Games You Liked 2012

Gravity Rush

Some Like It Hotline

The gory Hotline Miami and the tender Katawa Shoujo rank among Gameological readers’ favorites of the year.

By The Gameological Society Readers • December 14, 2012

This week, Gameological contributors wrote about some of their favorite games from the last 12 months. Today, the readers have their say. We chose a handful of your comments from the staff-pick threads and collected them here. Each one is listed with the commenter’s name and the game in question. They’re the Games You Liked—but you already knew that, obviously. (Comments have been edited for length and clarity.)

ANDREW RYAN’S CADDY
Asura’s Wrath
Asura's Wrath

Asura’s Wrath is such wonderful, utter batshit. All you need to know is that at one point, one of the more calm and rational characters says, “If you won’t listen to reason, I’ll convince you with my fists!” And then it works.

CASPIANCOMIC
Katawa Shoujo
Katawa Shoujo

I liked Katawa Shoujo because it was a thousand times better than it had any right or reason to be. For those who haven’t heard, Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel/dating simulation developed by 4chan-based Four Leaf Studios, in which the main character attends a special school for disabled students and can form a romantic relationship with one of five disabled girls. When I first heard the premise, I was in disbelief. Surely, fetishizing the disabled would be the most revolting thing [notorious internet forum] 4chan had ever done.

So imagine my surprise when I got a sincere, sympathetic portrayal of five girls and their relationship with a character struggling to understand his new relationship with his peers and his body. The writing in this game is stellar—as it would have to be, as a visual novel-type game. Most surprising of all, though, was the tenderness with which the subject matter was handled. The characters in the game struggle to adapt to their unusual circumstances—some make light of them, some act aloof, others are paralyzed with fear. Others are, for all intents and purposes, normal. It is the ultimate (and possibly only) way to respectfully handle such a bizarre subject matter.

I’ve got a chronic health condition myself, and I found myself a little humbled when a dating sim made by 4chan helped me unpack my own relationship with my health, and helped me cope with the fact that realistically speaking, I’ll never really be “healthy” again—a fact I’d often tried to ignore in my day-to-day life.

CHRYSO42
Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is the best game I’ve had the time and means to play this year, which is admittedly a pretty narrow category. I also have a huge boner for the movie Drive, so there’s that grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is, at minimum, pretty great.

At its core, it is that rarest of beasts, a propulsive slash-’em-up that still has its brain turned on, and it’s backed by a great soundtrack that complements both the hectic sense of calculating, murderous flow and the dissonant fever-dream that is unfolding onscreen.

Graphically, I haven’t been totally on board with Cactus’ work in the past, but in this case, artist and subject have found a match made in a dark, sweaty basement after an extended and increasingly paranoid binge of hard drugs and Nintendo games. There is, admittedly, almost no plot, but what there is of it supplies great big gobs of atmosphere.

It all works together: the cheerfully hideous color palette; the ogreish, floating faces; the jittery, bad-TV-tube haze; and the blood, oh, the blood.

To sum up, David Lynch gets Nicolas Refn knocked up on a demonic Ferris wheel, and leaves the spawn to be raised by Super Meat Boy and Grand Theft Auto. I liked it very much.

CLOKS
Frog Fractions
Frog Fractions

As a purely social experience, my favorite game of the year was Frog Fractions. It’s hard to convince someone to play this game without spoiling it for anybody—“No, it’s just some old educational game but you have to play it!”—but it’s worth it to see their reactions when the game really starts going bonkers.

DESTROY HIM MY ROBOTS
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing: New Leaf

In game design terms, Animal Crossing is farming and fetch quests—busywork. But it doesn’t demand them now, and it doesn’t demand them in order to keep playing. And it doesn’t ask you to perform menial tasks for strangers you will never meet again. You do them for yourself and for your friends and neighbors. The only insistence at work here is that you care, which is easy enough thanks to its effortless charm.

Perhaps most important, however, is its refusal to simulate. Where other games push forward and end up knee-deep in an uncanny valley of simulated life, Animal Crossing lets the player’s mind fill in the blanks. I don’t pay my loans right away because of interest rates; I do so because I decided for myself that I want a fiscally conservative village that refrains from spending money it doesn’t have. I don’t throw most of my time and income at public works because it grants me bonuses; I do so because I believe it’s noble to use private wealth for the betterment of the community. Silence can be an important part of musical composition. Animal Crossing: New Leaf knows that the absence of mechanics—as in ma, not mu—can be just as important to game design.

