Category Archives: Games Of 2012

The most meaningful games of 2012.

Games of 2012: FIFA 13

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

FIFA 13

I was originally hesitant to include FIFA 13 on my list this year. Despite playing more in my third year with the series than either of the two previous, most of my confusion from last year remains. The game remains difficult to learn the nuances no matter how much time you spend with it. Just a week ago, I finally figured out that when you’re taking a free kick, up and down are for the direction of spin, not where you want to place the ball (ala how you take a penalty). Yes, this took me three years with the series to figure out.

Even with its obtuseness, I have a much deeper appreciation for FIFA this year, because I’ve had a chance to see what an institution it is worldwide.

– Just about every soccer player cares deeply about how they’re represented in the game. There’s a certain measure of self-worth and pride related to how close to reality one appears in the game. Stats, placement in the lineup, and accuracy of the player model all matter on different levels. Dax McCarty, the defensive midfielder for the Red Bulls, was perhaps the most glum on the team about FIFA 13; mostly because he wasn’t in the team’s starting lineup (despite starting nearly every game this season), but also because his character model had been given clown-red hair instead of his actual strawberry blonde hair.

– It’s become the sort of game where EA must blow millions of dollars on promotion. There were a variety of game changes from 12 to 13, but the biggest (and most costly) was easily EA wrenching away the image rights for Lionel Messi from Konami. Observe this year’s “JOIN THE CLU13” ad and try to ponder the budget involved in getting some of the top names in the sport crammed in for so many little cameos. Even the parties are absurd, as best illustrated by Graham Parker’s amazing recap of the NYC launch party. (I didn’t get an invite this year; clearly this is the next big step towards my legitimacy as a sports journalist.)

– If you think free-to-play games on Facebook are terrifying, then you must not be familiar with FIFA Ultimate Team (or more commonly, “FUT”). FUT has a simple enough premise: open packs of cards, assemble a team, play as that team through seasons or tournaments. But the cards have limited contracts, so they can only be used so many times before you have to apply a contract card to extend their usefulness. You have to be cognizant of preferred formations, chemistry with nearby teammates, fitness, morale, and possibly which month the player’s birthday is. The in-game currency for winning matches is rarely enough to keep your team operating for very long, so soon you’ll turn to the marketplace in an attempt to buy and sell cards to achieve enough of a profit to keep things going.

There was a big rash of Xbox Live account hacking last year that was linked to FIFA. People would crack accounts, quickly purchase Microsoft points, buy gold player packs, and transfer all the cards to another account. It became known as “getting FIFA’d”. How many freemium games do you know that get used as a nickname for a specific type of criminal activity?

FIFA 13 is so engrained in soccer culture, it’s hard to not be into it if you’re into the sport. Journalists, players, front office staff, musicians, fans – everyone’s in. Come on – how many other games are going to lead to me talking smack with a player I respect?

FIFA 13 is available on just about every system known to man. My experiences were largely with the PS3 and Windows versions.

Games of 2012: Dishonored

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Dishonored

If my post on Skyrim last year didn’t make it clear: I love games with a sense of place. I love games with plenty of ephemera and tiny things to explore off the beaten path. I love games where you can disregard the main plot and still have plenty to do.

It will then come as no surprise that I love Dishonored, this year’s big title from Arkane Studios and Bethesda. The world is not quite as wide open as Skyrim was, but I’d argue it has more character. The elaborate confines of Dunwall are a strange cross-pollination of London and steampunk, and the game gives you room to explore and plot your own paths rather than being shepherded down a straight line.

Dishonored – or rather, someone writing about it – opened my eyes up to an aspect of game design I hadn’t considered much before. Alec Meer’s “Dishonored: The Onion” was probably my favorite piece of writing on the subject of games this year, and may have also been the article that pushed me over the threshold to buy the game at all. Alec’s main message: *turn off the quest markers and slow down*.

