So here we are, at the beginning of 2013, looking back on the accomplishments, good and bad, in gaming for the year 2012. The year saw the debut of two new consoles, in Sony’s Playstation Vita and Nintendo’s Wii-U, and both launched amidst a library of ports and a smattering of variable quality original titles. Both consoles saw minor interest on launch, but neither was able to generate the kind of interest that would demand massive markups on Ebay, and within a month of launch (if not sooner) both consoles were readily available in stores, though what this means for their long-term viability has yet to be seen. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 continued to chug along, amidst consistent rumors that this year might generate announcements of all new consoles, though no such announcements have come to light at this point from Sony or Microsoft. The 3DS, on the other hand, picked up the pace dramatically, and its library expanded dramatically, changing from being overrun with ports and uninspired shovelware into a more well-rounded library of very solid games, bringing the console into its own after a bumpy launch last year. On the other side of things, the PSP, DS and Wii consoles continued to be phased out slowly, and while some very quality releases graced these consoles this year, it’s apparent the consoles are reaching the end of their life cycles. Finally, this year marks the official “end” of the Playstation 2, as Sony officially discontinued production of the console in the beginning of 2013, bringing its nearly thirteen year life span to a close.
On the release front, the year saw more than a few remakes and releases of older games, such as Persona 4 Golden, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time, Kirby’s Dream Collection, and a plethora of re-released Sega classics on various downloadable game services. There were also a massive amount of sequels, as one would expect, from franchises such as Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Dance Central, Halo, Borderlands, Call of Duty, Madden, Resident Evil and more. One thing that was really encouraging, however, was the amount of new properties and revived franchises that found their way into the market this year, many of them quite good. Games like Dishonored, Code of Princess, The Walking Dead, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Sleeping Dogs, The Pinball Arcade, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Rhythm Thief, Pokemon Conquest and more found their way into the market and onto our Staff Commentary List for the year, so it should be no surprise that several such games made it onto the awards list this year as well. Any year when so many new IP’s and revivals of long gone franchises come out with strong releases is a good sign, even if it likely won’t last.
Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We all discussed what were the best possible choices, and in the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head… but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2012.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 3 EXCLUSIVE GAME
It’s interesting to note that the PS3 had a lot of under the radar exclusives this year. Record of Agarest War 2 for SRPG fans, One Piece: Pirate Warriors for fans of beat-em-ups and licensed titles, Legasista for roguelike fans, Dungeon Twister for fans of board games and Tokyo Jungle for people who want to see a chicken take down a bear. The biggest and best of the PS3 exclusives this year is an unusual one – not only because it’s a light gun game (a genre that is all but extinct these days), but it’s also a game that many skeptics said could never be properly done on a console. However, a decade after its amazing arcade incarnations, The House of the Dead 4 was finally released to consoles by Sega. The end result, while not arcade perfect, was incredible enough to sate devoted fans who tracked and followed arcade sightings of the two cabinet versions of this game like the McRib cult. For less than ten dollars you got not only The House of the Dead 4 in all its glory, but The House of the Dead 4 SP, which is an incredible deal in and of itself, even if you discount the fact HotD4 is often considered to be the best light gun game ever made. With seven different endings between the two games, multiple difficulty settings and an amazing experience to be had, PS3 owners should not only be down on their knees thanking Sega for porting the game so well, but for making it a fraction of the cost everyone expected it to be released at. Sure you don’t get the full 360 degree immersion, hundred inch screens, five speaker sound system, pneumatic blasts that hit you in the fact when your character takes damage and roller coaster ride effect of SP, but the game’s so well done that only those that have played the arcade version will know what they’re missing. Even then, those that have played it in the arcade will tell you they’re just thankful they can play this in their own home finally. For all the quality releases that the PS3 had all to themselves, The House of the Dead 4 is the one we’re still the happiest with, and it’s not hard to see why.
– Alexander Lucard
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME
While Sony has all but stopped supporting the PSP and focused more on the Vita, companies like Atlus, XSEED, and Aksys have continued to provide releases that help keep its library going just a little longer. Besides this year’s PSP GOTY, SRPG fans got Gungnir. Wizardry style dungeon crawler fans got Unchained Blades and Elminage Original. We even got a visual novel in Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. In addition, horror and visual novel fans can look forward to Corpse Party: Book of Shadows in early 2013. While Growlanser: The Wayfarer of Time was originally released on the PS2, it wasn’t until this year that any iteration of it was released outside of Japan. This is the third stateside release the Growlanser series has gotten, with the second and third games being released together as Growlanser Generations and the fifth game being released as Growlanser: Heritage of War. While Wayfarer of Time is the fourth game in the series, its story is not connected to that of the other games, which makes it a good starting point for newcomers to the series. The combination of real time and turn based aspects makes battles engaging to play through. There are multiple story branches and endings to go through, as well as the ability to go on furloughs to develop relationships (romantic or otherwise) with party members. The PSP version has exclusive characters, including three party members and a familiar, as well. Given the amount of content, it’s a worthy addition to the PSP’s library and recipient of this year’s PSP GOTY.
– Aileen Coe
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION VITA EXCLUSIVE GAME
I’d honestly never touched the Assassin’s Creed franchise before this game. In a year when the Vita system was hurting for a game to define the console, Liberation almost came through for them. Ubisoft managed to follow up Uncharted: Golden Abyss with their own foray onto the console, following the idea that a full blown console experience could still be viable on the powerful handheld, and for the most part it is.
While Liberation doesn’t have all the features of the Assassin’s Creed III main title, it goes in its own direction, building off the basics from the first two games and follow-ups and dropping in its own lead, a female of African and French descent, also a first for the series, with some interesting abilities and limitations tied to the different personas she can assume. While it probably didn’t do a great job introducing the Assassin’s Creed world to new players, the overall story finally started to make sense towards the end, but what set this apart was the gameplay, which managed to emulate the urban explorer assassin quite well. There were a few hiccups, but the game is visually impressive on top of being quick, and the missions, although involved, took the idea that someone might be playing on the go into account as well.
