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An Early Yearly Rundown, Part 2: The Top 5

December 4, 2013

Dear Reader,

Today, we’ll finish out my yearly run-down of all the games I played, focusing on the best of the group.  Each game I list today earns a 5/5 rating, and a little extra text to explain why they were so great.

So, without further ado, in no particular order:

Orcs Must Die! 5/5

This is probably my favorite game of the year.  It was precisely what I wanted when I found it.  It combined the strategy of a tower defense with the action of a first-person shooter with the fun of a serious challenge.  On top of that, you could play solo, which many other tower defense games don’t offer, and it had a hilarious storyline. I don’t generally like anti-heroes (as in Deponia), but this one is a little more Ash (from Army of Darkness) or Han Solo than a jerk like Rufus.

The variety of boards and traps that are available also added a lot to the gameplay; some boards were about dealing with multiple entry points, others about dealing with hordes of monsters, and even others dealing with both.  The traps, too, let you try different strategies.  There were many classics such as spiked floors or arrow-shooting walls that could be used anywhere.  Then there were situational traps, such as push traps that could push monsters into pits of instant-death lava or acid.  The variety of options on how to deal with each board made the game extremely enjoyable.

Rogue Legacy 5/5

This was probably my third favorite game this year.  It captured my attention and reawoke a long-dormant interest in side-scrolling platformers.  I don’t think I’ve played through a “traditional” side-scrolling platformer since Klonoa came out for Playstation and changed the platformer genre (for me, at least) (oh wait, that’s not true, I did play the “divorce mode” Super Mario Brothers on Wii).  The combination of the random boards, random characters, and meta-game of character development was absolutely excellent.

The random characters could have benefits or drawbacks (or something that was a little of both) such as small size, which makes you harder to hit but reduces your reach; colorblindness, which doesn’t really affect the gameplay at all but turns the game into black and white; and vertigo, which flips the game screen upside down but not the controls.  I found that last one unplayable.  You also have a random selection of classes, and each class has a few different abilities.  The meta-game (where you spend your money) allows you to improve some of those abilities as well as base stats like hit points or attack.  You can also find and craft new gear and glyphs which can pretty radically alter the gameplay.  It was a very diverse and fun game.

Mark of the Ninja 5/5

Mark of the Ninja was my second favorite game of the year.  It, like the others, was extremely well-done for its genre.  It’s a stealth-based side-scrolling platformer (not a traditional one, so I don’t count it alongside Rogue Legacy).  It really punishes a run-and-gun style approach and trains you to think sneakily.  As you play, you get more options for stealth, too, so you don’t just have to hide all the time, but can use fear, subversion, and traps to help you.

Like Orcs Must Die!, this game provides huge boards with many options for how to approach the problem.  As a result, players are encouraged to experiment with their own play style and find what fits best for them.  I really enjoyed this game as a result; I even played through some of the levels more than once to test options that I’d seen but not tried.  That’s pretty rare for me, so it speaks volumes about the game that I’d want to play through levels more than once.

The Walking Dead 5/5

This is my number one “interactive experience” (I can’t believe I wrote so little about this game!)  Is it a game? I don’t know.  You make choices, that’s for sure, but it’s more like experiencing a story – a delivery medium for narrative – than a pure game. I’d put it at the top of the list without a doubt if it weren’t for that hesitation, but even with that in mind, it’s absolutely worth every penny.

There are a few game-like elements, such as kicking a zombie in the face to keep it from biting you, but for the most part, the most game-like elements are probably the story choices being on a timer.  When my buddy played through, he always chose a response.  When I played through, I sometimes let my silence speak for me.  As a result, we had some different outcomes, which we compared when we were done with each chapter.  For both of us, it was a fantastic experience.   If you haven’t played this, you should.

Sang Froid: A Tale of Werewolves 5/5

This deserves to be in the top 5 without a doubt (again, I wrote so little… I should go back and give both these a proper review).  It was very much like Orcs Must Die, but not quite as polished.  However, it’s lack of polish and very original setting and story really endeared it to me.  Instead of a traditional fantasy or futuristic setting, this story was set in 19th century Canada, near a small village of (I assume) French settlers.

Each board followed the same “lay down the traps then fight the enemies” format of Orcs Must Die! (though I played this one first) but this game was more combat oriented; the traps helped you and could kill monsters, but your trap resources were more limited, so more often they provided distractions, slowing effects, or a little damage to help you on your way.  I heartily recommend this game.

So those are my top five game (or game-like experiences) for 2013.  It seems that games that deliver many options for exploration and differing styles of gameplay swept my “favorites” this year, so that certainly gives me an avenue for future gaming choice.  If you haven’t played one or more of them, I really recommend you try to snag them during the Steam Winter Sale, which should only be a few weeks away.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (5/5)

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