Friday, January 3, 2014

Best of 2013 - presentation on Vita.


The Vita's had an excellent year, with some games setting the bar for visuals and overall presentation so high that I'm not prepared to lump them in with PS3 and PS4 games.  There'll be some crossover, certainly, but even on Sony's sweet little handheld alone, there are some games that just nail it, with sound, graphics and a general overall slickness you wouldn't think was possible on a portable device, unless you saw it running, in front of you.  These are the best-presented Vita games of the year



acknowledgment




I took issue with a lot in Rayman Legends - generally its gameplay design and challenge gradient - but its overall presentation is hard to fault.  It's an endlessly cheerful, happy game, with a ton of love poured into its environments and characters, and a bare minimum of tarnish (the odd low-res texture disappoints).



honorable mentions




Tearaway entirely deserves to be farther down this list, but I refuse to bump any of the top three to make room for it.  A game of polygons and pixels that feels best-described as hand made, Tearaway is a journey through a constantly-evolving world of living paper, with beautifully expressive animation and sound effects, one of the best soundtracks of the year and a genuinely funny, fun and touching story.  A delight on all fronts.



Guacamelee in motion could pass for its own concept art.  A gorgeous 2D world of sharp, bold lines and colors, its liquid animation and poppy designs are elevated by an incredible two-tone soundtrack and cheeky, winking gamer in-jokes threaded throughout its simple, catchy narrative.




second runner-up





Observe the above screenshot.  This is not a bullshot.  That is what Killzone Mercenary actually looks like in motion, and I could only describe it as "supernaturally attractive" in its review.  Even having played the game in its entirety and coming to grips with how ridiculously good-looking it is, Mercenary's dazzling mastery of the Vita's tech doesn't dull after the initial surprise.  Picking it up again last week after a month or two of not touching it, it's downright shocking how gorgeous this game is.



runner up




Ubisoft Montpellier (Rayman) and Klei Entertainment (Mark of the Ninja) have nothing on Vanillaware, a development studio from an alternate reality in which polygonal games never took hold, and animated 2D sprites have reigned supreme for the past twenty years.

Dragon's Crown boasts an original score as gorgeous as the game itself, sharp sound effects, an easy-going menu system and repeated patches have polished what was already an exceptionally triple-A experience to a mirror sheen, and the game's visuals - big, beautiful, smoothly-animated sprites atop hand-painted backdrops - are second to none.

In many ways - gameplay, design, art direction - Dragon's Crown is the finest title the studio has ever put forth.  This is a title that you sense its creators were never satisfied with, as fine little touches like fun idle animations, gorgeous-looking food and birds swooping through its backdrops elevate the already-immaculate presentation to something unlike almost anything you've ever seen.

...almost:




best presentation on vita

of 

2013





Apply everything you just heard about Dragon's Crown to Muramasa Rebirth, and then crank the part about the music and "little touches" until the knob breaks off.  At that point, you're almost at the place where you'll find Muramasa Rebirth.    I've already used this quote in the Art Direction post, but it serves just as well here :

"The paper lanterns sway ever-so-slightly, their lights flickering from within.  The cherry blossoms waft on the breeze.  The trees in the foreground rustle gently and, through the paper walls of the buildings, you can see the shadow silhouettes of citizens going on about their lives as Momohime dashes past.  You can slip in to an open window to speak with a sultry courtesan, absently smoking a pipe.  Cats stretch and yawn on rooftops as you fly by - and that's just one of dozens upon dozens of equally lushly-realized settings. Take into account the stunning work done on the bosses, enemies, NPCs and most of all the player-characters - where, once again, little touches and details elevate an already impressive showing - and Muramasa Rebirth is something very, very special.

When running through a scene, for example, your character's little legs will gently speed up until they're struck through with tiny, almost imperceptible blur lines.  After dashing for a bit, they will - just for a moment! - glance towards the player before putting their eyes back on the road ahead.

So subtle, you're not even sure you saw it."
-from the review-


With exceptional art direction, Muramasa spins a much larger world than Dragon's Crown as it sprawls across a massive rendition of Genroku-era Japan, an explosively colorful vision teeming with all variety of fantastical phantasms and shadowy ninja, all ready to pounce as you dash through its picturesque plateaus.

Where Dragon's Crown must contend with innumerable explosive, impact and special-effect sprites, Muramasa Rebirth's one-hero-at-a-time (but still tons of enemies) tack permits it far more detail and nuance, as each and every scene you dash through bursts with life.  Birds scatter from your path as you run past a farm house, each and every leaf on its trees rustle in the wind and the air is filled with cherry blossoms drifting on the breeze.


If that weren't enough, the game's entire operatic narrative is fully voiced in its native Japanese with a charismatic and flavorful localization from Aksys Games.  Like Tearaway, Muramasa is exquisitely hand made, like Killzone and Dragon's Crown, is is repeatedly shocking in its beauty.

Painstakingly crafted by masters of the form from every single angle, with nothing left un-polished or ignored, Muramasa is an impeccable game, of an overall quality we shall not likely see again any time soon.  Every frame of every sprite is an effort of pure love - and that's how you get the best presentation on Vita in 2013.

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