1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds ;
Link Between Worlds is one of the greatest games Iíve ever played.
From the opening title screen, and the iconic Link to the Past theme, I had butterflies in my stomach, and they didnít go away for my entire playthrough. Right off the bat, I noticed a ton of improvements over the gameís predecessors. The pacing in this game is impeccable. Long, boring, unskippable tutorials were nowhere to be found. LBW comes awfully close to Zelda 1ís ďHereís the sword. Go.Ē-style of introducing the player to the world. Itís fantastic.
Link Between Worldsí intro sequence is incredible short and sweet, and the player is quickly introduced to the villain and the Princess Zelda. A far cry from TP and SS, which forced me to speak to a ton of villagers from Linkís town, doing mundane tasks for what felt like HOURS, and went on for far too long before anything of substance happened in the game. I was playing the first dungeon within the first 30 minutes.
Before I know it, Iím introduced to the main villain, and the new gimmick for the game. Ding ding ding! Alarms started going off in my head. The ďgimmicksĒ of the last two Zelda games, Wolf Link and motion controls, were excruciatingly bad. As it turns out, entering the walls as Drawing Link is arguably the best gimmick in the series, second probably only to Majoraís Maskís time/masks system. Entering walls adds a whole new.. ahemÖ dimension to this game. The exploration was totally fleshed out, and it allowed for some incredible new puzzles, both exploration based or combat based. The brilliant use of such a seemingly silly gimmick completely took me aback, but it works so damn well, and I was very surprised that it didnít just become the same schtick over and over.
This brings me to my next point: The game is always throwing something new at you. And it will be new in every playthough, because of the new style of item management and dungeon order (or lack thereof). Tackling the dungeons in any order is fantastic, and should become standard for all future Zelda games. It also helps that these dungeons are by far the best dungeons in a 2D Zelda, and some of the best in the Zelda franchise period. Even though the game uses the same old items, the twists thrown at you in these dungeons, combined with the new wall gimmick, always present something new, even for a seasoned Zelda veteran like myself. The difficulty was just right, and the puzzles were just clever enough to make me have to think about it, but never get frustrated or have to look something up online. I donít think Iíve ever had so many ďa-ha!Ē moments playing a video game.
Speaking of items, I loved the new rental/purchase system. Not only did it allow for the fantastic new dungeon dynamic, but it also eliminated a problem that was becoming increasingly apparent in Zelda games: too many rupees, not enough things to spend them on. You often found hundreds of rupees in treasure chests at the end of a challenge with nothing to really spend them on. At worst, youíd put the rupees back into the chest! It was pretty bad. That problem is completely eliminated in LBW, and I found myself always trying to pick up as many rupees as possible, because I knew there would be something worth spending them on.
Iíd be crazy to not touch on the soundtrack. A lot of the music is borrowed and updated from Link to the Past, and thatís not a bad thing. LTTP had one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, and it sounds better than ever in LBW. However, the composer managed to do something really awesome with some of the songs. A piece that stands out in particular is the Dark World theme. It starts off like something else that only vaguely resembled the original theme. Then that unforgettable melody kicks in, and itís fucking ON. The soundtrack is a perfect balance between nostalgia and something new.
The frame rate and controls are amazing. I sat in awe mashing the b button and seeing how quickly Link swung his sword. Pure control bliss. He already walks and moves quickly, then we also get the Pegasus boots! This is easily the fastest overworld traversal since Majoraís Mask, and it feels great.
I can keep going about this game, but Iíll stop here with this: Link Between Worlds revived my enthusiasm in the Zelda franchise after it nearly died with the last couple of games. The franchise doesnít need to go to Retro Studios or EAD Tokyo, itís fine just where it is, as long as Aonuma and team learn from LBW and continue to improve upon the foundation established with this game. Itís been a long time, but Iím so happy to call a Zelda game my GOTY once again.
2. The Last of Us ;
ďWhat movie are you watching? Thatís a game? HOLY SHIT IT LOOKS REAL.Ē ĖMy dad, 2013.
