Whoever said that 2012 wasn’t a good year for games was smoking something non-kosher. I’m talking drugs people, because 2012 has given us some of my favorite games of this ever growing generation. Feast your eyes on my list of little indie games, periodically punctuated by something you’ve actually played.
10. Frog Fractions
We live in a day and age where the Internet has ruined random. Yes, random used to be funny, but now it’s become the punchline for every joke memejockies put out. Yet somehow Frog Fractions manages to pull off the best use of the random punchline I have ever seen. What starts as a tribute to the edutainment games of the 80s turns into a loving ode to games as a whole. It’s the strangest experience I’ve had all year and one I try forcing all of my friends to play. Did I mention it’s a free flash game?
9. Mark of the Ninja
I love stealth. I can’t tell you why, because most stealth games are maddeningly trial and error, but that didn’t stop me from pouring hundreds of hours into the genre. Mark of the Ninja is the first game that seems to actually progress the genre. When you screw up in Mark of the Ninja, you know exactly why and it’s always your fault. The game doesn’t work against you and its logic is sound. Couple that with Klei’s amazing art design and a bit of the magical ‘fun’ vigorously sprinkled in and you have the best stealth game of the generation.
8. Asura’s Wrath
Asura’s Wrath feels like a parody at times. Now, there are three types of parodies, good parodies that make fun of but still respect the source material (Mel Brooks), bad parodies that are just there to make jokes because hey you know that thing (the “…Movie” franchise), and loving parodies that tease the tropes but still make a fantastic movie in that genre(Shaun of the Dead). Asura’s Wrath feels like a loving parody of anime. It manages to take the most insane elements you’ve ever seen and shove them all in the first chapter, then just keep ratcheting it up. It also takes some skill to make quick time events fun.
7. Sound Shapes
All you have to do is play through the first Beck level in Sound Shapes to know why it’s one of the best games of the year. Making the music a core part of your game is nothing new, but making that music and game so incredible and intertwined deserves credit. Sound Shapes is fun, but it gave me that childlike wonder and the excitement of discovery that so few games provide. I don’t go back to many games, but I keep going back to Sound Shapes just to play through those albums again and again.
Sound Shapes may have given me that childlike wonder and excitement of discovery, but not like Fez did. Fez makes discovery the objective. You don’t just wander into beautiful vistas, you explore and decipher the riddles of the world. You explore with the intent of discovering the next key to Fez’s world. A feat in itself, but it’s done through a beautiful, pixelated world that only gets more incredible as you explore and rotate it. Fez is Phil Fish’s love letter to video games and you can feel a lifetime of joy and adventure pumped into it.
5. FTL: Faster Than Light
I like space. It was always Star Wars and Star Trek over Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons any day. FTL: Faster Than Light puts you in command of your own starship as you run from a rebel fleet to deliver vital intelligence. Then you die. A lot. This generations seems to be the true revival of the Rogue-like and FTL is an incredible example. The choose your own adventure style the narrative unfolds with as you explore jump points in the galaxy, the strategic combat and random nature made this Kickstarter funded game an addiction that I loved every second of.
4. Hotline Miami
Essentially Drugs, The Video Game, Hotline Miami is a message about violence wrapped in the top-down shooter equivalent of a hardcore platformer. Each room you enter in the places you’re sent to ‘clean’ is almost a puzzle. Do you go in blasting, alerting the entire building to your presence or do you wait, knock down one enemy with the door and take the rest out with a lead pipe. Every second is brutal and disturbing. The soundtrack is also worth the asking price and used to its full extent.
3. The Walking Dead
As a game, The Walking Dead leaves a lot to be asked for and I say this as a lifelong fan of point and click adventure games. However, as an experience The Walking Dead easily surpasses all of its faults. Especially after Mass Effect’s disappointing ending, The Walking Dead was a shining example of how to do choices right. Beyond a few indie games, not many leave you shocked and disturbed, but The Walking Dead did it every episode. The comic used to be the definitive zombie experience, but the game has far surpassed it.
An impactful experience is a common theme on my list this year and nothing left more than an impact than Journey. Thatgamecompany has not only crafted some of the best experiences of the console generation, but with Journey they made an artistic game multiplayer in a way that only made it better. When my companions would disappear from my game it hurt a little. Journey, as Flower did before it, continues to prove that there is so much you can do with HD graphics that realism hampers and that the line between games and art games is getting smaller and smaller.
1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
If you would have told me in 2011 that my favorite game of 2012 would be XCOM: Enemy Unknown I would have asked what you were smoking. I never played the original games for more than an hour or two and wasn’t really interested in playing any more. I have no idea what was wrong with me before. XCOM is strategy done beautifully. Losing soldiers is impactful. Yes, you can hire more, but they’ve been with you and you’ve seen them rise through the ranks, when your top leveled Assault takes an energy blast from a Cyberdisk you’re throwing your controller down in anguish. Firaxis also managed to take a hardcore PC strategy game and find a way to make it play the best on a controller. It may not look the best or even be the most stable, but XCOM is everything I want from games.
This is a personal top 10 list and the entries and their rankings do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Geekenstein.com, but of the author publishing it. Feel free to send in your own top 10 list to firstname.lastname@example.org.