2013 is done. Gone. Finito. It’s been a heck of a year for video games, and we here at TechnoBuffalo are still feeling a little overwhelmed by all that was out there to play.
The gaming staff collected our favorite gaming titles from 2013 into a giant pile. We whittled that selection down to 15, and that’s what you’ll see below this introduction.
Two points to note before you dive in and get all riled up. First, this list is in alphabetical order. Second, it’s based on personal preference. We each had equal pull when picking our 15 favorites of the year, so keep that in mind.
Her are the best games of 2013 according to Eric Frederiksen, Joey Davidson and Ron Duwell at TechnoBuffalo.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
It’s December. I booted up my Nintendo 3DS this morning specifically to play a game that released way back in June of this year. Not many games make me do that, but Animal Crossing: New Leaf does.
Thanks to exceptionally tight gameplay and rewarding mechanics doled out on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, Animal Crossing: New Leaf has become a standard play on my Nintendo 3DS. During downtime, while waiting somewhere and right before bed, I find myself firing the title up just to see what’s going on in my village. The world was expertly crafted, and there’s a constant sense of newness and objective. That’s awesome.
Columbia is now etched into the minds of gamers as one of the most impressive and fully realized settings in a video game. BioShock Infinite defied expectations by creating a universe more perverse and enticing than its predecessor did back in 2007. Irrational Games was able to overcome its overwritten and bloated storyline by throwing enough hints at real world issues like social classes, the dangers of theocracy and revolution against propaganda.
BioShock Infinite also found a way to naturally evolve the combat in this series, putting less focus on guns, which get picked up and thrown out like candy wrappers, and more into the Plasmids and combat from the air with the Sky-Hook. New tactics to approach a combat situation increase drastically with the vertical dimension attacking from the air brings.
Soaring through Columbia’s faux-peace setting was a highlight of 2013, and the twisted ending pulled off just enough justification to account for its protruding writing.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem: Awakening carries on the tradition of its predecessors being the most thought provoking and consistently enjoyable strategy RPG series in the history of video gaming. The lightning fast combat and brutal difficulty curve are just the tip of the iceberg for what makes this game so amazing.
Each member of the team has a backstory, a personality and a motivation for joining the fight. Uncovering these personal traits in between battles creates a sense of kinship that goes far beyond simply advancing a select chosen few. Sooner than later, struggling to keep these beloved characters alive in the most difficult situations becomes the true motivation for perfecting a battle plan.
Like all the best strategy games, Fire Emblem: Awakening creates an emotional connection between a player and his units.
Every step of the way, Gone Home played with my expectations of what a game could be and how it could go about it. It’s hard to say more than that without spoiling it.
Gone Home is succinct in length, complexity, and focus, though simple is not a word I’d ever think of applying to it. It doesn’t fit the dollars-to-hours equation well, but it’s worth every cent to see something different. It’s great if you’re willing to explore a strange place, searching for light switches and looking through your family’s things, as the floorboards creak around you.
Grand Theft Auto V
Because I don’t have to live there, Los Angeles is one of my favorite places. It’s fun to visit, and Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos is like a tiny vacation. Somehow, Rockstar managed to get the feel of the city down perfectly, from the neighborhoods and landmarks, down to tiny details like that parking garage in Santa Monica with the colored panels, or the sky backdrop at the game’s version of Paramount Studios (complete with the water pumps on either side of the recessed parking lot).
I had a lot of issues with the writing in GTA V, but the missions, driving and tourism were some of the most fun I had all year. After how disappointed I was in GTA IV, it was a great reminder of what I love about the series.
Before Pikmin 3, we only got a glimpse at what Nintendo was capable of doing in HD. After Pikmin 3, we’re not sure if we ever want to go back.
Making Pikmin 3 the game to jumpstart the Wii U’s second stab at life was a smart decision for Nintendo. Everything about his game is gorgeous from the fruit to the map design to the dozens of fully rendered Pikmin following the three main protagonists into hell and back. Even the sounds bring an unexpected sense of pleasure, especially with the fruit juice filling the food reserve jars at the end of a daily mission.
Final boss aside, combat and exploration in the Pikmin universe has never been easier to control either. Gone is the time limit, replaced with the far more forgiving juice meter. Gone are the troublesome controls, replaced with touch screen buttons and a much friendlier unit selection method. It’s hard to think of a more satisfying feeling from 2013 than solving a difficult puzzle or crushing a punishing boss and bringing that giant kiwi home after a tough and tragic day.
Pokémon X and Y
Nintendo should really change the slogan for this long running series. “Gotta catch ‘em all” has become too much of a chore. “Good luck catching ‘em all” feels more suitable in this day and age. With over 700 different types of Pokémon now populating the world of this expansive series, Pokémon X and Y has the content to keep the most dedicated of fans coming back for years to come.
Pokémon X and Y also succeeded in its mission of evolving the series beyond the sprite based graphical design it had been sporting since the mid 1990’s. The fully fleshed out world of Pokémon has never been more realized, and the animated Pokémon in battle bring a lot more emotion into watching beloved pets pound away furiously at one another for hours on end.
Not since the original game has the series received such an overhaul, and Pokémon X and Y finally brought Pokémon into the 21st century.
Saints Row IV
For me, I don’t think there was a single game in all of 2013 that really matched the insane fun level thrown down by Volition in Saints Row IV. The entire experience was delightfully absurd, from the Aerosmith ballad at the onset to fighting a giant, Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-esque energy drink on the roof of a building.
Saints Row IV kept swinging, and Volition managed to build a game that was actually fun to play alongside all of the jokes and stupendous moments. Is it as watershed as, say, The Last of Us? No. But it didn’t have to be. Saints Row IV is a blast, and we love it for that.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
While many games’ preceding press blitzes leave gamers with inflated expectations, Splinter Cell had me a bit worried. The coverage was uneven, the delay didn’t help at all, and yes, I was worried about the change in voice actor.
Instead of a disorganized mess, I got one of the best Splinter Cell games yet. Blacklist allows for different playstyles and rewards each of them. It has strong cooperative and multiplayer modes. It takes the core Splinter Cell gameplay and without sacrificing story, turns it into as much of an arcade game as an action game. Getting down mechanics and map layouts makes going back to a level for a better run on a higher difficulty a lot of fun. Splinter Cell: Blacklist held me like few games can; I found myself finishing a run-through on one difficulty and immediately starting up the next until the words “Ghost” and “Perfectionist” populated every briefing screen.
Super Mario 3D World
If this list were ranked in order of “best,” Super Mario 3D World would have to be near the top of the pile for me. Nintendo took a character a lot of gamers are growing quite tired of and threw him into an adventure that existed on its own plane of quality.
Super Mario 3D World is a gem. It’s a platforming wonder, full of invention and spirit, and it stands tall as one of my favorite experiences in the plumber’s long line of games. Wii U owners should consider themselves lucky to have this game in their system’s catalogue, I know I do.
If Tearaway is an example of the kinds of gaming experiences Media Molecule will create when not tied to the wonderful Sackboy and his LittleBigPlanet, sign me up. This game is incredible. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best titles ever released for the PS Vita.
An adventure through a papercraft world, Tearaway blends solid platforming and simplistic combat with a charming environment and a great use of the PS Vita’s odd inputs. This is, genuinely, the first time I really liked using the rear pad on the system for play. It’s inspired. If you have a PS Vita and you haven’t checked out Tearaway, you’re simply doing it wrong.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us was a fun, competent stealth horror game, but Joel and Ellie and their relationship are what really left marks on us this year. Despite the road bump that was Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog proved that it has unquestionably raised the bar when it comes to storytelling in games.
I’m still not sure if I liked Joel, and that’s exactly why he’s one of the great male characters in video games despite being around barely half a year. Writing such a bad person is difficult without compromising them for the sake of the story or a more palatable, heroic conclusion, but Naughty Dog managed it. And then there’s Ellie, a great female character in a year with some really good female characters. Some of the sequences later in the game establish her as independent and capable and ready for the world she lives in. The Last of Us is a great game, but Joel and Ellie are two of the best characters in games yet.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
How do you approach a sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time? So many iconic images from A Link to the Past have survived over its 20 years of existence, and rather than create new ones, Nintendo simply reworked what made its classic so memorable: Similar settings, similar monsters, similar weapons.
Luckily, Nintendo is an idea factory and changed its approach enough to give them game its own voice. Link jumping in and out of the wall creates some entertaining exploration options and some of the best dungeons the series has ever seen. The game also controls like a dream thanks to the Nintendo 3DS’ analog stick.
A Link Between Worlds might have played it a little too safe, but diving back into familiar territory after 20 years felt just like going home.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Wind Waker has always been one of my personal favorite adventures in the Zelda lineup. This tale on the high seas packed a unique element of exploration and majesty that sort of set it up above all the other games that launched at the same time in gaming.
This HD upgrade is more than just a touch up of visuals. Nintendo made it better looking, added convenience tweaks, reworked the third act and included Miiverse features that are actually fun and interesting. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a new high mark for remakes, and it’s a better edition of one of the best games ever made.
Like the main character, few games fall as far as Tomb Raider and manage to climb as high as it did this year. The original game was remarkable for introducing one of the first mascots of the PlayStation generation, but Lara Croft went into a death spiral of worse and worse releases before too long. A few bright spots gave hope before being followed up with more troubled sequels.
Finally, though, 2013’s Tomb Raider gives us something we can work with. This is a game about rebirth, both for the character herself, and the character as a member of the cast of modern gaming. Like her franchise over the years, Lara spends the game falling harder and harder, only to get back up stronger and meaner. Even if it’s a bit combat heavy at times, the game combines the battle and exploration of past games elegantly with a story that actually tells us something about the character. If this is the start of a new franchise, I hope as much thought goes into the sequels as went into the majority of this one.