– Ashe Collins
BEST XBOX 360 EXCLUSIVE GAME
I wrote a glowing review of Halo 4, so I obviously agree with this choice. Halo 4 is a stunning achievement at deconstructing the character of Master Chief while setting up background plot for future Halo games. They also managed to add a progression system to the multiplayer without taking away from what makes Halo feel like Halo, and on top of that they experimented with episodic content. 343i deserves a lot of credit for taking risks while keeping the core game intact. There are some minor issues that I hope they look at for future games (get your file browser working for the love of God), but Halo 4 is a great game that holds a lot of promise for the future of that series.
– Matt Yaeger
BEST PC EXCLUSIVE GAME
It’s honestly no surprise that Guild Wars 2 is receiving PC game of the year honors. Truth is, the PC had a lot of contenders from the indie crowd, plus several Triple A titles, but Guild Wars 2 outshines all of them in several ways. Followed by five years of hype and build-up, Guild Wars 2 not only lived up to the hype, but surpassed it. Clearly the folks at NCSoft and Arenanet were hitting on all cylinders, even when faced with another outstanding MMORPG, Tera, which was released five months ahead of Guild Wars 2.
Everything in Guild Wars 2 screams excellence, from the eye popping gorgeous graphics, the huge immersive world, or the incredibly in-depth character customization. Alongside those great qualities, you have a wonderful selection of races to play as, multiple addicting PvP modes, and an amazingly huge amount of lore. One of my favorite features about the game is the satisfaction you get from exploring the game and playing at your own pace. This is something that some other PC games in the genre unfortunately don’t do for you, and it allowed Guild Wars 2 to sit atop the pile of other great games. Definitely not a title you should miss out on.
– Robert Hubbs
BEST NINTENDO WII EXCLUSIVE GAME
The original Wii is another console that didn’t have much to compete with in terms of exclusive titles. Even so, Xenoblade Chronicles would’ve been a tough candidate to topple any year that it released. I dare say it would’ve given Skyward Sword a run for its money. It was a JRPG released in an era where most worthwhile JRPG’s are found on handheld systems rather than consoles. Not only was it a JRPG, but it was a good one in all aspects. The story was well written and managed to avoid many of the cliches that have plagued the genre in recent years. It had likable characters that would come and go as the story dictated, and for good reasons. The combat was an offshoot of more recent games like the Dragon Age titles, where things happened in real time and the player takes direct control of one character while giving general commands to the rest. On top of all this, it still managed to innovate using a mechanic that allowed Shulk to foresee a grim outcome for him and his comrades and take the opportunity to prevent it. Any game that makes you forget that you’ve invested dozens of hours into it deserves praise, and for that, Xenoblade Chronicles is the Wii’s Game of the Year.
– Sean Madson
BEST NINTENDO WII U EXCLUSIVE GAME
While it didn’t have much to compete with in terms of Wii U exclusive titles, New Super Mario Bros. U is nonetheless a stellar entry in the long running platformer franchise. Nintendo kept the general aesthetic of its predecessors and left the core mechanics mostly unchanged, while introducing just enough new features to justify the first word in the title. NSMBU also has more content than previous 2D entries, and not just within the main story mode. Further, the game is just as enjoyable played solo as it is while engaged in a group, and the fact that a fifth person can offer assistance using the Wii U Gamepad in the game’s new Boost Mode is icing on the cake. It’s the perfect launch game, and one that Nintendo needed to get people to take notice of the Wii U. Now if we can just get more games on the system to follow suit.
– Sean Madson
BEST NINTENDO DS EXCLUSIVE GAME
The DS has had a good run, and while releases for it are tapering off due to the arrival of the 3DS, it still got a few exclusives. Devil Survivor 2 provided more of what its predecessor did while adding new features. There was also the Kickstarter funded Euro-style board game in Diamond Trust of London. The DS even got two Pokemon games – a main series release in Pokemon Black and White 2 and a spin-off in Pokemon Conquest. However, it’s the latter that earned this year’s DS GOTY award. It pushed the DS’s graphical capabilities and the soundtrack was one that would stick in your head after you stopped playing. Most of all, it took what seemed like two franchises that were completely incompatible and made the crossover work so well it almost seemed natural. Its battle system and kingdom management mechanics combine the strengths of both franchises for deep gameplay that still manages to be accessible to newer players. Even the plot combines aspects of the two franchises into something that’s charming and provides a good impetus to keep playing. There’s a lot more content to play through after you get through the main campaign, which can be unlocked though passwords and, up until December 31, Wi-Fi. A game of this nature was a risk, but it paid off, and it even outshines the core RPG release by far.
– Aileen Coe
BEST NINTENDO 3DS EXCLUSIVE GAME
The Nintendo 3DS has some stiff competition going for it, but in the end, it was an eight dollar eShop title that snatched the award. Crimson Shroud, a product of Level-5 and Yasumi Matsuno (best known for his work on Ogre Battle and Vagrant Story), took a lot of risks, both with its gameplay and presentation. The game is quite blatantly a nod to D&D and tabletop games, and is not afraid to show it, even going so far as to represent its characters as still miniatures. Things such as success rates on skills are decided by dice rolls that are manipulated by the 3DS’ bottom touchscreen, and story progression is handled by large amounts of text, presented in such a way that it seems as if a Dungeon Master is reading it to you. Not only that, but the story that is compacted into the short adventure is more interesting than games whose narratives can last well over sixty hours. Crimson Shroud is a unique game, and one that certainly deserves a followup, as well as a place within your 3DS library.
BEST MULTI-CONSOLE GAME
You can read a lot of praise for XCOM in our game of the year lists, on our Podcasts or in Mark’s review of the game. Even then, it still doesn’t feel like enough; XCOM is one of those games that feels like a throwback to classic games while managing to do nearly everything right to modernize the genre. The user interface is fantastic, it controls well no matter if you play it with a keyboard and mouse or a controller, and the experience is fantastic no matter what you are playing it on. XCOM is an amazing game that you should play, no matter what platform you play it on.
– Matt Yaeger
BEST SPORTS GAME
FIFA ’13 received strong reviews here, both on the 360 and Wii U. The game has been heralded as being a definite improvement over last year’s FIFA ’12, with more modes, teams, and stadiums. The game touts a strong soundtrack and generally better AI. While the Wii U version isn’t the best rendition of the game, and the Vita version has better touch screen controls, it seems that across platforms, FIFA ’13 remains a strong title, with hours of fun waiting for eager sports fans. Whether you’re more interested in playing, trading, or managing, and whether you enjoy single-player or online multiplayer experiences better, this title is not one to miss.
Ole, ole ole ole!
– Crystal Steltenpohl
BEST FIGHTING GAME
2012 was certainly a solid year for fighting game fans, as a large amount of the games found their way to various consoles, from Vita releases of various excellent console fighters like Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat to all new challengers like Persona 4 Arena and beyond. While we missed covering some of the more high profile releases in the genre this year, such as the aforementioned Persona 4 Arena and Dead or Alive 5, games like Soul Calibur V, Street Fighter X Tekken and Virtua Fighter V Final Showdown got plenty of attention from the staff. In the end, though, the game that came across as the most impressive overall was the most surprising: Tekken Tag Tournament 2, a game even our esteemed EIC Alex Lucard himself enjoyed, and he’s never been much of a franchise fan. Part of that comes down to the solid tag team fighting mechanics, that have been notably expanded from the original release, allowing solo and team play to be equally viable and expanding the functionality of teams in general. Part of that comes down to the large character roster, the well balanced mechanics, and the variety of options the game offers.
For the most part, though, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is, above and beyond anything else, fun. It takes the existing mechanics that work so well in Tekken 6 and expands them in a way that’s accessible to fans and newcomers alike, and while it’s not a reinvention of the wheel, it works in a way that few other games that came out this year can claim to. The game isn’t just fun, though, it’s also interesting aesthetically, as it makes great use of its engine to present a visually and aurally pleasing experience, and the combat looks and feels right at basically all times. Further, the roster is basically amazing, as it incorporates nearly every possible character from the series into one game, and old favorites like Kunimitsu, Forest Law, Jun Kazama and freaking Tiger make a return in addition to franchise mainstays. Not only that, the game also offers a whole mess of DLC, including ending movies and soundtracks from prior games, for fans who would want this, as well as multiple releases of new characters, which were released free of charge! The bottom line is, not only is Tekken Tag Tournament 2 one of the best entries in the series, it’s one of the best fighting games period, pound for pound, as it’s stuffed full of awesome content wrapped up in a functional and entertaining shell, and hopefully Namco Bandai will continue on this path with their fighting games for a long time coming.
– Mark B.
BEST ACTION ROLE-PLAYING GAME
This is a game that came out of nowhere for many of us. Legend of Grimrock is a joyous tribute to classic dungeon days of yore, reminding us of the times when we would draw maps of the dungeons we explored, in games like Eye of The Beholder, Dungeon Master, and Wizardry. Despite how strongly Legend of Grimrock plays to our nostalgic senses, its highly addicting gameplay and challenging puzzles proved to be real reasons why we kept playing. There are plenty of trials and puzzles throughout the game that involve lots of critical thinking and fast reflexes. As you run through each level, you also come across a wide variety of monsters that force you to use the surrounding world to your advantage in order to survive.
The world of Grimrock is also what made it a great game. The hidden journals of would be adventurers and the mystery person who communicates through your dreams provide plenty of atmosphere for the seemingly never ending dungeon that you must traverse through. The fun doesn’t stop even after you solve all of the game’s secrets. Thanks to a dedicated community, you have mods for the game as well, adding to the life of an already amazing game.
– Robert Hubbs
BEST TURN BASED ROLE-PLAYING GAME
Xenoblade Chronicles manages to take “active” turn-based battle idea and turn the entire concept on its head, leading to combat that is far more involved than the passive approach used in previous RPG titles. Your characters will auto-attack when it is their turn, though an arsenal of special moves is at your disposal that can be employed at any time that may lead to additional damage or special effects, depending on your positioning when the move goes off. Further, moves of a certain type can be strung together in a combo with your teammates, resulting in an offensive that can effectively lock down your opponent from putting up any resistance. Killing blows that come from the opposition are telegraphed by way of Shulk’s premonitions and can be prevented, should the right actions be taken at the right time. It’s fast, fun, and frantic, while managing to remain that way throughout the duration of the game. Most titles strive for the kind of longevity that the combat provides in Xenoblade Chronicles, but few ever attain it.
– Sean Madson
BEST STRATEGY ROLE-PLAYING GAME
XCOM came back in a big way this year. Not only did it bring back a franchise that many had given up for dead, but it brought it back to mainstream relevance. On top of that, it modernized the experience, got it to work on consoles, and created one of the best overall games to come out in years.
The fact that Enemy Unknown‘s cover shows four faceless soldiers is telling. None of your troops have personalities, back stories, hopes, dreams, or anything you might expect to find in such a game. Instead, all they have are names, countries of origin, and a class. Despite all of this, you come to care deeply for your troops. You come to rely on the Heavy for his or her fantastic support abilities. You come to rely on the Assault troops to break the enemy line and get into flanking position. This makes their likely deaths all the more tragic. I found myself apologizing to my fallen squaddies and vowing to never again make the mistake that got them killed. I was invested.
For SRPG lovers, this game is the total package. The tactical combat is top notch, there’s variety, room for expansion, challenge, replayability, and just about everything else you could want. If you call yourself a fan of the genre in any capacity, then you should probably be playing this game right this very minute. It’s just that good.
