Holy ducks, is it that time of the year already? This past year has seen some tremendous video games releases that will surely make all of our personal lists hard to construct. With all the different personalities here at Geekenstein, you can bet your bottom there will be a heated debate on the Nuts and Bolts podcast before we can officially crown Geekenstein’s Top 10 Games of 2013. We’ve seen two new consoles surface to strong sales and a relatively enjoyable launch up, countless indie games trying to dethrone the big boys, and strong comebacks from franchises that have long lost their luster. 2013 was a great year for gaming, but only 10 games released are great enough to be on each of our lists. With that said, here’s my top 10 games of 2013.
I know I’m not the only man-child with an unhealthy toy collecting habit, but I very well might be one of the few writers with Skylanders: Swap Force on their top games of 2013 list. This persecution is especially odd considering Swap Force breathed new life into the Skylanders franchise. Sure, it has same linear level progression, but the overall presentation has been vastly improved over its predecessors. The story and updated Pixar-quality graphics gives Swap Force a Saturday morning cartoon feel that perfectly complements the strong emphasis on rushing to the store to buy all of the figures. Not only that, but this year’s gimmick of swappable parts works really well in the confines of the game – much more so than the inclusion of the Giants in last year’s Skylanders: Giants.
Like most children grow out of their tighty whities and move on to the manly comfort of boxers, I grew out of JRPGs after Final Fantasy X-2. I tried to get back into the genre of spiky-haired heroes and long swords several times, but only Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was able to hold my interest long enough to completion. Ni no Kuni captured the pure essence of Hayao Miyazaki’s love for high-quality Japanese animation and embedded it into a video game experience within a world worth exploring. With it’s weird combat system and monster-collecting metagame, there was never a dull moment. It’s most certainly not a game for everyone, but it’s one that will be treasured by those who find themselves emotionally attached to the world Ni no Kuni creates.
Similar to my modern distaste toward JRPGs, prior to X and Y, the Pokémon series completely lost my interest. The market was flooded with subpar spin-offs and the main titles in the series barely changed at all. It wasn’t until Black and White that we got a slight glimpse at where the series was going. Now, with the release of X and Y, the Pokémon series is back on track to be one of my favorite series of all time for the first time since Pokémon became a US sensation in the 90s. It’s the Pokémon game I promised my elementary school friends I would create when I grew up and hit it big as a video game developer. Yeah, I had dreams and aspirations once. Not sure what happened there, but that’s beside the point. X and Y are the definitive games in the series. They are the Pokémon games we’ve been waiting for all our gaming lives and now that they are here, I cannot recommend them enough.
Cookie Clicker makes up for its lack of gameplay with its highly addicting gameplay. I know, it’s confusing and I have hard time explaining it even after being immersed in it for months now. It’s a game that’s not a game. Maybe it’s even the best “games are art” example we’ve ever seen and an interactive way to peer into the mind of someone with OCD and a cookie fetish. I don’t know; I honestly don’t know what the hell Cookie Clicker is. The dark metagame freaks me out and makes me feel uneasy on the inside, but I just keep selling the souls of countless grandmothers to further the number of cookies I produce with each click. I fucking love clicking cookies and nothing will stand in the way of the empire I have built. Nothing.
On paper, the Dead Rising series should have soared with the power of a thousand eagles since the first game released in 2006. Instead, we got snippets of brilliance hampered by poor execution in every title since then. When Capcom announced Dead Rising 3, I was not impressed. Sure, it looked pretty, but I feared it was still the same old Dead Rising with a new coat of paint. Boy, was I wrong. Dead Rising 3 is everything the series should have been from the start. While there’s a more serious tone this time around, all of the trademark humor remains intact. From dressing in drag to the psycho encounters, everything that made Dead Rising a unique experience is still there, but this time around it’s resurrected damn near flawlessly. They even managed to make the countdown timer suck considerably less. All of the missions and optional objectives now have their own timer that allows you to easily keep track and manage your time. Now that it’s possible to complete all the missions every day and still have plenty of time to dick around in the zombie sandbox, Dead Rising 3 is one of the best zombie games to date.