If you want to rush around with a gun, shooting anything that moves, don’t buy Dishonored. It has put those things in there for you, and it offers slick, brutal, varied permutations on how to use them, but they are not its all. If you’re looking for 10+ hours of shooting men, or even stabbing men, you are well-served already and forever by games that do that, do it well, and do it for a long time. You and those like you are the victor of the great games race, and you have the spoils, many times over.

So let us have Dishonored. Let us have this one expensive, luxurious game that only truly works, only sings a glorious tune, only becomes a 20+ hour game if met by those who treat it in the spirit with which it is offered. Don’t tell us it’s too short and too slight just because you don’t find combing through its many layers, peeling back every last millimetre of artfully subdued skin, of interest. Because you want to rush to the conclusion, and you don’t believe anything that doesn’t explicitly inform reaching that conclusion is worthwhile.

I had not yet completed Dishonored. It was a conscious choice, as I’m saving the rest for after I can upgrade my desktop later this month. But I had experienced and greatly enjoyed the “layers” Alec describes: stumbling my way down unknown streets; creeping in the shadows through a house I’m not sure I needed to break into; opting to not go straight through the front gate but always around the side.

And he’s absolutely right – turning off the quest markers DOES make the game better. Without an omni-present waypoint beckoning you into the distance, you are left to your own devices. You’re more prone to wander down a side hallway and discover something that helps enrich your understanding of the world. You’re less likely to know when a set piece is coming. It wouldn’t work if Dishonored was meant to be played linearly, but with so much in Dunwall that’s worth exploring, it’s a better choice than becoming a slave to the marker.

The next time you’re playing something, and that waypoint pops up in your view, ask yourself: can I find my own way? It may just be the better choice.

Dishonored is available on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows. My experiences were largely with the Windows version.

Games of 2012: The World Ends With You Solo Remix

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

The World Ends With You: Solo Remix

I remember getting my hands on The World Ends With You for the first time. It felt like an eternity since the last time I was had my world flipped by a Square RPG. A weird blend of modern Japanese culture and supernatural plots to destroy the world, TWEWY tied together a unique combat system, well-polished art and music, and memorable moody teenagers (this was a Square game, after all). It felt revolutionary, and possibly the start of a great new RPG franchise.

But that was 2008 – and following its release on the DS, nothing more came out of the franchise – until this year. Out of nowhere in August, Square Enix quickly announced and released The World Ends With You: Solo Remix. It didn’t launch on Nintendo’s floundering 3DS, nor was it a near-launch title for Sony’s Playstation Vita. No, it came out solely for iOS, at price points rarely seen on the platform: $18 for the iPhone/iPod Touch version, and $20 for the iPad version. People flipped out.

There are plenty of takeaways from the release – you could spend months trying to break down Square’s pricing strategy, or the effectiveness of reducing a dual screen game to a single screen, or lambasting Square for blocking the iPhone version from running on the iPad and/or not releasing a universal version. But I’d rather focus on the biggest takeaway: it marks the clearest turning point that the mobile gaming landscape has turned away from Nintendo and Sony to instead concentrate on smartphones.

This writing has been on the wall for a while, but it feels inescapable this year. If we’re going off of Metacritic scores to judge quality, there was a single game above 90 on both the 3DS (the eShop re-release of Cave Story) and the Vita (Persona 4 Golden). But somehow, there are 18 games in 2012 that met this threshold on iOS. Many of these are from indie developers; the major studios are represented (EA, Namco, Popcap, Warner Brothers); and the iPad version of TWEWY tops out the list at 95, technically the best reviewed title of the year.

Such a marketplace shift is anathema to long-time mobile gamers, as it seems inconceivable that a platform not dedicated to gaming could provide experiences on par with the big handhelds. But here it is: one of the most lauded, most beloved games in the DS generation, available for the half a billion iOS devices out in the wild.

Some may try to argue the release means little. Isn’t TWEWY:SR just a remake to rake in quick cash? If you’re willing to believe that, then you also have to discount the highest rated game on the Vita (Persona 4 was a Playstation 2 game), and you have to doubly discount the Cave Story release for the 3DS, a veritable remake of a remake! (Cave Story was released for the 3DS as a cartridge in 2011.)

I can’t understate how much of a disruption this is to a handheld market that was rock solid for the last 10 years. It’s almost reminiscent of the gaming market crash of 1983 – although a bit slower, and there’s already a new business model in place to save us waiting a few years for a new savior. If we don’t have dedicated handhelds after this cycle ends, I won’t bother to feign surprise.

(As for TWEWY:SR itself? It’s pricey, but you get what you pay for – a high quality RPG in a unique setting. It doesn’t feel any different compared to the DS version, save the combat – and I actually liked the single screen version better. If you didn’t play through it in 2008, I highly recommend you save up and splurge on it.)

The World Ends With You: Solo Remix is available for iPhone and for iPad, but not in the same app, because Square Enix doesn’t believe in such things.

Games of 2012: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

I come before you tonight to disappoint you. Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is not the sleeper hit of the century, nor is it a bomb that would deserve a Guy Fieri-style takedown. I can’t remember the last time I felt so middle of the road about a game. (Most of this post will compare the game to the Super Smash Brothers series, which PASBR is widely accused of ripping off.)

The roster? It’s fine. There are some logical choices (Kratos, Nathan Drake, PaRappa, Ratchet); some fun outside choices (Noriko from Heavenly Sword, Spike from Ape Escape, and the feline majesty of Toro); some strange outside choices (Sir Daniel from MediEvil, Colonel Radec from Killzone); and some terrible choices (Dante from DMC, but the new one, not the traditional one; Big Daddy from Bioshock, hardly a Playstation classic). Thing is, if you’re comparing this to Smash Brothers, it’s not significantly different, as that roster follows that same range. There’s this weird belief that Smash is immune to bad characters, but the roster there has plenty of hot garbage. (R.O.B.? Wolf? Pokemon Trainer? Meta Knight? Lucario?)

If you are used to Smash play mechanics, the gameplay will probably feel wrong to you. Rather than piling damage onto your enemies and then smacking them off the level, you build your own energy meter – and then smack enemies off the level. This can feel very backwards, but that passes and eventually feels like a reasonable design decision. The game hinges on the risk/reward decision of triggering your super early or waiting for a later (and better) level. It’s not a better or worse decision, it’s just different.

The title does feel pretty skimpy in terms of content, not helped by a poor menu interface. Story mode, challenges, offline/online play – and that’s about it. Story mode are just straight up fights and no “adventure” levels (which suits me fine, as I didn’t really dig them in Smash); the challenges are in the Street Fighter style of executing on your move list. You can customize characters (via a weird per-character experience point unlocking system), but there’s no sense of history to Playstation past as the capsule toys provide in Smash.

There is one unique feature that PASBR does very well, and that is save syncing. Buying the PS3 copy of the game gets you a downloadable Vita copy for free; the games are identical, save some minor control differences to accomodate the Vita. Given the dual-platform nature, this could have easily become obnoxious, but through some very seamless network syncing of the saves, you can bash through challenges on the Vita version and have all your unlocks on the PS3 side. It just works, and works very well at that. It does help fulfill the promise of “console gaming on the go” that seems to be the only pitch of Sony’s that rings true.

Should PASBR exist? It’s hard to say. Sony has never been a company that’s developed any true mascots of its own, something Nintendo never had a problem with. But there are plenty of recognizable characters, and there’s nothing really wrong with pushing them into a strange fighting game. (I shudder to think what a roster would look like if Microsoft tried to do the same style of game.) PABSR sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard – the battlegrounds mash games up, which is fine until a Metal Gear breaks through on the Locoroco stage for no reason at all. Other times, it feels like it’s not trying hard enough – a game with so many fighting game experts in the credits shouldn’t feel so weirdly unbalanced.

