Progress Report: The best and worst of 2012, part 1

April 30, 2012

While the industry divides the year into quarters, we realize that there are really three parts to the year: the barren early months, the gimmicky, convention-filled summer and the action-packed holiday season. This time, we look at January through April.

Biggest Surprise: If you had told me last year that I would love a game about parkour garbage men cleaning up a dilapidated forest, mansion and Tron-inspired game grid, then I would have called you crazy, but here we are, and I loves me some Dustforce. In each level, your goal is to clean the whole place up by running, jumping, and chaining your way forward. You’re scored on two factors: how much dust you get rid of and your longest chain. If you manage to clean all of the dust in one long chain. you’ll get an SS ranking. I’ve managed it only once, but the prospect keeps me coming back for more, and I enjoy myself every time.

Biggest Disappointment: I like SSX games. They’re all about speed, tricks, and multiplayer. The core experience was great, and you didn’t need anything else layered over top of it because so much time went into making that central gameplay element fun. All that changed in the most recent SSX which, instead of being about snowboard racing down crazy tracks, is all about being extreme, beating the guy who left your snowboard team and needing stupid equipment to complete events that are no fun at all. I don’t want to have to concentrate on keeping my rider in the sun because he’s too cold, I don’t want to have to tap a button to breathe because he’s too dumb to, and I certainly don’t want these events to keep me from advancing the main single player campaign. They do though, and SSX is worse for it.

Game of Part 1: Mass Effect 3 manages to wrap up two great games worth of choices and story threads. Seeing and influencing the Mass Effect universe through things like the krogan genophage saga, the quarian-geth war and influencing Jack enough that she successfully makes the transition from terrible character to good one (she still needs better costumes, but nobody’s perfect) makes the entirety of Mass Effect 3 the greatest ending I’ve ever played. I saw my choices play out, and I caught up with old friends throughout the entire adventure. I saw Tali transform from an unsure young girl into a leader of her people, I saw Garrus and Shepard become best friends and I saw similar, if a bit smaller, arcs for every other character in the series. It’s a great end to a truly ambitious project, and I can’t wait for some story-oriented DLC for two reasons: I love the ME universe, and I genuinely want to see how they fit it in there.

Biggest surprise: As someone who has never been a big fan of handhelds, I’m still completely floored by how much I enjoyed the PlayStation Vita. Not only did it have a decent launch lineup (decent is better than most launches), but it’s one of the most comfortable and technologically impressive gaming devices I’ve ever used. It’s a little light on major releases right now, but I have high hopes for the future of the Vita; hopefully it will only continue to impress.

Biggest disappointment: It’s strange to say that when I found out Asura’s Wrath was more of an actual game than I originally thought it would be, I was a bit let down. This game is full of absolute insanity from start to finish and some truly satisfying moments, but it’s dragged down immensely by its tedious combat mechanics. Outside of major boss encounters, the fights with regular enemies that are scattered throughout Asura’s adventure kill the pacing and feel like they were thrown in at the last minute to make it a longer experience. I still enjoyed this rage-fueled journey, I just got something a little more underwhelming than I was expecting.

Game of Part 1: Deep down, I had a feeling that Mass Effect 3 might disappoint. There’s no way it could live up to my lofty expectations. After finally playing ME3, I can safely put it right up there with the second game as one of my favorites of all time. It delivers on (and, in a lot of cases, exceeds) my expectations and managing to deliver a finale that is one of the most fascinating (and controversial) in gaming history. Love it or hate it, it probably left an impact. Some may find the direction the series has taken to be a letdown, but I can’t help but feel immense joy looking back on my time spent with ME3 and the trilogy as a whole.

Biggest Surprise: Rhythm Heaven Fever was much more fun than I thought it would be. I’m not a fan of WarioWare-style minigame collections, but the added length and awesome music delivered. I liked it so much that I even went back and picked up Rhythm Heaven for DS… which was a mistake, in retrospect, but not a “biggest disappointment” mistake.

Biggest Disappointment: My Wii, which came out at launch (give or take a week), has problems reading dual-layer discs. I’ve experienced this off an on, mostly with Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and the occasional Metroid title (Brawl does this too, although is usually better about it), but having to fight my console before I can even load Xenoblade Chronicles this past week has been excruciating. I immediately ordered a Wii Lens Cleaning Kit directly from Nintendo that should hopefully clear up that issue, but as of this writing it hasn’t arrived yet.

