I promise, there is a good reason for this not coming out last year.
There were a fair amount of excellent titles I didn’t get to touch until December or January, and I had to give them some time to see if they earned a spot on this year’s list.
Getting into fighting games consumed a large chunk of my 2012. As less of those came out in 2013, I got to spend some more time exploring older titles in my “I Suck At Fighting Games” series. I even went to my first tournament! It was incredibly fun, and I learned that I’m not as bad as I thought…but still pretty dreadful.
I didn’t get my hands on any new consoles or handhelds, but 2014’s lottery numbers are looking pretty good.
Luckily for me, a ton of great games came out on the few platforms I do own. So here’s fifteen games that made me smile. Not to play favorites here, but these are in order from worst to best, and those “Honorable Mentions” are really just there to keep up appearances.
I’m joking. Play them all!
I enjoyed these five games, but not quite enough to stick them on my list. I still recommend them all.
Why I Like It: Grant Kirkhope’s soundtrack is excellent. The game has the sense of whimsy of old Mickey Mouse cartoons. The platforming is challenging, but doesn’t get overly difficult. Great difficulty curve overall.
Why It Didn’t Make The List: It’s a little short. Some of the bosses cause unfair deaths due to screwing up the camera.
Why I Like It: Fantastic art style, especially the character design. The facial animation is great! The story is paced so well, and built up in a way that had me almost begging to know the secrets of the world. The ending is poignant and stuck with me, even with all the nutso sci-fi stuff going on.
Why It Didn't Make The List: Just like Bioshock 1, I rarely found the combat enjoyable. They limit the salts so much that I couldn’t experiment with vigors as much as I wanted to. You end up shooting bullet sponge enemies with a small variety of guns, which got boring early on. The boss fights and encounters against larger enemies like Handymen were thoroughly frustrating.
Why I Like It: Visually gorgeous. They successfully build up the characters and the story without any actual dialogue. The rope-swinging section was one of my favorite segments of the year. They use the mechanics of the game to build up to an ending sequence so powerful that it made me cry.
Why It Didn't Make The List: I got hit by a pretty bad glitch that forced me to restart a chapter. The controls never felt 100 percent natural and even got frustrating at some points.
Why I Like It: It has a great training mode, good tutorials, and individual character tutorials to ease in fighting game newbie like me. There’s a good difficulty curve that lets you mash early on but rewards you a lot for learning actual combos. I mean it REALLY rewards you, as a good punish can chew up 50% of your opponent’s lifebar in an immensely satisfying combo. The cast is huge but somehow the characters all play uniquely. It kept me thinking about new combos to try or teams to experiment with, even when I wasn’t playing it.
Why It Didn't Make The List: The game came out in 2012, so I legally cannot add it. The gem system is overly complex, and the online mode seems to lag even in ideal situations.
Why I Like It: The dynamic score that changes in response to the action is pretty much the coolest thing ever. My favorite song is on the soundtrack. Sometimes, it’s really funny. The acting is top notch. Trevor Phillips is an unforgettable character. The heist missions are incredible. The visuals are far beyond any other game, and I love driving around just to look at stuff. When you put on flip-flops, you can see them flop and flip on your feet as you walk.
Why It Didn’t Make The List: GTA Online is not good. Some of the humor is really forced and obnoxious. There’s too much boring travel between missions and the fast travel options are inconvenient. Planning heists hints at having more depth than it actually has, which makes the heists a bit less impressive.
#10- Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - Ubisoft Montreal - PC/Playstation Network/Xbox Live Arcade
Paintings of crying clowns and dogs playing poker… those are incredible. What I did? That’s just the job.
I feel like this game exists because someone wasn’t paying attention. Why else would Ubisoft, the megacorp with 45 minute credits in their games, greenlight a weird spinoff of one of their biggest titles?
Regardless of how it came to be, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an excellent refinement of the game that was dangerously close to becoming my Game of the Year in 2012. It doesn’t totally reinvent the Far Cry 3 mechanics, but it does make everything a little bit better. The island is large, but the movement speed is amped up to the point where sprinting around is preferable to driving cars. The weapons aren’t radically different, but the new animations and modifications make them feel new. The soundtrack has gone from “totally lame” to “amazing 1980s synth rock”. The outpost takeover system has been totally turned on its head by allowing you to trick giant laser-shooting dragons into doing the dirty work for you.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon even replaces the deathly serious vibe of its predecessor with an absurd sense of humor and tons of 80s movie jokes. Simplifying the upgrade system actually improves the game, so you don’t have to spend too much time in menus now.
