January is historically the best time to buy video games. The following is a list of games I played in 2013 and recommend as great bang for the buck, regardless of release date, ordered from least expensive to most expensive as of 1/10/2014.
As a side note, many of the accompanying videos I’ve selected are by YouTuber Northernlion – check him out if you like reviews or let’s plays – he’s pretty entertaining.
1. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft $0 (Free to Play)Still in beta – Blizzard – PC/MAC/iPad – World of Warcraft Themed CCG
I love collectible card games (CCGs). In table form, they can often be expensive and fiddly and tough to play with other people. Some of the most popular games (Magic, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh) have been translated to video game form with mixed results. I haven’t really enjoyed a digital Magic title since the original Microprose version from 1997. Yu-Gi-Oh has had some decent entries, although the vast card collection and complexity of combination plays can be a little overwhelming at first. Pokemon had one Game Boy Color CCG that was ok.
Hearthstone blows them all away. It’s fast-paced and visceral. Monsters thump against each other with an audible clang, and each round offers an unavoidable escalation in play. There are different classes with unique abilities and cards that all seem pretty well-balanced. Creating decks is fast and easy. The Arena mode offers a draft tournament which is unique in my experience of digital CCGs, putting this already enjoyable card game even further ahead of its digital competition.
Also Recommend: SolForge (PC), Yu-Gi-Oh GX: Tag Force (PSP/PS2)
2. Realm of the Mad God $0 (Free to Play)Feb 2012 – Wild Shadow Studios – PC/MAC – Online 2D MMORPG with Retro Graphics
Realm of the Mad God is a unique entry on this list. In addition to being a roguelike, it offers fast and furious online multiplayer gameplay, quick progressions, a variety of classes, and a fun visual style. Plus, it’s completely free, so there’s really every reason to grab this on Steam and give it a shot.
3. Cursed Loot $1Aug 2011 – Eyehook – XBLA – Roguelike Dungeon Crawl with Retro Graphics
A nice little retro-inspired indie dungeon crawl, Cursed Loot is a great value at $1. It’s tough as nails, but the gameplay is very satisfying. This one really stands out in the XBLA indie market, where it can be tough to wade through so many awful games. A gem.
4. Square Off $1Dec 2009 – Gnomic Studios – XBLA/OUYA – Twin-stick Shooter, Multiplayer, Aliens
A fun visual style and satisfying medium-paced twin-stick shooting makes Square Off a game that I choose from my XBLA list surprisingly often. Play with or against friends as you fight off wave after wave of aliens in fun environments.
5. Wizorb $1Sep 2011 – Tribute Games -XBLA/PSN/PC/MAC/OUYA – Arkanoid-inspired RPG-lite
If you’re a fan of iconic games like Breakthru or Arkanoid, but might enjoy a fantasy twist (kind of what Pinball Quest for the NES did to Pinball), then Wizorb might be for you. An extremely well-produced and polished indie title, Wizorb combines fast and surprisingly difficult gameplay with a fantasy setting. It’s available on almost every platform for an amazingly low price of $1.
6. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure $1Jul 2012 – sparsevector – XBLA/PC – Hilarious and Irreverent Retro Roguelike Shooter
I love everything about Super Amazing Wagon Adventure. It’s Oregon Trail if it were produced for the Atari and were a fast-paced 2D action shooter. The randomly generated scenarios are amazing and constantly left me laughing and shell-shocked as I defended myself from a horde of hungry bears or faced the difficult decision of stealing from a group of sleeping travelers (who may or may not turn into vengeful, invincible ghosts later).
Just as you’re getting used to a scene, things will shift in confusing and exciting ways, leaving you to fend for yourself in your trek across the frontier (possibly on the back of a dinosaur). Don’t let this game’s look and humor fool you – it’s not easy and you’ll find your adventurers getting picked off one by one by the game’s many obstacles more often than not. This is a must-own at $1.