– Aaron Sirois
BEST FIRST PERSON GAME
Dishonored delivered in a way very few new IPs do nowadays. It took a mix of familiar mechanics and managed to create a unique experience out of them. Taking notes from games like Thief, Bioshock, and others, Dishonored created a first person game that gave you plenty of room for creativity in how you completed its missions. Were you going to murder everything in sight, go completely non-lethal, or kill only when you had to? Which powers do you upgrade? How much time do you devote to side missions? Do you kill your targets, or sell them into slavery?
Not only did these kinds of questions give the player meaningful decisions to make during regular gameplay, they also gave the game a heck of a lot of replay value. I played through the game twice before I had to turn it in, and I can easily see myself getting a few more run throughs in before I’m completely satisfied.
This was a great year for first person game lovers, and Dishonored was the cherry on top.
– Aaron Sirois
BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER
It was an odd year for traditional shooters. The genre seems to ebb and flow, and this was unfortunately a down year in terms of quantity. Both Sturmwind and Redux failed to release, disappointing many. At least the titles that were released were pretty good. The Neo*Geo and Dreamcast received Gunlord, a game well worth experiencing despite its massive price tag. The 3DS had a rail shooter in Kid Icarus: Uprising. Bullet Hell fans got to experience Sine Mora and Akai Katana. The PSP Mini Velocity was shockingly good. So on and so forth. However the best of the best in 2012 was a game that many thought would never see the light of day outside of the few arcades that managed to secure a copy and keep it running in pristine condition. As “unportable” as the game appeared to be, Sega managed to bring The House of the Dead 4 and The House of the Dead 4 SP to your living room, even if only PS3 owners got to experience the greatness. This one-two shot of two of the greatest light gun games ever made not only gave Sony an exclusive to crow about, but it also gave PS3 owners an excuse to dust off their Move controllers and recapture some of the magic of what it felt like to play this game in the arcade. The fast, frantic action is enough to win over even the most ardent skeptic of the genre. While it’s impossible for the PS3 to provide an arcade perfect experience of these two titles, the fact you get both for under ten dollars, and that the port is so incredibly done, makes it all but impossible for us to give this award to any other game.
– Alexander Lucard
BEST ACTION GAME
As someone who loves Hong Kong movies and martial arts films, Sleeping Dogs was easily one of my favorite games of 2012. Sleeping Dogs is an interactive action movie, one where you get to jump from one car to another, or break the bones of every enemy in the area, or do a slow motion slide across a table while shooting up a room. Many games have tried to capture the feel of an action movie, but Sleeping Dogs is one of the first to really get that right.
– Matt Yaeger
BEST ADVENTURE GAME
The Walking Dead, while not for everyone, was a big sucker punch from Telltale Games, hitting gamers from all walks of life right in the gut and not letting up, even at its conclusion. With a few duds in their back catalog, Telltale needed something strong, and The Walking Dead managed to deliver, not only for them, but for gamers as well. While it is episodic, they took a new approach with this, letting conversations change the course of events on who sided with you and who didn’t, as well as who might come to your rescue if you were trapped by zombies or not. It’s a similar approach used in some western role-playing games, only there were very obvious consequences to some choices, and some that were subtle and took an episode or two to play out.
The first season, as there is a second one confirmed, deals with Lee, a convicted murderer who finds himself free during the zombie apocalypse, without a direction to go in until a little girl named Clementine ends up in his care. This first season is very much about his redemption and teaching Clementine how to survive in this new zombie infested world, as much as it is with trying to survive with a group of people with some questionable morals and who make some pretty dumb or selfish choices. Ultimately, it isn’t even the zombies that are the real threat, but humanity and human nature, and the game manages to drive that message home from the comics quite well. Licensed games have a history of not being all that great, and even Telltale has failed to live up in a few cases, but they managed to do something amazing with this game that the television show has failed to really grab hold of.
– Ashe Collins
So here we are, handing Persona 4 its first award ever from our site, due largely to timing issues. When the game came out, it dropped too late to be eligible for the 2008 award voting process and too early to be eligible for the 2009 voting process, and as such, missed out on a run at the prize at that point. Four years later, while the game is eligible for a lot less (being a re-release of a four year old game and all), it at least managed to come out at a time period that offered us the chance to put it into the running, and so it was no surprise that it was the best re-release of the year for 2012. I mean, NiGHTS was great, certainly, and the Kirby collection was one of the sporadic bright spots on the Wii this year, without a doubt, but there wasn’t really much of a competition here. Atlus looked at the task before them, turning a handheld re-release of a four year old Playstation 2 game into the superior release in the series after the spotty attempts that were Persona 3 Portable and Persona and said â€œChallenge Accepted,â€ and they pulled it the hell off.
Disregarding any opinions of the game itself, to the extent that it’s possible to objectively qualify concepts like â€œbetterâ€ and â€œworseâ€, Persona 4 Golden is objectively THE ABSOLUTE BEST re-release published this year, and it isn’t even close. Atlus took a one hundred hour plus game, cleaned up the visuals, and stuffed it full of even more content that feels in no way tacked on, rushed, or inferior to the original content the game has to offer. New special events, new Social Links, new dungeons, new cutscenes, new ways to interact with your friends, rebalanced Persona builds, new difficulty levels, the ability to review any cutscenes you’ve seen, additional videos to enjoy, a silly quiz show to have fun with and two more months of plot have been added, among other things, to an already excellent game here. Atlus should be commended for making Persona 4 Golden everything that Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable should have been, but were not, and it’s easily the best version of this game, arguably the best modern Persona title of the lot, and absolutely the best re-release this year.
– Mark B.
Dokuro is a new entry into the genre of platformers from Game Arts that made its debut on the Playstation Vita. One of the system’s exclusive titles, it aims to be appealing to a lot of people, and in that regard, it succeeds quite well. The platforming aspects are solid, with each level containing a unique challenge that often deals with one of your new abilities, or chaining a few together to get the desired result.
Not only are the puzzles great, but it boasts a unique art design, lending itself to the chalk motif as well as containing a cute story about a guy saving a princess, only this time he’s undead and she has no idea he exists. It all culminates in a fantastic game that lends itself well to the portable and platformer market.
– Ashe Collins
BEST HORROR GAME
The horror genre saw a decent turnout this year, insofar as sheer content was concerned, as entries in the Resident Evil, Fatal Frame and Silent Hill franchises all saw US releases, in addition to Telltale’s Walking Dead adventure serial and Sega’s Yakuza of the End and House of the Dead 4, among many others. Quality-wise, this wasn’t quite as uniform a turnout, but a few games managed to make some strong headway. The aforementioned Walking Dead series from Telltale offered fans the chance to experience the drama and horror of the series in an interactive fashion, and attracted a lot of positive press for its design and faithfulness to the source material. Sega’s House of the Dead 4 also made a strong showing, as a strong arcade port of a game many thought would never see an arcade port, and it made good use of Sony’s Move peripheral as well. Despite the more polarizing releases in the franchise, however, Capcom managed to push out one really solid title in the Resident Evil series that captured what long-time fans loved about it while also using the capabilities of the 3DS to their best extent, in Resident Evil: Revelations.
The Resident Evil franchise spent much of this year cementing its transition from â€œhorror franchise with an action focusâ€ to â€œaction franchise with zombies and stuffâ€ via Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and Resident Evil 6, which ended up being somewhat divisive amongst fans and critics. Resident Evil: Revelations, however, managed to stick pretty faithfully to the elements that made prior games fan favorites, while streamlining the mechanics for a handheld system and making use of the abilities in the 3DS to create arguably the best Resident Evil game this year. The game makes good use of the episodic presentation attempted by Alone in the Dark to keep things tense, maintains a strong horror feel through its newer monsters and the return of some old favorites, and makes good use of its 3D effects to drive the experience home. While the rest of the franchises releases focused more on combat and fast-paced sequences, Resident Evil: Revelations stuck to the horror/action hybrid elements that made the prior games a success, and that’s what brought home the award for it this year.
– Mark B.
BEST ALL-AGES GAME
It’s worth noting that in the nine years we’ve been giving out this award, The Pinball Arcade is the first title to get it that isn’t exclusive to a Nintendo console or handheld, and only the second title to not be published by Nintendo directly.
Pinball is one of those games that can be played and enjoyed by anyone. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is, how old you are, how tall you are, your experience with a particular table or if you’ve ever even touched a video game before. You can still have a great amount of fun with a pinball table (and usually do), even if you absolutely suck at it. In the beginning, you’re just trying to get your hand-to-eye coordination to where you can keep the ball in play. Then, as you get better, you try for a higher score. Finally, as you become well experienced with the table, you know how to find all the hidden bells and whistles in the game, the exact spot where you want the ball to be on the flipper to get it down a specific ramp or to hit a trigger. You manage three (or more balls depending on the game) at once, and can spend thirty minutes or more with a single ball. It’s a wonderful form of entertainment, and even if the table has a dark or violent theme, parents don’t have to worry about their kids seeing gratuitous violence, gory scenes or anything risqué with a pinball table. It’s good clean fun whether you’re three or a hundred and three.
The Pinball Arcade gives you four tables to start, but you can download up to a total of twenty tables, with more on the way. Each one offers its own challenges and tribulations. With so many tables, a gamer can spend months with just this one title and still have obstacles to overcome. Add in the ability to play against your friends or family, and you have a game that is a sure fire win in any household. I know I personally have spent more time with The Pinball Arcade than any other game in 2012, and that includes a few RPGs. FarSight has really outdone itself here, and I know that I can enjoy any one of their digital recreations of some of the best pinball tables ever made, whether I’m on the beach in Barbados or at home in front of my giant TV. It’s also a lot cheaper and takes up far less room than if I own the actual physical versions of these tables too!
– Alexander Lucard
BEST DRIVING/RACING GAME
The king of car combat returned in a big way this year. Every bit of Twisted Metal was modernized, from the online play to the controls. The end result was a tighter, yet more chaotic entry in one of Sony’s oldest franchises.
Let’s take stock here. No longer was a specific driver tied to a specific car. Sweet Tooth could ride a motorcycle. Dollface could steal the clown’s trademark ice cream truck. Talon became the first controllable flying vehicle in the franchise’s history. Each car had two specials instead of one. The campaign told the story of three lunatics in a diverse and enjoyable romp with some of the most memorable boss fights of the year. Nuke mode was quite possibly the most unique online mode I’ve ever seen. It just keeps going.
As someone who’s played every single last entry in Twisted Metal, I’m pleased to say that this is perhaps the best game in the series. Here’s hoping that we’ll see more entries, as the future is quite exciting indeed.
– Aaron Sirois
BEST RHYTHM GAME
When you think of Final Fantasy invading the rhythm genre, it seems like the natural connection to make. After all, the music in the franchise is popular enough on its own merits that there is an entire concert tour based around it. Taking a few notes (get it?) from Elite Beat Agents, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy takes the hectic tap-fest a step further by throwing RPG elements into the mix, such as equippable items, character enhancement, and combat. A total of over seventy songs can be unlocked and played, with more available as DLC. Characters from the first thirteen titles in the franchise are represented, allowing the player to build a four party team among them and customize them to their liking. With multiple modes, difficulties, and even an option for local multiplayer, there’s little reason to not be playing this well into 2013.
– Sean Madson
BEST DIGITAL/DOWNLOADABLE GAME
FarSight Studios has done pinball games for multiple systems before: The PS2, the PS3, the PSP, the 360, the Xbox, the Gamecube, the Wii and the 3DS. However they had never attempted something the scope or caliber of The Pinball Arcade before. This collection of twenty titles (with more coming in 2013 and beyond!) comprise some of the greatest pinball tables ever to exist. These faithful digital recreations of authentic pinball tables ensure that these timeless classics can be enjoyed by the current generation of gamers that missed out on both the golden ages of arcades and pinball alike. As well, owning a pinball table is extremely expensive and it takes a lot of time and energy to upkeep. With The Pinball Arcade, you get each table for between two-fifty and five bucks. That’s an incredible deal, even before you factor in that you don’t have to fix these. Currently available for iOS, Android devices, the PS3, the PS Vita, the Xbox 360 (and soon the Wii U), The Pinball Arcade is accessible to nearly everyone, and allows gamers of different skill levels, age groups and backgrounds to engage in one of the best forms of gaming ever invented: a solid game of pinball.
Look at these tables: Big Shot, Black Hole, Black Knight, Cirqus Voltaire, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Elvira and the Party Monsters, FunHouse, Gorgar, Harley Davidson 3rd Edition, Medieval Madness, Monster Bash, No Good Gofers, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, Scared Stiff, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Taxi, The Machine: Bride of Pin-Bot, Theatre of Magic and The Twilight Zone. How could you not fall in love with this collection instantly? There’s something for everyone here. With FarSight planning to put out quite a few more tables (including hopefully Addams Family Pinball, a member of our own Diehard GameFAN Video Game Hall of Fame) for The Pinball Arcade, don’t be surprised to see us talking about this game for years to come.
– Alexander Lucard
BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME
Multiplayer has become a big part of gaming at this point; games that have some kind of online multiplayer component tend to sell better than games that don’t, so more and more games come with multiplayer stuck onto the solo experience (or vice versa) even when the developers don’t care for the idea. People want to be able to play games with their friends, online or offline, and any game that’s going to allow them to do that is going to be more interesting to a lot of people, especially if it handles the multiplayer well. A lot of games came out this year that handled multiplayer extremely well, offering lots of modes and lots of ways to have fun. Borderlands 2 got due consideration to win here for being fun in groups when players meshed their capabilities together, and Code of Princess also saw some attention for its joyful attachment to what was good about multiplayer: getting people together to beat on dudes. In the end, though, Dance Central 3 proved to be the most viable candidate here, because it goes out of its way to make itself into an accessible and fun party game, and given how well Harmonix handles that concept, this isn’t surprising.
Dance Central 3 offers a lot of amusing competitive options to play around with that makes it a great multiplayer game, between the novelty minigames that pop up now and again, the ability to turn on a drop-in drop-out party mode that even lets someone DJ with a Smartglass device, and the simplicity to allow anyone to understand how the game works in seconds. What makes it the best, though, is that the game understands that there are likely going to be players who show up, look at the game and say, â€œOh no, I can’t dance,â€ and it says, â€œThat’s okay, I won’t laugh at you, just pretend.â€ You can just play the game and even if you’re terrible it’ll still work with you and let you keep playing, and if you’re kind of able to get your limbs to do what the game thinks you’re doing you can jump into a lower difficulty and do okay at it. The point here is Dance Central 3 is accessible to even the worst dancers, and it invites players to try. Casual gaming kind of seems like the devil to some people, and the â€œcomplexity is everythingâ€ crowd might not like simple games, but any game that can let almost anyone jump in and have fun is a game that’s worth playing, and Dance Central 3 does that in spades.
– Mark B.
BEST PUZZLE GAME
Puzzle games have largely moved to release platforms that offer a lower price point in recent years; handheld consoles and online distribution make it easier to sell a game, both because the expectations and the costs are lower. No one’s expecting Gears of War level presentation from Tetris, so pushing it to a platform where the expectations are different immediately allows your game more of an option to be evaluated differently. Our nominees for this award this year largely put the truth to that concept, as honestly, the only on-disc console releases as far as puzzle games are concerned amount to a port of Angry Birds, Zuma’s Revenge and Order Up, so if you wanted real puzzle game variety, you needed to look elsewhere. Astral Towers is a PC release from Big Fish Games that, for only ten dollars, offers some solid puzzling gameplay for a low price. Puddle is a novelty release on the Xbox Live Arcade service that allows the player to guide, well, puddles through environments by tilting the course to get them to their objectives. Both were among the better puzzle games released this year, both are inexpensive, and both are quite deserving of the award in their own ways.
Lumines: Electric Symphony managed to snag the award, however, due to it not only being one of the very best puzzle games released this year, but also due to it being one of the very best launch titles to release with the Playstation Vita that wasn’t a console port. It’s not hard to understand why; the game is simple to play, offers a strong variety of modes an options, and is beautiful artistically and quite diverse aurally. That the game also incorporates the gimmicks of the console without making them cumbersome or frustrating is to be commended given how hard that seems to have been for some developers, as well. The â€œWorld Blockâ€ challenge is also a cute concept, rewarding you for contributing to eliminating a gigantic block that everyone across the world is picking at through their play sessions (assuming you eliminate it, of course). Lumines: Electric Symphony would be an easy contender for any of these reasons, but it’s all of them together that elevates it to the winner’s circle.
– Mark B.
There were a lot of DLC add-ons this year for various games and platforms, which were varying degrees of â€œgood,â€ to pick from here, but at the end of the day, when your starting point is â€œnot buggyâ€ and half the DLC reviewed during the year is eliminated, that tends to clear the field a bit. While Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss and XCOM: Slingshot were both fine DLC packages that were functional at launch, they were DLC packages that appealed to a specific sort of fan of the core products, making them harder to universally recommend. Plants Vs. Zombies Pinball for Zen Pinball 2 does not suffer this problem, however; even if you’ve never played or enjoyed Plants Vs. Zombies at all, the table is a joy to play, so much so that it motivated me to pick up the main game on PC and 360 and clear both out entirely, just to do it. The table makes excellent use of the Zen Pinball systems and design elements we’ve come to expect while also integrating the license into the table in a way that can only be described as joyful. The bright, colorful table is quite functional and shows off the rebalanced physics Zen Studios was touting at the time well, and it’s a fantastic introduction to the franchise for newcomers as well as a jam-packed experience for fans of the game proper. Plus it’s a pinball table where you fire balls at advancing zombies and robot monstrosities to earn points, and that’s never not fun. When a developer can take a franchise that’s only going to appeal to a specific fanbase and release a product associated that’s meant for anyone, that’s pretty respectable, which is why Plants Vs. Zombies Pinball picks up the award this year, and does so handily.
– Mark B.
WORST GAME OF THE YEAR
It might seem a tad unfair to pick on Shining Plume as the worst game of the year. After all, this isn’t some big budget title that fell flat on its face, or even the typical licensed crap that gets released year after year. No, Shining Plume is an independent release made by a group of guys using RPG maker. Why on earth would we pick on a couple of guys who don’t have the experience and/or budget to make a better game?
The answer is simple: they charged money for it. As far as I’m concerned, once you start asking people to pay money for your game, no matter how humble it is, you open yourself up to even the harshest criticism.
Shining Plume was a textbook example of how NOT to make an RPG. The story was full of obnoxious characters, the level design was far too restrictive, there was little to no character customization, it was an unbalanced mess, etc. There is honestly not a single good thing I can think of to say about it. It was by far the worst game I played this year.
– Aaron Sirois
CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
There were a lot of interesting new and returning characters this year, surprisingly enough; while more common mainstay nominees saw no significant traction this year, quite a few characters saw a massive expansion of their exposure, and some interesting and memorable characters made their debuts. Anyone who’s played Borderlands 2 instantly remembers Handsome Jack, and for good reason; between his odd design that involves wearing another person’s face, more or less, and his incredibly rude and sarcastic dialogue, he’s one of the most memorable characters to come along in years (if not always for the best reasons). The Walking Dead would not be the game it is if not for some solid characters, and the most memorable of the lot is Lee Everett, the main character, whose choices and actions shape the narrative, as hope, regret, joy and sadness are immediately understandable regardless of what actions the player takes. This year, however, belonged to Yu Narukami, as he was all over the place, between the Vita release of Persona 4 Golden, the console release of Persona 4 Arena, and the US release of the Persona 4 animation, and he shines in each… for different reasons.
In Persona 4 Golden, Yu is essentially an agent of the player, allowing the player to make the choices they find most interesting, which allows the player not only the option to relate more readily to the various people Yu encounters, but to Yu himself, allowing the player to build Yu into the person they want him to be. He can befriend and help a good number of people during his year in Inaba, save the world from murderous fog with the help of his closest friends, and go through the silliness that being a teenager entails, but in a way that doesn’t make the player want to strangle him. Persona 4 Arena gives him his own voice that doesn’t invalidate the choices of the player, allowing him to be a solid extension of his player dictated persona, while also developing him as a character, which is no mean feat. While the Persona 4 anime does dictate a set path for the character, removing the player dictated attachment, it does so by having Yu provide basically the most blunt and absurd answers to questions possible, making him endearing by way of making him both the best and the worst person on the show, and it’s hilarious. When three different versions of the same character, one of whom is dictated entirely by the player, can feel so endearing for entirely different reasons, that’s generally a good thing, and that’s why Yu Narukami manages to take home the Best Character award for 2012.
– Mark B
Pokemon Conquest takes place in the same continuity as the main games, and this is alluded to at one point with the observation that, while Pokemon are not kept in Pokeballs in Ransei, they are in other faraway regions. The plot has the same basic feel as the core Pokemon games, though the historical slant (with plenty of liberties taken, of course) keeps it from feeling like a rehash with different names. The idea of conquering the land with Pokemon seems like a motive that would be more befitting of an overzealous antagonist, but the motive for doing so as the protagonist comes off as believable. The senior warlords even get some development through their own episodes after finishing the main quest. The premise looks simple, but it blends the tone of both franchises in such a way that both are distinctive there, yet also mesh well together.
– Aileen Coe
Every year it seems like we’re approaching the wall of what our current technology can manage, and every year it seems like developers are bound and determined to prove that assessment wrong by sheer force of will if nothing else. This year was no exception, both technically and artistically, as a lot of interesting looking games popped out this year, from the aesthetically interesting Journey and Dust to the technically proficient Far Cry 3 and Halo 4 and beyond. Far Cry 3 and Halo 4 both made really strong cases for this award, in fact, due in large part to their technical prowess in showing what our consoles and PC’s can still do, but powerful graphics are only one part of that equation. Tekken Tag Tournament 2, on the other hand, showcased strong visuals from a technical standpoint, pushing out strong frame rates in battle and handling a lot of action at one time, but it’s the artistry of the experience that pushes it forward as well as it does. There’s a lot of detail put into the experience and the game is technically interesting, to be sure, but the game is simply interesting when it’s in motion. The artistic style of the game is well executed and even characters with similar combat styles feel unique in action due to simple details that make each character different, and the various animated cutscenes that populate the game are amongst the best Namco Bandai has produced. There were plenty of games that were technically powerful or artistically interesting, but Tekken Tag Tournament 2 brought both elements together in a pleasing way that makes the game fun to play and watch, which is what put it over the top here.
– Mark B.
Sound design is an important part of any project, and everything needs to come together very well to make the whole experience work. A fantastic soundtrack only carries an experience so far, as sub-optimal voice work, unexciting sound effects or audio bugs can hurt the whole experience. Our nominees this year managed, for the most part, to accomplish aural excellence across the board, whether it be Lollipop Chainsaw‘s excellent blending of licensed and original tunes and amazing voice work, or Tekken Tag Tournament 2‘s outstanding soundtrack and effective combat effects that gave battles an extra oomph. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, however, did the most overall with its aural presentation this year, creating an audio experience that was not only great to listen to, but was also incredibly effective at selling the experience to the player. Squad voice work adds personality to your soldiers, drawing the player in and making them care about the characters even when they have no agency outside of the battles they engage in. Ambient effects bring battles to life, not only making the characters respond with concern about noises they’ve heard in the distance, but also generating unease in the player when there’s a noise off in the distance in fear of what it might be. The voice work in general is very well cast, not just for the named characters who lead XCOM behind the scenes, but for every voiced character in the game, giving the game more life than it would otherwise have. The soundtrack is also top notch, fading in to powerful battle music when combat is engaged, only to fade out to haunting ambient tracks that reinforce the unsettling lack of knowledge of what else might be out there in the darkness. A lot of love and effort was put into the sound design of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, clearly, and Firaxis should feel very proud of what they’ve accomplished here, as it’s easily the best sounding game this year, among other things.
– Mark B.
The gameplay in Pokemon Conquest mixes elements from Pokemon and Nobunaga’s Ambition, resulting in gameplay that’s strategic and deep, yet isn’t too intimidating for those who haven’t played much of either franchise. The aspects from Pokemon are mainly evident in battles, with type determining how much damage is dealt and received. Pokemon abilities also play a role. However, each Pokemon only gets one move, which may seem restricting to those who are used to having four, but it still works, and battles are fun to play through. Warlords take the place of Gym Leaders, and kingdoms take the place of Gyms. You still catch wild Pokemon (by linking with them instead of throwing Pokeballs at them), but in addition to collecting Pokemon, you can also collect Warlords. Warlords can evolve along with their Pokemon as the link between them gets stronger.
From Nobunaga’s Ambition, there’s kingdom maintenance. You have random events to contend with, such as weather effects, visiting merchants that sell items that cannot be found in regular shops, and a kingdom under your rule needing you to give them money. You can also delegate warlords in kingdoms under your control to train to improve the link between warriors and Pokemon, search for allies, or develop by raising the army’s Pokemon’s energy and looking for gold. You also have to ensure that your kingdoms have a strong enough army to ward off any attacks from neighboring enemy kingdoms. In turn, you can also invade neighboring kingdoms. While it’s not as in depth as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga Ambition games, there’s still a good amount of depth, and the combination works rather well.
– Aileen Coe
SYSTEM OF THE YEAR
Runners Up: PC, Microsoft Xbox 360.
After a rocky debut, the Nintendo 3DS came back in force in 2012, showcasing some of the best games to release on any console this year. Let’s look at a brief list of what we got this year, shall we? It delivered some excellent eShop titles, including Liberation Maiden, Crimson Shroud, and a vast number of highly anticipated Virtual Console games. On the retail side, we got Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, Code of Princess, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and the list goes on and on. Sure, the ports and remakes haven’t gone away. Games like Tales of the Abyss went relatively untouched from their original versions, but honestly, what systems aren’t flooded with ports these days?
Outside of just games, the system has adopted apps that make it useful as more than just a video game system, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. Subsequent firmware updates have made it possible to keep the system less cluttered than it originally had been, allowing for games to be organized into folders, which was nice for those that were a part of the Ambassador Program. Features such as StreetPass and SpotPass, that have been available since launch, still have games building themselves around their use, which give 3DS owners continued reason to keep the console on them at all times.
The future only looks brighter for Nintendo’s current gen portable. Ever since the system took a price hit, consumers have been picking up the system in droves, inspiring publisher confidence. It’s not yet to the level of the original DS, but already announced next year are a new Fire Emblem, TWO MegaTen games, and a new Monster Hunter. I suspect that this won’t be the last year the 3DS is considered for this award.
– Sean Madson
2012 was the year of the 3DS. After a short period where everyone worried about the future of the handheld, Nintendo and others began churning out great games, like Mario Tennis Open, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Spirit Camera, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and Crimson Shroud, among others. They’ve also begun to incentivize having a 3DS even for DS titles, like they have done with Pokemon Black and White 2, via Pokemon Dream Radar and the new Pokedex 3D. The system has now sold more than the PS3 in Japan, and in the US it has sold over 7 million units, outselling the Vita and having a stronger lineup of games, both this year and with future releases. Nintendo has shown once again that they know what they’re doing, even when it looks like they don’t.
– Crystal Steltenpohl
GAME OF THE YEAR
So this is kind of an odd collection of nominees, isn’t it? We’ve got a weird hybrid game on a nearly dead system, a game that almost didn’t make it out due to perceived lack of interest on a dead system, and a reinvention of a dead franchise that was basically meant to be reinvented as more marketable genre in the first place. To be fair, there were a lot of really good games that came out this year that were more conventional, and games like Halo 4, Far Cry 3 and Dishonored certainly got some strong consideration for the top spots this year. That said, however, the nominees, despite their odd circumstances and backgrounds, are really strong games in spite of, and even because of, their circumstances, making their final nominations even more interesting than they’d otherwise be. Xenoblade Chronicles was all but left for dead in Japan, the victim of Nintendo feeling the game wouldn’t be sufficiently marketable, until the fanbase voiced such a strong and vocal opinion to the contrary, culminating in Operation Rainfall, that the game came stateside, and hey, it was pretty good to boot! Pokemon Conquest, meanwhile, was the bizarre cross-breeding of Nobunaga’s Ambition and Pokemon that was not only better than it had any right being, but was one of the very best games to come out on the Nintendo DS all year to boot. In a different year, either game would have been assured the top spot in our Game of the Year awards, as both were stellar examples of excellence in design and concept.
This, however, was the year that XCOM: Enemy Unknown came from out of nowhere to impress the hell out of nearly everyone who played it, and it’s no surprise that the game ended up being the easiest possible choice for Game of the Year. After the franchise was dead for over a decade, then reborn with the announcement of a first person shooter, the odds that we were going to see another game that did what the franchise did best were slim, at best. As delays hampered the first person shooter, however, somewhere along the way Firaxis stepped in and picked up the game to modernize the experience the original games were known for, and they pulled it off with ease, turning out an XCOM title that pleased both fans and newcomers alike. The game retains the core elements of what made XCOM great, while streamlining the more onerous design elements of the older games, and the end result is a game that is complex but easy to work with, full of a great deal of depth and detail while remaining accessible to players of all skill levels. In simple terms, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the standard for how to bring a classic series back to life at this point, and it easily walked away with our Game of the Year award, not only because it was an excellent revival of a beloved series, but because it’s a damn fine game, period.
– Mark B.