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:
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
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.
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.
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.
What more can I say about New Leaf
? I've been over this
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.
The 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.
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.
Out 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.
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.
Exploring 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.