Man, this year’s list came depressingly close to being more “the ten new games I played this year, regardless of actual quality” rather than an actual “top ten”. Part of that is putting most of my faith on the Wii U — and we all know how that played out this year, sadly — but fortunately the 3DS stepped up to fill in the blanks. Well, the 3DS and one specific title that dominated my 2013 like few titles ever have. I also wanted to make a quick mention of my Ouya, which has served its intended purpose of allowing me to stream Twitch.tv to my big screen without needing any complicated PC setup. Oh, and I think I played a game or two on it as well!
Honorable Mention: Kersploosh!
Even in the age of mobile apps and free-to-play quickies, I have a hard time weighing a two-dollar eShop offering against what I stubbornly refer to as “real” titles. Kersploosh! is a great little time waster and a terrific value, but not something I can put on my proper best-of list in good conscience. Pick it up if you haven’t already; I’m sure you have some leftover cash in your eShop account.
(Dis?)Honorable Mention: Senran Kagura Burst
Speaking of good conscience, this busty beat-’em-up is another hard game to recommend to the general public, but for completely different reasons. A solid if repetitive brawler, Senran Kagura Burst offers a lot of game for those able or willing to put aside (or, alternately, embrace) the deliberately-exploitative nature of the character models. It’s not a game for everybody, but you probably already know whether or not it’s for you.
10. Star Wars Pinball
My love for pinball both virtual and physical is well-documented on this site, and the team at Zen Studios has been my main provider of late since the Pinball Hall of Fame team doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of Nintendo’s systems for some reason. With tables based on The Empire Strikes Back, the Clone Wars TV series, and one dedicated to Boba Fett, the initial Star Wars Pinball offerings cover the whole range of their available license and make it apparent that there are no limits for future tables. The themes are well-employed, the tables challenging and the physics as solid as virtual steel can be. Pinball fans probably have this already, but it’s worth a look for Star Wars fans as well.
9. DuckTales Remastered
It says something that a remake of a game that is nearly 25 years old is still solid enough to hang with the best modern titles being offered. I don’t want to think that nostalgia plays that much of a role here, although it is undoubtedly a factor. But classic gameplay and fun will stand the test of time and that is exactly what has happened here. Make no mistake: this is an NES-era title with all of the shortcomings that implies: trial-and-error gameplay, cheap deaths and simple two-button gameplay. If these are things you like, miss or can tolerate about games, then DuckTales Remastered is worth a look even if aren’t a fan of the original edition.
8. Pokemon X & Y
If I’m being honest here, the first 3DS edition of the Pokémon franchise was kind of a let-down for me. Oh, it looked amazing, had a solid story, enhanced online features and some new twists to the established formula, including a brand new elemental type to really mix things up (in theory). But it also had the unenviable task of following Pokémon Black & White and their sequels, which really raised the bar with a whole new experience. More importantly, the post-Elite Four content seems lacking, especially compared to that of their predecessors. But up to that point, Pokémon X & Y was another solid adventure in an ever-expanding universe. Hopefully another title down the line will rekindle my interest in training up a new team of pocket monsters.
7. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
If you want to be technical, Animal Crossing: New Leaf might be the game I’ve played the most this year. As of this writing I currently have been mayor of my little town for a little over 400 hours since taking office in early June, which is kind of insane, and the fact that I still have at least six months to go kind of frightens me. There’s just something about the zen-like experience of tending weeds, talking to neighbors, decorating my house and funding the occasional mayoral public works project that keeps drawing me back over and over.
6. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
I’m not a fan of Mario platformers (spoiler: you won’t find Super Mario 3D World on this list), but the world and characters do well in spin-offs, especially their quirky take on RPGs. Dream Team is more of the same excellent actiony RPG elements that we’ve come to expect from the Mario & Luigi franchise, this time with added emphasis on Luigi as we enter his dreams and get a glimpse as to what makes the bro in green tick. This wasn’t a flagship title during the Year of Luigi, but it might have been the most significant for Luigi’s development as a character.
5. Lego City Undercover
One of the first significant Wii U exclusives to arrive post-launch, Lego City Undercover offered open-world gameplay with the traditional goofy Lego charm while making decent use of the GamePad for various functions. I actually regret having to put this game aside before I was able to truly plumb its depths, but the story mode alone is still worth the price of admission. You’re going to have to suck up some unfortunate loading times along the way, however, but the flip side of that is otherwise seamless transitions as you progress from district to district in this surprise-filled city.
4. Fire Emblem: Awakening
“Awakening” is an appropriate subtitle for this entry into the Fire Emblem line-up, as it is one of the most inviting tactical titles to come along in some time. I would be very surprised if this game wasn’t responsible for bringing many new fans to the fold, offering several difficulty settings and a well-presented narrative with a unique hook in addition to the series’s intricate strategy RPG roots. If you really like what you find here, there is a wealth of additional DLC content to keep you on the battlefield, but even without that, Awakening is one of the best titles of the year.
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
For probably the first time in history, a Mario title and a Zelda title hit shelves on the same day this year. While Super Mario 3D World had the unenviable task of trying to bolster Wii U sales this holiday season, A Link Between Worlds merely had to compete with an already jam-packed 3DS library. And it had to do so while acting as a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, widely considered one of the best games ever made. But as he always does, Link rose to the challenges and emerged victorious. A Link Between Worlds harkens back to a simpler time for the franchise, back before worlds became sprawling and epic, and instead distills the Zelda gameplay down to its essence: navigating a pair of secret-filled overworlds and exploring nearly a dozen puzzle-filled dungeons. The new twist of renting items keeps your options open, and the new mechnic of merging into walls provides new challenges, but Zelda is Zelda and very rarely is Zelda ever not awesome.
2. The Wonderful 101
As I mentioned in my review, I waited for The Wonderful 101 for a long time. It was nice to see that patience paid off with an awesome brawler filled with crazy superhero powers. Like many Wii U exclusives (not that there are a lot of them right now), W101 makes interesting use of the GamePad, both for its gimmick of drawing shapes to enable Unite Morphs and for “cave” segments where the action moves to the smaller screen. The narrative of employing your squad of superheroes to take down an alien invasion takes some hilarious turns along the way, with each chapter becoming more and more outrageous. The gameplay makes similar wild leaps, hopping from genre to genre in between the standard segments that are themselves filled with advanced techniques and combos to reward players who choose to dive into the system. This hardcore nature will alienate it from more casual players, but those who enjoy the type of game Platinum Games usually produces shouldn’t miss this one.
1. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
I mentioned that I have 400 hours of play in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but I have just as much time logged into Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate with no end in sight. Ever since April (since I had to put Lego City Undercover, released in the same week, ahead of my review), whenever I haven’t been working on a new title I have found myself obsessed by slaying giant dragons and carving them up for parts to make better armor and weapons to take on tougher monsters. I didn’t even finish Pandora’s Tower because I would much rather have been playing MH3U, and other titles were quickly put aside once finished so I could get back to my slaying. Being able to transfer my save between the Wii U and 3DS versions has been incredible; about 250 hours of my total time so far has been on the 3DS mostly for portability reasons, but that’s still well over 100 hours of time put into the Wii U, a system that wishes it had other titles that could boast half of that longevity. Whether single-player, local multiplayer with 3DS-owning friends or online play with other Wii U owners, MH3U has been the gift that keeps on giving this year, and will certainly continue well into the next. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think someone’s ringing the hunting gong: it’s time to take down another monster.