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It’s been a year of change, particularly in the hardware business. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One arrived to much fanfare and impressive sales, Steam Box and Oculus Rift teased potential futures, and the 3DS continued to defy 2011’s doom-laden predictions. Elsewhere the Wii U’s struggles indicate uncertain times for Nintendo’s home console business.

There were more sequels than ever; many of which repeated the same old tricks, but others took long-running franchises in new bold new directions. There were new IPs too, the highlight being The Last of Us, which set the standard for the next generation of games to exceed. The indie scene continued to thrive with titles such as Gone HomePaper’s Please and The Stanley Parable pushing boundaries of game design and receiving widespread acclaim.

Despite the ever-changing landscape there is one thing that remains constant; the feelings we experience when a game surprises, challenges, infuriates, or rewards us. With this in mind we asked our writers to pick their gaming choices of 2013 (from a titles old or new) and explain why they made an impact.

Earthbound by Shaun Roopra

2013 has been a phenomenal year for games; a new Mario, Zelda, an onslaught of 3DS titles and a new Suda51 game. This year has been almost too good for me. Nevertheless, Earthbound is the game I played in 2013 that affected me the most. Earthbound was released here in the UK on the Wii U Virtual Console on July 18th 2013. The nostalgia I have for Earthbound is similar to that of something I experienced as a child. It’s been nearly four months and I’m still in awe at how much it affected me. I’m fairly sure that out of all the media I’ve experienced this year (including Breaking Bad’s intense final season) this game ranks higher than them all.

So many moments in the game that instantly made a mark, such as riding a bus, an interesting coffee moment, and the disturbingly forceful ending. Earthbound offered more to me than just being a simple game. As much as A Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World hypnotise you with pure gameplay, Earthbound resonated on a deeper level. That’s not so say it doesn’t have good gameplay, the ‘rolling HP meter’ is actually a genius mechanic that allows some battles to have a nice change of pace.

The soundtrack and writing though, are the games highest inclusion, with both being some of the best I’ve encountered. It’s almost a prototypical Nintendo title in which I can see echoes of the writing style in most Nintendo games since. Furthermore, I feel as though most Japanese games I’ve played reverberate the essence of Earthbound to some degree, Persona 4 Golden being a great example.

Earthbound is truly special. It’s funny, scary, uncomfortable, homely, nostalgic, sad, fun, and beautiful. A true work of art.

Pikmin 3 by Daniel New

Bigger, louder, higher, faster is often the mantra for the franchise sequels, but Pikmin has always been a series that likes to keep things small. It’s a series that tells its tales of battle, escape and exploration between the cracks in the pavement and in the leafy shadows at the bottom of the garden.

Pikmin 3 is certainly not a revolutionary game, but it builds upon its predecessors elegantly. The Wii U to breathes life into the franchise with a number of gamepad features that provide genuine enhancements, empowering you to marshal your Pikmin troops across multiple objectives with ease. But it’s the layer of polish that elevates the game into something special.

Graphically it’s a true delight, with sun dappled groves providing a gentle, fragile backdrop to your exploits. It’s a beautiful collision of the everyday, the weird and the wonderful. Landscapes that can be found in any backyard are populated by alien creatures that are simultaneously cute and terrifying. Mission to mission gameplay is as compelling as ever, tightly constructed puzzles of organisation that require dexterity, forethought and speedy reactions. It’s balanced perfectly, urging you forward but never preventing you from enjoying the journey.

It’s been a standout year for the localisation team at the Nintendo Treehouse and Pikmin 3 is near the top of their achievements. The script is full of spark and humour, and occasional sadness. This is also evident in how the game fosters the connection between the player, the astronaut crew and the Pikmin themselves. Each instruction passing down the chain of command until your vegetable minions carry out their allotted tasks. Your Pikmin troops may not have names, nor say much outside of their exquisite yelps, but each loss hits hard, and every Pikmin you leave behind ensures you feel a pang of guilt that results in a promise to do better next time.

It’s a game of small stakes in a small world, but it’s also a game that teaches you to look down at the ground beneath your feet and pay attention to the world around you. And in doing so it’s also game that creates a greater sense of awe and wonder than a million space marine battles will ever do.

Hotline Miami by Faber Whitehouse

This year has seen the introduction of new, long overdue hardware, the release of a new entry into the Grand Theft Auto franchise, the masterpiece that was The Last of Us, and the incredible Bioshock Infinite. However these aren’t games that I continuously return to. Sure, they each might have something admirable about them, but I have never felt compelled to return to any of them. One game that I did feel inclined to return to however, was Hotline Miami.

Developed by Dennaton Games Hotline Miami is a psychedelic, nostalgic, brutal, tense, and downright pleasing top-down action game. Originally released in 2012 Hotline Miami sees you take control of an unnamed protagonist as he undertakes tasks that are set to him via a message on his answer phone left by an unknown number. The story is intriguing, dark and upholds a sense of mystery and emotional nuance, as you start to question the protagonist’s sanity.

The gameplay of Hotline Miami is fast paced and frantic and requires you to think quickly and efficiently as you die after being hit once. You re-spawn immediately however so you’re never out of action for more than a couple of seconds at a time, thankfully this is the case otherwise the entire games pacing would have been completely inconsistent, and ultimately would have ruined the game. You can kill your adversaries in one blow with a variety of weapons, from bottles to machine guns, from cleavers to pistols, and you can even use a sharpened katana to decapitate your enemies.

Gameplay can also be altered by your choice of mask. At the beginning of each mission you are given the option to choose an animal mask to wear for the duration of the level. These masks can bestow onto you abilities such as enhanced speed, improved weapon accuracy, and even the ability to withstand more than one hit. The fact that these masks are mimics of animals adds a morbid sense of ambiguity as you know that the last face your enemy saw before he died was a distorted animal face.

Hotline Miami is helped largely due to its incredible soundtrack which manages to capture a sense of nostalgia that is rarely seen in modern gaming. The score consists melancholic tracks, synthetic tracks, brooding tracks, culminating in a rather unique experience that makes the overall game feel that much more special.

Hotline Miami is incredible as it manages to disgust the player with unrelenting violence, however it keeps us coming back for more out of a morbid sense of curiosity. The soundtrack itself is enough to elevate it above most other games this year, however add the addictive and compelling gameplay system, and you have my personal standout game of 2013.

You can read Parts 2 and 3 of this series here and here.

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