There was an abundance of great games released in 2013, and nearly every platform was host to at least one of my personal favorites. From another angle, my top 10 is actually split down the middle; half of the games belong to an established series, while the rest are brand-new properties from distant corners of the industry.
Creativity and innovation are at the core of what keeps gaming interesting and exciting year after year, and yet popular franchises still carry the most sway. We know what we like, and often want more of it. I am definitely guilty of this mindset from time to time. Thankfully, there were a few shining examples in 2013 that proved tradition and innovation don't have to be mutually exclusive.
I've criticized Nintendo in the past for playing it safe, for leaning on past successes rather than making a strong investment in new franchises. In the case of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I did so publicly shortly after it was announced. I didn't want to see a cherished series potentially devalued. I also feared that Nintendo's ink well was running dry. In the end, my concerns were dashed. It's not that I was wrong about Nintendo creating a "safe" game saddled in familiar territory; that's exactly what it did. Rather, I forgot that's OK.
Nintendo is best at innovating within familiar series, after all. With a new exploration and puzzle-solving mechanic and the ability to rent game-changing items as you please, The Legend of Zelda felt new and exciting again, despite being steeped in tradition. Similarly, Super Mario 3D World's reintroduction of Princess Peach as a playable character was a nostalgic play, but one that worked really well in the end given her unique physics and the game's new take on cooperatively competitive multiplayer.
It's great to watch old series evolve and remain exciting after so many years, but there were a lot of fresh properties in 2013 that also caught my attention. Guacamelee was an especially notable newcomer, whose bright palette and expressive animations, along with a great Metroidvania-like design, left a lasting impression. It doesn't reinvent the formula of item-driven exploration, but everything around it is so charming and thoughtfully crafted that it didn't matter--not to me, at least. On any platform, Guacamelee is fantastic, but the Vita version won me over due to the Vita's vibrant OLED display, which plays particularly nicely with the game's palette.
I also have a soft spot for space-combat games, so it should come as no surprise to see Strike Suit Infinity on my list. The pair of Strike Suit games (including the earlier release, Strike Suit Zero) impressed me with their fantastic flight controls and an empowering transformation mechanic. In an instant, you can go from soaring through enemy ranks as a jet, to pummeling freighters and fighters with missiles as a stationary yet powerful mech suit, before reverting back and jetting back to safety. In other words, it's the best (unofficial) Macross game in existence.
Of course, the end of the year saw the release of two new consoles, and a new generation of games, but only one game was able to crack my list of favorites: Resogun. The challenging and flashy arcade shooter is a new take on the classic game Defender, and I was immediately taken in by its unorthodox use of voxels, which allow everything onscreen to crumble into bits and pieces before your eyes. That alone is an impressive trick, but it's the controls and gameplay that make Resogun truly great. It's an easy game to play, though difficult to master, and it's great to see how the stages are designed to push your command of the limited but deep toolset. Some will be content with simply beating the game, but with a highly competitive leaderboard, Resogun has a long tail, and I can't see myself walking away from it anytime soon.