That’s right, internet, it’s time for an obligatory game of the year post. While I ran a poll a couple of weeks back to ask what your individual game of the year was, it should come as no surprise that I was going to do one myself (especially since I confirmed it in that post). Believe it or not, we’ve had a really good year in gaming. As often happens, the end of a console cycle is where some of the truly best stuff gets released, and this generation is no exception. Because of the wide variety of impressive game releases this year, I’m going to devote a section to my four runner ups before getting into my actual game of the year. These runner ups are in no particular order. So, without further ado, let’s begin the post.
Runner up #1 – The Last of Us
The Last of Us is probably going to win the most Game of the Years (“GOTYs”) this year, and that fact doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Unlike many games, The Last of Us succeeds not because of its gameplay, but because of its extremely well realized characters. Joel and Ellie are two of the best individual characters you’ll find this generation. While I may extol the virtues of games such as Xenoblade Chronicles, none of those characters even come close to the nuanced realism of those two. While the writing is excellent, the real reason these characters stand out so much is because of their amazing voice actors. Ashely Johnson and Troy Baker provide the soul to this game. Without their performances, I wonder if The Last of Us would be memorable at all.
That’s not to say that everything was perfect with The Last of Us. While the characters and story leave a powerful and lasting impression, the game itself doesn’t. The gameplay is on the weaker side, and, more alarmingly, it is predictable. Every encounter will buzz from humans to infected with each encounter playing out pretty much the same. And there aren’t even that many encounters. The game is short, which benefits its storytelling, but hurts its gameplay. But the one thing that drives this game away from being GOTY for me is the lack of replayability. Like most Naughty Dog games, The Last of Us is full of huge blockbuster moments that really shine the first time through. Unfortunately, these encounters and events are noticeably less fun the second time around. The entire intro section to the game is long and meandering. It works perfectly as a set up to the story, but it’s boring to play through more than once. This leaves The Last of Us as an amazing game that you probably shouldn’t play often in succession.
Runner up # 2 – Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite comes next because of its striking similarities to The Last of Us. I’m not talking about Troy Baker, who provides another strong performance, but in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. Bioshock Infinite only truly captivates with its story and how it is told. To its credit, what is told is excellent and the way its told is even better. The story of Elizabeth and Booker is a roller coaster, one that ends with one of the greatest endings I’ve seen in a video game this generation. Irrational plotted out something that really stuck in the minds of many gamers. The themes and events of the game are still hotly debated on forums across the internet. It is Bioshock’s ability to make people think and talk which sets it apart. While The Last of Us has memorable characters and more realistic themes, what is explored in Infinite is considerably more thought-provoking, and, therefore, longer lasting.
But, with the strength of story often comes the weakness of gameplay, and Bioshock Infinite is no exception. The gameplay is pretty much unchanged from the original Bioshock whose gameplay was pushing stale even back then. Very little has been done to make firefights more than a boring exercise in between more interesting segments. There are two many wide, empty areas with little to do. The worst part is that there was a lot of potential for amazing gameplay variation due to the fact that Elizabeth could pull in things from other dimensions. In-game, this meant turrets most of the time. Of course, good use of the tear ability wouldn’t have fixed the fact that the gunplay is unresponsive and blasé. That’s not to say that the gameplay is bad in Infinite. Like The Last of Us, the problem is that the gameplay cannot match the quality set by the story. Because of my niggling gripes with lost potential, Bioshock Infinite doesn’t make my GOTY.
Runner up # 3 – Super Mario 3D World
Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to write a full review for this game next week, but, if not, the consensus is that it’s very good. Super Mario 3D World is the only next gen game that belongs anywhere near this list. While PS4 and Xbox One gamers are taunting each other over Dead Rising and Killzone, Nintendo released a game that puts them all in their place. Super Mario 3D World, like 3D Land before it, is a game that blends 2D and 3D Mario games. I can say without a doubt that Super Mario 3D World is one of the best Mario games ever made. It’s constantly innovative, imaginatively designed and beautiful in ways that most HD games simply aren’t. While The New Super Mario Bros. series has hurt the credibility of Nintendo’s key mascot, it’s games like 3D World that show exactly how much kick Mario still has left in him. Unlike the last two runner ups, 3D World soars not because of its thrilling story, but because of its stellar gameplay. This is a game you can play ad nauseum for weeks or even years. The gameplay is fast-paced and charming with all of its individual parts fitting in perfectly. What sets 3D World really apart from the crowd, however, is its multiplayer, which is probably the most fun I’ve had playing a multi-party platformed ever.
