Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Honestly, I didn?t expect much from the Tomb Raider reboot, given the dribble of information from Crystal Dynamics and the repeated release delays. Boy, was I wrong! Once the game finally hit, I was treated to an expansive adventure that reestablished Lara Croft as one of the most electrifying characters ever to grace an interactive adventure. The refined action was augmented by a solid story that made me feel like part of the action. The team at Crystal Dynamics is already at work on a sequel?let?s just hope they can pull it off again.
#03: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Level-5 / Studio GhibliPlatforms:
I?m a massive fan of Studio Ghibli?s animation, so this game had a built-in advantage before I ever played it. Then I played it. Not only was it like playing one of the studio?s cartoons, but the game design more than carried the concept forward. The characters were well crafted, and the mechanic of traveling between the two worlds?a conceit that borders on cliché at this point?worked better than any game outside of the Zelda series. From an RPG standpoint, there?s a perfect balance of exploration, combat, and story to keep the game moving forward. Ni No Kuni exceeded all expectations, making it one of my top games of the year.
Xbox 360, PS3
Gamers have come to expect a lot from Grand Theft Auto. Huge open worlds, great mission variety, and a wicked sense of humor. None of this could prepare me for GTAV?s biggest innovation?the ability to switch between three distinct characters. This added a depth to the storytelling and to the feeling of freedom within the world. In this case, the world is massive and littered with things to do, and fortunately, the gameplay was up to the task. Everything from driving to fighting to shooting was also tightened, which combined to give me an experience that?s as much fun to play as it is to talk about.
#01: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I was optimistic about Nintendo?s latest handheld Zelda offering, but I never expected it to blow my mind the way it did. The retro style and streamlined gameplay returned me to a time when games swallowed me whole and kept me up late going for that next level, be it an elusive heart piece or the boss I just couldn?t quite figure out. A Link Between Worlds managed to return to the old-style look and gameplay without being confined by it. It used the 3D technology to great effect, and the wall-hugging, 2D mechanic made puzzles a joy to figure out. For me, this was simply gaming perfection.
Most Addictive Game of the Year
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Four months into playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I happened upon Phineas, the kindly walrus who gives out badges for in-game accomplishments. Imagine my shock when I discovered my badge was for playing the game for 500 hours. I?d lost more than 20 days fishing, catching bugs, digging fossils, running errands, and managing my town. And there was still plenty more to do! Two months later, I still play every day, if just for half an hour, to keep my town in good shape. Now that?s an addictive game.
The “If You Build It, They Will Come” Award
Tie: PlayStation 4 & Xbox One
Two new systems, each of which have sold more than 2 million units?and between them, there isn?t a single triple-A, can?t-play-it-anywhere-else game. Both systems are fantastic, and the games will come, but at this point, they?re more promise than performance. Still, they fly off the shelves, snapped up by consumers eager to experience the future of games. It would seem like the extra couple of years between generations paid off big time for Microsoft and Sony.
Surprise Best System of the Year
Fire Emblem: Awakening, Luigi?s Mansion: Dark Moon, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Pokémon X and Y, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. And these are just the best games on the system that had more amazing exclusives than any other in 2013. The steady stream of excellent titles kept me playing the 3DS all year long. Best of all, it looks like 2014 could be nearly as good, with Bravely Default starting things off right early in the year.