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I'm cheating this year, GOTY is going to be a little late so I can play more games.

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GOTY 2013

It was a lovely year for games, wasn’t it? I would categorize 2013 as the year in gaming that exceeded my conservative expectations across the board. Favorite series of mine released some of the best games in their respective franchises, sequels and reboots managed to sell me on series I never liked before, smaller and independent games were as good as ever, and the disappointments were few and far between. Not only that, but the release of the new consoles has finally begun the jumpstart that we’ve all desperately been waiting for. The future of video games looks promising, and while there are a lot of reasons to want to leave 2013 in the dust, it’s always important to take a moment to look back on the parts that brought us joy, and for me, that includes the ten games on this list.

Before we begin, here are the usual disclaimers: As always I wasn’t able to finish absolutely everything, though I certainly tried. Whether for financial or time related reasons, the ones I’m most sorry to have missed are: Super Mario 3d World, Assassins Creed IV, Saints Row IV, Pandora’s Tower, Dragon’s Crown, Guacamelee, Ni No Kuni, and Shin Megami Tensei IV.

And of course, there are always more games I’d like to praise then the ten listed, whether because there wasn’t enough room or because they didn’t qualify for other reasons. For these I intend to do a follow up blog, so stay on the edge of your seat until I decide that I don’t have enough time to write that.

List items

  • As I said, I consider this game and the one before it about as equal as I can, and yet one of them had to be higher. The reason I chose this one, is because while The Last of Us may show a poor premise executed perfectly, Bioshock Infinite shows an excellent premise executed greatly. Like The Last of Us it crafts a detailed setting that I would count among my all-time favorites. The beautiful pseudo Disney inspired world of Columbia, its delusional occupants, and all of the quirky nonsense bursting out at the seams is absolutely unforgettable. Though I wouldn’t consider the main characters as strong as those in The Last of Us, I’d certainly say I cared about them just as much, and when the revelations about the two of them begin to unravel it makes for one of the most fascinating mind bending tales I’ve ever had the joy of experiencing. On top of that I found this to be the only first person shooter that I ever truly enjoyed the combat in. There’s some undeniable pleasure to be had in leaping off of a skyway, blasting an old timey cop in the face with a shotgun, causing lighting to burst from his head into all of his cop buddies, and then while they’re stunned, blowing them up for good measure. When Bioshock Infinite truly shines though is in the quieter moments where they simply allow the world to breathe. There’s never been a world created that felt so alive as Columbia, and the moments where I was welcome to simply live in it were something I treasured. These are the kinds of things that make me excited for all of the video games to come, and for that reason, Bioshock Infinite was my favorite game of 2013.

  • When it comes right down to it, I consider this my game of the year every bit as much as the next one. They are both phenomenal experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The Last of Us manufactures one of the most meticulously beautiful settings in recent memory, despite having the most tiresome premise it possibly could have. Most other games would have been satisfied with the world they created and left it at that, but in The Last of Us it merely acts as a backdrop to one of the best character driven stories in the medium. The ending really nestles into your head in a disturbing kind of way. This grim world and the mad inhabitants I played inside of it are not easily forgotten. The Last of Us doesn’t do anything particular new, it doesn’t do anything particularly unique, but the skill with which they executed their vision is so incredible that it doesn’t need to in order to be as excellent as it is.

  • The fact that I nearly bumped this up to the top of my list rather than choose between the ones above it speaks to the quality of this game. Pokemon Y is the best iteration of the Pokemon formula since at least Silver, if not ever. While it doesn’t reinvent the series in any significant way, it delivers the best game it possibly could within the established format. By evolving aspects of the game that have been in desperate need of refinement for the last decade, they’ve managed to create an addicting whimsical whirlwind of fun. It’s really amazing how they managed to coerce a childish smile out of me with so many little things throughout the game, like roller skates that make your character zoom across the screen at high speeds, collectible outfits for you to wear, amazingly stupid trainer PR videos, and your posse of dorky trainer friends. In addition to all these neat touches, there’s also a solid crop of new Pokemon for me to teach about killing, and a beautiful region that begs to be explored, full of character in a way that Pokemon has been missing for several generations. With so much cool stuff going on, it’s no wonder that I have… 228 hours logged in this game. Fuck. I think I’m going to go outside.

  • If you’d told me when this game came out at the beginning of the year that it wouldn’t crack my top 3 I probably would’ve laughed. I keep thinking I need to move it up a bit, until I look at the games above it and realize it’s in the right spot, which is truly a testament to how great this year in gaming has been. Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best realized Fire Emblem game that I’ve ever played. In addition to the unrivaled tactical goodness inherent to Fire Emblem, this game layers on all of the coolest systems from previous entries, evolves them, and manages to do so without ever feeling too bloated for its own good. The art in this game is gorgeous, the characters are incredibly charming, the music is pretty, and it’s really stuffed to the brim with content and replayability. Were it not for some slight problems with difficulty, and the simplicity of the story, I wouldn’t hesitate to call this the very best game in a franchise I consider a favorite.

  • Dude, I get it. I really do. But come on. I thought this game told a really sweet story about a dysfunctional family trying and failing to keep it together, and about two young girls balancing the crazy teenageness of their lives and the affection they feel for one another. There may not be much more to it than that, but since when do we need more than a cool story to really love something?

  • Sometimes games get a little too caught up in trying to be something so much more that they forget the reason games ever became so loved in the first place: Fun. A Link Between Worlds never loses sight of the fun. Instead they give you a sword, tell you to rescue the princess, and then let the player embark on an awesome adventure full of engaging combat, clever puzzles, and endlessly rewarding exploration. Even without the nostalgia for A Link to The Past that some people have, this is the kind of game that makes me feel like a kid again. There aren’t many games that try to do that anymore, and there’s certainly something to be said for the ones that pull it off so well.

  • Grand Theft Auto V is one of those games that I just had a lot of trouble putting down. This is the kind of game that you want to talk about with your friends, the kind of game that makes you go to work with 4 hours of sleep. Whether I was traversing the map by wrecking beautiful sports car after beautiful sports car, or walking around in Trevor’s tighty whities and workboots, shooting random citizens in the face with a shotgun, or trying to hold Michael’s crumbling family life together, or planning super slick heists, or hanging out with any of the dozen hilarious characters that inhabit this world, I was enjoying myself. There’s not much else you could ask for from a video game.

  • It’s rather impressive the kinds of things that The Swapper manages to do in its short run time. The potent atmosphere of the dark abandoned ship you inhabit sets a quiet mood for your journey. Throughout you are asked philosophically challenging questions about the nature of life and the soul by alien space rocks, you are subjected to some of the most challenging mind warping puzzles this side of Braid, and you piece together an intriguing narrative about the strange devices you wield, the mysterious alien creatures you encounter, and the ship you’re exploring.

  • After a summer that would have been dreadful for any one of the dozen reasons there were, Pikmin was a rejuvenating breath of fresh air. A simple but fun and charming game that helped me unwind in a way that most games aren’t capable of doing. I haven’t played many games like Pikmin, and I found exploring Earth as if it were an enormous alien planet to be a novel concept, and while managing my army of colorful little dudes and funny comrades, I grew really attached to the experience.

  • There’s something about the dreary world of Papers, Please that makes desperately powering through your work a really rewarding slog. I took more pride in my paperwork than I’ve ever taken in my real job. The real beauty of the game shines in the narrative though, where a tiny little eastern European man living under the oppressive tyranny of a corrupt nation quietly lives his life. Maybe his only desire is to serve Artotzka and do his job well, perhaps he simply wishes the best for his family, he could want to escape, or even plot to overthrow the horrible overlords. The story in Papers, Please splinters into all sorts of different singular narratives throughout the course of the game, and exploring this plot web tricked me into doing paperwork for 7 hours. In my book, any game that can accomplish that is something pretty special.