What a year it's been, this, the Year of Luigi. As our list of Game of the Year nominations may have shown you, there were a lot of great games this year. And a lot of great games that can easily compete for the title of Official Best Game Of 2013.
And while only one holds that title in my heart—ahem, The Last of Us, ahem—there were several others I loved that need mentioning. Expect spoilers!
Without further ado, in no particular order, my favorite games of 2013:
The Last of Us
We'll start with my personal GOTY.
Joel and Ellie's journey through a world stricken by an infection and following fear was an emotional one. We saw Joel transition from the distant, hardened transporter of one Ellie-package to a loving, caring, broken father-figure. I sympathized with him as he let the barriers around his stern heart break down, only to have that vulnerability be met with more tragedy. Ellie's struggles as an adolescent at the brink of adulthood—dealing with being a kid and wanting to be respected as someone who had to grow up so fast—is also touching. Watching these two grow and grow closer together was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once.
The Last of Us balanced beautiful moments with the beautifully sad ones. The story ebbs and flows, weaving the quiet wandering in with the chaotic, bullets-flying-everywhere, life-or-death blazes and then escapes.
But The Last of Us was also a respectable stealth game. It was unforgiving and downright terrifying. Limited resources and enemies that were as tough as they were ugly made for a challenging game that I honestly had to take breaks from just to catch my breath.
And when things seemed like they couldn't get any worse, when Joel and Ellie felt so far apart, it all came back around again. The Last of Us ended on the perfect final note, making the perfect final statement, and yet leaving me questioning all the moral ambiguities it brought up.
Grand Theft Auto V
Are you really surprised? I may have had the most fun in a game this year playing GTA V. We're talking pure fun. Sure, there were some interesting themes to consider: friendship, loyalty, greed, family, trust. But joining the three main protagonists—Michael, Trevor, Franklin—and being able to swap between them at a moment's notice was a thing of beauty. If I ever felt bored on a mission set of Franklin's, I'd be sure to find Trevor in some weird situation, sporting nothing but his undies, ready to hop in his trademark white-trash truck to go on some rampage or another.
The three characters you control also had very commanding personalities. They'd make their presence known. You could argue that Michael was the Sopranos-style character of the three, coming to terms with his gangster way of life as well as some of his past decisions while trying to live straight with a pretty shitty family. Trevor is just all out wacky, and perhaps the best character for it. He's predictably unpredictable, and always a clown when he's on screen. He keeps things interesting. Franklin is a good friend, and a fantastic driver, too. He's smart and loyal, and he's got some...interesting affiliations that help the story along. With the three combined, and their associates occasionally in the picture too, let's just say the dialogue was always entertaining.
San Andreas is a fun place to be, too. Flashy sports cars, barber shops where beards can inexplicably grow, lots of pedestrians to run over, and some fun activities, too. Not just side missions. Racing cars, walking your dog, playing tennis, driving a dune buggy around the desert. There was always something to do, somewhere to explore in this fictional city of California. GTA V kept me occupied for some time.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Another no-brainer. I even made a Kinja for it!
I didn't play the newest Animal Crossing, no. I LIVED it.
I woke up, checked in on my residents. Dug up some fossils and tended to my fruits. Shopped at the clothing store. Maybe did some renovations on my house and looked into some public works projects, see what my town needed that I could afford. At night I'd get to work on catching bugs, which any Animal Crossing player knows you can sell for lots of cash. I found ways of ensuring I would catch only the priciest of beetles. I raked in the cash and watched my bank account grow and grow.
I took screenshots. Lots of them. Conversations with your residents can be pretty silly, and you can decorate your house in some pretty strange ways. Murder room? Pornography studio? Not even Nintendo can contain us! I so enjoyed seeing what people have done with their towns and what kind of kooky townies might move in to mine.
I checked in with my Animal Crossing town several times a day when I was at the height of my obsession with it. It became a part of my lifestyle. Heck, even my 3DS itself is printed with iconic Animal Crossing prints. I fell in love with Animal Crossing in a way that most games can't bring out of me.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers was a tough ride.
I remember when I first loaded the game up. It seemed like the dual controls on the dual brothers was supposed to be a weird analogy for their relationship, and it kind of was. Left joystick controls one brother, right joystick controls the other one. At the start of the game you've got to use them in tandem to carry your dying father in a cart down a hill. I struggled so much with wrapping my brain around the controls in this situation. "What the shit is this," I probably yelled. But then I got the old man settled and set out on a journey, brothers running alongside each other, to save my father's life. And it wasn't about the controls anymore.
The two brothers carry each other, sometimes literally but always emotionally, up hills and across incredibly dangerous situations. This is the truest of family bonds. This is love. "This is what we'd be like," I probably thought, thinking about my two (very protective) older brothers. And that's exactly what this game is about. The bravery of two young brothers, bound to each other by a love so real and so trusting that any slip of the foot or momentary break in your side-by-side strut and my heart skips a beat. Their story feels real, with real motivations and real emotions. Real threats and very, very real circumstances.
We might not journey across mountains and fly on the tops of mythical creatures to do it, but many of us have walked incredibly painful paths to ensure the health and safety of our loved ones. And I love that a game reminds me of that. I love that I can play that.
