Some were short, some lasted months and some of them I still haven’t seen the end of. Here it is, in no finer order than an alphabetical listing, the five games I think most highly of from 2012.
I had longed to play Fez since the first time I saw it, literally five years ago. At the time I was simply excited by its bright, bold pixelart style and what looked like classic platforming. The revelation that the world rotates on sharp 90-degree turns, making for four levels in one only excited me more. But nothing could prepare any of us for the cryptic secrets hidden in almost every screen of what we initially thought was a disappointingly simple platformer. Suddenly the race was on to decode an ancient language that had been staring us in the face for the entire game. The conversation quickly turned from “how do you make it over this gap?” to “did you find the cipher yet?”. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of as the answers were unraveling and a moment in gaming I won’t ever forget.
So strong is the emotional reaction to the events of Faster Than Light that Katy came to hate when I would play it. Of all the games I played this year FTL was the most effective, the most terrifying and satisfying. Despite its tiny, minimal graphics it often left me shaking as resources are slim, an encounter can turn at a second’s notice, and much of your success is dependent on your ability to manage a dozen functions at once.
It’s really hard to think back on Mass Effect 3 before the internet blew its ending out of proportion. Streamlining the game boiled quests down to eavesdropping conversations in another tiny section of the Citadel. The phone-a-friend stuff near the end felt like a cheesy way to get more closure on the game’s menagerie of cast members. The planet scanning was whittled down to a map of boring click-and-run repetition. Meanwhile, you’re supposed to be fighting for Earth and the universe but I spent plenty of time running down my space hamster in the basement of the Normandy.
All that stuff did dull the experience but there was nothing else this year that had as much personal meaning or impact as seeing out my Commander Shepard’s story. I didn’t take offense to the ending but appreciated the exposition that the Extended Cut added and can rest easy knowing no matter what they do going forward that this was a pretty great trilogy. It’s also worth noting that this was the first multiplayer experience I’ve enjoyed since Unreal Tournament 2004 and that’s a triumph all on its own.
Rhythm Party earned a special place in my heart this year. It came along after we moved and found our beloved Pump it Up to be poorly represented in this town. It picked up the slack for dumb dance fun, it reminded me of how much I love Eye Toy Groove and it turned out to be one of the best Kinect games yet. Its crowning achievement is that it gets the tech out of the way and simply lets you dance. There’s no ‘Simon Says’ like Dance Central, all you have to do is make sure you hit the markers that appear on screen with some part of your body.
The music selection in the base game covers the basics well. Oldies, 80’s and modern pop choices are limited but good, there’s plenty of signature Bemani sounds and even the tracks featuring Vanilla Ice are fun to play. It was one of the few games this year that was purely fun and I came back to it repeatedly for entertainment and exercise alike.
A lot like FTL, Trials Evolution twisted my emotional screws in unexpected ways. Also like FTL, Katy hates when I play this game. I mostly gave up on Trials HD but stuck with Evolution long enough to experience the spiritual enlightenment of ‘perseverance through pain’. With instant restarts I was able to struggle through precise maneuvers the game was trying to teach me. Meanwhile, ghosts of my friends racing alongside let me see how they passed certain areas and gave me a goal to shoot for. It’s a brilliantly designed physics puzzler that had me loving and hating it for weeks on end with some memories of triumph that I’ll never forget.
And if anyone was looking for a full-on Top Ten of 2012, here’s a quick list of my second top five favorite games:
- Tokyo Jungle
- Spec Ops: The Line
- Don’t Starve
- Mark of the Ninja