7. Dungeons of Dredmor $5Jul 2011 – Gaslamp Games – PC/MAC – Turn-based Dungeon-crawling Roguelike
Unlike the other roguelikes on this list, Dungeons of Dredmor offers a deep, more methodical turn-based experience when diving into the depths. It has a good sense of humor, is absolutely bursting at the seams with gaming and pop culture references, and has a fairly extensive crafting system the belies the game’s simple appearance. Much deeper than it first appears, Dungeons of Dredmor is a very satisfying and fairly difficult experience at a fantastic price. You can often find it for sale on Steam for about $2.
8. The Binding of Isaac $5 + $3 Wrath of the Lamb expansionSep 2011 – Edmund McMillen – PC/MAC – Horrifyingly Cute Roguelike Twin-stick Psychological Dungeon-crawl
My single favorite gaming experience in the 2010s, Edmund McMillen brings to life a terrifying (but horrifically cute) story of a child’s battle with his internal (and external) demons. While the art and story may be a huge turn-off for many people, I found its dark cartoonish style to be extremely fascinating.
Regardless of how you feel about the style and story, the underlying gameplay of Isaac offers endless replayability as you explore randomly-generated floors, discover new items and item combinations, fight one of the game’s many terrifying bosses, and uncover the game’s many references, quirks and secrets. Inspired by the dungeons in the 2D Legend of Zelda titles, I just couldn’t put this game down. Be warned though, it’s tough and definitely NOT for kids.
There is a remake of this game coming to PC and consoles later this year, but the original is absolutely worth owning.
9. Hack, Slash, Loot $7Jan 2012 – Gooey Blob – PC/MAC – Roguelike Dungeon-crawl, Retro Style, Fantasy
Hack, Slash, Loot is another roguelike dungeon delve, but is a much faster-paced, simpler version that has a fun pixelated style. I don’t recommend this quite as highly as some other games on this list, but it’s still a fun romp.
10. FTL: Faster Than Light $10Sep 2012 – Subset Games – PC/MAC – A Turn-based Roguelike in Space, Aliens
FTL is great. Randomly-generated levels, encounters, and scenarios offer almost endless replayability as you explore space, improve your ship, and protect your crew – it’s easy to forget how long you’ve been playing FTL. It has a simple, top-down visual style, but it’s simple exterior hides a very deep and fairly complex game where you’ll often find your back against a wall.
With its myriad alien races, technology, ship designs, and weaponry, there’s much to do and see with FTL, all in about 1-hour long sessions.
11. Awesomenauts $10May 2012 – DTP Entertainment – XBLA/PSN/PC/MAC – A fast-paced 2D Cartoon Space MOBA
Awesomenauts is, well… awesome. It also wins the “Wait, how long have I been playing this again?” award for its ability to make me lose track of time. If you like League of Legends or Dota 2, or think you’d like them if you could get past their rather large learning curves, Awesomenauts might be for you.
It’s a team-base tower defense game where 3 members of opposing teams are trying to break into the opposing base and destroy the power core. The art is fun and cartoony, the combat is fast and satisfying, and the classes are varied and balanced, with each class having multiple viable loadouts. The online matchmaking works well and the single-player AI bouts are just as fun, if a bit on the easy side. This is an extremely underrated title, and easily one of my favorites.
Also Recommend: Dota 2, League of Legends
12. Jamestown $10Jun 2011 – Final Form Games, LLC – PC/MAC Bullet Hell Space Western for 1-4 players
Jamestown is a great entry in the long list of bullet hell shooters, and holds its own with some of the genre’s heavyweights. Set in 17th Century colonial Mars, you can blast your way through a horde of enemies using a variety of steampunk weaponry. Fair warning, what Jamestown lacks in length, it more than makes up for in difficulty. This game is HARD.
Also Recommend: Ikaruga
13. Nuclear Throne $13Oct 2013 – Vlambeer – PC – 2D Roguelike Shooter, Apocalypse, Mutants.
Set in a nuclear wasteland, you play as one of several adorable cartoon mutants vying for power as you collect modern weaponry and lay waste to anything and everything. Randomly-generated maps and a fun skill tree system makes the experience different every time.
