It’s been a great year for videogames – one that has given us a lot of surprises. We’ve seen great new IPs launch, some fantastic indie newcomers, some great sequels, HD remakes and reimagining of old favourites. We’ve also had the joy and excitement of a brand new console generation, as well as being treated to stellar title on current gen systems, giving us plenty of choice. There are lots I could talk about, but below are my own personal high (and low) points of the year that was 2013.
Game of the Year | Wind Waker HD
In a year full of new material, IPs, and even consoles, I may get scoffed at for recommending a decade old game, as my GOTY. But the fact of the matter is, Wind Waker HD is a lesson to the entire industry. In fact behind that cel-shaded exterior lies an entire lecture on how to do many things - note your strengths, accept your weakness, improve on greatness, and more importantly start to change people's perspectives on a company that's had a pretty shaky year in the console market (more later).
Wind Waker was fortunate in that it was a solid game to begin with - with a devout following of gamers back in the GameCube era. Back then it was a good game, but by no means the best game available on the system (I'll argue Metroid Prime with anyone). Not only did Nintendo do some careful analysis on the first installment, but, more importantly, they did something that is quite rare in this industry, and that was listening to feedback from it's fans. The shortcomings of the original were clear - too much sailing, too much faffing around at the end, and boy was it a simple game compared to others in the series.
So rather than just tarting the game up - a nice job of that they did too - Nintendo addressed each criticism in turn, giving us a quicker sail to be found, a more streamlined end game, and the deal-breaker that is Hero Mode. It sounds too simple, and almost a bit of a con, but what this ramp up in difficulty achieved was nothing short of a miracle. It didn't just succeed in making a 10 year old game relevant again, but it managed to make me feel 20 years younger. All of a sudden it was like playing my first Zelda game again, with all the challenge, minor tactics and side missions in full swing. Rather than the game simply being a checklist of the usual suspects from the Zelda universe - princess, tick, boomerang, tick, boss of dungeon with convenient yet over-elaborate weakness to dungeon item, tick - it made the journey mean something again. A Zelda game with real significant, something to be tackled, endured, challenged, and overall enjoyed.
As such the book on "How to do a HD remake" simply has a picture of Wind Waker HD on all it's pages, because not only did it put the game in HD - but it wasn't afraid of the "remake" part either. And it's a game that has started to get people's heads turning towards the Wii U - about a year later than would have been nice. It stands as a hopeful sign of things to come, serving as a long shot that one of gaming's most important developers are not quite out of this generation just yet.
Favourite Game | Spelunky
A game so beautifully simple and agonisingly frustrating in equal measure - Spelunky takes me back to a long forgotten time, when loading up a game on my ZX Spectrum and then waiting half an hour for it to load was no guarantee I would end up playing a game. It reminds me of games with no save option, no checkpoints, no glorified undo button that I just can't help but love it.
And bloody well hate it.
Y'see if Spelunky has done one thing for us this generation it has reminded us, how spoiled we have become, how scared developers are that we - the MTV generation - may fail and lose patience and interest in their game if they even give us a sniff of failure. It's not true of all developers mind (more later) but there is a growing trend to not stretch us too much, for fear of us running a mile.
Thankfully it appears that Derek Yu and publishers Mossmouth, were asleep in class when that lesson was being taught - and boy am I glad they were. The remake of Spelunky that arrived on PSN this year has been a firm favourite of mine because it's not afraid to dish me out a good hiding every time I turn it on. It's randomly generated levels made the game a challenge from the off - no practice runs and learning tactics for me, no sir! Coupled with this was an unforgiving health system that could only be replenished if tough challenges were met, and an indestructible ghost that took up half the screen and chase you to your doom if you dilly-dallied about.
But the reason I keep coming back to this game is not just because I'm a glutton for punishment, but there are so many hidden extras and rewarding easter eggs to find to and truly complete the game. Simply getting to the end - no mean feat in itself - is not all there is to see here, and it's why I keep pressing restart every time I die.
Put simply, you know a game is good, when you won't let it beat you, when you're prepared to put in a shift or two to experience it all, and that's exactly what happened to me and Spelunky this year. My blood pressure's up, sure, but so's my chin, and there's a great big grin across my face.
Highlight of the Year | That Sony Press Conference
Yes, it appealed to the lowest common denominator, yes it was childish, yes it was arguably unnecessary but my god did it make a point. Easily the biggest "oh no they didn't" *shakes finger* moment of the year, was when Sony rolled up at E3 and did this.
All it was, was a rebuttal to a few Microsoft strategies delivered in a slick and concise way, but those were some of the most powerful 140 seconds of this year. Not only had Sony succeeded in undermining some of Microsoft's key strategies, and garnering favour with plenty of journalists and gamers alike with these statements, Sony also achieved something more. It showed Microsoft - and indeed anyone else thinking they knew better than the masses - that your audience needs to be listened to. Giving them what you tell them they want, won't always work. Microsoft's vision of the future - with an all in one, connected device - is probably not going to be too wide of the mark. But forcing it on people, in an inflexible way is a surefire way to alienate your customer. Sony realised this and pounced.
Now since this conference - both awesome and cringeworthy in equal measure - it's fair to say things have improved for us all. Firstly Microsoft backtracked on a few of their policies to the relief of their fans, meaning their proposition of a new console now didn't seem quite as daft. Despite the short-term damage this did to Microsoft, they managed to get their act together before Xbox One launched, and now we have a delicious fight on our hands. A start to a new generation, delicately poised to rattle on for a few years to come, with us as gamers reaping the spoils of this bloodthirsty battle. It's then that you start to realise that this wasn't just a humourous playground-style round of fisticuffs between the big two - but this was a vital step in us getting two big hitting consoles going against each other moving into 2014. Who would have thought something sorry Jeremy Kyle-esque could lead to so much?
Disappointment of the Year | Nintendo's Marketing Department
So, congratulations my beloved Nintendo, for the second year running you claim the prestigious Chris Hyde "Let's Balls It Up" (LBIU) Award. As with last year I'm going to focus again on Nintendo's Marketing Department because, crikey, no one else at Nintendo seems to give a damn about their performance, or even their existence for that matter.
Earlier this year we discovered Nintendo had made an operating loss of $256m due to Marketing and R&D, something that I think tells us one thing - whoever is responsible for ROIs in the big corporate world of Nintendo needs a swift kick up the jacksy. To say that Nintendo haven't been a big player in marketing their Wii U this year would be an understatement. In truth their presence has been virtually non-existent, a situation which is exacerbated by the fact that the whole advantage of entering the new console generation first is to make the most of the head start you've given yourselves.
And yet sadly it seems that with both PS4 and Xbox One both hitting and rushing off of our shelves in the UK, Nintendo appear to be still relying on those games that we're all still waiting for, but more moronically not shouting about what they do have. As I said earlier, more and more people are starting to pay attention to Wii U, but in truth these people are only those in the know about video games. Nintendo seem content to let other people figure out the Wii U for themselves, rather than position themselves as a viable alternative to the new consoles by using the one thing they have going for them - their library of excellent titles that a year headstart has afforded them.
We should be seeing TV adverts showcasing the unmissable exclusives and breadth of games on offer, and affordability of the system, the off-tv play without the cost of a Vita etc etc. But instead the culmination of a year's marketing - and presumably a chunk of that $256m - is a limp, forgettable Super Mario 3D World advert in an X Factor ad break.
And it's such a shame, because there really are some worthy titles and experiences that can only be had on the Wii U, but thanks to Nintendo it has become a bit of a forgotten child, an almost laughing stock in some gaming circles. And this is something that needs to be addressed if Nintendo want to make a go of it in 2014. Hoping people buy your games simply won't cut it. And a hat trick of LBIUs would be the final nail in the coffin this time next year.
Most Anticipated For 2014 | Dark Souls 2
Move over next gen, this is where it's really at. The hotly anticipated sequel to From Software's critically acclaimed Dark Souls is where my attention is at for next year, and will ensure that, for a time at least, my PS3 will be getting some serious playtime in 2014.
For those following Dealspwn's Carl through his trials and tribulations of the beta version of this game, you'll understand why I am so excited. Simply put it's another chance to experience a gaming challenge so great, so wonderfully crafted, so full of detail, and oh so much death that March cannot come soon enough. What From Software created in the original was a game that wasn't afraid to leave us to it, to explore, to try, to fail, to retry, to fail again, to break a controller, to return after a relaxing sabbatical to start anew. My highlight of the generation was finally beating the original, and I'd like to think that the second installment will leave me feeling as giddy.
The game itself is looking great, and if Carl's playthroughs are anything to go by, then it seems the mechanics are all working well. I'm looking forward to how challenging the finished game is and how the tweaks to the game's stance on difficulty impact it's sense of achievement. I want to love this game, as I loved it's predecessor, I want it to take over my life, and ravage me senseless in the process. I want to die with a sense of determination and anger in equal measure. But more than anything I want to be surprised. I love Dark Souls, and whilst I want Dark Souls 2 to be more of the same, I also want it to have so much stuffed up its sleeves, it looks like a cheap children's entertainer.
So remember me come March 2014, I'll be the one unable to type properly on Dealspwn thanks to having broken a finger or two whilst lodging a controller into a nearby inanimate object. But boy will it be worth it.