Game of the Year discussions are serious business, though nearly every major release finds some way to either put a "Game of the Year" tag on their cover art or release a "Game of the Year" edition. So this list is about giving every game on it some sort of title.
As you look for ways to spend your Holiday Gift Cards, these are just a few games that would make great additions to your collection.
Best Racing Game
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
The idea of saboteur racing can be rather thrilling, but there has always been very little space made for those who do not carry credentials of an Italian plumber. The truth is that the Mario Kart franchise has held the title as best kart racing franchise for quite some time despite numerous attempts to push their way onto the scene, from Crash to LittleBigPlanet. Kart games provide plenty of party-environment fun and can offer some of the wackiest races.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is SEGA's most recent attempt into the kart arena, directly following up their 2010 release and it definitely does not disappoint. The roster, one of the game's best features, reaches far beyond the Sonic and Monkey Ball franchises to pull in classic characters from Shinobi, Jet Set Radio and Skies of Arcadia. This game proved that SEGA, much like Namco-Bandai *cough*, has a lot of untapped potential when it comes to a mash-up title. There are plenty of games this year that exceed the overall Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, but none that fit so squarely in the racing category. The game may not have the photo- realism of Gran Turismo 6 or the A.I. from Forza 5 with drivatar, but it is fueled by enjoyment and finds its place as one of the best karting games to date.
Best Indie Game
So many indie games are wrought with poor mechanics, designs and execution, but when truly remarkable indie games appear they can transcend budgets or preconceived notions of what makes a "video game." Gone Home is such an experience. It does not have fighting or puzzles, but it does tell a story through exploration. Gone Home topped my list, beating out Papers, Please because of its deep narrative. This title has the feel of a proper detective game while the player grasps to the role of a daughter who is simply looking clues about her missing family. In many ways this game should greatly appeal to those who favor interactive or visual novels.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Shin Megami Tensei IV is a let down; potential-ware at its finest. The game is, for all intensive purposes, an enjoyable experience with a lot of solid content. Unfortunately, it did not make the leap from good to great. Shin Megami Tensei IV continues with good combat, but the vast majority characters feel more like stock characters rather than well-rounded individuals. If you are wanting the better experience, Persona 4 Golden is a much better game. But if you've already delved deeply into the SMT universe, then Shin Megami Tensei IV will certainly be a good game to fill your RPG void.
Best Multi-Platform Title
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
The three-legged multi-platform race between Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin's Creed IV and Bioshock Infinite was bound to make an appearance. Bioshock Infinite had the better setting and Grand Theft Auto 5 had the better story (as well as exceeding one's lifetime quota of the N-Bomb), but Assassin's Creed IV was the better overall experience. All of these titles had minor flaws, but Assassin's Creed IV's issues with stealth did not cast as big of a shadow as one might expect. The beautiful imagery from the Caribbean translated quite well to gaming and the wealth of areas to explore will keep you interested for quite some time.
This pirate-centric Assassin's Creed offered robust characters and a great open world experience, making sure that the player would not come down with cabin fever. Black Flag is the first AAA title to feature remote play on the Playstation Vita and it performed perfectly, without an ounce of input lag. This installment legitimately has me looking forward to what is on the horizon for the franchise, though I can see Ubisoft tapping ninjas now that pirates have done well for them.
Lara Croft will always be an icon in the gaming industry, but the Tomb Raider franchise was in desperate need of a new direction. Tomb Raider offered some of the most visually stunning graphics which not only broke the mold for Crystal Dynamics, but really set the benchmark for multi-platform releases. Crystal Dynamics even went so far as to change the rules when it comes to Tomb Raider, removing the focus from her disproportionate polygons and shifting it to the development of Lara Croft's character. This Arrow-esque origin with a supernatural-heavy plot is arguably the best in the series, even if it abandons some of the core features from its past. The reboot of Tomb Raider certainly has some parallels to Uncharted, but thankfully there's enough room in the artifact business for both to comfortably exist.
Best Wii U Game
Pikmin 3 was a late pick-up, much later than it should have been. The Pikmin series has been a favorite of mine since the Gamecube days, but I never expected to be so completely blown away. This game follows the same concept as its predecessors, enslave the natives and force them to help you gather resources. The level designs are on par with the quality one would expect from Mario and the new Pikmin overlords are as likable as Captain Olimar or Louie.
