"I’ve been so looking forward to your arrival, Pitty Pat."
- Game of the Year 2012
- The “Masahiro Sakurai” Award For Insane Breadth Of Content
- Best Series Revival That Thankfully Was A Shooter
Kid Icarus: Uprising is one of the best Saturday morning cartoons I’ve seen in years wrapped up in video game form.
It’s got a healthy 25 chapter first season of 15-20 minute missions. It follows your typical monster of the week cartoon structure, fighting excellent bosses at the end of each chapter/episode. It’s got mid season twists, tangential story arcs, and multi-part episodes that end on a cliffhanger. It’s even got your stereotypical “way too serious for a kid’s show” episode!
What’s best about the unique handling of the pacing and story structure is that it allows the story to just be fun without sinking too much into long exposition or melodrama. The characters are memorable, well written, and gracefully localized, which is especially impressive due to the game’s overall goofy tone. It’s not a hilarious game by any means, but the dialogue between characters has a nice comedic timing rarely seen in gaming and will keep a nice smile on your face throughout each level. Kid Icarus even manages to give you all the plot, laughs, and charming characterization while minimizing the amount of cutscenes to a fraction of most titles.
After watching the season finale and going back to see a few reruns, I can’t describe the experience as anything but delightful.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is the best game that Sakurai has ever created.
There is an attractive style in which the man creates his games, as they usually end with an impossible attention to detail and more content than necessary or even healthy. Yet, Uprising is the first game to take advantage of all of the crazy nonsense Sakurai loves to put in his games. Yes, there are a ton of trophies in Kid Icarus, but every other mechanic feeds back into the core gameplay somehow, whether it be street passing, the over 250 achievements in the game, the sheer variety in its gameplay inspirations (see below), the secrets and hidden paths scattered throughout every level, and, weirdly enough, a very enjoyable online multiplayer deathmatch mode. Even if it just means gathering more weapons and items, Uprising manages to channel all these weird aspects Sakurai likes to sprinkle his games with to contribute to the game in a (somewhat) meaningful way,
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a weird, yet delicious mix of Sin & Punishment, The World Ends With You, Gears of War, Diablo, and Persona 3.
TWEWY’s difficulty system was always a highlight for me, as dropping Neku’s level to improve the drop rate was a really clever idea. Uprising evolves the concept to become straight up genius. Not only are you using the 90 point difficulty scale to dictate how much money you make and what loot drops, but damage values, enemy population, enemy type, attack patterns, costs for an extra life, and even your path through the level are all altered by where you put that slider. It’s absolutely insane, but it somehow works and allows you to fine tune the difficulty to be perfectly in line with your skill level.
The flying mode, occupying the first half of each chapter, is just straight up Sin & Punishment: Star Successor. And that is AWESOME. Flying across the screen during these on rail sequences is natural to control, fast paced, and full of enemies, making for a completely chaotic experience that will leave you sweating bullets every time you transition to…
…The completely strange third person, over the shoulder shooter sections that make up the second half of each mission. Due to the touch screen this may sound clunky, but just as detailed options are available for tuning your controls as there are for the difficulty. After a few minutes of tinkering and a little practice to make sure, you’ll be mowing down enemies with your arsenal of weapons, vehicles, and ridiculous special abilities without problem.
Speaking of the weapons: have I explained yet that, besides having nine different weapon types that have a completely different playstyle, each weapon you find in the world has random stats associated with them? Because loot games are always fun, right? Usually that’s a groan worthy comment, but when you have an intricate fusing mechanic (ala Persona 3) for your weapons, it makes creating, customizing, and charging into battle with your ultimate weapon immensely satisfying.
It may toss a ton of mechanics into the mix, as expected from Sakurai, but, again, it somehow works. Kid Icarus is a better game for every single one of those mechanics and the combination of them all makes for an entirely unique experience.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is the best fucking game that came out in 2012 and ya’ll are gonna have to deal with it.
"I may be gone, but I’m aaaaaaaaaaalways watching. Maybe I’ll see you again some day… Have a nice tragedy!"
- Best [Insert Every Award For Storytelling and Localization]
- The “Metal Gear Solid 2” Award For Most Improved (Yet Paradoxically Still Worse) Sequel
- Winner of the “No, Not That Type of Visual Novel” Award
Play 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and then play Virtue’s Last Reward. This is less of a recommendation and more of a requirement. I don’t really give a fuck what your opinions are on the Visual Novel genre. Just get over your insecurity about a genre you barely understand (like I did) and enjoy two of the best looks into the thriller genre of storytelling that this medium has ever seen. Because both of these games have this whole storytelling business down.
You want to know how much I love these games? I was disappointed by Virtue’s Last Reward. Disappointed! It’s not nearly as good as 999 in my eyes, yet here I am just barely stopping myself from naming it the best damn game of 2012. It’s that fucking good.
I don’t really have much to say about that game beyond my slight grumblings about the puzzle structure and how I wish they were as good as 999’s puzzles. Other than that it’s just straight up insane rantings of an overly excited fan. So just play the games.
They’ll blow your mind.
P.S. While writing this post, I figured out what the hell Virtue’s Last Reward actually means and I’m kinda freaking out a bit.
"Remember, we will be watching"
- Best Series Revival That Thankfully Was Not A Shooter
- The “Fire Emblem” Award For Most Challenging/Rewarding Title
- The “Fire Emblem” Award For Best Moments of RNG Bullshit
It’s a weird thing to pin all of the success of Enemy Unknown on one mechanic, but it simply would not be as successful without permadeath. In an experience built around multilayered stress and situations being straight up fucked, permadeath is what holds the whole thing together.
Your entire run through the game can hinge on who you bring to battle and who makes it out alive, so each investment decision outside of battle is absolutely critical. Spend all your money on weapons and armor and you’ll soon have countries, which act both as income and lives (in a way), dropping like flies and a crippled base, preventing you from upgrading equipment further or progressing through the plot. Keeping countries safe and your base in peak condition is a full time investment though, so pool too much resources into them and your soldiers are going to die. Every element of the entire game wraps back to one simple fact: winning missions is what matters and you need every advantage you can get to keep your your soldiers alive.
Thankfully, the actual game part of X-Com is pretty damn good. There’s not much to say about it, really. There are some dumb scripting, bad bugs, and line of sight issues, but they are mostly a fleeting frustration unless you’re examining the game under a microscope. All in all, the tools given to you during the gameplay and your upgrade paths for your characters are excellently balanced and each encounter is a tough and challenging experience right up until the end game.
X-COM is one of the few games to capture that raw stress created by permadeath and channel it correctly. Its inclusion makes every decision, movement, and upgrade a calculated risk and reward decision that requires you to consider your strategy for not just the next few battles, but for the rest of your playthrough. Not since Fire Emblem 7 have I played a game that pulls it off so well.
- Outstanding Achievement In Artistic Design
- The “Super Metroid” Award For Excellence In Minimalistic Design
- Best Wandering Around And Looking At Things Simulator
Almost two decades ago, a little accident called Super Metroid was released. I only call it that because Yoshio Sakamoto, Gunpei Yokoi, and the rest of the miniscule development team at Nintendo R&D1 somehow crafted a brilliant experience that has yet to be matched. The game’s commitment to minimalistic design was far ahead of its time, yet it managed to perfectly execute it in a fairly complex action platformer. Necessary tutorial and exposition were both completely woven into the exploration, such that every new enemy encountered, secret discovered, and door opened equally increased your knowledge of the world around you and your confidence in controlling Samus. Simply put, this level of world building and melding of gameplay and narrative is rarely seen in games, largely due to the insane attention to detail necessary to create such a natural experience.
So, if you can follow the format of my previous points, you know that a comparison is going to be made between Super Metroid and Journey. A strange couple, but in a lot of ways they have a very similar approach to delivering narrative and world building, but they unfortunately have completely different goals.
Your abilities in Journey are severely limited to make each interaction meaningful and it works surprisingly well. If I chirp at this wall painting, it will react and reveal a glimpse into the past. If I run up to this seaweed like structure, my scarf increases back to full, which tells me more about the odd plant like structure than any amount of exposition could. By limiting my communication, a player avatar falling over and crumbling into dust implies a darker side in this tale instead of merely focusing on the player disconnecting to go play another game. This is how the story is told in Journey and it makes for a refreshing three hour ride of gameplay-as-narrative experiences.
Yet, Journey’s simple and more accessible route offers little in the way of actual “gameplay.” After looking back on your time with the game, you feel like those limitations that offer you those rich insights into the world actually hamper and lessen your experience, making it feel more like a touching narrative wrapped around an early gameplay demo. It might just be me nitpicking, but I feel like Journey is the stepping stone to a much larger and breathtaking game.
That experience was what I wanted out of Journey. Even if I loved my time with the game, I wanted a game that featured the same perfect weave of narrative and exploration, of discovery and exposition, but with a more fulfilling gameplay experience. Even with all that Journey accomplished, I guess I just couldn’t help but be disappointed in the end result.
And I guess I just wanted a new Super Metroid.
"Make sure you take care of that Persona… It’s your other self, after all."
- Best Competitive Multiplayer
- The “Super Smash Bros” Award For Best Fanservice
- The “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” Award For Weirdest Genre Change
Look, I just wrote a full post about how great Skullgirls (a fast-paced, charming, and eloquent fighting game) is and I can do that again about Persona 4 Arena (a fast-paced, charming, and eloquent fighting game) if you want me to. But the two games pretty much hits all of the same notes and both do their part to push the genre every so slightly into approachable territory. Sure, it might need some major balancing, but the game is still a blast to play regardless, even with some atrociously bad matchups.
The only real reason P4A is higher on this list than Skullgirls is because it’s Persona 4 sequel. I can’t help it. Persona 4 is the game I have simply enjoyed the most during my time here on Earth. Any sort of media that will expand upon that universe and attempt to recapture that feeling of playing the original will immediately grab my attention. Even with the absurd genre shift from a high school simulator JRPG dungeon crawler to an anime fighting game with a significant visual novel story, I still can’t help but fall in love with Persona 4.
"The world will always be cursed by a Skull Heart, and so it will always be cursed with Skullgirls…"
- Outstanding Achievement In Animation
- Most Intelligently Designed Game
- The “BloodRayne: Betrayal” Award For Best Game That Was Largely Ignored
If you listened to the gaming press, Skullgirls is nothing more than a promising indie title that couldn’t hope to compare to the other, larger budget games in its competitive genre. Yes, Skullgirls features a beautiful Michiru Yamane soundtrack, unparalleled animation, and one of the best tutorials in the genre, but much of the dialogue around the game’s release (beyond sexualization, albeit parody driven, of a few characters, which is another debate entirely) was dominated by how atrociously difficult the AI was, how stereotypical and dull the story mode was (featuring little voice acting and almost no animation), how lacking a move list destroyed the game’s integrity, and how the slight cast of eight wasn’t worth your time investment. Most reviews were comfortable with picking Skullgirls apart and criticizing each little bit, drawing a conclusion about the game as a whole, and slapping a score on it.
Notice how I haven’t mentioned the versus gameplay yet, which is basically the point of a fighting game. Unfortunately, most reviews didn’t seem to focus on it either.
Quick aside: I can say, with certainty, that Street Fighter II is one of the best games of all time. By that, I don’t mean for its day, I mean as compared to fifty years of video game history. It’s that good.
Yet, I can understand if you don’t agree, especially if you’re basing this off of The World Warrior. Small roster, unclear moves, terrible story, and input reading AI, if you break the game down and remove the fact that it was breaking new ground, it was pretty much a terrible experience. The game may have been drastically improved over three years of iteration, but it’s just not as feature filled as one would expect from a modern game.
The fact that Street Fighter II is still played by many people today purely for its versus mode is, clearly, irrelevant.
I can say, with its brilliant design and innovative gameplay mechanics, Skullgirls is a better game than The World Warrior and, with several years of enhancement, it may just become better than Super Turbo too.
"Mr. Zork requires shiny objects"
- The “Castle Crashers” Award For Best Couch-Coop
- Best Theme Song
- The “Monday Night Combat” Award For Least Annoying DOTA Game
MOBAs/DOTAs have never cut ties with their RTS roots and it has severely hampered my enjoyment of the genre. The mechanics have grown and evolved into a competitive RPG of sorts, but the feeling and the approach of an RTS is still there. Movement is still clunky and imprecise, the game is full of unnecessary complexities, and there is a ridiculous amount of knowledge you must absorb about the game before playing.
One big difference that allows RTS’s to still be enjoyable is they craft an eloquent and enjoyable 10-50 hour tutorial called a “campaign” to teach you the ins and outs of each faction while simultaneously giving you some story or whatever. DOTA (or other, barely different games) give you dozens upon dozens of characters (see: factions) with minute differences that you should learn the ins and outs of immediately before you play or you’ll be feeding the other team and you’re a fucking asshole piece of cock shit.
Or whatever the kids use for insults these days.
And this is where Awesomenauts comes in. This game is a gigantic middle finger to MOBA/DOTA’s established conventions, as it provides the same basic experience without all the bullshit. The game removes the base level confusion immediately, destroying much of the barrier to entry through a more limited roster, more straightforward progression/upgrade mechanic, and more focused objectives: Kill bots and towers to progress, Kill enemy players to get money, kill creeps for health, and don’t die. That’s it.
It may just seem simplified down, but the other major revelation in Awesomenaut’s design is what makes it a winner: It draws upon the conventions of an action platformer instead of an RTS. I know that’s just swapping one genre’s complexities for another, but if there is a genre I and many others have burned into our skulls, it’s the platformer. Jump arcs and character weight. Mid air directional changes and double jumps. Hovering and jumping through platforms. None of this needs any explanation to the player, as it’s all second nature to anyone who has played a classic Mario, Mega Man, or Metroid game. Best of all those skills are transferable. If you want to just jump and shoot your way to victory, that is totally valid for half of the cast.
In the end Awesomenauts is just an immensely fun and approachable game in a genre where that is truly a rarity.
"The days of being a coddled pet are at an end."
- Best Arcade Game
- The “R-Type Final” Award For Ridiculous Replayability
- The “Viva Pinata” Award For Best Use Of Animal Sex
I’m unconvinced Tokyo Jungle wasn’t developed in an alternate universe where the arcade is still king. It’s the kind of game you’d imagine to run across in that stereotypical, smoke filled Japanese arcade that kids once fantasized about. The cabinet would be littered with Japanese text, bright colours, and pictures of Pomeranians. Drunken, depressed businessmen would chain smoke cigarettes as they sit down in front of it. It’s the kind of game that, once your Beagle avatar has been thoroughly eviscerated by a looming Hyena, will stick with you long after your urban Japanese vacation had ended and not just due to the startling image of the above scenario.
Then you have the return home, that stop at the arcade being one of the highlights of the trip. A vivid memory and a single photo is all you have to communicate Tokyo Jungle’s simple, yet insane, premise to those who care. An image forms in their minds of the basic idea, but once you get into the mechanics of the game, your explanation becomes the ramblings of a mad man. Side-scrolling beat-em-ups and roguelikes. RPG levelling and equipment mixed in with leaderboards. Acid rain, giant rabbits, and dogs wearing hip hop clothing. A completely different version of the game is envisioned with each person you tell, impossible to truly nail down an accurate and thorough description of your unique and bizarre experience.
I guess all you could do is hope that they’ll play it for themselves one day and it will live up to their insane expectations.
"None of them have any honour."
- Best Case For Stealth Games Still Being A Thing
- The “Gunstar Heroes” Award For Best Upgrades
- The “Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars” Award For Best Game With The Worst Story
Stealth is one of the most out of date mechanics in game design. It’s an idealistic dream of designers to evoke that superspy or master assassin power fantasy, but it’s a core mechanic that continuously produces clumsy and unenjoyable results. It’s an outdated goal that is never achieved. Either compromises are implemented to destroy the designer’s dream and make a better game or stubbornness produces inaccessible, slow, boring, and needlessly punishing garbage. Either way, stealth is an annoying distraction, a gimmick that is a burden upon the rest of the game.
That is, until Mark of the Ninja came around and I witnessed the first game, in my eyes, to actually get it right.
The results are breathtaking and exhilarating. It’s a game that lays down its many, equally viable tools before you like paintbrushes of death and asks you to paint a creative and expressive masterpiece with each enemy encounter. It expects you to form your own role, your version of that ninja power fantasy, your own form of creative expression, and to execute it well. By allowing the player to define what it is they are painting, it will drive them to make every brushstroke absolutely perfect.
Oddly, several of the oldest mechanics in the medium (especially pausing, the 2D perspective, and point based reward feedback) were the keys to making this game succeed. Sprinkle in perfectly placed checkpoints and hidden collectibles, add a ton of challenge, and you have one of the most rewarding games of 2012.
It’s just a shame that the plot was paper thin and the ending was just another addition to the “contrived moral decisions don’t work” list.
"I don’t understand… [W]e did everything we were suppose to."
- Best Metroidvania Game
- The “Cave Story” Award For Most Impressive Achievement
- Game That Was Most Likely To Kill Its Creator
Dust: An Elysian Tail is not a perfect game. There are too many extra gameplay and progression mechanics that lack coherent balance or satisfying depth. The mapping system is ambiguous and obtuse as compared to even the forefathers of the Metroidvania formula. Progression gates are purely artificial and strictly to adhere to the formula of Dust’s inspirations. The combat system, while inherently satisfying and well designed, lacks the evolution to prevent the late game becoming labourious. The story, while having a weighty theme and just enough maturity to pull it off, is rushed and not fully explored. Suffice it to say, the problems I have with Dust are numerous.
Yet, while Dust’s many blemishes can be blamed upon its over-ambition, that enthusiasm was what saved it. Dust is a massive title for its relatively slim play time, humble origins, and budget price and it does wonders in showing just how multifaceted games have become. The end product is tarnished by a handful of missed game design opportunities, but has overcome thousands more to create a fluid, responsive, beautiful, and incredibly enjoyable action platformer.
Its flaws are many, but Dust’s aspirations and successes still manage to push the caliber expected of downloadable and independent gaming up a few notches.