Tokyo Jungle (PSN)
This one had me at the concept: play as animals forced to survive on the streets of Tokyo after an unexplained human-killing apocalypse. Oh, and the animals you get to play are things like alley cats and Pomeranians. I was pleasantly surprised when the game turned out to be a lot of stupid fun.
The biggest question in my mind is how the game would attempt to balance gameplay across the astonishing variety of the animal kingdom, and while mostly it’s a matter of numerically adding modifiers to your score, Tokyo Jungle does have an interesting method of dividing animals up. Carnivores can eat just about anything that moves, so naturally other beasts run from them. Herbivores have to go from plant to plant, but can attack if they feel like it. Things go off the delightfully deep end when the game starts throwing messages at you about oddball quests you can chose to tackle during each playthrough… like a “chicken party” kicking off in a side street.
The variety of animals – from terriers to dinosaurs – grants a lot of strange replayability. You’re never convinced that the game is going to work (why would you play as a slow, stupid cow?), and yet every time it does.
Rock Band Blitz (PSN)
This one gets the honor for one amazing reason: Harmonix found another fun way to play with the 100s of Rock Band songs you already own. Without making you pay for them all again.
That is EXCELLENT FUCKING SERVICE and these guys cannot be lauded enough for this.
The Walking Dead (Mac Steam, PSN, iOS)
I figured this one would end of on many Game of the Year lists – being a quality game from the sick-hot “Walking Dead” media conglomerate – but I did not expect it to actually win. Sort of struck me as the critic industry’s token Indie, so they could prove they don’t just give GOTYs to Whatever AAA Game Was Released In October.
But win it did, and not just vaguely-insulting “Indie Game of the Year” awards either.
And yeah, it is super good. The Walking Dead is the adventure game evolved, with much more emphasis on smooth, interactive storytelling and far less crap about cobbling together garbage puzzle solutions out of the shit in your inventory.
Hero Academy (iOS, Mac Steam)
This one came out for iOS in 2012, right? Technically it might have been really late 2011. Whatever.
The point is that I have not stopped playing this on my iPhone since the day it came out. Every week, all year.
This year’s Steam release was odd, because you wouldn’t think asynchronous mobile gaming would work well on a desktop… and it doesn’t, in terms of when you would normally play the game. I suppose if you’re playing RIGHT NOW with somebody else who wants to play RIGHT NOW, it’s fine on Steam. But more often than not, I put in my Hero Academy turns while I’m walking down a hallway or sitting in the passenger seat.
In the past year, Hero Academy grew from two teams to six, went from iPhone to iPad to Steam, had a special Chinese iOS release, worked a cameo deal with the enduring Team Fortress franchise… and is without a doubt my Game of the Year 2012.
Even if it probably debuted in 2011.