The bad over with; here comes the good stuff!
And here we are, ladies and gentlemen. With all the awful stuff aside, welcome to the ten BEST games of this year.
Despite the ripe old selection we had in the worst games category, there have been numerous excellent games this year that were worth a shout, but didn’t make it into the top list. So as usual, let’s kick off with some of the also-rans; the honourable mentions that were SOOOOO close to it, but ultimately failed to make it into the top ten.
- THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK BETWEEN WORLDS – Wonderful game. But again, this is Twilight Princess revisited. You can now buy A Link To The Past on the Wii U. Then you can compare the two if you’re feeling particularly cruel. ALBW is a good game; it’s just not a classic in the making. And that’s not good enough.
- NI NO KUNI: WRATH OF THE WHITE WITCH – Some of you will screech in horror, but I’m sorry. We’ve had better games this year. It’s still a fantastic JRPG though, and truly worth buying and enjoying and loving and wanting to get stuck into. But… yeah. It didn’t make the list. #dealwithit (Just kidding!)
- FINAL FANTASY XIV: A REALM REBORN – Taking the rough but limitless potential of the old Final Fantasy XIV and turning it into one of the most beautiful, glorious MMORPG’s in recent years, Square-Enix should be rightly commended on this, regardless of not making my list. And slapped for Lightning Returns. BAD SQUARE-ENIX!
- ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW LEAF – It’s been a bit of a year for the colon. Anyway, shrieks of horror across the Internet, primarily from my friend Val who will brutally see to my punishment for not squeezing it into the top 10. I liked it. I loved it. But it’s not top ten material.
- INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US – And a fighting game almost made my top ten list! HERESY! But actually, the great thing about Injustice is that it’s a FIGHTING GAME. It’s show and tell, a slog of skill, with fists and other violent objects. It’s interactive, hyperactive and a lot of fun. But nope. Also not top ten material.
Okay, also note that HD Remakes don’t count. Otherwise Wind Waker HD would be here, which isn’t fair on anyone else. And Assassin’s Creed 4, Battlefield 4 and Grand Theft Auto V won’t be on this list either. All great games; but in reality, all deeply flawed in so many ways that I’m not even going to entertain them on my list. Got that? Good.
Let’s get this train-wreck a-rollin’!
STEAMWORLD DIG (Nintendo 3DS, PC/Steam)
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year for me; if it were a list of the biggest surprises, this would hit the top spot without any effort at all! It’s hard to describe the game other than a sort of Metroid-style Spelunky hybrid, set in a dystopian future where robots are the most intelligent lifeforms. The whole idea is to dig; up, down, left, right. It doesn’t matter. You find caves, you explore, you get gems, you go topside, you sell gems to one gal, you buy upgrades from other stereotypically Western-themed vendors. It doesn’t sound all that thrilling; and then you play it. And by golly, it’s compulsive gaming. The story is top-drawer, the length perfectly pitched to balance between short runs and speed runs, it handles like a charm on the 3DS and looks beautiful in all its retro pixel glory. Image&Form should be congratulated and welcomed into the world of games; because this denotes them as destined to great things in the future.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE (All platforms)
BioShock Infinite is a game that doesn’t quite push the envelope; but it sits so snugly inside that you simply don’t mind. For the most part, it handles as you’d expect, looks gorgeous and the constant nods to the time pathways being a little jumbled is extremely fun; especially as it begins to perform music from way in the future in a very 20’s style, such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” on one of those carnival music floats. But the main reasoning that Infinite works is because the story is top-drawer; the characters all believable, all can be related to. Elizabeth is a fantastic companion and the game is very much hers to run away with. The Lutece Twins won best characters at the VGX show; a result that I totally agree with, as they are delightfully devious and hilarious in equal measure. The dynamic keeps you interested and engaged even when treading dodgy territory like QTE’s. It’s a feast for the senses; and that’s a great place to be.
PIKMIN 3 (Nintendo Wii U)
What’s kind of sad is that this won’t be the only Wii U game on this list; so it’s not that Nintendo hasn’t had some top-quality games out there to drive Wii U sales. And after nearly ten years of waiting, it has to be said – there was a collective sigh of relief when Pikmin 3 actually DID hit the market. And what a game! Nuanced, intelligent design that requires players to manage their time and resources sensibly, wonderful visuals and some of the most enjoyable challenge DLC for some time, Pikmin 3 took what was great about the games beforehand and massively improved on them. A genuinely charming, bright, colourful game that isn’t nearly as sickly-sweet as you may think, it may be hard to nail down the genre – is it an action? A strategy? Both? Neither? Who cares. Pikmin 3 is a riot, and one of perhaps many reasons why you really shouldn’t be counting the Wii U out of the hardware race just yet. Because if this year is anything to go by, Nintendo is just getting started…
Perhaps the most recent release on my list, but no less important because of it. Starbound is an excellent advancement on the old Terraria formula; now, you can be one of multiple races, shoot around a universe randomly generated to any one of millions of combinations – if not possibly billions – and explore planets with various traps, dungeons, towns and castles. That the game is still in “Early Access” should not dissuade people from enjoying what is there, because there’s more in there than most games can muster already. And it’s genuinely charming, and lovely. With multiplayer options, a much nicer crafting system and a slick, beautiful 2D pixel art direction, I didn’t expect to like Starbound; but I do, and I do very very much. And besides, there are very few games where sky ships sit alongside abandoned sewers, and where you can actually die from the vacuum of space on a moon with no atmosphere. Details. They matter.
