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Christian, this is the second love letter we get from you (readers: see link above in the article text about SteamWorld Dig for the first one). Well, we love you too, brother. :) Thanks for seeing the game for what it really is - a homage to great concepts and clever, immersive gameplay - and for daring to pick us out. Sorry everyone for getting so sweet here, perhaps we should get a room... But we're so proud we could burst. Life's too short for bad wine and shallow games, and here's a guy that feels the same.

Luis Guimaraes
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Nintendo Wins! <3

Aaron San Filippo
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It makes me very happy that I now own a WiiU and a 3DS so I can play these games :)

Robert Boyd
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SM3DW is a good game, but it's so conservative. There's nothing that really surprises like the planet hopping in Mario Galaxy or the FLUDD powers of Mario Sunshine; it's just a collection of linear 3D Mario levels with a few new power-ups. And hey, they're well designed levels and if you're a big Mario fan, that's probably enough for you, but as someone who has slowly lost interest in the series, I haven't been too impressed (on the second secret world now).

George Menhal III
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Fire Emblem: Awakening deserves to be on this list!

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Nuttachai Tipprasert
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Everyone entitled to his/her own opinion. The title says 'Gamasutra's Best of 2013: Christian Nutt's Top 5 Video Games', so, basically these are the best games according to Cristian. You can have difference opinions but it doesn't mean that he doesn't have the right to express his.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Somara Atkinson
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Seeing as how each of the editors is doing their own personal Top 5 list (and putting their names at the top of them) I fail to see the problems with this article.

Theresa Catalano
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Really good list! I agree that most of the recent games I have loved come from Nintendo or Nintendo platforms. I would put a few of these on my own list, like Animal Crossing and Super Mario 3D World. The Zelda games I like a lot as well, but I would have put Shin Megami Tensei IV and Wonderful 101 on my own list, still it was nice to see you mention them.

Wonderful 101 in particular is a woefully underrated game. It's a deep, innovative, fun masterpiece of game design, and more people really should play it. That would probably be my #1, but I like your choices as well.

Michael Hughes
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Thanks to you, Jeferson, and others, I'm finally picking up W101. Really excited to play and hoping to join the chorus in championing it to others.

Rosstin Murphy
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Nice list, Christian! Lotta Nintendo in there for you. :-)

Chris Melby
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Wind Waker is my favorite Zelda. I'm really happy that Nintendo updated it for the Wii U and that people that skipped over it initially are giving it a try now.


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