Oh, 2012. You were a weird beast of a year. Some of your big retail releases stumbled onto store shelves feeling unfinished and at some points were downright busted. Your console launches felt stilted and without much palpable excitement, and yet you put a new, turn based strategy XCOM game on store shelves. You were maybe the year that downloadable games felt less like a curiosity arcade, a place where the weird and wonderful are laid bare to be gawped at, and more like ‘games that are only available on download services’. Except for when they’re later collected on discs of course. Enough of this mindless wittering though, on with the list!
5. Papo & Yo
Yes, it has some gameplay issues. Yes, it’s lacking a bit of polish. But for all of its faults, Papo & Yo is an experience that’s stuck with me for quite a while. It’s a deeply personal story, and one that isn’t easy to tell, but the way the game tells it goes a long way towards making it feel approachable.
Not everybody can relate to an alcoholic father, but a monster who becomes filled with uncontrollable rage whenever he eats frogs? Video games really can make complex subjects seem… decidedly less so. Well done to Minority for tackling it.
I am so glad Velocity is getting remade next year for PS3 and Vita. Futurlab’s teleportation tour-de-force is an astounding exercise in genre mastery, and more people need to experience it. If trophies is what that takes, then so be it.
What if you had a teleport that allowed you to travel backwards through levels? You’d probably make those levels multi layered, visually stunning, and then you’d get Joris de Man to help write the music for it. Velocity managed to explain to me why exactly Minis exist. It’s so that developers like Futurlab can make games like Velocity.
3. Sound Shapes
Sound Shapes is the music game for people who have no rhythm. You feel like you’re creating something beautiful with minimal effort, and the game itself is fun enough that the simple act of bounding through its levels brings a smile to the face.
It provided my single most memorable gaming moment of 2012 with “that Beck level”, and the fact that it has a full creation and sharing suite built in means that people everywhere can keep making things that I don’t just want to play, I want to listen to them again afterwards. That’s no easy feat.
Oh god the colours are everywhere. Dyad is the closest to having a seizure a non epileptic can get, with the added bonus of it being incredibly fun in the process. A bizarre mixture of a racing game and Tempest, Dyad manages to craft a singular experience in each and every one of its levels, and the final level is a work of pure astounding genius.
Combine that with a rich and addictive leaderboard structure, Dyad might be the most bafflingly fantastic thing you’ll ever experience. Remember to try a level with every effect turned up to the highest it’ll go, just so you can say you survived it.
Journey feels like the moment ThatGameCompany have been working up to since their inception. It’s still as elegantly simple as their other games, but here that simplicity leads to unique forms of self expression in the player. When you meet somebody else, everybody acts differently. Are you the type of person that runs ahead and then waits for the other person to catch up? Or the one who walks alongside until the very end, chirping rhythmically to keep morale up?
Teamwork has never felt so natural in a game, and at the same time so needless to the game itself. There are no challenges in Journey that you can only overcome with teamwork, but the mountain feels so much more climbable when you have somebody by your side to climb it with you. Also, you have the coolest scarf imaginable.
I haven’t finished it yet, but if the first few hours are any indication, Tokyo Jungle may be the antithesis to big budget nonsense that you’ve been craving. It made good on the promises of insanity from those early screenshots, and it let me dress up a Pomeranian in adorable outfits. Good show, Tokyo Jungle.
The Unfinished Swan
I got every last thing in The Unfinished Swan, but the game itself left me slightly wanting. The paint throwing mechanic was fantastic, but everything else? It felt like a logical extension of the game, but not in the way I was hoping for. The story itself was well told, and the voice work was excellent, but unlocking the prototype version of the game after collecting the balloons is where my disappointment emerged from. The prototype was unsettling, dark and a glimpse into the game I had hoped to play. A great debut outing for Giant Sparrow, but perhaps it was a little much on my part to expect that core paint mechanic to be able to provide anything more than an interesting prototype or first segment. The Unfinished Swan definitely isn’t anything less than great. It’s just not what you’re expecting, but perhaps that’s its greatest success.
Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath HD For Vita
What’s that, Just Add Water? You’re going to take your stunning PS3 remake of the quasi-open world multiple perspective bounty hunting game, and put it on the Vita? And you’re going to do it with relatively little compromise? I’ll believe it when I see it. Oh right, I’ve been playing it and it’s exactly that. The people who work there must be wizards.
The Walking Dead
Alas, I have only finished the first episode. I want to play more, but I have the distinct feeling that I’m going to hate what I find out about myself. Mostly the knowledge that if faced with a crisis, I’d dawdle and then let Doug die. Sorry Doug.
Gravity Rush, LittleBigPlanet Vita and Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Look, I’m sorry. If I’m at home with a decently sized TV, I’m not going to play you as much as I want to, Vita. Your games may be fantastic, and Gravity Rush may be the best game on you, but Persona 3 Portable is calling to me and I’ve invalidated my entire argument for not playing you as much. Whoops. Look, Persona 3 is pretty good, ok?
Double Dragon Neon
I was born in 1990. This is pretty much how the 80s was, right? A hilarious send up of an entire Genre, Double Dragon Neon manages to still be a fun game with a killer soundtrack. If only it didn’t stick quite so close to the limits of an Arcade. Just let me have infinite continues, disable my score or something, I just want to finish that level so I can see the ending.
Joe Danger 2 The Movie
Danger In Hollywood is right. Hello Games managed to squeeze so much into their stuntman fuelled sequel that it felt full to bursting. Luckily, the stitching held up. Joe Danger 2 is so full of content that it feels positively overwhelming at times, and yet you can’t stop playing it. I was up for hours trying to get every goal, and i’ll likely be up for several more. Hello Games created something extraordinary in its sequel, and its definitely my number 6. Why can’t we do top 6′s instead?
Other games that I loved, but not enough to put on this list: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, Rock Band Blitz, Retro/Grade, Sleeping Dogs.