In 2013, we handled our "Game of the Year" list quite differently. Instead of publishing a single top 10, Gamasutra writers simply picked five games that they loved most in 2013, and we ran them over the couse of last week. Here are those picks, all in one place.
There were so many notable games released this year, I thought it'd be a bit disingenuous for us to pretend to agree on an "official" top 10, or to make believe that our small staff thoroughly played every single game that should have been taken into consideration for 2013. We've got backlogs, just like everyone else.
That said, combined, we did play a lot of video games from all kinds of developers, and have strong opinions on the ones we loved this year. Here are the games Gamasutra's writers loved most during 2013, in alphabetical order.
-- Kris Graft, Editor-in-Chief
868-HACK by Michael Brough
"I fell obsessively in love with Michael Brough's 868-HACK this year -- its sharply-tuned understanding of risk and reward, its compelling visual shorthand, and the sharp imprint of one of recent years' most interesting and distinctive creators. Brough makes mathematical things feel vibrantly alive, like a bouquet of clearly-drawn veins." -- Leigh Alexander - (@leighalexander) Leigh Alexander's Top 5 Video Games
"868-HACK is a perfect combination of game design artistry and rigid mathematical exactitude. It is a game that has a distinct complexity, wrapped in a simple elegance that is concise, and uniquely Michael Brough. 868-HACK feels authored, like someone's hands were on it, caring for its creation -- it has personality woven into its logical rigidness. Every design choice has a purpose, and every choice that you make as a player does, too." -- Kris Graft (@krisgraft) Kris Graft's Top 5 Video Games
Animal Crossing: New Leaf by Nintendo EAD
"If you want to understand how to make a game endless without being exploitative -- which is (or at least ought to be) the goal of pretty much the entire mobile industry right now -- this one should be your guidebook." -- Christian Nutt (@ferricide) Christian Nutt's Top 5 Video Games
"The long, frenetic summer nights spent showing friends around my character's haunted mansion (wait until you see the basement!) and bouncing around in KK Slider's dance club will remain some of my favorite game memories for years to come. They sit alongside ACNL's quieter moments, the meditative daily rituals of watering flowers, collecting fossils, and befriending neighbors... the same sort of pastoral nostalgia that lies within Pokemon and Zelda but without the urgency to advance, defeat, collect behind those games." -- Kris Ligman (@krisligman) Kris Ligman's Top 5 Video Games
Dungelot by Red Winter Software
"The first few times, you'll feel a little like there isn't much to it. Then you begin to pick up on vague tactics here and there, which help you reach the lower dungeons. And two-dozen hours in, you realize that you'll probably play this game for the rest of your life, and you'll actually totally OK with that. Imagine Desktop Dungeons for a more casual audience, but with the depth to keep hardcore players hooked, and you're in the right ballpark." -- Mike Rose (@RaveofRavendale) Mike Rose's Top 5 Video Games
Gone Home by Fullbright Company
"With Gone Home, it's not the designer who's getting in the player's face yelling, 'Stop what you're doing, I have a story to tell!' Leave that to movies and books -- they're really good at that. Instead, Gone Home told players, 'Keep doing what you're doing -- there's a story to be discovered.' -- Kris Graft
"Gone Home achieves the important victory of demonstrating that games can indeed have stories, and be about everyday people -- families, marriages, siblings, even girls -- without cynicism, without market research, without 'choices' or dialogue or violence. And further, that they might be more affecting through simple humanity than through the high-tech 3D-modeled uber-realities that the industry has promised us will bring us "maturity" all this time." -- Leigh Alexander
Guacamelee! by Drinkbox Studios
"The team at Drinkbox quite consciously homed in on what people love about these kinds of games -- exploration, gradual accumulation of power, a good challenge and big 2D boss fights, to name a few traits. Guacamelee! managed to rise above the template of the 'Metroidvania' genre as something that is unique, memorable and just plain fun. It's the best example this year of an original spin on a classic formula." -- Kris Graft
"Throughout the year I couldn’t help recommending this vibrant, challenging little platformer whenever someone came around asking after a great PSN downloadable. It draws inspiration from a body of Mexican folklore that’s sorely under-represented in contemporary games, drawing you in with a gentle sense of humor that belies some wickedly difficult platforming puzzles." -- Alex Wawro (@awawro) Alex Wawro's Top 5 Video Games
Hate Plus by Love Conquers All Games
"Hate Plus didn't quite receive the critical attention enjoyed by its predecessor, Analogue: A Hate Story. This is a great shame because apart from the superior production values, it's also one of the richest examples of storytelling to have graced games in the past year." -- Kris Ligman
Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer
"Only two of Kentucky Route Zero's five planned acts came out in 2013, but what we have seen has been more than sufficient to get a glimpse of what makes Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy's collaboration so aesthetically and narratively compelling. To say the game is existentialist or surrealist is to give both those movements far less than their due, to say nothing of the sheer breadth of literary, visual and theatrical influences Kentucky Route Zero can count among its stable." -- Kris Ligman
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds by Nintendo EAD
"This is literally the most polished game I have ever played in my life. When it's more satisfying to organize your inventory than it is to actually play other games, you know the developers have exerted the utmost care. Clearly it's the work of a team fundamentally considering what a Zelda game can and should be, and exerting effort to ensure that the franchise doesn't fall into the broken-down, banal confusion that it's been veering toward. That's a really respectable goal, and it resulted in a truly great game that bridges the past to the future." -- Christian Nutt
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD by Nintendo EAD
"A lot of people think this game is a mess, and it kinda is, but it's a fantastic mess made out of really lovely chunks that add up to an uneven yet serene experience. While A Link Between Worlds is preternaturally polished, even (important, justified, significant) tweaks can't sand off The Wind Waker HD's rough corners, and that's okay; the game is much more than the sum of its parts. When I finished it, it was like waking up refreshed. I was reminded what video games are and can be." -- Christian Nutt
Papers, Please by Lucas Pope
"Sometimes, through a laudable balance of scripted events and minute-to-minute decisions, players find themselves squeezed between irreconcileable goods, and it's enlightening: It illuminates the puzzles of authority, complicity, nationalism and the self in relation to others that we are so rarely asked to critically consider." -- Leigh Alexander
"It's almost as if you're playing a game whose rules are being iterated right in front of your face. I loved how plainly Papers, Please tells you every day: 'Ok, you learned the rules and you've got the hang of it. Now try to adjust to this and see if your family gets fed tonight.' The game is bleak, the implied social commentary gives you pause. But there's also something classically "game-y" about it. That's a great combination." -- Kris Graft
Pokemon X & Y by Game Freak
"Pokemon X & Y was this huge leap forward that I had in my head for the decade or so, and it once again ignited the part of my brain that had laid dormant for so long, filled with effectivity charts, move lists and general pocket monster tactics. Gone are the seriously outdated visuals and multiplayer capabilities -- in their place stands a glorious 3D Pokemon world, filled to the brim with places to visit and sights to see, and streamlined online components, wrapping up the most social Pokemon title to date." -- Mike Rose
Ridiculous Fishing by Vlambeer
"It's not a small thing, for a game to become part of one's long-term lexicon. But to feel that I genuinely like and believe in the real people behind this particular one -- that I wish for their continued success, because they represent some of the best of the game industry -- makes my relationship to Ridiculous Fishing just a little bit more meaningful. It's a great game, but it stands for something, too, whether it was meant to or not." -- Leigh Alexander
Rogue Legacy by Cellar Door Games
"Too few games use the transitive experience of death as anything other than punishment. Rogue Legacy employs death as a tool for player agency, and for that reason alone I think it’s a game worth playing, especially for anyone who makes them for a living. The fact that it’s a charming, deceptively difficult roguelike platformer in a randomly-generated castle with a goofy art style is just icing on the cake." -- Alex Wawro
Saints Row IV by Volition
"Saints Row IV, in many ways, stands as a culmination of this roiling pot of ideas, folding the free-wheeling experimentation of its predecessor in with space opera RPGs, gnostic cinema, 1950s television, The West Wing and -- yes -- an earnest parable about the magic of Christmas. It is everything that Grand Theft Auto V, in its desire to play the genre straight, is seemingly afraid to be: subversive, messy, and free-spirited." -- Kris Ligman
Shadowrun Returns by Harebrained Schemes
"It’s not easy to tell a cogent, captivating story in a world where dragons troll forums and cyber-augmented street toughs regularly get into skirmishes with supernatural bug spirits, yet Harebrained Schemes managed to make a game chock-full of text that perfectly captures the endearingly cheesy tone of trashy '90s cyberpunk novels." -- Alex Wawro
SpeedRunners by Double Dutch Games and tinyBuild Games
"Imagine the classic Micro Machines but in platforming form, and you're on the right track. Four players rush around a loop, leaping and bounding over and under obstacles, and using special abilities to knock each other off course. It's so simple, yet just so right, to the point where you can play the very same level over and over again for three hours straight, and never get bored. It's the best game of 2013 that you didn't play." -- Mike Rose
Spelunky by Mossmouth
