My Top 10 Games of 2012

I’ve already handed out a number of awards, but here are my top ten games of the year. There are plenty that just missed out: XCOM and NintendoLand might, on another day, have made it. XCOM is wonderful in many respects, but it was a game I admired rather than loved. I felt uncomfortable including NintendoLand without playing any of its games with the full complement of players. Other games I think may have made it but I didn’t play enough of include Far Cry 3 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star (which my son is several hours into and loving). Tokyo Jungle and Kid Icarus: Uprising would make my top 20, as would New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Hexagon, The Walking Dead, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims and Sine Mora. But these are the ten that did make it. I hope you enjoy reading my reasons for including them, and do let me know your own personal favourites in the comments.

10. ZombiU

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This unrelentingly dark survival horror not only remembered what made the genre great, but provided compelling evidence that Wii U’s controller is more than just a gimmick. It’s bleak, uncompromising and occasionally a little clunky, but once you learn to scavenge, conserve and avoid conflict where possible (early reviews suggested some critics were trying to play it like an FPS) it becomes a gripping, frightening adventure and, just as importantly, an exceptional launch title for its host console.

9. Thirty Flights Of Loving

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It’s over in 15 minutes, but Brendon Chung’s fragmented tale contains more surprises than games 20 times its length. Its narrative pinballs through time, giving you just enough information to rearrange its pieces then glue them together. The resultant picture may be incomplete, but the process is thrilling and rewarding in equal measure.

8. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed

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Bizarre Creations alumnus Gareth Wilson helped mould a very good kart racer into something that dared to stand out from its peers. It’s more OutRun than Mario Kart, its blend of drift-happy handling and weaponised competition also recalling Bizarre’s ill-fated Blur. The icing on the cake is its evident love for Sega, with tracks and characters taken from the publisher’s biggest hits to less obvious but fondly remembered fare like Panzer Dragoon and Burning Rangers. It’s a fast-paced and enormously fun racing game that deserves more attention and acclaim.

7. Spec Ops: The Line

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Yager’s much-delayed shooter doesn’t just examine the cost of war from the perspective of its participants, but the effect of violence on its players. The Walking Dead might have asked you to make some horrible choices, but the actions you take here are more disturbing still, culminating in perhaps the most powerful, upsetting moment in games this year. At times it borrows too liberally from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but this haunting story trumps Telltale’s episodic adventure for the quality of its writing.

6. Asura’s Wrath

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There’s a wonderful purity to Asura’s Wrath: it’s a multi-part anime dedicated entirely to one man – one god, even – getting very, very angry indeed. It looks incredible, the simple but responsive combat is entirely in keeping with the character, and the ferocious QTEs are the perfect physical augment to the onscreen madness. You might spend more time watching than playing, but what powerful, unforgettable sights they are.

5. Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition

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The best sports game of the year was the most unexpected. I only played this because I was asked to review a clutch of the Vita’s launch titles, and it turned out to be comfortably my favourite of the lot. AM2’s colours look more vibrant than ever on Vita’s gorgeous screen, and I’ve encountered few moments quite so thrilling this year as witnessing an immaculately rendered buggy-whip Nadal forehand save a match point, the Spaniard uppercutting the air in triumph as the crowd roared their approval.

4. Beat Sneak Bandit

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Simogo’s rhythm-action stealth platformer was the best iOS game I played all year. It’s a miniature masterpiece of pattern recognition, memory and rhythmic timing, set to a wonderfully weird soundtrack that ranges from squelchy funk to Scooby Doo via piano jazz. And it’s been made with the kind of polish, charm and attention to detail that you’d normally associate with Nintendo at their best. A gem.

3. Journey

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A great deal of Journey’s appeal comes from simply manoeuvring its protagonist. Its narrative may have been a little self-important, but floating, swooping, sliding and gliding around its gorgeous, imposing environments made you feel like an artist, that slightly awkward PS3 controller transformed into a paintbrush dancing over the broadest of canvases. In one brief sequence, it became a better snowboarding game than SSX. And I’ll never forget the way gaming’s finest ever sunset made me feel.

2. Gravity Rush

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The creator of Siren couldn’t have chosen a project more different for his Vita debut, but Keiichiro Toyama duly produced the best game on Sony’s portable. It plays like the first act of a superhero movie, the moments where the protagonist struggles to acclimatise to their powers. As the likeable Kat, you fly by falling, a gravity-shifting conceit that sees you clumsily hoist innocents into the air, and crash awkwardly into park benches upon landing. Crucially, all this is utterly thrilling, a sense of giddy momentum conveyed expertly through speed and animation, and in Hekseville it has a place whose hidden nooks are worth seeking out. Like its identifiably un-super hero, Gravity Rush is a true original.

1. Binary Domain

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I kept looking for reasons for it to be number one, but in the end, I couldn’t find enough reasons for it not to be. When it comes down to it, Binary Domain is the one game I think I found the most consistently entertaining this year. It’s a shooter with a rare warmth, its mismatched cast proving more endearing the more time you spend with them, its well-worn story somehow becoming more than the sum of its Blade Runner and i, Robot-inspired parts. It has thrilling set-pieces, tremendous weapons, properly challenging boss battles, moments of genuine humour and the best enemy grunts I’ve ever faced in a shooter. There’s something chilling about their relentlessness: blow off a limb and these robotic foes will calmly pick up the gun they dropped and carry on shooting. The encouraging shouts of your team, meanwhile, brought about my favourite moment of the year. After blasting several enemies in quick succession with a shotgun, I finished off the final robot, the silence that followed eventually punctuated by a delayed but familiar cry: “That was sweeeeeet!” Yes, Big Bo. It really was.

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