In 2013, people play too many games, in too many ways, for a list of "best" games to hold its meaning across contexts. What does the harried mother with an iPhone care if the new Zelda lets her play dungeons out of order? What does the 10-year-old virtual architect care about the philosophical implications of BioShock? What does the 24 year old Battlefield addict care about the genre subversions of Gone Home?
This year, there were more worthy games, made for more people, than ever. Some of the tightest, smartest, most devious game design this year can be found not in big budget spectaculars (though there were plenty of those) but in games targeted at commuters, kids, people who have no interest spending hours and hours in front of a television or a monitor.
With that fact in mind, I decided to poll the editorial staff here, some of them rabid gamers, some of them anything but, and asked them: What were the games, released, rereleased, or popularized this year, that captivated you? Their answers ranged from the most traditional big studio games to the most heavily monetized mobile distractions, from iterations to originals, from the delightful to the disturbing. Also, I snuck in a few of my own.
Happy holidays, and I hope that you choose to share in some of the joy BuzzFeed got from games in 2013.
A Link Between Worlds
"This game is weird, and hard, and SO SO GOOD. Like miss-your-subway-stop, cancel-dinner-with-your-cousin good. You choose your own adventure for the bulk of it — there's no order to the dungeons and all crucial items are available for rent from the get-go — which, as I wrote about here, is both unsettling and liberating. It's also incredibly fun to be able to bend the rules of Zelda-physics: Link has the ability to merge with walls and slip through tiny cracks, which breathes a ton of life into the usual game map and makes wonderful, intuitive use of the 3DS as a platform. If I could have anything for Christmas it would be that Nintendo would finally, finally re-release Majora's Mask for the 3DS and then I would probably never go to work or see my loved ones again, oh well."
-Alanna Okun, DIY Associate Editor
Batman: Arkham Origins
"This is a great prequel that doesn't stray too far from the other games in the series, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. It's a great introduction to the Joker, clueing us in to what really drove him to insanity. The game is more of the same stuff you played in the previous Arkham games, but the map is bigger, there is a larger variety of enemies and you can go to the Batcave, finally!"
-Justin Dailey, Junior video producer
"The intro is great. It starts out intentionally sparse with the plot. You're just sort of dropped off at a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean and before you can figure out why, you're blasted into the sky and introduced to the beautiful set pieces of this floating city called Columbia, all accompanied by this jangly, turn-of-the-century piano music. Then there's this awesome part where there are people singing hymnals and offering to baptize you, and instead of blasting your way through them as you would in most other first person shooters, you just wander around this beautiful city for a bit, soaking it all in, feeling pretty good about everything. It was all just a really pleasant way to start a game."
-Tanner Ringerud, Geeky Editor
"I loved playing BioShock Infinite this year, with an affection I'd normally reserve for a more traditional narrative, a great book or movie. It was certainly not a perfect game, but the terrain it explores is somehow incredibly personal; I occasionally still find myself yearning to spend a little more time wandering Columbia's floating streets. The most interesting and personally affecting aspect of the game, for me, is the way it approximates the confusing logic of grief. As it veers into its many-worlds theory, the game's story gets right at how it feels to lose someone close to you: The inevitable desire to go back and somehow change events, to bring them back, or rather make it so they never left to begin with. Booker's attempts to change history circle back, again and again, to decisions he wishes he could unmake, but ultimately end always with the same, sorry result. The lyrics of the hymn he plays about halfway through the game, which resurface again during the credits, make it clear this mournful aspect of loss wasn't accidental in the making of the game:
There are loved ones in the glory
Whose dear forms you often miss.
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?
-Scott Lamb, Vice President of International
"Candy Crush first seduced me when I saw it nestled into theApp Store's top downloads chart. There it was, staring at me from under sultry, heavy-lidded eyes, begging me to add it to my phone and finally see what all the sexy hype was about. Since then, my life has become a whirlwind romance with that stupid app, an Eat-Pray-Love of swiping those goddamn candies around all over New York City with the infatuation of a teenager nursing her first crush. Though both my skill and my attention span have now plateaued around level 105, I'll still no longer be a Capulet. To me, Candy Crush, you are perfect."
-Jessica Misener, Senior Editor
"This simple, addictive mobile game from Betaworks alleges that it's about "connecting" (connect the dots, get it?). It's simple: Hit start and you'll find a soothingly organized, square board of 36 polka dots in five different twee colors. You clear as many dots as you can by drawing a line between same colored dots, in either lines or squares — the squares are the real key to success here, as they clear all of the dots on the board in that particular color. There are no branded characters or cute scenarios or special levels in Dots. It's just you, alone, with the dots, a timer, and a nagging sense of something else you might be spending your time on if these tiny dots weren't sweetly whispering your name."
-Summer Burton, Managing Editorial Director
"I first played Earthbound when I was 9, and it blew my young mind that a game could be so weird and so different. I filled all my school notebooks with drawings of the characters and somehow managed to get my 2nd grade teacher to accept a "book report" on the game. It was released on the Nintendo virtual console this year and in a lot of ways it was like playing a new game, especially since "retro gaming" is making such a comeback. It's still stranger and more charming than anything else I've ever played, and that jazzy soundtrack is permanently seared into my brain."
-Adam Ellis, Staff Writer
Football Manager 2014
"Football Manager is more a lifelong distraction-cum-obsession than a game. It's a long-running soccer management where you can take control of any team in the world and take them to glory. The level of detail is quite frightening. The 2014 version made it faster and more responsive, while making it more like a real job than ever before. Now you have to deal with players' agents, as well as the egos and demands of the players themselves, all the while trying to mould them into a winning team. The most committed fans, including several Premier League footballers, have admitted to wearing a suit and tie while managing their team in cup finals."
-Patrick Smith, UK Media Editor
"Gone Home was a divisive game. I remember a number of my friends furiously demanding their money back from Steam and arguing that because of the lack of combat and the unexpected ending, it shouldn't even be considered a video game at all. I think Gone Home challenges people's perceptions of what a video game is and should be, and that felt special. I played the game alone one night, wrapped in a blanket at the kitchen table, and as the story unfolded over the few hours I played it, I became more and more touched by the personal story. A lot of people felt cheated over the final product, but I could only smile as the credits rolled."
-Adam Ellis, Staff Writer
Grand Theft Auto V
"I bought GTA V the day it came out and, after multiple failed attempts to install the game on my 2007 Xbox 360 and a good deal of begging with a higher power, I shamefully went out and bought a brand new Xbox just in order to play it. I mean, what more is there to say? I, a 26 year old, mostly rational non-gamer human with little disposable income went out and bought an entire game system that I already owned in order to play a video game.
And I'm glad I did. Personally, GTA V reminds me a lot of the internet. Too big to be blurb-able. It wasn't just amazing or horrible or charming or offensive or sexist or true to life. It's all of that from one minute to the next. And to me, that's one hell of an achievement."
-Charlie Warzel, Deputy Editor, FWD
Icycle: On Thin Ice
"Icycle: On Thin Ice is a beautiful, original and yes, very addictive iPhone game. But this isn't one of those games that will make you mad at yourself for playing constantly. You'll be rewarded by the boundless creativity of the level design, and the humor of the concept itself in which you control a near-naked mustachioed man on a old-fashioned bicycle. You can bike forwards, backwards, jump and slow your fall with an umbrella. Oh, and you can also kiss a fish."
-Abe Forman-Greenwald, Video Producer
"I'm cheating because I already waxed poetic about this game, but it was honestly one of the best I've played in a long while. What I especially loved about this new version is that, unlike in previous iterations where your character is largely by him or herself, you have friends. There's a whole group of kids your age who check in with you from time to time — Shauna, intent on following after you and taking pictures to remember the adventure; Tierno, who just wants to make a Pokémon dance team (preach); Trevor, who wants to collect every possible creature; and Caleb/Serena, who wants to beat the Gym leaders and the Elite Four and, of course, you. It's such a sweet reminder that there have always been many ways to approach the game,= even if it does have a fairly straightforward narrative. And it's nice not to feel so alone."
-Alanna Okun, DIY Associate Editor
"QuizUp is the perfect mobile game for Twitter obsessives with diminished attention spans and bloated intellectual superiority complexes. You simply log in, choose a quiz topic that will impress all your Facebook friends and kick some FUCKING MULTIPLE CHOICE TRIVIA ASS. You can play with random strangers or challenge one of your social media friends to a quiz duel, and most seven-question rounds take less than a minute to play. You can play the Arrested Development category. You can play the 19th century history category. Most importantly, you can play on the toilet."
-Jessica Misener, Senior Editor
"When the iPad first came out, I would tell anyone who would listen: "This is a pointless luxury device. There is no need to own one. Name one reason." I have lots of friends.
Anyways: Foolish! As far as I'm concerned, Ridiculous Fishing is the iPad's killer app. This game is just too good. All you do is sit in your dinky little ship, casting your lure further and further down into the Lovecraftian depths, avoiding fish on the way down, collecting them on the way back up, and blowing them into pieces with your bazooka when they fly up into the air. In conclusion, I've never been fishing but this game got me interested."
-Joseph Berstein, Gaming Editor
"One of the most memorable moments of Rayman Legends is a short sequence that has the player running for their life from a massive pile of tiny, screeching black monster fluff-balls tumbling over themselves as they chase you through a Hellenic temple. The scene would be unbearably tense, if not for the fact that you're running across a series of small, pink minotaurs meticulously cleaning the floor. When you collide with them, they inflate like balloons and then pop, like cartoons. The sheer wanton chaos never really ends, and the challenge of the game is well-tuned to the point of managing to kill off the player without ever really becoming frustrating. At no point does it take itself too seriously, instead inspiring the kind of wonder that video games can inspire, but really haven't for a very long time."
-Matthew Lynley, Business Reporter
Super Mario 3D World
"If it was possible to tabulate the number of hours of fun that the humans of the past quarter century have derived from video games with Mario in the title, I think the figure would be so existentially profound as to demand a new unit of measurement: the Miyamoto. This is perhaps the only fitting tribute left to give the man—Shigeru—who has now capped his career in the mass dissemination of joy with Super Mario 3D World, a game so fun that it should be prescribed under the same medical pretext as therapy dogs and clinical MDMA. What else is there to say? It's Super Mario 3, in 3D, with catsuits."
-Joseph Bernstein, Gaming Editor
The Last of Us
"Like the deadly spores that spawn its zombie apocalypse, The Last of Us got inside my skin more than any other game I've ever played, pretty much from the opening scene. From the acting to the music to the meticulously decaying urban, suburban, and rural terrains, the game made me feel the full weight of how lonely and difficult it would be to find yourself trekking through the graveyard of our fallen civilization. I may have just been especially attuned to my feelings since I played it in the month leading up to my wedding, but I don't think so. This game ranks as one of the most memorable storytelling experiences I had in 2013, period."
-Adam B. Vary, Senior Film Reporter