Games We Liked 2012

Journey

It’s The Notes They Don’t Play

The lack of identity in Journey. The lack of bombast in Far Cry 3. The lack of accoutrements in Super Hexagon. As our 2012 staff picks conclude, we realize that absences can make the heart grow fonder.

By Matt Gerardi, Scott Jones, John Teti, and Adam Volk • December 13, 2012

Hey folks, it’s your editor, John Teti. We here at Gameological enjoy a good year-end retrospective as much as the next. So this week, we’re presenting Games We Liked—Gameological contributors’ short reflections on some of their favorite games of the year. Today is the final collection of staff picks. If you missed earlier entries, it’s easy enough to catch up.

The brief here was simple: We chose a bunch of games that left a mark on us in one way or another. In each entry on the list, one of the Gameological critics will share a game they liked, and a reason why they liked it. Each one is a personal opinion of the writer—not a unanimous call.

We invite you to write your own “Games We Liked” mini-retrospectives in the comments. We’ll pick our favorites and collect them at the end of the week in a feature we’ll call—this is going to sound crazy—Games You Liked. It’s okay if some of your choices overlap with some of ours. People can like the same thing for different reasons, after all. So enlighten us. Enlighten the bejesus out of us.

Today, this year’s Games We Liked concludes with staff picks from Matt Gerardi, Scott Jones, me, and Adam Volk.

MATT GERARDI
Halo 4
Halo 4

I liked Halo 4 because its multiplayer was as close as a shooter can be to slapstick. As previously covered on The Gameological Society, scripted comedy is one of the hardest things to do in video games. By their nature, video games defy one of the golden rules of humor–that timing is everything. It’s tough to account for timing when the audience determines the pace.

But an equally important rule is that comedy is about subverting expectations, and no series does a better job of that than Halo. The philosophy at the heart of the Halo games—creating a violent sandbox where the player can experiment—is conducive to the sort of unpredictable, goofy chaos that makes for some serious laughs in multiplayer. Halo 4, with its giant robots, jetpacks, and holographic decoys, is funnier than any previous entry.

At times, it feels like a longer, more violent Looney Tunes short. One minute you might be Elmer Fudd, creeping into enemy territory hunting that wascally wed team, only to find a dude with a giant hammer waiting to send your body flying into a super-powered air vent that launches it across the battlefield. Next time, you’re The Road Runner, blithely falling on top of a rocket-launching robot and punching it until it explodes. I’ve also been Wile E. Coyote in that situation–jumping for the robot’s apparently weak metal cranium, missing by an inch, and getting unceremoniously squashed by its man-sized feet. Halo 4’s developer, 343 Industries, might as well be the Acme Corporation, providing players with silly instruments of death that backfire half the time.

Rhythm Heaven Fever
Rhythm Heaven Fever

I liked Rhythm Heaven Fever because it featured the cutest mini-game of all time. We’re obsessed with cute. Videos of pandas sneezing and babies laughing get millions of views on YouTube. Pictures of kittens populate our Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines. This year, Nintendo had us covered in the cute video game department with Rhythm Heaven Fever. It features one mini-game that is so adorable, and accompanied by a song so dangerously catchy, that I hesitate to share it with the uninitiated, but here it is. You’ve been warned.

Yes, “Monkey Watch” is about a wristwatch that’s powered by tiny monkeys, and their song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. One monkey rides on the watch’s second hand and high-fives the monkeys that pop out of the watch’s face. Sometimes there are rebel monkeys. They think they’re cool because they’re a different color, wear sunglasses, and demand high-fives on offbeats, but when that high-five is delivered, they do the same delightful dance as their status-quo counterparts.

If you successfully high-five enough monkeys—screw up and you’re forced to deal with a heartbreakingly disappointed monkey face—you get a picture of the watch’s owner staring angrily at his timepiece and saying, “This is without a doubt the cutest watch I’ve ever owned.” At first I wondered why he would be so angry about that. Then I realized that beside being the world’s most adorable watch, it’s also the most inaccurate. Luckily for us, cute is timeless.

Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami

I liked Hotline Miami because it trivialized failure. Something always has to go wrong in a heist movie. The meticulous planning and uncanny model of a complex vault are never enough to stave off the unexpected—wild cards like the overly aggressive new guy or the security guard that wasn’t supposed to be at work today. While Hotline Miami isn’t full of heists, exactly–rather, it’s packed with the brutal murder of Russian gangsters in white suits–it certainly feels like you’re constantly battling against those unseen heist-stopping forces.

The psychopathic hitman in Hotline’s starring role is fragile–one strike from just about any weapon is enough to put him down–and a single mistake can send you packing. As you work your way through the game’s seedy ’80s locales, you can plan all you want, but at some point, something will go wrong. Combine this unpredictability with the game’s unwieldy controls, and you could have the video game equivalent of banging your head against a rock. Luckily, your resurrection is just as swift as your death. You’re back in the game with the tap of a button, giving your mass-murder plot another go.

It’s a transformative feature. By cutting out the time between death and rebirth, Hotline Miami removes much of the punishment for failure and encourages improvisation and risk-taking. When the shit does hit the fan and you end up splattered across a neon sign, you don’t feel so bad. The moments when you scramble to adapt–when an attack dog charges through an open door and you somehow manage to grab that splintered pool cue in time to put it down–are the game’s most thrilling. And even if that dog does tear your throat out, your second chance is just a button press away.

Super Hexagon
Super Hexagon

I liked Super Hexagon because it measured success in seconds. Whether it’s Michael Bay’s indulgent runtimes or the throwaway songs that pad out an album, lousy filler is enough to sour just about any work. It’s not that all long films or video games are inherently deficient, but when they cross the line from “long” to “bloated,” the whole work suffers.

Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon is the antithesis of bloat. It is pure, uncut video game. There’s no poorly written dialogue to sit through, no “experience points” that need to be accrued through hours of mindless clicking. There’s just your little triangle nervously navigating a trippy techno-labyrinth.

You can finish any of Super Hexagon’s six difficulty levels by surviving for 60 seconds in each one. That doesn’t sound like much, but Hexagon is so distilled a challenge that it changes the definition of a second. Every second is thrilling. Every second becomes something to cherish and celebrate—and a source of anxiety and pride as the 60-second mark nears. One wrong move and all your hard work is erased. Hold out for a few more seconds, though, and triumph is yours. Just a few more seconds.

SCOTT JONES
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3

I liked Far Cry 3 because it wasn’t afraid to include some quieter, smaller moments amid all the explosions. Stop moving in Far Cry 3. No, seriously—just stop. Birds flit through the trees. A herd of buffalo barrels through the underbrush. Clouds gather in the sky. Everything continues to live and breathe. When you as the player in Far Cry 3 cease to move, the game’s tropical realm continues to revolve around you. That’s a beautiful thing.

Far Cry 3 equips the player with a camera that can be used to snap idle photos of your surroundings—I once took a photo of three birds on a beach, for some reason—but is better suited for spying on enemy camps. Watching guards dawdle and scratch their haunches via the camera’s telephoto lens is entertaining stuff. I’d easily spend five, sometimes 10 minutes observing movement patterns, sussing out where the Exploding Things (barrels, gas tanks, and the like) are located, and trying to see if the camp has a captive tiger or bear in its midst. (The captive animal always breaks free during a firefight and usually kills me faster than the soldiers can.) It’s in that moment while I’m squatting in a patch of sea grass that a plan first begins to percolate in my head. It’s a primal and playful moment, somehow both grim and silly at once. Half the time my plans turn out to be garbage. No matter. I’ll happily return to my patch of sea grass and draw up a new one.

Fieldrunners 2
Fieldrunners 2

I liked Fieldrunners 2 because it asked a lot of me. The levels in this tower-defense game can take upwards of half an hour to complete. Being overrun by tin-helmeted troops after 30 minutes of building my best mousetrap was often a heartbreaking moment. When defeat comes, it always starts with a trickle. One plucky clone slips by your carefully placed turrets and laser cannons. Then 10 clones somehow breeze through unscathed—and, suddenly, it’s a rout. The word “Defeat!” stretches across the screen (as if that really needs to be pointed out).

Several years ago, a hippie girlfriend gave me a Buddha Board for Christmas. Buddha Boards, in case you’ve never had a hippie girlfriend, consist of a section of canvas on which you paint or write something with water. Then, seconds later, your creation vanishes, teaching you A Very Important Lesson On The Fleeting Nature Of Things. Sometimes, what I built on the battlefields of Fieldrunners 2 was, I am confident, utterly brilliant; my greatest creations would have left Rube Goldberg’s jaw slack with awe. But those are just words. I have no tangible proof of this. As soon as any level ended, poof, the game field was wiped clean, my creation dispatched into the ether. I put everything I had into arranging those damn towers. I spent entire red-eye flights perfecting one single stage. Because I’d invested so much into my creations, learning to let my work go taught me more about the ephemeral nature of things than that dumb Buddha Board ever did.

ZombiU
ZombiU

I liked ZombiU because its post-zombie-apocalypse London expanded around me like ripples on a pond. You begin the game in a tiny safe room—it has bathroom, bed, a little kitchen. Not the coziest bit of real estate, but still, it’s called a “safe room,” so it instills a certain reluctance to leave the place. My first steps outside the safe room revealed that I was in an abandoned Tube station in London.

With every step forward, the urge to return to the safe room deepens. No matter how far I roamed in ZombiU—and I eventually would make it to the farthest reaches of London—that compulsion, like an umbilical cord pulled taut, never went away. One of the game’s cruelest tricks is to throw some zombies behind you, cutting off the route back to safety. In those awful moments, when I realized I could no longer retreat, I’d barrel forward like a crazy person, trying to sidestep zombies, hoping I might somehow discover a new safe room or a weapon that might save me.

That never works. ZombiU demands a careful and conservative approach. You have to study your surroundings with intensity. I pored over banal things like on-sale signs in supermarkets and paintings on the walls of Buckingham Palace, as if these small details held clues to the trouble that lay in wait. Who knew, for example, that Buckingham Palace had an elevator? Simply making it to the next room—and the room after that—felt like following those outward-bound pond ripples. In the end, the pond of ZombiU turned out to be more vast than I could have imagined.

JOHN TETI
Datura
Datura

I liked Datura because it turned you into a hand without holding your hand. Datura is named after a plant with psychoactive properties when ingested as a drug. The jist of the Wikipedia entry for datura is that you should not take datura, and that there is no upside to doing so, seriously, no matter how desperate you are to get high. “The overwhelming majority of those who describe their use of Datura find their experiences extremely unpleasant, both mentally and physically, and often physically dangerous,” Wikipedia says—and that’s just the feedback from people who are able to describe it. The game Datura isn’t as brutal as all that, but it does have its psychologically unsettling properties—you’re represented as a disembodied hand as you travel through a forest of dream sequences—and it doesn’t do much to explain itself.

It’s not that Datura is especially difficult to control. At the appropriate moments, the game will tell you which button you must push to, say, run your hand under a fountain of green slime, or scare a pig by throwing a potato at it. The part that’s left unsaid is why exactly you’re doing these things. Datura offers a freedom from sense. It liberates the player from the constant need to make progress and meet goals and build toward success. Datura eventually reveals a certain logical underpinning, which actually dampens the fun of the free-association a little, but fortunately its dadaist streak never goes away. Because while holding hands is nice, sometimes it’s nice to let go and drift away, and throw a potato at a pig.

Fez
Fez

I liked Fez because it said, sure, go ahead and stare. We experience so much of the world through glimpses. We politely avert our gaze from fellow travelers on the train or at the coffee shop. The camerawork in the films and TV that we watch is shakier than ever, and the cuts are fast. You probably have a bunch of browser tabs open right now, and I bet you’ve been flitting between them for hours. We look for a bit, and then we look somewhere else, and repeat.

Fez sets itself apart by inviting you to stare. At first, the quest of a little man in a funny hat comes off as eye candy. You rotate your 2D world around a 3D axis, which is a neat trick, and the fragmentary land looks real pretty, from the serene seaside lighthouse to the graveyard with the mysterious owls. But Fez is more than just pretty. Look closer—that faint graffiti on the wall isn’t just there for appearance’s sake. There’s a whole system of language and arithmetic in this game that emerges if you just look at it long enough. My favorite puzzle takes place at a giant telescope where, if you observe the twinkling firmament, you might notice that something tiny is amiss. To decode this glitch, you must sit and watch the stars. You can travel through Fez by glancing; you can only solve it by staring.

In some ways, Fez is reminiscent Arrested Development, a show where staring is encouraged because the craft is so meticulous, and a closer look reveals multitudes beneath the top layer. (A top layer that’s already pretty damn good on its own.) In a society where staring is often abnormal or even improper, it’s enchanting to experience a work that rewards a good long look by opening itself up even more deeply.

Journey
The Digest: Journey

I liked Journey because it separated identity from humanity. Why is so much online discussion so hateful and petty? The conventional wisdom is that the anonymity of the internet corrodes our social graces. Without a permanent identity that could be tarnished by our words, there’s no penalty for being nasty. So we’re awful to each other.

Makes sense, I guess. But Journey pokes a hole in that theory. It opts for more anonymity, not less. There are no customized avatars here. There’s no lingo to learn—in fact, your communication is limited to sonorous chirps and pings. When you meet a fellow traveler in the desert of this game, all you can know about them is that the robed figure before you is an actual human being, and you’re both headed in the same direction: toward that mountain on the horizon. The natural conclusion is that maybe you can help each other. And often, people do. Shrouded in the ultimate anonymity, it turns out that people are not more cruel. Rather, they’re kinder. Journey may take away identity, but humanity flourishes.

What’s striking about the transient relationships you form in the game is how much personality comes through. It takes so little communication—maybe it’s the particular way your companion flits across the dunes—for someone to register as a thinking human being. That happens not in spite of Journey’s limited vocabulary of sound and movement, but because of it. The game is quiet, so we listen. Maybe the reason everybody screams on the internet is that they feel like nobody’s listening. In one way or another, we all want to be heard, even when we don’t have much to say.

Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs

I liked Sleeping Dogs because it was real-ish. In Sleeping Dogs, there’s only one character of any significance who speaks exclusively in Cantonese—a cantankerous old woman—despite the fact that the game takes place in the midst of a Hong Kong mob war. That hardly feels true to life. The open world of Sleeping Dogs is just like Hong Kong in the same way that the lacquered noodles gracing the window of a Chinese take-out place are just like a bowl of pork lo mein. The goal is not to recreate the experience of the real thing but rather to delight the audience with the detail of the facsimile.

The island city of Sleeping Dogs is designed to give you a fun place to drive around like a maniac—geographical authenticity isn’t really the focus. But the place still fools the eye with its ramshackle street markets, with neon signs that reflect off rainy avenues, and with shady back alleys where flirty masseurs ply their trade. Plus, you can drive around like a maniac.

The game’s hero, undercover cop Wei Shen, struggles between his obligations to the law and to the lawless. Sleeping Dogs must also balance its commitment to the land that inspired it and its flair for the fantastic. Wei Shen’s quest is often a tortured one, but the game strikes the right balance and makes it look easy. Can Sleeping Dogs be called “realistic”? If the word means a devotion to recreating reality, probably not. But it is at least real-ish, and that proves to be more than enough.

ADAM VOLK
Trials Evolution
Trials Evolution

I liked Trials Evolution because it made me embrace my inner perfectionist. When I was in the eighth grade I was forced to participate in a school-wide track and field meet. Short and pudgy, I hated running. So when I found myself conscripted into the 500-meter dash, I half-assed it to the finish line without even breaking a sweat. Red-faced and fuming, the gym teacher pounced. “What the hell was that?” he said. “Don’t you want to do your best? Do it again and this time do it perfect.”

Perfect? Was he not aware I was 14-year old nerd with man-boobs? Perfection implies more than just giving it your all. It’s an anomaly. A once-in-a-lifetime fluke. Which is why I was surprised this year by Trials Evolution, a seemingly innocuous dirt-bike racing game that had me not only trying to make it to the finish line, but to do it perfectly.

At first glance, Trials Evolution is simple. You don’t even have to steer. You just hit the gas on your souped-up dirt bike and then balance your rider forward and backwards. It’s fun on the whole, but there are times when the game is punishing without pity.

Still, it’s the quest for perfection that can suck you in. It’s the kind of game where you might find yourself spending 10 hours straight repeating the same course to get the perfect score, sweaty palms and trembling hands be damned. In these moments, I imagine I looked a lot the dead-eyed slot players you’ll find in any Vegas casino.

Trials Evolution made me think that perfection—that sweet, beautiful impossibility—was actually right there in front of me, waiting just out of reach, across the finish line.

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  • Staggering Stew Bum

    Hey folks, how ’bout that Mass Effect 3 ending, am I right?

    *flogs dead Elcor*

    • Aaron Riccio

      If this is one day the small talk that replaces “Lovely weather, isn’t it?” or “So how about them Jets?” I will be a happy, happy gamer. 

    • TaumpyTearrs

      Mass Effect 3 disappointed me because I came onboard with number 2 and fell in love with alot of those characters. I felt like the team you had in 3 was too limited, and alot of my favorites were reduced to cameos. It was still a great game, but it just couldn’t live up to 2.

      I actually didn’t mind the ending because the merging all life ending made sense for my Shepard (not only did I save the Geth, but Legion was my only casualty in ME2 and I loved how my Shep was happy to see Legion 2.0 then disappointed that he had no memory of our relationship), and I was thinking about Battlestar Galactica which I had just finished watching for the first time. I was so disappointed with the BSG ending that I smooshed it together with the ME3 ending in my head, and my ending was narrated by Six so it worked quite well.

      • Captain Internet

        Leave it Taumpty, he’s not worth it!

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        The “everyone can die” nature of ME2 would have made it almost prohibitively difficult for the plot of ME3 to hinge heavily on them, unfortunately.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Exasperatedly, oh no not this again.

      • HobbesMkii

        Forget it, Merve. It’s Comment-town.

    • Swadian Knight

      I bought the first Mass Effect but have yet to start it. At this point, I’m beggining to wonder if I ever should, because having an opinion on that series sure seems like a lot of work.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Best game series of this gen, IMO. Play it and ignore the Internet.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        I just started the first Mass Effect, now that it’s on PS3, and I’ve found it quite frustrating at times. (One hit kills? Really?) I finally decided to switch to casual, which has helped.

    • Lawrence Chu

      Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow. Pained: Ow.

  • HobbesMkii

    Crusader Kings 2. Most strategy games lock me in until their main campaign is over. I might be tempted to come back for multiplayer, but more often than not, I can’t be bothered. CK2 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 reestablish the Roman Empire. All while plotting to keep my imbecilic, feckless, vain, gluttonous first born son from inheriting what should be rightfully his. And that’s only in the vanilla game.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I like the genre, but Paradox games tend to have a “great personality.”  Had Faster Than Light not been an indie game and had room to grow, had Borderlands been a little less trashy, had Far Cry 3 and The Lost Chronicles Of Zerzura been slightly better, had Botanicula lived up to its soundtrack, or had NHL 2013 really cohered around its changes, it would be different.  That was my favorite non-Japanese game this year.

      Like you said, it really gives you so much to play with, but, instead of paying no attention to charm or aesthetics, it gives you just enough to let your imagination run wild.  They should really try to hit that tone in the future.

    • EmperorNortonI

       I liked Crusader Kings better than any Paradox game in a long time, but it still can’t hook me.  The problem I have with the games is that there really seems no point to playing unless you set yourself a specific, role-playing kind of goal – and then manually stop the game once you’ve accomplished it.

      The game mechanics seem to basically funnel players towards conquering the world, because that’s more or less all there is to do.  If you don’t strive to expand and get stronger, you’re just sitting around doing nothing.

      My history background makes it hard to buy into that mentality – my inner pedant keeps screaming about how ridiculous everything is, and is enraged by the gamey tactics that all Paradox games end up encouraging you to use.

      CK2 is a tremendous accomplishment, but I just don’t find myself really interested in playing.

  • caspiancomic

    On reflection, I probably should have posted one game-I-liked a day instead of dropping three door stoppers in a row. Always next year I suppose…

    Although since John and I both liked Journey (and he, thankfully, ruminated on a different facet of the game), I figured I’d reflect on John’s own reflections. (And before anybody starts, I am hereby using the power vested in me to retire the use of “-ception” as a suffix)

    It’s true that Journey was able to encourage civility in its player base by amplifying, rather than minimizing, anonymity (and I think it’s a pretty wise observation as well.) But there’s another component to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory that is tampered with in Journey: the “audience.” In Journey you have total anonymity, but an audience of one. Now obviously Journey is delicately designed to discourage or disable confrontational behaviour, but I feel like minimizing human contact down to one person at any one time also puts serious dampers on our innate desire to be complete shits for no reason. If you could interact with dozens or hundreds of Journeyers at once, that desire to rise above the crowd and be the centre of attention would probably find some way of manifesting itself. The fact that you’re with a single other person implements a kind of reverse bystander effect, where you are hyper aware of and responsible for the ramifications of your actions.

    Mind you, it isn’t any one thing that encourages civility in Journey, that game is a perfect storm of ingenious design elements working in harmony. The armless character design, the harshness of the environment, the minimal controls, everything in this game is geared towards encouraging cooperation and good player etiquette. It really is a masterpiece of game design.

