Polly's Game Awards Thing 2012
For Games Not Necessarily Released In 2012 SUPER YAY TIME! THE MOVIE: THE GAME! 2
by Polly

Well, here we are at the end of another year reflecting on the various ways we each rotted our brains out and wasted our valuable time here on this planet starting blankly into illuminated screens and pressing some buttons on some cheap pieces of plastic. To tell ya the truth, I was kinda banking on the world ending like it was supposed to on December 21st (read: it was never actually supposed to and if you believed it you're a fucking moron!) so that I could be lazy and not do this. But, since we're all still apparently here, I guess it's time to do that thing I have a site for in the first place and do some typing about all (or most of) the dumb videogames I played this year

If you look at a nearly complete chronological list of games I actually completed this year, you can begin to see interesting patterns and trends forming with how I tended to approach my game time. This is the first time I've ever documented my progress through games over the course of a year, so I'm interested in maybe trying it again to see if those trends and patterns repeat themselves. Anyway, that's a bit of a weird off-topic tangent.

You're here to scroll really fast down this list, look at the big bold letters, and see the pretty pictures I've used to designate awards to a lot of the games I completed and played this year while ignoring the hard to comprehend walls of text that accompany each entry. So, I'm gonna stop blabbing now and let you get right to that!

Best Contra Moment of 2012
Touhou 11: Subterranean Animism - Utsuho Reiuji

Note: Not me playing, for the record.

Oddly, our Contra moment of 2012 comes courtesy of a game series renowned for its extensive cast comprised exclusively of cute little girls in frilly costumes. The sheer amount of bullets a player must swim their way through in these games would certainly be enough to make Bill Rizer stand in place stupidly with his mouth agape, but I think what would REALLY tickle his fancy is this little thing right here:

with thanks to toydonut.

Meet Utsuho Reiuji, Touhou 11: Subterranean Animism's spectacular final boss. A cute little girl that has the ability to control NUCLEAR FUCKING FUSION.

The entire game leading up to the grand finale versus Utsuho is marvelous in and of itself, providing one of the most challenging and brilliantly paced entries in the series. Though it's a top-down shmup, the game's progression and overall visual tone feel weirdly like a Contra game, only well...More Japanese, I guess. When you finally reach this absolute terror of a final boss, shit has gotten so far beyond real you've somehow slipped into another dimension that your brain can not and will not be able handle your first few times there.

It's not the difficulty of Utsuho and her barrage of over-the-top attacks that gets the point across, it's the sheer spectacle and ferocity with which they're presented that really make Utsuho herself a true Contra moment. SHE IS THROWING WHAT MAY AS WELL BE ENTIRE FUCKING SUNS AT YOU ON TOP OF A MURDEROUS SWATH OF NEON DEATH PELLETS FOR CRYING FUCKING OUT LOUD!

There is no doubt in my mind that ol' Bill would be happy to hop on a missile and go gun to sun-shooting arm cannon with this ferocious femme fatale any day. I mean, she's even got a little core thingamadooder on her chest there he can shoot at too, so it seems fair to me.

Best "I Really Shouldn't Be Enjoying This" Game of 2012
Sonic The Hedgehog (2006)

I...honestly just had to know...I feel terrible about this, but fuck...What can I say? When something is as universally panned and maimed in reviews as 2006's attempted Sonic The Hedgehog reboot on PS3 and XBox 360 was, when word of mouth is so bad, and when the circumstances are right (like getting the game brand-new for like $5.00), curiosity can be a motherfucker.

Where the hell do I even begin? The astronomically ludicrous load times, which can take as long as 45 seconds to a full minute to load one box of text? The controls that almost always lack response or are flat out broken in auto-speed and flying sections? The myriad of scripting, physics, enemy, and collision bugs that can (and WILL) lead to numerous unavoidable deaths? The story that is so lavishly produced, yet so amazingly stupid and terrible that the ending actually writes the entire game out of existence?

