I spent the vast majority of 2012 with my face glued to my gorgeous new Vita, mostly playing PSP games and PSOne Classics, but I managed to get a hold of enough current games to put together a list of my favorites. At times I feel as if I am still reeling from the greatness of 2011, but this year definitely packed a punch in its own right.
10. Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!
This one was almost a surprise, but WayForward was behind it, so I knew I was in for a good time from the start. An energetic soundtrack, fantastic sprite artwork and animation and the signature Adventure Time style and humor, all built around a hilarious homage to Zelda II of all things, make for one of the better licensed platformers I’ve ever played.
9. Unchained Blades
The better part of the marketing for this title revolved around name-dropping the talent behind this game, which comprises folks from both the Lunar and Grandia series, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Luckily, the game is a blast, taking the retro-style first-person dungeon crawler and adding a smattering of contemporary depth and style achieved with the help of dozens of artists from the anime and manga industries.
8. Ys Origin
XSEED continued to make the most out of its partnership with Falcom, this time bringing the storied Ys franchise to Steam. Origin may be a PC game from the middle of the last decade, but the bright visuals, fast-paced yet cerebral combat and signature bombastic soundtrack hold up just as well as any game released today. Combine that with a more than reasonable price point, and you have no excuse not to give this game a shot.
7. Mass Effect 3
Whatever you may have to say about the ending, there’s no denying what Mass Effect has become: an event. The massive world, diverse cast of characters, top-notch production values and increasingly-streamlined gameplay all came to a head and closed out a story years in the making that, while controversial at the time, won’t be forgotten any time soon.
6. Resident Evil 6
Sit back, relax and embrace the cheese. Sure, Resident Evil may not be as scary as it used to be, but when Resident Evil debuted in the ’90s, we were all a lot less jaded. Rather than pandering to the vocal minority, Capcom has continued to go full throttle on the series’ recent fixation on a zany sense of spectacle, and boy oh boy has it come up with some wild stuff. Underneath the B-movie madness, it’s also continued to refine the controls and multiplayer experience, making for one of the most thrilling co-op experiences since, well, Resident Evil 5.
5. Street Fighter X Tekken
Still coming down from the success of Super Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Capcom stirred up a concoction of elements from both, as well as some really fun and unique tag-team mechanics for a game with more than half of its roster containing characters that play unlike any other fighters in the Capcom canon, bringing some fresh flavor to veterans and newcomers alike. The game also brought back a few personal favorites of mine (Poison, Rolento, and Elena), so even though I can’t claim to be a big fan of Tekken (Except for King; man, he’s rad) I have nothing but respect for SFxT.
4. Persona 4 Arena
A love letter to fans of the explosively-popular Persona franchise, Arc System Works and Atlus pulled out all the stops on this one. From an appropriately-awkward story mode to some of the tightest and most accessible fighting mechanics in years, it should be clear to everyone that Persona is here to stay.
3. The Walking Dead
I’ve had my eye on Telltale ever since it stepped up to become the saviors of Sam and Max (and later Monkey Island), and if a better example of a good dev growing up to be great exists, then I don’t know about it. The Walking Dead is the culmination of everything Telltale has done so far, encompassing brilliant writing on all fronts, excellent voice acting, a cool aesthetic and even an engaging expansion upon their own point-and-click engine that breathes new life into the genre.
2. Gravity Rush
As much as I love my Vita, it’s a real crime that this game popped up on such a neglected system. Gravity Rush is the best open-world superhero game in existence, and it doesn’t even have a comic book license to lean on. The combat mechanics were wonky at times, but the gravity manipulation mechanics were flawlessly implemented and a pure joy to play around with. The unique world of the game, comprising a cool European comic book style, kinetic soundtrack and endearing characters, all added to an experience I couldn’t put down until it was over.
1. Double Dragon Neon
In the future, any developer that takes it upon themselves to revive an old franchise or even create something that pays tribute to a bygone gaming era needs to sit down first and take a good look at WayForward’s Double Dragon Neon. Going above and beyond remaking a game with some pop culture references sprinkled on for giggles, Double Dragon Neon is a celebration of an era. Jake Kaufman’s tonally perfect soundtrack sets the stage for an aesthetic that paints a hyperbolic-yet-fitting throwback to the 1980s that is carried by WayForward’s mastery of 2D game design, resulting in a game that not only is a blast to play over and over again, but is also a blast to just sit back and take in all the sights and sounds.