I passed over a lot of the big releases this year, as I was enamored with smaller titles and indie offerings. Check out my top 10 for 2012.
10. Legend of Grim Rock
An odd game that feels like it’s living in the wrong time period. Puzzles that take some sussing out, combat that is basic and visceral, and a fun art style that is reaching way back to some awesome, old RPGs.
Very few games have ever got me to take notes. Even fewer had me enjoying it. Yes it’s soundtrack was great, gameplay compelling, and art cute and whimsical. What made this game incredible for me, though, was the shared experience. Sharing notes with my roommates and getting these euphoric moments when figuring stuff out is something that has rarely happened for me with games.
8. Mark of the Ninja
Shank… a game that looked great but got boring after about 10 minutes. That team is still making games with those same killer art assets and animation, but this time they made a game that is a joy to play. And they did it with a stealth game… That’s right a stealth game that’s not shit!? Seriously, the stuff they did in regards to the UI and conveying information to the player with the stealth gameplay is key to this game being so widely praised, and for good reason.
7. FUCKING PINBALL (Zen Pinball series)
Guys… seriously play this shit. It’s on the xbox, it’s on windows 8, it’s on iOS devices. PLAY SOME PINBALL. This all started after visiting a pinball and arcade expo. I forgot how much fun pinball was. The problem? Tables are expensive and a lot of work to maintain. I’m not going to tell you that virtual pinball is an identical experience, because it’s not. However, it definitely scratches those same itches. I played WAY to much virtual pinball this year because of this game.
6. Dust: an Elysian Tail
ONE MAN. One man made this game (he paid some voice actors also) but the rest of it, he did it himself. That doesn’t actually matter as far as the game is concerned though. It controls great, has an oddly mature and compelling story, and hits all the right notes for people who like the classic Metroid style game. The solo-developer hook is just icing on the cake.
5. Super Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Lets get some things out of the way shall we. The end boss is bullshit. It’s not as good as the other Paper Mario games and the first third of the game feels overly easy. Guess what, Sticker Star is still a great game. I love the Mario RPG games, they are oddly compelling and have great writing–they found a way put hipster jokes in a Mario Game. The combat has all the stuff you expect out of one of these and even without the traditional leveling mechanics Sticker Star is still fun to play.
Holy shit, what can I say. It’s Star Trek the roguelike. This game is punishing, random, and incredible. You owe it to yourself to play this game. Dying never felt so good.
3. Darksiders 2
The first Darksiders came out of nowhere for me. It looked like a dude-bro fever dream; the scribbles on the front of some angsty teenagers trapper-keeper. But it turned out to be the best Zelda game I ever played (well maybe not better than Wind Waker). And the absurd looking characters? Well turns out they were well written and voiced. By the end of the first one I was ready for anything else in this universe. Darksiders 2 biggest letdown for me is the story, since it technically takes place before/during the events of the first game it doesn’t follow up on the ending of the first (an ending that makes you pump your first and say something like “lets fucking do this”). Still, this game is magnificent. It looks gorgeous with it’s varied landscapes and compelling world. The Death’s personality is different than his counterpart, War, so it feels like a new experience. The music is exceptional and really pulls you in to the settings. This game… this game is fucking great.
Sometimes you want a game that allows for constant self abuse. Dustforce is setup to allow the player to punish themselves in more ways than the game could plan for. Oh you fucked up? Well do it again and don’t fuck it up this time. Simple premises that are executed well are something I have a soft spot for (look lower on this list). Dustforce has a rocking soundtrack that just keeps you pushing to play it more. The entire point of the game is to just get better and better at it. Epitomized by it’s SINGLE achievement, which can only be obtained by S-Ranking every level in the game. Think about that.
Whenever Developers attempt a remake or resurrect a genre, people always complain. Were there people complaining about the remake of XCOM? Yup, but A LOT fewer than you would expect. They updated a series that is heralded for being ball-bustingly hard. They made it more accessible, but left in the options to crank that shit up to 11. There is even an option to play with a single save file, preventing you from reloading after a botched move resulting in a team wipe. It feels EXACTLY how you want a modern interpretation of an old classic to feel.