Aside from the few major hits like The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto 5, Bioshock Infinite, and Call of Duty: Ghosts, the Sony and Microsoft systems had a more paltry showing in 2013, and all those titles fit into the games-in-which-you-shoot-things-with-guns category, which looks to dominate the industry for perpetuity. The Wii U had a handful of titles worth talking about, but Nintendo’s trickle of software for the first year of the system has even the hardcore base worried and, more importantly, not spending money. What took the main stage this year was the 3DS as a handheld. After a terrible launch year, the system has finally come in to its own with a library that is both voluminous and variety-filled. I spent a lot of time on my 3DS this year; in fact, according to the device I’ve played upward of two-hundred hours on the thing. This is chiefly due to its hard-hitting, show-stopping lineup this year. This is my personal list (no I don’t claim to be the always-objective voice of reason here) of the top five 3DS titles released in 2013.
5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf Many people will be surprised to see this game on this rung of the totem pole. In my review of the game, I explained how Animal Crossing: New Leaf does so many things so well, and moves the franchise forward in many ways. The graphical update makes the game look less like the inside of a toy box, an aesthetic that I liked, but it makes the game feel fresh. New Leaf gives players more ownership. I chose where to put my house and, as the mayor, I made decisions about where landmarks were placed and created ordinances to customize gameplay. If I liked to play at night, stores had night hours at my command; if I took long breaks from the game, I ensured that citizens keep the town clean while I was away. There are new internet features wherein players can text friends out-of-town or play minigames with them for cool items. One can even present their house to strangers and friends alike through streetpass. Animal Crossing is and always has been a perfect game with which to unwind. As long as I gave the game a few minutes a day, my town grew and townspeople flocked to my utopia. It is a delicate balance though. Even though one can make landmarks, the funding comes chiefly for the main player, adding to the amount of bells that needed to be accrued. As with previous titles, the game can become a grind when one spends more time collecting and selling insects than anything else, essentially destroying the illusion that one is actually doing something productive. The only way the appeal of the game can continue is with moderation: playing small amounts every day, slowly building up the town of one’s dreams. It is a big step for the franchise and I hope they continue to make bounds instead of baby steps in the future.
4. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon It would be a mistake to not mention that 2013 was the year of Luigi. The eternal understudy was showcased in many of the Mario franchise releases of the year, the best of which by far was Luigi’s second adventure in ghost busting. Either Gary or I will delve deeper in to the game once we come around to reviewing but there are no other games like it. The game feels somewhere stuck in-between a point-and-click adventure and an action adventure split into mini-missions. In each, Luigi must explore haunted mansions, a mission that he has been bamboozled into doing. Luigi’s reluctance and fear is palpable; in one game, Luigi has shown more interesting character traits than Mario has mustered in decades. Searching rooms, clearing them of ghosts, and finding secrets feels inexplicably rewarding. Luigi can use the money that he finds to upgrade his gear in order to more effectively capture ghosts. Capturing ghosts with skill makes money flood the room in amounts that would make Wario drool. The mini-mission format is good for the handheld system, but the time in which each mission takes to complete fluctuates. Diorama-style rooms make the game perfect for the optional 3D effects of the 3DS and I doubt I ever turned the feature off the entire game. By the end of the game, it feels like Luigi comes into his own as a hero: he has a nemesis to fight, someone to save waiting, and his own reluctance and fear to overcome. Maybe I won’t play Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon a second time for a while, but it is its own experience—there really is nothing like it.
3. Pokémon X and Y I had a hard time deciding where this game should go. It is, to date, the game I have gotten the most gameplay out of on my 3DS. It does so much to propel the series forward, but the story is just dreadful. Sure, the original Pokémon games had little to no story, but a simplistic story is better than a drawn-out, confusing-for-no-reason, why-can’t-I-skip-it-and-just-catch-em’-all one. It is on all other fronts that Pokémon innovates and excels. While there are not many creatures added to the roster, many of them are type combinations until now non-existent or have an otherwise interesting mentionable trait. The addition of the Fairy type and stat immunities rebalances the entire game, and will give veterans of the series pause. Dragon-type monsters will no longer reign in competitions either. While mega-evolutions change things up significantly too, the exclusivity of it for certain Pokémon fan-favorites is lame and works against the rebalancing of other additions. The game is better looking than ever, giving battles the excitement captured only on the inferior N64 and Gamecube iterations of the series. Characters can finally be customized and internet features have been overhauled, reaching a level of convenience unmatched in a Nintendo product. Not only all of that, but playing with Pokémon now affects their performance in battle—they will occasionally dodge a critical hit or shake-off a crippling status effect. Notoriously hardcore stat-building has been streamlined, making it easier than ever for shorts-wearing noobs to become cape-donning Pokémon masters. Aside from the terrible storyline, there are a few other complaints I may get into in a review later. Suffice it to say, the Pokémon Company has shown that they aren’t going anywhere and that they won’t stop doing things to shake up or otherwise improve a formula that has solidified it in video game history.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds This is the one where people will disagree with me, mostly because Zelda is held in such esteem and, for good reason. This game is phenomenal; the best handheld Zelda game that I’ve played (expect a full review soon). It does two things diametrically opposite: it is both nostalgic and revolutionary at the same time. How? The game takes something that players should be very familiar with: the world of Link to the Past for Super Nintendo and brings it back. Meanwhile, the game’s play conventions have been radically altered. Instead of finding the item one needs in a dungeon to progress through that dungeon, the player rents and/or buys the tools that they need from a shop. With rented tools in-hand the player can explore the world and enter temples at leisure. Aside from the first temple, players may choose which temples to access and when to access them. On top of this paradigm-altering idea, Link can become 2D and shove himself into walls as a painting. This allows him to shimmy along previously impossible-to-cross gaps, solve puzzles in completely new ways, and escape hairy battle situations. The 3D effect helps give the previously flat world depth and the multi-level nature of the game is explored in ways that its SNES predecessor could not. There were many times that I was stuck in a dungeon, but Link Between Worlds never held my hand, offering puzzle challenges that are a joy, and sometimes tricky to solve. The plot of the game has some interesting twists that I refuse to spoil here, but I think in many ways this game lacks the epic nature of other Zelda titles. The game doesn’t take very long to complete and, if you are keen on exploring the world, playing the game in standard mode won’t be very difficult aside from the puzzles. All that said, you should be playing this game right now and it deserves all of the praise it is currently receiving.
1. Fire Emblem: Awakening I have written pages about this game already in my review. While Fire Emblem: Awakening may seem inaccessible because of its past or its genre, it does everything it can to break out of that stereotype. The game is an awakening for the series, a reawakening in that it is insanely hard for die-hard fans and reasonably paced for players that want to experience Fire Emblem for the first time. After creating a character, female or male with an array of options, the player enters a world at war and joins an ever-amassing army of characters. These characters, when paired together, build relationships which blossom in deep friendship that contributes to battle when positioned together and could even bear fruit with children who can join your cast of characters or would otherwise not exist. As out of place as this may sound in a tactical RPG, the marriage of battle tactics and relationship management made the experience tailored for me in ways I hadn’t yet experienced in a game. This openness in storytelling only suffers in delivery, which is mostly text coupled with dialogue boxes. These interactions range from touching to awkward and everything in-between. The main story remains intact despite the crew you assemble, and while it is not too complex, it is epic in every sense. The most important scenes in the game are accompanied by gorgeous animated cutscenes fully voiced by the main cast and are painfully few but magnificent. Battles are intense and perhaps sometimes unfair (enemies like to pop in on occasion) but it all adds to the drama of knowing that if you are on normal difficulty, you may never see your favorite character again if you make a stupid move. The game swells to its conclusion by bombarding your team of friends and family, characters you have come to cherish, and rewards you with an epic finale that I won’t get into here. I hated tactical RPGs before Fire Emblem: Awakening and this game courted me into an experience that feels bigger than the handheld it’s on. Well, those are my choices for the year that I will call the year of the 3DS, but it certainly wasn’t easy to pick the top five; there is a sea of games out there for this system, many of which I just didn’t have the time or the money to get my hands on. It is worth mentioning that no two of the games above are in the same genre, which speaks to the 3DS’ diversity. It has been a real pleasure to write and edit for The Gamer Nerd this year. Thanks to the team for taking me aboard and to you for reading my pieces. To you and yours, a safe and game-filled 2014!