Okay, yeah, this is starting off with the bottom four games, number seven through ten. Why? Because I said so. Also because I didn’t plan ahead and now there are ten games to get through and only seven posting days left. Hashtag oops.
But I also think this aligns with a natural division of the list. These four games speak to me in mostly one impeccable, sizable way, but they do so in a way that trumps the breadth achieved by most others from this year. There’s something to be said for setting a goal and achieving it, and that is “hey look, you’re on this one guy’s end-of-the-year list.”
10. Super Mario 3D World
The Year of Luigi “ends” with a Mario game coming out on top. Yeah, Luigi is in there, but come on. This is a Mario game, and what a Mario game it is. It’s common knowledge/a commonly held conspiracy theory that there are several teams within Nintendo design games. Some act as farm leagues, building up chops on smaller titles with fundamentals while the A-team blows minds.
This is the product of the A-team, the same project group that ginned up the absolutely stellar (ha!) Super Mario Galaxy. In between, we were treated to several games that retread old ground and only marginally stepped off the path, though excellent as they were. Super Mario 3D World looks like more of the same, but it’s all about the details.
Mario has been around for so long, you distinguish new games in the franchise solely on nuance because the basics are always there; he slides when he stops, his jumps have a peculiar Bézier-shaped acceleration curve, and so on. In Super Mario 3D World, there is a host of nigh imperceptible touches that make it just a happy, scary, amazing game. Being a cat shouldn’t be so fun, and neither should be screwing over your friends, but this game does it.
Resogun doesn’t try to do a whole lot. It’s kind of like when you buy the collector’s set of The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix; you know what you’re getting (a bundle of things you like, love, and tolerate in varying amounts and intensities), but the packaging is what sells you.
And Resogun is nothing more than an amalgam of old school video game design put together with modern sensibilities on the outside. It’s Defender with a bullet hell slant and kind of makes your head spin in a very Tempest way. And it’s just fantastic.
Resogun works because it throws everything at you and you have to figure out how to deal with it. You figure out how to rescue humans, what order to pick them up, whether to throw them or fly them into the goal, boost now or boost later, save or expend your Fuck Everything laser, and so much more, all of which is roughly calculated and thrown in the wind within the span of a single millisecond. And it makes the best argument for a speaker on your controller ever.
Guacamelee! just gets me. Its humor could sometimes miss more than it hits and the co-op was kind of a drag, but its combat and platforming is exactly what I needed when it came out. The fighting is intricate in a way that demands to be conquered. It’s just asking for it. It is Spain, and I am Napoleon.
The move list starts out simple enough, but soon you unlock additional attacks that broaden your range of abilities and literal range of your damage potential. And then enemies start to color-coordinate themselves against certain moves, forcing you to think on your feet about who needs to be taken out first (some of those fuckers will really ruin your day if you let them), who just needs to be thrown into a corner, and who is just impossible to attack at the moment.
And then you throw in the fact that you have to deal with two realities of enemies and platforms with the world-switching mechanic. You have to keep tabs on what exists in what realm and what doesn’t, what can hurt you where. Guacamelee! is such an impressively cerebral game that it did and continues to take me by surprise.
7. The Stanley Parable
I don’t think I’ll ever play The Stanley Parable again. I won’t have to. It gave me everything it had to give the first time because I played through it over two dozen times in one sitting. Or at least I think I did. Did I? Wait, who’s talking? WHO’S THERE?!
Honestly, I would only count it all as one playthrough. But I was thorough as hell because that’s what happens when you stumble across a diamond in the rough. You pick it up, dust it off, and hold it. You press it up to your eye and spin it around, looking through it and at all angles. It’s a curiosity, lingering in the desert, uncaring if you find it or not or whether you even give a damn once you do.
The Stanley Parable had such a specific vision in mind and it achieved it. From soup to nuts, it grabbed me by the back of my head and shoved my face into its weird, hairy, immaculately sculpted chest of non sequiturs, simultaneously hilarious and painful meta commentary, and ability to make me fall in love with a break room. (Also, this is a bit of a cheat since this is largely unchanged from its original release, but whatever.)