It’s a few steps from being an easy recommendation to buy, but also far enough removed from being something I couldn’t recommend at all. It’s fine. Pick it up when it goes Greatest Hits? Or don’t. It’s cool either way.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is available for PS3 and Vita.

Games of 2012: Organ Trail

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Organ Trail

By this point in popular culture, we should all be fed up of zombies. We’ve been on zed-word overload for the past few years – not just in the gaming industry but in culture overall. Just this year alone we’ve had Lollipop Chainsaw, Resident Evil 6, ZombiU, The Walking Dead[1. An aside about The Walking Dead: yes, yes, I know it’s been praised to the high heavens. I’ve been a little gunshy about Telltale’s episodic games as I’ve bought 4 seasons of their stuff but tend to never follow through through on them. I’ll probably give it a whirl next month. Sorry?], DayZ, Deadlight, Into The Dead…even Call Of Duty seems to be perpetually infested with the damn things. I’ve grown a little tired of shooting them in the head.

But I have to hand it to The Men Who Wear Many Hats – they’ve somehow managed to find a way to break my zombie ennui by smashing shambling hordes into the nostalgic edutainment fun of Oregon Trail – giving us [Organ Trail](http://hatsproductions.com/organtrail.html).

Plenty of people have tried to get the tone of MECC’s Apple II era classic right, but attempts to modernize it generally feel off. Just look at [Gameloft’s mobile version](https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-oregon-trail/id307519882?mt=8), which was at least kind of okay until they added in-app currency and tried to squeeze people for further money. Organ Trail has no qualms about sticking to the chunky graphics and limited color palette that was a staple of late 80’s computer labs.

It’s that level of dedication to really nailing that feeling that makes me love Organ Trail – it’s not really the zombies. Some grew up on an NES, others on the Genesis. But my gaming life would start on an Atari 2600 and then transition to the 4-color, no-sound-card world of a basic DOS PC.

When you complete a minigame in Organ Trail – maybe a shootout with bandits or just scavenging for supplies – the result screen pops up with a cheerful but glitchy BLEEEP~!. And when you tap the screen to dismiss it, you get the sound of a key being pressed on a very chunky keyboard. The bleep and the chunk are the best reminder of my gaming childhood I’ve had in a long time. Hits me right in the nostalgia muscle.

Organ Trail is available a universal iOS app as well as a Flash game.

Games of 2012: Letterpress

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Letterpress

Loren Brichter’s Letterpress is all kinds of wonderful. This is probably not new information to you. A little bit Scrabble, a little bit Othello, all tied together with a perfect minimal design – it was a breath of fresh air in the iOS gaming scene this year. Not having played it is some sort of disservice to yourself.

Just a week or two ago, my friend Lia picked up a new-to-her iPhone 4S. As she was telling me about it, she made a telling comment:

> just realized: i will finally get to play letterpress now that everyone’s sick of it.

And that got my mind churning a bit.

I’ve been worried a bit lately about the longevity of good games. A strong game – especially one that relies on a network component – requires a constant level of care, feeding, and gamer interest to thrive. Be it [a studio closure](http://toucharcade.com/2012/08/30/freeverse-hit-with-massive-layoffs-less-than-a-week-after-co-founders-leave-potentially-shut-down-entirely/) or [middleware getting discontinued](http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/12/10/the-spy-who-went-into-the-cold-gamespys-casualties/) or [servers being shutdown](http://www.gamespot.com/news/ea-shutting-down-over-a-dozen-game-servers-6366856) – games that once grew a following can quickly become unplayable through business decisions. (Of course, the crowd can always [head for the door for no discernable reason](http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/05/04/draw-something-loses-5m-users-a-month-after-zynga-purchase/).)

One of the games I featured last year, [Glitch](http://vjarmy.com/archives/2011/12/games-of-2011-glitch.php), [just shut down last weekend](http://www.pcworld.com/article/2019337/this-is-how-you-shut-down-your-mmos-servers-for-good-glitchs-graceful-exit.html). MMOs come and go, as they have since the format became popular – and I don’t think I ever really expected Glitch to be around forever. But it died ahead of its time, and there’s no way to convey how it really functioned to someone who never experienced it.

Letterpress may not seem in danger of this. Loren released the game on his own, and so long as he is able to keep supporting it, it should be fine, right? Except for the small fact that he built it on top of Apple’s Game Center – and while I doubt Game Center would disappear almost overnight [as OpenFeint just did](http://venturebeat.com/2012/11/16/gree-puls-plug-openfeint/), these things can and do happen.

I work in IT; having just gone through Hurricane Sandy, disaster recovery has become the word on everyone’s lips once again. I urge people who work in the gaming industry to make sure they consider the unthinkable when architecting their games. What happens if the code libraries you use never get updated and break? What if you get bought out and can never work on the game again – and then that company discontinues it? What happens if your servers die? What happens if *you* die?

I’m reminded of Duane Blehm, a guy who churned out a few small shareware titles in the late 80’s for the Mac. If you grew up with classic Macs, you probably remember [Stunt Copter](http://www.d4.dion.ne.jp/~motohiko/stuntcopter.html), and maybe even [Cairo Shootout](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID1NKqROe_4). Duane died unexpectedly in his 30s, which could have left his games stuck in limbo forever. Luckily, his parents opted to release the source code into the public domain – and [Stuntcopter still lives on](https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/stuntcopter/id308733440?mt=8).

I don’t want smart, well-conceived games like Letterpress to ever get lost to history; let’s do everything we can to make sure they don’t.

Letterpress is available as [a Universal iOS app](https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/letterpress-word-game/id526619424?mt=8).

Games of 2012: New Star Soccer

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

There’s something strangely attractive about sport RPG games. Pushing through a career of a pro athlete from minor league rookie to a world champion naturally lines up with RPG gameplay. It doesn’t need an elaborate story with revenge plots and the end of the world – there is enough drama that naturally comes from the competition. While the archetype soccer RPG experience is FIFA career mode (which [I struggled with last year](http://vjarmy.com/archives/2011/12/games-of-2011-fifa-12.php)), I have to point out how much silly fun New Star Soccer provides for a fraction of the cost.

It’s best to think of NSS as two parts: the matches themselves, and everything else. To that end: the matches are reminiscent of MLB: The Show‘s career mode, in that you’ll only be in control of the action when your player is actually involved in the play. You’ll patiently watch the clock tick by until a message about you getting the ball pops up, and then you’ll usually get a simplified overhead view of the field. Dragging on the screen sets the direction of your kick, and sends you into the reaction test. A soccer ball will fly through your view, or bounce off the ground, or otherwise move around you. Tap the ball and based on a variety of factors (where you tap, how high off the ball it is, how far you dragged when you set your direction), off the ball goes. What happens then really isn’t up to you – passes can get intercepted, shots can ricochet off the bar. You’ll generally only get about 5-8 touches of the ball per game, so make those chances count.

Games can fly by pretty quickly. The rest of your time will be spent in the menus dealing with the rest of your life. You have five relationships to manage – your boss, your team, the fans, your girlfriend (if you’ve managed to get one), and your sponsors. You also have five stats (pace, power, technique, vision, and free kicks) that directly effect the matches. Now you can play a minigame to keep your relationships happy or increase your stats – but they cost energy, which can be replenished with energy drinks. Drain all your energy and you’ll be left on the bench.

The meta-game in NSS is the fight to balance this cycle. Upgrade your stats so you play better and people are happy; play better to earn more money; use the money to buy items that replenish your energy better; use your energy to squeeze in more upgrades. It’s a precarious cycle – have a bad game, and you might not have the money you need to refill your energy to keep your fans happy, who won’t hesitate to boo you if they feel poorly about you. It can be crushing to miss one shot on goal and have that lead to you not seeing the field for weeks, but that’s not too far from how the world actually works.

There’s a bit of chance that creeps into the game as well with random events between games. A newspaper might say you look dumb, sapping your morale. Your girlfriend might ask to borrow your car – maybe she crashes it and ruins most of your relationships, or maybe she doesn’t. You can get told you’re being traded to a lower division team, which is terribly insulting when you’re leading the league in scoring.

Eventually, you can find a way out of the upgrade/relationship cycle. The sponsors start to come knocking, and the bonus cash rolls in. You get a bit better at the minigames, and the stat raises come easier. The relationships stop being in competition with each other and you just start rolling. You can start to buy up all the property and accessories. You’ll start hoarding the energy drinks, and then eventually you won’t even need them. You’ll win domestic titles, continental titles, maybe even a world one with your national team.

NSS probably needs an addiction warning on startup; it can be a short enough experience that you can pick it up and knock off a match in a minute or two, but you can also keep winding through seasons that hours can melt away in a play session. Even after you’ve seemingly mastered the game, you’ll still feel the urge to keep taking the field.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go. My team needs me.

New Star Soccer is available for iOS and Android. On iOS, the game is free but career mode is an in-app purchase of $1. There’s also a more complicated PC/Mac version, but I haven’t spent any real time with it – yet.

Games of 2012: Borderlands 2

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Has it really been three years since the original release of Borderlands? When I dug back to find [whatever I had written about it](http://vjarmy.com/archives/2009/12/steam_holiday_sale_2009_recommen.php) (“the best role playing/first person hybrid since Deus Ex, perhaps”), I was a bit surprised to see a 2009 on those posts.

That reaction is probably my expectations of the gaming industry. We’re in an era where any title that shows reasonable sales success is almost immediately announced for a sequel. Popular franchises are boiled down into a fine slurry that’s slopped out the door as quickly as possible year after year. How did Borderlands, which was both a critical and commercial success, manage to get a multi-year development cycle for its first sequel? It just seems beyond belief.

However it happened, it was worth it. I think out of all of the big budget “AAA” titles I’ve played this year (which admittedly wasn’t a ton), it was the one that felt the most realized, complete, and fun. The game world is huge, the combat feels satisfying, the writing remains sharp. The little annoyances and quibbles from the first game (like the decision to use Gamespy for online functions) are largely eradicated. And the pacing feels just about right – you can get lost in side quests if that’s your thing, or you can just grind away at the main storyline. It just feels so well balanced that I’m really glad it wasn’t rushed out the door under a tighter deadline.

One thing that Gearbox absolutely nailed was a feature they dubbed “Badass Rank”. Dedicated Borderlands players will likely end up with a stable of characters, one for each class in the game. The Badass Rank system provides general milestone objectives, which gradually convert into tokens. The tokens are redeemable for perks that boost stats for all of your characters, not just the one you’ve earned the points with. It’s a really smart method to reward the player for dedicated play. I hope other games won’t be afraid to steal it – it may be my favorite innovation I’ve seen in a game this year.

Actually, let me take that a step farther: I’m surprised that no one has tried to rip off Borderlands wholesale yet. And why *are* there so few quality first-person RPG franchises? Deus Ex, Elder Scrolls, Fallout (although New Vegas was a letdown), Borderlands…what else is there? You could argue to include Dead Island in there, even though the first game was rough around the edges. It just strikes me odd that for an industry that’s generally quick to flood the market with clones, there aren’t more first-person RPGs.

Maybe it’s a budget and time constraint – making a sufficiently deep game takes energy most companies don’t have. If that means that titles like Borderlands 2 are that much more unique, perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining too loudly.

Borderlands 2 is available for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Windows and OS X. My experiences were with the PC version.