14. Darksiders $14 new / $5 usedJan 2010 – Vigil Games, THQ – X360/PS3/PC – God of War meets 3D Zelda
And finally, the first ‘AAA’ console game on the list. Darksiders marries the weapons and combat of God of War with the dungeon puzzling and items of the 3D Zelda titles, while doing neither very originally. While in some places it feels like a blatant rip-off of those very similar titles (boomerang or hookshot, anyone?), it does blend them in what I thought was a pretty satisfying way. War as a character is pretty uninteresting, and that holds the story back a little, but not enough to prevent me from enjoying the game.
I enjoyed playing this one through and trying to find all the secrets. Overall, a game with some flaws probably not worth its original price, but a deal at $10-15.
Also Recommend: Devil May Cry Series, God of War Series, Bayonetta, 3D Zelda Games
15. Spelunky $15Jul 2012 – Derek Yu, Microsoft Games Studio – XBLA/PC/PSN – Roguelike Platformer
Ah Spelunky. In my mind, Spelunky is the epitome of ‘more than meets the eye’. On the surface, Spelunky is a simple cartoonish platformer, that while functional and a bit challenging, might not seem that deep or interesting. Boy, that could not be more wrong. Spelunky has layers and layers of strategy and secrets revealed through emergent gameplay and experimentation. It doesn’t hold your hand, and its ridiculous depth will leave you scratching your head when you learn about everything this game has to offer. A must-play.
The original freeware version is still available, but the updated graphics and gameplay really add a lot to the experience.
16. Rogue Legacy $15Jun 2013 – Cellar Door Games – PC/MAC/PSN – Generational Roguelike Platformer
You may have noticed there are a lot of roguelikes and roguelike-likes on this list, but I’ve really come to appreciate the depth and replayability of these kinds of games. Rogue Legacy is unique among those others in this list in that it offers a 2D metroidvania experience while also allowing you to carry your progress from one run to future runs in the form of upgrades and equipment that are passed on from generation to generation.
In addition, each generation offers its own selection of classes and positive and negative genetic traits, so it’s quite likely your paladin suffers from gigantism, will be colorblind and shout obscenities every time he/she is injured. Great game and well worth the price of admission.
17. The Stanley Parable $15Oct 2013 – Davey Wreden, Galactic Cafe – PC/MAC – An Imaginative First-person Experience
The Stanley Parable is a tough game to qualify. It’s a clever first-person experience that you will either love and appreciate or immediately hate. I’m in the former category, enjoying every bit of the 5 or so hours it took me to find most of this game’s twists and turns. A dapper narrator takes you on an incredible journey as you explore the world of Stanley, a boring office worker charged with doing a very repetitive job.
One day everything changes, and Stanley is tasked with finding out what’s happened to his coworkers. What follows is one of the craziest, scariest, and downright fantastic experiences that has come out in a while. If you don’t want to pay full price, at least download and play through the standalone demo, which is worth playing in and of itself, even if you have the full game already.
18. Dishonored $15/$11Oct 2012 – Arkane Studios, Bethesda Softworks – X360/PS3/PC – A Heavy, Stealthy FPS
I’m a big fan of the original Thief games, and aside from Batman: Arkham Asylum or the first Metal Gear Solid game, I haven’t been very satisfied with stealth in a console game, – certainly not in an FPS. Dishonored got things mostly very right with this title, allowing you to choose stealth or combat in most situations, and allowing for multiple paths to success in each scenario. I loved lurking in the shadows listening to conversations the guards were having, or using one of my Bioshock-like abilities to sneak around. This game seemed to fly by. A steal at less than $15.
Fair warning, the plot is a bit depressing – I needed to cleanse the palate with some Viva Pinata (see below) before I could go back to another heavy-handed game.
Also Recommend:Thief: The Dark Project
19. Dust: An Elysian Tale $15Aug 2012 – Humble Hearts, Microsoft Game Studios – X360/PC – Beautiful Metroidvania
Dust is very, very pretty – a vibrant and completely engrossing world that I really got caught up in. It’s all beautifully hand-drawn, and the fluid animations really bring Dust and the other inhabitants of his world to life. A combat-centric metroidvania that stands up to games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Dust is a fun game to explore and fight in. My only tiny complaints are the voice-acting of the two main protagonists, which for some reason kind of irritated me, and a pretty limited crafting system.
