Team Joystiq is barging into 2014 with a celebration of last year's best games. Keep reading throughout the week to see our assembly of ingenious indies and triple-A triumphs.
No game surprised me more in 2013 than DmC: Devil May Cry. That surprise has absolutely nothing to do with some diehard devotion to Capcom's internally developed quartet of games in the original series either. What surprised me was the fact that Ninja Theory finally made something that lived up to the promise of Enslaved and Heavenly Sword. Both games aimed high in trying to deliver bitchin' action and deeply human tales, but both missed the mark. In DmC, they finally nailed it.
Young Dante's fight against the demons is classic coming-of-age stuff. Rushing through Limbo feels like if J.D. Salinger wrote Dead Leaves. The combat, meanwhile, felt meatier than the limp button mashing of Enslaved, but more accessible than ball busters like Devil May Cry 3.
Hagar from Final Fight may be the best mayor in all of video game history, but I may have been the second best thanks to Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Pound for pound, I played with Nintendo's strange little imaginary world more than any other game and never once felt bored or frustrated. Neither did I feel that crazy head rush of accomplishment and inertia you get from RPGs, sports or action games. Crafting my town into a thriving forest community, thick with pine trees, was unlike any other game experience. I wanted to keep playing, but not because I wanted more stuff for my house or to raise the most bells. Animal Crossing is just a fun place to be, and its fun is whatever you make of it. This version feels like the perfected vision of what started on Nintendo 64.
For such a regularly used metaphor when talking about games, few are actually dreamlike. Games by their very nature need to be pretty rigid and defined by rules. Press a button, Simon Belmont whips a hunchback, and that scenario stays the same no matter how much it feels like your dreams after late night sandwiches. Ed Key and David Kanaga's game, meanwhile, feels downright oneironautical. Wandering around the hazy island of their game, ascending through what seem like whole seasons, is both deeply comforting and crazily unsettling. One second, you're chasing a little pixelated frog thing, the next you're trying not to float off into space. Playing it again and again always reveals something new and bizarre.
Drinkbox Studios got some well-deserved love in our "Twenty developers you don't know, but should" feature, and Guacamelee is a big reason why. It's become de rigueur in the indie scene to make open-ended, two-dimensional action games in the Metroid style these past few years, but that's also one of the very hardest types of game to make. Guacamelee gets everything right with its DayGlo Aztec world of luchadors, Luciferian chickens, and succulent exploration. Juan was my favorite character to play as in 2013. What a bad ass with his air combos and double jumps and Passionist chest tats!
I never got over Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara. As a 13-year-old kid I must have pumped a college fund worth of quarters into the cabinet. I bought a Sega Saturn ten years ago just to play it at home. Never in a million years did I expect I would one day get a perfect, almost never-ending would-be sequel to that game. Vanillaware's game has an expertly paced campaign that leads into a perfect online arcade game, making the quest for loot a pleasurable risk-reward tug of war. The rapacious art – dripping meat, impossible anatomy, and thick color – just plain fills you up too.
Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2013 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups.