Spiderduck's Best Games of 2013

Here, the core staff of Spiderduck Gaming comes together to reflect on their top picks from 2013. They were asked to write what makes these games unique and will make them worth playing for years to come.

Mike Hewitt - Grand Theft Auto V

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When talking about the game of the year for 2013, the conversation begins and ends with Grand Theft Auto V. No other game released managed to get so much right. Games like The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite were decent games in their own right, but they were the video game equivalent of Oscar bait and failed to indulge the escapist fantasy that the best of the industry exemplify.

Where to start with Grand Theft Auto… how about characters? Grand Theft Auto has always been a controversial series, but never before has it pushed the line so far with the player characters. Trevor might end up being one of the most memorable main characters that I have ever played. A meth addled psychopath, Trevor’s scenes range from humorously naughty to should-not-exist-below-NA17 offensive. Trevor’s introductory scene alone (and not even being the worst of Trevor!) might be one of the most over the line scenes that I’ve ever witnessed.

And, you know what? I loved every minute of it. The game is not just the juvenile “mature” that games like the modern military shooters are. Grand Theft Auto is heavy-handed satire that asks you to ignore your visceral reactions to its hyperbolic representation of Hollywood culture. Somehow, a game series that is most associated with beating hookers with a baseball bat has managed to become one of the most startling social commentaries of an overindulgent culture that video gaming has ever produced.

It’s not just the social commentary that Grand Theft Auto did so well, it was the political commentary that most people had issue with. It wasn’t part of a lot of the game, but the one mission that chose to was enough (more than enough for many). I am, of course, talking about the famous torture scene. The scene was criticized for being gratuitous and pointless. Of course, that was the whole point, which was lost on the critics.

What elevates Grand Theft Auto V above much of the other critically acclaimed games this year is that Rockstar did not sacrifice gameplay in order to accomplish their narrative goals. Every single gameplay element still felt very much like Grand Theft Auto, only better. Tighter shooting and snap aim elements fixed the frustration from past combat sequences. Cars no longer controlled as though the city where a giant ice rink. Missions were no longer confined to a series of homogenized single player death matches. It was all just… better.

2013 wasn’t exactly the greatest year gaming ever experienced; it was a year full of over hyped disappointments. Thankfully, with a game like Grand Theft Auto V being released, this year didn’t have to be completely forgettable. As someone who can’t suspend his disbelief long enough to forgive a game its blatant faults, Grand Theft Auto pulled me in and kept me there for all of my twenty hours of gameplay joy.

Marcus Lawrence - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

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A Link Between Worlds meshes old and new to create a refreshing new entry for the Zelda franchise. Becoming a painting opens new doors of exploration and solving puzzles. Very memorable indeed. There's something quite magical about this sequel, and maybe it has something to do with how much A Link Between Worlds reminds me of A Link to the Past while introducing fresh new ideas. I'm used to Zelda titles having certain mechanics, which separate the titles from one another. Having Link merge into walls as a painting was not only a maneuver out of left field but quite creative. This merging allows player to navigate the world in a different way, something that is quite important in a Zelda title. At first, becoming a painting was daunting and often left me puzzled in certain situations. This was until I remembered I could, in fact, merge with walls. However, just like most paintings, time is needed to find the appreciation and understanding behind the brushstrokes.

Regardless of how you slice it, Zelda keeps the foundation from which it was built and improves upon it with each iteration. At the same time, A Link Between Worlds distinguishes itself from the rest solely based on said improvements. Besides painting Link as I call him, the borrowing/purchasing of items was a great improvement as far as I'm concerned. All necessary items were in my possession before I reached the halfway mark, and this allowed me to explore freely to my heart's content. Everything I love about The Legend of Zelda can be found within the new installment as well, so I never felt like the game was completely different from the rest. I believe in the “If it isn't broken, don't try to fix” approach when developing games. Try to be too radical and the outcome could be disastrous. I'm also extremely glad these games don't come out annually because by the time another addition to the Zelda world is announced, us gamers will have already experienced and be craving the next game. Annual releases can truly sour a franchise. In the end, The Legend of Zelda continues to enthrall gamers to return back to Hyrule for another grand adventure and A Link Between Time is no exception.

Elliot Zeichner - Pikmin 3

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In 2001, Nintendo released a new system, which held the promise of offering enhanced gameplay through technical advancements in graphic processing power. Within the same year, Nintendo released a new game–introducing a completely new franchise–that embodied their promise: Pikmin. Met with critical acclaim, Pikmin fell short with attracting as many players, with the interface for controlling many playable units stifled by a traditional control scheme. To this end, Pikmin was unfinished. More than a decade later, Pikmin would finally be completed.

While there was a sequel in between this timespan, it merely created more content off from the original product instead perfecting it. Pikmin 2’s efforts only worked around the flaws of the first game instead of tackling them head on. Even with upgraded ports released on the Wii, the games were still restricted to their engine. Once again, this was treating the symptoms instead of the issue’s source itself. Ultimately, completely re-hauling the game’s engine might have been a bit excessive, but the finished product eventually surfaced, and the amount of polish it exudes demonstrates Pikmin 3’s conclusiveness.

When Pikmin was released on the GameCube, not only was a franchise introduced, but also a twist on existing game genres. Seemingly a real-time strategy game, the game played out more like an action adventure game, especially due to the aforementioned control scheme. Pikmin wanted to be different within the restraints, but its ambition hurt its success. The game cursor was either too stiff or not precise enough with the traditional or motion controls, respectively, on the first two games. Commanding Pikmin using the latter control method became a chore in favor of less precision. Worst of all, faulty Pikmin AI would be the source of half the game’s difficulty.

Pikmin 3 sought to remedy all these issues, and did so perfectly. After more than ten years, Nintendo finally caught up with their new idea that was ahead of its time. The GamePad brought justice to the idea of Pikmin. Wii MotionPlus could attract newcomers to the series with its user-friendly controls. Instead of adding as much content as possible, Pikmin 3’s goal was to create unique moments. To create the stressful conditions of the first game, there was still the urgency of collecting fruit to continue the exploration campaign. Pikmin 3 is a game of refinement for an idea that couldn’t have been executed properly until the technology permitted. For such a game that tries to solidify what Pikmin meant to developers, it also adds new elements–such as different puzzles and unique hostile encounters–making it the perfect game in the series for both veterans and new arrivals to enjoy.

Greg Livingston - The Wonderful 101

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The first step in any combat scenario is to draw your weapon. Using the Wii U's gamepad touch screen or the right thumb stick, you etch a symbol of your weapon. Depending on the size of the symbol, your weapon will be stronger, allowing you to deal more damage. However, the size of your weapon is limited by your battery meter.

This battery meter also powers your dodges and blocks, so if you max out on your weapons, you won't have any defensive abilities left. Additionally, you can use leftover battery meter to spawn helper weapons: AI-controlled weapons that attack enemies automatically. One of my favorites was to draw a claw weapon for myself and then have a helper throw a time-slowing bomb.

Limiting the player's actions using a meter is hardly original, but its place at the core of The Wonderful 101's hack and slash gameplay goes a long way to distinguish it. In order to successfully string together a chain of hits on an enemy, you will need to study enemy behavior. Just like in any other hack and slash, they'll do whatever they can to break your combo. The Wonderful 101 takes that one step further in that you will need to keep an eye on yourself in order to keep a chain going, as well; manage your battery meter irresponsibly, and you won't be able to keep up. Run out of battery meter when you need to create a new weapon or dodge an attack, and your combo will end. This meter will slowly refill on its own, and you can find refills by destroying enemies or the environment, meaning the better you play the more battery you get to play with.

In a genre where conventions are well understood and finely honed--DmC: Devil May Cry is a superb game--The Wonderful 101 chooses deviation over than refinement and creates a unique space for itself.