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.
Mario and his extended family has been our constant companion for quite some time now, and his adventures were starting to feel just a bit too ... familiar. There wasn't anything wrong with them, really, but they did lack that certain sparkle that made us fall for him all those years ago. We still loved him, of course, but we'd be lying if we said our eye hadn't started to wander. Then Super Mario 3D World came along to remind us that Mario is now, and forever shall be, our hero.
Super Mario 3D World imbues the franchise with fresh energy, crafting ingenious, secret-stuffed levels and slathering them in a fresh coat of Wii U-colored pretty. New power-ups like the clone-producing cherry and the adorable-yet-incredibly-useful kitty suit provided new ways to explore while also reminding us that jumping, running and smacking into blocks is still an incredibly fun way to spend your time. Just making it to the flag at the end of a level (and getting the 10,000 point bonus for landing on the top, natch) is a pleasure, but snagging all the hidden green stars and the rubber stamp in the process is a joy.
Nintendo has made a few different attempts to add multiplayer to the classic Super Mario platforming mix, but never quite so frenetically or successfully as in Super Mario 3D World, which never teeters too far towards favoring solo players over teams, or vice versa. Playing with pals is a sure way to burn through your lives as you "accidentally" throw each other off ledges or plummet to your doom as you mistakenly watch the wrong character, but the chaos manages to stay hilarious, not frustrating. I'm normally very much a team player, but Super Mario 3D World brings out my more mischievous instincts. I'm just saying, if you have the crown because you scored the most points on the last level, and you lose it when you bump into an enemy, I will totally steal that thing and wear it myself, because I have no shame. And I fully expect you to do the same to me, should the opportunity arise. There are no hard feelings in 3D World, just lots of running and kicking and wearing of funny suits, some of which, like the lamp, are delightfully specific.
Everything in Super Mario 3D World works, and none of it feels like it's trying too hard to get your attention. It doesn't try to reinvent itself into something it thinks is trendy, instead choosing to focus on what it does best, which is spectacular platforming in gorgeous environments to the accompaniment of an outstanding soundtrack. I've played and enjoyed just about every Mario adventure that's come out in recent years, though it started to feel like that enjoyment was less about the actual games I was playing and more about an affection for the franchise as a whole. Super Mario 3D World is the most excited I've been to deal with pirhana plants, goombas and stars in a very long time; it's not good just because it's a new Mario game, but good because it's good.
Also, seriously. Meowio. How can you not love that?
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. The list so far: