2012 was bit of an interim year, as far as these sorts of things go, despite seeing the launch of two consoles – the PlayStation Vita and Wii U. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a swathe of great games released, however.
In no particular order:
Gravity Rush (PSVita)
Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
An open world game that gives you full control of gravity, which makes traversing the landscape a blast. However, the combat lacks depth and gravity manipulation can be a bit disorienting at times. The challenge missions also have long load times, and the game ends on a completely obvious sequel hook, but it is still a lot of fun while it lasts and is really unlike much anything else out there.
LittleBigPlanet Vita (PSVita)
Tarsier Studios/Sony Computer Entertainment
It’s basically LittleBigPlanet 2, but portable and with some not entirely awful touch controls for some object types. The “campaign” is also the better of the four LittleBigPlanet games, having far more variety and creativity than the rest. It also serves as a real showcase game for the Vita, as it looks absolutely phenomenal. If there’s one thing that brings it down, it’s that the online multiplayer has some horrendous lag, even when you’re only a few kilometers away from your partner. Supposedly this will be patched, though.
The Walking Dead (PC/Mac/360/PS3/iOS)
Let me tell you, I really hate zombies. Absolutely despise them. They’re a lazy enemy for any form of media and completely uninteresting. Naturally, this made me apprehensive of The Walking Dead. In this case, I was glad to be wrong. A linear, episodic adventure game revolving around a man who was on his way to prison and the young girl he swears to protect, The Walking Dead focuses around telling a story first and foremost. You’re given a lot of choices in dialogue – some of them don’t matter at all, but a lot of the time you get called out on difficult, spur of the moment decisions you have to make. Puzzles are generally self-contained and not the obtuse, hour long pixel hunts that tend to plague the genre. There are some genuinely shocking scenes in the game, particularly in episodes two and three, but the whole package is fantastic.
Zero Escape Vol. 2: Virtue’s Last Reward (PSVita/3DS)
Spike Chunsoft/Aksys Games
The much awaited sequel to sleeper hit Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. It’s still hardly a game, but it’s an excellent read and the escape puzzles are trickier, better thought out and more numerous. The final twists of the story, true to the style of the main writer, are mind-blowing and hard to see coming. Sadly the 3DS version crashes a lot and will corrupt your save if it happens in an escape room. Also, for the most part, characters are now somewhat-shoddy 3D instead of the nice 2D sprites that were in 999. The European release of the game unfortunately forgoes the excellent English vocal work due to licensing costs, so keep that in mind if it’s important to you.
Sleeping Dogs (PC/PS3/360)
United Front Games/Square Enix
Somewhat of a combination between Yakuza and Grand Theft Auto, set in Hong Kong. There’s less emphasis on gun-play (justified by guns being hard to get into Hong Kong), so a lot of the enemy encounters tend to revolve around fisticuffs. Thankfully, the melee combat is quite good, having elements from the Arkham Batman games (counters) and Yakuza (Heat Actions). The game’s story is interesting enough, being a bit of a homage to films like Hard Boiled. It’s also regularly on sale for ludicrous prices on Steam, and that’s never a bad thing.
Binary Domain (PS3/360/PC)
If you got a blender, threw equal parts Gears of War, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Blade Runner into it and hit the purée button, you’d get Binary Domain as a result. Taking place about seventy years from now, robots are commonplace, but robots that can pass for humans are banned by a revised Geneva Convention. However, when robots matching this description, called Hollow Children, start showing up completely unaware that they were not human, a group of combatants from various countries is sent into a now isolated Japan to investigate. Seeing as your enemies in the game are robots, shooting various parts of them can break them in interesting ways. Shoot the legs off a combat robot and it’ll crawl towards you, attempting to grab you so that other enemies can attack you. Blow their heads off and they lose IFF functionality, meaning they’ll indiscriminately fire at friend and foe alike. There’s also a squad communication system – you can give your teammates orders and depending on their level of trust for you, they may ignore your commands, perform them normally or really go all out. They’ll also ask you questions from time to time, which can boost your trust rating. This also feeds back into cutscenes and can change the ending. Binary Domain also has some really fun and creative boss fights. Sadly, it sold quite badly, mainly due to Sega giving it almost no advertising.
Asura’s Wrath (PS3/360)
To be perfectly honest, Asura’s Wrath is barely a game. Occasionally, it’s a really bare-bones brawler but for the most part it is strings of long cutscenes with Quick Time Events interspersed, making it somewhat akin to Dragon’s Lair. In this case, that’s okay, because the scenes in question are well-directed and ludicrously over-the-top. At one point, Asura, who is probably the angriest character in any medium ever, gets stabbed into the ground with a sword so long that it comes out the other side of the planet. This scenario ranks fairly low on the game’s craziness scale. Asura’s Wrath is structured like a TV series, and is effectively somewhat playable anime. Unfortunately, the true ending and final boss is paid DLC that will set you back ten dollars and quite frankly, that is absolutely disgusting.
Dead or Alive 5 (PS3/360)
Team Ninja/Tecmo Koei
Dead or Alive has always been a fighting series that’s fairly easy to get into for newcomers and those who aren’t too into the competitive side of fighting games, and DoA5 is no different. It’s fast, fluid and a lot of fun. The online mode is quite solid (unlike Tekken Tag Tournament 2), if a little barren and it loads quickly between matches (again, unlike Tekken Tag Tournament 2). Most of the old characters return, save for Ein (who somewhat lives on through Hitomi) and Leon, and the new characters are distinct and interesting. Team Ninja are committed to updating it with balance patches and other functionality, such as being able to upload replays to YouTube and compete against players on the PSVita when that version of the game comes out in February.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
(PS3/360/PC/WiiU/PSVita/3DS) Sumo Digital/Sega
Despite its mouthful of a name, Transformed is probably the best kart racing game I’ve ever played. Everything is tight, the tracks are incredibly creative, almost everything in the game is a reference to some historic Sega game, from Phantasy Star and Skies of Arcadia to Shinobi and Puyo Puyo. Unlike Mario Kart, every weapon is avoidable if you’re good enough and rubber-banding is kept to a minimum. Switching between karts, planes and boats as the track demands it is a lot of fun and a real breath of fresh air. Sumo Digital put a lot of effort into this game and it shows.
Persona 4 Golden (PSVita)
Okay, so my favourite game this year is an updated port of a 2008 game. That’s fine by me. I spent 80 hours on it when it was on the PlayStation 2, 50 hours this time around and I’m definitely going to do a third playthrough at some stage. Persona 4 Golden adds a lot of content, both minor and major as well as changing and fixing some of the gameplay systems, most notably that fusion inheritance is now totally up to the player instead of a complete crap shoot like it was in the original. It’s hard to find anything much to say about P4G that you can’t find elsewhere – it’s an amazing game that begs to be played.
Tales of Graces f (PS3) – Namco Bandai
Ys Origin (PC) – Falcom/XSEED Games
Journey (PS3) – thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment
Mark of the Ninja (360/PC) – Klei Entertainment
Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (360/Android/iOS/PC) – Zeboyd Games
Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time (PSP) – Career Soft/Atlus USA
Phantasy Star Online 2 (PC) – Sonic Team/Sega