I said on Twitter that 2012 wasn’t a vintage year for the medium – and what a chin-stroking dolt I sound for saying that – but as I started sifting through my ‘writing work completed’ folder on my PC, I came around to thinking that perhaps I’d been a little harsh. I think part of the problem was the sheer number of games I had to play for review – over 140, number fans – and if you factor in all the titles I played that I didn’t write about, you’ve probably got a figure close to 200 (EDIT: having opted to try to list them all, I’m up to 209, and I’ve probably missed a few there, too). If we say it’s a round 200, that’s a game every 1.825 days, and if you factor in timesinks like Assassin’s Creed III, not to mention the hours I’ve spent playing Skylanders with the boy and taking thousands of turns on Words With Friends and Disc Drivin’…well, that’s a pretty scary figure.
The problem with playing that number of games is that it doesn’t really allow you to savour anything: once you’ve finished one, it’s straight onto the next. I really got the opportunity to give any game a chance to percolate, to let its delicate flavours infuse within my thoughts. That’s partly why I’m going to try and focus my efforts on feature writing next year – I’ll still write plenty of reviews, of course, but I’d like to take the time to really get to know the games I play, to explore them more thoroughly, beyond simply playing something for however many hours it takes to see the credits roll and then tossing it aside.
The troubling thing is that there are a great many high-profile games I either haven’t played or have barely touched. I’ve spent less than an hour with Hotline Miami, ditto Max Payne 3. I haven’t touched Borderlands 2 or Resident Evil 6. Far Cry 3 is sitting next to my TV, atop my play-as-soon-as-you-possibly-can pile. I’d like to go back to Fez and Spelunky, the former of which left me cold despite ostensibly being very much my cup of tea, the latter proving just a little too punishing for my impatient mood at the time. It’s getting increasingly difficult to play all the stuff you should play these days. Time to specialise? Perhaps, but then my tastes are fairly eclectic, and I’m loath to limit myself to two or three genres. Particularly when some of my very favourite games have been the biggest surprises, the games I didn’t expect to adore, but which ended up capturing my heart.
Initially, part of the reason I felt 2012 was disappointing was the lack of games I’d consider putting in my all-time top 20. But as I look back, the diversity of experiences I’ve enjoyed may well put any other year in the shade. Sure, some of the big-budget titles I’d been anticipating underwhelmed, and I didn’t quite fall in love with anything this year the way I did with Skyward Sword or Vanquish or Super Mario 3D Land in 2011. But maybe that’s my fault. Maybe I didn’t lavish these games with the attention they deserved. Or maybe I’m just really fucking tired (I really am). Either way, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m beginning to think I was wrong about 2012. There has been some really great stuff this year, as this feature will – hopefully – prove.
Without further ado, then, here are my awards for 2012. There are no physical prizes, of course. Instead, the winners can console themselves with the knowledge that some fat, scruffy northern idiot likes them. Assuming they read this, that is. Which they almost certainly won’t.
Best corporate overlord
It’s Iwata, of course. It’s always Iwata. E3’s banana-staring incident only cemented his number one slot. But I’m going to give due credit to someone else this year. Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida did a great deal to make his company’s public face that much more charming and attractive. A smart, astute and knowledgeable guy, he’s clearly passionate about what he does, as evidenced by his sterling efforts creating stages for indie Vita platformer Sound Shapes. He regularly engages with fans and critics alike on Twitter, and even managed to find a cheekily endearing way to shill Sony product using a rival’s console. On top of all that, he seems like a genuinely lovely guy.
We’ve bidden a number of tearful farewells this year, from the closure of
Psygnosis Studio Liverpool to the demise of Xbox World and PSM3 magazines. It was the death of another publication, however, that hit me the hardest. Nintendo Gamer was an absolute joy to read and an honour to write for, an irreverent, often splutteringly funny mag written by some of the UK’s smartest, wittiest, most passionate journos (and, inexplicably, me). Its pages dripped with Nintendo love, but it never pulled its punches when it came to the big N, and wasn’t afraid of holding back when a game deserved a kicking. I’ll forever owe a debt to the likes of Charlotte Martyn, Matthew Castle, Alex Dale, Mark Green and Martin Kitts for the influence they’ve had on my career, but more importantly, they all contributed hugely to one of the best damn game magazines ever. It will be missed.
Best vocal performance
Dave Fennoy was admirably sturdy in the face of unthinkable adversity in The Walking Dead, while Nolan North played startlingly against type in Jager’s Apocalypse Now tribute Spec Ops: The Line. The Last Story, meanwhile, had a wonderful mix of regional UK accents, with fellow Stockportian Kelly Wenham particularly likeable as the comely Syrenne. Adrian Hough came within a whisker of snatching this away from the eventual winner, snarking up a storm – and making the world’s longest prologue bearable – as Haytham Kenway in Assassin’s Creed III. But I’m giving this to Liam O’Brien as the eponymous lunatic in CyberConnect2’s batshit interactive anime Asura’s Wrath, if only for somehow communicating a range of emotions from little more than guttural grunts and full-blooded roars. If nothing else, he deserves it for knackering his vocal cords in the name of art. Get that man some honey and lemon!
Most enigmatic puzzler
It’s been a good year for puzzle games, from quirky seating-arranger Girls Like Robots to FuturLab’s sparky tile-matcher Surge via the underrated Slydris, an iPad title from the prolific radiangames that no one played. As with life, however, it’s the weirder ones I tend to get on best with. I described iOS word game QatQias “a roguelike with words”, which is probably one of the most succinct things I’ve written all year, if not ever. But it’s neither as downright odd nor as wonderfully taxing as Yoot Saito’s Aero Porter, a game which puts you in charge of guiding baggage onto planes via a series of ramps and conveyer belts. It’s at once accessible and ridiculously challenging, not least when you have to watch out for coloured luggage tags to load onto Air Force One while blowing on the screen to find out which case has a bomb in it. I’m awful at it, but any time I’ve had a spare ten minutes in the last fortnight, this is the game I keep turning to.
Best game name
I nearly gave this to XBLIG shooter Shark Attack Deathmatch, partly because the game really does live up to the title’s promise. But then I’d (briefly) forgotten that DakkoDakko’s Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims also came out this year, a title that rather neatly works as its own elevator pitch. It obviously helps that the game is a perfectly-pitched slice of old-school arcade fun, with delightful Japan-centric art and refined, challenging play mechanics. I urge the four people reading this who own either a PSP or a Vita to give it a try.
Okay, that’s it for now. Assuming the Mayans were wrong and the world hasn’t succumbed to a fiery apocalypse, part two should follow in approximately 24 hours, and will include such awards as Best unofficial OutRun sequel, Best NPC and Best Worst Business Decision. In the meantime, I’m off to play Yakuza 5. See you tomorrow!