You might expect me to discuss story when talking about 3D World’s weaknesses. I must admit, it would make a great contrast to the first two entries. Unfortunately, I can’t make that leap. 3D World is a platformer, a genre that has never relied on story in order to provide entertainment. The set up is more or less the same as usual – nobody cares. The real weakness of this game comes from its lineage. While an amazing game, it doesn’t have the wow factor of Super Mario Bros 3, or Super Mario World. This isn’t because it lacks innovation, but because expectations are so high. Because of this, there are occasions where 3D World doesn’t wow, times where you feel like you’ve seen it before. This doesn’t come up often, but, when it arrives, it takes you out of the fun.
Runner up # 4 – Rayman Legends
This slot was a close call between Rayman Legends and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. In the end, I chose Rayman Legends because it didn’t have the expectation hurdle to overcome like A Link Between Worlds and 3D World. Rayman Legends is a game that succeeds on many levels. It knows exactly how platformers should work, and it does its best to capitalize on it. We have speed runs, collectables, unlockables, challenges, leaderboards, everything gamers need in order to push them to keep playing a predominantly single player game. The gameplay is fast, and there are lots of tricks and tools for advanced players to really get the most out of their experience, while being easy enough for beginners to play. On top of the stellar gameplay is the unique and beautiful art style. While it hardly has the following of the other three games, in many ways, Rayman Legends easily stands as one of the best games this year.
The problem with Rayman Legends comes with some bad design choices. Namely, the Murphy levels. During close to half of the levels available, you will be controlling a fly called Murphy and helping Rayman or one of the other characters through a level. These were meant to break up the action, which they do, but they come too frequently, and slow down the pace to a crawl. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were occasional bonus levels, but their absurd frequency really brings the game down a few pegs and prevents it from standing as high as it could. The other problem is that the game isn’t particularly long. While this is mitigated by all of the above features, the fact is that there is less content in this game than any of the others on this list.
Game of the Year – Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem: Awakening is the perfect example of how gameplay is king. The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite have infinitely (pun!) better characters and story, but, when it comes down to it, gaming is about gameplay and games with amazing gameplay will often rise to the top. While I may never forget the memorable ending of Infinite, or the realistic characterization of The Last of Us, what I won’t forget about Awakening is the fact that I’ve played through it in excess of five times and am still not tired of it. Awakening is the most accessible Fire Emblem game ever made, and possibly the most accessible SRPG ever made as well. With a massive amount of characters, variation, and a gameplay system that rewards experimentation, while keeping you sharp by adequately punishing your mistakes, Fire Emblem is the best game on the 3DS by a very wide margin.
When it comes to weaknesses, the story is rather generic and the characters are general taken from a stock pile. Nevertheless, these problems are rarely a concern because the gameplay is just so good. The characters are generic, but all of them are loveable in some way, and the game rewards finding and using your favourite units to win battles. The game isn’t perfect, and there are ways for advanced players to break the game, but it really does provide something for nearly everybody. Newbies can enjoy limited repercussions for their actions with Casual mode and an easy difficulty level, while the hardcore can venture into the Hard or Insanity mode features. It’s strange for a game to provide player exactly as much challenge as they want. Usually, easy is too easy and hard is just cheap deaths. This game provides a nearly perfect balance that I, for one, appreciate.
That’s my pick for this year. While The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto are likely to sweep most people’s awards, I find far more quality content in Fire Emblem than either of those games. Nevertheless, as I mentioned before, this has been a very good year. The winner of the GOTY poll awhile back was Pokemon X/Y. I, personally, loved the game, but wouldn’t put it anywhere near this list, which goes to show how much people’s opinions really factor into these assessments (also hype, never forget hype). It’s true that these GOTY lists or announcements are pointless for the most part, but they’re fun, and isn’t that more important than having a point?
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer