2012 has been a bittersweet year for the video game industry. While the industry has long been seen as something of an invincible Juggernaut,this last year has seen a record number of studio closures and diminishing returns on some of the gaming industry’s most successful franchises. With the doors being shuttered on studios such as Hudson Soft, Sony Liverpool, 38 Studios, and Psygnosis shuttered over the past year, 2012 has seen both new and old studios alike surrender to the hardships of the battered economy.
While this year has certainly had it’s share of downs, we’ve still had some very positive things come out of the year. We’ll fondly be able to look back on 2012 as a year full of some excellent video game releases, as well as the year Nintendo finally decided to get with the program and release a console that didn’t make our retinas to bleed after every play session. So, to end the year on a high note, here is the HPP staff’s top 5 games of 2012.
#5- Resident Evil Revelations (N3DS, Capcom)
Capcom’s first original Resident Evil for Nintendo’s new handheld packed more suspense and horror than the past two console releases combined. Proving the thrills haven’t quite left the series quite yet, Revelation’s terrifying voyage on the Queen Zenobia offered an tense and foreboding environment that dripping with plenty of atmosphere (and not to mention gallons of blood). While bringing scares back to the series was more than enough to please this jaded gamer, the interesting scanner mechanics, excellent visuals, and sky-high production values make Resident Evil: Revelations one voyage well worth taking.
#4- Mass Effect 3 (All, Bioware)
The final chapter in Bioware’s space epic catches enough flak to bring down a Reaper over its bizarre ending, but that isn’t enough to keep the final chapter of the Mass Effect Trilogy from being one of the most impressive games of this generation. Taking everything the previous games did and honing the game play to a razor’s edge, Mass Effect 3 delivers some of the tightest shooter gameplay around to go along with the gripping tale it weaves. Toss in the superb multiplayer and online functionality that supports the single-player campaign and you have yourself one hell of an adventure that belongs in every RPG or Sci-Fi fanatic’s library.
#3- Persona 4 Golden (Vita, ATLUS)
If there were ever a reason to own a Vita, Persona 4 Golden is it. Sure, it may be a port of a four-year-old game, but it’s a damn fine port that packs so much extra content even fans who spent countless hours playing through the original are sure to be enticed back into the sleepy town of Inaba once more to uncover the mysteries of the grisly serial killings that plague the town’s foggy nights.
#2- Zombiu (Wii U, Ubisoft Montpelier)
Zombiu is not a perfect game, but it damn sure is an exciting one. Ubisoft Montpelier’s vision of a zombie plague-ravaged London is one of the most nightmarish locales I’ve experienced in ages. From the musty catacombs nestled in the heart of the Tower of London to the blood-splattered halls of Buckingham Palace, Zombiu pulls the player in with a sense of overbearing dread. Couple the game’s brutal difficulty which harkens to the Dark Souls, and you have a game that is sure to keep masochistic players on edge trying to complete the insanely difficult Survival mode.
#1- Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii, Monolith Soft)
Monolith Soft’s RPG only made it to North America by the skin of its teeth, but American JRPG fans are very fortunate that it did. Trimming all of the fat from the typical JRPG formula and sculpting the remnants into one of the most pure and refined RPG experiences I’ve ever played, Xenoblade Chronicles sets the new standard for what a JRPG should be. Exploring the massive Bionis was exhilarating every step of the way thanks to the game’s wide-open vistas and smooth-as-silk combat system. Xenoblade Chronicles also features one of the most memorable casts I’ve ever seen, and every character sports volumes of amazingly well-performed dialog that is a treat to hear (I mean seriously, who doesn’t love those menacing Mechons and their cockney accents).
Xenoblade Chronicles is the most memorable RPG I’ve played in years, and is perfectly derserving of sitting alongside the best games the genre has to offer. Not too bad for a game that barely made it stateside, eh?
2012 was a pretty good year for games. It wasn’t as full of fantastic triple-A titles as last year, but instead offered a kind of unique variety I don’t think anybody fully expected. If you look at the top games lists coming out around us right now, you’ll find titles like The Walking Dead, Unfinished Swan, Journey, and many other smaller, downloadable titles which probably never would have made it to such high regard a few years ago. This year has really illustrated what an interesting time this is for video games. I’ve been thinking about this a lot while making this list, because it contains a lot of games I honestly didn’t expect to find there.
Just a quick disclaimer before we jump in. I am not a professional video game “journalist”. Being an unemployed 17 year-old, I do not have the money to buy every new game that comes out, and so I have to choose certain games, new and old, to spend my money on. Therefore, I do not play every single title that comes out every year. Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Dishonored and Xcom: Enemy Unknown are all games that I am fully aware of and still want to play, but just haven’t had the chance to at the time of writing this. I’ll probably be catching up with those games in the coming months, as it tends to go for me every year. Unfortunately, I have not played them in time to put any of them on this list, if such a placewould be earned.
And so, that said, I present to you my strange and unusual top 5 games of 2012 list.