Despite the millions of dollars that probably went into creating Blood Dragon, it feels like a pet project of some people who really love 80s action flicks. Compared to Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon is funnier, more focused, and adds good things while stripping away most of the flaws.
And you can shoot a dragon with Robocop's gun.
#9- Device 6 - Simogo - iOS
The solution ‘is my ex’. Aren’t they usually the problem to begin with?
A hot gaming debate topic of 2013 was “what is a video game?” Certain people began to shun certain titles for being “not-games” and disqualify them from receiving recognition. I bring it up because Device 6 is far from a traditional video game. If you’re opposed to these “not-games”, you might want to skip this one.
However, if you’re looking for one of the best games on the App Store, you must check this one out.
It is a novel/puzzle game that relies heavily on its format; this game would NOT work if it were not on tablets and smartphones. You must constantly rotate your phone as the character’s movement is communicated through text that goes upside down, sideways, spirals, and cascades downwards. The puzzles are tricky but never overly difficult. You just have to pay attention, listen carefully to clues given, and be willing to backtrack from time to time.
I was continually impressed by how well Device 6 uses its format as a mobile game, both in navigation and the way it pokes fun at mobile game tropes. It also nails that feeling of relief that great puzzle games have, where you finally find the solution after chasing down clues and following red herrings. It's the only game I played last year that had me scribbling codes and maps on paper.
Device 6 wins for being a great puzzle game and utilizing its format in a very innovative fashion.
#8- Call of Juarez: Gunslinger - Techland - PC/Playstation Network/Xbox Live
I didn’t quite get what he was sayin’, but there was definitely snakes.
There are two things that make Call of Juarez: Gunslinger special. The first is the deliberately old-school design. The levels are extremely linear, there’s no multiplayer, and the weapon selection is tiny. All the focus is on shooting dudes as quickly as possible to get a high score.
That’s right, those numbers flying off of enemies aren’t hit points, they’re just POINT points.
The most modern aspect of the game is a really simple leveling system, but the solid shooting and the fun of chasing a high score keeps this surprisingly long game entertaining through the end. Plus, it has the best gun duels since Red Dead Revolver.
The second part is the story. Silas Greaves’ narration is humorously unreliable, as he exaggerates parts of his life to make them more exciting. This leads to ridiculous moments like the terrain transforming in front of your eyes as you play, taking down small armies of enemies without getting a scratch, having shootouts with ghosts, and copious slow motion explosions. The way the game changes based on Greaves’ tall tales makes Gunslinger less realistic but a lot more fun than any other Call of Juarez game.
It’s not the deepest shooter in the world, but sometimes Swiss Cake Rolls hit the spot better than a tiramisu.
#7 - Ridiculous Fishing - Vlambeer - Android/iOS
We need to talk about the money you’re spending on hairdryers. Is it ‘hairdryer’ or ‘hairdrier’. I never know.
Ridiculous Fishing is a silly game.
You catch over 50 fish on your line at once, fling them up into the air, and blow them up with firearms as RPG-esque combat music plays. Between rounds of fishing, you talk to your friends (who are mostly birds) on Twitter and buy fishing implements like toasters and wizard robes.
It is also the most addictive game I’ve played on iOS. Even with the tools to make the job easier, your progress is only limited by your skill. It compelled me to get better at avoiding fish, getting deeper into the sea and catch more expensive, stranger looking fish. Each round is just a few minutes long and the pull to improve my fishing skills kept me going back again and again for one more try. I still haven’t reached the bottom of every stage or bought everything in the store (I’ve almost got the Oil Drilling Permit!), so I’m still playing it. It’s ridiculously silly and ridiculously fun.
#6 - State of Decay - Undead Labs - Steam/Xbox Live Arcade
Your Honor, I must object to opposing counsel’s attempts to chew on my head.
Like all good zombie fiction, the biggest obstacles in State of Decay are rarely related to dispatching the undead. The horde always poses a threat, but what will ultimately doom you in State of Decay is running out of stuff. You have to build and fortify a small community of survivors and keep them supplied with food, medicine, and weapons to defend themselves.
The simplest way I can describe the game is “overwhelming”. It’s a very complex game that trusts you to figure things out, rarely holding your hand. As you take in more survivors, your needs become larger. Supplies thin out, forcing you to take longer, more dangerous supply runs to get necessities. Sometimes your home base begins to degenerate, forcing you to uproot the community and move to a safer place.
The game demanded my full attention while I was playing, because if you get distracted for a minute a zombie can quickly take you down, or a friend who is dying from the flu could become a lost cause because you took too long to get medicine. State of Decay throws a ton of micromanagement into your lap along with the basic task of not getting eaten by zombies, and I loved how survival became increasingly complex and difficult.
