There are some games whose greatness is so immediate, so undeniable, that you feel that brilliance radiate from the moment you pick up the controller. Spelunky is not one of those games. To uncover the inventive machinations buried amid the ancient ruins requires an uncommon measure of determination. When Spelunky debuted last year, I had only scratched the surface of its breadth after canvassing crypts for dozens of hours. I was still a neophyte, blind to its myriad secrets. That's why Spelunky's arrival on the Vita was so important. Sony's portable system never leaves my side, and as I embarked on my two-hour daily commute, I invested myself fully into this profound adventure.
This is the second year in a row that the best game I had played originally came out the year before, on another platform. And that's not the only similarity between Spelunky and Dark Souls. Both eschewed industry trends that have become a disease. The concept of reward has been so tarnished of late that accomplishments have become meaningless. Punishment has been stripped away so that those who fear consequences won't be deterred, and successes are presented not from exhibiting skill or patience, but by spending hours performing tedious tasks. Stifling linearity, constant grinding, and shameless recycling have diluted much of the joy inherent to games.
Spelunky and Dark Souls rose above such nonsense, and the results were so uplifting, so empowering, that I can only marvel at their prodigious triumphs. Being treated with respect is such a rarity that I often felt frustrated as I frequently met my bloody end in the early hours of both of these games. How dare a developer make me work to succeed! How dare they make progress so difficult! Hints of something special wafted through the air, but I could barely see through eyes tainted by anger. Both Spelunky and Dark Souls bettered me. I was so beaten and downtrodden that I ran to more forgiving offerings, desperate for that slow and steady stream of lukewarm accomplishments that so many games happily pour out.
But when I returned to these digital worlds, I had a renewed purpose. No longer a coward, I discovered what had elevated these games to such prominence. Every snakebite and dragon's breath would make me grip the controller all the harder, and vow to slay whatever had caused such torment. It's a rare game that causes you to view yourself differently. By achieving so much in Spelunky and Dark Souls, I realized how much strength I have and that no setback is strong enough to derail me from my ultimate goal.
Of course, there were more games that I loved in 2013 than just Spelunky, but there's not nearly enough space here to get into what makes them so compelling. Luckily, I wrote an entire blog just for that purpose!