2013 in Review: The Year's Best Games

Team USgamer and BFFs ponder the past twelve months and choose their favorite games of the year - and explain exactly why they think they represent the best of 2013.

Article by USgamer Team, .

It's Christmas Eve and 2013 draws to a close! Team USG is casting a collective beady eye back over the last 12 months. Their mission: to each reveal the game that they think represents the best that 2013 had to offer. And if you're expecting Grand Theft Auto V or Call of Duty: Ghosts to be mentioned repeatedly, you can expect to be very disappointed.

Cassandra Khaw Content Editor


I struggled with this one for a little while but Media Molecule's endearing little papercraft-platformer-sandbox-thing won over the competition. Mostly, because it was the first game to really make me burst into tears in, well, as long as I can remember.

While I'm a big fan of serious games, of thoughtful projects like That Dragon, Cancer or Papers, Please, I've come to realize that I've missed simply being happy. Adulthood has a way of disconnecting us from silly, jovial experiences. Remember how a balloon animal or a new plushie was enough to turn you into a giggly, human-shaped champagne flute, one filled with fizz and excitement? Yeah. Me neither. Happiness of such level is such a rarity these days. Which is why I didn't expect being sucked into Tearaway's beautiful, squishy world.

To be fair, you need to allow Tearaway to take you away. Being actively communicated with and told that you're a nigh mythological figure in this world, the sun around which everything revolves, can feel jarring and slightly camp. I had trouble adjusting to that at first. I giggled, I made funny faces at the world and pretended this was all a little below me. But somewhere between inadvertently grinning back at the tiny, envelope-headed crerature peering worshipfully up at me and deciding I wanted to have a pet gopher on me at all time, I learned to give into its child-like fantasies.

And it got to me in the best possible way.

Nadia Oxford Guest Editor

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

When I finished The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I felt deflated. Not because it was bad, but because I was done. My doldrums didn't set in all at once, either. It built gradually with each dungeon I tucked away, each Maiamai I brought back home to Mother Maiamai. However, it never crowded the happiness I felt while playing the game. Like the song says, I was simply having a wonderful time.

A Link Between Worlds has faced some criticism for being too familiar. While the game's dungeons were all-new, its overworld cloned the locales made famous by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES. Personally, it's that familiarity that helped make Link Between Worlds my Game of the Year. Wandering the "new" Hyrule feels like coming home after a long absence.

Thankfully, there's no sign of broken windows, empty houses, or shuttered factories that typically spoil real-world homecomings. Hyrule continues to be the thriving, vibrant place you remember from 1992. If you've yet to play A Link Between Worlds for the first time, I envy you.

Jaz Rignall Editorial Director

Bioshock: Infinite

Because it was released a couple of months before we launched USgamer, I never had the chance to review Bioshock: Infinite. Had I done so, I'd have dished out a five-star rating without doubt, but written tomes about its strengths and weaknesses.

As an experience, it's terrific. An intriguing, phenomenal-looking world packed with wonderful details, bolstered by one of the most compelling and enthralling video gaming narratives I've encountered in years. Yet the means to usher you through this awe-inspiring alternative reality is a series of shooting galleries. There are certainly some exciting moments in amongst these set-pieces, but they're offset by periods that are predictable and tedious. Almost feeling like filler designed to make you bide your time between stunning and spectacular plot revelations.

But while its game mechanics sometimes feel uninspired, and some of its extended courtyard shooting battles drag indeterminately, Bioshock: Infinite's story arc and conclusion are ample enough reward to endure them. I can't think of many video game storylines that have made me think for days about them, but this one did. And its final scene? Mind. Blown. Not only one of my gaming highlights of the year - but one of my favorite game endings of all time.

Jeremy Parish Senior Editor

Shin Megami Tensei IV

I'm going to go with the numbers on this one. There's only one game I gave a full five-star rating to this year (yes, I'm the stingy one on USgamer's staff; you probably don't want to stop by my place on Halloween), and that was Shin Megami Tensei IV. But I'm writing a whole lot of words about that game for an upcoming end-of-year analysis of that game going up soon, so instead let me tell you about the other game I sank way too much time into this year: Animal Crossing New Leaf.

When I first started writing about New Leaf for USgamer, it was with a sort of obligatory apathy. I was a little burned out on the series and didn't see anything particularly compelling about it. Yet by the time I completed my review, I was smitten -- enough so that I did something I never do (if only because I lack the luxury of time). Namely I kept playing even after I'd finished my review.