    • IntotheNightSky

      I think another important aspect of Journey’s success in this regard may be that it thrusts an identity upon you, rather than allowing you to find or create your own.  In my estimation, the reason people are so often vicious to one another when anonymous is they simply take the path of least resistance.  

      If you think about it, it’s often much easier to be cruel than it is to be charitable or compassionate.  The former takes nearly no effort, the latter requires serious understanding and commitment.

      But by giving the player only a limited identity to assume, the most straightforward choice is to play by the rules, cooperate with your partner.

      I should also point out I haven’t had a chance to play Journey yet, to my deep regret, so correct me if I’m way off base.

    • eggbuerto

      Journey apparently had a version where people were being assholes. Chen talks about it in the following article, but basically they had a push mechanic where you needed to help another player over things but everyone just pushed each other into pits.

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-04-02-jenova-chen-journeyman

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        So, basically, the only way to preclude the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is to curtail people’s modes of expression, allowing only pro-social (or at least innocuous) ones? I guess that’s kind of the thinking behind children’s online communities, where you can only choose from various pre-fabricated phrases to communicate.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          It kinda’ makes sense.  Individually, we are capable of patience, empathy and insight.  But as our group numbers increase, our aggregate intelligence sinks, bottoming out at… I’d say sixth grade.
             Knowing that going into creating a massive online interface, it seems like the sane design choice would be curbing interaction to a single animated .png of a sun wearing sunglasses.

        • HobbesMkii

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus Somewhat coincidentally, the sixth grade is the reading level writers are encouraged to keep their work within for easiest consumption. I personally wish that it was twelfth grade, but I also would like to note that this comment only managed an 11th grade reading level.

      • ToddG

        Yeah, I wish I could have less skepticism about John’s theory, but I think the fact that trolling and griefing were rare in Journey was primarily due to trolling and griefing being all-but-impossible in Journey.

    • Aaron Riccio

      You could say the same of Portal 2, though there’s still a fair share of murderously trolling fun. 

      But yes, I think that theory is more or less sound. And perhaps, to extend it, one of the reasons why the commenting here at Gameological is so nice is because we’re *not* attempting to rise above the crowd — we’re content to co-operatively surf on those sweet, sweet video game waves.

      By the way — I just started Resident Evil: Revelations. Enjoying it!

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        We’re a smaller community, too, which helps. When you get used to seeing the same avatars day after day, you can’t help but care more about what they think of you.

    • Effigy_Power

      As long as we remember that the audience effect can also inspire acts and works of great inspiration, humor, beneficial risk and teamwork, and not just show-boating “me vs them” or “us vs that one” tirades.
      Obviously interaction with a single partner is different from the group experience, especially for teenagers playing, whose brains are basically set to impress their environment regardless of how they do it. But in general we shouldn’t want to avoid a big audience.
      I haven’t played Journey (one of those few times where I miss having a PS3), but I hope that this kind of insular approach to player communication remains a pleasant side-note rather than the standard.
      Interacting in groups is a skill that should be cultivated, not avoided.

      (I am not even really making a point about the game, I just thought someone should offer a counterpoint :P )

  • http://wpham.com/ wpham

    One of my favorite moments in Far Cry 3 was when I realized that cassowaries were aggressive.  While trying to scout out an outpost, I heard incessant squawking, slowly getting closer and closer.  I tried to ignore it until I started taking damage, then turned around to find two shrieking blue heads in my face.

    • Aaron Riccio

      As an obsessive collector, I had all but hunted all the game available before continuing the main story (so *really* early on) — I learned early and on my own which animals were predatory and which were not. Stupid boars that are not actually pigs. Stupid dingos, which are really hyenas. 

      I was a little disappointed at how easy it was to kill an alligator.

      Oh, and speaking of scouting outposts, I did get this one glitch where a tiger would keep showing up — not from a cage, but outside. When they detected it (on the other side of the camp), that’d somehow always lead to me being detected as well. So on the next load, I hunted that tiger down, killed it, then proceeded to stealth my way through the camp . . . until accidentally getting seen by the final guy. No matter, I maxed out my experience long before finishing the main story missions.

    • lokimotive

      I just figured that out yesterday. I needed to get a bigger wallet so I went to Cassowary island and shot one with an arrow from a fair distance away. I skinned it and turned around to see this big blue bird staring me down. Hmm, I thought, I wonder if these birds are aggressive? That particular bird didn’t have time to answer as I shot it too, but suddenly I was surrounded by them and being pecked to hell. I had to run to a Jet Ski to get the hell out of there.

    • Santiago Arredondo

      The way I found out they were aggressive was when I went after an enemy camp. Took out the initial wave of baddies and then watched from a tower as a flock of cassowaries took out any reinforcements that happen to show up. I was very careful when I finally left that tower.

  • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

    Kind of off-topic, but I just noticed the font you use for the teaser text has e’s that look like c’s when they are italicized. That’s weird as crap.

    Back on-topic, Journey is definitely in my top 5 of the year. I almost cried at the end of it, which is pretty remarkable for a game with no real characters or story. 

    • Aaron Riccio

      You mean Flowcr?

      • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

        ARGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    • Chum Joely

      When I played Journey, I had just 3 or 4 interactions that I remember (although the credits at the end listed 10+ fellow travelers?!).  None of them were that great– my impression was that the other person was trying to help me find the way to go but I wasn’t reacting fast enough, so they went on without me.

      In probably related news, I didn’t really find Journey to be as amazing as everyone was saying. It’s pretty, and possibly fun to explore in a more open-ended way, but just whipping through the main quest by myself didn’t feel nearly as substantive or meaningful as I expected.
      I liked LIMBO a lot better, which may say something about my general attitude towards the world and people around me…

      • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

        I blew through Journey in two sittings in a single day, so if I had to say something bad about it, it would be that it was rather fleeting and has almost no replay value (unless you’re in to trophy hunting or guiding other people).

        Limbo, however, was one of those games where it became so tedious with it’s trial & error mechanic that eventually I just got bored and gave up and forgot about it without ever finishing it. The boredom and tedium kind of ruined any artistic or emotional impact it had. So if I had to chose between the two, I’d go with Journey’s style. 

        • Chum Joely

          There were only about 2 puzzles in Limbo where I got really frustrated with long, long trial and error sessions (there’s one where you have to use antigravity to run back and forth across ceilings and floors, move crates up, down, back and forth, etc. that took me 45 minutes of game time and much offline cogitation to figure out). 

          FWIW, the ending wasn’t that amazing– you finish “yet another puzzle” and then there’s a little 15-second cut scene revealing what you’ve been looking for, with a little hint (I felt) that maybe it’s not so wonderful that you found it after all. Quietly dark like the rest of the game.But the look and the creepy feel of it really connected for me. I was especially impressed by the gameplay mechanic where the glow-worms fall on your head and take control of your character’s movements. That really imposed a different way of thinking for those few puzzles.

    • Asinus

      “Almost cried”? You’re a stronger person than I. 

  • Cloks

    Well, you got me to finally purchase Super Hexagon. After 77 minutes, I’ve only managed 50 seconds in the first level and I can say one thing confidently: video-games do not need plots to be compelling.

    • Aaron Riccio

      Welcome to the world of Super Hexagon. If you’re on Steam and in the Gameological group, add me (illogicaljoker), so that I can mock you with my holy 61.63 seconds on the Friend Leaderboards. (Don’t even look at the Global Leaderboards. They’re so, so depressing.)

