2013 was quite a memorable year in my book. A landmark year, I might add. Much of its import comes from the fact that two new consoles launched, officially beginning the next generation, but don't let that distract you from the fact that the last generation had a huge send-off with games that were arguably some of the best we'd see yet. The rise of 3DS and Vita also proved that handheld gaming was very much alive when many thought they'd be done in by the mobile market. Last but not least, the indie scene continued to grow in leaps and bounds, with more games changing and challenging our perception of the kinds of experiences they can provide.
Amidst all of this, however, a number of games in particular managed to come out on top as the most memorable for me, providing unforgettable experiences and, most importantly, capturing my imagination. Here are my top ten games of 2013.
10. LEGO City Undercover
Never in a million years did I think a LEGO game with a wholly original cast, plot, and world could outdo licensed titles based on the likes of Batman, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, but that's exactly what TT Fusion did with LEGO City Undercover. They delivered the largest open-world LEGO game to date, the likes of which was a ton of fun to explore; I've already put in some 40 hours doing the side-quests and finding golden bricks. Chase McCain and the rest of the cast were also quite memorable, along with a legitimately funny script and plot that doesn't take itself too seriously; the latter of which also ends in a pretty spectacular fashion. All of this resulted in what I believe is easily the best LEGO game yet.
Rain is one of the more interesting games I've played this year due to the nature of its plot. It presents itself as almost a bedtime story of sorts, yet is actually much darker and foreboding in atmosphere. There's a great sense of melancholy to it all, with the sinister invisible being known as The Unknown stalking two children through the rainy night, and a real sense of dread and urgency that comes over you when it's close by. The feeling only escalates in the second half when you feel an impending sense of doom and hopelessness by discovering the fact that the night may never end. But more than anything else, it's the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and the rainy cityscape atmosphere that will really stick with me for some time to come.
8. The Wonderful 101
No one does action games like Platinum does, and after playing The Wonderful 101, I'm even more confident of that. Partly a satire of the superhero genre and other heroic team-ups like Super Sentai/Power Rangers, The Wonderful 101 is bombastic and relentless in how over-the-top and absurd the action can get. While the beat 'em up and platforming nature of the normal levels is a lot of fun, much of the game's memorable moments come from huge, splashy, and crazy boss battles that are a blast to play through. It's exciting, exhilarating, and one of the most entertaining games I've experienced all year long.
7. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Heart of the Swarm's story had a lot riding on it after Wings of Liberty's cliffhanger ending, and though there are some plot points I wasn't crazy about, it's still very much a worthy sequel. I had a hard time imagining who Kerrigan would be talking to or associating with throughout her campaign since the Zerg weren't exactly known as a chatty bunch before this title, but to my surprise, Blizzard came up with some pretty interesting and unique new characters that not only expand the Zerg as a species, but also give them some much needed characterization and purpose. Of course, the gameplay is as sharp as ever, especially with some great new units that really round out the three warring factions nicely. Now let's just hope we don't have to wait another 2.5 years for Legacy of the Void to bring an end to this trilogy.
6. The Wolf Among Us - Episode 1: Faith
Most people may scoff at the thought of putting one episode of an incomplete episodic series on a GOTY list but that's just how good The Wolf Among Us is. Telltale is truly a master of their craft these days, and they successfully managed to bring to life the world of Fables in such a way that exceeds even The Walking Dead in my opinion. The characters themselves may be fairytale characters and creatures, but in an ironic twist, the themes and situations that are tackled in the story make them seem more real and relatable than most reality-based characters in the biggest AAA games. Interestingly enough, we could also actually see The Wolf Among Us make my 2014 GOTY list if the story holds up well in the end. Now hop to it, Telltale, and give us Episode 2 already!
5. Pikmin 3
I didn't expect to like Pikmin 1 so much when I played it for the first time over the summer, but there was an unusual charm and uniqueness about it I hadn't experienced since playing Chibi Robo back in 2006. It goes without saying then, that Pikmin 3 blew my expectations out of the water when it finally arrived. Best described as a strategy-exploration game, Pikmin 3 boasts some of the best level environments and atmospheres I've ever played through, each one unique and vastly different from the last, and it also makes use of the new Pikmin in clever ways. It's unfortunate that this may be the last entry in the series we see for some time since this is easily one of the best examples of Nintendo's timeless creativity and magic at work.
4. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers is this year's Journey, in a sense. There are key parallels between both games - both are short, take you on a grand journey, and deliver some pretty impactful moments along the way, but for different reasons. In Brothers, the key theme is the sense of each brother relying on the other, and what they experience on their journey not only gives you a sense of awe and grandeur, but also tests that relationship to the brim, resulting in one of the most emotional climaxes of the year. It's not only one of the most beautiful games as well, but one of the best examples of the sum of its parts paying off in leaps and bounds by the end. Oh, and the dual analog stick scheme for controlling each brother is one of the most unique and well-constructed game designs I've experienced as well. Bravo, Starbreeze.
3. Super Mario 3D World
Admittedly, I actually thought Nintendo EAD Tokyo was running out of ideas when we got our first glimpse of Super Mario 3D World earlier in the year, but now I know better than to doubt them. What they created with 3D World is truly special, resulting in what could inarguably be called the best Mario game since classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 and World, thanks to new ideas like the cat suit, a revamped overworld, and some of the best level design this generation. It's one of the only games I tried to play to absolute completion (beyond the main game) this year, and currently the best reason for anyone to own a Wii U.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
As lauded as it is, I was never the biggest fan of A Link to the Past. There, I said it. Shocking, right? It's a good game and all, but I've always preferred Link's 3D adventures over it. Needless to say, then, I wasn't the most enthusiastic about A Link Between Worlds when it was announced, but once again, Nintendo managed to recapture the magic and glory of what made the Zelda series great in the first place by opening up the world and giving you more freedom than ever.
It also offers the best and most entertaining dungeons the series has seen in some time; there really is a certain quality of Zelda that only 2D games seem to be able to reflect. In the end, I tried to see everything I could in A Link Between Worlds; I didn't want to leave when it was over, and even now I'm excited to start a new game. If that isn't the mark of an amazing game, I don't know what is.
1. Fire Emblem Awakening
When it comes to numero uno, there's only one title I spent more time with than any other this year. Fire Emblem Awakening proves that Intelligent Systems is absolutely one of the very best developers Nintendo has; the amount of value, detail, depth, and overall quality in the game is staggering, which includes beautifully-rendered anime cutscenes; great voice-acting; gorgeous, detailed environments; top-notch music; a lengthy, epic campaign; and more.
They also managed to take the series to the next level with the addition of the pairing system, adding an additional element of strategy to play, along with an expanded support system that includes the ability to marry characters (and produce children) and the ability to add additional context to the story with the growth of relationships between different characters. Don't be fooled; the gameplay may seem simple, but with all of the variables it throws into the equation, Fire Emblem: Awakening is deceptively deep - possibly the deepest experience yet on 3DS, and I'll continue playing and replaying it for some time to come. For all this and more, there's no question that it's my Game of the Year for 2013.