There’s a fantastic implementation of permadeath and character building. You can switch between a large number of playable characters, but are rewarded for sticking with one and naturally building up their stats. For example, using a lot of Edged weapons unlocks special Edged attacks, and lets that character kill zombies with fewer strikes. If you run a lot, your character improves at Cardio and can sprint longer distances. When an upgraded character dies, it hurts. All of that time you spent improving and customizing someone is gone for good, and your game just became more difficult as you have to play as someone less experienced.
State of Decay lacks the flashy elements or emotional punch of other zombie games, but it’s a fantastic simulator of life after the apocalypse. Most zombie games make the zombies themselves the main threat, but this one managed to make running out of food just as stressful.
#5 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - Ubisoft Montreal - PC/PS3/PS4/Wii U/Xbox 360/Xbox One
“What is your true name, rogue?”
“It’s, ah…Captain Pissoff!”
Well, this is a pleasant surprise. After the trainwreck of Assassin’s Creed III derailing my interest in the series, Black Flag puts it back on track.
Not only is it significantly better than III, Black Flag ends up being the best game in the entire series. The framing device of it being a video game production is genius, as it allowed the developers to drop more of the realistic elements to make the game more fun. They even take a few shots at themselves in the story with a handful of enjoyable, jokey easter eggs…like describing Brotherhood bad guy Rodrigo Borgia as a “family man”.
Any wrinkles in the free-running system from III are totally ironed out, the combat is easy but engaging, and there is an uncountable amount of sidequests to complete and secrets to find. Like all great open-world games, there’s always something new to do around the corner, and the abundant fast travel options make sure you can always just warp near the next main mission if you want.
I’ve always enjoyed that Assassin’s Creed is an unashamedly complex series with multiple interlocking systems. It works in this game because they clearly explain what everything is for. The menus are simple and easy to use, and the display lets you know what Kenway is physically capable of at all times: no more randomly jumping off of buildings!
Sailing the enormous open world just to discover new areas and admire the scenery was a delight. I got the same feeling that the sailing in The Wind Waker gave me years ago, and its been a long time since I could compare something to my favorite Zelda game favorably.
I’d be fine if future games in the series continue down this path, exploring different eras in history even if they don’t tie in to the Grand Plot of Assassin’s Creed. Black Flag took everything good from the series and jammed it all together, while opening up tons of possibilities for future titles. It’s smooth sailing from here.
#4 - Rogue Legacy - Cellar Door Games - PC
Even the most valiant heroes can suffer from irritable bowels.
Every time I run through the castle in Rogue Legacy, I think “Let’s try again”. I could get 800 gold pieces, discover the new boss and almost take him down and I still think “that wasn’t great. One more run”.
This began leading to playing the game until the sun was rising, continually saying “all right, I’ll do better next time. One more”.
The upgrade system in Rogue Legacy slows down midway through the game, but I still felt like I was constantly progressing on each run. If I did nothing on one run but find a couple weapon blueprints and die? Good, but I’ll do better next time. Just discovered the boss location but I’m not strong enough to beat it? I’ll be ready next time.
Once I threw away my foolish pride and ambitions of clearing the game without dying, Rogue Legacy hooked me. The controls feel great, which lets them get away with some truly devious level design. Some of my favorite moments of Rogue Legacy were going into a room full of impossible looking traps, analyzing it for a couple minutes, and running through it without getting hit.
Now, I’ve got the castle locked and am currently on my fifth attempt against this boss. I’ve got it this time, I promise. One more run.
#3 - Tomb Raider - Crystal Dynamics - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
I hate tombs.
Tomb Raider doesn’t make a very strong first impression. You start with scripted, linear sequences littered with quick time events, and the story is going nowhere.
Then, around the time you get a climbing axe, the game does a total 180. Quick time events are quietly shoved into the corner and replaced by extremely satisfying third person combat. The cover system is so genius that I hope every third person shooter copies it from now on. Lara naturally crouches behind cover and shoots over it when you aim, which is a HUGE improvement over games where you hit a button to lock to cover.
I’m serious, more games need to use this system.
Even though the story progression is linear, you can always indulge in some Metroid-style exploration. There are loads of collectibles to find, areas that are locked until you get new abilities and backtrack, and hidden challenges to complete. You can go through most of the game without visiting previous areas, but the experience points you gain makes it worthwhile. Each level gained feels significant, as it changes how you fight and explore the environment.
Your arsenal isn’t huge, but the game doles out new weapons on a consistent basis throughout and upgrading them changes their functions completely.
