Usually, my top 10 lists are criticized on the basis that I have highbrow tastes. Well, let me say that 2013 was a great year for highbrow videogames and I sincerely hope my list reflects that.
10. Doki Doki Universe
Doki Doki Universe puts you in control of a robot trying to understand humans — and occasionally answering personality quizzes for some reason. There is not much in it as far as gameplay goes, and what there is really repetitive, but the fact of the matter is that Doki Doki Universe is completely hysterical. The game’s writing is borderline insane, and the ‘quizzes’ seem totally off the wall, until it gives you back strangely accurate (or not) personality readings. The gameplay might be dull, but only one game this year had me riding a flying beaver wearing a top hat through the universe while being asked if I would prefer an octopus or a baby for a hat, and I love Doki Doki Universe for being that game.
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
You can always count on Nintendo to reinvent their franchises without losing what made them great in the first place. Well, most of the time, because those last Zelda games were bummers. For me, Skyward Sword was a slog and Twilight Princess was just too plain. There is not much in term of universe and by the end of it the world feels pretty small, but what is there is mechanically sound and extremely intricate. A Link Between Worlds does not reinvent the wheel, but it feels different enough to be interesting, which makes it the most fun Zelda game to play in recent years.
Past the totally dumb—but endearing—humour of Guacamelee, there is a surprising amount of depth in its gameplay. The game throws some pretty difficult combat and platforming sequences at Juan, forcing the player to use all their hard earned luchadore skills in tandem, but what makes Guacamelee so much fun is the near perfect pace at which the game hands these skills out. That, and the great art style that makes you feel like the most awesome luchador to ever walk the earth — besides El Santo.
7. The Swapper
Space is a terrifying and ominous place. Well it seems to be. For me, anyway. The Swapper is at its best when it’s making you feel the cold isolation of space; for most of the game the only people you interact with are clones of yourself, which the game forces you to kill repeatedly. It is a dark and somewhat disturbing case of mechanics reinforcing theme. In terms of the gameplay, what’s there is standard but well designed; the general atmosphere of the game makes it something truly special.
6. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V might be the most expensive game world ever created. It is a grand thing. The breadth of the project is completely egotistical. It is a world built by a bunch of control freaks whose solution to the current limitations of game scope is to throw more money at it. The game is riddled with problems and the script is often condescending but, at the same time, the vision here is unparalleled. It is an impressive game.
With its jazzy soundtrack and trenchcoat-wearing protagonist, Gunpoint is the best at making you feel like a spy. Not one of those John le Carré soporific spy though, but a cool film noir-esque spy with the capacity to jump surprisingly high, and the ability to rewire electronics in strange ways. Gunpoint’s minimalistic approach to visuals and world building ensures that it always hits home; it is a small game that feels complete. It made me feel smart too — and that is probably because it is smarter than I really am.
4. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni no Kuni might be this high on my list only because I share the name of the protagonist, Oliver, which made me relate to him more easily than I should have. That being said, that game is beyond gorgeous. The world is expansive and is a joy to explore just for the sheer beauty of it. Sadly, the game is not mechanically up to par with its visuals; it is enjoyable for sure, but the confused combat system and the mostly rote sidequests bored me later in the game. Luckily, the story makes up for it. It is an ultra-naïve affair, but it is so earnest that I just couldn’t resist it. Whereas normally cat puns would make me roll my eyes in contempt, while playing Ni no Kuni I welcomed all of them. Every. Single. One. Those were purrrdy moments.
3. Gone Home
The representation of women in videogames has been one of the biggest subject of the year and maybe not for the best reasons. I am personally glad that finally we are seeing some progress on that front, and Gone Home might be the best videogame to represent that this year. Limiting it to its social agenda game would be diminutive though — it has so much more to offer. It presents a perfectly created and coherent universe contained in a small but hyper detailed house. The story seems like a typical teenager’s affair, but the way it uses tropes to subverts the usual video game cynicism to surprises its audience is something I will remember for a long time.
2. Papers, Please
Papers, Please is the most stressful game I have played this year. It is an innocuous but kind of dreary looking thing that terrified me as much as I enjoyed it. It feels like Hannah Arendt’s Banality of Evil theory made into a game and it shows wonderfully that gameplay can indeed inform story and emotions. As in real life, it is often way harder to make good in this game than to just ignore everything and be mean because it is your job. That was not my choice. I tried to help the revolution. I got shot for it, but at least I tried.
1. Kentucky Route Zero
This game is something dear to me. It is not even finished and might not ever be (which would be ironic seeing how the second episode directly references Kafka) but what exists is enough to earn my top spot. As of now there are only two “real” episodes available, plus two one-off scenes that can be downloaded for free. What Kentucky Route Zero does different and, for me, better than any other game, is cooperative storytelling. By making most of its choices implied instead of explicit to the story, it gives agency to the player through their own imagination. While the game will not change much between playthroughs, it opens up a ton of possible stories that are up to the player to determine. It is a beautiful game that asks a lot of its audience but rewards them accordingly. Kentucky Route Zero is easily my best game of the year.
- Kentucky Route Zero
- Papers, Please!
- Gone Home
- Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- The Swapper
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
- Doki Doki Universe
Raph's Top 10 | Andrew's Top 10
Visit our 'canon' page to see how 2013 looked compared to years past.