The Last of Us lives up to the hype. Hard to imagine considering the incredible critical response, but it really is an incredible game, and probably the best PS3 game period besides Dark Souls. Turns out, Naughty Dog created a game that I always wanted: a true successor the Resident Evil 4. An action/survival-horror game. Although it doesnít quite capture that mood the RE games and their creepy art style get into, TLOU looks incredible. The art direction is amongst the best in the industry. It is the best looking game ever made when it comes to the ďrealisticĒ art style. The characters look REAL, especially during cutscenes. See the quote above from my father lol. I am fucking blown away that they made this happen on PS3. Seriously, who needs next gen?
Besides the visuals and art design, the world itself is designed near perfection. Itís been a while since Iíve been presented a world in a video game that Iíve just wanted to explore for hours on end. Sometimes youíre rewarded with things to craft and equipment to upgrade your various abilities. Other times, I found myself just staring at the walls, posters, searching for easter eggs and generally in awe of the meticulous detail put into every little part of this game. This was the feeling that brought me back to Resident Evil 4 the most. The creepy atmosphere and level design that encourages exploration is much appreciated. I thought after Mikami left Capcom that I would have to wait until he tried his hand at another survival horror game to get that experience again (The Evil Within looks great!), but itís clear that Naughty Dog has not only read the book of Mikami, but mastered it.
The game allows you to choose between a more stealthy approach to enemies, or a more fast paced, shoot everything in sight approach. At first, with that RE4 mentality in my head, I found myself shooting first, and asking questions later. Then, I realized that unlike RE4, ammo is quite scarce in this game. That brought me back to RE1, and the classic survival horror games Iíve come to love. As the game went on, I used stealth more and more. My point is, the stealth in this game is actually well done, rewarding, and FUN, which is actually something I find rare in games with stealth components. Of course, if it all goes to hell, I can pummel the living shit out of my enemies with a pipe, or a 2x4, or a crowbar. The melee attacks, and sounds that go along with them, are satisfying as all hell.
Voice acting and writing is nearly perfect. Oh yeah, there was a story in this game! Well, thereís not much to say that hasnít already been said. It was a fun ride while it lasted, and for video game standards, it was a very good story. Hard to say much without getting into spoiler territory, but the best part of the game was the art design and world design, not the narrative imo.
Overall, The Last of Us is a gorgeous game that has revived the survival horror genre to me , after Resident Evil died a horrible death with RE5. Iíve gone from indifferent to Naughty Dog to believe a firm believer that they are one of the premier developers in the industry today.
3. Super Mario 3D World ;
3D World got off to a bad start with me. The E3 2013 reveal was underwhelming to say the least. It looked like 3D Land, a portable Mario, on a console.
If I learned one thing, it was to NEVER doubt EAD Tokyo and Yoshiaki Koizumi. 3D World is a masterpiece, and Iíd be shocked if anyone could put out a better game on the Wii U.
3D World looks incredible. The orchestrated music is catchy and memorable, and definitely improved over the lacklustre soundtracks of the NSMB games. Itís no Mario Galaxy, but the art style is sublime to say the least. The level design is still the best in the industry, and the quality and polish is apparent from the get go and doesnít let up for the entire game. Unlike the NSMB games, and even 3D Land, which tended to recycle concepts in each world, every stage in 3D World feels new and unique. This is extremely impressive considering the sheer number of stages in this game. It blows my mind that EAD Tokyo manages to come up with all of these unique ideas, and not once did they feel forced or boring. As soon as I picked up that controller to play the game, I didnít want to put it down. The game and level design is brilliant from top to bottom, and culminates in what might be the single toughest stage in Mario history.
3D World has its faults. There should not be a run button in a 3D Mario game. The complexity of the controls have taken many steps back from Mario 64, and the game is worse for it. The game saves after EVERY stage, shows you your score, and a bunch of other mundane, useless stuff that is completely unnecessary, and wastes up to 10 seconds. Considering the sheer size of this game, those seconds add up. Itís baffling that a team can create such a masterpiece and not catch some of these obvious flaws in the game. Finally, the game is not that giant step forward I was expecting for the first 3D Mario on Nintendoís first HD console. It didnít give me that sheer awe that Galaxy did on the Wii, and thatís because itís a sequel to a concept, albeit refined to near perfection, weíve already seen on the 3DS.
Yet, those ďflawsĒ are like a spec of dust on an otherwise perfect, golden mushroom. 3D World is a classic ; no one does 3D platforming better, and it contains the best art direction on Earth at work. Worth buying a Wii U to play.
4. Grand Theft Auto V ;
Like TLOU before it, I didnít buy into the hype for GTA V. Marketing was everywhere. Leaks were rampant. Hype was high. But after the crushing disappointment that was GTA IV and its boring characters, horrible driving controls, and the fact that it basically stripped everything that was awesome and fun out of the PS2 GTA games, my expectations were low for GTA V.
And once again, I couldnít be happier to be wrong. Rockstar seems to have learned their lesson with GTA IV, because V was an incredible experience, and stands alongside Vice City and San Andreas as absolute classics from this franchise. Right off the bat, the contrast between the grey, drab Liberty City of GTA IV and the colourful, vibrant land of Los Santos is apparent. The characters in this game are light hearted and funny, reminiscence of Tommy Vercetti and Carl Johnson, rather than that fucking unlikeable asshole from GTA IV. As a result of caring more about the characters, I cared more about the story. It was a fun ride while it lasted, and the ending left me satisfied with what I just played. From the first mission, the cars feel much better to control than they do in IV, even though they still donít quite approach the arcade style of the PS2 games that Iíve grown to love.
As I mentioned, Los Santos is beautiful. I was actually in awe at a few points in the game when I was piloting a helicopter or a plane. Some of those landscapes look simply sublime. Like with The Last of Us, I found myself not caring about next gen more and more as I played this game. It completely blows me away that Rockstar was able to get this game out on 360 and PS3, and my mind has a hard time processing how good it could look on PC or potentially the next gen consoles. GTA V is one of the best looking games of the gen, which is especially impressive considering itís an open world game, and thereís a lot going on at all times.
Los Santos feels alive. By the end of my playthrough, I was 70% complete with the game, and felt like I havenít even scratched the surface of what this world has to offer. You can play golf, tennis, smoke a bluntÖ the list goes on and on. Rockstar has thought of fucking EVERYTHING with this game. Itís simply fun to be there. Whether itís driving around and listening to the licensed soundtrack or satirical talk radio shows GTA has become famous for, or just walking around and hearing what random pedestrians have to say, it seems like the game is going to throw something new my way every time I play it. Unlike IV, and even San Andreas with its overwhelming amount of collectathons, I have a strong desire to go back to this game and 100% it. The world is just built in such a way that has me begging to come back and explore every nook and cranny, complete side missions, and, of course, go on a murderous rampage just to see how much I can destroy and how long I can survive.
I havenít even got to the best part: the missions. The mission variety in this game is absolutely incredible, and leaves little doubt in my mind that GTA V has the best missions of any GTA game Iíve ever played. Thereís no two missions that are alike! Everything has their little twists and tweaks to make something you thought youíve done before just a bit different. Some of the mission concepts are so crazy that I never would have thought Iíd be performing them in a video game. Youíre a janitor at one point! The shining achievement of the entire game is the heist missions. From the build up to the execution, the freedom of choice given to the player just feels so good. Hire goons! Choose a getaway car and park it wherever you want! Sneak in all stealth like, or blast your way through the front door! These missions just felt really special, and I do wish there were more of them in the game. Just so well executed all around.
