Saturday, December 14

The High Horse Audit 2013: The Top 5 Games of the Year of Luigi

I don't know what happened, but I never got around to naming my games of the year for 2012 on this here blog. Writing for Games Are Evil last year, I nominated Journey as the game that had the greatest impact on me in what was a very busy year where gaming time came at a premium. Now in this, the Year of Luigi, I found myself with even less time to sit in front of my beloved consoles and plug away at AAA blockbusters. Something very odd happened being separated from machines that churned out quality 6-10 hour action adventures where the primary objective was to shoot and hack at faces: I rediscovered my love of the role playing game.

Ever since I started writing about games, I felt compelled to consume the titles -- indie games not withstanding -- that could be finished in the shortest amount of time possible. I needed to feel as though I could talk about a game as a whole and know most of what it offered players. Now, commuting for up to four hours a day, sometimes I need something repetitive to keep me engaged without demanding too much in terms of reflexes. Games that throw the odd carrot of narrative and then require hours of grinding towards the next objective. The games I enjoyed the most this year could not be disposed of on a lazy weekend: they required weeks, sometimes months, worth of navigating through menus and selecting commands.

Behold, my favourite games of 2013:

5. Hotline Miami (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita - Played on PS3 and Vita)
I know, I know: Hotline Miami came out last year on PC. It had its time in the sun and has no right to be in a list of 2013's finest videogames. Hear me out though, the PlayStation Vita port of the ridiculously violent indie darling is one of the tightest and addictive experiences available on the Sony handheld. Its blend of button and touchscreen controls turned the PC's messy keyboard and mouse-controlled ballet of bullets and bodies into one of the most refined score attack games that I've ever played. Not only does the game look better on the Vita's OLED screen, it's infinitely more playable when luck is taken out of the equation. Last year with the PC version, I was proud to say that I bested its brutal campaign. With this new version, I became a competitive player posting scores in the top fifty for some levels and uncovering many of the game's secrets. A must for any Vita owner who can handle the odd bucket full of pixelated blood. 

4. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 - Played on PlayStation 3)
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (MGR) is one the silliest games I have ever played. The story is ridiculous, for the most part I would say incoherent. The soundtrack is the greatest heavy metal cheese platter that money could buy. The visuals are a mix of dull, muddily rendered environments and beautifully detailed character models that can just as soon be cut into a thousand pieces as they can attack the cybernetically-enhanced protagonist. It won't appeal to everyone, but for me the Might Morphin' Power Rangers level of ceremony that came with cinematics and boss fights made MGR stand out as the best brawler released in the year where Dante made a competent return in DmC: Devil May Cry and Dead Rising went next gen with an outstanding third installment. Light, bloody and satisfying entertainment with a sense of style that is easily attributable to Platinum Games, the studio that gave us the whimsically hairy Bayonetta.

3. Persona 4 Golden (PlayStation Vita)
Persona 4 Golden (P4G) is another dubious inclusion as it was released in most territories in 2012 (I imported the Asia version), only to see the light of day in Europe and Australia early this year. Considering that I am based in Australia and didn't actually play the game until after it was released here, I've decided to consider P4G as a 2013 release. One of the best of them to be exact.

One of the few RPGs I've played where the grind truly felt optional, I found myself heading back into the nightmare-themed dungeons because I wanted my party to be the best they could be. The undeniably difficult but fair combat system kept me engaged for more than sixty hours, and that's without even dabbling in a New Game Plus playthrough.

I do want to head back to Inaba though, as Chie, Yukiko, Kanji, Rise, Naoto, the Dojimas and Teddie are wonderful characters that I can't wait to meet again. Yosuke's alright too I guess. In truth, P4G's Social Link system is the best thing about the game, and the conversations you have with your party members, family and fellow students convey a sense of warmth that is missing from most AAA blockbusters.

2. Fire Emblem: Awakening (Nintendo 3DS)
Fire Emblem: Awakening sunk its hooks into me and wouldn't let go until my family of adventurers was safe from the Fell Dragon Grima. I would (soft) reset the game whenever I lost a companion because:
  1. I deeply cared about the vast majority of the characters.
  2. If I didn't care about one character specifically, odds are they were engaged in a relationship with one whose happiness meant the world to me.
  3. The characters seemed to genuinely care for each other and I couldn't handle the thought of them grieving over their cutie comrades.  
I would agonize for hours over which of my units would make the best couples. In some cases it was further proof that I should avoid playing cupid, but there were some genuinely heartwarming unions forged on the battlefield. Strategy games aren't often renowned for characterization, but through short and memorable interactions in and away from the heat of battle, I perceived a genuine community that I would stop at nothing to protect. No matter how long I spent on one of the lengthy chapters, no man or woman would be left behind. It also helps that the turn-based strategy action was made even more compelling through the inclusion of customizable and readily swappable classes and pair attacks. The best game in what has been a bumper year for the 3DS in this, the Year of Luigi.

1. Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (Android, iOS, PC - Played on my Samsung Galaxy SIII)
After buying two next generation consoles on their respective launch days, it almost hurts to admit that the game that I've enjoyed the most and spent the greatest amount of time with this year is a free-to-play puzzle game with a throwaway story and hideously-tempting ways to spend real money. Yet here we are, nearing the end of yet another weekly tournament with another highly desirable character card up for grabs for those willing to invest countless hours and, no doubt, dollars into holding their spot on the leaderboards. You don't need to spend any money to enjoy Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign , but the other addicts I've consulted confessed that they felt duty-bound to financially support a game that they've sunk days' worth of time into. I relented for over a month, only just spilling a measly 99 cents to keep a tenth character on the books. Demiurge deserve more; however, as I've been sent on a roller-coaster ride of frustration, exhilaration, and judgement-impeding nostalgia that's easily worth the cost of any PlayStation 4 or Xbox One game sitting on my shelf. At first glance, this is yet another Match 3 puzzle game with progress potentially accelerated through microtransactions. Spend roughly an hour with it and you'll see the depth and charm of any other Puzzle Quest installment, only bolstered by the inclusion of characters, both household names and relatively obsure, from the Marvel Comics stable. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trialling this freemium delight.

Wednesday, December 11

Anniversary 3: The Year That Disappeared

Dearest Carly Pie
This year kind of slipped away
So very busy

Under much pressure
We grow closer and our hair
Shorter by the day

Own the pixie cut
Become one with Tinkerbell
Let us share hair gel

Let's always make time
To share in our pyjamas
Watch Law & Order

I love you more now
Than I did this exact day
Three short years ago