New Leaf has a truly rare gift: The more you play of it, the better it gets. The proper way to experience New Leaf is daily (or roughly so) throughout the year to experience the little changes each new season and each month brings. Unfortunately, the realities of being a person who plays video games as a matter of business and not simply pleasure means that I had to abandon New Leaf eventually, but not before getting a taste of how profoundly its stress-free, objective-less slice-of-life style can affect you with something so simple as a change in ambient sound.

The great thing about Animal Crossing, though, is that there's no "wrong" time to start playing. You may have missed the change into summer season for 2013, but come next year it'll happen all over again. Despite being a time-sensitive game, it's oddly timeless.

Brittany Vincent Guest Editor

Rogue Legacy

Looking back now, this entire year seems like such a blur. DmC dazzled me early on, and I was swept away by Papers, Please and its bizarre mixture of Carmen Sandiego-like algorithms, but there's one unassuming game I kept crawling back to. I staggered back in, pumped and ready, even after feeling thoroughly discouraged by my utter failure to conquer it: Rogue Legacy. Laugh if you must, but I've yet to complete it, and even though each sojourn back into its several dungeon maps brings me only what feels like millimeters close to my goal, I'm content to jump in again and again. Dying doesn't deter me in Rogue Legacy -- it fuels me, and that's a difficult feat to accomplish.

This austere roguelike asks you to take up the mantle of an entirely new person each time you fail, whether it's an offspring of the original barbarian queen you started out as or a brand new child of original adventurers. I went from surviving for ten seconds in the bowels of the castle to spending hours spelunking and collecting gold and runes from every corner of each map. Even though my deaths were swift and plentiful, there was a true sense of progression with every resurrection. It wasn't as though I was "chipping away" at a door I couldn't open. I was growing and learning with each new adventurer. It playfully mocked my failures, but it never made me feel as though I was attempting something impossible, nor was it hard for the sake of being hard.

Roguelikes aren't my forte, and I'm not even especially fantastic at platformers, but Rogue Legacy got me to toss aside my preconceived notions of what both genres should and shouldn't do, and kept me at its beck and call for months. In fact, all this talk is getting me excited to play more -- and at a time when it's tough to get excited about shooters and sequels on the horizon, that's extremely rare. Cellar Door Games, you done good, chaps.

Pete Davison News Editor

Final Fantasy XIV

This is a real toughie, since I've played so many great games this year. If I had to pick one, though, I really do feel I need to give some love to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn purely for being one of the most surprising comeback stories of all time -- not to mention a great game in its own right.

Final Fantasy XIV successfully got me interested in MMOs again thanks to solid gameplay, an interesting, authentically Final Fantasy-esque story, tons of series fanservice and the promise of more and more enjoyable content over time.

As an MMO, your experience with Final Fantasy XIV will vary significantly according to the company you keep, and I'm thankful for the fact that I've been playing with a dedicated (but not obsessive) Free Company who always have a kind word to share, and who are always up for playing together to have fun, not to make regimented runs through endgame content.

Even if you spend most of your time solo, though, Final Fantasy XIV is an enjoyable experience that brings some fresh ideas to the MMO genre while keeping things that are proven to work well. The ability for one character to switch to any class at will is a particularly good addition, for example, and the treatment of crafting and gathering professions as full-on classes rather than just skills tucked away in your menu is also something I like very much.

If you've never played an MMO -- or perhaps if you're burnt out on them like I was -- you should give Final Fantasy XIV a fair shot. You might just be very pleasantly surprised.

Kat Bailey Guest Editor

Fire Emblem: Awakening

There was a time when Fire Emblem was my favorite strategy series ever. But after a long string of exceptionally boring sequels, culminating in the execrable Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, I had lost faith. Thankfully, Fire Emblem: Awakening has made me a believer again.

Fire Emblem: Awakening packs everything I've ever loved about the series: great music, multiple generations of characters, and the enjoyment of building up an army (then trying to keep them alive). Even better, it was the first Fire Emblem that I could reasonably share with other people. Thanks to casual mode, I no longer had to worry about people freaking out about permanent death (not that Fire Emblem: Awakening is that hard to begin with... until the final mission, anyway). It really is a stunning return to form for a series that was moribund to the point that the release of Awakening in the U.S. was actually in doubt for a time.

