Picking my top 10 favorite games of any given year is much like picking a Pokemon team. I want to honor all the great games I played in the same way I want to bring along all of my 400+ Pokemon on my journey. From ambitious indie titles like Antichamber to robust, open-world games like GTA V, this has been an excellent gaming year. Unfortunately, I played too many great games this year to be able to put them all on a list, so I’ve just settled on the 10 I liked best. And yes, Pokemon will make an appearance.
I still have no clue what this game is about, but I think that’s why I love it so much. This indie gem is disturbing, charming, and wholly fulfilling. The plot is obscured behind a thick veil of symbolism which may turn off some players, but the imagery used is haunting. I played Anodyne near the beginning of 2013, but I still remember its eerie soundtrack and lovingly crafted pixel-art as if I played it yesterday. Its gameplay is as exploration-heavy as its themes, so I recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Link’s Awakening or similar games in that vein.
This is perhaps one of my more controversial choices since Dynasty Warriors is often regarded as “The East’s Call of Duty.” Critics complain that the series never innovates and always seems to have three or four versions of each game as a cash grab. Me? I just like leading a one-man army into a 1000-man mob and mindlessly button-mashing until I’m the only one left. Dynasty Warriors 8 also brought a fresh coat of paint to the franchise with more than 70 playable characters, a new Ambition Mode and weapon affinities that add a whole new level of depth to combat. I’ll always have a soft spot for this silly series, but this entry really takes the cake.
I think it’s a testament of good quality to say that I played Guacamelee while I was horribly ill, sleep deprived, experiencing some of the worst migraines of my life, and yet it still shone through enough to become one of my favorite games of 2013. When people ask me to describe this game, I jokingly refer to it as “Metroidvania Lite.” Most of the secret passages are indicated with large, primary-colored blocks or blisteringly apparent “hidden” ledges. However, this doesn’t oversimplify the experience. It allows you to take in the gorgeous luchador aesthetic and focus on overcoming individual obstacles rather than worry too much about getting lost. It also helps that this is some of the most comfortable combat I’ve felt in a sidescrolling beat-em-up. This is one you won’t want to miss.
What can I say about The Last of Us that hasn’t already been said? It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me really want to strangle Joel sometimes because how could you do that you heartless son of a bitch… sorry, lost myself for a second there. Games this emotionally impacting rarely come from large studios anymore, so it was really refreshing to see something this meaningful get released with a smearing of AAA polish on it. Memories both fond and forlorn were obtained through playing this game. That Winter chapter still sends a shiver down my spine when I think about it.
At least one LEGO game invariably ends up becoming one of my favorite games of the year. This year it happened to be LEGO City Undercover, the Traveller’s Tales version of Grand Theft Auto. Chase McCain’s undercover adventure provided me with some of my favorite LEGO levels and my second-favorite LEGO overworld (because let’s face it, it’s tough to top Middle Earth). The writing was witty, the scenarios were ridiculous and the charm level was through the room. It also made great use of the Wii U GamePad for its various tools. I may be the only person to put this on a top 10 list, but I’m not at all ashamed to include it.
Call me a heretic, but I think I’m the one person in the gaming community who doesn’t like Link to the Past. I find the art style boring to look at, the music is dull and the overworld is a pain to navigate. So I wasn’t particularly excited when Nintendo announced A Link Between Worlds. Yet here I am, putting it at the number 5 spot on my countdown. A Link Between Worlds is the perfect isometric Zelda for me. It took what I liked about Link to the Past (such as the dungeon design, items, and light/dark world elements) and pasted them into an easier-to-navigate overworld with creative, new orchestrations and an adorable, bulbous visual aesthetic. Item rentals and purchases made it so I never had to worry about arbitrary progression milestones. This is a game that lets you play it the way you want to.
Stupid name aside, this is the one game I played this year that managed to surpass Dynasty Warriors 8 as a total testosterone-fueled romp. This is a game in which you control the precise angles with which you slice your enemies into 5000 mushy giblets. This is a game in which you feed on your enemies’ spines to restore your own health. In the opening sequence alone you single-handedly destroy a Metal Gear ten times your own size. It may have a relatively short length, but it has as much replay value as an arcade game. This isn’t a game where you start off weak and need to collect items to become a more effective killing machine; from the onset you are made to feel absolutely powerful, even against enemies that dwarf you. Who can complain about that?
This is the only game on the list that, upon completion, I immediately played again. And then again. And then once more. Even after all these years, Insomniac still knows how to craft a damn fine Ratchet & Clank game without it feeling stale or derivative in the least. As far as I’m concerned, Insomniac is the best at crafting fun, unique worlds and bizarre, affable characters. Even though the game is short, they don’t skimp one bit. The story, worlds and weapons feel just as fully realized as any other entry in the series. Since they didn’t have to spread the budget out over a 20 hour campaign, they were able to pack in a small handful of epic action setpieces that still excite me to think about. I could not have asked for a better ending to the Future sub-series.
It’s no secret that platformers are my favorite game genre and anyone who read my review of Super Mario 3D World already knows I’ve exhausted just about every synonym for “awesome” in regards to this game. Plain and simple, this game is a triumph. The controls are flawless. The visuals are stupendous. The music is toe-tappingly, heart-wrenchingly gorgeous. 3D World is an amalgam of just about every good idea the Mario franchise has ever used, topped with a heaping helping of new ideas that exist for the sake of fun and nothing else. Master classes in game design will be taught about this game someday, but for now it’s just a hell of a good ride by yourself or with friends.
Now I know what you’re thinking, with all that praise, what could possibly top that? Well, friends, deciding the number one spot on this list was an incredibly tough choice. 3D World was originally going to be number one, but in the end, I just had to go with my gut instinct. I had to pick the game that really meant the most to me personally. And that game is…
Pokemon X was the game this year that managed to rejuvenate my inner child. I bought it for the reason many people buy new releases: hype. I hadn’t played a Pokemon game ever since Ruby and Sapphire, and even back then I wasn’t a huge fan of the series. This game changed everything. Going into Kalos was like stepping into Oz; it was a world full of magic, honesty and friendships waiting to bloom. For the first time in any Pokemon game I’ve ever played, I actually wanted to “catch ’em all.” October was a month entirely devoted to Pokemon; during that time, my friends never saw me without it. The game was my escape from school and social pressures. Whenever I started to feel bad I’d just dive back into the tall grass on any given route to find Pokemon waiting for me. As of this writing, I’ve put in hundreds of hours and I still have yet to get all eight badges. Half of that time has simply been spent trying to decide who gets to go on the team and who gets left in the PC. Regardless, I’m enjoying my pace.
Pokemon X may not have the emotional depth of The Last of Us or the smooth, tight controls of Metal Gear, but it has my heart. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s a cheesy game and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I mentioned in the beginning, picking a top 10 is an incredibly difficult process. It’s like trying to pick the 10 best Oreo’s out of a pack. How could you possibly do that when they all taste so delicious? Regrettably, there were also some games I wanted to get around to playing, but couldn’t. They include, but are not limited to Fire Emblem: Awakening, Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies, Pikmin 3, Rayman Legends and Battleblock Theater. Despite my inability to play every single game released in 2013, I am happy with the choices I made in the list. These games are the cream of the crop, selected specifically for either their fun value or depth of meaning. Moving onto 2014, I hope we get some experiences that are just as impressive!