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.
For each day of fruit-harvesting, monster-killing progress I make in Pikmin 3, I burn two or three attempts just mapping out my best possible plan of action on the Gamepad. It's a style of play that I typically move on from pretty quickly, but making off with a hefty batch of resources without more than a few Pikmin dying in the process is so satisfying that it's easy for me to stay with it.
It helps that Pikmin 3's world is so interesting to explore, too - guiding Pikmin and their tiny captains through caves, snowy hills and grassy pathways is enjoyable even without discovering new treasures. As inviting as the initial cast is though, crossing paths with the game's creatively stressful brand of wildlife cuts bursts of tension into the task of gathering food. Meeting Pikmin 3's roster of unsettling enemies imposes a sense of vulnerability on me, one I imagine my miniature fleets share while following my lead through larger-than-life environments.
Of course, victory feels even better when it involves stomping out populations of nightmarish foes. I've never lasted long when faced with obstacles like those found in Pikmin 3, but its offering of challenge in a creative, intriguing world has kept me invested in daily runs for supplies.
As a kid, I treated my Game Boy like most adults treat their cell phone - leaving the house without it was an accident, even if my plans had nothing to do with using it. The hours I poured into Pokemon Red, Pokemon Yellow and Pokemon Silver explained my Pokemon-branded bedsheets and school supplies, but the series began to lose me around the release of Pokemon Ruby. The lack of an encore region and less interesting Pokemon designs made it tough for me to see Ruby's badge quest through, and after feeling underwhelmed with Pokemon Pearl, I decided I was done with the series.
I'm happy to say Pokemon X/Y didn't just change my mind, it stoked the ashes of my love for Pokemon into a barnhouse blaze. Exploring the Kalos region excites me like my repeated trips through Kanto did, and I once again refuse to leave each route until I'm convinced I've caught its roster of Pokemon. Tweaks to the formula like the early availability of Exp. Share, an item that splits experience earned from battles among your whole party, have just made it easier to fit Pokemon binges into my adult life. Considering that the 3D Pokemon models shown in battles also remind me of a portable Pokemon Stadium, it's easy to view Pokemon X/Y as the continuation of the series I've wanted for years.
Geometry Wars 2 lived a long life among my friends and me due to its mastering of "one more turn," arcade-like gameplay, and Resogun feels like the beginning of a similar situation. Despite now being unable to tape fresh victories to a college dorm wall for friends to take personally, Resogun's cylindrical stages full of targets still place a satisfying emphasis on high scores. Mishandling multiplier streaks or dying after getting greedy serve more as inspiration to get things right next time instead of evoking pure frustration. Turning up the difficulty forced me to overhaul piloting strategies, too - I learned to adopt a cautious nature in my Master runs after my pre-existing, braindead flight patterns got me killed in under a minute.
Even with Resogun's trophies cleared, I know I'll still sink hours into trying to build high scores my friends can never topple. Resogun has made forming rivalries over points fun again, and that's something I'm glad to have a strong example of so early in the new generation.
Grand Theft Auto 5
While Saints Row 4 made me laugh in under 15 minutes, it took a few hours for Grand Theft Auto 5 to earn its first smirk from me. The series' fondness for crude situations was an expected return, but an absence of wit left some punchlines feeling like juvenile gags I eagerly awaited the end of.
It's a good thing the rest of GTA5 strikes me just right. Considering the diversity of missions lining its lively streets and the vastness of Los Santos, GTA5 lays down a great foundation for the continuation of my favorite open world series. Surprisingly, GTA5's sprawling toy box isn't the only thing I'm fond of - the narrative hand-off between the dysfunctional trio of Michael, Trevor and Franklin results in storytelling that leaves me rushing through missions to see what will happen next. Franklin is probably the only protagonist I really care for, but I'm often wondering whether Michael can rebuild his family or what Trevor will elevate his antics to next.
For a game telling the stories of people I largely don't care for, I find it remarkable how invested GTA5 keeps me in earning the next portion of its off-the-wall soap opera. With side attractions littered across Los Santos and plenty of diverse geography to wreck havoc on, GTA5 will definitely keep its place in my disc tray in the early months of 2014.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
You might write off Animal Crossing: New Leaf as a furniture-collecting simulator like I did initially, but giving the role of small-town mayor a shot has been a confusingly rewarding experience for me. Why do I enjoy planting new orchards, constantly being tricked into buying fake artwork or ensuring that my town's inhabitants know that I'm the bug-catching champion? I'm not entirely sure, but New Leaf effortlessly turns mundane actions into a game that has cemented itself into my daily schedule.
New Leaf keeps me engrossed in the way that the first playthrough of any great game does, except New Leaf doesn't really end. It remains as fun to rack up fresh debt with Tom Nook as it was when I had just picked my in-game house, and juggling my virtual life while trying to keep villagers I like from moving away has left me with a constantly drained 3DS battery. New Leaf's willingness to let me play with its world as I wish, even if that involves posting death threats on the town message board, serves as a satisfying incentive to constantly check in on my oddly engrossing town of Galbadia.
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.