They say “life’s a game” … or was that “life’s no game”? Hmm. Maybe it’s “the game of life”? No, that’s a board game. Never mind. I’ve obviously been playing too many video games and not researching my quotes. But for this year-end list’s purposes, I’ll claim that’s a good thing. I’ve personally had the opportunity to play through a pretty good chunk of the many titles the big gamemakers have put out this year. And there was quite a list. Sifting through them for a Top 5 is no mean feat.
There were some pretty involving games this year with stirring moral choices and thoughtful questions at their core. Games such as The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite leap quickly to mind. Unfortunately, those M-rated titles also came packed with content that’s too rough-edged and raw for me to move them anywhere near this list. So here’s hoping more gamemakers in 2014 might see the wisdom of creating their next compelling adventures with the whole family in mind.
Still, the field is not utterly fetid! Here are the games that stood out to me in more ways than just one this past year (in alpha order):
Fire Emblem: Awakening: This is a 3DS game that harkens back to the RPG games of yore. Players develop and pair up their team of heroes to match up against baddies and beasties in tiny rock-paper-scissors-type battles. (Note that the storyline has a little Eastern-influenced spiritualism and some mildly foul language in the mix.)
Injustice: Gods Among Us: What if, in another dimension, Superman decided he’d had enough of all those crazy criminals and moved to eliminate any possibility of crime—even if that meant taking away everyone’s freedom? Would the other heroes rally to stop him? That’s the question this T-rated comic-book combat game asks and plays out. The fighting might be a bit intense for some families, but the characters are colorful and dynamic, and things don’t cross the line into anything gory or deadly. That lets the Justice League characters fly high and heroically, and the good guys save the day.
Pikmin 3: In an attempt to find a new planet for their fellow citizens to thrive on, three stalwart space travelers―captain Charlie, first mate Alph and brainiac botanist Brittany―have to explore big global areas on the planet PNF-404 for just the right living conditions. The problem is, their spacecraft crashed on entry, so our intrepid heroes must make friends with specifically gifted little critters named Pikmin, to help them overcome the planet’s many puzzles and challenges.
Puppeteer: This is a delightful, gorgeously appointed amusement designed for us grumpy grownup right along with the more wonder-appreciating kids. It’s set in what might be called a Japanese puppet theater, with rich velvety curtains and thump-in-place wood and cardboard set pieces that are a delight and make the fairy-tale-like story sparkle. Gamers play as Kutaro, a puppet boy who must leap, tumble and battle his way to save the day.
Rayman Legends: Good old Rayman has reemerged from his 1990s slumber and been reborn as the best platformer of 2013. (Or maybe ever.) This armless, legless superstar—who sports independently floating hands and feet and a roto-prop mop of hair—leaps around in the beautiful Glade of Dreams to save and free all its put-upon residents.