2013 could have been a dull gaming year for me. I don’t own a PS3, and I packed up my Xbox 360 early on. That left me with a Wii U and 3DS…. Great systems, but not known for their extensive libraries.
The announcements of the PS4 and Xbox One completely changed all of that, though. They convinced me that I would forgo the new consoles and build a gaming PC, which opened a door to all kinds of new possibilities.
My list reflects that story. Even with their insubstantial libraries, the Wii U and 3DS had some amazing games this year. My 360 got a little use at the beginning of the year before it was packed away, and although I played a lot of PC games, only a few of them actually came out this year.
Even though some great games didn’t make my list simply because I wasn’t able to play them, I’m more than happy with every game I’ve listed below. Hopefully some of the lesser publicized games will catch your eye.
10. Metro: Last Light – PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
To be honest, the only reason I played Metro: Last Light at all was because it came free with my new graphics card. I expected a decent corridor shooter with a good setting and good story, but it turned out to be much more than that.
With perfect pacing, cycling among no-combat story areas, stealth sections, and high intensity action sequences, Last Light kept me engaged till the end, and I enjoyed every minute of it, which hasn’t been the case for me with most modern shooters.
9. BioShock Infinite – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Although the narrative in Bioshock Infinite isn’t as hard-hitting as I was expecting, it still managed to hook me with its twisting science fiction plot devices. The combat is also intense and rewarding, at least on Hard, which is the difficulty setting I played from the start. Juggling among the various Vigors creates a hectic, fun combat experience that feels totally different from any other shooter.
BioShock Infinite has plenty of faults, but the core of it is still pretty great.
8. Rayman Legends – Nintendo Wii U, PC, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox 360
Rayman Legends is 2D platforming at its finest. The controls are tight, the levels are intentionally designed for fast-paced precision platforming, and the gameplay is varied enough to keep it feeling fresh despite its abundance of content.
I played Rayman Legends on the Wii U, and I couldn’t imagine playing it elsewhere. The levels that require the touch pad are just as hectic as the direct-control levels, and they provide an experience I’ve never had before. If you haven’t played this game and own a Wii U (all ten of you), don’t hesitate to pick it up.
7. Fire Emblem: Awakening – Nintendo 3DS
I tried to get into Fire Emblem with Radiant Dawn on the Wii and again with Sacred Stones on the 3DS Virtual Console, but I wasn’t pulled in until Awakening came along. Fire Emblem: Awakening is the kind of game that presents the series’ formula in such a way that veterans can enjoy it while newcomers aren’t left in the dust, without drastically altering the formula itself.
Every victory in this strategy RPG feels like a real accomplishment, especially if you can make it through a mission without losing any squad members to permadeath. The intensity of battle and rush of victory makes this game a joy to play throughout its lengthy campaign.
6. Pikmin 3 – Nintendo Wii U
After getting bored with New Play Control Pikmin 2 on the Wii before I finished it, I wasn’t expecting much out of its sequel. I then proceeded to do two 100% playthroughs of Pikmin 3 back to back.
Nintendo created something special with Pikmin 3. Dividing your attention among three different leaders changes what was once a slow-paced, relaxing game into a hectic experience that requires real planning, strategy, and timing. The opportunity to improve your skills makes it incredibly addicting in the best possible way.
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – Nintendo 3DS
I prefer the tight gameplay of 2D Zelda games over their counterparts, and A Link Between Worlds shows why. The overworld is fun and easy to navigate, the combat is simple and quick, and it never feels like a slog.
The reason this game isn’t higher on my list, though, is that the dungeons are too simple and easy for my tastes. I never felt challenged. But even with this caveat, A Link Between Worlds is still one of the best games of the year. Great little story, excellent music, refined gameplay. It’s an excellent game.
4. The Wonderful 101 – Nintendo Wii U
The Wonderful 101 feels like nothing I’ve played before. The very tactile action of drawing on the touch pad to set up attacks and combos adds a level of physical franticness that console games just don’t have.
Also, like Pikmin 3, improving your skills seems like a neverending challenge that gets more rewarding as you progress, which makes it positively addicting.
3. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U
Apparently I can’t get enough of the Assassin’s Creed series. I’ve loved every one of them, except Revelations, which I merely liked. Assassin’s Creed IV takes the best aspects of the series, refines them, and gives each one enough of the spotlight that none feels like an afterthought.
What sets Black Flag even further apart from its predecessors is that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s a video game, it knows it’s a video game, and it uses that knowledge to maximize the hours upon hours of fun.
2. Toki Tori 2 – Nintendo Wii U, PC
I’ll be preaching the gospel of Toki Tori 2 for years. It’s the Dark Souls of puzzle games, the most intelligently designed, most charming, most satisfying game of the year. It’s a masterpiece of game design. It teaches you how to navigate the world without any words or explicit instruction. Instead of leveling up your character, you level up your brain by gaining knowledge of how the world works in order to progress through the Metroid-style, interconnected world map.
Every game designer could take some cues from Toki Tori 2, and every gamer who has any interest whatsoever in puzzle platformers must play it.
1. Super Mario 3D World – Nintendo Wii U
As much as I loved Toki Tori 2, it can’t quite top the perfected platforming formula of Super Mario 3D World. I thought EAD Tokyo had reached their apex with Super Mario Galaxy 2, but 3D World takes it one step further by joining the creativity and variety of Galaxy with the simpler design of Super Mario 3D Land.
The result is an abstract version of Mario platforming that does away with the constraints of setting so that every idea can be on the table. Although it starts out pretty easy, the difficulty ramps up earlier than the last few 3D Mario games and culminates in the most difficult and most intensely fun platforming level ever created.
In a year when two consoles were transitioning to the next generation and another was struggling to gain any footing, I would have guessed that the selection of games would have suffered as a result. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. Here’s to hoping that the next generation continues the trend.
Now, back to my 200th attempt at that final level in Super Mario 3D World. 201, 202, 203….