Look back at 2013, The Year That Was, and you’ll notice, Hey, it really was The Year That Was. Old bands made new albums (Boards of Canada, Queens of the Stone Age, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc.), and seemingly every good band from the first part of the decade produced solid new releases (The Naked and Famous, The Head and the Heart, Arcade Fire, etc.). Plus, the usual entourage of pop stars (Beyoncé, Jay, Justin, Kanye) released album after album to commercial success. Except Lady Gaga. She’s finally old news—another high mark of the year.
In film, we had kick-ass blockbusters (Pacific Rim, Thor: The Dark World) and poignant Oscar bait (12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and the criminally under-viewed Dallas Buyer’s Club, among others). We had impressive new comedies (The Heat, We’re the Millers) and a jaunty, funny, highly anticipated—but admittedly unnecessary—sequel (Anchorman 2).
Print journalism proved, yet again, that it cannot be taken down; Kickstarter earned a place in our cultural lexicon, allowing for artistic freedom; and T.V. officially entered its golden age (Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, and all of the other Netflix series besides Hemlock Grove.) In books… Did anything cool happen in publishing? You know, besides the whole journalism thing? Oh, there was that whole J.K. Rowling thing. That was pretty cool. But, again, did anyone really care about the actual book involved? Nope? Okay. Moving on.
A ton of other cool—and literally Earth-altering—political stuff happened, but we don’t care about that, right? It’s the media that matters; the representation of our culture, the projection of what society is like in any given century, decade, year—day, if you’re on Twitter. Media: the facet of our society that we can all, from any background, bond over.
2013 may have been The Year That Was, media-wise, but it’s more than that. 2013 was The Year of the Video Game. These ESRB statistics prove it. As gamers, we’re more diverse than ever—and the best titles of this year only drive that point home. We’ve evolved as gamers, we’ve evolved as game designers, and we’ve evolved as game critics. I guess you could say the industry, as a whole, has…leveled up. (Kill me whenever.)
These are my five favorites games of the year.
|#5 Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – PS3
I want to say this game will charm your socks off, but it features a young child, so I don’t want to say it will charm any of your clothes off. Just a disclaimer. Don’t expect a sexy game, at all; it’s one of the seemingly few this year that’s not. Ni No Kuni—a portmanteau of traditional JRPG gameplay, a Pokémon-style creature collection system, and patent Studio Ghibli artistry—is charm incarnate. You’ll see cat people. You’ll see ridiculous puns (Hamelin, for example, is a town full of pigs). You’ll see a member of your party use love—literal pink, dancing hearts—to woo creatures to your side. But most important, you’ll feel like a child again; you will, through the shoes of Oliver, the main character, traverse through the worlds and events that were in your head when you were eight. That’s something very few games successfully do.
|#4 Battleblock Theater – Xbox 360
Remember couch co-op? Like, how we used to have our friends physically come over instead of, I don’t know, talking on a mic? Well, Battleblock is one of the few games of this year—and recent years, at that—that does this with any merit. In this platformer, the goal, ultimately, is to get to the end of each level. Uh, cool? Well, along the way, you can screw with your friends in a manner of ways—push them off cliffs, stop them while they’re jumping over gaps, drop them in pools of acid. It’s all in good fun, though: The art style is cartoony to the degree that it counteracts the violent undertones, the music is zany, and the overall feel hovers just above—or below, given your perspective—absurdity.
|#3 The Last of Us – PS3
A healthy mix of unoriginal dialogue, apathetic storytelling, hideous graphics, unplayable shooting mechanics, a faulty crafting system, characters flatter than a pre-Copernicus Earth, terrible framerate issues, the absence of giraffes, an unrealized world, poorly thought-out level design, cheesy voice acting, unsophisticated motion capture, infuriatingly easy enemies, and a plain old sense of boredom make this game the most unplayable piece of shit in recent history. It is the epitomization of “so bad it’s good.” EDIT: Our fact-checkers informed me that every single thing on that list is the polar opposite of the truth. So, uh, my bad?
|#2 DiveKick – Xbox 360
Two buttons. Two moves. Two characters on a screen. One hit point. There are five rounds and no bots (meaning versus mode is the only game mode). Can you think of a fighting game with a faster pace? Doubt it. It’s screamingly competitive—but, by the start of the next round, loser’s infuriation and winner’s glory have been forgotten. All that remains is the kick. And the dive.
|#1 Color Sheep – iPhone
You control a sheep—nay, a color changing sheep. A chameleon sheep? Chamelosheep? Anyway. This amazing animal fires beams of colorful light into wolves of corresponding color. Sounds simple, and it is—but it is beyond entertaining. I think I played, like, a hundred hours of this game. On transit, in waiting rooms, for travel. Anywhere. Anytime. Guys, it’s like a buck. Just buy it (iPhone; Android), and you’ll see why it’s the best game of the year.
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