Team Joystiq is barging into 2014 with a celebration of last year's best games. Keep reading throughout the week to see our assembly of ingenious indies and triple-A triumphs.Dragon's Crown
Dragon's Crown is the best thing to happen to the beat-'em-up genre since Castle Crashers. Taking its inspiration from Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons games, Dragon's Crown forges its own identity with satisfying combat, a lengthy quest, and a bottomless well of character customization options.
The sheer amount of loot players accrue in Dragon's Crown keeps the experience fresh and compelling even after you've hacked your way through hundreds of owlbears. The game offers a broad selection of playable characters, all of which play very differently and require varying degrees of expertise to master. Online multiplayer is a joy as a result, mixing the game's varied cast for some gloriously chaotic battles.
It's worth noting that Dragon's Crown has seen a number of significant improvements since its initial release, as patches have consistently addressed player feedback while adding major gameplay features. The newest patch, for instance, gives hardcore players the option of skipping the game's introductory chapters, making character leveling more efficient than ever before. Oh, and it also adds a 10,000-floor dungeon. If you love beat-'em-ups, Dragon's Crown will keep you satisfied for months.
Cookie Clicker basically plays itself. Player interaction amounts to making numbers go up as quickly as possible, and leaving the game idle overnight is often more productive than any active decisions you make. By the time my Cookie Clicker campaign ended, though, I had all of the game's available upgrades and achievements, and I had restarted the game multiple times in order to earn additional prestige perks.
Cookie Clicker had me hooked in a way that few games manage nowadays. I wasn't satisfied until I had seen all that there was to see in Cookie Clicker's bizarre world of cloned cookies, shape-shifting grandmas, and profit-multiplying antimatter condensers.
Unfortunately, my clicking career ended abruptly when I reinstalled my browser, deleting the most important cookie of them all: my Cookie Clicker save data. It's for the best, really. I'd still be playing Cookie Clicker right now if I had any excuse to do so. Hmm...maybe if I start up a new save and buy a few grandmas, I can leave it running in the background while I write up the rest of my picks. Oh, but if I buy just a few more upgrades, I can really get the ball rolling on cookie production. So I'll just save up enough cookies until I can buy a farm, and then...
Oh god. It's happening again.
Despite its gloomy exterior, Papers, Please is a lot of fun. Essentially turning you into a hard-nosed detective for the duration of its campaign, Papers, Please challenges its players to identify immigration-related discrepancies and forged documentation, all while ignoring the sob stories and feigned ignorance of those who want to enter the great country of Arstotzka illegally. You'll feel like a jerk -- a smart jerk -- for playing it.
If it were to focus entirely on its core mechanics, Papers, Please would still be a success. By making the player the linchpin of larger narrative, however, it becomes something exceptional. A few days into the game's campaign, your dreary job suddenly has more weight and consequence than you initially realized. You'll soon begin to eye every individual character for hints that they could play a significant role in the story, and the tension you'll feel throughout defines the experience.
By forcing players to eke out a meager existence between workdays, in-game decisions are both dramatic and purposeful. Do you split up a husband and wife over a passport typo, or will you turn a blind eye to the error and risk being fired, leaving your own family to starve? Decisions don't come easy in Papers, Please, but the weight of your choices as a player make the overall experience that much more impactful.
Skylanders remains one of the best-kept secrets in the industry, as the hardcore crowd predictably ignores its innovations due to its childish appearance. Granted, it is childish -- you use childrens' toys to summon playable characters, for frick's sake -- but if you're willing to swallow your pride and own up to the fact that you're enjoying a game made for the ten-and-under set, Skylanders Swap Force will surprise you with its depth and variety of content.
Swap Force greatly expands on the dungeon-crawling formula of earlier games in the series, introducing element-mixing characters and stat-boosting possibilities that extend far beyond what you'd expect from a kids' game. The skill trees allow you to drastically alter your characters, and you'll lie awake at night fretting over whether Zoo Lou would benefit more from specializing in wolf- or boar-based attacks. Well...okay, maybe that's just me.
Swap Force is the best co-op game I played this year. Its new loot-sharing and experience-dividing mechanics head off frustrating moments, and make it an ideal play for those with a spouse, younger kids, or open-minded friends. If nothing else, you'll enjoy giving your Skylanders ridiculous names and making them wear silly hats.
Arkane Kids' Bubsy 3D repurposes a universally disliked game in order to produce something meaningful and worthwhile. That is one hell of an accomplishment.
What starts off as a seemingly faithful remake of a putrid PSOne-era platformer soon lurches into an interactive tour through a real-world James Turrell art exhibit. The game spirals from there, taking players on a journey to hell and back before arriving an unlikely conclusion. The end of Bubsy's journey is only the beginning of something much more inexplicable, however, as a cheat code given afterward turns the game into an MMORPG. Other secret codes further alter the experience, producing results that offer equal amounts of terror and delight.
On its surface, Bubsy 3D is a jokey non-sequitur of a game, but the sheer amount of hidden and unexpected content elevates the experience beyond its humble origins. Even if you hate Bubsy and all that he stands for, it's worth giving Bubsy 3D a try. What could possibly go wrong?
Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2013 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups.
Sony PlayStation 3 (late 2012)
Sony PlayStation 4
Nintendo Wii U
Microsoft Xbox One