During the past twelve months, I reviewed a lot of games for the site. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play and review as many as I intended, but then again, social obligations tend to get in the way of personal projects like this one. I have some catching up to do, so hopefully, I’ll eventually find the time to play titles such as Chrono Trigger, Okami, Bully, Psychonauts, Bastion, Broken Sword and Faster than Light, among many, many others that are either on my laptop’s hard drive or sitting a shelf behind me.
Before going to the actual list I’d like to clear up a few things. These are what I consider to be the best games I played this year, so try not to roll your eyes as soon as you realize that Far Cry 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Halo 4 or The Walking Dead aren’t featured in the list. This is a website about retro games after all and I love the fact that it’s so focused. That said, here are the best games that I played in 2012:
10. God of War II
Ah, God of War II. Also known as the PlayStation 2 swan song and one of the best titles the console has ever seen. Whenever someone mentions God of War II people think of decapitated and maimed enemies, but sometimes we tend to forget that the game also has compelling puzzles, a great story and one of the strongest video game introductions in recent memory. In a nutshell, God of War II is a technical marvel that no one who still owns a PlayStation 2 should miss.
Walk slowly to a room where there is at least one person. Don’t say anything, just turn on your PSP and start playing Patapon. After a couple of minutes turn off the console and remain silent. I’ll guarantee you that the other person will start humming the Patapon song within the next couple of minutes. That’s the power of Patapon! The portable title not only is charming, but also has one of the most hypnotic soundtracks ever created. Who would have known that fighting fierce dinosaurs, hunting for food and gathering loot could be so… catchy? Pata-pata-pata-pon!
Time and time again, companies that have been in the industry for a few decades try to make a game that looks and feels like the traditional ones that they used to make years ago. Some companies try to make games more difficult, but that doesn’t seem to be the answer. Other try to provide their games with a retro presentation, but that doesn’t work either. If you want answers, look no further and start playing Viewtiful Joe. Its great sense of humor, meticulously crafted visuals, inviting mechanics and rewarding gameplay make this game feel nostalgic, yet still remarkably modern at the same time. You did it again Capcom…
You’d be forgiven to think that Torchlight II is yet another Diablo clone. Look a little harder and you’ll realize that you’re in front of one of the best action role-playing games of the past few years. There are new characters, expertly designed quests and loot, lots and lots of loot. Those who have played the original Torchlight might remember that one of the most common criticisms about that iteration was the lack of online multiplayer. Well, you can forget about that, since Torchlight II allows you to play cooperatively with a couple of friends. Anything else? Oh yes, modifications. Stop reading this description about Torchlight II and start playing it. You won’t be disappointed.
There’s something inherently engrossing about being able to select any song from your music library and listen to it while you hit oncoming blocks that match the song’s rhythm and style. Audiosurf does that in a stylish and engaging way. The indie title combines elements of the rhythm and puzzle genres and the result is so enjoyable that I couldn’t stop playing long after posting the review. The mechanics may be hard to explain, but the game is really easy to pick up. Eventually though, you will be so hooked that you won’t be able to stop. Let me play one more song…
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was the first tactical RPG that I’ve ever beaten. There are many reasons why I enjoyed that title as much as I did: the turn-based tactical battles are engrossing, the job system is terribly addictive and the overall gameplay is both accessible and deeply engaging. Eventually, I decided to try a port of the original Tactics, a game called Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, and what a great decision that was. The War of the Lions captures everything that makes the first Tactics one of the best games of all time, at the same time it features some inviting additions, including cel-shaded FMVs, a 16:9 aspect ratio, two new character classes and a wireless multiplayer mode, among others. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions proves that the core formula has definitely stood the test of time and that’s an achievement in itself.
4. To the Moon
To the Moon has simple mechanics, retro-style visuals and simplistic puzzles. It also has endearing characters, solid dialogue, a terrific soundtrack, genuinely funny moments and one of the most touching stories ever told. But what exactly is To the Moon? In terms of story, think of a combination of Inception, Memento and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. In terms of aesthetics, think of a traditional 16-bit RPG that was made possible by the extremely versatile RPG Maker. I won’t reveal anything about the game’s plot, but let me tell you that it’s funny, it’s sweet and it’ll definitely make you cry. Only truly special titles can tell such a sincere tale and To the Moon is one such title.
The goofy-looking visuals are deceiving, for Beyond Good & Evil is one of the most indelible experiences in recent memory. In BG&E, you assume the role of Jade, a young reporter who lives in planet Hyllis. As all the other Hyllis residents, the courageous protagonist finds herself in the middle of a war between an alien force known as the DomZ and a military dictatorship called the Alpha Sections. Soon enough, people start disappearing and Jade sets out to unveil a conspiracy by taking incriminating pictures that she plans to publish in the local newspaper for everyone to see.
Beyond Good & Evil combines stealth-action sequences, picture-taking mechanics and hovercraft racing, but it also has a mesmerizing story that few developers have the ability to pull off. It may look like any other childish platformer, but beneath its colorful visuals there is a story that deals with mature themes such as human trafficking and torture. Beyond Good & Evil has some technical issues here and there, but they shouldn’t prevent you from experiencing one of the most intoxicating titles of the last decade.
On the surface, Shadow of the Colossus is a title in which you move from point A to point B in order to slay gargantuan Colossi. If you manage to kill all sixteen creatures, you may revive a deceased maiden. Underneath that surface though, there’s one of the most poignant, emotionally riveting and thought-provoking titles to have ever graced the medium. But what makes Shadow of the Colossus so emotionally resonant. Is it the impressive artistic design? Is it the pacing? Is it the gripping exploration? Well, yes and no.
What I find most appealing about Shadow of the Colossus is the fact that this is the first title to make me think about the consequences of my actions. Why do I need to slay defenseless monsters? Am I killing legendary creatures just to revive the princess? I still don’t have the answers to these questions and at this point, I think that maybe the answers aren’t really important. In the end, one thing is for sure: play Shadow of the Colossus and you’ll remember it for years to come. I know I will.
San Andreas offers everything that you’d want out of a Grand Theft Auto game and so much more. Rockstar’s action-adventure sandbox title has a compelling story, eclectic soundtrack, a wide variety of vehicles, role-playing game elements, a great sense of humor, superb voice acting and the list goes on and on. My favorite feature? Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas are based on Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, respectively and the painstaking attention to detail will definitely amaze those who have had the chance to visit those places in real life. Landmarks such as the Hollywood sign, the Whiskey a Go Go, the Staples Center, the Golden Gate and The Santa Monica Pier have been included in the game and the similarities to their real-life counterparts is simply staggering.
What I love about the game is that it offers a incredible amount of freedom, but at the end of the day, your personal experience is what makes GTA: San Andreas so amazing. Some my fondest memories about the game weren’t the story missions or sidequests, they were moments in which I decided to completely deviate from the main path to do whatever I felt like. I once flew to Las Venturas, jumped from my plane, landed of the top of the Luxor and started shooting rockets to innocent taxi drivers that were at the bottom of the hotel. I managed to stay alive for a good couple of minutes, even when I was on the highest wanted level. Oh and I also got a horseshoe. Best. Day. Ever.