My favorite games of 2012:
(Three-way tie for #1)
A game about dying in the jungle in a way you can’t imagine. A thrilling economy of risk, Spelunky trades in chutzpah as much as it does in skill and knowledge. And like Bastion last year, every one of Spelunky’s pieces fits together like it couldn’t have happened any other way. Spelunky is A Perfect Video Game, as such things go. Sometimes learning more about how its bits fit together is a path to madness in a world where confidence is recklessness, but I enjoyed every one of my hundreds (thousands?) of attempts at the same mad-libbed adventure more than the last.
The only game I’ve had to literally stop playing (momentarily) because of how overwhelmingly charming and awesome it was (and is). Amanita Design are alchemists of joy, expressed through impossibly attractive art and astounding audio; for my tastes, the best in the business. Which, yes, means I think Botanicula looked and sounded better than anything else this year. By far. While most interactions with my adventurous band of tiny forest critters or their inspired surroundings boiled down to informed clicks, they more often than not set off chains of animation and inspired reactions that made my endorphins sing. A chemically enjoyable, impossibly creative experience.
Life is about exploring approaches as much as spaces, while people of various helpfulness and impact drift through. Journey is a video game about gliding through the sand and finding bits of cloth, sometimes. But when it’s not, and the metaphor falls a few steps behind you, it’s almost unbelievably magical. And even when it is, it’s outrageously beautiful, in every way that something can be. Journey takes care of you, with dead ends turned gentle nudges and a world that picks you up should you fall down. Sometimes lonely, but always inspiring.
I’ve heard gripes about just how random FTL can be, wiping you out in a random gas cluster with full ignorance of how much care and preparation you’ve put in up to that point. But that’s kind of the game, and it’s part of what I love about it; you explore space as much as you dare, build your ship as smartly as you can, and hope that the robot you found stranded alone on a moon doesn’t go crazy and murder half your crew. There’s a tiny sci-fi procedural in every attempt, and you’re only partially responsible for how it resolves itself. The micromanagement of piloting and distributing resources brings depth and breadth, without being boring or exhausting.
I still need to finish finish Fez, but I’m kind of intimidated by the scrawled page of hieroglyphics that’s been floating around my gaming area since April. Some of it makes sense (I think), but some (most) of it is probably me reading too much into things. Every thing. The run-jump-rotate façade of Fez’s dream-like adventure is grand, but the arcane underbelly you can peek at if you pay enough attention and care enough to want more is overwhelming. Trying to figure out how an interlinked world really fits together, deciphering a textural vocabulary, and endeavoring to find the secrets and solutions of a very thoughtful, personal universe.
The embodiment of pleading insanity. Maybe choreographing the fevered dreams of a serial killer, or maybe everything you love about video games, served up in a way that questions everything you love about video games. Hotline Miami’s brutal ballet of trying to kill everything in the room before it kills you (and throwing yourself at it endlessly until you do) is smart, intense, and riveting, and never stops feeling like the floor is swaying under your feet juuust a bit. A fine line between subversion and perversion.
I started to write that TJ is as good as it is silly, but it’s reeeeeally silly. It’s still quite good though, servicing many of the compulsions I enjoyed last year in Dark Souls. Exploration with a vague dread of what can easily murder you around the next corner, deceptively skillful combat, and a world of interesting systems to learn and discover. Being ping-ponged between the Survival and Campaign modes is kind of a brilliant touch, and working your way through the food chain is a clever conceit that ties an outlandish concept to something universally approachable.
The city of Hekseville feels tangibly foreign, in that vaguely exotic European way that the more interesting Final Fantasies seem to manage. Though rather than talking your way through it, you’re soaring the skies above it or throttling the alleyways between it. Without the baggage of a background, Kat’s reckless disregard for gravity works – as do the myriad mechanics that knit the experience together. Bringing the city back to life one small corner at a time holds a homey satisfaction, and having the entire topsy-turvy world in your hands (as a portable game) makes it shine.
The Unfinished Swan
I toppled headfirst into Swan’s endlessly inventive fairytale, I must admit. While there are surely a few obtuse moments to be had, I loved the regular introduction of new ways to interact with the world, each bringing with it a breathless moment of wonder. The novelty of the opening act may be the iconic takeaway, but not resting on its laurels turns out to be its defining characteristic.
I’ve been blithely recommending Little Inferno to people since I played through it, not wanting, or really knowing how, to talk about what it is. It’s about consumerism and burning things, I say, which is true. But the extent to which it pursues being about both of those things is exceptional, making it (wait) fun and (wait) addictive without (here we go) wasting your time. Its economic story unfolds at a perfect cadence, slowly twisting the context for your actions on its head until it snaps and the ending comes flooding out.
Some Other Games I Liked a Whole Lot:
Spec Ops: The Line
Games That I Love But Am Probably Too Close To To Judge Rationally:
Papo & Yo
Best new board games of 2012 that I played:
King of Tokyo
Lords of Waterdeep
My 10 favorite iOS Games that aren’t Ascension of 2012:
My 10 Favorite Films of 2012:
Safety Not Guaranteed
Sleepwalk With Me
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Your Sister’s Sister
10 Songs that defined 2012 for me:
Bloc Party – V.A.L.I.S.
Japandroids – Younger Us
Sleigh Bells – Comeback Kid
Desaparecidos – MariKKKopa
Passion Pit – I’ll Be Alright
Passion Pit – Carried Away
…And You Will Know Us by The Trail of Dead – Catatonic
Big Sir – Regions
Billy Talent – Viking Death March
Cursive – The Sun and Moon
Thanks for reading. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of these things too. Cheers to 2013.