Let’s be honest 2013 was one giant clusterfuck of a year, both personally for, well pretty much everyone I know, and in the games industry, which I’m going to stick to since well, those were just kind of disappointing and not actually heartbreaking and/or terrible like the other stuff that happened this year. We had a lot of disappointing games, a lot of just straight up broken ones and a lot of delays, all of which we can agree are total bullshit and we need to just head straight to NeoGAF to scream about it, that will definitely fix it. (Disclaimer: I have totally bitched about all of that stuff on the internet and have no ground to stand on.) But despite that 2013 honestly had some really great games, so much that I’ve spent the past few days trying to narrow it down to just ten. That being said, I did that so I’m going to cut this extremely embarrassing intro off now and get to my list.
10. Tomb Raider
Man, talk about pleasant surprises. Tomb Raider’s always been one of those series that I never gelled with. The weird sex icon status of Lara Croft turned me off, the gameplay of them never really appealed to me and I’ll be honest, the movies really soured me on them. All of that being said Tomb Raider is probably the best reboot in recent memory (sorry DmC). They managed to change my perception of Lara Croft from “Oh yeah the character from that game with the messed up nude cheat” to a really well put together, sympathetic character. It really drew me in with their treatment of Lara and once it did I was in for a real treat. The island they put you on is small enough to keep you focused and on the right track but large enough that you can really sink your teeth into the exploration. It felt like a mix between Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed to me and I loved every second of it.
9. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
And speaking of Assassin’s Creed this year’s instalment of the, let’s be honest, mixed bag that is the AC series was probably the best one yet. I got this game so I had something to play on the PS4 when I got it, I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary, I liked Assassin’s Creed III unlike most people I suppose but I did go in expecting something pretty fun for a few hours. What I got was a spiritual successor to Sid Meier’s Pirates and if that doesn’t sound like a good thing to you I don’t think we should be friends anymore. It took what was arguably the best part of AC3, the naval combat and expanded it, they fixed a lot of what was wrong with the last game’s controls and tied it all together with this really weird out of the animus segment that is way too meta for me to even get into.
Oh also you collect songs for your surly piratemen to sing and if that isn’t the best thing of the year then I dunno what is.
8. Pokemon X/Y
Pokemon’s just one of those series that I’ve always really liked, in some cases loved, since I was a little kid. That being said I was totally getting burnt out by the time Black/White 2 came out. I hadn’t even brought myself to finish Pokemon Black/White when it was released and I still actually haven’t completed either of them. Now after taking a massive dump over it’s predecessors let me drop why Pokemon XY is the dopest thing to involve a ninja themed frog since… Naruto, I guess, I don’t know where I was going with this.
The key thing XY did was pick up the pace, Pokemon games have always been methodical in their opening, usually to a fault. Pokemon XY got you going almost right away, and once you got the ball rolling it rarely stopped. There were some moments where it slowed down but it wasn’t so often that it completely sucked the energy out of the game. Add on to that the addition of Fairy type finally taking Dragon types down a peg (and making Poison types actually good against something finally) and you’ve got what is probably one of, if not the, best Pokemon game Nintendo’s released.
I’ll be one hundred percent honest when I say that I bought Divekick as a joke, I followed the games development, thought it was really funny, even watched the EVO stream of it, but I never expected it to actually you know, be good. In actuality it’s one of the best multiplayer experiences I had all year. It does what the developers said they were trying to do, distill a fighting game down to those really tense moments where both players are one hit away from losing. Then they took it further by actually diversifying the characters in ways that make the game way more than just the initial gimmick. There are actual tiers in this game and that is terrifying to me in one of the best ways. If you have some friends who are into some really goofy shit then Divekick is some really, really well made goofy shit.
P.S. I’m better at this game than John is, don’t listen to anything he says.
6. Gone Home
I actually almost didn’t play Gone Home. I am very happy that I played Gone Home. It was one of those games that I sort of wrote off for practically no reason when it came out, the same thing happened with the Stanley Parable which I also enjoyed quite a bit, just not enough to make this list. I’m still not sure why I wrote it off but I’m really glad I got my head out of the sand and finally played it. It was this really personal story that hooked me in the second I stepped through the front door of the house. There were so many little details that fleshed out each member of the family, including the recently deceased uncle, in really subtle ways. When you add on the really personal and intimate story that’s told through Sam’s narration you get this really fantastic experience that even though it lasts a little bit over two hours it’s something you really don’t want to miss.
5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Warning: I’m going to get kind of lame here.
I called Divekick one of the best multiplayer experiences of the year. For me, New Leaf was one hundred percent the best multiplayer experience I had all year for some very personal reasons. To put it simply the most important person in my life lives on the other side of the continent from me, this makes doing things together pretty difficult. New Leaf at least let us have some semblance of doing things together. It was just this really easy going, cute experience that was just fun to hang out in. I honestly don’t have too much to say about it other than it was one of the most pleasant experiences I had all year and was really special to me in a way I didn’t expect.
4. Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
So I haven’t even finished this game and it’s knocking my socks off. For the sake of being completely honest with you folks, I’d say I’m approximately halfway through the game. That being said it is the best Zelda game I’ve played since Wind Waker (unfortunately Wind Waker HD is not on this list because I don’t have a Wii U) and that is saying something if you’ve ever heard me talk about Wind Waker. They made a lot of really smart changes to the Zelda formula. Usually there’s an order of what you need to do and you have to do it in that order. Link Between Worlds opens things up to you, you can do the dungeons in any order when the next group of dungeons is available and you can access pretty much any item at any time.
Not only do they give you a ton of options but they do away with that really terrible trend in Zelda games where there’s a button that you always accidentally hit that makes some sidekick character pop up and talk to you for way too long. I mean, I could go into the dungeon design being fun and the puzzles being great but I mean, it’s a Zelda game that isn’t Twilight Princess of course that stuff is great. Horribly unsubtle insults towards past Zelda games aside Link Between Worlds is the best 3DS game I’ve played all year, hell I’m trying to get this list done so I can focus on playing it without this looming over my head. I can’t recommend it highly enough so if you’re even the slightest bit interested in picking it up I think you should definitely pick it up.
3. The Last of Us
If you want to talk about games that really take things to the next level the Last of Us needs to be involved in that conversation. It’s one of those games that had such an impact on me that I’m actually having trouble describing it but bare with me, I’ll do my best here. The Last of Us did things very methodically, characters were built slowly, relationships were built slowly, the pace of the game was slow aside from the action sequences, just everything about it was slowly constructed and it let things play out in a really beautiful way.
The game made you care for these characters really naturally, it wasn’t just in cutscenes where they were like “Hey, these characters care about each other, you should care too.” they built it through just idle dialogue that Joel and Ellie have from talking about how Ellie had never seen an ice cream truck before to her just whipping out a joke book to lighten things up after you fight your way through a horde of messed up fungus zombies. It’s the way it builds those characters that makes the tragic moments in this game (and there are so many of them holy shit) even harder to experience. There are moments in TLoU just decides to go “things have been going too well lately, what if we did this to the player” and then they do it and you hate everything. I’m going to stop talking about it before I spoil something but seriously, this is a game that you should really check out, it’s a beautifully told story and a fantastically made game.
2. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni hit me on so many levels. I mean, aesthetically it’s designed by Studio Ghibli so the art style is beautiful, gameplay wise it was a combination of Pokemon and the ‘Tales of’ series and story-wise it was this really well crafted coming of age story that felt like it jumped right out of a fairy tale. Hell it is literally a fairy tale one of the main characters in the game is the King of the Fairies, Mr. Drippy also known as the king of my heart. I spent about one hundred and twenty hours with Ni No Kuni and I still haven’t finished all the post game content. Not only is that a testament to just how much they’ve packed into this game but the fact that I’m still not bored of it after this much time spent on it really clues you in to how much I adore it.
It’s just one of those games that you can get lost in the world of, I think a good third of my game time is just exploring and talking to NPCs and taking in the world Level-5 and Ghibli built together. It was one of those games that when I finished the story I got legitimately upset that the game ended, which honestly isn’t too foreign a feeling for me when I play games made by Level-5. They’ve got this talent for crafting these stories that just suck you in and you don’t want them to let you go. Ni No Kuni was especially guilty of this, following Oliver from the tragic death of his mother (this happens in the first five minutes, I hope nobody is too upset about that) to becoming the wizard that would save the Other World all the way to the end of the came was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done this year and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking of going back for another round of it.
1. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
God. DAMN. Metal Gear Rising is one of those games that gives me goosebumps when I play it, it is just that fun. I kind of went into it expecting a pretty fun, challenging action game but one that I wouldn’t go back and replay. Boy was I wrong. Platinum Games have this way of making these surprisingly addictive games, I think my current playthrough count for MGR is in the double digits by now. It’s just one of those games that I keep wanting to do better in, that I keep wanting to play through and experiencing over and over again. It’s just so damn fun, it’s pure, unfiltered fun and that’s why it topped my list this year. Gameplay aside the storyline is so out of this god damn world that it’s impossible for me to dislike it. There’s a moment where you fight a woman who uses a spear made of arms and it’s one of the tamer moments in the game.
The first boss is you cutting through a Metal Gear RAY while heavy metal plays in what I can only describe as so powerful it makes my nipples hard. I mean, the sound design in this game is so good that the minute I had the chance I downloaded the soundtrack and now it’s the most played album on my iPod. The way they use the dynamic mixing during bossfights so that the vocals only kick in when you do/trigger a specific thing or having more guitars kick in when you start chopping the leg armor off of a Metal Gear is one of the coolest uses of sound in a video game that I’ve seen in years. I mean, it’s just a game that knows how over the top it is and then revels in it and that is exactly how you worm your way into my heart, even more so if your game involves chopping guys in half and ripping their spines out for their sweet cyborg life juice. Now, if you’ll excuse me, just writing about this game makes me wanna go play some more of it so I’m gonna go chop some dudes in half. Adios amigos.