I know people like to say that 90% of any given artform sucks, but when it came time to make a list of my favourite games of the year, I found almost the opposite to be true. Sure, there were plenty of absolute clunkers (Die!Die!Die! and Young Justice: Legacy spring to mind), but for every one of those I played, there were at least two or three games that it genuinely pained me to cut. In the end, however, I decided to keep things simple: what games filled me with the most joy? Probably not the most scientific way of doing things — and even then, there were still plenty of tough choices (Tomb Raider, Knack, and Stick It To The Man, I'll miss you all) — but in the end, here were the 13 games I enjoyed the most in 2013:
13. Divekick (PC, PS3, PS Vita – 2013)
I'm generally not a fan of fighting games; they're too complex, and I don't have the time or the patience to memorize endless combos. Divekick does away with all that: one button to jump, one button to kick, and every match is over after one hit. But don't mistake it for just some giant fighting game community in-joke — while it has plenty of those (and they all flew way over my head), it's also incredibly easy to pick up, even if you're a button-mashing know-nothing like me.
12. Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable (PS Vita – 2012)
Lousy graphics? Yep. Repetitive missions? Of course. Ridiculously stupid? Obviously. So much fun? That should go without saying. EDF! EDF! EDF!
11. Doki-Doki Universe (PS3, PS4, PS Vita – 2013)
A little bit Little Big Planet, a little bit Scribblenauts, and so, so cute. Not the cutest game of the year, of course (that comes later on this list), but everything about this game still made my heart swell with joy.
10. The Walking Dead – Season One (PC, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360 – 2012/2013)
Exception #1-A to my "Games That Filled Me With Joy" rule. In fact, I don't think any other game this year made me feel quite as uncomfortable as TWD did. But neither that nor the fact the Vita version had the same lousy loading times as seemingly every other version diminished my affection for the game. It drew me in immediately, and didn't let up until the end of the very last chapter.
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS – 2013)
Going back 25 years, I've never liked a Zelda game before. Somehow, A Link Between Worlds changed all that. I'm not sure what it is about the game — maybe it's the lovely visuals, maybe it's the relative lack of grinding required to get objects, maybe it just got me in the right frame of mind — but something about ALBW just grabbed me and compelled me to keep moving forward.
8. Bit.Trip Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien ((PC, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360 – 2012/2013)
Every single time I finished a level in Runner 2, I'd let out a breath I didn't even realize I'd been holding in. It didn't matter whether I was playing on PS3 or Vita, the action is just so constant, it's literally enough to make you forget to breathe. Couple that with the bright, popping visuals and an uplifting soundtrack, and it's easy to see why people could fall in love with this game.
7. Kung Fu Rabbit (iOS, Android, Wii U, PS Vita – 2012/2013)
Kung Fu Rabbit may have had short levels, obvious goals and a cute visual style, but don't let any of that fool you: it was actually one of the tougher platformers I played this year. It was also, however, one of the most addictive, as evidenced by the hundreds and hundreds of times I died in pursuit of finishing 100% of the game.
6. Bioshock Infinite (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2013)
Bioshock Infinite didn't quite fill me with joy; rather, it left me with a sense of awe, and of wonder. The gorgeous cities in the clouds, the neat usage of modern music in a decidedly non-modern context, that crazy ending…all of it just blew me away. Now, about that alleged Bioshock Vita game…
5. Stealth Inc. (PC, OSX, PS3, PS Vita, Android, iOS – 2011/2013)
Call it Stealth Inc., call it Stealth Bastards, call it whatever you want. Just make sure you play it, because it's insanely fun. It's also insanely hard (I can't remember how many times I wanted to fling my Vita across the room, sure that a level was impossible to beat), and it takes a page out of the Portal 2 book and delights in making fun of players. And, of course, the reward for beating the game is…well, play it and find out, but be forewarned that it's morbidly hilarious.
4. Saints Row IV (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2013)
If I were to describe my perfect game, it'd probably look a lot like Saints Row IV. You're an insanely overpowered superhero, you've got a wide-open world to play with, and you can cause all the destruction and mayhem you could possibly want. I know some people take issue with the game's thoroughly juvenile sense of humour, but those people, quite frankly, are poopyheads. If you can't appreciate the simple joys of running at super-speeds, gliding off the top of skyscrapers and being able to punch cars until they explode, then there's something seriously wrong with you, because it's freaking awesome.
3. Thomas Was Alone (PC, OS X, PS3, PS Vita – 2012/2013)
I don't think I played any games this year that did more with less than Thomas Was Alone. I mean, the game is pretty much a platformer boiled down to the most basic elements imaginable: it's blocks jumping from platform to to platform, and each block can only move in one particular way. Yet throw in an uplifting soundtrack and witty narration, and suddenly you have a game that's guaranteed to brighten your day. I never thought I'd care about the emotional well-being of a bunch of squares and rectangles, but, improbably, Thomas Was Alone knows how to hit exactly the right notes to make that happen.
2. Tearaway (PS Vita – 2013)
Just pure joy from beginning to (the far-too-soon) end. And not just gaming joy, either; I'm talking real-life joy that kept me grinning and feeling happy the whole way through.
1. Hotline Miami (PC, OSX, PS3, PS Vita – 2012/2013)
And here's exception #1-B to my list of "games that brought me joy" — and good thing, too. With Hotline Miami's over-the-top amounts of violence and gratuitous (albeit 8-bit) gore, I think you'd have to be a complete psychopath to get joy from it. Still, there's no denying that it's incredibly well done. And believe me, it's something I thought I'd be denying going into it — after all, everything about Hotline Miami is the exact opposite of what I usually like. The violence and the gore; the hip, '80s-influenced soundtrack; the crazy difficulty; the overall 8-/16-bit GTA vibe…seriously, that sounds like a list of everything I don't want in a game. But then I played it, and I was instantly hooked.
See, beneath that gritty neon exterior, Hotline Miami is actually an incredibly hard puzzle game. A puzzle game featuring shotgun blasts to the face, dogs ripping you apart, and giant gushers of blood, true, but a highly addictive puzzle game nonetheless. Couple that with the fact the short levels and perfect use of the touchscreen make it perfect for the Vita, and it's no wonder why Hotline Miami is my favourite game of 2013.