(Jumpcast co-host and Free to Play regular Mike LeMieux offers us his thoughts on his games of the year.)
Hi, I'm Mike, and this was a goddamn good year for games. This was kind of the year where you got a little bit of everything. I had some major changes in my life this year and I was afraid gaming would have to take a backseat, but aside from foregoing the new consoles, I was happy to continue playing awesome games. I feel like what I ended up with this year for a top 10 list is especially diverse and speaks really well of the kind of year we had. It's a good time for people who enjoy video games! Now without further ado...
Starting us off is Pokémon Y. I really wanted to like this Pokémon game more because they did so many things right. I love all the new Pokémon, the new graphics were wonderful (albeit a little frame-y too often), and basically every other new system they implemented was great. I mean, petting your Pokémon? Come on. Tell me with a straight face that you did not love every second of that. What keeps this from being higher on my list is that it was sort of brain dead easy. I rolled just about every Pokémon Gym I came to on my first try. It also fell into the recent Pokémon trap of WAY TOO MANY CAVES. It feels like they are eventually building to a completely subterranean game.
All that being said, I still enjoyed Pokémon Y quite a bit. I mean, I'm here saying it's one of the ten best games of the year, aren't I? I put dozens of hours in to this game and love every Pokémon I caught. The online integration is flawless. As I said before the added mini games are great. It feels like they are so close to making the perfect Pokémon game. Onward to Pokémon Z!
I super enjoyed Tomb Raider 2013. Way, way more than I thought I would. Something about this game really struck a chord with me. I enjoyed the setting, the gameplay, and most amazingly of all the characters. Now I'm not a person that holds any particular nostalgia for the Tomb Raider series. Lara Croft was always that character whose picture in EGM the weird kid in class would lick (true story). Gross stories aside, I went into Tomb Raider 2013 with very little baggage. I got it cheap pretty far from release and didn't even fire it up for a while after buying it. When I did, I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it. At its core it's an Uncharted-like that, while not necessarily bringing much new to the table, managed to really entertain me. I loved the setting and the situations the game put you in. The combat scenarios the game would throw at you were (mostly) a blast. One thing I wasn't super crazy about was the weird torture porn aspect of the game, but ignoring that, it was solid...still a little weird, though.
Saints Row IV was a dumb game. A duuuuuuuuumb game. So dumb! A robot orb sucks your dick! I heavily considered ending this writeup right there. Anyway, let's get this out of the way up front: SR4 is not as good of a game as Saints Row The Third. It's jankier, it's smaller, it's shorter. But what it lacks in all those areas it makes up for in sheer stupidity and don't-give-a-fuck-itude. Saints Row IV is a game that seems to value, above all else, fun.
Volition created a sandbox and gave me the tools to just have a blast. Plot? Dumb and fun. Super powers? Sure, why the hell not. The game gets repetitive and, like I said, it's kinda short, but I still loved it. Additionally, Saints Row IV contains the most well-done, realistic and respectful romance scenes I've ever seen in a game.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a step in the right direction for the series. After last year's disappointing AC3, it was nice to get back to what felt more like a classic Assassin's Creed game. Now don't get me wrong, I didn't totally hate AC3, but Connor was such a downer buzzkill. Edward Kenway is the devil-may-care polar opposite of his grandson. The tone shift and a lot of design choices did a lot to make the game more enjoyable. The sailing was also a blast. AC4 has its fair share of problems, though. The out-of-Animus stuff is weird and has like zero payoff. The mission variety is really small. Basically every other mission is you glitchily following someone over and over until the game decides you get to pass. There's also way too much stuff they want you to collect, it's overwhelming. None of these stop the game from being a blast to play most of the time, though. It's really good and, if you've passed on it because of AC3, give it a look. The ship stuff is great! Except when they somehow expect you to be a stealth boat.
I've always been vulnerable to Monster Hunter games, but Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (the Wii U version) got its wyvren claws in me harder than any of the others. I ended up making it to the "real" monster hunting of G-Rank, the highest class of missions in the game. This takes an awfully long time and an awful lot of killing things. It never got dull because what it also requires is online play.MH3U's online is super well done. Lots of lobbies and good search options were welcome, but I still play the game entirely with my friends. It became a nightly ritual to go out and hunt a few things. It was a blast. The coordination, teamwork, and perseverance it took us to take down some of those stronger monsters made the eventual carving all the sweeter. Monster Hunter isn't a game for everyone but this is the best Monster Hunter you can get right meow. Consider giving it a look.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is undoubtedly the game I played most this year. At the time of writing I have played 257 hours. I have played every single day since release and, again, at the time of this writing New Leaf came out 210 days ago. That is a little over an hour of play every single day for SIX MONTHS. At this point it's easier to think of Animal Crossing as more of a daily ritual than a game. Animal Crossing: New Leaf has refined the AC formula down to its purest form and delivers it straight into your pupil for maximum effectiveness.
It's hard to say what AC:New Leaf does, well, new. Nintendo has perfected the gameplay loop of hang out, do stuff, get stuff, repeat. The online interactions, the events, the slow drip of content; it's all executed masterfully. For what type of game it is, I mean. The multiplayer is fun, the game is cute, and it's kept my attention for six months and going. That's the sign of a really well made game. Side note: Death to Pietro.