Game of Part 1: I’m only about 10 hours into it thanks to the aforementioned disc read errors, but if Xenoblade Chronicles isn’t my Game of the Year come December, then I’ve probably suffered some sort of stroke in the interim. And the “best” part is that since the Wii/DS lineup this year is so threadbare, I’ll probably have more than enough time to devote to investigating XC as much as possible.

Biggest Surprise: I fully expected The Last Story to get localized eventually, once Xenoblade Chronicles‘ localization was announced. But I expected it to be after first month sales of Xenoblade were taken into account, and I definitely didn’t expect it to be getting a new translation from XSEED! I’m not complaining, mind you, I love XSEED, and they do top-notch translations. I hope this leads to a higher profile and more projects for XSEED in the future, maybe even some money to work on the second Trails in the Sky game.

Biggest Disappointment: Retake Mass EffectCan I just say that I think this is the worst and most disappointing thing I’ve ever seen in my time in gaming? The rage and demands to change the ending of Mass Effect, largely driven by people who don’t even understand what they witnessed at the end, at the expense of the creative integrity of the BioWare writing team(along with the desires of the vast majority of silently content fans) was insanely entitled. And their actions went further than any rational movement ever should have gone, going so far as to enlist the FTC in an attempt to strongarm BioWare into movement. Might I also suggest that the very intensity of the feelings of those involved in this just goes to prove that BioWare did what they set out to do?

Game of Part 1: I don’t care about the stupid controversy surrounding Mass Effect 3. I think the entire Mass Effect series is quite possibly my favorite bit of interactive fiction I’ve ever experienced. Mass Effect 3, as an ending to this epic story, had a lot to live up to, and it completely annihilated my expectations. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and I despised. And at the end, I was satisfied. I want more, but only because more of an amazing thing is always something I will crave.

Biggest Surprise: Mass Effect 3Although it personally took me a while to get into the flow of the first Mass Effect game, I’ve loved the series ever since I beat the first two. With each game improving itself, I was excited to see how all the new changes and features they added in with this one. The fact that they could improve upon things even further with the third game and implement a minimal, but integral multiplayer mode into the campaign was a nice touch. I was thoroughly impressed with it from beginning to end (mostly, anyway).

Biggest Disappointment: Mass Effect 3While I do love the game, I have to admit that the ending threw me for a loop. While not trying to spoil anyway, anyone who’s played the game all the way through knows the feeling about how everything played out. I would be much happier with the ending product if they could explain why everything in those ending cinematics. I’m hoping they do this with their Extended DLC for the ending that they have in the works.

Game of Part 1: Mass Effect 3. Yeah, I chose the same game three times. I personally don’t believe a game has to be perfect in order to win Game of the Year. It could have its flaws, but as long as the remainder of the package shines brightly, it could be easily overlooked. While the ending might’ve disappointed several fans, everything leading up to it was an absolutely superb game. With its improved gameplay mechanics to its immersive story, ME3 was impressive to me as a whole, and I loved almost every bit of the adventure.

Biggest Surprise: There’s a lot of talk about Mass Effect 3 already, I know. But going into the game, I was almost certain I’d hate and ignore ME3‘s multiplayer mode. In the end, it was a compelling cooperative experience, and even though I’m totally horrible, it’s still fun to go out and help the team in the little ways I can. I still don’t like how it’s tied to single-player, but I can get over it when I’m playing my part in the strike force.

Biggest Disappointment: While the customization and multiplayer options were marked improvements, the single-player portion of Soul Calibur V was just heartbreaking. It’s a super-short story mode with two unlikeable characters and storyboards that were never finished and just put in as sketches. Other recent installments in the series have had interesting role-playing, strategy or challenge modes that made it fun to learn to get better. Now, just jump online and get pummeled.

Game of Part 1: As much as I enjoyed finishing my journey with Shepard, exploring the Bionis and high-fiving watch monkeys, there was one experience so far this year that truly transcended gaming and was just a purely moving experience: Journey. Sure, it’s short, but there’s something about that brevity that actually makes the game more compelling. When I finished Mass Effect 3, I felt like I needed a break from games for a while. Then I played Journey, and it made me realize exactly how much I love the medium.

What are your thoughts on the year so far? Let us know in the comments!