"If I had to choose just one game to play for the rest of my life, I’d choose the Vita version of Spelunky. Derek Yu’s brainchild has made regular appearances in critics’ year-end roundups since its release in 2008, with good reason -- Spelunky’s devilishly challenging levels demand tenacious and skillful play, and their semi-randomized design ensures that no two lives are identical." -- Alex Wawro
The Stanley Parable by Galactic Cafe
"You're actually having a conversation with the narrator, but you reply to and engage the narrator with your actions (i.e., choices), not with words. The Stanley Parable invites players to find their own unique answers, to follow along with or disobey the narrator and come to their own conclusions. It critiques the way games are designed, and the way players play them." -- Kris Graft
"From its general premise, to its pitch-perfect narration, to all of the little ways you can attempt to break the game, only to find that every intricate input and outcome has been considered, there's so much to adore about this sprawling, first-person brain-bender." -- Mike Rose
SteamWorld Dig by Image & Form
"Image & Form, with its mobile background, knows that times have changed, and that there are ways to make games more accessible and engaging without dumbing them down, and that is a fantastic insight expertly applied. A blend of old and new: SteamWorld Dig is a triumph of carefully implementing the right designs at the right times in the right ways. It is totally engrossing." -- Christian Nutt
"It's the flow of the game that really sets it apart. You dig deep, you find gems, you bring them back to the surface, you repeat. But the path that you create through this randomly-generated world remains in place, meaning that backtracking is regularly entertaining. As you begin to pick up special abilities (this is where the Metroid bit comes into play), you'll be able to dig deeper and reach further. It's pretty remarkable how fantastic the level design is, given that 90 percent of the experience takes place amidst randomly-generated squares." -- Mike Rose
Super Mario 3D World by Nintendo EAD Tokyo
"It's a complete survey of the entire franchise's history, taking in all of its gameplay ideas and aesthetic flourishes and, despite the difficulty, blending them into a seamless whole. 28 years of game design ideas, yet everything fits -- including the new stuff. The game is long, polished, playful, and beautiful. You'd think Mario would be out of ways to surprise someone like me, who's played every game in the franchise, but 3D World still managed to." -- Christian Nutt
Typing of the Dead: Overkill by Modern Dream/Sega
"Typing of the Dead: Overkill is no one's bold new vision. What it is, is an assignment done well, carried out by a team going above and beyond its professional obligations not out of some studio's emotional manipulation about crunch or passion, but out of a belief in the work."
Ultra Business Tycoon III by Porpentine
"Ultra Business Tycoon III is fundamentally a game about video games and what they mean to us, from a variety of angles. Twine creators are often brought up in conversations about 'outsider art' ("why not just call it 'art,'" Michael Brough recently said on the subject while we were at an event), but UBTIII, in its way, unfurls an intimate story: how the compelling textures, half-understood rulesets and blunt-edged landscapes of our childhood games were the safest places for many of us to be." -- Leigh Alexander
Westerado by Ostrich Banditos
"I love that the Ostrich Banditos managed to craft a compelling, free-ranging murder mystery with a remarkably circumscribed set of player verbs -- move, aim, shoot, reload. Making anything other than a first- or third-person shooter is a seemingly Herculean task when you’re shackled to those options, but inWesterado you use your trusty six-shooter to accomplish everything from opening gates to comforting the wounded or ferreting out information." -- Alex Wawro
Independent game developer and Gamasutra senior contributing editor Brandon Sheffield (@necrosofty) didn't have much time to play new video games this year. But he did still play some great video games in 2013.
Arcus Odyssey, by Wolf Team
"I recently played this co-op isometric Sega Genesis/Mega Drive action game with Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft, and we got totally hooked by its cleverness. The game has responsive controls, lovely music, and a nice precision to it, but more than that, Arcus Odyssey actually plays with you in interesting ways."
Asuka 120% Burning Fest Limited/Limit Over by Fill-In-Cafe
"This Sega Saturn exclusive is my favorite 2D fighting game of all time. There are others that are 'better,' in terms of technique and execution, but when it comes to ideas, this is far and away the best in my book."
Gate of Thunder by Hudson Soft and Red Entertainment
"The game has fantastic level design. Enemy ships come from places that make a lot of sense -- anyone who has played a scrolling shooter before will be able to feel where the enemies are going to come from before it happens."
Ranger X by Gau Entertainment
"People discuss button fatigue with newer games, where every button does something different, and new players are pushed out of the experience. That's true! But some games aren't for everybody. Some games are just for pros.
Ranger X is such a game."
Super Valis IV by Telenet Japan
"It is a very interesting lesson in game design -- how do you take a completed game and make a new version that actually plays differently, using many of the same assets? Modders would figure this out later, but this is an excellent early example."