I liked a lot of games that came out in 2013. Once again, these are in no particular order!
I still stand by what I wrote about Depression Quest when it came out earlier this year:
The short of it: Depression Quest is not only good, it is truly revolutionary. It sets standards for relationships with games. It sets standards for relationships with ourselves, with our bodies, with our minds. It shows us what we can do and what we are, like a mirror that gives you the future and the brutal present all at once.
I don’t have anything to add about the game that I didn’t write in that review, but I do want to point out that the sheer amount of harassment that the developers have experienced because of their releasing this game points to the fact that the game really has shaken the foundations of videogame culture. I think lots of us like to claim (and I do mean “us” in that I am included) that what we are making changes the culture around videogames, even if that effect is slight at best. Depression Quest is working in big, public, massive ways; it deserves to be archived and placed in critical histories by both academics and popular writers alike. Our job is to make sure that Depression Quest isn’t lost to time, overrun by the tide of small games that come out in dozens by the week. It is hope.
This game makes this list because it feels good to play. That’s it. It has a layer of cyberpunky whatever over the top, like a minigame based around a William Gibson fragment, and I like that just fine, but the power in simian.interface is the feel. I feel like a genius when I intuit how the panels slide into one another. I feel truly cybernetic when I understand the minuteness of the mouse movements necessary to complete a level. It is beautiful.
I have played Room of 1,000 Snakes more than ten times. Every time I play it I smile. Specifically, I smile when the snakes start pouring into the room, and that grin never leaves my face. It stays with me afterward, for hours. I’m smiling right now thinking about it.
In a year dominated by roguelikes and their design trappings, Room of 1,000 Snakes is a weird creature. Nothing changes. It is fully linear, barely interactive. There is no system to master, nor is their anything like a system there at all. In a year where systems and their applications to previously underexplored territory were where it was at, y’all, this game just sort of stands there and shrugs its shoulders and pours a big ole basket of snakes all over your expectations.
Arcane Kids, the developers behind Room of 1,000 Snakes, followed it up with Bubsy 3D. This is a game where you control a very boring character from the history of videogames. You take that character to LACMA. You look at and walk through the James Turrell retrospective. It is everything that is on the label.
The unnecessary trappings are what make this game special. Bubsy 3D is a Nintendo 64-style collectathon with numbers out of other numbers and things onscreen that you can run around and pick up, but there’s never any explanation as to why you would ever do that. You do it, though. You go and collect those little sparkly balls because they’re there. Much like how you came to this game, you just show up, you experience it, you wallow around in the space, you go from one area to another. Eventually you get to some recreations of James Turrell artwork, and you mostly just trundle through there in a way that you would never be allowed to do in real life.
Bubsy has powers, though, and you do whatever the hell you want. This is a good game.
Folmer Kelly might have made this game for a jam or something. There are fewer than ten maps, and you can really only jump and shoot. The game isn’t difficult. It takes less than five minutes to clear completely. There’s no narrative to speak of. It looks and plays like an NES game. Those are all objective statements about the game, but that’s really I can say. It has been lodged in my head since it came out months and months ago. I haven’t forgotten it yet, and because of that, I feel like it needs a spot here. What a good thing.
Look, I don’t have a single thing to write about this game. It is super fun to play and the basic system can and should be implemented as a minigame in basically every game that requires little silly minigames. Here is the copy about the game from the developer’s website:
‘Mad Meteor’ Mike was the greatest wrestler the world had ever seen, after winning the Ultimate Championship Belt in 1986 he became powerful enough to ascend to the cosmos and become an all-powerful Titan of Wrestling…
Now ‘Mad Meteor’ Mike travels between galaxies, slamming space-crystals which sustains his amazing powers to warp through space. All that stands in his way are the Evil WrestleLords who hunt him endlessly…
It’s time to Jam and Slam! Guide ‘Mad Meteor’ Mike through different randomly generated galaxies, target the Space Crystals to leap and slam through space, use Wrestle-Magickx to destroy the evil Wrestlelords who endlessly hunt you and go for the high score!
This game is also really short, and it is about a dog that can control gravity. If you’re a person who often thinks “I want to make games,” you could do a lot worse than play this. Devoid of narrative text, Gravity Dog clearly communicates the goal of the eponymous dog — he wants to get off this planet! — and does so through very good showing and exactly zero telling. In this regard, Gravity Dog is a significantly better game re: its narrative than The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite combined.
I haven’t finished this game yet, but I really like it so far. I like the idea of using boats to shoot at other boats. I also like that the franchise has totally admitted to itself that the only way that you can really make this world compelling is to make the protagonist a totally ignorant manchild who doesn’t even have a semblance of morality in his entire being. Then they can patronize the player about ethics and morals for hours and hours!
I also really, really like the non-pirate modern day sequences. I like hacking consoles and reading backstory more than I like being an assassin, I think, so I don’t know what that says about this generation of games. Also, in the “current time” sections of the game, you exist in first person mode and there is no “character” there that I am aware of. For some reason, I assume that the character is a woman. I don’t know what that means.
To get down to ground here, the reason that this game is on the list is that I’ve played most of the AAA releases that have come out this year, and their steady rhythm has sort of beaten me down. Assassin’s Creed IV is not a game that I feel obligated to play, nor does it make me feel bored when I am playing it, and because of that it is one of the most successful blockbuster games of the year. I think it deserves a lot of credit for livening up a series that could very easily become very stale, and I’m excited to see this design iteration continue into the next console generation.
If I had to pick a game that was my one true favorite of 2013, it would be either this one or Angvik. The Icarus Proudbottom franchise is chock full of Satan and ancient owl people and Icarus Proudbottom himself, who just LOVES typing. IPTT is full of systems that seem to smack up against one another at will, but at the end of the day, it is a very clean typing game that revels in its own nonsense humor.
In a year of games about very serious men doing very serious things to other very serious men, I think it is important to point out that we’re increasingly headed into a weird pseudospace where videogames look a lot like film in their genre constraints. The Last of Us functions as a mashup between a summer blockbuster and clear, overendearing Oscar bait that wears all of its very serious feelings on its sleeve for everyone to see and take to heart. IPTT reminds us that there are smart games that are capable of telling a story that is engaging but which do not contain any scenes of killing a human with a brick. Games are a plenitude, and these GOTY lists have a way of homogenizing what we have down to a very small slice. Resist that impulse.
Last entry. Very short. Michael Lutz’s father has very long legs. I have to assume that this horror tale is totally autobiographical, because how else could it be told with such rich description? This game is a twine game, and short of DQ, it is probably the best game I have seen that uses the medium. While I am totally on board with twine as a tool for making things, the pure text game genre has never done anything for me as a player, and it really does take some ingenuity to get me invested in words on a screen. mflll forces me to become invested.