#5- Skullgirls (PS3, Lab Zero Games)
I am not very good at fighting games, nor do I pretend to know very much about them. I get how your average fighter works, it’s just not a genre I’ve ever felt very drawn towards. When I downloaded Skullgirls, I pretty much knew what I was getting. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was how much of an impression that experience would leave on me.
What sets Skullgirls apart from your average fighter? In terms of gameplay, not a ton. Each character has a well-rounded and distinct fighting style, but no, the gameplay isn’t really unique, just very good. And that’s fine. What sets Skullgirls apart is the presentation. When I reviewed The Last Story, I talked about how fantastic presentation doesn’t mean much if what’s being presented is clearly not worth the effort. Here, the presentation is the very twist and intrigue of the game. The animation is beautiful, and each character has their own unique concept. They all have their own personalities and great dialouge, and they’re all endearing in their own ways. Skullgirls is hard as hell at some points, but I found myself slogging through just because watching the characters move and fight and listening to them was endearing enough to keep me going. (see also: my#3 spot) Skullgirls is a fantastic fighter with a unique style to keep things fresh and interesting. Playing solo can be an occasional chore due to sheer AI difficulty, but it’s impossible not to acknowledge the artistic craftsmanship and animation quality that earn Skullgirls its #5 spot.
#4- Kid Icarus: Uprising (N3DS, Project Sora)
Kid Icarus Uprising is not a Kid Icarus game. It’s the first title in the series to be released in over 20 years, and so this new installment was basically treated like it’s own thing, a new direction to give new life to the series. What we got is a chapter-by-chapter on-rails/arena shooter hybrid, with over-the-top humorous dialogue and some of the strangest choices of pacing I have ever seen in a game. And I loved every messy, jumbled, wise-cracking minute of it.
Y’know that plague of an overused term in game reviews, when someone can’t think of anything else to say about a game and so they just end up calling it a “rollercoaster ride”? Uprising is one of the only games I have played in recent memory that I think truly fits that description. With every new chapter there’s a new development in the crazy story, a new character introduced, and a new battle to be fought. Following the game’s plot, alone, could be defined a “rollercoaster ride”. (I cringe every time I type that)
Kid Icarus Uprising is not meant to be taken seriously, it is meant to be enjoyed in a witty, overcaffinated blaze. Some people will call its controls funky, due to the circle-pad/touch screen movement system, but I never found a problem using it. It worked in Metroid Prime Hunters, and it works here. Add to that the beautiful visuals and character designs in each level, and you get a wild experience on the 3DS that nobody should miss.
You might even say it’s a…rollercoaster rideAAAAAAGH NEXT GAME!
#3- Borderlands 2 (All, Gearbox)
Full disclosure: At the beginning of the year, this was the only game that I figured would find its way onto this list. And indeed, here it is. If you’re a regular at Hey Poor Player, you’ll know that we all loved Borderlands 2. So what makes it so great? Well, remember what I said about Skullgirls? How it’s gameplay wasn’t revolutionary, but the presentation made the experience unique? Multiply that statement tenfold, and you get Borderlands 2. Like the first Borderlands, this game is a very competent FPS with decent vehicle mechanics smattered in. This time around, you get a new selection of four unique characters from which to choose, and some amazing new support characters. We get to see a much larger part of Pandora with much more variety in landscape, which in itself ushered in a much more intelligent level of world design. Every single area of Borderlands 2, down to the boss arenas, has intuitive design a level above what was found in the game’s predecessor.
The clincher, though, is the story. And boy, that statement surprised me as much as the rest of us. Borderlands 2’s story is much more a driving force of the game this time around, and we connect with it through the inclusion of the main characters from the first game as NPCs central to the plot. But it goes deeper than that. By the end of the game, I honestly felt terrible for some of the things I had done, and even came to sympathize with Handsome Jack, if only for a moment. The writing displayed here was so unexpected, and it’s a wholly welcome addition to an already fantastic game.
#2- The Walking Dead (All, Telltale Games)
Episodic games are another area in which I have little experience. There’s the Half-Life 2 episodes, and that’s pretty much it. Or at least it was, until a little thing called The Walking Dead came along. The Walking Dead is based on a highly successful comic of which I’m a pretty big fan, so when I heard Telltale was handling a video game spinoff I was hesitant to say the least. I’m a fairly lukewarm Telltale fan at best, and I was concerned about whether this game, supposedly based off the comic book universe instead of the show, could live up to its series of origin.
Needless to say, I was proven wrong over and over again, in each episode.
The Walking Dead, as you could probably guess by its developer, is a point-and-click adventure game. It’s a separate story from the comic, with different characters living in the same situation as those in the comic. You see the occasional cameo from the comic, but this is very much its own story set in the same world. What we’re really looking at here is an exercise in interactive storytelling, and The Walking Dead achieves this in ways I have never seen before. If you enjoyed the Mass Effect trilogy, this is the next stage in the same evolution of choice-based storytelling. Everything you do, every step you take, will be influential in the activity of the characters around you later on. Of course, every chapter has its set of “big decisions”, but you still get the very real feeling that everything you do in this game matters. You want to do the right thing, and protect these people with whom you’ve thrown in your lot. Just explaining this should be all I need to say. The Walking Dead is an absolutely exceptional experience, and it’ll break your heart and force you to gamble the lives of your loved ones before you’re through. It deserves to be experienced by all, and I look forward eagerly to a second season.
