While undoubtedly not the greatest ever year for new releases, 2012 was nevertheless a significant one for videogaming and also for me personally, with the landscape changing dramatically for both. Not least from my point of view it was our first full year of Cane & Rinse; forty-nine Issues of the podcast covering some sixty-three games over more than one hundred hours.
I acquired (that is bought, rented or was kindly gifted) a whopping two hundred and forty-four games* (53 Xbox 360, 4 DS, 6 3DS, 1 GBA, 24 iOS, 35 PC, 110 PS3, 4 Wii and 3 Wii U) and two consoles (a 3DS, belatedly, and a Wii U). At the time of writing I am yet to own the machine that Sony launched in 2012, the ‘sexy’ but under-performing PlayStation Vita. Including PlayStation Plus and LoveFilm subscriptions I spent £1075* on those games (that’s a mean average of just £4.41 per unit, value for money fans).
I finished seventy-one titles*, which is almost certainly my personal best for a twelve month period, though admittedly I’ve found time to stick with only a few of these beyond your basic ‘credit roll’ completion. Another couple of significant figures for me: I turned forty years of age in June and quit my job of fifteen years to begin a new career in December.
So away from this fastidious fact-fest and egregious alliteration, how about I indulge in some tangible critique of the gaming year that was two-thousand-and-twelve?
One of the key factors which prevents me (and Cane & Rinse) from embracing GotY culture wholeheartedly is that come December, realistically one can’t have adequately sampled every candidate. Even with my seventy plus finished games – which, due the nature of our podcast, includes a lot of ‘legacy’ titles – there are so many significant and/or highly regarded 2012 releases that I have either dabbled in insufficiently to assess (Dragon’s Dogma, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Dust: An Elysian Tale, Hotline Miami, Mark of the Ninja, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, Sleeping Dogs, Dyad, Fez, Sound Shapes, Street Fighter X Tekken, Skullgirls, Tokyo Jungle, ZombiU…), that are sitting on my physical or virtual shelves still waiting to be cracked open (Dishonored, I Am Alive, FTL: Faster Than Light, Borderlands 2, Darksiders II, La-Mulana, Spelunky, Legend of Grimrock, SSX, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!, Spec Ops: The Line…) or that I haven’t even gotten my hands on yet (Halo 4, Far Cry 3, Dead or Alive 5, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Resident Evil 6…). It frustrates me that I feel completely unqualified even to cite my subjective ‘besties’ when I am confident that some of the names listed above would supplant several of the games that I did manage to play properly in any supposedly definitive list I could compile. For example, my handful of hours spent with Dragon’s Dogma were more exciting than the entirety of Lollipop Chainsaw and Max Payne 3 combined, but what if Capcom’s atmospheric action RPG suddenly goes horribly pear-shaped say, fifteen hours in? I don’t believe that to be the case, trusted friends and peers assure me that Dragon’s Dogma consists entirely of the purest gravy, but how can I be sure when I haven’t experienced it for myself? This illustrates why we complete everything before we review it on Cane & Rinse.
Beyond all this useless, self-indulgent hand-wringing, what actually did I bloody well play in 2012 then?
Happily the 2D shoot’ em up lives on and fans of the genre were well served in 2012 by both Cave’s intensely satisfying Akai Katana (Xbox 360), distributed in the EU by the wonderful Rising Star, and Hungarian team Digital Reality’s collaboration with Japan’s Grasshopper Manufacture, the densely plotted and clever homage to Square’s Einhander, Sine Mora (XBLA and latterly PSN). Both are blasters with great playability and depth that I should have, and will yet, put a lot more time into.
Telltale, almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the point and click adventure genre alive, excelled themselves with the episodic, comic book tie-in The Walking Dead (most formats), thanks to some stellar writing and voice performances. As a fan of the source material I was not disappointed.
Another downloadable title that you’ll doubtless see in many end of year round-ups and commendations is Thatgamecompany’s brief but powerful Journey (PSN), I believe justifiably so. While my immediate emotional response to their previous release, Flower, was stronger, Journey towers above much of the year’s output as beautiful, coherent and impeccably designed. A unique piece of work and huge credit must go to Sony Computer Entertainment for its support of such a bold venture. I’d also like to give a nod to Sony PSN stable-mate The Unfinished Swan. A gentler, less stridently allegorical tale, this uses its whimsical scenario to generate a surprising variety of first person logic and spatial puzzles throughout its short span. The third of 2012’s holy trinity of challenging, independent PSN offerings is Minority Media’s deeply personal Papo & Yo. Deservedly, many thousands of words have already been written about this game so I recommend that you seek those out. What the game lacks mechanically in terms of refinement it more than compensates for with beauty and humanity. My pithy, pocket-guide version goes: It’s Pan’s Labyrinth meets The Last Guardian.
