Games of 2013: The Swapper

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Typically, when I do one of these posts, I include an image, something representative of the memories I have of the game.

The Swapper deserves a trailer because the screenshots were what stood between me and a purchase initially. There’s something just a little off about the screenshots, probably because the models and the world were apparently built out of clay. Some games just look better in motion, and this is one of them.

I don’t want to give too much away about The Swapper because it was such a surprise delight, but let’s just say it ticks all my boxes for a puzzle platformer: atmosphere, sound design, plot, difficulty, controls. Strongly recommended for those looking for something to puzzle over.

The Swapper is available for PC.

Theme Switch

For the seventeen of you still reading, please note that I’ve swapped themes somewhat arbitrarily.

While I do dearly love my color palette (and it’s still sort of in this theme), I was running into some typography and readability issues that didn’t seem worth deconstructing a stylesheet. Hence, a swap to the new WordPress default, and hopefully a little less concern about my eyes bleeding.

Also, this is an “aside”, whatever that means. I guess these are Tumblr-esqe post types?

Games of 2013: Desktop Dungeons

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Desktop Dungeons

In 2010, a little three man team in South Africa released an experimental roguelike RPG called Desktop Dungeons. It was meant to be consumed in short bursts: the games didn’t last longer than 5-10 minutes and there wasn’t any deep character progression.

A brief stab at how the rules work: you are a level 1 hero. Walking into an area of the map that’s unrevealed reveals the tiles, which can heal you. Monsters will be shown with a level, and the game clearly telegraphs what will happen if you attack (WIN/SAFE/DEATH being the three most common states). Beating up monsters gets you experience, which can help you level; beating monsters above your level is riskier but yields more experience. Your goal: kill the level 10 monster somewhere on the floor. There’s more to it than this, but that’s the crux.

Now, in 2013, the “final” version has finally been unleashed on the world. The core gameplay is still the same, but much like when Triple Town jumped from a straightforward iOS puzzle into a desktop version with some meta-game elements, so too has Desktop Dungeons. There’s a deep series of unlocks that bring you more classes, better start states, and differing environments.

I was going to say I love Desktop Dungeons because at its core it’s a beautifully stripped down RPG experience. Then I realized it may be unfair to call it an RPG – it’s a puzzle game that looks like an RPG. And while most game modes don’t run on into infinity, there is a familiar impending doom that you might get yourself stuck, with no good options but to crash your run and start over.

And having just compared it to Triple Town, I can’t help but realize that this is essentially my Triple Town of 2013. It’s that same addictive bite sized game that requires a level of strategy and critical thinking. Despite it being short, you can lose hours to it.

I just fear an inevitable iOS version.

Desktop Dungeons is available on Mac and PC. I played both versions evenly.

Games of 2013: Battlefield 4

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Battlefield 4

This isn’t really a post about Battlefield 4. It is without question a rather nice shoot-shoot-bang-bang game, one that rewards a little more patience and execution than recent Call Of Duty sequels. It looks lovely on the Playstation 4, and it has the sort of grindy level progression that tends to get me to sink lots of time into games.

It’s lovely, really. And even if I’m pretty bad at it (my K/D rating is almost always rock bottom), I like the feeling of sort of contributing by hiding very close to a flag until it flips to my team’s color.

The real reason the post is part of this year’s series – ironically, on the day of Doom’s 20th anniversary, the truest start of the FPS era – is realizing that I am finding it very hard to get excited about shoot-shoot-bang-bang games in 2013.

I’ve lost track of how many bullets I’ve shot (not that I was ever keeping count). I’ve lost track of how many dudes I’ve killed, or how many times I’ve had to respawn. There was a time and place in my life where a frantic FPS game would be my jam, where I would happily throw down against friends.

But starting at some point last year, when I see first person, I’m expecting something a bit more cerebral. I crave exploration, for discovery, for (if there needs to be gunplay) variety. Straight military exercises have been done so much over the last 20 years, and it’s a new generation of first-person titles (many of which will show up later in the series) that are redefining what a game with WASD controls can and should do.

So nothing against you, Battlefield 4. You’re quite good at what you do. It’s just that I don’t need a bunch of games like you any more to be happy.

Battlefield 4 is available on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC. I played the PS4 version.

Games of 2013: Pokemon X/Y

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Pokemon X and Y

The night of the Pokemon X/Y release, I made the mistake of heading up near Nintendo World in Rockefeller Plaza, because the friends we had in town wanted to see what the line was like.

