So, now 2012 is done and dusted it’s time to take a look back and identify my games of the year; the games that left an indelible impression, be it because of gameplay, aesthetics, plot or something else entirely.
The titles I have settled on can be found below, and I have to admit even I find it to be quite a curious selection. The iOS version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, for example, is in many ways a fairly meat-and-potatoes racer in the broader scope of things, but somehow it manages to feel fresh and exciting. What I do know is that these are the games that really floated my boat in 2012, and they are all games that I am either still playing, or that I have every intention of replaying at some point in the future.
So, without further ado…the winner is…
Nintendo Land (Wii U)
When it comes to selecting my Game of the Year, I’ve always had a tendency to lean towards the epic, sprawling, big budget triple-A titles that consumed hours/days of my time. While there have been plenty of titles released this year that fit this mould, there is one title that stole my heart – Nintendo Land on the Wii U; a game that slapped a Mario cap atop my Mii’s head and let me play hide-and-seek with a room full of mates.
As a Wii U launch title, it was difficult to approach Nintendo Land with much of an open mind; surely this would just be a collection of forgettable mini-games, mirroring the vapid-minimalism of the Wii’s own Wii Play, and at a glance it appears to be just that. There are hidden depths however, and over time Nintendo Land reveals itself to be a fascinating smorgasbord of individual and multiplayer experiences that may be thematically all over the place but that still do an amazing job of delivering the theme-park-esque thrills hinted at by the game’s title.
It is with a room full of players Nintendo Land really comes to life – delivering an experience that can only be described as riotous. The competitive attractions each translate Nintendo’s vision of the potential of the Wii U into giddy reality, opening with the frighteningly simplistic Mario Chase which lays down simple concepts that are built upon elsewhere in the package. Chasing a Mario-costumed family member around a multicoloured maze is as dumb as you can imagine, but it distils everything that is fun about videogames into a laser-beam focussed burst of gameplay, and Nintendo Land’s attractions are stuffed with the ability to deliver such moments that rarely fail to induce hilarity – be it through the swollen-headed waddling of Animal Crossing: Sweet Day or Scooby Doo-esque survival horror of Luigi’s Ghost Mansion.
The final reason why Nintendo Land is my game of the year is in how successfully it manages to bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers, without ever feeling patronising or dumbed down. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest with my father was an experience I will genuinely never forget; I honestly can’t remember any other game that had us both saying ‘We’ll have just one more go…’ in unison as we attempted to best another level. It was truly, truly brilliant and a further hint that the notions of ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ gamers might not be with us for much longer.
Of all the titles released in 2012, it was Nintendo Land that delivered the most eye-opening, memorable and downright enjoyable experiences. It isn’t perfect – to get the most out of it you need meet hefty hardware and player requirements, there are few wobbly attractions and it can be a bit explanation-heavy – but it has given me so many memorable social gaming moments and it presses so many buttons while pushing gaming in new and interesting directions that I can’t help but adore it.
Journey (PlayStation 3)
What is there to say about thatgamecompany’s wonderful PlayStation 3 epic ‘wander-about ‘em up’ that hasn’t already been said? Though fleeting in duration, it is a title filled with so many memorable experiences that are presented with such visual and aural flair that it can’t help but make an impact. There are moments in this game that will genuinely stay with me forever; the sand-surfing at sunset, the outright terror that came from facing up to those giant flying snakes, the ethereal, operatic and downright stirring ascendency into white light at the game’s conclusion…
Much like flower, its predecessor, Journey is a game to show non-gamers to convince them of the power and potential of the medium. That it also left the jaw of a long-time gamer such as myself agape speaks volumes.
ZombiU (Wii U)
ZombiU appealed to me as soon as it was announced, mainly as a) I’m a massive fan of zombies (World War Z….Day by Day Apocalypse…The Walking Dead… reanimated corpses have a special place in my heart…) and b) I live in London, where ZombiU is set. I’ve also read the Zombie Survival Guide and here, I thought, was an opportinty to prove my worth in lieu of a genuine undead-themed apocalypse. Well, either that or ZombiU would join Red Steel in the history books as just another rather poor ‘hardcore’ title to accompany the launch of console with the word ‘Wii’ in its title.
Thankfully Ubisoft Montpellier delivered a gripping, gritty, atmospheric and frequently highly original take on the zombie genre. It’s a game built by a team who have clearly been paying attention to recent successes such as Demon’s Souls/ Dark Souls and who have an excellent grasp of what makes zombie - and the particular type havoc that they can wreak - so scary.
It’s also an excellent demonstration of what the Wii U’s particular capabilities can offer, feeling markedly different from standard FPS fare, favouring slow and methodical progression over balls-to-the-wall gunplay. When a game manages to make the chunky Wii U Gamepad feel like an essential piece of zombie survival kit, you know it’s doing something right!
Gravity Rush (PlayStation Vita)
The impact that Gravity Rush for the PlayStation Vita had on me was as much a result of its glorious, head-spinning visuals and haunting setting as it was a result of its gameplay. In many ways it’s a typical open-world/sand-box experience - all ‘go here’, ‘collect this’, ‘meet him’, ‘kill her’, ‘avoid that’ - with the stand out feature being Hekseville, the world that gravity-shifting heroine, Kat, must explore. It is utterly spellbinding, showcasing some incredibly bold design aesthetics and delivering an experience that isn’t just thrilling, but also surprisingly moving.
Gravity Rush’s allure manages to go much deeper than attractive architecture and a dramatic colour-scheme, as developer SCE Japan Studio have laced the world with a sense of intrigue and wonder. You can never be quite sure where you’ll end up next, what strange creature will lurch into view or what mysteries you’ll discover. Even the most staple of sandbox elements - the humble collectible - manages to be strangely moving, as you hunt down a tragic couple lost in time and space fruitlessly attempting to find each other. The game is fully of such touches; little pieces of narrative that lead you on, that make the world one that you want to spend time in, that you want to explore….that you get to explore it by using a fascinating and vertigo-inducing gravity-shifting mechanic is the icing on Gravity Rush’s superbly realised cake.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted (iOS/Android)
If the iOS version of Need For Speed: Most Wanted by Firemonkeys is anything to go by, then the days of mobile versions of triple AAA consoles releases doing no more than striving for the lacklustre and the quick buck might just be coming to an end. Here is a fine example of how to create a mobile version of game without sacrificing its heart and soul.
It get’s so much right - it looks gorgeous lovely, it whips along at cracking pace, works perfectly in quick blasts and - most importantly - it absolutely nails the tilt controls, blending them with the series signature powerslides and boosts. Though it doesn’t feature the open world of its console-cousin, Autolog is delivered intact and races feel every bit as exhilarating. That all this comes in a package that cost 69p is a prime example of the problem facing the Sony’s and Nintendo’s of the world - how can they continue to justify a £30 price tags for portable experience, when titles of the calibre of Need for Speed: Most Wanted are available?
So there you have it - my favourite games of 2012.
Now on with 2013 and back to Knytts Underground…