The Last of Us (PS3 – 2013)
I’m a huge fan of the Uncharted series, so it’s not a huge surprise that a game from the same studio gets the top spot for game of the year. The engrossing story, the immersive world, the fun game play and amazing graphics and soundtrack put this game in a league of its own. I don’t think I’ve ever grown as attached to any character in any game as I did with Joel and Ellie. The Last of Us is a memorable experience that I will never forget.
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U – 2013)
Although there was a bit of apprehension from many people after this game debuted at E3 2013, I always thought it looked great. I played it briefly at the Best Buy E3 demo station and loved every second of it. When the game finally arrived I had a blast exploring each world and discovering new power-ups and techniques that never ceased to amuse. Although the game allows for up to 4 players at once, I found the game most enjoyable single player as I enjoy exploring every nook and cranny of each level. The graphics are bright, the lighting is extraordinary, the music is amazing, and the creativity is off the hook. If you own a Wii U you should own this game. If you don’t own a Wii U, you should for this game.
Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS – 2013)
I played this game when it released early in 2013 and it captivated me. I spent over 60 hours playing the game, evolving my characters, marrying them off and having kids that grew up to have enhanced powers of their parents. It’s the first Fire Emblem game that really sucked me in and I had a fantastic time playing through all of the main quests as well as the optional downloadable content. The animated cut scenes are beautiful to watch, and the voice acting and writing are exceptional. Don’t be afraid to play on easy if you think it’ll give you more enjoyment. That’s how I initially played and it made this Fire Emblem more approachable and in the long run, more fun. Of special note is the 3D in this game. It’s really nice and adds depth to each battle map. I loved how on some maps a bird would fly high above the map, almost coming out of the screen.
Far Cry 3 (360 – 2012)
Technically this game came out at the end of 2012, but this list is my favorite games that I played in 2013. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t expect much from Far Cry 3. I was given the game and sort of put off playing it until the spring. I’m not much of a fan of traditional first person shooters, but the open world environment and the different vehicles available to explore the massive island really make this game special. Plus there are secret areas and hidden treasures everywhere you go! I spent hours upon hours just finding secret stuff and it never got old. The story is pretty good, but it falls apart during some of the “boss” battles. Still, the graphics are pretty, and the skill tree level up system is very RPG-like and fun to customize your character. Far Cry 3 has made me a believer in this franchise and I hope part 4 isn’t too far off.
Lego City Undercover (Wii U – 2013)
This game is a huge surprise. I had played many of the Lego games before, but always thought they were pretty basic and to be honest I just played them for the occasional laugh and with very casual friends or family members. I was initially concerned that the main draw (2 player mode) was missing from this game. However, after booting the game up (and waiting through the long load times), I soon realized that this is the best Lego game every created, and one of the games I spent the most time playing all year long (over 70 hours). Much like Far Cry 3, part of the appeal of this game is exploring its vast world and discovering secret collectibles. And, man, are there collectibles in this game. I loved that just looking around the world I could spot a hidden block or secret character, but then I’d have to figure out how in the world to reach it. There’s a lot of platforming in this game, especially while exploring the main world. The fighting is fairly basic (as is the case in all Lego games), but that’s relegated to the main missions for the most part. Having a huge open world area to explore with a huge amount of vehicles at your disposal is a ton of fun. Plus, there are awesome Nintendo characters and references throughout the game to discover. This is easily one of the most overlooked games of the year. Give it a chance and I think you’ll be hooked.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS – 2013)
I’ve been a fan of this series since the first one came out on the GameCube. Animal Crossing is a great game to just sit back, relax and play. New Leaf added a ton of new features, like the ability to be the Mayor, which allows you to customize and build up your town how you see fit. I especially liked that you could set ordinances to match up with how you play (I used the clean ordinance the most so I didn’t have to pick weeds or water flowers). It’s easily the best Animal Crossing yet, with many more varieties of furniture and even the ability to customize different furniture, walls, floors, tiles, etc. My hour count on this game is probably the most of any game in 2013, but my interest has waned quite a bit over the past few months (ramped up again for Christmas to do a lot of the festivities). I highly recommend the game, but the sad truth is that the game needs more “end game” content, with new surprises and additions added in throughout the year. Games like Hey Day on the iPad do this, and my Mom (who has been a huge Animal Crossing fan in the past) even asked me why this Animal Crossing doesn’t update with new cool stuff like Hey Day does (which is a free to play game). I tend to agree. Although there’s a lot of content to love in Animal Crossing New Leaf, there’s some serious competition out there now and I feel the next iteration needs to take a good look at what others are doing and match or beat them.
