This was an even weirder year than usual for me, with pretty much every gaming high point counterbalanced by an accompanying low. The Wii was going through its last death throes… which consisted of two of the finest titles ever released for the system. (In North America. Eventually.) The 3DS finally received the XL upgrade I had been waiting for ever since its launch… and I still found the retail pickings to be pretty dire. The Wii U arrived after much anticipation… about a month before the final issue of Nintendo Power arrives in my mailbox. In between those events were wide stretches of absolutely nothing… which I used to catch up on a bunch of great older titles that I had missed out on the first time around.
Overall, I consider 2012 to be a net positive on the gaming front. I got to experience a bunch of great games and innovative hardware, while also filling in some glaring holes in my gaming history. And that’s not even considering all of the great Unplugged titles 2012 delivered. That said, I am really looking forward to what 2013 will bring both the 3DS and the Wii U; the first quarter alone should be fairly packed if everything arrives on schedule. But more on that when we get to our next Progress Report. On to my picks for 2012!
HM. Trine 2: Director’s Cut
I didn’t pick up a lot of launch titles with my Wii U, but two titles available in the eShop helped to fill in the spaces. Trine 2: Director’s Cut provided some interesting puzzling action over twenty gorgeous stages, but having to fend off goblins and other monsters kind of dragged things down for me. Of course, without those sequences the knight character doesn’t have much to do, so I can’t fault their inclusion on a conceptual level.
10. Little Inferno
My other launch Wii U eShop title, Little Inferno earns my “non-game of the year” award (because I didn’t get to play Journey). The quirky aesthetic and oddly compelling gameplay fascinated me for the entire brief run time, while the subtle narrative gave me the motivation to see everything through to the end. There isn’t much here beyond burning things and finding combos, but it’s a wild ride while it lasts.
9. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
I should have picked this up with my 3DS XL instead of waiting until earlier this month. I blame Rhythm Heaven and its awkward flicking controls for making me leery of any handheld rhythm game that wasn’t Elite Beat Agents, plus the fact that my experience with the Final Fantasy franchise covers only about one-third of the titles contained in this game. But the demo slowly won me over and receiving a gift card gave me the excuse I needed to finally go for it. And it is awesome. I’m still not wild about the slide beats, but they aren’t nearly as bad as I felt Rhythm Heaven‘s to be. If you like rhythm games and especially the always top-shelf Final Fantasy music there is no reason to not add this to your 3DS library.
8. Rhythm Heaven Fever
Everything I just said about Rhythm Heaven? Does not apply to the Wii version, Rhythm Heaven Fever. No waggle, just buttons. In a genre where timing is literally everything, having no ambiguity in the required inputs is key. Not having to worry about any of that nonsense allowed me to really get into the game, its great music, and its bizarre presentation (what is it with rhythm games and outlandish concepts?). Some of the minigames are more awkward than others, but all of the ones that aren’t “Love Rap” are just awesome.
7. Assassin’s Creed III
My progress through Assassin’s Creed III thus far has been slow, partially because I’m having to learn all of the tricks that others have already picked up through at least two other entries in the series and partially due to needing to prioritize other games for review purposes. But even though I’m only about 30% complete as of this writing, I am seeing why this series has received such rave reviews in the past. I hope this is only the start of multiplatform games coming to the Wii U without the need for GamePad-specific gimmicks (looking at you, Arkham City Armored Edition), as I would like to experience games like these with the rest of the staff when they catch my interest.
6. Nintendo Land
I don’t think that Nintendo Land would have made the list this year if I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the multiplayer attractions, which are really the best. Which is not to sell the single-player games short, as some of them are quite excellent as well (I’m particularly fond of Yoshi’s Fruit Cart and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle), but multiplayer is where Nintendo Land really shines, especially if you can get four other players over for the full experience. As a demonstration of what the Wii U has to offer, Nintendo Land is hopefully only a hint of what is to come in the next four or five years.
5. Pokémon Conquest
All I ever wanted since my first taste of tactical RPGs was for someone to give me a “Pokémon Tactics” someday. I know the conventional wisdom is that the Pokémon franchise really feels like it wants to evolve into an MMO, but that’s never been my interest. The fact that my dream game actually got made — and localized, given its even more bizarre than expected mash-up nature — was jaw-dropping. The game itself is just about everything I hoped it would be, although the one-move per ‘mon was a little unnecessarily restricting and the link system instead of traditional experience was odd, but on the whole still awesome. Is asking for a sequel pushing my luck?
4. Pokemon Black Version 2 and White Version 2
The key to Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 is variety. More pokémon, more trainers, more side games, more events, and just more fun. I consider this to be the best iteration of the franchise yet, just edging past HeartGold and SoulSilver. The only aspect I think might be missing is connectivity with a console Stadium-type game, but those haven’t been anything special since the N64 days, so that’s not a huge loss.
3. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors came out of nowhere to really wow me at the end of 2010, and the announcement that we were getting a sequel caused much anticipation. Virtue’s Last Reward upped the ante in pretty much every aspect (except maybe the sense of danger present in the original) and, against all odds, was somehow even more mindblowing when everything was said (literally — great voice work here) and done. The Zero Escape series continues to impress, and I cannot wait until the next edition.
2. The Last Story
It was a little unfair that the Wii received its equivalents to Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger in the same year (those titles on the SNES were mercifully a year apart), as either one of these two games could have stood on its own and pretty much dominated save for the possible interference of something like Skyward Sword. Pitting The Last Story against Xenoblade Chronicles was hard, but in the end I had to give one the nod over the other. Both games had excellent voice work, superior visuals, brilliant innovations to the otherwise stale RPG genre, and great stories. I didn’t think I was going to like Last Story‘s cover-based action combat, but it grew on me quickly, carried through by the sense of camaraderie amongst the PCs. Ultimately, though, The Last Story fell just a little short, both in actual gameplay (40-50 hours versus Xenoblade‘s epic scale) and in overall scope. I hope to see more of this kind of game from Mistwalker, and ideally at a time where it can stand on its own.
1. Xenoblade Chronicles
The best part about North America finally getting Xenoblade Chronicles in 2012 is that there really wasn’t a whole lot else going on for the Wii this year so anyone who wanted to could really devote the insane amount of time it required to really explore this unique and expansive world could do so, even if it meant having to take a break to give The Last Story and/or Kirby’s Dream Collection some love too. Taking the best elements of traditional RPGs and mixing in some MMO-style quests and combat, Xenoblade Chronicles consumed over a hundred hours of my life this year, an accomplishment that hadn’t been achieved outside of a Pokémon title (or Dragon Quest IX) in probably a decade, if not longer. And I would — and will — gladly give it even more if I ever hit another dry spell. Hopefully that won’t happen any time soon, but this is one heck of a safety net.