When I originally reviewed Retro City Rampage back in 2012, I praised its breathless callbacks to ’80s and ’90s pop culture and classic, top-down GTA-inspired gameplay while lamenting its confusing mission objectives and frequent difficulty spikes. It was a game I desperately wanted to love, and indeed, I’d fallen hard for it after my first hands on at E3 2011. But by the time I’d finished the final game and watched the credits roll, the only emotion I could muster was frustration.
I hadn’t originally intended to revisit RCR when it landed on the 3DS, but thanks to an unexpected invitation to an eShop developer event in late January, I had a chance to sit down with Brian Provinciano, the game’s developer, and discuss my problems with the original release. Much to my surprise, Provinciano told me the issues I’d brought up had all been addressed for the 3DS version, which was being re-branded as Retro City Rampage DX. Now that I’ve played through it, I’m happy to say that RCR DX is a huge improvement over the original, and a pretty easy recommendation whether you’ve played it before or not.
High school. It’s tough, right? Not only are you forced to waste your days away inside while old people drone on about pointless topics you’ll forget completely within a year, but you’ll have to do it while carving out a place for yourself in a social hierarchy consisting entirely of sociopaths. “Trust us,” they’ll tell you. “It’s for the greater good.” High school comprises the most important of your formative years, because it’s during these years you’ll learn the greatest lesson of all: the race to the top is paved with casualties, and the only way to succeed is to be as self-centered, cunning, and ruthless as you can while crushing the dreams of as many of your peers as possible.
Looking back at the games released last year, I can’t help but be amazed at the sheer variety we had at our disposal. From new consoles to PC to mobile devices, there were not only a wide range of platforms, but a huge variety of games to play across them. Thinking through all the games that fell into my hands in 2013, I’ve found that my favorites were just as varied, and there were so many more that I simply didn’t get a chance to play. But just because I missed out on some of the biggest titles this year, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some amazing experiences in gaming.
In no particular order, here are my top ten for the year:
When Crystal Dynamics debuted its Tomb Raider reboot at E3 2012, it was hard to ignore the game’s emphasis on stomach-churningly visceral violence — a trend that, as it turned out, would characterize the vast majority of AAA action games released over the next 12 months. From a visual effects standpoint, it was easy to understand why developers were chasing the old ultra-violence: the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 had been on the market for the larger part of a decade, and they’d spent that those years learning how to make the two consoles sing. But it wasn’t the human viscera that made Tomb Raider feel so disturbing; rather, it was the constant beating down of its heroine, Lara Croft — rendered with heartbreaking vulnerability by actress Camilla Luddington — that had media and consumers alike wondering: had Crystal Dynamics stepped beyond an acceptable level of cartoon violence and into the realm of misogyny? And was this okay for a mainstream action game?
Surprise! Retro City Rampage, Vblank Entertainment’s hilarious homage to ’80s pop culture by way of Grand Theft Auto, is launching on the 3DS eShop in North America tomorrow, February 6th as Retro City Rampage DX, and from what Vblank founder Brian Provinciano told me in a conversation last week, it looks to be substantially improved over the original version.
When I reviewed the original release of the game back in 2012, I found it to be a heartfelt but flawed tribute to everything I loved as a child: “a shapeless mélange of Mario, Sonic, Contra, Skate or Die, Ninja Turtles and Mega Man, mixed with an equally gaseous helping of Back to the Future, Bill and Ted, Batman, ThunderCats, Ghost Busters and Saved By the Bell.” My issues with the game didn’t stem from the near-endless assault of flashbacks I had while playing it, but more from the fact that Provinciano seemed so slavishly dedicated to re-creating the ’80s within RCR’s universe that he failed to take into account the fact that today’s players want to experience a game from beginning to end without having to deal with unreasonable difficulty spikes.
The Wii U hasn’t been able to gain much traction at all in the year it has been on the market, with sales so poor that Nintendo was forced to cut the system’s price prematurely in an effort to encourage new adopters before the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hit the stores this November. Even New Super Mario Bros. U wasn’t enough to help long-term growth, and with Rayman Legends — initially announced as an exclusive for the platform — making its way to not only other current generation systems, but next-gen as well, questioning the early purchase of a Wii U shouldn’t seem unreasonable. Pikmin 3 was slightly underwhelming to me, delivering a solid experience that left me wanting more from a title that had been delayed months from its initial release date, but I knew I was really just biding my time until the next 3D Mario game was released. Luckily, Super Mario 3D World does not disappoint.
More than any other year in recent memory, 2013 delivered a steady steam of diverse games from January all the way up through the holidays. We saw similar trends, certainly, with that damn bow making an appearance in so many titles that it lost any impact it could have had, but the variety in games this year was remarkable. More and more, video game writing is being compared to the best screenplays in Hollywood, and yet a few of my favorite games of 2013 got by with bare-bones narratives, instead opting to focus on delivering tight gameplay mechanics. Of course, with as huge a year as 2013 was, there are several games that barely missed the cut, but here are my ten favorite games from the past year.
10. Dragon’s Crown (PlayStation Vita)
2013 was a watershed year in gaming. It was a year that saw countless developers, whether swimming in oceans of cash or struggling to pay rent on studio apartments, pouring their best efforts into an overabundance of amazing experiences that, frankly, the gaming community at large simply didn’t deserve. With such a glut of unforgettable games released over the past twelve months, the act of declaring a definitive top 10 list comes off at best as an exercise in absurdity, and it’s with that thought in mind that I present a list of the ten games I enjoyed the most in 2013.
10. BioShock Infinite (Xbox 360)