If I had to criticize this game, Iíd say the finale felt a bit rushed, and it could have been spread out for a bit longer. Maybe I was just having too much damn fun with this game, but it really felt like the ending just crept up on me. I wanted it to go on longer. Maybe there will be some DLC in the future? Iíd be all over that. All in all, the game is fucking incredible, and I will be double dipping on the PC version and experiencing it all over again. The fun of the PS2 GTA games is back and it feels so good.
5. Fire Emblem: Awakening ;
Fire Emblem Awakening was my first experience with the Fire Emblem series. I mained Marth in Melee and Brawl for the longest time, and for that reason wanted to play his games. Of course Iíve heard a lot about how notoriously difficult the games were with their perma-death system and constant reliance on restarting to get your characters back. I had only heard good things about Awakening, and with the new casual mode, I decided now was the time to get my feet wet with the series.
That was a good choice. Fire Emblem Awakening is a fucking incredible game. The first thing that struck me was the gamesí difficulty. Unlike most games nowadays, you really canít brute force your way through this thing. You REALLY need to think, even on normal difficulty! I loved that, as it felt satisfying as hell to overcome a battle that you had been struggling with, especially closer to the end of the game, where some enemies seemed insurmountable.
Next, the art style, character designs, and cutscenesÖ all top notch. Seriously impressive stuff. Probably the best anime style cutscenes Iíve ever seen in a game. The incredible script complements each character in interesting and unique ways. Huge props to 8-4 because this might be the best localization Iíve ever seen. Some of the one liners in this game, especially from the villains, are bad ass as fuck.
This game has made me a Fire Emblem fan. I look forward to picking up some of the past games in the franchise, and throwing my GBA out the window when Iím forced to reset my game 100 times.
6. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance ;
What a crazy experience it was to play Metal Gear Rising. I was anticipating this game for years, and boy did it deliver. The gameplay is absolutely insane. From the beginning, when I saw Raiden HOIST A METAL GEAR OVER HIS HEAD, I knew I was in for something special. Hot blooded action from beginning to end.
The game controls like a dream. At a solid 60 fps all the way through, slashing up fools and ripping their god damn spinal cord out to absorb their life energy gives a feeling that is difficult to put into words. Pulling off a parry and cutting my opponent into thousands of little pieces is just so damn satisfying.
Rising is the perfect marriage between the craziness of the Metal Gear universe and the quirkiness of a Platinum Games production. The music is absolutely amazing and quite possibly my soundtrack of the year. I will remember that final boss forever for the music alone.
The script is as crazy as you would expect from a Kojima game. I have to give props again to 8-4 for the amazing localization. Top notch stuff.
This game did something I never would have expected: IT MADE ME LIKE RAIDEN. Yes, itís that damn good.
7. Bioshock Infinite ;
I played Bioshock Infinite in December of 2013. Far removed from the initial hype period surrounding its launch, I was curious to see exactly how it held up alongside some of the other juggernauts released this year. Somehow, I managed to avoid spoilers this entire time, and this was my first Bioshock game.
Infinite was a great time. The presentation of the game obviously stands out above all else. The art direction is some of the best Iíve ever seen, and it was the main thing that managed to draw me into the game and its world. Itís just so colourful! The voice acting throughout the entire game is simply fantastic, doesnít miss a beat. Quirky stuff like the kinetoscopes were really cool. While the gameplay/combat is nothing special, I have to say grappling onto rails and striking my enemies was really satisfying.
As I mentioned above with TLOU, Iím not one to get all into video game stories. So the story for Infinite didnít do much for me. It just left me confused, like, end of MGS2 confused. It did manage to keep me interested the entire way through, though. The big twists near the end had me legit shook!
Of course, I have to mention Elizabeth. Such an awesome character design. I loved how her eyes were so huge, really portrays the charactersí feelings so well. Just great stuff overall. I canít see myself coming back to the world of Columbia, but Bioshock Infinite was a really fun experience while it lasted, and I look forward to experiencing the original Bioshock thanks to this game.
8. Pikmin 3 ;
After 10 years since Pikmin 2, Pikmin 3 was released and it was justÖ more Pikmin.
And thatís AWESOME.
After two games and such a large gap between them, all I ever wanted from Pikmin 3 was more Pikmin. That formula still has a lot of mileage left. 3 did not reinvent the Pikmin formula, nor did it have to. It refined it close to perfection, striking a happy medium between the 30 day time limit in Pikmin 1 and the complete lack of a time limit in Pikmin 2. While I didnít think at any point that Iíd run out of juice, the sense of urgency was just enough to keep me going. Only problem was the annoying, unskippable, slow juice animation. As tasty as it looked, it got old after a couple of times!
HD Pikmin is sublime, to say the least. The games already looked great on the Gamecube, and this art style really lends itself so well to HD. The visuals were just so impressive.
Gameplay wise, Pikmin 3 mixes things up with the whole 3 character system. I think this added a ton of depth to puzzles and added to the exploration factor of the levels in the game. The use of the gamepad was limited, but I was perfectly okay using the Wiimote + nunchuk combo to control my squads of Pikmin. Overall, Pikmin 3 is the most charming entry to an already charming series. The jibberish voices/language are adorable. I sincerely hope Nintendo doesnít give up on this franchise after low sales, because it really is unique and has a ton to offer.
9. Pokemon X ;
Pokemon X brought the Pokemon franchise back to basics. Gone are the story elements and expository dialogue that I feel tainted the games on the DS. The game feels quick and snappy from the get go, and if thereís anything I love in a game, itís great pacing. In X, you are given rollerblades almost immediately, which increases your walking speed. Soon after, you are given the bike, which is faster than any other bike in the series. Itís fantastic, as slow traversal around the overworld was always one of my problems with the Pokemon series. That is not the case here.
The story is reminiscent of the first generation of Pokemon games. Beat the Elite 4, become a Pokemon master, and thereís an evil team in your way trying to stop you. Doesnít really get much more complex than that. Thereís no deep, PETA-like motives from the evil team. They donít want to control the legendary Pokemon and flood the entire world. Theyíre just evil. Stop them. I appreciate that, as it keeps the pace quick and nothing drags or feels boring.
The Pokemon themselves look great in the new 3D style. Although I miss the sprites of the previous games, Iím happy if this is what theyíll be sticking with going forward. The cel-shaded style works extremely well. While the designs of the new Pokemon arenít as great as previous gens, such as V, they arenít as offensive as some of the stuff from gen IV and III, so Iím pretty happy in that respect. Speaking of offensive designs, when I first heard of Mega evolutions, I thought a lot could go wrong. I was very disappointed with the gen IV evolutions of gen I Pokemon. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by these designs. Mega Charizard X, Mega Mewtwo X and Mega Blaziken in particular looked badass as fuck. Fire/Dragon Charizard. Thatís childhood dreams right there! So Iím happy.
Unfortunately, Pokemon X does have itís flaws. The complete lack of post game content is unforgivable, and easily the weakest of any Pokemon games. I suspect this will be fixed with a Pokemon Z later this year lol. Next, the game is very easy. Iím not sure what the logic was behind changing Exp Share to a buffed up Exp All, but it makes no sense, and should be changed back. It was well balanced before, but now itís just broken. Also, that huge city sucks. They need to stop putting those in Pokemon games. Cities with loading zones and weird ass camera angles are not fun to navigate!
10. The Wonderful 101 ;
As of this writing, I havenít quite finished this game, but I have to give it props. Itís the best Power Rangers game ever made, bar none. The presentation in this game is just so awesome, from the art style to the voice clips to the level design itself. Totally captures that Saturday morning cartoon vibe that I love so much. It also helps that itís an action game directed by the one and only Hideki Kamiya. Canít go wrong, comboing the fuck out of fools never gets old. Iím enjoying the hell out of this game, and it definitely deserves a place on this list.
2013 was the year of exceeded expectations, and defying disappointments. I wasn't expecting much out of my top 4 games, and they all managed to BLOW ME AWAY. My entire top 10 exceeds my #1 game from 2012!