Here’s what it was like: west on 49th Street towards 6th Avenue. Up 6th Avenue to 50th St. All the way across 50th Street east to 5th Avenue. Down 5th Avenue to 49th Street. West on 49th Street back to the front of the Nintendo World store, then across the street and back to the East.

It encircled an entire block, filled with cosplayers and kids with various Pokemon merchandise. DS and 3DS handhelds everywhere. There was some sort of concert in the plaza by the Today Show studio, although it was impossible to see what exactly was going on there.

It was a brief and fascinating reminder about what a weird spectacle gaming can still be. Whether it’s console launches (even if we had two this year), or big conventions ala PAX or The International or Comic-Con, at some point over the last couple years, geek culture became completely mainstream.

Pokemon X/Y, like most Pokemon titles over the last 15 years, hasn’t changed much. (For games that focus on evolution, they tend to remain pretty stagnant.) But it is the first game since the original launch of the series to feature a truly new graphical engine; it is the first to present a world that’s kind-of sort-of 3D (even if the 3DS’s 3D feature is barely used); and it’s the first to take a very explicit step to reduce the RPG grind by providing experience sharing for all members of your party.

As the JRPG market dies out, it becomes increasingly hard *not* to recommend Pokemon to those people looking for an old-school RPG experience. There’s not much else out there that’s trying to do what it does. Perhaps that’s why the lines are still forming on launch day, I suppose.

Pokemon X/Y are available for the 3DS.

Games of 2013: Forza Motorsport 5

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Forza Motorsport 5

Because of the breadth of games that I like to play, I am understandably tolerant for different models for purchase. Whether the game is $60 or $1, whether there’s downloadable content or in-app purchases or subscription fees, I try to be mindful of why such systems might have been implemented and not immediately rage out that there’s an occasional prompt to buy something with real world money.

But even I have limits. Tonight’s game, Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 5, is easily the most egregious monetization scheme I’ve seen on a console platform to date, to the point where I have to include in this list solely as a warning to others.

I defer to Eurogamer’s explanation in their review, emphasis mine:

> All that’s left is the grind, and it’s not a particularly pleasant one. Unlike previous outings, cars don’t unlock upon leveling up. Everything must be bought in Forza Motorsport 5, and all transactions take place in a slightly misshapen economy. **A series will, on average, net the player in excess of 110,000 credits for just under an hour’s effort – but with some of the premium racecars costing well over a million, it’s a somewhat brutal grind.** Good job, then, that there are tokens purchasable on the Xbox One’s marketplace for you to attain the car you’re after, or to temporarily boost the rate at which you gain XP. When you’ve already paid £429.99 for a new console, £44.99 for the game and maybe even £349.99 for the only steering wheel that the game supports at launch, such tricks appear a little unsavory, and in Forza 5, mechanics greedily smuggled from free-to-play games trample over the elegant RPG elements the series once embraced so effectively.

To be clear, it’s not about the grind. I have derived much enjoyment out of games that rely on some level of grinding. But there has to be a limit to that grind, a clear indication of progress or benefit as you go. Grinding for hours in an RPG gets you loot and/or money and/or experience. Grinding for hours in Team Fortress 2 or DotA 2 gives you item drops. Grinding for hours in Forza 5 gets you a handful of credits that might be enough to buy the car you’re eyeballing.

Now repeat this 200 times.

Couple this with a lengthy schedule of planned DLC, that costs real money but somehow doesn’t unlock the assets into your garage for you. You are paying money for the “right” to grind the economy to unlock the cars.

Now add into this that Forza 5 costs $60. It is not a free-to-play title; it’s full retail.

Again, I don’t mind creative monetization schemes. But I do mind terrible ones. And Forza 5’s is pretty damn terrible.

Forza Motorsport 5 is available for the Xbox One.

Games of 2013: Dead Man’s Draw

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Dead Man's Draw

If there’s anything I’ve found lacking on iOS over the years, it’s been the total wasteland that is card games. I’m not talking trading card games or solitaire or Texas Hold’Em; I’m looking for classic-style card games. Spades, Hearts, Cribbage…everything that tries to provide a sort of classic card game experience tends to look and play poorly.

So imagine my surprise when Stardock – who had never done an iOS game before – dropped Dead Man’s Draw on the world. It’s a new game, but with easy-to-learn mechanics, some deep strategy and risk/reward play, and a very easy to deal with interface. Reminds me a bit, in terms of polish, of Lost Cities, which I gave a small shout out to last year during this series.

Also: it’s full of pirates. I’ve been told people dig that.

But hey, iOS programmers: you want to strike it rich? Card games are a wide open category on the store. It’s largely casinos and solitaire. Design a great card game experience, and you’ll be almost alone in the marketplace. Please. I’m nearly begging you here.