In making this decision, it was actually hard to choose between Fire Emblem: Awakening and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Both do an amazing job of reaching back into their respective histories to refresh what had honestly become stale experiences. Truthfully, I never thought that I could enjoy another Zelda game as much as I've enjoyed A Link Between Worlds. But Fire Emblem is just a little bit nearer and dearer to my heart, making its return to prominence one of the biggest and happiest surprises of 2013.

Mike Williams Staff Writer

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Is there any question? Yeah, there's always a question. My favorite game this year after some soul-searching, a good run, and a cup of coffee is Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. There were some close contenders this year, including surprising contender Grand Theft Auto V, but nothing came close to dethroning Black Flag.

Ubisoft had to do a lot to get back into my good graces after the disappointing Assassin's Creed III, but they delivered. I'm still deep into full-clearing the game on PlayStation 4 after beating it on PlayStation 3, because it's that good. It's a great Assassin's Creed game on land and one of the best pirate games ever on sea. Hell, the game got even better with the release of Freedom Cry, the DLC campaign focusing on Edward's quartermaster Adewale 15 years after the end of Black Flag. The jump from ACIII to ACIV is amazing, so I'm hoping Ubisoft can build on the greatness they have on display here for next year.

You can listen to everyone else's choices, but is the real deal right here.

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Comments 6

  • Avatar for aett #1 aett 4 years ago
    It was a surprisingly great year for games, and I ended up spending a lot more money than I expected.

    A big part of that goes to Nintendo, and their success at pushing the 3DS by releasing a ton of excellent games this year - and some of them weren't even announced until this year, like A Link Between Worlds.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #2 brionfoulke91 4 years ago
    Oh Jeremy... you name a game, then spend your entire article talking about a completely different game. You're hilarious!

    It's nice to see SMTIV get mentioned though, that was an amazing game.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #3 Roto13 4 years ago
    I approve of this list, especially after mentally replacing SMT IV (which I'm sure is grand) with Animal Crossing. Seriously, though, I've played most of the games on this list and they're all great. Even BioShock Infinite, which had some understandable backlash. (Game has its legit flaws, but I liked the good things enough to overlook them. Pretty much like the first BioShock.)

    Also, I super approve of Games of the Year lists that have handheld games on them. Far, far too many sites completely disregard them. Tearaway, Link Between Worlds, and Fire Emblem: Awakening are great games that get tragically overlooked by these lists.Edited December 2013 by Roto13
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  • Avatar for weevilo #4 weevilo 4 years ago
    I just picked up Tearaway last week and it might be my personal favorite this year, and only partly because it finally justified my purchase of a Vita when I don't even own a PS3/4. It's not perfect; I wish the right analog stick for aiming the camera worked in all areas and let you look up more than it does, and the paper crafting mechanic is cumbersome at best with your fingers, but the world is simply amazing to run around in and put your own personal stamp on. Seeing my own crafted snowflakes falling like they were properly crafted effects by the developers is something no other game has ever done.

    A very solid year from the non-AAA space, and things are only going to get better there. Sadly, this year more than any other in recent memory has highlighted the failings of the large publishing and developer houses with their monotonous samey sequels and rapacious business practices.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #5 sam-stephens 4 years ago
    My personal GOTY would have to be Wonderful 101. It's very unfortunate that the game is so misunderstood. Maybe it's the arcade-like nature of the game; the need for the player to challenge themselves and replay levels to get the best out of the game; that made it difficult for critics to find time to appreciate it.

    Everything else Nintendo has been involved with this year is excellent as well. The fact that they made so many great titles in a year where more and more gamers are falling under the spell of cinematic, high concept, topical storytelling and mediocre game design (Bioshock, The Last of Us) has given me hope for the future of gaming.
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  • Avatar for Fresh_Paprika #6 Fresh_Paprika 4 years ago
    I'm not gonna bother writing something about it 'cause Jeremy did it so beautifully already that anything I write will just look poopy (unlike other comments I write that just have a hint of poopy to them), but oh man, Pikmin 3! PIKMINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!! 3. OM-effin-G PIKMINNNN 3!! PikminNNNNNNN!!!!!

    Yeah, Pikmin 3...

    Biggest disappointment: Shin Megami Tensei IV still isn't out in European territories with no date in sight. Out 2013 my plump caboose. It looks really good (love the dark-80s-syth beats in the exploration trailer), I'm hoping it'll finally get me into the series.

    Looking forward to the most in 2014 right now: Monolith Soft's and Nintendo's X project.

    Did I mention I really love Pikmin 3? 'Cause I do.
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