Well, it’s here. The end of the year. That special time when one sits and thinks about all the months that came before, and the interactive media that helped pass the hours, enjoyably or not. This post is about the stars, the winners, the smile-makers–not the clunkers, many of which I managed to avoid thanks to keen eyes and a tightened wallet.
As Grinding Down readers are most likely to know already, I’m not always able to play a lot of the big AAA titles that come out in over the swoosh of the past three hundred and sixty-five days, though I try now and then to at least sample a few of them. Click this very sentence for the full list of games I went through in 2013. For instance, this year, I did experience both BioShock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V, but the truth of the matter is that those two titles are, unfortunately, pretty mediocre–to me. Remember, this is my list, my favorite games that I have greatly enjoyed playing and am still playing, and I’d completely understand if you’d want to fight me tooth and nail in defense of why the combat in Infinite is more than just a means to pad out the story or why Los Santos is the most sandboxy sandbox that ever sandboxed, but your cries fall upon deaf ears. I like what I like, and there’s nothing you can do to make me swing the other way.
Fine. Let’s not dress this up any more than necessary. Without further wandering, these are my five favorite games from 2013.
Doritos Crash Course 2
I bet you’re scratching your collective heads over this one. Number five on my list is a sponsored free-to-play sequel with microtransactions to a sponsored free-to-play side-scrolling platformer that was solid fun, but limited in variety, and you probably think that sounds absolutely terrible. Maybe in writing it does, but I can’t get over how fun running, jumping, sliding, and climbing to the end of every obstacle course is in Doritos Crash Course 2. I continue to play it and earn stars, always striving for a better time on some levels or that occasionally elusive gold medal. The game is also constantly comparing your score with those on your friends list, giving you extra incentive to do better.
Thankfully, the microtransactions are completely ignorable, though earning more stars to unlock new levels or alternate paths might feel like a grind to some, but I enjoy both racing through a course to be first and going back a second time to slowly find all the collectibles. The level designs are pretty imaginative–there’s a tropical jungle and ancient Egypt and so on–and the music that plays when you cross the finish line is catchy and forever burned in my brain. If you have an Xbox 360, this is the free game to download and devote yourself to, not Happy Wars or Ascend: Hand of Kul.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
So far, I’ve only played Fire Emblem: Awakening once, and I suspect I will never go back to it, since I played the game with permadeath on and those that fell in battle truly fell in battle for me. That’s how my story went. Just like how I play Telltale’s The Walking Dead. In fact, I documented every death that happened–21 in total, I believe was the final count–and you can read about each sad story by sifting through this tag. I can understand why many chose not to play with permadeath on or would constantly reload a previous save if things went awry, because I ended up missing out on a lot of content by losing a good number of men and women. Mostly marriage and future kid stuff, but that element of the game is fascinating and fun, thanks to really quirky, fantastic writing. I’d have loved to see more pairings.
Strategy RPGs are very hit or miss with me, but something about the rock, paper, scissors nature of the battle system was easy to grasp, even if it could lethally bite you in the ass if you moved a flier too close to an archer. Leveling up and selecting new roles added just the perfect amount of customization that I’m always looking for, and Fire Emblem: Awakening‘s presentation, cutscenes, sound, and voice acting was beyond amazing. Really superb stuff. Just ignore the fact that nobody has feet.
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
Like playing a Hayao Miyazaki film. Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is a small, quiet game, which ironically tells the story of giant monsters that eventually fight each other just above a rather quaint village. It’s a love letter to a childhood I imagine I had, even if I didn’t because I grew up in South Jersey, not rural Japan. There’s not a lot of game here save for collecting sparkly glims and battling friends in a card-based minigame, but, as Sohta, you’ll come to know the town and its streets rather intimately, as well as the relaxing drone of cicadas. Exploration, learning, and being a kid are the key themes here, and even when things get weird, they remain charming as heck. Absolutely the standout when it comes to Level-5’s Guild series, even if the digital dice-rolling in Crimson Shroud is freakishly satisfying. It’s not a long gaming experience, but rather a lasting one.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
I just finished this up over the weekend, and I’m not even mad that it ends with a clunky, finger-tiring QTE. I’m not even mad, bro. Thieves in Time will stand the test of time as another great entry in the Sly Cooper series, and that’s saying a lot since it was not developed by the original creators at Sucker Punch Productions.
Sanzaru Games clearly saw what were the best elements from the original trilogy–open world, a variety of missions, fun-to-get collectibles–and added their own fancy ingredients, like ancestors with unique powers, to make a solid, time-hopping adventure. The cutesy, goofy characters and Saturday morning cartoon vibe is retained, as are Sly’s ability to climb up nearly everything and make a swift trip from rooftop to rooftop. Love it so very much. I have to still go back for some hidden treasures, but I’m kind of waiting for Giant Bomb‘s 2013 GOTY podcasts to go up, as I can do that while I listen to them argue with each other. This came out early in 2013 at a budget price, with cross-buy too for the PS Vita. However, it was unfortunately easy to miss. Glad I got to it this year.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Hmm. Where do I begin? I guess at the beginning. I’ve been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf every day–or just about every day–since it came out. Sometimes it is only for ten minutes, which is just enough time to find fossils, hit the money rock, say hi to my favorite resident Sylvia, and visit the shop, and other times it can be around 45 minutes to an hour, where I’ll spend more time fishing or maybe visiting the summer island or just goofing off with Tara. There’s both always things to do and emergent gameplay to be found. My house is barely paid off, as I have enjoyed expanding Arni more with public projects, like building the police station, the cafe, and, most recently, the Dream Suite.
The improvements over Wild World are both extremely noticeable and great. You can now stack fruit in your inventory, select multiple fossils for Blathers to assess in one gulp, switch between tools with the d-pad, and so on. Plus, you can take screenshots and share them online on all the usual social media hotspots, which I love doing, even if they probably drive my 3DS-less sister mad with jealousy. There’s just something so amazing about a game that is more interested in constantly rewarding you for your hard work than berating you to constantly do better. With holiday events, visiting guests, and fishing/bug collecting tournaments, you’re never without something to look forward to. In fact, every Saturday night, I turn on Animal Crossing: New Leaf and go watch K.K. Slider perform to earn a new song for my astro CD player to blast out. This game is very much part of my life again, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
And there’s my list. I’m pretty pleased with it, though I do wish I had gotten to a couple other big name games–or big name indie games, if that’s a thing–in 2013. Stay tuned for that list maybe later this week. Anyways, that’s my five. What were some of your favorite games this year?