It also has a handful of bombastic scripted moments that are a little unbelievable but still exhilarating. Tomb Raider perfectly balances the huge action movie setpieces with the solid shooting and platforming sections. I wasn’t expecting an evolution of cover based shooting and Metroid-inspired exploration from this stagnating genre of AAA games, and this was definitely a welcome surprise.
#2 - Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance - Platinum Games - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
This your idea of a good time? Stripping dudes in public?
I can name plenty of reasons why Metal Gear Rising is great. I could mention the best soundtrack of the year with its amazing POWER VOCALS. The way the music gets more intense and adds lyrics during climactic battles is exciting every single time. I could talk about the final boss being one of the most memorable in the entire Metal Gear series. I could probably mention how impressive it is that the game even came out given its troubled development.
Still, none of that is really why Metal Gear Rising is one of the best games of 2013. It all comes down to the mechanics. This is why I trust Platinum Games as a developer above most: they always ensure that the gameplay is on point.
The parry mechanic is the inverse of Bayonetta’s Witch Time, rewarding you for going on the offensive rather than dodging. Every single time I parried an enemy and got that slow-motion freeze, it was an adrenaline rush. The game keeps providing more enemies with unique parry timing as it goes on, but that feeling of timing it perfectly is always great.
Revengeance has tons of replay value with its collectibles and upgrade system, and even has worthwhile DLC with unique characters to learn. But the core of the game, the sword combat and the satisfying parry system, kept me coming back and raising the difficulty over time to master the timing against more aggressive enemies.
If I made one of these lists in 2010, Bayonetta would have taken the number one spot easily. It’s one of my favorites of all time.
I don't know if Revengeance will be higher than Bayonetta on my "favorite games of the seventh generation" list, but let's just say I have two games for the top 5 already.
#1 - Saints Row IV - Volition, Inc - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Aw man, it’s just like being in a Video Game! Wink!
Get comfortable, because there’s gonna be some story time with this one…
Saints Row: The Third was an awesome game, by far my favorite of 2011. It was also the most disappointing game I played that year when I compared it to its predecessor. A majority of the customization options were removed compared to Saints Row 2. The city of Steelport lacked the variety of Stilwater. The sequel hooks in the end of Saints Row 2 were ignored, and some of the main characters began to act weird. I still enjoyed the game, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much it lacked compared to Saints Row 2.
Saints Row IV also doesn’t have the enormous suite of customization options of 2. The dark tone of Saints Row 2 is almost entirely gone, and any attempts at resolving the plot threads of that game were thrown away.
And you know what? I am completely okay with this.
Saints Row The Third started the turn away from darkness and toward sillier fare, and it has completely taken effect in IV.
The amount of call backs to every single game in the franchise had me smiling through the entire experience, to the point where any leftover bitterness I had about the series changing too much vanished after the first cutscene.
Saints Row IV is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played, even disregarding the self-referential stuff. The use of licensed songs for jokes and the more absurd jokes (see: QTE stripping minigame) are great, but what brings it all together is the sharp comedic timing. It’s surprisingly subtle humor, especially compared to how insane the premise is.
I love to laugh, and humor in games is so difficult to pull off because everyone might not experience the game the same way. The writers in this game got it totally right.
With the addition of loyalty missions and “romance” scenes, it’s easy to compare Saints Row IV to the Mass Effect series. IV feels like a game-length version of ME3’s “Citadel” DLC, being a tribute to the universe and the fans that have been with it for years.
But while Mass Effect 3 bored me halfway though, Saints Row IV’s gameplay is consistently entertaining and varied. It’s a “greatest hits” of modern open world games, refining the parkour and flight of Prototype, the super powers of Infamous, and its own solid shooting and upgrade system.
I can tell the developers and testers watched this game closely to make sure the players were doing something fun at all times. Sprinting and flying around feel great, making the simple act of traversing the city enjoyable. It gives new life to the reused city of Steelport because you’re exploring it in a completely different way.
This game allows you to break the balance early on and upgrade yourself to the point where combat is trivial. It may not be a difficult game, but I am perfectly fine with “make it fun” as a philosophy over “make it tough”. Most games don’t let you feel like an unstoppable badass in the way Saints Row IV does.
Most games don’t jam the world so full of stuff to do. I spent so much time hunting down the Crackdown orbs, audio files, and climbing up alien towers. There are sidequests everywhere, and they’re all so enjoyable that I would actively seek them out to complete them. It’s not a particularly long game, but it does such a good job of handing out fun stuff to do that every minute feels essential.
I’m not sure if there can be another Saints Row game after this, or if there even should be. But after playing these games for almost a decade, it completely fulfilled all my expectations.
It’s hilarious and charming. It’s my favorite game in the Saints Row series. It’s my favorite open world game ever, and by far my favorite game of 2013.