I realize that choosing Spelunky as my overall game of the year has a slightly self-indulgent quality to it. But you know what? I'm OK with that. I know that the Vita version of this wonderful, befuddling, brutal platformer is technically a port of last year's Xbox 360 game, hence why it's not eligible for our official awards. (These personal lists are more relaxed about such technicalities.) But I never could get into Spelunky when it came out on Xbox 360. I was too scared, too much of a baby. And all that changed thanks to this year's Vita version.
It was Tokyo Game Show 2013, and three of my fellow GameSpot editors had just downloaded Spelunky on their Vitas in preparation for the long train ride to the convention center. They needed a fourth to get a full co-op game going. This, they told me, was true co-op. Everyone has their own screen. Everyone can go wherever they want within a level, unbound to the match host. It made the Xbox 360 shared-screen co-op look like a proof of concept in comparison. Scared as I was, I gave in and downloaded it.
This turned out to be quite the watershed moment, in retrospect. Co-op Spelunky, as it exists on the Vita, is a thing of inviting beauty. It was so much sloppy fun that I didn't even care how little progress we were making. We were dying constantly, but having an absolute blast. Co-op on the 360 was an interesting idea, but being tethered to the party leader was so restricting. This was liberating. This was pure madness, and I loved every moment of it.
It was enough to make me realize that I could be terrible at Spelunky and still have a good time. And so, I began to learn. I pushed myself from the caverns to the jungle and beyond. Familiarizing myself with each new world's treacherous pitfalls was difficult, but immensely rewarding. Spelunky is the sort of game where you always feel like you're progressing, learning some dark new secret, and that sensation is enough to overcome the constant death. Because in this game, death is not failure. It's a small step forward.
I never could get into Spelunky when it came out on Xbox 360. I was too scared, too much of a baby. All that changed thanks to this year's Vita version.
When I finally beat Spelunky's final boss, I was ecstatic. And yet, having used shortcuts, I knew I could do better. After a few more days of trying, I did it. I beat Olmec on a single run, and it was one of the most triumphant gaming achievements in my life. Here I was, someone who hates difficult games and will quite often play on easy mode when I'm just in it for the story, watching the credits roll on one of the most vicious platformers I've ever seen.
That was months ago, and I'm still learning. I'm still trying to beat the secret hidden world. Seemingly every run reveals some little detail or tactic I wasn't aware of before. And that's before you get into the new Daily Challenge mode, which gives you even more incentive to come back and try to rack up as much cash as you can within a single run. It's the type of game that consumes your thoughts even when you're not playing it. Yes, it's difficult. Yes, it will break you. But when it does, you will come back a better, stronger person. Also, you can let a dog lick your face, and that's pretty cool.
So, that's Spelunky. You'll notice that I also included nine games on this list that are not Spelunky. Assassin's Creed? Hey, that game was pretty good. Ahh, and Zelda. Loved Zelda. Seeing DmC on here might surprise you, but boy did I have a wonderful time with it. And Rogue Legacy. Rogue Legacy! What a great harmony between roguelike permadeath and role-playing game leveling. So clever. So fun.
Oh, you want to see the whole thing? Well, here you go!