I'm only just getting started but...I FUCKING LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT how busted, broken, and awful this game is. I swear, it's almost a fucking work of art how "so bad it's good" Sonic 2006 is if you're in the mindset of wanting to see just what an unfinished pile of errors and bugs looks like. It should have stopped after a stage or two...but I kept playing...I HAD TO SEE AND EXPERIENCE MORE of this masterpiece.

As cheap, unfair, and inevitable as death is in this game, I honestly couldn't get mad at it. Not even once! I enjoyed it every time I could break the game's gravity and stand on ceilings and get stuck without falling down! I loved completing Shadow's campaign by only clearing two stages, yet the game mistakenly gave me the 100% clear for the story and wouldn't let me play it anymore! I laughed every time scripting in a stage broke, rendering the stage uncompletable without having to either die or reset the game. I wallowed in the utter stupidity of the brilliantly produced cutscenes telling me one of the most nonsensical stories gaming has ever seen!

It's one thing to read about just how busted Sonic 2006 is, and it's another to see and experience that kind of triple-A failure for yourself. It was a fun little thing to bust out and enjoy with friends around to laugh at all that was going wrong nearly every five seconds, and gave me quite a few out-loud laughs alone on those lazy evenings after a hard day of work when ya need just a little something to pass those few hours before you can finally sleep at night.

Fuck Superman 64. Sonic The Hedgehog is one of gaming's purest forms of "So bad, it's good" and I don't regret a fucking thing! I AM JUMPING OUT THE WINDOW NOW!

Best Co-Op Experience of 2012
Phantasy Star Online 2

Rappy Mob Syndicate forever, bitches! You know how we roll! We got a doctor with a bucket for a head in a god damn suit with a rappy mask and a killer buddha belly! Whatchu got? Anime hair or some boring shit like that? Please. Get with the Rappy or take a...dirt...nappy...? Hmmm...ya know, that didn't even sound all that good in my head and it sounds even stupider now that I've actually typed it out. But I'm not gonna waste all that effort holding the Backspace key to delete it.

It should come as a surprise to nobody that Phantasy Star Online 2 would end up on this list, knowing just how much of a crack addict I am for the original PSO. I don't really dig into online games much as I've said many times before I'm sure, but the release of PSO2 was an event I was not gonna miss. Me, Rhete, and Dr.No all played from closed beta through official release and the times we spent running around mindlessly grinding out quests and killing shit is some of the most fun I've had all year.

It's really the combat system and how easy it is to get into games with one another that makes PSO2 work so well. I've never played an online game quite as snappy and slick as this one. It almost feels like some kind of Devil May Cry Lite Online game where everybody's capable of ridiculous feats of acrobatics, with an encouragement toward defensive play and evasion. The best part is that most missions can accommodate up to twelve players at once, and the Emergency Code system along with randomized map layouts does its best to make sure no two missions ever go down the same. The best times spent in PSO2 will be with other people running into bosses that can just hop into the field whenever they damn well please and the utter chaos that can occur during PSE Bursts.

What really makes PSO2 stand out however is that all these years later, PSO is still good at doing the thing that makes it so special to me: Being a fun way to meet new friends and waste time with them. I met so many cool new people to talk to and hang out with this year that even if my feelings on the game have taken a bit of a nosedive, I know I had a hell of a time throwing enemies around with a great set of people that I'll be friends with for years to come.

Most "Up Its Own Ass" Game of 2012
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

{Such as an enhanced enjoyment of the aromas that emanate from your own posterior.}

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP is a game I'd really like to sit down and have a conversation with. Well, maybe not a whole conversation, because I imagine talking to this game would be a fucking exercise in trying to not put my fist through the back of its god damn head with how pointlessly verbose and pretentious as all of its dialog is, but there is one burning question I'd love to ask it: "So, how fresh does the air smell that far up into your own ass?"

This is one of those little indie darlings people seemed to be losing their shit over when it dropped on iOS earlier last year. HEY LOOK, IT'S GOT PIXEL GRAPHICS JUST LIKE MY NINTENDO AND OH MAN THIS STORY IS SO DEEP AND INTERESTING EVEN IF I CAN'T UNDERSTAND A FUCKING WORD IT'S SAYING! The entire game reads like a terrible translation, which is really bizarre considering that 8-4 Ltd. was somehow involved with this game and have handled a good number of high-profile localizations in the past. You're supposed to be VERY IMPRESSED that the writers know big words or can't just come out and say what they mean, I guess. They obviously thought everything they were saying was SOME kind of important because there's an option to tweet every single line of dialog to your friends...which is about the dumbest fuck thing I've ever heard of.

Sword and Sworcery is made even more boring by the simple fact that there's...just really not a whole fucking lot ever going on in it. A bulk of your time is spent simply walking from screen to screen and exploring random pixels in the background to solve very rudimentary...well...shit, even calling them puzzles doesn't feel right, but I'm not quite sure how else I'd relate it. Even though the simple combat feels like it may be a solution to break up the mind-numbing boredom S&S provides, even it feels largely uneventful and uninspired.

This is a game that desperately wants you to believe that it's more than it actually is. It spends so much time trying to convince you that there's atmosphere and depth that that's the only thing it was able to communicate to me. It desperately wants me to tell you how deep and "post-modern" it is or some shit, but the reality is that it's just trying too damn hard to let you know just how big of a hipster it really is and that all of the music it listens to is way better than all the mainstream junk you listen to.

Runner Up:


Biggest "WHY CAN'T I STOP DOING THIS?" of 2012
Rhythm Heaven Series

If you can watch the six minute video above this text here and try to tell me you didn't smile at least once, well...you're a pretty miserable fucker, aren't you? What are you? decoy? You probably don't like Monkey Watches either, do you? God, WHERE'S YOUR SENSE OF FUN IN LIFE?

Though I'd heard about the series quite a bit over the years, I'd never really given it a chance until I was inspired to pick up Rhythm Heaven Fever on the Wii after Giant Bomb Quick Looked it sometime around its release. What followed this purchase was a month-long obsession of not only demolishing Rhythm Heaven Fever, but also grabbing the DS Rhythm Heaven game as well. I spent hours upon hours playing each and every song until I'd gold medaled them all, and continued working on my "Perfected" songs portfolio as the year continued. My obsession with this series hit full-on fucking crazy when I bought a GameBoy Advance flashcart for the sole purpose of playing the original Rhythm Tengoku that never saw a release outside of Japan. Sorry, I'm not paying in excess of $70-100 for an out of print game.

What makes these games so great is their simplicity. No scores, no multipliers, no failing out of songs because you're not doing so hot. None of that nonsense. This series just wants you to have fun and learn while you're doing it. Just simple one or two button/stylus motion rhythm-based minigames set to catchy as all hell tunes and saccharine sweet, rot-your-god-damn-teeth-out cartoony visuals. Oftentimes, the visuals are only ever needed to familiarize yourself with the audio cues and can act as a great tutorial for people who may not be able to wrap their heads around counting rhythms at first. Afterward one could play the game without ever looking at the screen. There's just so much elegance in the series' simplicity and light-hearted nature that makes it such a joy to play, and its potential as a light teaching aid only makes Rhythm Heaven an even easier series to recommend, even to folks who may not enjoy rhythm and music based games that much.

I can only think of maybe one other game I played this year that made me smile and feel good as much as playing through the entirety of this series did...

Runner Up:

No, really. There's no excuse.

Best Portable Game of 2012
Super Mario 3D Land

Now this was a pleasant little surprise. I never would have imagined that when my girlfriend picked herself up a 3DS XL this year that for the next week I'd spend well over 25 hours glued to those two screens squeezing every bit of content out of this game that it had to offer.

Super Mario 3D Land is an interesting little game in that it actually feels like the logical bridge between old 2D side scrolling platformers and their transition to 3D that came with Super Mario 64. It feels as precise and smooth as any of the 8 or 16-bit incarnations did and the stages themselves are all straightforward dashes to the end-of-level flagpole, but it has the open, sprawling level design and gimmicks we've grown accustomed to from games like Super Mario Galaxy 2.

This may be one of the most content-rich entries in the series, truth be told. Starting out, you've got the typical Mario setup of eight worlds with boss fights at the end, but the real game doesn't truly begin until you reach the actual second half of the game, which features eight more entire worlds to roll through, which hike the challenge level up to degrees that the series simply hasn't seen in ages. The real fun I had with the game was not moving on to a new stage until I'd collected every single star coin and touched the tippity-top of every single flagpole. It was a weird obsession to "master" this game in a way that no entry of the series has made me feel since Super Mario World.

Runner Up:

Resident Evil 1+2+4 = FUN!
Virtue's Last Reward is one of the most nonsensical stories that ever actually made sense.

Best Soundtrack of 2012

There's not been a soundtrack like the one featured in Might and Delight's heady and immersive platformer Pid in...well...I honestly can't think of a soundtrack that sounds anything like it. At first listen, it honestly doesn't even seem like the music would fit a videogame at all, but it's actually the glue that holds Pid's entire visual and audio aesthetic together.

The soundtrack here is both strangely evocative of the atmosphere and tones present throughout the game, yet at the same time doesn't feel or sound like anything you'd expect to hear while working your way through this oftentimes torturous platformer. The smooth, laid back jam band'esque tunes and overall consistency of the mix's soundscape hits the ears more like something you'd hear in a some nondescript dingy underground poetry club, rather than a silly little indie platformer. What makes the sound work is the fusion of that jam band style and the intense focus on infectious melodies primarily featured in older 8 and 16-bit games.

There's very little in the way of studio trickery here, and the songs were all given room to breathe with a fat low-end sound that's as rugged as it is smooth and buttery, and a willingness to let little flaws in playing remain in the final recordings. It's a very organic and true sound that sounds just like three dudes jamming out and has a bite and subtlety that you'll be hard pressed to find in any other videogame soundtrack.

Runner Up:

It's like a coke binge for my ears!

Best Characters and World of 2012
The Walking Dead

I was not in any way familiar with nor a fan Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic books or TV series when I picked up Telltale's point and click adventure adaptation, cause ya know what? Tired of zombies. The idea of a "zombie apocalypse" is such a beaten and dead horse by now that [zombie horse joke goes here.] Really people, we're years into this now and it's getting worse than the Vietnam/World War II shooter era where if you watch new release schedules enough, you'll end up seeing some new dumb zombie game come out every week or two. My initial reaction to this series' release was much the same. I just didn't care. It took quite a bit of convincing from trusted videogame writers and friends for me to finally hop on board for another trip into the all-too-familiar and in no way scary by now zombie apocalypse one more time to see what all the fuss was really about.

Let me just say that god damn...am I ever glad I did. The Walking Dead is, for my money, some of the most finely written and emotionally involving human drama I've ever seen. Saying that this game's story is "good for a videogame" really does it a disservice and sells it way too short on what it actually accomplishes from a writing standpoint. Zombies are just the window dressing. They're the infrequent and necessary element of imminent danger that keeps the story physically moving in a direction.

The real meat of The Walking Dead is its unique cast of characters, all of whom are grounded in reality and for the most part act and look out for themselves and their loved ones the way you'd expect real people to. You'll immediately find thoughts crossing your mind such as, "I'm totally gonna do all I can to protect her," and "Fuck that guy, he's a dick," as your group's ranks strengthen and thin out over the course of the series' five episode run.

The real complications come when your choices suddenly stand at odds with the people you've allied yourself with inside your head, and you're left justifying all the terrible choices that The Walking Dead forces you to make, both to the people you need to survive the apocalypse with, as well as yourself. The kind of tension The Walking Dead's choices creates has simply never been seen before in a videogame. "Is that really what I"d have done?" you may ask yourself, as the game makes you question and then own all of your choices. People will turn against you, and some may live or die depending on your heat-of-the-moment actions. The entire experience, though still very diamond-shaped and linear, is affecting on a deeper level due to the lack of real binary "good" and "bad" decisions. It never feels like the game's looking down on you for choosing any option in particular, and the only guilt or regret you may feel is genuinely aimed at characters you may have hurt, angered, or offended. There is no "please everyone" option. Just like real life, you gotta accept it and keep plugging forward.

I'm not afraid to be sentimental in these kinds of things, so I'll just say that the chords The Walking Dead struck within me were enough to make its most poignant and emotional moments stick and remain impactful even now. I've not experienced a piece of interactive fiction that earned its heavy moments and drama and presented them in the potent manner that The Walking Dead does.

Runner Up:

This game is so damn charming and loveable, cut with the right amount of dark edge to be near perfect.

The "Thanks, I Have Diabetes Now" Award 2012
Kirby's Epic Yarn

Full disclosure: I've yet to actually complete Kirby's Epic Yarn, but god damn it, there's just no way I couldn't include it on this list! The only reason I haven't finished it is simply because it's that game I turn to when I just...wanna smile...when I wanna relax after a hard day's worth and feel some warm-fuzzies. Sometimes...even a Polly just wants to be cuted to death, I guess, and Kirby's Epic Yarn may very well be the most dangerous amount of cuteness gaming has ever seen.

I don't think screenshots really do the game its full justice. It's when you see Epic Yarn's amazingly realized world of felt, yarn, pipe cleaners, and cloth patches moving and interacting with one another and Kirby that the magic really happens. Seriously, just TRY to keep your teeth from rotting right out of your fool head as you see Kirby transform into cute little yarn cars, helicopters, and tanks, or try to suppress all the "D'awwwwww" you have inside of you when he goes rooting around under the backgrounds and all you see it a cute little lump moving around realistically under the fabric. It's adorable.

Bottom line: It's adorable. God damn adorable, and you'd be a heartless fool without the slightest shred of humanity if you thought otherwise.


I'm not entirely sure if Mr. Dodrill, the creator of this year's breathtakingly beautiful and amazingly fun to play Dust: An Elysian Tail, is 100% serious or joking here, but for the sake of my rant, I'm going to assume the former, because ya know what? I am god damn sick of Kickstarter. There's not going to be an argument about this, because I'm not going to listen to opposing viewpoints and they're not going to listen to mine.

This monster that Tim Schafer (he's sooooooooo indie if you haven't heard) brought to the limelight has been at the top of nearly every god damn gaming news cycle this year and has become the quick fix for anybody with a dumb idea and a keyboard to bilk people out of money by making it somehow okay to pay for an idea and instead of an actual product. Almost every fucking day now some idiotic new Kickstarter is given free publicity by any gaming website that's out of other stories to steal from other gaming websites or run dry of press releases to reword.

What Kickstarter has become, again thanks to Tim Fuck Schafer (he's still soooooo indie even though all of his games have had major third-party backing, by the way) is merely a way for potential "developers" to offload most of their risk onto unsuspecting backers. Maybe it's just me, but this kind of behavior seems like it can not only lead to the obvious pocketing of money and running, but will also be wholly responsible for making "developers" less hungry and less driven to finish projects or finish them with the promised quality and support. Projects like Cave Story, Iji, and La Mulana are successes because the developer believed in their vision and worked their asses off to make it a reality, sacrificing their own time and money for something that was dear to their heart. Kickstarter projects lack this sincerity because the creators aren't willing to shoulder the burden themselves and only want easy money and press.

On top of that, how the fuck does somebody like Peter Molyneux need MY money to get a project funded? Big-name creators, who may or may not have long lost their ability to well...be creative, are now attaching their names and sometimes former IPs to Kickstarter projects in order to drum up more press and attention for potential projects.

But hey, I guess time will tell, right? I won't deny the success of titles like FTL, but the way I see it is this bubble's gonna start bursting in 2013 when projects start missing target dates (which is already happening) or disappear entirely. In my opinion people need to start thinking a bit more about what they're actually putting money toward, and news outlets should probably start being a bit more careful about wanting to be the first cool kid that posted a story about some dumb idea people are paying for.

Runner Up:

Saying "indie" like it's a fucking genre.

Polly's 2009 Game of 2012
Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

Ladies and gentlemen, a grievous error has been made. You see, over three years have gone by and god damn it, Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story never once got the love it deserved on this site. I'm not really sure why I never got around to reviewing it or even mentioning it during last year's Game of the Year stuff, but I figure now is as good a time as any to give it some proper love.

Bowser's Inside Story is the third in the Mario and Luigi series, which have essentially become the spiritual successor to the original Super Mario RPG. The first game was good, but I feel it ran a little too long for what it was, and the second game was largely unremarkable and fucking everybody hates babies, but Bowser's Inside Story...soooooo fucking good.

I mean, come on, it puts Bowser in the limelight. How can it NOT be awesome? Bowser's characterization as a bit of a bumbling buffoon has always been highly entertaining, but his role here as the "bad guy kinda sorta doing the good guy stuff" is what really makess the game shine. When Nintendo's localization department is hitting on all cylinders they can fucking knock it out of the park, and the sheer variety of light-hearted comedy on display in Bowser's Inside Story makes the story a god damn treat to sit through, even when story segments tend to run a little long.

The battle system should be largely familiar to fans of the series, requiring lots of precise button presses to perform attacks as well as evade incoming enemy assaults, and the system is iterated upon here nicely with battles that can require a good deal more concentration, strategy, and tricks to figure out, especially the boss fights, which are all fun on a bun. There's also a satisfying variety of minigames to help break up all the combat, such as rhythm games, a simple shmup, and a few stylus-flicking games which really aren't as terrible as those kinds of things tend to be.

The whole package is just stupidly fun and charming and had me grinning ear-to-ear all three times I've played through it. Given that it's a Nintendo game, the price is never likely to inch down below that $30 mark, but really, you have my word that it's absolutely worth it.

Most Disappointing Game of 2012 +
Biggest "Welp, You Sure Blew That" Moment of 2012
Phantasy Star Online 2

Well...here's a bit of an awkward entry. I know earlier I listed Phantasy Star Online as the best co-op experience of the year, and that still holds true, but well...sometimes things just don't work out the way we'd hoped, and sometimes I like pineapple on my pizza. There, now we know a thing or two more about one another all because you, for some reason, read this far.

Admittedly, it kinda breaks my heart to have to put PSO2 here. It's a game that started with so much promise. I dumped almost 400 hours into the damn thing. It was a permanent fixture of my free time after work for almost two months, and then it all started to go sour around the two-month mark.

Put simply, the original PSO felt like an adventure that rewarded you in fair intervals for your time invested and kept you there with its simple, elegant, and at times challenging gameplay. PSO2 feels like a job. Maybe not so much of a job as Phantasy Star Universe, but all the calling cards from its broken and flawed designs are there on top of the padding and scummy business practices that the free-to-play model has to offer. One is immediately drowned in busy work involving grinding out the same two or three missions to unlock even the simplest bits of progress, and its already broken beyond repair economy will make sure that newcomers likely never find even-footing without some fat pockets in real life and an amazing amount of luck.

When PSO2 doesn't feel like a job, it soon begins to feel like you've missed a month of school without your teachers sending your homework home with someone for you to stay caught up. Friends will out-level you, tedious and entirely unnecessary area and level cap unlock quests begin piling up, and by the time you log on again, you're buried in so much busy work that it just doesn't feel worth the hassle anymore. That's my experience anyway.

Making matters worse is how absolutely, ridiculously, and pathetically easy the game is. PSO2 is so god damned easy that its biggest crime isn't the shady business practices and monotony of its mission structure, it's just the fact that it's fucking boring. PSO2 is rarely, if ever, a challenge. Even with its slick new fast-action focused combat system, complete with evade mechanics, jumping (YOU CAN JUMP!), and manual targeting, enemies on even the hardest of current difficulties can be felled in mere seconds, and bosses aren't much harder. This unfortunate balance just makes having to slog through those unlock quests even more of a chore because you're just tearing through everything. It's not rewarding when you finally get an unlock, it's just the sense of relief that one step of your neverending busy work is over.

In the beginning, PSO2 had all prospects of being the free-to-play game that could finally get it right, but between the hours of mind-numbing tedium, over-reliance on unfair random number generators, scummy business practices, and the inability to balance their game in any way, the team behind this game seems so incredibly lost, and with it nearly every last bit of potential and opportunity to be something special and long-lasting.

Runner Up:

Limbo frontloads all of its best material and pads the rest with above-average puzzles and a shit ending.
The Last Story is so boring that it's proof we don't always really want what we think we really want.

Thing Polly Plans To Invest More Time Into In 2013
Dark Souls

Sometimes life just gets super busy and all that free time you once had is either spent resting up from strings of long shifts at work or doing things that well...aren't videogame related. Sometimes games just slip through the cracks because so much shit gets released these days and ridiculous sales are so commonplace. I'm putting this game here as a promise to myself to either see it through to the end or give it one hell of a try.

The Souls series has admittedly always eluded me a bit. I just don't go for fantasy settings and the arguments back and forth as to whether the games are legitimately difficult or straight up bullshit are typically always straight down the center and inconclusive. Some people I know think it's the greatest thing ever and others think it's the pinnacle of bad game design. It's almost the truest case of "love it or hate it" I think I've seen in videogames.

A few months back, thanks to MooMan1's generous gifting to me of this game on Steam, I was able to finally have a look and see for myself what all the hub-bub was or wasn't about.

After about five hours of gameplay (and admittedly a laughably small amount of progress deep into Undead Burg), I've decided that I like the experience Dark Souls is selling. The sheer amount of tension and atmosphere on display is enough to make me set aside the boredom I typically feel when it comes to boring swords, bows, and shields, and actually enjoy the focused, pattern recognition-based combat and nearly blind traversal through a dark and scary world that literally feels like the end of life itself.

It's a game that calls out to that part of me that still enjoys getting my teeth kicked in and coming back for more. Though the slower, more methodical pace present in Dark Souls is a far cry from the fast action and frantic chaos of other punishing games I enjoy, they share a common theme in perseverance through persistence, and that's the kinda ride I can definitely get behind.

Provided it doesn't get behind me first and one-shot execute me or some shit.

Runner Up:

I wasn't QUITE ready to complete Pid when it came out, but I will be soon!

The "OHHHH...SO DAMN CLOSE" Award 2012
Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is a game I started out really enjoying. Then two hours later, I wasn't enjoying it so much anymore. It's a game that has almost every single thing it takes to score a "Game of the Year" hit with me. A great sense of style and place with a coked-out 80's aesthetic and an absolutely killer sleepy Sunday morning soundtrack, fast and frantic gameplay favoring those with quick reflexes, and a sense of over the top brutality that's comical, visceral, and gratuitious, despite what internet philosophers may think it's trying to say about violence in videogames. As the game wears on however, it becomes evident that Hotline Miami simply wasn't left in the oven long enough, and its often frustrating controls and unpredictably random difficulty spikes made it enough for me to really turn sour on it a number of times while slogging through its relatively short length.

Hotline Miami's gameplay is brought to us by Jonatan Söderström, better known around the internet parts as "Cactus," a man that is really famous for churning out games, regardless of quality or content, at an alarming rate. While the game's frantic pace, brutal level design, and one-hit kill rule provides an exciting and satisfying experience akin to masocore platformers like Super Meat Boy, that feeing of satisfaction lasts only as long as the game's mechanics hold up and circumstances don't spiral out of control through no fault of your own. Or during boss fights. The boss fights in this game are shit. Anyway...

There isn't a control scheme for this game that ever felt right to me. I bounced back and forth between gamepads and mouse and keyboard setups, but the tank-style controls never managed to feel as precise as the game was asking me to be with melee and ranged weaponry. Enemy behaviour is random and erratic in a way that isn't conducive to trying to teach the player anything about how or why their plan of attack isn't working sometimes. The systems at work in Hotline Miami are at times just too random, and success often feels more like luck than any amount of skills the game actually taught me. Even worse are the instances in which you can be gunned down from enemies that aren't even on screen, even when you move the camera as far ahead as you can to lock on. Parts of Hotline Miami slowly began to feel like frustrating chores to me because it never felt like the rulesets other than the ones that dictate when me or an enemy dies were ever established.

For its presentation, Hotline Miami may work as an "experience" that's worth having, but that trip will be long and often frustrating when trying to overcome the game's clear and very present faults. With a little less of the "game jam" mentality and a bit more polish, Hotline Miami could have easily been a contender for my Game of the Year.

Polly S. Hate's Game of the Year 2012
Mark of the Ninja

I can FINALLY say it! After years and years of stealth-based videogames, I can finally say what we're all thinking:

Fuck Metal Gear.
Fuck Tenchu.
Fuck Splinter Cell.
Fuck Assassin's Creed.
Fuck Thief and
Fuck every Zelda game since Ocarina of Time that's shoehorned stealth in as a gameplay element for one throw-away portion of the game.

Stealth in videogames has been pretty hit or miss since its inception. Early Metal Gear games and Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2 both used fairly rudimentary, though effective, means of gauging a player's sneakiness, but more and more, stealth has become either a common theme 3D games base themselves around or an element sprinkled in to break up high action. The results are usually frustrating and inconsistent, because valuable information the player needs to know to remain hidden usually has to be gleaned through trial and error or finding ways to break the system to remain undetected.

Klei's Mark of the Ninja says, "Fuck all that," and takes us back to 2D to explore and demonstrate how stealth-based gameplay can not only be exciting, full of tension, and be the most fun you'll ever have with a game about dudes in silly black pajamas, but also how relaying simple cues and vital information to the player in subtle ways can make this genre viable again and a hell of a lot less frustrating.

Mark of the Ninja is a shot full of concentrated Awesome, finally letting the players of a stealth game feel that the world is their toy. Though direct encounters are still largely discouraged and detection still leads to a lot of "reload checkpoint" twitches, the game always gives you the information needed on any given situation, and you're always prepared to handle yourself in these situations nearly any way you wish.

Is "Kill every motherfucker" at the top of your Bad Ass Ninja To-Do List? Good! Nothing's stopping you from dropping every single enemy you encounter in truly vicious and brutal fashion. Maybe you'd rather be that silent whisper in the night air that goes unnoticed, with nobody ever knowing you were there when shit pops off? Well, you can do that too! Mark of the Ninja's silky smooth easy to read "Am I hidden" visual cues and flawless controls, arsenal of fun ninja gadgets, and sprawling maps that provide more than one path to nearly every objective make every screen and every situation in the game feel almost like one giant stealth puzzle funbox for you to play around in and figure out. Mark of the Ninja gives me hope for the stealth genre again. I feel that nearly all of this game's technical achievements and insane level of enjoyability could be replicated in 3D if developers would just pay attention. Maybe then there won't be so much, "Oh great, this fucking level," when that inevitable stealth portion of a game you've been playing finally rears its ugly head.

Bottom line: Mark of the Ninja is the best goddamn thing of 2012 and you all need to seriously fucking play it.

Runner Up:

Dust is both riveting and beautiful in a way games just aren't anymore.
I did it all for Clementine and I have zero regrets!

And there you have it! Another year down for gaming, and another pointless list taking up space in some poop-smelling corner of the internet. Cruising into 2013, I find myself more enthusiastic about the medium than I have been in years, and with the rise and success of developers like Klei and Humble Hearts creating the kinds of games I enjoy the most, I think that enthusiasm will be around for some time to come.

Have a happy new year, folks!

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