HD remakes are a great way to replay classic titles without dragging out an old console and blowing its slots clean. There’s plenty of video games deserving of an HD remake, but few will get them – but that’s a sad truth we have to live with. DuckTales on the NES is one cult classic I didn’t think would receive an HD remake. If you know me on a personal level, you know that Disney ducks give me boners – but Scrooge McDuck gives me the biggest boner of all! Duck fixations aside, my love for the original DuckTales video game might ever surpass my love for Scrooge’s feathered rump since it’s one of the first platformers I ever played. Anyone who played DuckTales growing up knows the game is damn near perfect. Instead of just upping the resolution, DuckTales: Remastered went a step beyond by fixing the minor nuisances gamers had with the original title, adding voiceovers from the original voice actors from the TV show, and made Duckburg feel alive with some of the smoothest animations I’ve seen in a platformer to date. If life is like a hurricane, DuckTales: Remastered is the eye that holds us all together.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Assassin’s Creed series, but I think we can all agree it was in need of a desperate kick in the ass. The once revered gameplay quickly became stale. Assassin’s Creed 3 gave us hope with the inclusion of naval combat, but it felt tacked on and out of place. I knew that the ship combat felt strong enough to warrant a pirate game in the series, but I feared that a game revolving around assassins on ships was too risky to see the light of day. Luckily, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag surprised us all where the sun don’t shine. It’s been said several times, but the worst part about Black Flag are the Assassin’s Creed parts, but even those parts aren’t as bad as they’ve been in the past. The story of a pirate posing as an assassin works surprisingly well, but the ship-to-ship action shines brighter than everything else, making Black Flag the pirate game we’ve been waiting for since Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned teased us of what was possible before it was canceled.
No one expected the journey to Columbia to be nearly as exciting as our excursion to Rapture. But in the end, BioShock Infinite blew the previous two games out of the water and shifted the franchise in a magnificent new direction I can’t wait to see further explored. Elizabeth wasn’t just a throwaway game maiden, but instead she was an emotional investment of the likes I haven’t seen before. When I finished the game I found myself missing her, like she was a part of my life for the longest time, when in reality she was line of code contributing to her sole purpose – to make me feel things I’ve never felt before. Most of the gameplay was forgettable, but the overall journey through Columbia and the history of the BioShock multiverse make BioShock Infinite not only one of the best games of 2013, but one of the best games of all time.
The final two entries in a top list are always the hardest, but this year’s games were miles apart from each other, but both were more than deserving of the number one spot. If The Last of Us isn’t number one on my list, it’s sure to be number one on another staff member’s and it’ll fight to the death to be Geekenstein’s top game of 2013. If there is such a thing as a perfect game, it’s The Last of Us. From the story-telling, character development, and emotional attachment every player will experience, to the gameplay in its many forms, The Last of Us is the must play game of the year. It’s Naughty Dog’s finest game to date and it makes me proud to see Naughty Dog become the rockstar they are once more.
But even Naughty Dog can’t dethrone the true rockstar of the gaming scene. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is everything fans wanted the next GTA title to be – and so much more. Complaints that plagued the series since its modern conception were addressed and refined to allow more fun than headaches. The focus on three protagonists was game changer – literally. Each character felt alive and full of personality, making switching to them a pleasure to behold. While GTA IV had a multiplayer mode, few would call it functional. Instead of just tacking it on, GTA Online (while buggy) took the series’ multiplayer in a daring new direction that outshines any other console multiplayer mode you’ve played in 2013. While it was hard to come to a decision between The Last of Us and GTA V, I found GTA V to be home to timeless fun, apposed to the linear story-drive experience of The Last of Us – thus making Grand Theft Auto V my game of the year for 2013.
Well, that is that. It’s weird to not see season 2 of The Walking Dead on this list, because I expected TellTale to contribute to the second coming of Christ. There’s a lot of indie games that should be on here, but it’s hard to outshine the triple-A developers. At least Cookie Clicker has a place on the list. If you would have told me that Cookie Clicker would be on my top games of 2013 list earlier this year, I would have called you a loon. It’s weird how opinions change throughout the year. Anyway, 2013 was a great year for me personally and an even better year for gamers of all ages. I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store!