HASTAPURA
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

[Note: Plot details ahead.] The Walking Dead crushed me. I’m not to the point in my life where I can adequately deal with death, and some of those dialogue choices toward the end of the game were just so raw and bleak. I think the game speaks to a lot of primal fears and emotional truths, and complaining that choosing between Carly and Doug didn’t yield a whole new game misses the point. It was your story to a point, but Lee and Clem’s story to the end. Developer Telltale had a lot of stuff to work through with their story, and I’d rather have legitimate authorship and thematic weight than pandering to “player choice” and ego.

HOBBESMKII
Crusader Kings 2
Crusader Kings 2

Crusader Kings 2 keeps drawing me back in. In separate games I’ve made William Marshal king of England, ruled as a black German duke of Bavaria with the power to make and break emperors, and had the Ottomans gain the title of Caliph hundreds of years before they actually did. Tomorrow, I could try and have Biggus Dickus attempt to re-establish the Roman Empire. All while plotting to keep my imbecilic, feckless, vain, gluttonous first-born son from inheriting what should be rightfully his.

INTO THE NIGHT SKY
FTL: Faster Than Light

While not the most engaging story I’ve ever experienced, FTL was definitely one of the better games I played this year. It really shined by giving the player a chance to do their own problem-solving. Should I disable the enemy ship by beaming my crew on board and defeating the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, or by shutting down their oxygen systems with my shield-piercing missiles? Should I put out the fires in my ship’s medical bay by opening the airlocks, or should I send in my repair drone and hope it can extinguish the fire before the facilities are destroyed? I enjoyed being able to play the game on my own terms.

The aesthetics also managed to give the game its own life, at least for the first 10 hours or so. The sense that you’re exploring the very frontiers of space begins to evaporate after you’ve saved 10 different space stations from eerily similar problems. But most importantly, it let me live out my life’s dream of being the captain on an interstellar spaceship. And you can’t really beat that.

THE KING AND I ROBOT
Draw Something
Draw Something

My favorite Draw Something story: I accepted a random new player’s drawing and started trying to guess it when I realized he was just spelling out the world “Pirate” on screen. This is a major disappointment of an opening bid and I don’t want to be part of someone’s slow-growth coin gathering enterprise. I write down pirate, select “Drapes” for my own assignment, and draw grapes.

An hour later, it’s my turn again. I watch with glee as the guy tries again and again to spell grapes. Fortune has provided him with a random decoy G, and he is furious. He thinks he might be spelling it wrong! He even tries out “greaps.” He uses a bomb. It is glorious. Eventually he gives up and sees drapes, probably assuming I just make a mistake. He then sends over the written word “CarlyRae.” I fail it because that’s more fun, and send over a drawing again. I don’t remember what my word was, but I drew grapes.

This continued for two more turns, all over the course of a day. He writes out a word with no attempt to draw it. I fail miserably, only pausing long enough to try and spell dirty words with the tiles, then I draw grapes. Eventually, it’s my turn again. His little note after my last drawing of grapes is “FU, stop drawing grapes.” I respond with a drawing of grapes and the message “Grapes is all I can draw.” He is quick to respond with “well just write out the word then thx.”

So I write out the word “Grapes.”

This seems to take him aback somewhat. The game is quiet, for at least 24 hours. I don’t hear from him. Then eventually a new drawing is ready. His note is, “DO NOT DRAW OR WRITE GRAPES.” His turn begins. It’s him writing out “fuck you” over and over again and then resetting the page. Then he spells out whatever word the actual challenge was. I sent back a blank screen. It had been previously established that grapes was all I could draw.

MERCENARY SECURITY NUMBER 4
Assassin’s Creed III
Assassin's Creed III

Besides puzzle games, the only game from this current year that I’m playing is Assassin’s Creed III, and that’s because I got it cheap enough on sale that I can justify treating it as a colonial-era version of Google Street View. Ben Franklin can go find his own almanac pages. I’m busy making sure all the graveyards are historically accurate.

MERVE
Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs

I liked Sleeping Dogs because it took everything I loved about other open world games, refined it, and wrapped it in a fascinating tale of duty versus honor. Someone else described the game as “Grand Theft Auto with an editor.” It’s an apt description; almost everything about the game contributes in some way to its Hong Kong action movie sensibility. I beat up thugs in back alleys. I shot out motorcycle tires while my Triad buddy drove the getaway car. I leaped off tall buildings in slow-motion. I action-hijacked vans on the highway, leaving my abandoned vehicle to spiral out of control and cause a mini pile-up. Later, when things slowed down, I roamed the city’s streets, listening to the shouts of Cantonese that punctuated the constant honking of horns and whirring of car tires. I walked past an open-air market and could practically smell the fish dumplings. Oh, did I mention that the game is gorgeous? If you can, stand at the edge of a dock or harbor and watch the sun set over the sea. As U2 would say, it’s even better than the real thing.

POCO GRANDES
Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone

I liked Thomas Was Alone because it made me care more about colored shapes than most games’ fully-rendered characters. It respected a fundamental rule of all narrative: “Personality goes a long way,” as immortally spoken by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. Their color, their shape and size, the arc of their jump, the jump’s sound effect—these relatively simple elements combined with the excellent narration to create a complete and compelling picture. The trials of these geometric adventurers were more real and affecting than watching Generic McWhiteGuy shoot through his millionth wave of enemies. Unlike most games, which are built on mechanics of violence (even innocent Mario has the nasty habits of crushing his enemies’ skulls or burning them alive), this one is built on co-operation and friendship. Thomas Was Alone speaks to our empathy, not only making us care about simple pixels, but also convincing us that those pixels care about each other. It was a marvelous trick, and one of the very few games I’d recommend to my 14-year-old cousin or my Art History professor with equal enthusiasm.

SPACEMONKEY MAFIA
Gravity Rush
Gravity Rush

Being an exemplar of Paul Krugman’s Nobel-winning economic model—You’ve Got A Kid In Daycare So Your Games Are All At Least A Year Old, there’s not a whole bunch from 2012 I can really expound on. I did somewhat impulsively indulge in a Vita, which may prove foolish. Though any potential regret is blunted by being able to play Gravity Rush, one of the most interesting games from this year.

The combat can be a bit wan and repetitive, but the art direction, setting, music, tone and endlessly enjoyable flying mechanic are all arresting. It’s one of the most unique new games to emerge this year and does a wonderful job of rebuffing any claims to the turgid state of Japanese game-making.

It has elements of Miyazaki, Moebius and Winsor McCay, and it successfully pulls them together into a cohesive world. Plus, the protagonist wears some sort of scant, yet baggy one-piece jumper that makes her look like a cross between Goldfrapp and a Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrificshampoo commercial.

WP HAM
Planetside 2
Planetside 2

Earlier this year, I finally got a new desktop after three years of abusing a laptop not quite meant for gaming. One of the most thrilling uses of that horsepower was Planetside 2. I’d never played the original and had close to no expectations. I created a character and picked an area for “Instant Deployment.” As my pod fell through the atmosphere, I tried to recall what little first-person shooter fundamentals I had from playing the original Unreal Tournament. Thirty seconds later, I was dead with a huge grin on my face. That first session lasted six hours, frantically trying to get my bearings, killing and dying (mostly dying) in a three-faction meat grinder at a fortified location.

Planetside 2 manages to capture a sense of scale missing from just about every other online game. It can be brutally unforgiving, suitably lonely, and not fun at all if you don’t have a group of friends or an organized outfit with which to play, but if you do have either or both of those, the experience is unmatched. And when I’m holding a position against seemingly insurmountable odds or capturing tactical points with fluency, there’s a small part of my brain that remembers a dream I had after watching that original MacWorld trailer for Halo over a decade ago.

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939 Responses to “Some Like It Hotline

  1. PaganPoet says:

    Cheers to Spacemonkey, I agree with Gravity Rush 100%. What an awesome game that is.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Let us toast!

      Solidarność!

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Unfortunately, the lack of anything on the Vita that I really want to play (including CrossPlay content) is making me stick to me PSP for now (or, more truthfully, the Nintendo 3DS XL). I find these controllers increasingly unwieldy though (not looking forward to the Nintendo Wii U at the moment), and more and more I’m getting locked in to the variety of straight-up PC games. No gyroscopic gimmicks or sterotropic silliness, so they’ve got to come up with OTHER ways to mess with your mind. Inventive people, these PC gamers.

    • HilariousNPC says:

      Really didn’t like Gravity Rush. Combat’s really simplistic, and the story is downright awful. The one thing is does that seemingly makes it unique is the mode of transport. You can shift gravity and explore a mostly boring, flat-shaded morass of samey, impossible architecture.

      In short, any game that starts out a story with, “You have amnesia” and finishes the game with, “You still have amnesia, but maybe you won’t in the obviously upcoming sequel we’re milking out of this IP” is not a thing to be cheered.