As much as I enjoy a good RPG, I seldom finish one – especially not those of the J variety. However when I was asked to review The Last Story for spong.com I took the opportunity to get deep down and dirty with Mistwalker’s compelling Wii yarn, and was rewarded with almost thirty highly absorbing hours (a sensible length for, as wonderful as it looks, Monolith’s Xenoblade Chronicles – also on Wii – remains unplayed in my backlog due to its generous run time) of dynamic, strategic combat and story.
Another year, another FIFA. The latest edition of whatever the current ‘best’ footy game is a guaranteed ‘day one purch’ for this soccer nut, but I was concerned about this year’s model as I felt that EA might struggle to improve upon the majestic FIFA 12. Yet somehow – embarrassing, shameful invisible football bug (now patched) aside – they managed it for the sixth year running with the endlessly playable FIFA 13.
Dampest squib of the year, it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to report, was unquestionably Mass Effect 3. I played Mass Effect & Mass Effect 2 back-to-back in 2010 and, like so many others, was swept away with the scope and beguiled by the quality of BioWare’s space opera. It wasn’t just the ending that blew ME3 for me – that was merely the death throes of a wet fart (I haven’t been back to see if BioWare, ahem, followed through via the revised ending). The writing throughout was markedly inferior to previous instalments; it came as no surprise to learn recently that chief penman Drew Karpyshyn had left the project to write for then then upcoming, big budget MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic. The final act of Commander Shepard’s saga wrangled ham-fistedly with beloved characters and insultingly with key plot points while – although the fundamentals of the basic combat were slightly improved – game mechanics were handled disastrously. The absurd side/sub quest routine of overhearing NPC conversations and stumbling across relevant items within the vastness of the galaxy committed the Star Wars prequel-esque sin of taking an expanding universe and deflating it. At least your bog-standard fetch quest makes some logical sense. Perhaps worse still was the whole ‘Galactic readiness’ debacle. A perfectly fine idea in itself if kept within the confines of the single player game, but to have your hitherto solo successes rely upon the player’s ability to access a banal iOS app or unwanted online multiplayer component was crass.
Talking of banal iOS apps, EightyEight’s plain little Puzzle Quest variant 10000000 proved highly effective at making me miss my bus stop or the end of my break. A simple but crisply executed match-three/RPG mash-up, I’m not sure if it was the gameplay or the brilliant tunes that kept me playing until beyond the 10,000,000 point dungeon escape. Mind you, I put even more hours into the disgracefully more-ish New Star Soccer. There were also a couple of notable iOS releases that I was assured I would dig, but really, really didn’t. Beat Sneak Bandit by Simodo is slickly coded, has good music and marries two genres of which I am a fan: puzzle and rhythm action – but one which I am not: stealth. I found the resulting game wholly unsatisfactory, with success relying heavily upon inaction and instant fail-states the punishment for mistimed activity. Not for me, as they say. In that same category exists Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon. A title recommended to me in the strongest terms by several acquaintances, yet it was an experience I loathed. The fair-minded, articulate critic in me would like to say something smart pertaining to the understanding of what it is that people love about this game – and they really do – but I genuinely don’t get it. It’s horrible. No fun whatsoever. If it makes people happier to believe that my distaste for the game is amplified because Super Hexagon is extremely difficult then that’s fine. However that would be to disregard the fact that many of the games in which I hold the highest regard – and which I am pretty competent at – such as Williams’ Defender and Robotron 2084, are every bit as stark and demanding. I found this game actively unpleasant to play, so as a piece of entertainment it is worthless to me.
Many of my gaming highlights of 2012 came via the medium of the re-release NiGHTS into dreams…, Okami HD, the Streets of Rage trilogy, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection etc. However, I have written a lengthy piece on the subject for spong.com so I won’t go into depth here. Look out for that article and when it goes live I’ll blog it here on Cane & Rinse too. In the meantime, you can listen to our recent Okami Issue of the podcast.
Finally, I hosted the podcasts we made all about 2012’s Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise, Asura’s Wrath and Binary Domain so if you wish you can find out what I made of that lot by listening to the relevant Issues.
Honestly, the finest single game that was new to me in 2012 was almost certainly 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS. A sublime instalment of the Mario franchise, seamlessly marrying the 3D of 64 and Galaxy to the traditional 2D of the classic Super Mario series, and constructed perfectly for the hardware that it is designed to demonstrate and promote. Apparently a rather less difficult outing for Mario, extended play proves 3D Land to be a vast and challenging title, that is if you want to complete it properly. Boasting exquisite visuals, animation, level design and playability, this is Nintendo EAD at its exceptional, feel-good best.
*All figures accurate at the time of writing, 22nd December 2012