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Alex’s Top Ten of 2012

I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t think 2012 was a really good year for gaming. Some questionable console debuts from Nintendo’s Wii U and Sony’s Vita in addition to a number of AAA titles getting delayed to 2013 didn’t inspire confidence in 2012’s gaming pickings. But that’s not to say there weren’t some fantastic games released this past year. With AAA titles being some slim pickings in terms of consistent quality, I found myself playing a number of smaller titles that still remained extremely fun. Here are my picks for the best of 2012.

10. Minecraft: 360 Edition

Yes, it’s a port, but this was my first real Minecraft experience. I never got to play the PC version, disappointingly, but the 360 edition of Minecraft opened my eyes to one of the most original and addictive titles available on XBLA. That first experience venturing into the caves, avoiding skeletons and mining for precious resources resonated with me. I really had no idea what I was missing until then. Minecraft remains one of the cornerstones of the indie world these days, and Notch’s creation doesn’t make any gameplay missteps on Xbox 360. Seeing the creepers, building my first coffin house, every moment was something new, exciting, and ultimately unforgettable. And yes, it was played with a controller.

9. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

The collapse of former baseball star Curt Schilling’s game development studio, 38 Studios, was a sad and almost frightening moment for the game industry, but even with the legal and political jargon being tossed around, the studios first (and last) entry in game design was a fantastic, fate-challenging role-playing game. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning mixed the stat-tracking of Skyrim with the high-intensity action of God of War, but the ability to design your character to your choosing was very interesting. Whether it was magic, stealth or brawn that fueled your journey, mixing and matching your skillset to fit your gameplay style was fun and deep. Yeah, the story wasn’t what it could’ve been, but all things considered, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning proved that you don’t need to be named Elder Scrolls or Final Fantasy to deliver a role-playing experience worthy of praise. 38 Studios may be gone, but you should still play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

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8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD

The rise and fall of Tony Hawk as a gaming icon may still reside in gamers’ minds, but sometimes revisiting the past can show you some great things for the future too. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is why we all grew to love the series in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Arcadey, combo-pushing trick chains and a slick, street aesthetic stuck with us. But this reboot is no cash-in; it’s a pure revitalization of a series that many thought had dug its own grave. I had more fun with this game than I really should have. Ripping through the stages, finding secrets, maxing out my trick chains and aiming for high scores recaptured the finest moments of the series. I haven’t had this much fun with a Tony Hawk game since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 on the Gamecube. Talk about memories revisited.

7. Rock Band Blitz

I was one of the rather niche gamers who was disappointed with Rock Band 3, and as a result, I was turned off from the plastic-instrument genre entirely. But even as I said goodbye to my Rock Band drums, guitars, microphone, and keyboard, I had hoped that the many DLC songs on my 360 hard drive would eventually be put to good use. Rock Band Blitz was the game I had hoped for. A plastic-instrument-free rhythm game with full Rock Band DLC compatibility and addictive gameplay was exactly what I needed to play. The power-ups proved to add some strategy to the game, but even with a controller in hand, rhythm fueled Rock Band Blitz’s framework. You need to keep the beat, balance the instrument lanes, and keep the combo going. The competitive friend leaderboards kept me challenging my friends and rivals to musical battle couldn’t have made the game any more exciting. Well, except for Mastodon DLC, and I got that too.

6. The Walking Dead

Licensed games are normally instant fodder for game critics, but Telltale Games set the bar extremely high for licensed games with one of the finest licensed games this side of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Walking Dead didn’t deviate from what the developers had been doing for a while, as seen in games like Back to the Future, but the aesthetic offered ample opportunity to experiment with some very potent gameplay concepts. Choice, consequence and emotive drive came together in a harrowing and dark atmosphere in The Walking Dead. Watching companions struggle in game hit a nerve with me. There were zero binary decisions in The Walking Dead. Every choice was indistinguishable and it was difficult to predict the outcomes, something other games with moral choices have yet to master. You truly felt like you were playing your story. Telltale deserves praise for their masterful construction of gaming consequence. Don’t miss The Walking Dead.