SAINT’S ROW IV (Multiple Platforms)
Some games are designed to have a deeper meaning, to show you the blackness of the human heart in ways that trouble and disturb. Saint’s Row IV is not one of those games. Finally jettisoning the last serious ties it ever had to the GTA genre, here is a tale about invading space aliens and a gang of rebellious super-heroes with super powers who now run the USA. Saint’s Row IV is rarely mean-spirited; it’s whole ethos is to just make you grin, and whether that’s climbing an active rocket to the tune of “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” (which is appropriate!) to a Paula Abdul sing-along, you do. It’s also surprisingly complex, with a far more realistic view of sex in the modern era (“Wanna bang?” Bow-chika-wow-wow!) and gender-neutral hero worship. With a very open character creator, you could be almost anyone. No-one should take the game seriously; and yet, somehow, it makes a serious point; that pure entertainment can work.
HARVEST MOON: A NEW BEGINNING (Nintendo 3DS)
I think some will scoff at this choice; and they may be right to. But I cannot tell you of the unbridled joy this game has brought to me when being taken to hospital, or waiting to be seen by specialists or just lazying about on a ward waiting for something to happen. Harvest Moon has always been a little bit about the slog; you start from nothing and endure dozens of tutorials before finally the game lets you get your hands dirty in your own time, but it’s mechanically lovely, has a genuine old-school Dark Cloud rebuilding feel and gives you the freedom and opportunity to do whatever you like; want to build your farm on a basis of breeding and catching fish? You can do that! Want to predominantly focus on cattle, sheep and chickens? Can do that too! Want to try and do everything? My my, ambitious aren’t we? Hope you’re prepared to get really picky about the time. It’s a fun, deeply constructive game at heart. And that’s made it the best distraction I could have hoped for!
RAYMAN LEGENDS (Wii U Version)
It’s somewhat amazing that for all the cozy warmth of Legends, and the sales, that the relationship with Nintendo and UbiSoft is a little frosty. Fortunately, this was clearly finished and polished for the Wii U long before UbiSoft started taking potshots; and it’s as inventive, as beautiful and as zany as you’d hope a new Rayman to be. Beautifully artistic, with genuine charm and novelty, it’s the sort of game that just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Not to mention it’s a polished 2D Platformer in an era where most people casually dismiss that genre in order for something a little more ambitious visually and a little more “adult” in terms of theme. But it’s a reminder, as always, that good games don’t need or should have to adhere to a userbase that doesn’t understand the subject matter; these things will find their niche in the end, and those who partake will be the ones richly rewarded in the long run. Let’s hope UbiSoft remembers that someday.
POKÉMON X/Y (Nintendo 3DS)
It’s the evolution (groan!) that most of us spent the best part of ten years waiting for; but it’s all the sweeter for it. A charming, genuinely whimsical plot this time sits alongside a plot that feels very much grounded in the traditional anime model, and then this is married to a more diverse and charming set of monsters ready to be at your beck and call. Couple in new three-dimensional landscapes and genuinely inspired architecture, and the end result is… well, rather glorious, actually! With less guesswork taken out of the mix for breeders seeking to min/max their little armies, and plenty of entertaining little asides such as tamagotchi-style petting, and it’s really a huge giant leap forward for the Pokémon franchise. Well, at least, until Nintendo decides it is time to do a home console version. That isn’t a poorly-constructed battle sim. Come on Nintendo. It really may be time to consider the final stage of the franchises evolution – the home console!
THE LAST OF US (PlayStation 3)
Big-budget horror isn’t dead! HUZZAH! Joel and Ellie made for a devastating duo in this incredible, at times uplifting and at times deeply distressing, destructive and disturbing story of the end of the world, of hope and redemption and loss and love and how you can find loyalty and friends in the most unlikely of places, and how fairweather friends are never worth the effort. I haven’t played The Last of Us really since the review; I played it three times and really that was enough, but the impression it left on me will stay with me long into the new generation and beyond. It’s a powerful tale, with believable and human characters, a world that is at the same time deadly and breathtakingly beautiful, and even has the time to make some very smart points on the value of life, love, food and various other topics. It’s not always the easiest game to stomach – but it’s a blockbuster horror title that really shows us what CAN be done in the genre, in a way neither Capcom nor Konami have done for years…
Of course, there can only be one overall winner. Perhaps not a surprise but here goes…
SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD (Nintendo Wii U)
Many will argue Mario hasn’t changed – and they’re right. Because Mario’s shtick is reinvention; each major iteration, there’s something new. Something worth getting excited at. And thankfully, the same is true here. Never mind the game looks fabulous. Never mind it handles like a dream. Never mind it’s utterly hilarious, crazy and entertaining from start to finish and let’s not even discuss the fact they got four-player gaming working here. It’s the overwhelming sense of fun the whole package delivers – Cat Suit Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach are just the most adorable things this year. The cherry is hilarious. If you can get mates around, the multiplayer is brilliant. It constantly surprises, delights and challenges in ways you never quite expect, and you walk away with just this enormous beaming smile like you’ve been gassed by The Joker. It never stops; never stands still. If Galaxy is about expanding the genre, 3D World is about playing around within its boundaries. It’s enormous fun. And that’s surely the point?
And that concludes this year’s Ten Games of 2013.
I know not everyone will agree; expecting that is akin to you know, wanting world peace. Or to swim to the moon on the back of a magical hybrid unicorn-dolphin creature. But it’s my blog, and this is my list of the games of the year. And all of them are very deserving of being on the lost, so much so I even feel bad for the many which didn’t make it. Yeah, 2013 was a bit of a year for crap games; but still, you can’t deny we’ve also had one hell of a crop of great games too!
Tomorrow will see the years last article; a look forward into 2014, and the games coming that I’m looking forward to. I’ll have more stuff in the new year. Hopefully having had more sleep.
Have a great new year and have a few beers on me. Heck knows I’m not allowed them any more…