  2. duwease says:

    I read this despite already reading all these.  There’s a lot less Mass Effect 3 ending than I remember..

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Your friendly neighborhood comment thread, now with 100% *more* Mass Effect 3 ending discussion.

  3. Captain Internet says:

    Wow, the Gameological staff liked far more games than the readership did. Now I wish I’d written something about Super Hexagon instead of playing it.

    • Chum Joely says:

      me too but i can’t stop playing it oops time to play more super hexagon bye.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        Next time I play, it’s going to be with iTunes playing “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” in the background.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      I’ve gotten to the point where I now only play Super Hexagon for a few minutes before I go to bed for two reasons:
      1. I need it to get into my unconscious reflexes, and I’m hoping that when I finally play this fully awake, I’ll be amazing.
      2. I’m so exhausted by the time I play that I don’t have to worry about getting addicted to fast-replay syndrome: yes, I want to keep going. No, I physically can’t. 
      Side note: I am still waiting for the inevitable Super Hexagon nightmares to occur. So far, so psychedelic.

  4. PugsMalone says:

    Here are two reviews of Katawa Shoujo that are hilarious, for completely different reasons.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2dr3G2L1eM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grP6Z0tMmYM

  5. Effigy_Power says:

    Again Torchlight 2 is snubbed and by extension me, which is the greater of the two tragedies. ^_^

  6. Merve says:

    Gravity Rush looks both gorgeous and fascinating. It almost makes me wish I owned a Vita. I’ll probably watch a Let’s Play of it on YouTube when I have some free time.

    (BTW, Krugman didn’t win his Nobel prize for the babysitters’ parable, but for his work in international trade and economic geography. This is also the second Krugman-related post I’ve made on the Internet today. Weird.)

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Was the other post also to correct a person assigning a fabricated economic model to Krugman for the sake of a dubious video game anecdote?

      • Merve says:

        Fabricated? I thought you were actually referencing Krugman’s famous babysitters’ parable, which isn’t so much an economic model as it is a useful analogy for explaining recessions.

        The other post was about the fact that he earned his PhD at age 24, a fact that is bound to make everyone who comments here feel old.

        • He also wrote an excellent article “in which two true and useless theorems are proved” on the effects of relativistic travel in an interstellar economy on interest rates.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Nope.  I just like Paul Krugman references.  Even -maybe especially- made-up ones.

  7. HobbesMkii says:

    I would’ve worked on mine some more if I’d known it was going to appear with an image above it.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      All you had to do was write the name ‘Biggus Dickus’ and the rest could have been lorem ipsum.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        I remember the old days of the Onion, when they used to fill space with “Passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood.” Which, you know, could have passed for a review of “Slaughterhouse,” had that made anybody’s “Best Of” list . . . ever.

    • Girard says:

      Ever since the first Comment Cat, it’s been a good idea to bear in mind that every comment you make happens under the baleful Eye of Soupron.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

       I would’ve wanted my comment paired with a screenshot of a graveyard or a map.  Even better, a screenshot of a map of a graveyard.

    • Chryso42 says:

      Me too. I actually do like the image they picked, and it is fun to have my dribblings up there, but the compulsive anal perfectionist that takes up space in my brain just wants to fix things.

  8. AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

    Good choices all around. I know a lot of people like to complain about the state of the modern gaming industry, with its perpetual fascination with chest high walls hiding bullet sponge-protagonists who sound like they eat entire crates of cigarettes for breakfast and glorify all the worst parts of humanity. And I definitely see that. And I definitely don’t like it. But I think this list kind of shows that no matter what we’ll always see new, innovative, and amazing games that do just about everything.

    Also, a special nod for the Katawa Shoujo review. It’s not often a portrayal of people with disabilities reminds you that people deal with problems differently.

  9. caspiancomic says:

    Hooray for everyone! I’m glad to see someone else not only played, but actually liked Thomas Was Alone. I liked that game so much I bought the soundtrack, which only runs for like half an hour. It was also an odd year for me in terms of emotional connections to game characters, with my most meaningful connections being made with a square, a cloth creature, and a harem of anime teenagers. I think I need to sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I hadn’t read your contribution originally, I think due to reading the game’s name and instantly becoming confused.  But you did a great job explaining the both the game and your relationship with it.
         After reading this, I recall hearing about it slightly before release and immediately stopped paying attention because I assumed the worst about what a Japanese disabled-schoolgirl game could possibly be about.
         I’m glad to hear it’s quite the opposite.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Waiting for the Steam Winter Sale. Waiting for the Steam Winter Sale. Just got a $50 Steam Wallet gift certificate at Gamestop, which makes a first for me: trading in physical AAA titles for digital indies that will live on forever. 

      Worth it. Totally worth it.

  10. stakkalee says:

    I don’t know if it was the fact the Pope is now on Twitter, or the fact that the White House has to formally respond to a petition to get the U.S. to build a Death Star, but at some point this week the Internet went from “Blisteringly Stupid” to “Irredeemably Ridiculous.”  Let’s close up shop people – there’s nothing left for us here.
    The most-commented article this week was the first Games We Liked with 182 comments, which accounts for about a quarter of all the site comments this week.  Now the Top 5 Most-Liked Comments (non-KG); let’s see if Disqus barfs all over us again:
    1) – @Fluka:disqus gets 18 likes trying to STOP THE MADNESS!
    2) – @Paraclete_Pizza:disqus gets 15 likes for pointing out an inconsistency.
    3) – @Effigy_Power:disqus gets 14 likes for giving us, oy a pun.
    3) – Tying for third with 14 likes, Kyle O’Reilly of Twitter gives us a great idea. Enjoy your honeymoon buddy!
    5) – With 13 likes, @HobbesMkii:disqus does his best Joe Mantell impression.
    Good work everybody!  Way to keep up your Gameologic Readiness Score! (h/t Electric Dragon).  Pretty soon we’ll have enough points to unlock the alternate ending where everyone’s wearing rainbow wigs!
    We have a bevy of new inductees here to bask in the warming glow of Soupy’s presence – @Andrew_Ryans_Caddy:disqus, @Chryso42:disqus,@TheKingAndIRobot:disqus, poco GRANDES of Twitter, and W Pham (@carrawayy:disqus). Welcome aboard one and all!  Your plaid jackets are to the left, your ascots are to the right; try not to clash your colors too violently – we are civilized, after all.
    And our returning members – @cloks:disqus and @hastapura:disqus get their second studs, @Mercenary_Security_Number_4:disqus gets a fifth, and @Merve2:disqus unlocks the “Love Potion Number 9” achievement with a ninth stud. @HobbesMkii:disqus and @caspiancomic:disqus jockey for third place with 14 studs each, and @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus courts danger by getting a fifteenth stud, moving him into a tie for second with @Effigy_Power:disqus. And somewhere Girard feels a cold wind across the back of his neck…
    Now, the linkdump.  I don’t have as much this week, but for The Smiths fans, or for people who just love a good mash-up, I give you The Smiths 8-Bit Makeover Project.  And if you’re looking for one of the most soothing experiences of your life, catch some snowflakes on your tongue with Disasterpeace’s January.  It’s not quite a game, but check it out; you won’t be disappointed.  Until next week, enjoy your gaming, and remember to keep it scintillating!

    • Effigy_Power says:

      This is an outrage or something.
      -shakes fist while reading newspaper-
      You shall feel the wrath of… oh, paper towels 25% off?
      Erm, yes, most irregular! Harumph and all that… ah whatever.

    • Chryso42 says:

      Yay! Outfits!
      @stakkalee:disqus, you are a terrifying stat-tracking machine.
      I should warn you, I find that highly erotic.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Achievement Unlocked!

  11. zaofan596 says:

     http://al.ly/qxA

  12. Chryso42 says:

    Audience participation! And it involves me! I love both those things!
    Congrats to all the not me’s, you have added yet more entries to my towering pile of games I really need to get around to some time before the robobopocalypse.
    I would like to gush about someone else’s selection: FTL.
    @into_the_night_sky:disqus and I share this strange affinity for the ordering around of tiny space-people. Succinctly, it’s a tasty little nugget of nerd-crack for any good sci-fi or strategy fan.
    It did not hurt throwing on DS9 in the background at the same either.
    It fills a neccesary void and it’s a really good show.
    (Which I re-watched in large part thanks to AV Club coverage, thus completing the great pop-culural web-synergy daisy-chain.)

    • Merve says:

      Just to let you know, I’m stealing the phrase “great pop-cultural web-synergy daisy-chain” and reusing it as I see fit.

      • Chryso42 says:

        No, my millions in merchandising and residuals, lost!
        You sir will be hearing from a series of guys claiming to be lawyers.

  13. Ike1 says:

    Anybody have any favorite Metroid-type browser games of the year? I’m looking for something like Snailiad. Or a nice scrolling adventure game of some kind, not puzzle-only. All of these choices are very adventurous but I’m feeling weirdly conservative.