I’ve maintained since about the time of E3 that 2013 would be the best year for games since the 1990s, even if you subtracted the two system launches last month from consideration, and it has not disappointed in the slightest. Recent years have seen gaming start a move toward a much more comfortable and familiar state for those of us raised on 8- and 16-bit material, and 2013 was more of a leap than just another step on the way. That isn’t to say that classic gaming was all this year had to offer, just that its presence greatly enriched the selection and sets a great tone – hopefully with some real momentum – going into 2014.
10. NHL 14 – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
#10 on my list isn’t one of those classics, but was yet another in a series of advancements toward the holy grail that is a perfect sports simulation. NHL 14 continues playing a great game of hockey while developing its sense of realism both on and off the ice. We still aren’t to the point of playing a full 60-minute game of hockey with realistic stats and results all around, but Sean Ramjagsingh and his team continue to work very hard to condense the entire sport of hockey onto a little plastic disc, and their efforts are good for the #10 spot on my list.
9. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – PlayStation 3
As one of the biggest JRPG proponents around, I’ve been kind of turned off by the experimental nature the genre has taken this generation, and that may be the main reason I didn’t love Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch enough to put it higher than #9 on my Game of the Year list. Despite that, I’m still a huge fan of Level-5’s work, and their game design talent went wonderfully alongside Studio Ghibli’s artistic contributions. A real shame about the localization, though…
8. Resogun – PlayStation 4
With #8, we get the first appearance of a true old-school title on my list, as well as the first appearance of a next-gen title. Resogun was the surprise of the PlayStation 4 launch, and was expertly delivered into everyone’s hands courtesy of the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection and the 30-day trial included with all PS4s. Resogun combined elements from Defender, Galaga, Einhander, Gradius, Space Invaders, and many other shmups from years gone by to form something strangely unique and original. Despite some real heavy hitters on board for the PS4 launch, Resogun is the one that really has that intangible element about it that keeps you coming back time and time again.
7. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
If I had not given up on the English-language release of Phantasy Star Online 2 ever happening, I wouldn’t have ever found my way to my #7 pick, which I bought out of pure boredom the night it came out after talking to some friends in Japan. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was nowhere near my radar while it was in development, and I had no experience with the apparent mess that was the original release. What I found in the end was exactly what I was looking for in an MMORPG, a refreshed take on the World of Warcraft formula buried under piles of old-school Final Fantasy familiarity. For quite some time, it even did a great job of prying me away from my eventual #2 selection.
5. Forza Motorsport 5 – Xbox One / Gran Turismo 6 – PlayStation 3
My unwillingness to pick a winner between Forza Motorsport 5 and Gran Turismo 6 for my #5 spot was the cause of some minor turbulence in the GotY selection process (though having seen the results, I’m not exactly sure why). You can’t go wrong with either racing simulation. What Forza 5 lacks in content, it makes up for in genre-expanding ideas, brilliantly simulated handling, and top quality presentation courtesy of Top Gear. Meanwhile, Gran Turismo 6 is a feast of content, boasting over 1,200 cars, over 70 courses which include the great GT originals from over the years, all wrapped up in a full return-to-its-roots Gran Turismo game. This year saw GT and Forza go head-to-head, and they both gave a great account of themselves.
4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – Nintendo 3DS
You know it’s a loaded year for games when Nintendo finally makes the Zelda game I’ve been calling for since the late 90s, and it’s only good for #4 on my list. Make no mistake, though, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds marks the perfect change of direction for the Zelda franchise, and going into 2014, I can only hope that this new (old) formula makes a successful transition to the series’ console iterations, because that would mark the start of a much-needed renaissance for one of gaming’s most storied brands. Speaking of which…
3. Super Mario 3D World – Wii U
When Super Mario 3D Land came out on the 3DS two years ago, I was pretty outspoken about the fact that it was the game that should’ve launched with the Nintendo 64 in place of Super Mario 64 way back in 1996. It would’ve been just as ambitious at the time, but it also made no compromises with the series’ longest-running conventions, making for much more of a Mario-style game. In 2013, my #3 pick goes to Super Mario 3D World, which successfully brought 3D Land’s gameplay to the console format while also making the Wii U home to two of the greatest games in the Mario series. All this just over a year after the system’s launch. Nintendo, keep ’em coming. You’ve got a good thing going here.
2. Dragon’s Crown – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita
If you couldn’t tell from my review, I loved Dragon’s Crown. The return to the four-player co-op beat-em-up was a long time coming, after only having been played with a little bit in passing this generation in the form of Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network retro downloads. Dragon’s Crown is proof of the fact that there is still plenty of value in gaming’s longest-running genres, making it good for the #2 spot on my list (and causing me to constantly flip my top two games right up to the last minute). Oh, don’t forget about the upcoming patch that will kick the level cap up to 255 and introduce a new random-generated dungeon to the game. That ought to breathe even more life into what was already a long-lasting title.
1. Fire Emblem: Awakening – Nintendo 3DS
For my #1 pick, suffice it to say Nintendo had a banner year in 2013. Both the Mario and Zelda franchises had real high-point releases, the Wii U finally started seeing a good flow of software toward the end of the year, and…wait, what am I forgetting…? Oh yes, Fire Emblem saw the release of the aptly-named Awakening way back in February. Not only did Awakening contain one of the most memorable casts in the entire franchise, it opened the series up to wider audiences in a positive way, simply by letting players opt out of the permanent death mechanic that has long been a Fire Emblem mainstay. DLC was also implemented responsibly, adding a lot to the game with every offering, and transforming Awakening from an already-massive title into something we can all come back to for many years to come. This all makes for nothing less than the best Fire Emblem to date, and what I have to declare the 2013 Game of the Year. Congratulations to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems for this breakthrough title.
Thank you all for reading. Here’s to a great 2013 and looking forward to what’s to come next year.