[Before we announce 2014\’s GOTY, we take one last look back at an unheralded gem that missed out on last year\’s voting.]
In the excitement of last year\’s voting, with the Wii U still having that new console smell, we made another rather large omission. We kinda/sorta/completely forgot about the Wii and its games. It has only sold over 100 million consoles and is part of the reason this site was started in the first place, so it\’s a little embarrassing that we didn\’t even bother to make one last year-end award category for it.
The Wii deserved a better send off, and it\’s time we make up for it.
Granted, it\’s not like 2013 was a banner year for the console. Skylanders: Swap Force, Angry Birds, and Just Dance weren\’t exactly games that knocked the staff here off our feet. If those were the only titles available, ignoring Game of the Year honors would have been defensible, but there was one game that made it all worthwhile.
Pandora\’s Tower may have been released in other territories in prior years, but it didn\’t make it to North America until 2013. We can\’t stress how lucky we are to have gotten it, as this game was always the odd one out in the Operation Rainfall trio (which was two parts epic JRPGs from acclaimed developers, one part \”hey, that\’s the one with chains, right?\”). That said, as RPGs have become more of a niche category in the gaming world, Pandora may have been the best fit for Western audiences. Yes, it wears its RPG influences on its sleeve, but it\’s much more of an action/adventure title. Flashy combat and exploration are the order of the day, and those gameplay mechanics seem to travel well.
Well, we thought so, at least. If you haven\’t tried this game out yet, it\’s well worth your time.
Releasing a little-known Wii exclusive in 2013, though, wasn\’t a recipe for boffo sales. That doesn\’t take away from the quality of this Ganbarion-developed title, though. Simply put, you won\’t find a better \”Castlevania + Zelda + Japanese dating sim\” anywhere. Saying that any game \”has some Zelda characteristics\” is usually a polite way of saying that the finished product doesn\’t really live up to Link\’s lofty standards. Not so, in this case. Pandora\’s Tower may not unseat our tunic-clad hero from his perch, but his handlers sure as hell could learn a thing or two from this game. Heck, Nintendo could have learned a lot from Ganbarion\’s clever use of motion controls, too. Had this game launched earlier in the Wii\’s life with greater fanfare and marketing, it could have been a \”how-to\” guide for grafting motion controls into \”traditional\” games.
And Konami? This is the game you should have made 15 years ago. A properly good 3D Castlevania has been an evanescent rainbow – occasionally in sight, only to quickly vanish from the horizon. Ganbarion achieved something that has long eluded the Belmont clan. On that basis alone, Pandora\’s Tower was well worth being declared 2013\’s Wii Game of the Year.
…hey, it\’s belated, but at least we got around to it.
Lastly, it should be noted that this belated crowning also marks the end of an era. When XSEED agreed to bring Pandora\’s Tower to our shores, they signed off on a death certificate. Ganbarion\’s dark romance was really the last noteworthy North American release for the glorious standard-definition era.
It was a fitting one, too. As we have become further entrenched in the high-budget HD era of \”AAA\” releases (where developers need to sell 2 million copies of a marquee game release to even sniff the possibility of a sequel), it\’s worth pausing to remember when release schedules featured an extraordinary breadth of physical retail games. The mighty library of the PS2 wasn\’t filled with Grand Theft Auto alone; it was chock full of weird and wonderful titles, games that didn\’t have to sell millions of copies to break even. The Wii was the last gasp of this era, when a game like No More Heroes could have sales well below 1 million copies, yet still be considered a big enough success (due to a much lower budget) to earn a sequel.
Pandora\’s Tower fits squarely into this blurrier, pixellated lineage, a throwback to the days when you could find a discount/used rack full of odd games you\’d never heard of, and pick the neatest looking one to go home and try out. Those days are coming to a close. Indies are stepping in to fill the gap, but there was a certain magic that has been lost. Finding unheralded, unloved gems tucked away in the corner of your local gaming store, and then spending a lazy afternoon with them? It was like a drug to me.
Do yourself a favor and go buy the last of these gems. They don\’t do it like this anymore.