Pikmin 3 has edged ahead of a very competitive pack to take Screen Play's top award for 2013.

Pikmin 3 has edged ahead of a very competitive pack to take Screen Play's top award for 2013.

Over the past two weeks, Screen Play readers have voted on their picks for the best games of the year (and sometimes the worst) in a range of reader-suggested award categories. You can read the results over here. Now it's my turn.

It's been an interesting year. A lot of heavily hyped games turned out to be disappointments, and some games that weren't expected to be anything special turned out to be excellent. We also had a few unmitigated disasters, such as Aliens: Colonial Marines and the reboot of SimCity (which is better after several major updates, but is still problematic).

Despite the let-downs, we were offered a lot of fantastic new games this year. Here are my picks for the best of them.

Best mobile game: Ridiculous Fishing

This category always feels a little fraudulent, as it's simply impossible to play every iOS, Android, and Windows Phone game that comes out. At best it can only be a favourite game from among the limited few you happened to play. Still, Ridiculous Fishing is something special, a bizarre title in which you drop a hook and dodge fish to get as deep as possible, then hook as many fish as you can on the way back up, and finally fling the fish into the air and shoot them with your gun to score points. Totally stupid, and utterly brilliant. My phone went flat three times in one day because I was playing it so much.

Runner up: XCOM Enemy Unknown iOS Edition

Despite suffering major bugs after the iOS V7 update, this pocket edition of last year's wonderful strategy title showed that mobile touch devices can do AAA as well as a console or PC.

Best handheld game: Tearaway

I can already hear the screams of protest. 2013 was a year in which both the 3DS and the PSVita were blessed with an abundance of great games that made both feel like worthwhile platforms for a gamer to own. Tearaway clinched this award because it is the first PSVita game I have played which simply could not be played on any other machine. Its touch, tilt, voice, and camera inputs are all integral, and no other device can deliver that same combo. It's also charming as can be, lots of fun, and a great exploration experience.

Runner up: Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon

Action, puzzles, and exploration all bundled up into a green-hatted package. In an amazing year for 3DS releases, this stood out for me as the most fun to play, and the most original.

Best indie game: The Stanley Parable

This was an extremely difficult one to judge, as some of my favourite games released this year were independent projects. I decided to give it to Stanley and his long-suffering narrator because of several factors, including the absolutely top-tier writing and voice acting, the comedy that really works, and its fascinating observations on how games work and why we play them the way we do.

Runners up: Outlast, Gone Home, Don't Starve

Yes, three runners up, because I can, and because all three are worthy winners. Any one of these could have taken the top award; all of them feature brilliant design and production values that belie their humble, small-team, low-budget origins. Outlast may be the scariest horror game ever made, Gone Home is less a game and more an exploration of a troubled family's inner life, and Don't Starve is just plain fun wilderness survival. I think you should buy and play all four of them.

Best free-to-play game: Card Hunter

Free-to-play has become a remarkably profitable business model for those publishers who have been able to make it work, though many don't - it's a risky business trying to be the next League of Legends. I played a range of free games this year, but my favourite by far was the table-top RPG homage Card Hunter, which you can play for free right in your web browser. Stunning retro art meets tightly-designed turn-based combat, with a healthy dose of collectible card gaming layered on top. Addictive and excellent, and Aussie-made to boot.

Runner up: Infinity Wars

This was a big year for trading card games, and Infinity Wars is one of the best. Another Australian production, this is Magic: The Gathering inspired card duels translated into a digital world, in which demons battle robots and fantasy creatures. It looks amazing, plays brilliantly, and doesn't flog the real-money options too hard.

Best AAA title: Pikmin 3

Oh, how to pick such a difficult category. For me, the day Pikmin 3 was released was the day that the Wii U became a console worth owning. It had several solid titles already, but nothing that I felt could really sell it to a doubtful punter. Pikmin 3 is the Wii U's first true killer app, a tightly-designed, challenging, and fun romp through a colourful miniature landscape. While it was not without its flaws, no other big budget game this year gave me so much joy to play. If you have a Wii U and haven't picked it up yet, then you really owe it to yourself to snatch up a copy as soon as you can.

Runners up: Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Super Mario 3D World, The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite

It's a broad and diverse field, so naturally we have a lot of runners up. All seven of these games are worthy of being dubbed game of the year, and I am sure than many other gaming sites will do just that. Ultimately, however, I felt that each of these undoubtedly excellent games were flawed enough to set them back from my chosen winner.

I would certainly name Grand Theft Auto V the year's most impressive technical achievement, with its staggeringly large and complex world being rendered on seven year old consoles. Equally, Bioshock Infinite deserves praise for its stunning art design and world-building, and particularly for its sound design, perhaps the best I have ever heard in a video game.

The Last of Us deserves particular praise for being unflinching in its grimness: unlike most adult-oriented games, there is no knowing wink, just a persistently nasty and dark world full of uncompromising characters making impossible decisions. Assassin's Creed IV is another staggering technical accomplishment, rivalling GTA V in its scope and complexity, and it stands out especially because of its setting and never before seen gameplay elements.

Tomb Raider surprised everyone by being an excellent game that revived the fortunes of a franchise most believed was dead, giving us a strong and authentic heroine in the process, far more grounded than any past iteration of the character. Finally, Super Mario 3D World is notable just for being so unashamedly fun and colourful, and packed with endless original gameplay ideas and loving homages to older Nintendo games.

. . .

This is the final Screen Play article for 2013. We are taking our annual four week break, and will return to your screens on Monday 20 January. I'll be using this time to have a good rest after an incredibly hectic couple of months - two new consoles plus the usual Christmas rush has left me sleep-deprived and exhausted - and to catch up on many of the games I have missed in this past year.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to participate in the Screen play community, especially those who have taken the time to comment on articles, and in particular the writers of our always excellent Your Turn and Your Review feature.

I look forward to writing about video games for you all in 2014 and beyond, but for now have a great Christmas and a fun New Year's Eve.

See you next year!

 - James "DexX" Dominguez

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