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Friday, January 3, 2014

Nerd Rage Presents: The Top Five Games of 2013

Well folks, it's that time of year- when there's nothing else to do but run down all the games you've played in a year and choose the top five of the crop. Now, 2013 may not have had the godsend of two fantastic JRPGs that 2012 did, but it did present a wealth of new software that made me remember why I love gaming so much. So, as we bring another year to its close, I just want to say how much I enjoy tackling these titles from a critical standpoint and really focusing on what makes video games great. I hope we have a year just as exciting as the last two in the year to come!

The Nominees:
Etrian Odyssey IV
Pandora's Tower
Pikmin 3
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Pokemon X and Y
Super Mario 3D World
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Rune Factory 4
SteamWorld Dig
Bloody Vampire
Sonic Lost World
New Super Luigi U
Monster Hunter Tri U
The Wonderful 101
Zombi U
Mii Force
Monster Mansion
Mighty Switch Force 2
The Starship Damrey
Attack of the Friday Monsters!
Fire Emblem: Awakening
NES Remix
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

This is, more or less, all of the games I've played this year. There's a few older titles, such as the Oracle games, Earthbound, and Shantae that I will exclude because WHO WANTS TO HAVE OLD GAMES ON A TOP FIVE LIST?

Let us begin.

5. Etrian Odyssey IV
I'll be honest, Etrian Odyssey IV came out at a time when I was thirsting for RPGs. After Paper Mario: Sticker Star left a bit of a hole in my heart, Etrian Odyssey IV was something entirely new and exciting to me. I had never played a dungeon crawler before, and now that I have, I feel a bit ashamed that I hadn't sooner. The being said, while Etrian Odyssey IV isn't the hardest game in the series, its difficulty and mechanics blend together to create an experience that, once you adapt to the play style, just works fantastically. Beautiful and heart-pounding music accompanies the experience, and the feeling of exploration and discovery is the main reason this title should not be ignored.

4. Super Mario 3D World
I am no fan of linear 3D platformers, but it's hard not to be wowed by the sheer amount of variety in Super Mario 3D World. Everything that made 3D Land a underwhelming experience is nonexistent in the Wii U title- its levels are filled with clever secrets and tons of platforming fun. While the multiplayer is enjoyable, it proves that unless you consider a level a race, you can't really do online multiplayer in a Mario game, or else someone ends up being left behind. As a single player experience, the variety in characters is just as compelling as balancing them all in a multiplayer scuffle. Super Mario 3D World proved to me that the plumber has still got it.

3. Pandora's Tower
Late-game glitches aside, Pandora's Tower was the title that proved to me an Action RPG can work properly with an emphasis on combat, and that there's plenty of innovation to be had in the genre. Mixing dungeon-based gameplay akin to the Legend of Zelda with unique combat mechanics, a macabre story, and incredible boss battles, Pandora's Tower was a wholly unique experience that I hope will see some sort of sequel in the future. The immersion I felt while playing this game was some of the best I have felt all year.

2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Sometimes, it takes a little bit of smack talk for the Zelda team to bring out their best efforts. While Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks were both fantastic titles, they didn't exactly deliver a traditional Zelda experience, and many have criticized them because of this. Enter A Link Between Worlds, the sequel to one of the best Zelda games in the series, which features non-linear progression and a culmination of some of the best Zelda dungeon mechanics in the series. While it is partially great because of its clear homages to A Link to the Past, there's plenty that A Link Between Worlds does that makes it great in its own right.

1. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
I love RPGs. There's no doubt about that. And Ni No Kuni is a fantastic RPG. Not only is it a glorious collaboration between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, but it features an engaging battle style, clever waypoint abilities, a distinct visual style and incredible music. Charming from start to finish, it is a grandiose experience with heart and a clear sense of growth from the roots of 3D JRPGs. I was hesitant at first, but the winning combination of these two studios created an experience that will stand the test of time.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Pikmin 3                
Well, I certainly wasn't expecting a non-RPG title to win my personal favorite of this year. But Pikmin 3 reminded me of why I choose Nintendo games and consoles over all others. Pikmin 3 never made much of a splash in any form of media, but what it did to the Pikmin formula- encouraging exploration and the pressure of day-to-day discovery while also keeping long-term goals and new discoveries at the forefront- made me fall in love with the series all over again. Its charming gameplay and expanse, lush playgrounds were exactly what I look for in video games, and though the inclusion of a time mechanic limited exploration, the game's new shortcuts around losing time or "having a bad day" kept the progression brisk and the goal in clear sight. Pikmin 3 is an example of a game that can't easily fit into a specific genre- but then again, it doesn't have to, especially when it is such a unique and wondrous title by itself. A game that was well-worth the wait, Pikmin 3 is my game of the year.

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