Fire Emblem: Awakening

Writer and community manager Mike Minotti

Game of the Year: Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

I’ve always enjoyed Nintendo’s tactical, turn-based fantasy series Fire Emblem, but it always felt like one of Nintendo’s second-tier franchises. You’d never see it given the same production values you’d expect from a Zelda or Mario game. But that wasn’t the case with Fire Emblem: Awakening on the 3DS, which featured beautiful cutscenes, a stunning soundtrack, and some of the best graphics and 3D effects seen on the portable.

Awakening also features some of the most innovative character customization I’ve seen in a role-playing-like game. Not only do you design your own avatar, who then acts as both commander and fighter for your army, but you play matchmaker between all the members of your party, and the resulting marriages can have profound effects on the future warriors you can enlist.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is both beautiful and challenging, and its writing is often just as funny as it is clever. It’s the best entry the series has ever seen, the best game on the 3DS, and the best game of 2013.

Runner-up #1: The Last of Us
Runner-up #2:The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Cave

Writer and editor Stephanie Carmichael

Game of the Year: The Cave (multiplatform)

I know what you’re thinking: “Why would you choose some stupid adventure game over big games like Tomb Raider, BioShock: Infinite, et cetera?!” Well, because The Cave isn’t stupid, and I was bummed that it didn’t receive more standout praise for its accomplishments.

Yes, there were glitches. Yes, the multiplayer is kind of tedious. And yes, it doesn’t make sense that there are seven characters instead of six or even nine because you take any three characters with you at once, so your final tour of the titular cave is largely repetitive. But where was the love for the uniquely Double Fine humor, the gorgeous visual style dripping with detail, and the clever puzzles that break free from everything people tend to hate about adventure games?

I’ve played a lot of games in this genre in the past couple years — more than I have my whole life, really. They’re good and bad, but most of the time we’re inclined to rage-quit because the puzzles require some form of outdated logic than never really made sense anyway. And don’t talk to me about inventory management. I am so sick of it and having to combine items without the faintest clue how they could possibly go together.

The Cave eschews those awful tropes, along with the common ambiguity of adventure games. Each area is the perfect size (not too small but not too big that you get lost), so you won’t have to lug objects very far, and each character only holds one at a time — so you’re never bombarded with too much junk. And the puzzles actually make sense even if they stump you at first. At one point, I wondered how to light a mine cart full of bombs when no torches were around. The answer was right in front of me. All I had to do was wheel the cart down toward some lava and let the heat do the work for me. Simple and brilliant.

Runner-up #1: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Runner-up #2: BioShock: Infinite

Pikmin 3

Writer Daniel Crawley

Game of the Year: The Last of Us

Runner-up #1: Grand Theft Auto V
Runner-up #2: Pikmin 3 (Wii U)

Pikmin 3 came out a staggering nine years after the previous installment in Nintendo’s real-time strategy series, but it was sure worth the wait.

Every hour with the game this summer was spent with a smile on my face. Maybe it took me back to a more innocent time in life, when my days were spent finding bugs under rocks and plunging action figures into ponds to look for hidden treasure. Maybe it appealed to the general in me, organizing my troops and sending them into battle, with victories celebrated and deaths mourned. Maybe it was because it was a game I could happily play with my kids, passing the GamePad around and sharing each new, fantastic discovery together.

Most likely it was a combination of all these things that made Pikmin 3 such a special experience this year and turned the Wii U — in our household, at least — into a must-have console.

Rayman Legends

Writer Stefanie Fogel

Game of the Year: Rayman Legends (multiplatform)

Few franchises can put a big, goofy smile on my face better than Rayman. When publisher Ubisoft decided to make the fifth entry in the series, Rayman Legends, a multiplatform title instead of a Wii U exclusive, I was thrilled to have the chance to spend more time in that game world.

Rayman Legends is a beautifully designed platformer packed with content. It features five distinct worlds full of challenging gameplay that usually culminates in an exciting boss battle. When those levels are completed, there are daily and weekly challenges, an online competitive mode called Kung Foot, and dozens of remastered Rayman Origins levels to unlock. Legends’ musical levels, in particular, are pure rolling-in-kittens happiness. I can’t hear Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” on the radio now without thinking about the game.

In fact, I would hand Ubisoft my money right now if it created a Rayman game that was nothing but musical levels. *coughs* *stares at Ubisoft meaningfully* And I haven’t even mentioned the unlockables yet. There’s an impressive amount of content in Rayman Legends, and all of it is adorably fun and charming.

Runner-up #1: BioShock: Infinite
Runner-up #2: The Stanley Parable