It's the end of the year and everyone is making GOTY lists. I decided to do something a bit different and talk about the best games I played this year without regard to when they came out. After all, most of the great games I played this year were from years before 2013, although I did play some great ones from this year as well. So you can expect much of this list to be a blast from the past.
The criteria for a game's inclusion on this list are that I have a) played it for the first time this year and either b) played it to completion or c) played it for at least five hours. For each game, I'm going to talk about how much I liked it as well as examining something that makes it great.
Honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list or didn't fit the criteria are Sleeping Dogs
, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
, Sleeping Dogs
, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
, Electronic Super Joy
, Thief: The Dark Project
, Shadow Warrior
(2013), Mirror's Edge
, and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
. It's obvious that 2013 was a great gaming year for me just from looking at the games that didn't make my top 10, but even more so from the ones that did.
10. Gunman Clive
As the cheapest game on the 3DS eShop at $2, it's a bit ironic that Gunman Clive
is one of the best downloadable games on the platform. Other than being short, it has everything going for it - it's affordable, it's mechanically sound, the level design is solid, and it has a distinctive and enjoyable sense of style. And a duck mode.
Unlike the other games on this list, which all have a distinctive element that I find worthy of mention, Gunman Clive
earned its place on this list by just being incredibly solid in every way. I can't think of any real flaw in it. The length of the game might be a complaint if the price weren't $2, but the price is $2 and the game is plenty long enough to justify that price.
9. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
I had fairly high expectations for Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
, and it met them exactly. It's very fun to play. The only real complaint I can muster about it is that it tries occasionally to do difficult platforming, but unlike its immediate predecessor Super Mario Land 2
, Wario Land
's mechanics are not well-suited for such challenges. There were a couple of times where I had to go back to a previous level and get the propeller cap just to make a particular jump. But those times were few and far between, and overall the game is very enjoyable.
What's great about Wario Land
is that it takes the Mario Land
formula in a new direction while keeping it fun. It eschews most of the frustration of difficult platforming, and isn't as challenging as its immediate predecessor, but is instead fun in the same way that Kirby games are fun. It understands fun to mess around and beat enemies in different ways and collect stuff.
8. Tomb Raider (2013)
I've never played an Uncharted
game because I don't have a PS3. Nor had I ever played a Tomb Raider
game before this year because I didn't care. But I was alerted to the existence of this cross-platform Uncharted
-style Tomb Raider
reboot and somehow became interested in it, so I picked it up for 75% off during the Steam summer sale. I'm glad I did, because it surprisingly kept my interest until completion.
I don't actually know why the Uncharted
-like parts of Tomb Raider
kept my interest. But I do understand why the optional tombs were good - they were all interesting puzzles that displayed a solid understanding of level design and utilized the game's mechanics to their fullest potential. It's a rare treat to see a "cinematic" AAA game that actually understands its own mechanics and uses them in interesting ways.
7. Shadow Warrior (1997)
I was never really into first-person shooters before this year. Sure, I played a decent amount of Left 4 Dead 2
because it's fun with friends, and mildly enjoyed bits of some retro shooters like Quake
, but I'd never been really into a first person shooter until I played the original Shadow Warrior
this year. It's a shame that today's "social climate" or whatever makes everyone mention the racist humor when talking about this game, because the gameplay is more deserving of mention.
What makes Shadow Warrior
great is the level design. It's been described as mazelike, but that's only part of it. Doom
had mazelike level design - everything in those games' levels had the same limited color palette, so it was easy to get lost like you would in a maze. Shadow Warrior
, on the other hand, has creative and memorable visual design and a great deal of visual variety to complement the competent map design.
6. Dust: An Elysian Tail
I had actually never heard of this game until the Steam summer sale this year, at which point I bought it at 50% off. I'm glad I did. It's unbelievable that Dust
was mostly made by one person - it feels like a game made by a small studio of extremely talented and hard-working people.
is a mechanically solid Metroidvania brawler, but the visuals are what really separate it from other games like it. If this were a list of the best-looking games I played in 2013, Dust
would be #1. I don't usually get carried away with the graphics of games, but I can't get over how gorgeous Dust
looks. The visuals legitimately contribute a great deal to the overall experience of the game - something that I wouldn't say about many games.
5. Pokémon Y
A few years ago, I bought a game called Pokémon White Version
. As a lifelong fan of the series, I was very disappointed because it was rather uninspired and didn't improve on the mechanics of the fourth generation in any interesting way. Because of that experience, I was a bit skeptical of X
until I finally picked up a copy of Y
earlier this month. I knew that my skepticism was wrong as soon as I started the game. Unlike White, Y has heart - possibly more so than any Pokémon game since Red
. And it truly feels like a new generation of Pokémon
that makes the previous games feel dated by comparison for the first time since Ruby
There are lots of things I could say about what makes Y
better than its predecessors, but the one I'm going to talk about is how fun it is to move around. The roller blades and the bicycle are both inexplicably fun to use. After years of four-directional movement in Pokémon
games, having full 360 degree movement with the Circle Pad is incredibly satisfying and never gets old.
Stealth games were never really my thing. But this game and Thief: The Dark Project
(which isn't on this list because I'm not remotely close to finishing it) have sold me on first-person stealth. My one playthrough of Dishonored
was low chaos, and I loved it.
Part of what makes Dishonored
great is that it ignores modern game design trends that don't fit, something that all games should do but many don't. It has no quick time events. It doesn't have shoehorned in RPG elements, either - just a very natural upgrade system that you can use if you go out of your way to collect runes. And most importantly, it shows a strong attention to detail in its level designs, something that seems all but lost in the world of "AAA" games.
3. Jet Set Radio
I finally played Jet Set Radio
this year. I didn't expect too much from it, having gotten it for $5, but I was pleasantly surprised. By which I mean that it's now my most played game on Steam with about 50 hours of play time. It could be argued that the gameplay of this game hasn't aged well, but I found that I could keep a smile on my face even when the occasional physics or control frustration happened. Some such problems are averted anyway in this version because the HD port lets the camera be controlled by the right analog stick, but the biggest thing that Jet Set Radio
has going for it is its sense of style.
The charm of Jet Set Radio
's cel-shaded graphics and cheesy J-pop soundtrack can only have increased over time, and is helped by the lack of personality in many games since. It's just so likable. It's a rare case where the presentation of a game is great enough to cover for occasional gameplay deficiencies.
2. The World Ends with You
The World Ends with You
ruined my Christmas this year. I got Super Mario 3D Land
and A Link Between Worlds
for Christmas, but couldn't enjoy either of them on Christmas Day because they were not this game. For that matter, I kept forgetting it was even Christmas because The World Ends with You
was better than Christmas. Saying that this game is the second best game I played this year doesn't do justice to how much I love it. It's more descriptive to say that it's the third best game I've played this decade after Cave Story
and the #1 game on this list. Or that it's probably in the top 10 games I've ever played. Or that it has joined Custom Robo Arena
and the Pokémon
games as my favorite games for a portable console.
I bought it expecting a good time sink for upcoming time as a passenger on a long car trip. But few games have ever sucked me into their worlds as much as The World Ends with You
had by the end of its first third. When I wasn't playing it, I was either thinking or dreaming about it, depending on whether I was asleep at the time.
The World Ends with You
seems to take some clear influence from Jet Set Radio
, and it's for the better. It doesn't quite have Jet Set Radio
's level of style, but it still has a lot of it. Both games have distinctive J-pop soundtracks and a sort of rebellious punk attitude as well, not to mention the obvious Shibuya connection. But what distinguishes #2 from #3 is that TWEWY
is able to take itself seriously and deliver a surprisingly engaging plot with well-developed characters within its world, and doesn't have to cover for gameplay deficiencies.
One thing I love about The World Ends with You
's story is how it subtly subverts so many common tropes. One of the focal points is the relationship between a male character and a female character of the same age, but it doesn't try to include a love story. And even when Neku has to save Shiki, the game avoids the typical "damsel in distress" trope - it's not even remotely her fault or a sign of weakness on her part, nor is she sitting somewhere waiting to be rescued. And although the events of the game do eventually start to affect all of Shibuya, the story is never about saving the world, and it never factors into the main character's motivation. Perhaps because of how it plays with expectations, the plot of the game is rather unpredictable - I never felt like I knew what was coming. All of this was very surprising and refreshing to me, and deserves to be praised.
The gameplay is another aspect of The World Ends with You
that deserves praise. It takes full advantage of the capabilities of the DS. People might say that Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
invented one-player co-op, but they're wrong, because this game did it first. The frantic nature of controlling two things at once constantly gives any player room to improve and gives the battle system a great deal of depth.
Oh, and the music is great. I'm listening to it right now, in fact.
Now I'll stop going on about how great The World Ends with You
is so I can get to #1...
1. Metroid Prime
Yes, as I mentioned in a previous blog post
, I didn't play Metroid Prime
until this year. This was mostly because I'd played a bit of Metroid Prime 3
a few years before and didn't get far because I was rather bad at it. But I'm glad I decided to give the series a second chance, and I'm glad I decided to start from the first game.
It's hard to describe what about Metroid Prime
is great, because the entire game is made of greatness. So I'll talk about the level design. The world of Tallon IV is colorful and diverse. Each area is distinctive and memorable. By the end of the game, I knew my way around Tallon IV. I had familiarized myself with the layout of a fictional video game world like I would a real place. That is immersion.
Now that I think about it, I could state that more boldly: Metroid Prime
is great because it's not afraid of backtracking. The backtracking in Metroid Prime
is what let me familiarize myself with the game and immerse myself in it. It's what makes the difference between Tallon IV and something like Bioshock Infinite
's Columbia, which felt more like a guided tour through a collection of pretty sights than a real place where people lived. Metroid Prime
really is unique in how the primary focus is on exploring the world and discovering everything subtly hidden in it, rather than being forced to see everything that the developers prepared. The freedom and presentation style give the game an immense deal of depth, and makes it a real treat to explore and scan everything to learn about your surroundings, making the game's world your own.
Overall, 2013 was a great gaming year for me - probably the best I've ever had. I hope you enjoyed watching me gush over a bunch of old and new games as if I weren't hopelessly behind the times. read