Some years in gaming are hit after hit after hit that leave me dizzy, desperately wondering how to cull my end of the year list down to just ten games. 2011 in particular felt like I was trapped in the "Treehouse Of Horror IV" version of Hell, a demon shouting, “You want video games, eh? Well, then have ALL THE GAMES IN THE WORLD!” as a conveyor belt dumped moblins, Nathans Drake and Third Street Saints into my gaping maw.
This year, for me anyway, wasn’t that. There were a lot of game delays, disappointments, and experiences whose luster wore off a week after finishing them. But the games on the list below each stood out like an oasis of fun and delight in this dessert of bummers. Each of them felt like a special gift, like a piece of ice brought up a Honduran mountain and hand delivered by Harrison Ford himself, except that the ice actually made it and I didn’t go mad and die on a raft.
So, here are the eight games that I loved this year, the games that made me real happy. I know that this is supposed to be a “Top Ten” list, but I just didn’t feel passionate about any of the other games I played this year. If you’re a member of the aristocracy, backhand upon your forehead poised to faint at this brash disrespect of the base ten system and the prestigious legacy of David Letterman, here are some games from 2013 which I liked enough but ultimately found kind of forgettable: The Swapper, DmC: Devil May Cry, Rayman Legends, Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate.
Pick two and pretend they’re entries 9 & 10 on the list, if it makes you happy. I’m not going to stop you. Live your life. Now, here are the rest.
I played more multiplayer Divekick this year than any other game. Hours--hours!--on the couch with my Vita just pressing two buttons over and over. Divekick does what I want most out of a fighting game and tricks me into thinking I’m good at fighting games. Capcom should send Dave Lang a fruit basket every time some idiot like me buys Marvel vs. Capcom 3 after too much Divekick. It’s the perfect system, too, because after five minutes with another game, I remember that I’m terrible and head back to its sweet kicky embrace. If nothing else, Iron Galaxy should be applauded for taking a concept that sounds like something from a Happy Madison movie about a game studio and making it real, and real fun.
Brothers is the Mr. Miyagi of video games. I went into it with high expectations, hoping to come out with some new experience under my belt, only to have Brothers tell me to struggle with a peculiar control scheme and awkwardly solve some puzzles. I begrudgingly did it, thinking that my time was being completely wasted--move the left stick, now the right, now together, what is the point of all this? Then, in the last hour, Brothers reveals what it’s really been teaching you this whole time, and suddenly you know emotional karate. Brothers features a heartbreaking and tremendous final act, one only works in the context of the game’s seemingly random quirks and foibles. It’s the rare ending that feels completely earned.
OH GOD WHY AM I SPENDING TIME WRITING THIS WHEN I SHOULD BE EARNING BELLS OH GOD TOM NOOK’S GOING TO HAVE MY LEGS FOR THIS
No disrespect to Media Molecule, but one of the biggest compliments I can pay Tearaway is that it feels like a lost Double Fine game. Every nook and cranny of this adorable quirkfest is full of fantastic details, like the way all the animation is slightly stilted to make it look more like stop motion paper craft, or the 'baroque by way of kazoo' soundtrack. Luckily Media Molecule regularly steps in and reminds me that there are some things they do best--the game constantly prompts you to stop and use its craft board to make construction paper decorations, to craft everything and customize yourself. Every other game that tries stuff like this bores me to tears, but Tearaway somehow makes it fun. Maybe it’s narcissistic to like a game this much that puts my face in the sun literally making its world revolve around me, but wow did I smile a lot playing Tearaway.
Everyone around me is god damn lucky that I don’t have a button that plays that creepy, soul haunting, pseudosexual “Meoooooooooow...” that Mario & company let out at the end of a level in this game. Because I would play that sound. all. day. long. The New Super Mario Bros. series of games is this horrible, dead-eyed simulacrum of old Mario gameplay, so I was over the moon when we got a new, proper, 3D Mario platformer. Part of the novelty is finally seeing these characters and settings in HD (6 years later than we should have), and being able to play a decent Mario multiplayer game, but Super Mario 3D World’s levels elevate it by being constantly creative, occasionally brutal, and absolutely delightful.
Who saw this coming? No one. Anyone who told you they expected Nintendo to make a direct sequel to the best game they-- or anyone--have ever made, that they would cast every shackle that’s been holding the Legend of Zelda series back aside, and that it would be dope as heck... well, those people also probably claim to have seen Sasquatch in GTA: San Andreas. They’re either liars, crazy, or both. Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds picks just the best part of Zelda and then makes almost all of those those parts better. Not for nothing, but the 3D effects in this game on the 3DS were great, too. A Link Between Worlds is such a worthy successor that I wonder if kids playing it first will play Link To The Past and see it as the lesser of the two games.
No one else in games is doing what Naughty Dog is doing, or at their level. The Last of Us tells a story masterfully, with memorable characters spouting fantastic dialog in beautiful, haunting settings. The experience you have playing it isn’t as flawless, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the sneaking, the scrounging, and the feeling of real danger that typically gets lost in games like Uncharted were exactly what I wanted paired with the story. And that ending... ugh, that ending. I knew The Last of Us would end with a gut punch, but Naughty Dog managed to surprise me with exactly what kind of punch it was, and how hard it hit. I don’t even really have anything silly to say about this game. I just loved it.
1. Pokemon X/Y
As of this writing I have spent 120 hours of my life--that thing we only have so much of, that’s constantly draining from us, that we’re powerless to stem the flow of--playing Pokemon X. I plan to play more. Pokemon X/Y, like A Link Between Worlds, took out most of the obstacles that Nintendo has spent decades placing between you and the actual fun parts of their game. Everything you have ever wanted from a Pokemon game is here, with a bunch of extra stuff for good measure. I’ve said this before, but it is the Platonic Ideal of Pokemon. If that’s your thing and rest assured, it is my god damn thing this is as good as it gets. I got so into Pokemon X/Y that, during my time with it, I gave very serious consideration to getting a Farfetch’d tattoo. Game of the Year.