Games of 2012: Awesomenauts

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Attentive readers may have come to the conclusion that there is no genre of video games I won’t play. This is a mostly true statement. I will play just about everything – but for the handful of genres I am quite terrible at, I often try to limit my exposure to them. Buying a game that I’m unlikely to hit a basic level of competency in tends to feel like a waste of money.

One of those genres I’m terrible at are unit management strategy games. From real-team games like Starcraft II to more turn based experiences like Shogun II, I hit a panicked level of paralysis when it comes to micromanaging units on a battlefield. I’ve never once been able to get into Command & Conquer.

So when I discovered the genre of MOBA, I thought that I might have had a breakthrough. All the tension of a strategy game, but with only one main unit to worry about. I’d get to spend less time worrying about building structures and more time managing an inventory build. I deal with RPGs just fine – perhaps MOBAs would get me over the strategy game hump.

No such luck. I spent about six months with a light League of Legends addiction, but mostly stuck to playing against bots due to crippling fear of screwing up in a random lobby game. The DotA 2 beta destroyed my brain: the game already has hugely deep (and impermeable to newcomers) strategy, and I had to try and unlearn most of the things I knew from playing LoL.

But thankfully this year, my dream MOBA did arrive – in the form of a platformer called Awesomenauts.

A platformer MOBA seems perverse – I don’t believe it had been done before Awesomenauts – but it’s easy to see the parallels even with minimal experience on, say, LoL. Your goal is to destroy the enemy base; take out the enemy turrets in your lane to get there. Each character fits into a role – ranged, carry, melee, support, etc. There are minions that help you push along your lane. There’s a shop that sells upgrades to your abilities, and you can pick how you want that build to go. You can teleport home in a pinch. There’s a jungle area. Dying sucks.

One of the hurdles to getting into strategy games is that they’re all very serious ordeals – thankfully, Awesomenauts isn’t. Most MOBAs dig deep into an epic fantasy good/evil motif. Awesomenauts opens feeling like you’re watching a Saturday morning cartoon from the late 80’s.

Unlike most MOBAs which have been pushing F2P models, Awesomenauts does in fact cost money. While there are some additional DLC bits for extra skins, every actual piece of gameplay is in the game. You do have to earn experience to unlock most everything, but it doesn’t feel like grinding – I’ve generally been unlocking one new thing per game I play.

One more advantage worth mentioning: since the game is less complex than most others in the genre, it’s playable with a controller. And since it’s playable with a controller, it’s actually available on consoles as well. How many other MOBAs are you going to play from your couch?

Whether you live and breathe MOBAs or you’re terrified of them (like me!), Awesomenauts is worth a look.

Awesomenauts is available on PSN, XBLA, and on Steam for PC and Mac. My experiences were split between the PS3 and PC versions.

Games of 2012: 10000000

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

If there’s anything I dislike about EightyEight Games’ 10000000, it’s the name. It’s certainly relevant to the game – hit that point total and you win the game – but trying to spot check the number of zeros when recommending it to friends gets tiring. So I’m just going to refer to it as *10M* from here on out.

The game itself is an addictive little tile matcher infused with upgrade mechanics. Rather than swapping nearby tiles, you slide entire rows in the hopes of matching three or more. You’ll battle monsters, open treasure chests, and bust through doors in a battle against time. Between runs, you can upgrade your hideout, unlock perks, and boost your stats with resources you collect.

As an aside about upgrade games: this has been a relatively recent genre, typically accompanied by some sort of “fling something into the air” mechanic. I have an unfortunate soft spot for these games, but I grow tired of the randomness when the fling mechanic is used. I like seeing those mechanics tied to other genres, and I think 10M does it in a sensible way.

10M is not a deep game, nor is it a long one. But it’s an enjoyable couple of hours of grinding and reacting, trying valiantly to get the little counter that reads “FREEDOM” to click up to 8 digits.

10000000 is available as a universal iOS app for $2.