#1-Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii, Monolith Soft)
Have you ever picked up a game not really knowing what to expect, and then finding the resulting game to be one of the best things you’ve ever played? At first, you think it must just be the pleasant surprise of enjoying the game at all. But as you continue to play, you realize that this thing you’re playing, that you happened upon without any knowledge of what you were getting yourself into, is quickly becoming one of your favorite games of all time. Such was me with Xenoblade Chronicles.
I’m a stickler for unique worlds in video games. Games like Okami, Bioshock, and Portal 2 have unique, inspired worlds to show us, and all are among my favorites because of it. Xenoblade offers one of the most mind-bogglingly original world concepts I have seen in video games in years. It presents an original world rich with fully-fleshed concepts and mythos. Any gamer can find something to like in the world of the Bionis and the Mechonis. As this 60+ hour game unfolds and you learn more about the worlds history, you really gain an appreciation for just how much masterful thought was put into perfecting the story of the game.
Playing Xenoblade was a tad confusing in its opening hour or two, but once you get the hang of it it grows on you immensely. It incorporates a menu-based real-time combat system reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts, but, again, with much more thought and care put into it. The game isn’t perfect, with lag occurring in larger boss battles, but the game designers have even managed to streamline over this by programming the game’s flow to allow lag at certain points of combat and not others. This allows for a quick catch-your-breath moment at just the right time to observe your surroundings and decide what to do next. You could argue that the Wii’s limitations have actually been used in its favor here. One could also argue that some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy and some characters ALMOST stereotypes, but unlike The Last Story, they are fleshed-out stereotypes with full personalities and developments.
Calling Xenoblade Chronicles a masterpiece is high praise, but praise of which it is more than deserving. Many have called it one of the best RPGs of the decade, and I would be willing to call it one of the best of all time. Xenoblade is a masterpiece indeed, earning a place right among games like Persona 4 and Final Fantasy VII as one of the best RPGs ever made, and easily seizing the title of my game of the year for 2012.
Okay, I’m broke, and I game. And that means that while these weren’t all titles that came from 2012, they’re all titles I PLAYED in 2012. I write a column called ‘Late To the Game’. Did you really expect more?
#5 – Deus Ex: Human Revolution (ALL, Eidos Montreal)
Let’s get this out of the way. I played the shit out of this for two months straight and never stopped. While this title was released in 2011, I played it some months after I had a bum impression of the game (don’t start with the stun gun – life sucks with the stun gun). But once I let Adam Jensen’s cold robot body get into my heart… oh ‘non-lethal takedowns,’ how could I quit you? Cybernetics, politics, and transhumanism. The thought of becoming a cyborg makes me willing to be a Neuropazine Junkie.
#4 – Red Dragon Inn (Slugfest Games)
I’m gonna change it all up. Did you not also see I write part of the site called unplugged? We gonna get all up in this thing with card games now. I’m pretty sure Red Dragon Inn didn’t come out this year, though some expansions might have. The game simulates the irreverent actions of a party of adventurers fresh from their latest murder hobo spree in a raucous tavern by the name of (you guessed it) The Red Dragon Inn. The mechanics are simple, yet tricky: be the last party member sober enough to drag himself (or herself) up to the inn’s rooms with their coin purse still jingling. How do you win you ask? Get the other players roaring drunk and steal their gold. With multiple expansions, the games depth can get staggeringly intricate but always remains a drunken good time.
#3 – Penny Arcade: the Card Game- Gamers vs. Evil (Cryptozoic Entertainment)
Pow! Oooooh. Unconventional title again! Unplugged again! This deck building game allows for you and three of your sick, twisted friends (whom optimally should know what PA is and who Gabe and Tycho are) to take up arms and fight the likes of the Cardboard Tube Samurai, Dark Tycho, Satan, Kris Kringle and… Cthulhu (if you have the Rumble In Ry’leh expansion). As you build your deck, you’ll be reminded of such lovable (or loathsome) characters such as Kreazy, Mr. Period, Div, Annearchy and even the infamous Jim Darkmagic. And always remember – Scrotuum minions only are worth it in pairs.
#2 – Dead Island (All, Techland)
Yup. Late to the game again. Back for the more traditional pixelated delights. I got to this waaaay after the ship set sail and was immediately taken by exactly how fun and awesome this title was. It fits the survival horror, roleplaying, and action genres and mixes them in with a great story, an immersive world and the notorious Sam B (Who Do You Voodoo, Bitch!?). The game’s creep factor and by-the-skin-of-your-teeth, zombie horde beatdowns are enough for it to secure the number two spot.
#1 – Borderlands 2 (All, Gearbox)
I could write a paragraph about this. But it wouldn’t do it justice. So, go read this. Then, say goodbye to your friends and loved ones, and play this shit into the ground. They’ll understand.