Above all other games on my list, I want you to play The Wonderful 101. Please. It's a criminally ignored game. What Hideki Kamiya and his team crafted is nothing short of magical. There wasn't a single game I played this year that was packed with more ideas than Wonderful 101. I'm not even sure where to start with this game. The Wonderful 101 harkens back to the days of having to master a game (or at least apprentice it, I guess) before it can really click. I really did not like Wonderful 101 for the first few days I played it, but at some point you start to wrap your head around the crazy morphing powers and how to fight best and then it just... falls into place. What you find is one of the best playing games ever. The game is so goddamn tight and fluid, it leads to you really feeling like that giant combo that one shotted the difficult enemy was all you.
The story of Wonderful 101 was also suitably crazy. It held me all the way through. I loved the humor, the characters, the atmosphere. The game oozes Kamiya style. I'm honestly not sure what else to write about this game. It's just awesome. It will leave you in awe. It has some major problems, but the good outweighs the bad so hard it isn't funny. This is a game that was released and vanished, and there's no reason for that. If you can, play this game. Please.
Gone Home is a game that can be beaten in one sitting that you barely interact with. Gone Home is also easily one of the best games released this year. It's something special. It's the kind of finely crafted vision that proves what games can be. I probably said something similar last year about The Walking Dead. Well, I might have, but if I did it's doubly true for Gone Home. The narration and atmosphere created in it draw you into a story and into a roll better than any other game I've ever seen.
Really Gone Home is a game about observation. It's an almost voyeuristic look into the lives of people who in no way exist but still manage to feel extremely real. It feels so deeply personal. In a way making a game about learning about people's lives through reading their diaries and crumpled notes is a little weird. But it works. It works really, really well. By the end of that game I felt changed as a person, and it's kind of amazing that video games can do that, isn't it?
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was a hair's breath away from being my game of the year. It was extremely, extremely close. I'm someone who loves A Link to the Past. It is virtually flawless. An excellent game from start to finish, but you knew that. I came into LBW with baggage, because I have a lot of reverence for LttP, but, like I said, this game was almost my favorite game of the year. Nintendo nailed it. LBW strikes a great balance between nostalgia and shaking up the series a bit. That last part is something Zelda games have really needed for the last couple iterations. Once I started this game I couldn't stop until I beat it.
What a great ride. I really enjoyed the change to the way items worked. Having virtually everything available to you from the start meant they weren't ball and chained to one item in dungeon design. And many puzzles and situations seemed to have more than one solution. More than once someone told me "Oh, I didn't know you could use ____ for that!". The characters, the story, the dungeons, the gameplay, all of those things work together in concert to add to the total sum of this excellent, excellent game. This will probably go down as the best Zelda in a good long while. Good job, Link!
And here it is, my #1 game. Super Mario 3D World is AMAZING. Just whoa! I had a big doofy smile on my face the entire time I was playing this, and there is a lot of game to be having doofy smiles through. SM3DW is an interesting game when you compare it to its pseudo-predecessor Super Mario 3D Land. The games actually share very little in common, only the most basic of ideas. While 3DLand seemed like more of a bringing of 2D Mario style gameplay into 3D space, 3D World is a fusion of 2D Mario and 3D Mario gameplay and they blend the two perfectly.
There are so many great ideas in 3D World that you often find yourself seeing something only once or twice. Like the portable piranha plant. Some game could be entirely around just that mechanic. Every new stage is a delight and a surprise at what they're going to throw at you next. Everything hits, I can't really think of a stage I didn't enjoy. Now don't get me wrong, some stages frustrated the hell out of me but that's because some of the levels can be downright devious. Someday I will beat you, Crown World...
The return of the SMB2 style multiple characters is also a welcome throwback. All the characters and all the suits add a lot of variety to the levels when you replay them to find green stars. Every level, I hit random and watched the slot machine spin to determine what character I would use. I guess that's what 3D World excelled in best for me, being unexpected. Whether you were suddenly jumping from a pirate ship level to a circus level or finding yourself in some crazy gimmick stage it kept you on your toes all the way to the end. And after that there were tons of post-game stages, some of which are cruelly hard. Really there's nothing bad I could say about it. I guess you could say the first few levels start out a little slow and maybe the Plessie levels missed their mark a little, but that would be splitting the thinnest of hairs. I feel Super Mario 3D World is undoubtedly the best game I played this year. I loved every second of it and was sad when it ended. It walked the line between innovation and nostalgia, but still brought you new ideas every level. And the game was just so goddamn FUN. It was a hell of a year for games, but Mario certainly shines the brightest.
Normally I'm not a fan of honorable mentions despite doing them last two years, but there's two particular games I want to highlight that I fell in love with after my list got locked. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a marvelous example of executing a vision through a videogame. It's also a stunning example of using video game mechanics to create an emotional connection with the player. Ace Attorney: Duel Destinies is a fantastic Phoenix Wright game. It has its share of problems, specifically the neutering of investigating, but the humor, characters, and storylines do their part to make up for it. It also looks wonderful. Also that freaking DLC case was amazing. I heartily recommend both games (as well as the previous 10).