Dead Man’s Draw is available on iOS.

Games of 2013: FIFA 14

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

FIFA 14

It’s sort of an annual tradition at this point that I’m posting something about FIFA during this series of posts. It’s hard to not – FIFA is, for better or worse, the only series that marries my two major hobbies into some sort of weird parallel world.

It’s where I spent something like 250 games (admittedly in FIFA 13) constantly battling against DCist soccer editor Pablo Maurer, finding every interesting permutation and rivalry we could manage to fight through season after season of online friendlies.

It’s where I found myself at the FIFA 14 launch party, focusing on the game instead of numerous hired dancers in MLS jerseys that were strangely dancing with towels. It’s the moment where Tim Cahill (yes, [that Tim Cahill](http://vjarmy.com/archives/2013/07/the-bearded-face-of-a-media-villain.php)) came over and gave the group of local RBNY reports some handshakes and remarked how he was worried about his marquee match against Drake (yes, that Drake) because he had been practicing on the PS3 and the event only had Xboxes. Just ponder that for a second: one of the most famous footballers from Australia is worried about being able to adapt to a different controller. (P.S.: [Cahill won](http://gothamist.com/2013/09/24/cahill_drake_fifa_14.php).)

It’s where I finally found my way into Believe FC, the NeoGAF virtual club, where fine European gents nicknamed Cola and Quiche and Bacon (not sure why they’re all food) battle tirelessly for cups and promotion. It’s so riotously fun, that even when a 5-2 lead turns into a 7-6 loss and the entire group practically ragequits, everyone’s still back at it the next day having another go.

EA Sports FIFA is a gaming institution. And while 14 suffers from spanning a console generation (last-gen feels about the same as 13, next-gen is rough around the edges), it’s still required playing for anyone who likes sports and video games.

FIFA 14 is available on the PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Games of 2013: Battrix Floating Continent

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Battrix Floating Continent

The genre of the RPG is in an odd state these days. As someone who grew up with 60+ hour slogs through SNES era Final Fantasy games, I know these games are becoming less and less frequent. With mobile platforms on the ascendancy, casual RPGs are becoming more frequent, but many get bogged down with freemium mechanics. So that balance – an RPG with some length and depth, that fits into current platforms without indulging in the more anti-consumer practices – is a tough one to strike.

The closest I’ve found (and it’s by no means perfect) is Battrix Floating Continent. Done by Opus Studio, who brought the world another great RPG twist with Half Minute Hero, Battrix starts with you having just a single square on an expansive world map. To claim a new tile of the map, you fight off monsters in a tap-focused battle system. Towns get discovered, mechanics get mixed up, weapons level up and get upgraded, and eventually the map starts to pull itself together. It’s like any other RPG, just…mobile, I suppose.

It became my perfect subway commute game for a good chunk of the year, and anything I can sink an hour into every morning for a solid month is worth mentioning in this series. RPG fans might want to poke at this one a bit.

Battrix Floating Continent is available for iOS for free.

Games of 2013: The Typing Of The Dead Overkill

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

The Typing Of The Dead: Overkill

When I was in the 4th grade, I was subjected to my first school class that included typing lessons. This was the golden age of software that taught people how to type, when Mavis Beacon was queen. Our instructor, who’s name I’ve long since forgotten, put us all in front of whatever piece of software it was and told us to get to work, promising a week of free school lunch if anyone could break 72 words per minute.

It may have been the first time in my life I ever smirked when I called him over and showed him an 85 WPM on the drill. And boy, did those free lunches taste *good*.

That was 20 years ago; I still type at a ridiculous speed, but that era of typing tools long since dried up.

But this year saw the remarkable release of Sega’s The Typing Of The Dead: Overkill. The sequel to the original Typing Of The Dead – a game that married a light gun zombie game with a typing tutor – was literally a surprise release: no one knew it was in development, let alone that it was coming out. (As it turned out, it had survived an apocalypse of its own.)

This time, the foul-mouthed grindhouse-tinged HOTD reboot from a few years back is shoehorned onto fast typing action. Type a phrase (“SICK AND TIRED”), take down a zombie. That grindhouse style – where F-bombs and poor innuendos are dropped nearly every sentence during cut scenes – is not for everyone, and it does wear thin. Kill Screen declared it to be “either a surrealist masterpiece or absolute garbage“.

But to have a modern game where my somewhat absurd typing ability directly converts into gaming expertise? I’ll take it.

The Typing Of The Dead: Overkill is available for the PC.

Struggling with the dark and responding to the light.