The Wii U game pad is put to good use, but the crowning achievement for this game would have to be split-screen multiplayer â€œBingo Battleâ€ mode. This unique multiplayer mode pits players against each other in a race to scavenge to fill up your card, but you can easily sabotage your opponent by gathering the items your opponent needs, steal items mid-transport or out right attack. Pikmin 3 could have benefited from a healthy dose of online multiplayer, but this battle mode is unfortunately limited to local multiplayer.
Best RPG: Home Console Edition
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch had a lot of competition from role-playing games this year, but edged out games like Tales of Xillia, Shin Megami Tensei IV and Etrian Odyssey IV to claim a spot on my list of favorite games of 2013. Ni No Kuni is a testament to Level-5's tenacity as they collaborate with one of the most prolific animation studios in existence. Studio Ghibli, responsible for films like My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke, lent their artistic grace to this venture and helped breath life into a rather amazing experience.
Ni No Kuni follows the travels of Oliver and Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Fairies, as they embark on an other-worldly adventure. In many ways Ni No Kuni is a great fit for Studio Ghibli, a studio who is no stranger to including deep allegorical meanings in the layers of their animation. The player will likely question whether the journey is little more than a coping mechanism for Oliver, who appears to retreat into his imagination following tragedy.
This game also offers wonderfully unique gameplay alongside its spectacular animation and story. Ni No Kuni borrowed a few elements from Pokemon-style games, including monster 'capturing' for battling purposes and combined them with more traditional role-playing game elements. The many positive aspects of this game greatly out-shined its negatives, making this marriage between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli result in one of my favorite games of 2013.
Best RPG: Portable Edition
Fire Emblem: Awakening
The delegation of Fire Emblem: Awakening as my Role-Playing Game of The Year for Handheld Systems is disingenuous to its true place on my overall list. The Fire Emblem series is one of the few staples for Nintendo that rarely fails to truly impress and Awakening is no different. Fire Emblem: Awakening could stand alongside every game this year and have a legitimate case to take the Game of the Year crown for 2013.
The solid design and narrative stand in a class of their own for this genre, but tack in the deep character base with a healthy amount of character relationships and you have cornerstone for an epic title. The newest installment for Fire Emblem is so much more than just another strategy game, it shall be the point of reference from which to gauge all future strategy role-playing games.
Best Home Console Exclusive
The Last of Us
A â€œGame of the Yearâ€ post would not be complete without an appearance from Naughty Dog, master craftspeople of the video game experience. The Last of Us is a perfect example of why Naughty Dog remains in a class of their own when it comes to making video games. The game features two main characters, Joel and Ellie, who are tasked with traveling across the United States. The unlikely duo's journey allows them to encounter colorful individuals and places them in dangerous scenarios while exposing the audience to some of the most chilling imagery in gaming.
An expertly crafted narrative in The Last of Us chronicles the aftermath of an outbreak that threw society into disarray by focusing on the variety of methods individuals used to cope with such a dire situation. The Last of Us offers a gripping narrative that takes a look at the duality of human nature's brutality and the frailty of a human life. The survival aspect of The Last of Us is a key feature of the game play which forces the player to utilize a wealth of weapons in their arsenal, including stealth. Joel and Ellie are not in the game to construct some semblance of a life as we know it today, but instead their goal each day is to simply survive - by any means necessary.
Game of The Year
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The rocky start for the 3DS is well documented; the launch left much to be desired from Nintendo. Let's just say that had somebody suggested, at this point last year, that the majority of my personal top 10 list would originate from the 3DS, I'd have called them crazy. Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds not only stands atop the best games of 2013, but actually has me rearranging my â€œTop Zelda Gamesâ€ List.
It is still formulaic with boss fights, but the dungeons and the introduction of portrait Link are refreshing additions. The crowning achievement for this game, however, is that it dethrones Ocarina of Time from having the best music of the franchise. A Link Between Worlds features a fully orchestrated music from its prequel. This game exceeds expectations in every aspect and the reason it tops my Game of the Year list.
There were a number of stand-out games this year. The unsung heroes of this year like Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Beyond 2 Souls, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Metro Last Light and Dead Rising 3 may have tide us over while we searched for the next potential award winner, but there are simply not enough titles for me to make. As for the Game of the Year? Only three games continued to claw their way into my Game of the Year discussion. Two of those games can only be found on the 3DS. This is the universe's way of telling you that this year is the year to buy a 3DS and the first two games to purchase should be Fire Emblem and A Link Between Worlds.