Also Recommend:Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metroid, Super Metroid, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
20. Super Meat Boy $15Oct 2010 – Team Meat – X360/Wii/PC/MAC – Fast, Difficult and Irreverent Platformer
Super Meat Boy is a balls-to-the-wall, ultra-difficult, irreverent, gross, and refreshing modern platformer that somehow makes it ok to fail at something a million times in a row. I love playing through this game, and there was so much to do and see that it seldom got old. Yeah, failing is tough, but this game puts you right back on your feet with no time to worry about it. A very challenging but rewarding game.
Also Recommend:I Wanna Be the Guy
21. Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit $15Sep 2012 – Arkedo Studio, Sega – XBLA/PSN/PC
Hell Yeah got a bit of a bad wrap when it came out, but I really liked its quirky sense of humor and satisfying gameplay. A metroidvania with a few twists, Hell Yeah focuses on finding creative ways to dispatch boss monsters while progressing/backtracking through it’s various creative environments. I enjoyed every minute of it.
22. Demon’s Souls $17/$12Oct 2009 – From Software / ATLUS – PS3
23. Dark Souls $20/$15Oct 2011 – From Software / Namco Bandai Games America – X360/PS3/PC
While not technically the same series, From Software’s two Souls games have garnered a large following and earned reputations as two of the most difficult games ever made. While fairly different games, they both share a very similar style – minimalistic (yet detailed) storytelling, a complete lack of player hand-holding, detailed and interesting environments, huge and difficult bosses, intricate combat, and gobs and gobs of style and lore.
I absolutely love these games, and while they can take some getting used to, sticking with them until you start to uncover their depth and complexity is supremely rewarding. Dark Souls in particular was, in my opinion, the best game I played this year.
24. Valkyria Chronicles $19/$14Nov 2008 – Sega – PS3
The second PS3 exclusive on this list (after Demon’s Souls), Valkyria Chronicles took the turn-based overhead strategy of games like Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics and turned in into a full-blown gorgeous 3D strategy game with interesting characters and immersive gameplay.
Also Recommend:Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Battle Series, Fire Emblem Series
25. Recettear $20Sep 2010 – EasyGameStation, Carpe Fulgur – PC
What is it like being the owner of a shop in an RPG? Recettear explores that world and more in this PC-only title. While it feels a little unpolished, this game provides a neat spin to the normal dungeon-crawling RPG. Don’t worry, aside from managing a store, you do get to explore dungeons for more loot, providing two distinct and interesting gameplay experiences.
26. The Walking Dead $25 + $5 for 400 DaysDec 2012 – Telltale Games – X360/PS3/PC/OUYA
27. The Wolf Among Us $25Oct 2013 – Telltale Games – PC/MAC/X360/PS3
If you like an immersive, riveting story, than either of these series from Telltale Games could really appeal to you. Both are no-holds-barred looks into the world of Zombies and downtrodden fairy tale characters, respectively, and the twists and turns in each story are shocking and incredible. Scary, dark, and exciting, I’m looking forward to Season 2 of The Walking Dead and the rest of The Wolf Among Us to come out during the rest of 2014.
28. Bioshock Infinite $35/$20Mar 2013, Irrational Games, 2K Games, X360/PS3/PC/MAC
Ah, now we’re getting into a few more current AAA titles. As a big fan of System Shock 2 and the original Bioshock (I have yet to play Bioshock 2), I was looking forward to this game for over a year. I don’t often get too excited for new releases, but this was a clear exception.
There are a lot of mixed feelings out there on this game, but even with my high expectations and year-long anticipation, Bioshock Infinite really delivered for me. I was completely immersed in the world of Columbia, and the floating city never ceased to capture my imagination and not let go. Yeah, maybe the story is a little convoluted, but that didn’t stop me from being completely enthralled the entire way as I ricocheted from skyline to skyline with glee. A steal at $20 or less.
29. Diablo 3 $43/$30Sep 2013, Blizzard Entertainment, X360/PS3/PS4/PC/MAC
I’ve been playing the Diablo series since it first came out, and it remains one of my favorite series (if not my favorite) to this day. While I enjoyed the PC release of Diablo 3, I was a little underwhelmed overall, and after one playthough as a Monk I let it sort of fade into the background.
