Top Ten Favorite Games of 2012A column article, Top Ten by: Nick Boisson, Dylan Tano, Nick Hanover
While 2012 may not have been as populated with great games as 2011, 2012's line-up was far more diverse in terms of content and design. And while Skyrim was a clear winner for 2011, 2012 has given us such remarkable games that we find ourselves hard-pressed to pick just one as the clear Game of the Year. But who wants to pick just one anyway?
Here is our Top Ten Favorite Games from 2012:
Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd you steal our garbage?!!
Developer: WayForward Technologies, Publisher: D3 Publisher, Platforms: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
I have already said quite a bit about this game, but repeating myself couldn’t hurt: this is the best Zelda game to come out since Four Swords Adventures...and it’s not even a Zelda game!
The game is developed by WayForward Technologies (Shantae, Contra 4, Mighty Switch Force!, Double Dragon Neon) who have to be the best developers working on Nintendo systems around right now. You play as Finn and Jake, who are travelling across the Land of Ooo to find the Ice King, who has stolen the pair’s garbage in an effort to spend time with everyone’s favorite adventuring duo. If you love the show, you’ll love the game. Not only do you get to interact with some of your favorite characters from the animated series, but the game is an original story from series creator, Pendleton Ward. It ends up playing like a lost, extended episode of the series’ fourth season. It is hilarious, fun and a great addition to your 3DS library.
Also, the ridiculously long title has been one of my favorite things to say in 2012...
by Nick Boisson
Developer: Gearbox Software, Publisher: 2K Games, Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
While I enjoyed Borderlands quite a bit, I did have a number of problems with it. But Gearbox’s Borderlands 2 isn’t your daddy’s Borderlands (since your daddy never really had a Borderlands, this is technically true)!
Borderlands 2 is Borderlands without the leash. This game goes all-out, all the time. Crazy violence, ridiculous weapons (of which to cause the violence) and brilliantly scripted dialogue! But Gearbox learned very much from the first game, other than how much violence their audience can tolerate. This sequel is a far more balanced game than the original, making sure that you are always equipped to take on whatever the game throws at you. One of the biggest complaints with the first game was that it seemed designed more for co-op than for the single-player gamer. Gearbox has fixed that, making sure that each battle you face does not punish you for playing alone.
And the role-playing shooter has added some sweet new features to make both shooter fans and role-playing game fans feel right at home. One of the best additions is the Badass Ranking System, which allows you to collect badass tokens for special kills or big loots and use them to add to your character’s attributes (like weapon damage, shield recharge, reload speed, etc.). And what’s best about it is that you get to keep those attributes and attach them to any character that you create in the game.
In a year of more Call of Duty and Halo games, Borderlands 2 does a great job of shaking things up for the better. It never takes itself seriously. The game just welcomes you to enter Pandora and have yourself some fun. And trust me, you do.
by Nick Boisson
Developer: Arkane Studios, Publisher: Bethesda Softworks, Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
“Variety is the spice of life” said... well, a lot of people have said that; including Cee Lo Green (I’m not looking that up). Well, Dishonored served it up to us on a platter in 2012. From running into a room guns-a-blazin’ to summoning a swarm of rats to attack and devour guards, there was no shortage of ways to deal death’s blow. Yet was it better to kill your enemies or should you spare every life, setting an example as you work toward your ultimate goal; clearing your name and putting the rightful heir on the throne? That decision is yours and yours alone. Personally, I killed every last one of those motherfuckers.
Dishonored had more going for it than just a lot of ways to kill. Solid controls and a fun parkour system allowed you to traverse the streets and roofs of Dunwall at a breakneck speed while also letting you see the character of the city and its inhabitants. You may play Corvo, but I’d argue that Dunwall and its rich history is the star of this game. Her secrets, her history and her denizens are the ones you interact with. I’d love to go back to Dishonored just so I can explore this universe where whales power the world and that wonderful blend of steampunk and science-fiction are king.
by Dylan Tano
Developer: Polytron Corporation, Publisher: Microsoft Studios, Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade
Fez is another game that was riddled with controversy in 2012. Not only does it get the same Is this a game? question that Journey gets, but it was plagued with delays and had a huge part in one of my favorite films from last year, Indie Game: The Movie, which hurt the game as being seen as a product of its creator (Phil Fish) rather than on its own merits. And quite a number of merits Fez has!
If you want to see why people have a problem with the game, watch the film and make your own judgements. But the game itself is a beautiful piece of interactive art. You play as Gomez, a 2D character living in a 2D world who finds a sentient artifact called the Hexahedron. The Hexahedron gives Gomez a magical fez which allows him to perceive his 2D world in 3 dimensions. When he tests this power, the Hexahedron explodes causing the game to glitch and reboot. Gomez wakes up with the ability to see his world in 3D and must piece together the Hexahedron before his world is torn apart.
The game plays like a 2D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer, but the player can shift the world in 90° increments. But what really makes the game a sight to behold is the pixel art. Phil Fish managed to make his game look both beautiful in both its simplicity and its complexity, looking old while still modern. And you cannot help but look at how gorgeous it is, considering the game encourages you to explore its magnificent world. Forget the delays and forget the creator; Fez is exactly what you want on your Xbox 360.
by Nick Boisson
Developer: thatgamecompany, Publisher: SCE Sony Santa Monica Studio, Platform: PlayStation Network
Now, there has been quite a bit of controversy over whether or not thatgamecompany’s Journey should be considered a “game”. There is no competition, neither against the game nor another player. There is no score-tracking. You never really feel "challenged" in any way. That said, Journey may be one of the best games I have ever played, and I have played many a game.
Journey is a beautiful story that is told by through your experience with it. There is no dialogue, no captions. Just gorgeous art direction and sound design (Grammy-winning soundtrack, y’all!). The game is short -- between 2.5 to 3 hours -- but it is designed to be played all the way through in one sitting.
But what makes Journey so remarkable is its cooperative play. When you enter a new level, you are not alone. You will find another player ready to help you progress. What makes Journey stand out from other cooperative experiences is that your partner will remain anonymous. You do not get to choose a friend to join you, there is no voice chat option and you will not see their PSN tag. The only way to communicate is through the short tones that your character can make. Also, you do not truly need your partner. You can easily just walk away and play go through your journey solo. But you will never want to do that. In the days of constant fear of oppression while playing games online (see: any multiplayer first-person shooter game), Journey makes you instinctually trust your partner. You are never given a reason to; you simply do.
Honestly, it is difficult to describe this game in text and give it any justice. If you have a PlayStation 3, you need to pick this game up. Trust me, you will not regret a second spent in thatgamecompany’s desert world.
by Nick Boisson
Mass Effect 3
Developer: BioWare, Publisher: Electronic Arts, Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
It is hard to believe that Mass Effect 3 came out at the start of 2012. It feels like a lifetime ago for me. It kicked up a lot of heat that seemed to distract people from the fact that it was a genuinely solid game. Shepard’s last foray to save the universe paired him with a lot of the members of his former crew and a lot of hard choices. I mean seriously, the moment with Mordin was possibly the toughest choice I’ve ever had to make in a game. Even the multiplayer, which I had serious misgivings about, surprised me with it’s relevancy and how enjoyable it could be.
Mass Effect 3 blew me away in its scope and well-woven story. I’ve cared about these characters since the first Mass Effect and teaming up with Garrus and crew for one last rodeo tickled me pink [Did I really just say that?]. Just about everyone from the series’ past makes at least a cameo during this go around, unless you know... they’re dead (Sorry, Kaiden). In a way the last go around for Shepard’s team is all about righting wrongs. This is the hero moment, where you pull together everyone against a great threat. You’ll overcome harsh prejudices and battle the Reapers to the bitter end. Mass Effect 3 balanced gameplay and story, tugging at my heartstrings while delivering a fast paced battle across the galaxy.
by Dylan Tano
Developer: Queasy Games, Publisher: SCE Sony Santa Monica Studio, Platform: PlayStation Network
Sound Shapes is a rhythm-based game. Well, really, it’s more of a side-scrolling platformer. I think. I don’t know what kind of game Sound Shapes is other than it is the kind of game that I like!
Sound Shapes takes the best from rhythm games and the best from 2D platformers, adds tracks from the likes of Deadmau5, Beck and Jim Guthrie and art direction from Pixeljam, Capy and Superbrothers to create something wholly unique. The game’s environment is controlled and shaped by the music. Everything you do, everything you touch, has a corresponding note. And with different musicians and artists on each album (yes, each level is a groove on an LP), no album looks the same and no level plays the same.
This is also part of Sony’s “Play. Create. Share.” line of games, so you not only have a level editor, but you can share these levels publicly on PSN. Meaning the game has an infinite lifespan, thanks to the countless level designers sharing their stuff.
Sound Shapes is one of the most inventive and addictive games to come out in a long time. If you ever wanted to play through a song without being bogged down by things like instruments and musical talent, Sound Shapes is exactly what you are looking for.
by Nick Boisson
Developer: Crispy's, Publisher: PlayStation C.A.M.P., Platform: PlayStation Network
Gamers in the 21st century have been blessed with a multitude of platforms to discover completely unique and often downright bizarre gaming experiences, and as someone with a true fondness for the strange and unusual, I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it has been to live in this time where, say, I can rebuild the galaxy after my drunken, omnipotent father has accidentally destroyed it or where I can make a robotic mythological horse do my bidding. But 2012 and Tokyo Jungle may have provided me with a new favorite pasttime I never knew my life needed: leading a pack of pomeranians on a path of wanton carnage and destruction through the streets of a post-apocalyptic metropolis.