      Good year for music in indie-games, too, right? I haven’t played Hotline Miami yet (though I’ve heard some tunes), but Super Hexagon’s chip-tunes are dead on.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Gah, I was wondering about Super Hexagon. I should have just bought it based on the trailer and the fact that it was made by the person who did vvvvvv. Curse you all for letting me know about cool games.

      • Chum Joely

        Just downloaded it. A few things here:

        1. This is awesome.2. God this is hard.
        3. Yes, the soundtrack is great. I have to give the edge to Hotline Miami because of how that game’s soundtrack fits with the “story” and general mental illness of the game.

      • Histamiini

         You haven’t even tried beating my times lately. My best efforts are 92 seconds on the first difficulty and around 45 seconds on the second-to-last difficulty.

      • Histamiini

        124.48 seconds now.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          I hate you right now.

          In a very respectful way.

        • Aaron Riccio

          The only tips I’ve found for the game so far is to play at the hardest difficult you’ve unlocked for a while and then to go back to playing at the lowest difficulty. You tend to make more progress that way, since your fast-twitch reflexes are on overdrive at that point.

    • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

      Holy God almighty. I’ve been playing for about 20 minutes and I can’t get past 16 seconds, but it’s as thrilling as anything else I’ve ever played as I approach the 20 second barrier.

      • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

        17:10. Boom.

        60 seconds, I’m getting closer!

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          29.15 – I’m so going to get fired if I keep doing this.

    • lokimotive

      Dude, I can’t get past 8 seconds.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnCBaer Ole’ Jaybles

    Seems like Journey is similar to Shadow of the Colossus in it’s scope, it’s quiet, yet imposing size, and singular mission. Am I off-base in thinking this, having not played Journey yet?

    • Aaron Riccio

      I mean, Journey is a lot smaller and shorter. And it’s meant to be a co-operative experience. But in the idea of a quiet, mostly non-combatative exploratory game, yes, it’s similar. (Note: I played Far Cry 3 much the same way — just exploring, and only murdering everything with a pulse when I had to upgrade my ammo pouches with some animal skin, or when the story compelled me to revenge myself. Aside from that, I could’ve tripped in the jungle for hours. Ahem. I *did* trip in the jungle for hours.)

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Journey is short; you’ll likely play through it in a single session.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    Phew.  All done.  The last time systems launched and video games were terrible, I took a 2-year break (well, a break by my standards) from console and handheld games to better educate myself on game history.  That was immensely rewarding and definitely affected my 2012 list.  That said, since I had already done my “research,” I played video games the least that I have since I was 17 (8 years ago) and trying to get into awesome universities.  Who would have thought that the disintegration of middle-tier developers would affect the net quirkiness of the industry?!  Oh, everyone.

    10. HONORARY INAZUMA LIGHTING 11 5: CHRONO STONE SPOT is here because Level-5 is dumb and releases games late.  It looks like the least original in the series, but they’re probably building it out.  If not, this would go to Super Danganronpa/Winning An Argument With A Bullet 2: Farewell, School Of Hopelessness, Beyond The Labyrinth, or Yakuza/Like A Dragon: Black Leopard: Asura Chapter.
    09. Fire Emblem: Awakening is an example of “pandering” not being followed by the word “nonsense.”
    08. Crashmo/Pull-Crash is the latest example of why Intelligent Systems’ versatility is its greatest asset.
    07. Kenka Bancho/Brawling Hoodlum 6: Tokyo Battle Royal demonstrates that beat-’em-ups don’t have to be complex on the action gameplay side if they’re absurdly deep on the customization gameplay side, and team-up thwomping is actually more fun than solo play here.
    06. Paper Mario: Sticker Star/Super Seal Mario would be higher if Miyamoto didn’t ruin Intelligent Systems’ and Taro Kudo’s (the best designer ever) vision, but it still is the best balanced role-playing game I’ve played in ages and is mighty innovative in its adventuring.
    00 (from 2011). Akai/Red Katana is a beautiful vision of a Cave that survives the next console generation, and the 1st horizontal game of theirs that isn’t merely stunning aesthetically.
    05. Animal Crossing/Forest: New Leaf/Jump Out is the best, least realistic demonstration of political power in video games, but who cares when I GOT THESE FLY-ASS SHOES?
    04. Bravely Default: Flying Fairy proves that players will swallow a quite arcane, punishing battle system if you let them hum and gawk, dress up and customize, laugh and tear up.
    03. Tekken/Iron Fist Tag Tournament 2 is the most consumer-friendly game that I can imagine (the fact that it comes from 2012 Namco-Bandai is the most shocking business decision of this year), and so it appeals directly to my love of having a bunch of stuff thrown at me and discovering, when sifting through, that there’s more silver than gypsum.
    02. Dokuro/Skull is the best example of the stunning reinvention of Game Arts (1 of my all-time favorite developers), and the fact that it sits with their best shoot-’em-ups, role-playing games, and puzzle games is because it connects a chalk aesthetic, stunning soundtrack, and thoughtful story to a delicious puzzle-platformer in the most charming way possible.
    01. Virtua Fighter 5 is the best 3-d fighting game ever made, and fans finally received the version of it that we deserve…and non-fans received a version that they didn’t (unlock everything at once!) to make the game somewhat accessible for only the 2nd time in its existence!

    Apologies for the list dump, but I’ve been unable to engage the great mini-essays and commentary for the past couple of days.  I love that people have such diverse tastes here while maintaing such sincerity with how they interact with game culture.  Good year, The Gameological Society!

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      I’m gonna give Beyond the Labyrinth the special award for “most maddening”. They looked at the platform and its distinguishing feature. 3D! It’s supposed to draw you deeper into the game world! And they ran with it and made it literal. Excellent. Juxtaposing the more naturalistic speaking style of the “real world” players and the cartoonish demeanor of a Japanese video game girl? Nicely done. But after 20 hours, it still just won’t click properly. I want this to be one of my favorite games of the year, but it just isn’t.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Oh, I know.  It worked for me at the very beginning, and then 1/3 of the way through about 2/3.  The a.i. was snappy, and I think the battle system is very interesting (I think Bravely Default: Flying Fairy did a slightly improved version, but I like that Beyond The Labyrinth focused on defense).  The balance was quite good.  Then, because they were working on multiple projects or for whatever reason, they didn’t pull it all together.  It became a grind with few new ideas.

        It hits a bunch of subjective sweet spots for me, though, which is why I’d rank it high.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I didn’t know anyone actually liked Sticker Star.  I’d heard the writing was ruined and the gameplay turned into button mashing and sticker collecting.  Blegh.

      Good to hear Tekken is still doing alright.  I really haven’t got into it since Tekken 3 (Hwoarang for life) but it is still near and dear to my heart.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Basically, 1 and 2 is its own thing, 3, Tag Tournament 1, and 4 is its own thing, and 5, 6, and Tag Tournament 2 is its own thing.  You might want to research whether you’d like it based on nostalgia, because it has, literally, every character ever in the series.  Like, they’ve made Kuma and Panda separate characters, and Tiger and Eddy.  Like, they changed characters’ playstyles completely just so there are no redundancies (Michelle’s back, so Julia is now a luchador..a?!).  Like, Doctor Boskonovitch is in it.  And they all have a bunch of costumes and dumb fanservice that is all free and all wonderful.

        That said, don’t impulse buy it.  It’s gotten much less ridiculous in recent iterations, but you will be ravaged by the people who got into it when you could string 26-hit, 90-percent damage strings.  Its fanbase is easily the most unforgiving and obsessed, and you will cry.

        • http://www.facebook.com/OjiShachouJHOLICS Andi Oji Nuruljihad

          Tekken changed A LOT in Tekken 6. It has gotten a lot less forgiving for newcomers in order to make more suitable for competition play. Tekken Tag 2 probably has the most balanced character list of any fighter right now. However, if you haven’t played for a while, prepare to get your ass handed to you; there’s a new bound system, juggling is longer, wall splat, wall breaks, floor breaks, balcony breaks, tag crash, and the movement still takes months to master.
          TTT2 is still one of the most enjoyable games to play on the couch with a couple friends, but online multiplayer can be frustrating unless you spend at least a few hours in practice mode and have a lot of time to for sparring online and watching videos on youtube.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @facebook-1485333184:disqus Wasn’t it more with Dark Resurrection?  Incidentally, for me, that’s when it went from a fun throwaway series to must-plays.  The character additions (my main and a couple of my high-priority characters) and customization didn’t hurt, either.

  • EmperorNortonI

    So, the rule is that it’s a game from this year, right?  Ok, let me see.

    I liked FTL.  FTL brought back wonderful memories of games of old, games like StarControl 2 and Starflight 2.  This time, those ancient and revered elders were resurrected in a slimmed-down, fast moving, but surprisingly cerebral form.  FTL had an incredibly deep combat model built into it, much deeper than just about anything short of a real 4x game like Master of Orion 2.  You could boost up shields, and rely on your defense carrying you while you plinked away with tiny guns.  You could focus on dodge and evade, which makes it easy to jump past tough fights in the later sectors at the cost of being woefully unprepared for the final boss.  You could go heavy on the guns, if you found a set worth using, or stock up on missiles, and risk running out of ammo at a bad moment.  You could use bombs to make the life of the enemy crew miserable, but at the cost of worrying about wasting ammo without actually causing damage.  And you could send your crew over to fight, if you were lucky enough to get extra crewmembers, and if you weren’t boarded yourself, and if the enemy crew wasn’t obviously bigger and superior.  Combat was at the heart of FTL, an oddity in a sub-genre that tends to have rather basic combat models, and it made it all work despite an almost total lack of moving graphics.

    I have a couple others, but for me, the standout game of the year has to be FTL.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/gorfious,4040/ Gorfious

    I liked Caverns of Khron because it was a throw back to the DOS games of my youth: single screen action platformers like Pharoh’s Tomb and Monuments of Mars.   It’s well paced and atmospheric, and sometimes it makes me laugh with its motherfuckery.  Admittedly I’m biased, as it was made by a friend of mine, but fun is fun and it’s one of the games I enjoyed most this year.

  • http://twitter.com/BrentIsAngry Brent Stewart

    I’ve enjoyed these pieces, but as a casual gamer I find that it would have been helpful to know what platforms the games were available on. In this day and age, I can’t tell from looking at screen-caps which games are XBox, PS3, mobile device, etc.  Otherwise I really enjoyed the series and it looks like I have some catching up to do!

  • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

    “Monkey Watch” is indeed catchy and super-adorable, but it’s nowhere near as much of an earworm as “Love Lab” or “Lockstep” from Rhythm Heaven Gold on the DS or “Space Dance” from Rhythm Heaven on GBA. Pa-Pa-Pa-PAUNCH!!!

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    I’m all gamed-out with my favorites.  OFF TOPIC TIME: Anybody see any really good movies or read any great books this year.

    If you haven’t given Tristan Donovan’s “Replay: THe History of Video Games” a try yet, I wholly recommend it.  By this point, video game history books are a dime a dozen, but this one is hyper in-depth.  It mostly focuses on pre-PS1 era gaming but it has some great stories.  Coke heads at Atari, the Soviet red tape that had to be cut through for Tetris to be released, Britain’s obscure surrealist video game renaissance, and more.

    http://www.amazon.com/Replay-History-Video-Tristan-Donovan/dp/0956507204

    Also, if you haven’t seen Moonrise Kingdom yet, chastise yourself and locate your nearest Redbox ASAP.  I’m no Wes Andersen disciple, (Love Life Aquatic, Loathe Royal Tenebaums) but this is co-written by Francis Ford-Coppola and it’s the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen all year.  With summer blockbusters bloated like Twinkies stuffed with bacon and sour cream tumbling out of the cineplex all year, the naked emotion and enjoyable style in Moonrise is like a breath of fresh air.  

    Also, a weird screw you/tough break to the Wachowskis for attempting to turn Cloud Atlas into a movie.  It was a noble deed but now they run the risk of spoiling one of the greatest novels of the new millenium for people who associate it with the movie where Halle Berry does White-face.

    • HobbesMkii

      Moonrise Kingdom was co-written by Roman Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s son (and Jason Schwartzman’s cousin!). I liked it, but I also felt like it’s Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson-y movie yet, which is beginning to wear on me a bit.

      • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

        It is the most Wes Anderson-y movie he’s made but isn’t a movie about children who are disgusted with adults the perfect outlet for Wes Anderson’s “Everything is a dollhouse” style?

        Also, I feel like he’s just not holding back anything in anymore and it can be fun to see a director who is truly confident in his style. I mean, he was able to make that cheeseball happy ending actually heartwarming.

        Admittedly, I haven’t seen a lot of other movies this year that are supposed to be great (Beasts of the Sourthern Wild, the Master, and Holy Motors all slipped through the local art cinema before I could watch them).  Still, in a year with a Batman movie that isn’t sure whether it wants to praise or vilify Occupy Wall st,  and where we had to rely on a Marvel film that had 6 main characters to finally be worthwhile, it’s refreshing to see Wes just doing his thing on an island on the Atlantic Coast.

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        It felt like the movie Wes Anderson had been trying to make for his whole career but they just wouldn’t let him use child actors until now. The two kids gave basically the same lines of dialogue Own Wilson and Angelica Huston have in past films, only they seem a thousand times more sincere from the mouths of children.

        Another unpopular opinion, I’m sure, but I flipping loved John Carter. That movie just felt so incredibly right. Not one but two strong female leads who are so much more than damsels in distress or sex objects. When one is finally put in a “skimpy” outfit about 3/4 through the film, everyone in the scene immediately writes it off as “vulgar.” And they took the time to establish what it would feel like to suddenly and inexplicably be in a wholly alien landscape. That movie will become a cult phenomenon in a few years.

        • HobbesMkii

          I thought the girl was a more convincing actor than the boy in Moonrise Kingdom, but I thought they were both merely passable. It just becomes mostly unnoticeable because most actors in an Anderson film have an exceedingly deadpan line delivery. 

          I think I’m just sort of tired the dysfunctional family and/or quirky romance formula in his films. I’d love to see him do a space opera or a film noir detective story. I think those could be a lot of fun.

        • dreadguacamole

           Everyone I know loves that movie, except for one guy who has terrible taste. I keep finding it strange that it’s got that reputation as a terrible movie.
           Watching it for a second time I felt it had a bit too much exposition, and some bits dragged on a little, but still, what a fun movie. And the “your princess is in another castle” scene… gold. Pure gold.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Sort of on topic: I went to see Wreck-it Ralph last night, and unsurprisingly, I loved it. It’s fun, it’s colourful, and it’s chock-full of references for people who grew up with video games. It’s my favourite movie of the year.

      For comparison, the other movies I saw this year were:
      - Take This Waltz. I appreciate what it was trying to do, but for the most part, it was a boring, over-long slog, and the last-minute reveal that the entire thing was a satire came way too late to have any meaningful impact.
      - The Amazing Spider-Man. It was okay. This is one of those cases where I can understand both the both the effusively laudatory and vitriolically negative reactions.
      - The Avengers. I quite enjoyed it. Just a fun, solid action movie.
      - Skyfall. Fucking terrible.

      I need to watch either more or better movies.

      • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

        Wreck it Ralph was better than the last couple Pixar movies which is saying something.

        It also gave me my new favorite word which is “Vurp” – n. – when you get so excited that you throw up a little but it comes out like a burp.

      • ToddG

        I was really glad Ralph got the majority of its overt and specific video game references out of its system in the first fifteen minutes or so before proceeding to tell an excellent story, as the trailer made me think they were just going to coast on nostalgia.  Also, I think it’s kinda funny that they got away with a PG despite having Kano rip a zombie’s heart out in far more realistic detail than the original, controversy-sparking incarnation.

      • caspiancomic

         Skyfall, terrible? Controversial opinion!

      • Citric

        You meant to type terrific after Skyfall, I’m sure.

        It’s not my favorite movie of 2012 – that would be Looper so far – but it is up there.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I haven’t enjoyed any of the Bond films I’ve seen. I guess they’re just not made for me.

        • dreadguacamole

          Looper and Moonrise Kingdom are both terrific – I was going to say Bruce Willis is on an incredible streak, but then I remembered Expendables 2. And now I see he’s working on Red 2.

           Huh; bringing this back to gaming, according to IMDB he’s working on a Kane & Lynch movie…

    • caspiancomic

       I saw NUFF really good movies this year. Off the top of my head, Looper (very likely my personal move of the year), ParaNorman (Better than Brave! I said it!), The Master (Anderson is Christ), Seven Psychopaths (The McDonagh brothers are… like, the Holy Spirit? Or maybe some saints?)… also a bunch of super hero movies I guess. I’m still gagging to see Wreck-It Ralph and The Hobbit though.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      The only new movie I’ve seen this year is Prometheus…which is kind of pathetic considering that this has been a pretty strong year for film, and Prometheus was…let’s be polite…not a strong film.

      I have some downtime in Philly this weekend en route to Cleveland, and was hoping to catch Holy Motors, but it literally closes the day before I’ll be in town! I may catch Anna Karenina or Lincoln. Once I’m home with family, I anticipate seeing the Hobbit and Wreck it Ralph. I’ve got catching up to do…

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I think Moonrise Kingdom might be my favorite of this year that i’ve seen. 

      I did love Cabin in the Woods, because I’m a sucker for badass clever genre movies.

  • RidleyFGJ

    ZombiU shouldn’t have worked at all.

    It started out as a more violent Rabbids spinoff for the 360, and when Ubisoft decided that they didn’t want to lose the kids with it, they made alterations to them and came up with the Killer Freaks from Outer Space, which was one of the few actual games that were on display for the Wii U at E3 2011. And while developing the game, they found out that the speed of the aforementioned Killer Freaks were simply way too fast to make effective use of the GamePad’s extra features that they were planning, which necessitated a different approach to the game’s enemies. Enter everyone’s favorite lumbering masses of reanimated flesh. And all of that took place in a rather quick development time.

    And this is Ubisoft we’re talking about; a company that’s gone on to reduce all of their formerly expansive and hardcore franchises like the Tom Clancy’s series into retard-proof, casual-friendly experiences where pressing a button kills everyone in the room. So when they came around town saying that they had a brutal true survival horror game with a fascinating permadeath respawn system and very little mercy, and for a game that was previously something very different, you can imagine that the bullshit meters were working overtime.

    But here we are, with a game that made good on their word and their promise, and it’s a game that very quickly rose to my personal top 10 of games played this year.

  • Effigy_Power

    Fine, fine… I ought to have something positive to say.

    I like Torchlight 2 because it remembered the good thing about Dungeon Crawlers, while minimizing all the stuff that sucked.
    The fact that I could have kept adventuring for EVER without once having to sell my old gear… that alone set TL2 apart from every other dungeon crawler ever, because it didn’t make me want to ram a spork into my leg. Very few game designers seem to understand that constant admin is something that suits very few games. Sure, dungeon crawlers are in their very essence a numbers game. Slay monster, find gear, compare numbers, equip or sell. That’s good and fine and part of the motivation, but it shouldn’t consume the gameplay on a constant basis.
    Inventories should be quick, user-friendly affairs (like Skyrim after installing SkyUI) and not lumbering old bins nestled more deeply than a Matryoshka doll (like Skyrim before installing SkyUI).
    That single nuisance has ruined many a game for me and TL2 understood that. Yes, it’s odd that my ferret can carry 3 bombards and 6 full armors, but who cares. I don’t have to go shopping!
    The main quest was just fun enough to string you along. The monster diversity was plentiful. The classes fairly were equally fun. And the game cost $20.
    The Multiplayer… well… that’s where the game was a tad undercooked. Yes, keeping players confined by not letting them off a combined screen-wide area is terrible, but then letting them individually roam a massive open map defeats the purpose of multiplayer.
    There is precious little that keeps the players together on one screen, so it’s really just people playing accidentally on the same map. Can be fun, but the game’s enemies, roaming in from every direction, serve only to pull your group apart… Well meant, but not quite there yet.
    Still, for the price it was a great game that kept me occupied for a while longer than I thought (even if by the end I just wanted to be done)…

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I’m not very far along in Torchlight II, but I think it might be near-perfect.
         Not by the metric of being my favorite game ever, or that it exceeds above all other games, but that the gulf between what’s promised and what’s delivered is the shortest.
         It is polished, fun, unpretentious, has a broad, cartoony art style with enough of an eye for detail and interesting design elements to overcome the somewhat generic visuals of the first.
         It’s a crazy value at $20 and just a neat, humble little game.
         Plus I have an owl that does more damage than me.

    • dreadguacamole

      I’d have trouble calling it one of my favorites in what turned out to be a pretty terrific year for games, but you’re right – for its aspirations, it’s a gem.
       Seeing Diablo 3 on most best-of-the-year lists, and not a mention of TL2, makes me a bit sad – Even on Gameological!
       Though I have to say, the reason Samantha gave was the best I’ve seen for someone loving the game, and possibly the only praise anyone has given to its writing.

  • Markthulhu

    I liked Botanicula because it reminded me why I love video games. Most of my favourite games this year were “serious.” Dishonoured, for example – it was a ton of fun but very dark, both literally and thematically.

    Botanicula, on the other hand, oozed light and charm. Your quintent of heroes were quirky and made funny noises. The soundtrack was upbeat and catchy. There were countless little moments of wordless humour played out by the game’s huge population of goofy bit characters. It just made me feel HAPPY, putting a huge grin on my face like my favourite games from my childhood did.

    It didn’t hurt that the puzzles were clever and it was just the right length. But it was that sense of whismy, the feeling that if I just kept playing I would find something even more cute and clever and fun than I had already seen — that’s why I play games, and it’s good to be reminded of that now and then.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      And it’s funny: http://twinfinite.net/blog/2012/06/30/the-beats-in-botanicula-an-interview-with-dva I hear the more playful Bjork/modern Icelandic pop influence and the Lithuanian (woo!) and other eastern European instrumental hip-hop, electronica, and techno sounds, but the Arvo Part connection was only obvious after they said it.  Tintinnabuli is usually so reflective, but it’s used there to be bubbly and kinetic in contrast to the largely static visuals (compared to to other genres).  Less church bells than school bells.

  • PaganPoet

    I want to add something to this conversation, but everyone has long beaten me to the punch, and most of them well thought-out and articulate, which I don’t have the patience for at the moment, recovering from a fever, so I’ll just add:

    Why no love for Persona 4 Arena, GS? *tsk* And I thought you were credible…

    • Chum Joely

      I have just borrowed Persona 4 Arena. I’m sure I’m not the best person to evaluate it, because I haven’t played any of the other Persona games, but… MAN, the story mode is absolutely deathly dull.  I fired it up and then spent literally 15 minutes reading my character’s boring-ass descriptions of his life and his friends on the Investigation Team. I mean, I was reading every line, but using the skip button so that I didn’t have to wait for each one to type out letter by letter (and for his voice to say it, in many cases).  And it still took 15 minutes before I even got to the first interactive scene.  What the hell??!!

      The fighting part, on the other hand, seems to be pretty cool, although even the tutorial is poorly designed– it just keeps throwing more and more and more and more and more moves at you without ever putting you into a real fight to try everything out (you get to try each move once, then move on to the next lesson).  Ugh.

      I guess the game just isn’t aimed at newcomers (since it’s a spinoff of the 4th game in a series with a complicated storyline).  That’s cool and all, but… AS a newcomer, I am not at all interested in the way this game presents itself to me. For what that’s worth.

      • PaganPoet

        *giggle*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend Story Mode for people who aren’t familiar with Persona, it’s a bit dialogue heavy. You should see Persona 4 itself, it takes a good 2-3 hours before the game proper starts. =P For what it’s worth, for those of us who are familiar with the Persona series and its story, the story is actually really cool and exciting and ends in a way that (at least I suspect) sets the stage for Persona 5 (eventually).

        I love the gameplay, though. It’s one of the only fighters I know of where each character really is pretty much balanced with the others (not to mention one of the only games where I can actually hold my own online). My biggest gripe with a lot of fighters is that I after so many online losses, I just stop having fun with it. How can I be so good against the computer on even the hardest difficulty, and yet lose against just about all my online opponents?

  • alguien_comenta

    I agree on Fez, I loved that game. The way I describe it to others is as an archeology simulator, you have to look at the culture and try to make out what their symbols mean, little by little until everything makes sense.
    My favorite puzzle was the first metronome I did. I didn’t know what to do until I noticed the beat had a pattern, tried rotating to the rhythm and it worked! Awesome moment

    • PaganPoet

      Fez is probably the biggest reason I regret not having an Xbox 360 :( Everything about it looks awesome.

      • http://twitter.com/knarfblack Knarf Black

        It is pretty amazing, and it’s a shame about the current console exclusivity, especially considering how badly it worked out for Mr. Fish in the end. It’s a good enough game to play twice, which is good because if I ever try to play it again my save game will get erased due to a glitch that the he can’t afford to patch.

  • dreadguacamole

     Dishonored. I liked it because it’s awesome, and it made me feel awesome. It also had the best character of the year: the city of Dunwall.

     Hotline: Miami. I liked it because I once threw my gun at someone, caught it on the rebound, and then used it to shoot someone who unexpectedly came at me from off the screen. For that moment, at least, it was the best game ever.

     Dragon’s Dogma. I liked it because it kind of went for Dark Soul’s difficulty and tension, but made it possible to feel like a badass. Killing Chimeras, one head at a time, never gets old.

     Huh. My favorites this year are all about empowerment, it seems; guess it’s a natural reaction after Dark Souls completely emasculated me last year…
     
     Not empowering, but still awesome: Crusader Kings II, a game I know I should play a lot more of. And a ton more I can’t remember right now…

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Anyone who like Hotline Miami should check out the postmortemy thing they did with the creators on The PA Report. The highlight is an 11-minute video interview featuring footage from the HLM prototype game “Supercarnage.”

  • Chum Joely

    I would like to say thank you to Matt Gerardi for his mention of “unwieldy controls” on Hotline Miami.  I thought it was just my own incompetence (which, admittedly, is probably still a factor). Incredible game, but I seem to be reaching the limits of my own clumsiness at level 4 out of 10.

    Does it play any more comfortably with a gamepad, anyone?

    • http://twitter.com/Gerardi Matt Gerardi

      I haven’t tried it with a gamepad–nor do I think the game supports one yet. Word is there was some sort of technical issue and they dropped the support from the initial release, although there may have been an update that I’m unaware of.

      I do think the game would be worse with it. Your reaction times often need to be so quick that I don’t think a gamepad could handle it. 

      • Chum Joely

        I guess you’re right. I was just hoping for some magical way to get better fast.  I’ll just have to keep practicing my mass murder, and perhaps try playing sober for once (my gaming usually happens at 10:30pm or later when the kids are in bed and the beer “etc.” comes out.)

        There’s still an item in the options menu that says “360 Pad On/Off”, but the one I have at work is wireless and currently only wants to talk to my Xbox 360 dev kit. Too much trouble for a lazy gamer like myself… and probably not worth it, come to think of it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      My God, I think the game would be impossible with a gamepad. Mouse-aiming is so central to the gameplay, and I don’t think the second stick would be nearly precise enough. But I loved the default controls and found them precise and well-suited to the gameplay, myself.

    • dreadguacamole

       It does support a gamepad. It was patched in a couple of weeks back, and it works beautifully – much better in my opinion than with a mouse and keyboard in everything except the lock on.

  • Precarious_Loaf

    I really enjoy the digressions in the comments (i.e. the one about peoples fav movies) and how undistracting & interesting they are. This community is swell!

    My 3rd Fav game this year wasn’t an entire game, but the DLC for The Binding of Isaac… The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb.

    Upped difficulty, upped content, upped replayability… everything upped in what may already  be one of my favourite games of all time.

  • http://twitter.com/knarfblack Knarf Black

    Fez, Journey, and Hotline Miami all made it into my “all time favorites” this year, and nearly dragged Tokyo Jungle along with them. (TJ gets a knock for having way too much content for it’s gameplay to handle; you will inevitably get bored of it long before unlocking too many of the best or wackiest animals.)

    Other than Dishonored (which was really good, but mostly made me wish that I was playing Bioshock Infinite), I barely played any $60 AAA on-disc games.Long live the poorly defined “Indie Game” category!

  • zaofan596

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  • http://www.poraora.com/ Adam Ponting

    this is one of the best article i have ever read.thanks for sharing the detail information of these games here with us.