The console release changed all of that for me. Suddenly design decisions that I thought were odd on the PC made perfect sense on the console, and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait to keep exploring and looting the world with other character classes and find out what secrets the higher difficulty levels may be hiding. Getting this for around $30 is a no-brainer, although I happily paid full price (which I don’t often do).
30. WindWaker HD $48/$40Sep 2013 – Nintendo – Wii U
31. Super Mario 3D World $60/$522013 – Nintendo – Wii U
I’m grouping these together, since I think most people know what these are at this point. I bought a Wii U last month, and I have no regrets. These two titles, along with Monster Hunter 3, Tank! Tank! Tank!, and Earthbound on Virtual Console have made me happy that I’m along for the ride, and many quality titles are coming out in 2014. The Wii U gets a bad rap (probably deservedly so), but I’m having fun with mine.
The Best of the Backlog:
Paranautical Activity ($10, Sep 2013, CodeAvarice, PC/MAC)
Papers, Please ($10, Aug 2013, Lucas Pope, 3909, PC/MAC)
La Mulana ($15, Jul 2012, GR3 Project / Asterizm Co., Ltd, PC/Wii Ware)
Don’t Starve ($15, Apr 2013, Klei Entertainment, PC/MAC/PSN)
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons ($15, Aug 2013, Starbreeze, 505 Games, X360/PS3/PC)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown ($16/$10, Oct 2012, Firaxis Games, 2K Games, X360 PS3 PC/MAC)
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch ($20, Jan 2013, Level 5, Namco Bandai Games America, PS3)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds ($40, Nov 2013, Nintendo, 3DS)
Special Bonus Section – Xbox 360 Blasts From the Past:
32. Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts $20 usedNov 2008 – Rare Ltd., Microsoft Game Studios -X360
I already wrote about this game here, and I still stand by it. A great, kid-friendly game that will get the creative juices flowing. It looks to have gone up in price a bit since my last review, so you may want to wait until it gets back in the $10 range.
33. Viva Pinata $5-10 usedNov 2006 – Rare Ltd., Microsoft Games Studio – X360/PC
I picked up a digital version of this over Christmas break for $7.50, and it proceeded to consume almost 2 full days of my vacation. A unassuming title, Viva Pinata combines the Sims with Pokemon to create a fun and organic world that seems to live and breathe on its own. A nice change of pace to some of the heavier games on this list, but no less enthralling.
34. Alice: Madness Returns $20Jun 2011 – Spicy Horse, EA, X360/PS3/PC
A dark and pretty twisted take on Alice in Wonderland, Alice: Madness Returns had some of the most amazing settings I’ve ever seen in a video game. It was a real pleasure to jump around the environment, exploring for hints about the story and characters. My only complaint was that the game seems to constantly set up epic boss fights, only to disappoint with a cutscene that resolves itself instead on all but the final level. I get the impression these boss fights were scrapped due to time constraints, but it wasn’t enough to detract from my experience.
35. Earth Defense Force 2017 $15 usedMar 2007 – Sandlot, D3Publisher – X360
One of my all-time favorite games – a B-movie sci-fi adventure in a disc. Go it alone or with local co-op, this game allows you to fire rockets at UFOs and light gigantic spiders on fire in a chaotic, glee-inducing frenzy that will keep you coming back for more.
36. Lost Odyssey $16 usedFeb 2008 – Mistwalker, Microsoft Games Studio – X360
Unlike most modern RPGs, Lost Odyssey sticks with the tried and true traditions of turn-based battles and many other classic elements, but makes stunning improvements to the graphics that those games usually have. A real throwback to the days of retro-RPGs, this is the best (but hopefully not the last) modern turn-based RPG.
37. Nier $20 usedApr 2010 – Cavia Inc., Square Enix – X360 PS3
While I long for the days of turn-based RPGs, once in a while a new one will come around that experiments with (or even tosses away) the formula for the better. Nier is one such game. While an RPG, there are elements of bullet hell shooters, rhythm games, and other non-traditional genres here, making Nier one of the most creative RPGs I have ever played.