In her epically hilarious Eurogamer review of Tokyo Jungle, Ellie Gibson labelled the game "Grand Theft Auto with lions," which is a nice line but that fails to get across the true gonzo sensibility of the game. Tokyo Jungle is perhaps more accurately described as Mad Max for the animal kindgom, a digital exploration of the trials and tribulations of domesticated pets in a world without humans. While you start off with the surprisingly well-rounded pomeranian, survival mode allows you to unlock more animals, all of whom have their own challenges and strengths. Apex predators like crocodiles are fun to play for a bit, but they're also shackled to a quickly decreasing hunger gauge that requires you find them prey more or less constantly.
That's where the true strangeness of Tokyo Jungle comes in, as the secret to success in the game is to "mate" as often as possible, which grants you the benefit of having a new generation of youngsters to lead. The members of your pack are basically extra lives, as when you die you just switch to one of them. There's also the matter of beating "boss" animals-- my personal favorite is Boss Beagle-- and overcoming preset challenges, both of which also unlock new animals. And of course there's a Story mode, but in a perplexing turn of events, you must unlock it through Survival mode. But that also adds a further level of complexity to Tokyo Jungle and guarantees repeat playing. More importantly, you can dress up your animals with stat boosting accessories, like so:
Tokyo Jungle is by no means a great example of the strides in writing or technology that video games have shown recently, but its sheer entertainment value and singular vision nonetheless made it stand out from the pack, clear proof that fun, non-longform games are often more exciting and interesting than their bigger budgeted epic peers.
by Nick Hanover
The Walking Dead
Developer/Publisher: Telltale Games, Platforms: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, Steam, iOS
I’ve already said a lot about this game in my previous reviews on this site. However, that was all critique stuff and who does that on a best of list? Not this guy! Well... not at the moment.
The Walking Dead isn’t the typical game that you might find on this kind of list in years past. Games like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future have failed to launch Telltale Games into the limelight. Yet, The Walking Dead rests in a different area of our culture than even those great movies. It is an outstanding comic book, TV show and now, an amazing video game experience. It doesn’t do it with groundbreaking gameplay; in fact most of its control schemes have been around for a decade or so, at this point. There isn’t some astounding technical feature that drives you forward. It is this strange concept called “story”.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead made me care about the characters more than any other game that I’ve played this year. Hell, it surpassed several movies I’ve seen this year. And Clementine... that dear sweet little girl. She captured my heart and I couldn’t do anything but save her. The Walking Dead weaves a terrific and tragic story that does the source material proud.
by Dylan Tano
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Developer: Firaxis Games, Publisher: 2K Games, Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Now, I had never played an XCOM game, so I wasn’t all too sure what I was getting myself into when purchasing XCOM: Enemy Unknown. That said, this is a game that manages to do so much and do it all so flawlessly.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game where the Earth is being invaded by aliens and you play a general in XCOM (a globally-funded military program to protect and save the world from the alien invasion). You order your team of soldiers to move and attack and hope that you get all of them out of there alive. Why do you do the latter? In XCOM, you have the ability to name your soldiers as well as upgrade their weapons and promote them. But if they die on the field, they are dead. Their name goes up on a KIA board, all their upgrades and weapons disappear with them and you begin to mourn a digital character that you decided to name after your best friend.
But it isn’t just the battles that you must endure. You must also deal with the bureaucracy of running XCOM. You must listen to your scientists and engineers to make decisions on what to spend your money on. The decision to make a new weapon over studying the vulnerabilities of an enemy may cost you lives on your next mission. You must also try to help all of the countries who are backing XCOM. If there is a country that feels neglected by your team, they may pull their funding and your job will get a hell of a lot tougher. Most importantly, though, if you don’t succeed, the world will be taken over by the enemy. That’s right, folks: you can lose this game.
Video games have often been referred to as the bastard child of pulp films and action figures, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown could easily be seen as the poster child for that claim. You feel an awful lot like you’re playing toy soldiers, until you go to sleep and start having ‘Nam flashbacks to when your buddy, Donald, was killed by a Chryssalid, became a zombie and started brutally beating Becky to a pulp. War is hell, folks. But this game is pretty fun!
by Nick Boisson
For more of our Best of 2012 coverage, check out:
- Top Ten Single Issues of 2012
- Top Ten Comic Reissues of 2012
- Top Ten Graphic Novels of 2012
- Top Ten Comic Writers of 2012
- Top Ten Online Comics of 2012
- Top Ten Comic Artists of 2012
- Top Ten Ongoing Comic Books of 2012
- Top Ten Comic Book Miniseries
- Top Ten Favorite Video Games of 2012
- Top Ten Comic Book Debuts
- 2012: The Year in Panels
Dylan Tano has been playing video games since before he could walk. He's scaled castles and rode on the backs of giants. He has lived many lives and will live many more. He revealed himself to be the infamous Spider-Bro on Twitter as @BroSpider.
Nick Hanover doesn't want to set the world on fire, unless he has to, which seems increasingly more likely each day. As Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, he most looks forward to making subliterate internet commenters angry and forcing his record collection on unsuspecting readers through his comic, film and television reviews and miscellaneous other pop culture pieces for the site. He promises to update Panel Panopticon more this year, but you can always find his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover or explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness.