I started a column about games for the book-minded earlier this year, so if you are interested in more games for book nerds, check out the first few installments of Sidequests. This is also my fourth year of compiling such a list, so if you wan’t to dig through my picks from years past, you can start here.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
I’d basically been anticipating this semi-sequel to the Super Nintendo’s definitive Zelda entry since I was nine, so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’d like it. But I had no idea it would be this good. It manages to simultaneously tickle fan nostalgia and be the freshest Zelda game in years. I liked this title so much I went out and got a 3DS for my brother to make sure he had no excuse to not play it. It’s only been out a month, but it’s already safe to place this game near the top of the all-time best Zelda games list. It’s also started hauling in a few Game of the Year awards, which makes me smile.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
This is one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. Level 5 teamed up with Studio Ghibli to make a game that looks and sounds like one of Ghibli’s children’s movies, and they hit it out of the park. One of the main story mechanics is collecting the lost pages of a book called The Wizards Companion. In addition to keeping spells, a bestiary, and crafting information useful to your adventure it’s also full of lore and fun stories to read.
The Wolf Among Us (XBLA, PS3, iOS, Steam)
Much like last year’s excellent Walking Dead game (which had its second season just begin, but I’m saving the first episode for a rainier day), this game is hardly a game at all and instead a bit more akin to a graphical Choose Your Own Adventure story. It’s based on the Fables series of comic books, and if the first episode is any indication–the rest aren’t out yet–it features consistently snappy dialogue and an intriguing mystery plot.
Papo & Yo (PS3, Steam)
The game itself is an okay-but-not-great puzzle platformer, but this short games manages to pack a pretty emotional punch. You play as Quico who must solve various environmental puzzles in a surrealistic South American shanty city. The whole time you are led by a mysterious girl, and followed by a large creature who can be manipulated to help solve puzzles, but can also fly into a rage and attack you, hindering your progress. The game’s story equates the volatile monster with the boys abusive, alcoholic father.
Gone Home (Steam)
Here’s a first-person game that’s all about story, there’s no shooting or action to be found. You find yourself in a house that looks like the family just up and disappeared. Who lived here and where did they go? This game–if you want to call it that–has a tremendously deep story despite very few written words. The things you can look through and explore in the house are plentiful, and combine to weave a pretty touching and intimate story about the house’s inhabitants.
Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (3DS)
While Phoenix Wright 5 doesn’t feature the best story or writing in the series (not to mention the localization has numerous spelling and grammatical errors), it makes up that for with the best presentation to date. The look and sound is the best in the series, and the story is enjoyable enough that this download-only visual novel game is definitely worth the disk-space). My only real gripe is that my favorite character from previous entries, oafish Detective Gumshoe, doesn’t make even a single appearance.
Papers, Please (Steam)
This game, in which you play a low-level customs agent at a fictional Eastern European border crossing, looks like something that came out alongside Carmen Santiago. You check passports and either approve entry or send people away. You’re daily work earns you a pittance, which you can use to feed your family. It sounds like a weird thing to find enjoyable, and it is. The game is pretty stressful, often requiring you to make tough moral decisions (do you risk your daily pay, which feeds your starving family, to let a refugee pregnant ethnic minority with expired documents flee the country?), but it’s also pretty mesmerizing and engaging. More and more indie developers are showing games as a medium that can have something important to say, and Papers, Please is a shining example of this.
The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker HD (Wii U)
Though not without its faults, this is still one of the best games in the series. The tweaks made for this Wii U re-release are minor but impactful. And the game is beautiful, right up there with Ni No Kuni in its ability to make you feel like you’re actually controlling a cartoon. Much like Skyward Sword, Windwaker‘s story stands out in its attempts to bridge the histories between games not typically remembered for their plots.
The Stanley Parable (Steam)
Much like Papers, Please, the premise of this game doesn’t sound too enticing. It’s a game in which you are stuck at a desk and can’t really do anything. But the writing is smart and pretty damn funny; the narrator really steals the show and makes this game worth the download.
Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
I already wrote about this one at length; suffice to say it’s maybe the best game (definitely, before the Link Between Worlds release) on what I think is the best game system available right now. Fire Emblem is fun and incredibly deep, features top-notch presentation, and has tons of supplemental character dialogue (featuring some very funny writing) to explore.
The Last of Us (PS3)
I actually haven’t played this one yet, but I’m including it here as the eleventh pick on reputation alone. The game tells the story of a father and daughter struggling to survive a trip from post-apocalypse Boston to Pittsburgh. It’s been pretty much universally lauded for its strengths of story and characterization as well as graphical fidelity. It’s at the top of my games-I-need-to-get-to list.