By the time I’ve finished up a review for Risk of Rain, I’ll have reviewed…not a lot of games this year. I spent most of the fall, easily the most plentiful of gaming season this year, doing school work and catching up with friends. As a result, there is an inordinate amount of handheld games and oddities on this list. I played games in cramped positions on buses, in dorm rooms seeking an escape, and maybe after a bright, sunny day of exploring outside. It’s worth evaluating how and why you play games, and I found myself doing that even more often this year. Thanks, 2013; I had one hell of a time playing you.
Favorite Game Released Before 2013, Played in 2013: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare
I didn’t spend a lot of time playing games from 2012, but when I did, it was mostly in attempt to pierce my closest friends with sharp, medieval weaponry. Chivalry is a ridiculous multiplayer experience, and it’s one I can’t recommend enough.
5. Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
Barring Ni No Kuni, which is a far more legitimate title when it comes to experiencing Studio Ghibli’s charm in video game form, Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is the closest you might get to an authentic Hayao Miyazaki experience this year. The beautiful watercolor environments, simplistic card game, and charming characters provided enough commentary on inner-growth and courage to keep me invested for the brief trip.
4. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I was hurdling down a highway in Tennessee when I first learned of Animal Crossing: New Leaf's charms. My significant other purchased it to play on my 3DS during the trip and wore a radiant smile during their town's first days. Each nickname given by one of the townsfolk was a gleeful treat shared between the two of us. A few months later I purchased New Leaf for myself, carved out a new town ("FUNKIN'," for those interested) and spent several months carefully placing flowers, finding the best skirts, and becoming fast friends with most of my town. We entered each other’s towns and introduced our virtual, animal-loving selves. When we parted ways for our respective Universities, my animal inhabitants would remind me of those times by doting upon the guest who had once brightened FUNKIN’.
Now, FUNKIN’ is deserted town aside from a select loyal few who chose to stay and observe the December snow. My former significant other and I don’t speak, and the town rests in a happier, warmer place in my mind. New Leaf is an excellent meditation on time, relationships, consumerism, and several other topics that Kapp’N, the sea-faring, serenading turtle of New Leaf, would never dream of singing about. I don’t know that I’ll ever again have the same serendipitous experience I had with New Leaf this year with any other game, but I’m awarded the pleasure of being able to reminisce and value those times for a long, long while.
3. Fire Emblem: Awakening
The best pocket monsters experience available came out this year, yet I spent the majority of my 2013 grinding in the world of Ylisse. You could look down on Awakening for being Fire Emblem's easiest outing, but the positives outweigh the game’s simplistic difficulty. Over the course of my 30+ hours with Awakening, I was given more personalized options than most other handheld strategy games even bother to offer. Which one of my units would fall in love with whom? What classes would my units turn into after they've been seasoned in battle? With such a malleable party system, Fire Emblem: Awakening handed me the only army I was interested in fighting with: a legion sculpted by my own, Cupid-like hands.
It helped that Awakening may be the closest Fire Emblem has ever gotten to a full-fledged dating sim. Love on, Fire Emblem. Love on.
Nothing this year more closely resembled a true meditative experience than roaming the pixelated hills of Proteus. Playing it is a surreal experience that hasn't been properly elucidated on with time--no matter how many semi-scholarly articles get released on Ed Key's work. At the end of my brief, disparate journeys inside Proteus' generated worlds, I care very little for the meaning behind the harsh statues, that lone cabin, or even the final flight. I care only for how quickly I can jump back into the warmth of spring, or even - as Key himself might have anticipated - how soon I can turn off the computer and take a walk through the closest park available to me.
1. Gone Home
I rarely respect the idea of ownership when playing games. I trespass. I steal. I disturb. I murder without question. Gone Home is a different type of invasion. Here, Katie (I) ruffled through the lives and things of everyone she (I) love to find their tragic flaws, fears, and fatefully executed decisions. It prompted a lot of questions, but I found myself pondering other topics. What would the things that I keep hidden in my home reveal about me? What cassette tapes would I leave around? Can I be a Riot Grrl if I'm a twenty-one year-old dude? (The answer is a resounding no, if you’re curious)
I'm not sagacious enough to predict what effect, if any, Sam's story has on the industry as a whole, but I know seeing what lay at the end of that attic made my insides warm. Furthermore, watching others complete and discover Gone Home's charming center has been one of my biggest pleasures of 2013. Gone Home tops this list because I want more games that invite me to encourage others to play it, to participate in storytelling and the unique experiences that only games can provide. Like Portal and other industry-rattling pieces before and after it, Gone Home briefly transcends the medium as a work others can understand and empathize with, even if they're not interested in extra lives, high scores, or the thrill of doing what you ought not.
Honorable Mentions: Kentucky Route Zero (Parts 1 & 2), Gunpoint, Don't Starve, Depression Quest, Monaco