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.
It's still hard to believe that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon exists, and perhaps that's why this standalone expansion is so great. Who'd have thought Ubisoft had it in them to greenlight a Far Cry 3 reskin that traded the 2012 game's colorful jungle and wicked undertones for 1980s neon, Michael Biehn, and dinosaurs shooting lasers out of their eyes?
Not only does it provide a wonderfully excessive version of Far Cry 3's open-island action, but with its dumb humor and loving pastiches Blood Dragon crams an impressive number of standout moments into one bite-sized package; this passage of play (spoiler warning!) is without doubt one of my favorite moments from any game in 2013. Persona 4 Golden
This is my real GOTY, but unfortunately it's a tiny bit ineligible for our main vote. It may have been released in Europe (where I live) earlier this year, but it arrived in North America last year. And it's a Vita re-release of the 2008 PS2 game, so there's that.
Still, I enjoyed P4G way more than any other game this year, and while its deep dungeon crawling and Golden enhancements are to be applauded, the chief reason is its convincing, understandable,and invariably endearing cast. The game manifests their deepest, darkest thoughts as powerful, bitter demons to defeat in battle, providing degenerate profiles of otherwise ordinary-seeming teenagers. Yet each manifested mess of thoughts, however rancid, feels genuine and valid. So many JRPGs are a cacophony of premature angst, but by the end of P4G I couldn't recall a group of video game characters I'd cared about more.
After sharing 100 hours and an in-game calendar year with them, it was sad to say bye to the likes of Chie, Kanji, and Rise. Luckily, Atlus has around 500 P4 spin-offs on the way. BioShock Infinite
Even in a new world, with fresh characters and a significantly different approach, BioShock Infinite still lingers in the shadow of the 2007 masterpiece. For all it does right, Infinite doesn't take my breath away like BioShock did, but maybe that was always an impossibility.
That said, there aren't many developers capable of dreaming up a setting and telling a gripping, twisty-turny story in it like Irrational can, and Infinite is a marvel to play. It also brought us the joy of sky-railing, which must become the thing of 2014, thank you please. Guacamelee
After a few minutes of the Mexican flavor, vivacious art, and pop humor of Guacamelee, I suspected I'd end up liking it. After discovering the "Los Casa Crashers" and "Fuerte Malo" references, I knew I was going to like it. After a few hours of seeing how it interwove taxing combat with dexterous puzzle-platforming, a la Metroid, I knew I was going to love it. Few games improve as you play them, but Guacamelee just gets better and better and better. Pokemon X/Y
In his review, Earnest called Pokemon X/Y "hands-down the best in the series," and I couldn't agree more. While the main campaign is a bit too easy for my tastes, the 3DS game is a bucketload of welcome refinements and additions, and not just a barely worthwhile iteration as has too often been the case before. Even the easiness is somewhat forgivable, since it plays to the series' mantra of mixing accessibility with underlying depth.
Finally, if a game has a button that lets you like an online passerby you by making "Nice!" flash up on their bottom screen, then that's a game that deserves some love. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
The other Poke-game of 2013, Level-5's JRPG has its own cavalcade of critters to collect and employ in battle, and just like Pokemon some are plain adorable, and others a bit weird. That said, the dynamic, testing combat is the real star of the show, and I love how it can take you to very brink of defeat but give you the chance to claw your way back.
If the Studio Ghibli visuals are the mouthwatering presentation of the Ni No Kuni fondant, then the combat is the gooey chocolate middle that doesn't disappoint.
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.