30 December 2012

My Top 7 Games of the Year 2012

I haven't played every notable video game that released in 2012, but I have played a fair whack of them, and I wanted to highlight them here.

NUMBER SEVEN: Borderlands 2

 I tried to get into Borderlands last year, and once again this year, but it just didn't hook me the way the sequel did.  I'm not certain what was so different about Borderlands 2 that made me hunger for loot and level-ups; perhaps the smart writing and humorous dialogue greased the wheels.  All I know is that with Borderlands 2, I now care what guns I'm carrying; I now want to tick off everything on my to-do list; I now want to play a first person shooter for more than 50 hours...

NUMBER SIX: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I don't play many strategy games, but when I do, it's usually a well-crafted one by Firaxis.  XCOM: Enemy Unknown is no exception, and may well be my favourite strategy game this side of Civilisation II.  I was emotionally invested in my squad, and not wanting to see them die horribly was the key motivator to playing the game patiently and properly.

NUMBER FIVE: Mass Effect 3

Sure, Mass Effect 3's ending left a lot to be desired, but every story beat brought a Mass Effect story thread to a satisfying conclusion.  Some of these moments were among the most deeply moving experiences I've ever had playing a video game.  It's not the best Mass Effect game, but it was worth it just to see Garrus, Thane, and Mordin one last time.

NUMBER FOUR: Mark of the Ninja

Mark of the Ninja was the most mechanically satisfying game I played all year.  The controls are tight and super-smooth, the ninja's arsenal is versatile and interesting, and the game deftly transmits feedback to the player.  All of these things are paramount for a stealth game, but what's most remarkable about Mark of the Ninja is that it makes all of these things work in 2D.  2D stealth has never been done before, but this game will make you wonder why nobody tried it sooner.


Journey is one of the most beautiful games ever created, inside and out.  It is filled with the awe of discovery. Discovering another player for the first time; discovering that close proximity to that player increases your ability to fly, and keeps you warm in a snowstorm.  It's magical.  By limiting player communication to a single sound and a single button press, it manages to forge unspoken bonds between complete strangers.  So much so, my stranger-turned friend and I simply stopped and stood on top of a hill, just to look at the sky.  It was a rare moment of shared beauty.

NUMBER TWO: Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami is a horrible 80s cocaine binge in the best possible way.  Its broken-record soundtrack, hazy filter, and wavering camera put me right in the disturbed headspace of its protagonist.  In a way, the game is a systematic, stealth action game.  But its one-hit-one-kill policy rewards the brazen far more than the methodical.  The game kills you until you are a genuinely better player.  Twitch reflexes develop; muscle memory sets in.  Make no mistake, I died many times during the course of Hotline Miami, but I thought to myself, just one more try, EVERY time.  The game design really serves and encourages this with quick controls and quick restarts.  Clearing a level is satisfying because it can only be done quickly and flawlessly.  It is also harrowing because the music stops and the game forces you to reflect upon your violence as you do the walk of shame back to your car.  Hotline Miami is conceptually brilliant: the most violent statement against violence in video games.

And NUMERO UNO is...

The Walking Dead video game is not only superior to the television show; it is better than the comic book series that spawned them both.  The emotional bond with its characters is strengthened by the interactive nature of the medium.  Its high stakes plot is raised by throwing the player into heart-wrenching decision-making.  The Walking Dead treats player choice with the deepest respect, and yet there is a fatalism that propels its story.  Often those choices will be between abandoning or mercy-killing a doomed friend or family member.  At two particular points, the weight of these decisions reduced me to a weeping, sobbing mess.  By the game's conclusion, I felt like an empty shell of a man - a zombie, if you will - and it took me a long time to recover.  It's not often I can say that about a video game, let alone any form of entertainment.  Congratulations Walking Dead, you are my Game of the Year for 2012.

15 September 2012

Rage Against the Machine: Wii U and Bayonetta 2

Platinum Games have copped a lot of hate - and even death threats - following the announcement of Bayonetta 2 as a Wii U exclusive.  Nintendo named itself as the game's publisher, practically assuring its exclusivity, and no doubt adding fuel to the fire.

The people who are angry about all this are people who considered a multiplatform Bayonetta 2 to be a real possibility.  To the those people, I would say this: you should be thanking Nintendo, because I assure you, Bayonetta 2 would not exist on any platform without them:
"That being said, the console games market is in a state of upheaval, so establishing a new game franchise requires a considerable amount of will, determination, and love. Bayonetta is a brand that we want to see become stronger, reaching the hands of more and more gamers, so we have continued to consult with SEGA, the previous game’s publisher, on how we can make sure this takes place. Our answer was a new partnership with Nintendo."
It's not all roses for Bayonetta 2.

Consider this: Platinum Games have not had a hit since the original Bayonetta, which only sold 1.35 million units worldwide.  Now, if I sold 1.35 million of anything, I would regard that as a success, but for SEGA as a publisher, I would imagine that the game sold well below expectations given the marketing push it had.  Now consider the fact that SEGA has financially hit a tight spot, and have had to drastically scale back their publishing operations in order to guarantee future profits.  That means sticking to your Sonics, your Yakuzas, your Monkey Balls, and your Total Wars - not your Bayonettas.  I would add that it is highly likely that Bayonetta 2 was part-way through development before SEGA's scale-back as well.

So you're Platinum Games, and you're faced with a decision: either throw Bayonetta 2 in the bin and it will never get made, or shop it around to another publisher, one that will not only need to fund its remaining development, but will also want it bad enough to buy it back from SEGA.

The only publisher who fits that bill is Nintendo.  Nintendo needs a strong launch lineup for the Wii U, and it needs to prove to 'core' gamers that it is serious about securing exclusive AAA third party content going forward.  In a huge show of faith, Nintendo is also putting its name to Platinum's new IP, publishing Wonderful 101 at launch.

It's clear that Nintendo is supporting Platinum in a big way, and Platinum is returning the favour.  Platinum was clearly looking for a way that Bayonetta 2 could exist, and Nintendo has provided them with that way.

22 August 2012

Fighting Vapors

This is all that exists of Tekken X Street Fighter.  (And all that will ever exist of it.)
With regards to Tekken X Street Fighter, the Tekken team and Harada-san over there haven’t even put together one page of design documents regarding their game yet! They’re so slow… I want to put in all sorts of whatever nods or easter eggs that I can, but just two weeks ago Harada-san called me and said, “Hey… can I have a list of the Street Fighter characters?” And I was like, “What? You’re so slow!” It’ll probably take them six years to come out with their game!
~Yoshinori Ono, producer of Street Fighter X Tekken

To summarise, Tekken X Street Fighter has not been in development during the past 2+ years since its announcement, is not in development currently, and - mark my words - will not see the light of day, ever.  Given the PR nightmare engulfing Street Fighter X Tekken, this result grows ever more likely.

07 July 2012

Power to the People

The nickel and dime operation known as VIDEOGAMES got just a tad more ridiculous when Nintendo revealed that the 3DS LL (aka XL) would not release with an AC adapter in Japan.  They then went on to announce that the price of the 3DS plug would be reduced from 1,500 yen to 1,000 yen, presumably in response to the web-wide backlash.  This is good news for serial lead-losers and cord collectors alike, but I'm not certain Nintendo grasps the full stupidity of their decision.

When the DSi LL (XL) saw release, it was squarely pitched towards the elderly, in the hopes that they would take to the device's bigger screen, bigger grip, bigger stylus, and bigger...well, everything.  It's not much of a stretch to assume that the 3DS LL is aimed toward that same demographic.  Will Japanese seniors be tech-savvy enough to know that this thing needs to be charged?  Or will they return to stores in droves three hours later to refund a doohickey that just stopped working?

27 February 2012

Skyrim is the New "Dog Ate My Homework"

 That's my excuse for the lack of updates, anyway...

I keep telling myself (and my wife) that it'll all be over soon.

It'll all be over soon...