Tomb Raider (PS3 – 2013)
I took a gamble on Tomb Raider as I hadn’t really enjoyed a game in the series since the PS One days. When it first debuted I thought it reminded me a bit of Uncharted, and in the end that’s exactly what it’s like. Although some could argue that Uncharted cribbed a bunch from the earlier Tomb Raiders. Still, the bottom line is this game is amazingly fun. The graphics are some of the best this generation, and the exploring aspect is addictive. There are some Metroid elements in the game that allow for some backtracking to unlock some new things. For example, early in the game there are nets hanging from ceilings or trees with crates in them. Turns out, after you get the fire arrows, you can then shoot them down (the ropes burn) and get the treasures inside the crates. The story is actually pretty good, and I love the different environments and locales I got to explore on the island. Is it good enough for me to double dip and get the PS4 edition later this month? I don’t know, but I might cave if I’ve got nothing else to play.
Need For Speed Rivals (PS4 – 2013)
This game looks gorgeous on the PS4. The environments are well realized, but it’s the special effects, like the snow, rain, wind, and lightning that really show off the graphics. I like the idea of playing 2 separate careers, one as a cop and one as a racer. Both have advantages as well as strengths and weaknesses. Overall I enjoyed the cop a bit more as I wasn’t constantly being chased around and I could take many of the challenges at my own pace. The online integration is pretty cool, with others joining your world and vice versa. I did play a lot of the game offline because I didn’t want interference from others. As has become standard in many racing games, I really love the speed zones and cameras that will immediately compare your time with that of your friends that own the game. It’s sort of an asynchronous competition that’s fun to try and beat your friends’ best records. I imagine the game plays similarly on 360 and PS3, but if you have a next-gen machine, that’s the way to go.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS – 2013)
As of this writing I haven’t beaten this game yet, otherwise it’s quite possible it might have moved up on my rankings. From what I’ve played (5 dungeons beat), I’m loving it. This direct sequel to A Link to the Past on the SNES does a fantastic job of mixing familiar locations with new game play mechanics. This time around Link can morph into a 2D painting and traverse on almost any surface. This opens up many secret areas items to discover. The dungeons I’ve played have all been varied and fun to explore. The new item system is inventive, and although I don’t have any problems with it at all, it’s weird going into a dungeon and not finding a brand new item to use (in many cases). I don’t think this change hurts the game in any way, but I can see how some might be disappointed. Two things that really stand out in this game are the graphics and the music. The game is 60 FPS, and as such it’s super smooth and fast. Everything moves at a speed that’s just not seen in Zelda. The 3D effect is the best I’ve ever seen in any game. The depth perception in the game is excellent and there are awesome little details to the animations that look great in 3D (like blocking a projectile with your shield sends the item upward out of the screen). Turn on that 3D while playing! And the music. Wow, is it ever great. You should wear headphones with this game. Much of the music is remixed and orchestrated from A Link to the Past, but there’s so much more instrumentation and variation from the old songs that it’s just amazing to listen to. I’m having a great time playing through the game and it’s definitely one that should be in your cartridge slot.
The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker HD (Wii U – 2013)
Is this the prettiest game of the year? Perhaps! It looks damn good in HD. Windwaker has always been one of my favorite Zelda games ever since it debuted on the GameCube back in 2003. The HD remake looks amazing on the Wii U, and the tablet integration makes changing weapons simple and looking at the map easy. The game is as fun as ever and there have been some game tweaks here and there to make it a little less tedious toward the end. I really enjoy sailing around and discovering new islands and exploring them. The dungeons are really well done in this game and there’s a lot of sidequest stuff that you can do to really immerse yourself in the game. If you’ve never played Windwaker or loved it on the GameCube, then for sure check out this ultimate edition. I would have liked to see some orchestrated songs and maybe some voice acting thrown in (Link doesn’t have to talk, but I’d be lying if I didn’t want the series to progress to the level of games like Skyrim, Darksiders, etc.). As is, it’s a great game made even better with a new coat of paint.
Dead Rising 3 (Xbox One – 2013)
This one surprised me. I needed something exclusive to play on my shiny new Xbox One. I never expected to be drawn into the world as much as I was while playing. The open world aspect did wonders for the game and how it plays. I love searching out for new blueprints and creating wacky weapons and vehicles. The game’s graphics don’t scream next-gen, but the amount of enemies it puts on the screen help set this game apart from the rest. I like the 2-player co-op mode and really just had a ton of fun chopping zombies up in every manner imaginable.
Picross e (3DS e-Shop – 2013)
The best puzzle game ever made (Picross DS) finally got a true sequel (none of the crappy Picross 3D stuff). Picross e, parts 1, 2, and 3 all released this past year and played the heck out of all of them. If you’re not familiar with Picross, it’s hard to explain, so you may want to check it out on YouTube. All you really need to know is the game is super addicting and will suck away hours of your life. At $5.99 a pop, you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS – 2013)
The Year of Luigi may be over, but Luigi’s Mansion will remain in my thoughts for a long time. The 3D effects are truly amazing for this handheld, and the game itself just oozes charm. Watching Luigi explore the various mansions while jumping and squirming in fear is simply adorable, and something you’d see in a Disney cartoon. The game is fun and plays great, but it’s a little long for a game of this type and the formula does become a little stale by the end of the adventure. Having said that, if you like to bust ghosts, this is definitely a game for you.