Co-op at its best.
One night I stayed up for hours, way beyond my eyes could handle, still playing BattleBlock Theater with a friend. We laughed at the cat-guards—cat-guards! This game was made for me—and the funny little custom heads we unlocked at each level.
BattleBlock Theater gets tough, too. Which is great, because that's exactly what a platformer should be. With two people to tackle each jump, coming up with alternate methods and ideas, it's not just fun... It's challenging, but not overwhelming. The perfect balance. And, yeah, it's definitely fun to watch your friend fall to their death, laughing at their attempt before you do pretty much the same yourself. Laughing with and at each other is a constant when playing BattleBlock Theater.
The cinematic cutscenes are some of the funniest I've ever seen, too. The art is quaint but the narrator is hilarious. Belly chuckle hilarious.
Super Mario 3D World
Mario with cat suits! It's every bit of every Mario game wrapped up into one...and did I mention the cat suits? (I like cats. Dogs are cool, too, chill out.)
Nintendo definitely knows how to make a fun group experience out of their games. I had lots of fun powering through levels and placing perfectly-timed jumps without skipping a beat in Super Mario 3D World on my own, but playing with two or so (four is a little too much, I think) other people was a blast.
We'd often sabotage each other, cackling like children who feast on ice cream. The levels are creative and sometimes pretty difficult, even if a lot of the bosses and mini-bosses are a little on the easy side.
Easily one of my favorite, most cheerful and a little vengeful experiences of 2013.
This one's an interesting selection. Right after release, the response from people who'd played it was incredibly glowing. When the sparkly wide-eyes settled into normalcy again, the criticisms started to come out.
I agree with a lot of it. The biggest of which is criticizing BioShock Infinite as a shooter. Some of the vigors were great. Octopus arms made of water? A flock of murderous crows that—yeah, sure—maybe looked cooler than they were actually effective but were still pretty great? I also still had a lot of fun experimenting with combos and demolishing what sometimes felt like a never-ending wave of enemies that procured out of thin air. But it was by no means perfect. It often felt out of place and rushed and poorly constructed. Some enemies were definitely interesting, but I had more interest in exploring the villains, something that we never got to do too much of.
Which brings up the discussion of a story that is somewhat jumbled and messy. Though, yes, I wish we could have spent more time exploring people—like Daisy Fitzroy, Jeremiah Fink, Cornelius Slate, and, hey, Songbird!—I almost liked how messy the story was. It certainly made me sit down and think a lot about it.
BioShock Infinite was most fun after it ended. When I sat, staring at the credits roll while trying to piece every bit of information I could remember together. I tried to make sense of the timelines, of what it meant and where that put Elizabeth and Booker, all while still digesting the awesomeness of returning to Rapture. And then I took to the Internet. I chatted with friends, I looked at threads on forums. I recorded a podcast hashing out ideas and thoughts with fellow Kotaku person Chris Person.
So, I accept the criticism. But I still think BioShock Infinite is a pretty game in a gorgeous and morbid world with characters I wanted to know more about and a story and concept of physics that I can continue to get lost staring out windows thinking about.
Saints Row IV
It might not be as robust an open world as GTA V—and, to be sure, a LOT of the side missions felt like repeats of each other (and the radio stations aren't nearly as good)—but it's raunchier in a silly way that I can appreciate. It doesn't take itself seriously—if you couldn't tell by the costumes and tattoos and what not you can dress yourself up in—and it shines in that way.
I loved having super powers in a Matrixy Los Santos with foul-mouthed fellow superheroes by my side at all times. The dialogue is also next to none—you can tell these are people with history, with strong friendships who would lay down the outlaw law for you and take a bullet for you. Saints Row IV might brag about how over-the-top it is, and it may be marketed in that way, but my favorite thing about it is the people and how they interact with each other.
Assassin's Creed IV
Finally, an Assassin's Creed I want to play! The series lost a lot of its charm for me over the years, but naval battles and pretty islands are exactly what it needed. It still runs into a lot of the same problems that have plagued the series, but those moments where I can feel a Far Cry influence more than make up for it.
Whereas the previous few titles felt like they dragged their feet, I feel like I need to work to keep up with ACIV. Every moment is on the edge of the next, and there's still plenty to do if I don't feel like following through with the next mission.
ACIV is also happily a more effective stealth game. I had more fun than infuriating moments. Basically ACIV is the first in a while to get me excited about AC again.
Maybe it's because it was my first full experience with a Vita (I only just got one recently, after playing Tearaway for review on my boss's handheld) but Tearaway felt like a brand new kind of game.
It's rare to see a game so suited to the device it plays on as Tearaway is. Touching the rear pad to have my fingers poke through and move objects out of the way to clear a path, blowing on the Vita to blow wind into the game...I always felt like I could reach into my Vita and directly impact the little world I was invading and looking over.
And it's delightfully charming, too. Seeing the paper messenger I control through most of the game look up at me with curious eyes, and then see that I'm there—right there!—as the face in the sun as captured by the Vita's camera...what a moment. What a feeling.
Honorable mentions: Tomb Raider, Dead Rising 3, The Cave, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Contrast, Resogun.