5. Halo 4

I really, REALLY wanted to hate this game. Every bone in my body was building up pent up rage as I trekked through the first game of a trilogy that shouldn’t exist. Halo 3 had more closure than any other storyline trilogy I’ve ever seen, and I still get bitter memories of seeing Master Chief bust out of cryo-sleep in that first trailer of Halo 4. Halo 4 should’ve never been made, but even odder, I should’ve never liked it. But I did. A lot. Halo 4’s extreme graphical muscle mixed with extremely challenging, but complex and rewarding firefights made the campaign much more interesting than what was seen in Halo: Reach. It felt epic and new, but still familiar and comforting. Master Chief and Cortana continue to grow as essential characters, complementing the game’s huge scope with intimacy and tightly knit trust. But that multiplayer…damn. While it dutifully calls similarities with another first-person shooter franchise, the multiplayer in Halo 4 has the essence of a frantic and exciting Halo multiplayer. You’ll be coming back for months. 343 Industries has made me a believer. Halo 4 is easily one of the best games I played in 2012.

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4. New Super Mario Brothers U

Nintendo’s newest console may have gotten a lukewarm reception from the gaming crowd in November 2012, and I wouldn’t see another New Super Mario Bros. game as being what every gamer wanted with the Wii U, but Nintendo’s mascot still has plenty of swing in his step as he jumps, swims, and flies across ingeniously designed and surprisingly challenging stages. The aesthetic of each stage is filled with character and you’re bound to get lost in Mario’s world again. But it’s the fantastic Miiverse integration that shows what the Wii U can do as far as community goes. Seeing notes from friends about hints and hazards complement the game’s friendly vibe. With a huge amount of Star Coins and secrets to uncover along with a frenetic, wacky multiplayer component with the Gamepad, it’s tough to undermine Mario’s skill and power as a gaming icon. New Super Mario Bros. U marks the Wii U system as a console with an emphasis on fantasy and fun. Even better, you can enjoy it on the Gamepad alone!

3. Sound Shapes

Sound Shapes had a lot of positive reception from the start, being one of the most anticipated Vita games and one of the most inventive PS3 indie titles. With so many games being labeled music games simply for their rhythm-based gameplay, Sound Shapes turns the music game concept on its head. Every level has a pulse, a beat. It’s that metronomic sound that serves as the beginning of massive symphonies throughout the superbly designed levels. The seamless mixture of platforming and rhythmic music compositions (some from the likes of Deadmau5 and Beck) is unforgettable. But if you’re up for diving into the user-generated circuit, Sound Shapes has plenty of creative content without any of the hassle. Intuitive controls and an avid community of gamers to play and share content with drive the game beyond a simple rhythm game. You create music with every jump in Sound Shapes and any PS3/Vita owner should give it a serious go.

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2. Far Cry 3

With Far Cry 3, Ubisoft can officially challenge Rockstar in open-world game development combat. They’ve nailed it home. Every single element that open-world games follow is presented in an addictive, OCD-throttling bliss in Far Cry 3. You’ll hunt animals, craft equipment, capture camps, climb radio towers, and trek through a dense and disturbingly inviting jungle that begs to be explored. But ignoring Far Cry 3’s storyline, as easy as it is to do, shouldn’t tempt you. Vaas is a suave psychopath with an agenda unlike any other villain seen this year and seeing that motion Jason Brody takes from meek and paranoid vacationer to conscienceless killer is a sight that other games just haven’t mastered. Far Cry 3 masters it. What originally was labeled as a “Skyrim shooter” turns out to be so much more. Far Cry 3 just plain kills it.

1. Borderlands 2

I wasn’t a big fan of the original Borderlands. While it blended the Diablo-esque loot fever with fast-paced firefights, Borderlands felt a bit dry in places and I really didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. So lo and behold, I pick up Borderlands 2, but I didn’t feel underwhelmed at all while playing it. Gearbox crafted something special with Borderlands 2, one that broadened the scope of the original Borderlands considerably. The missions felt more complex, the graphics even more stylized, and the multiplayer easy to dive into. But when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the loot. The collect-a-thon of loot discovery was addictive to the highest degree and it felt even more satisfying after taking out a slew of Psychos with your arsenal of choice. Bit by bit, Borderlands 2 grew on me, and I ended up spending hours scouring the land of Pandora for new missions, secrets, and of course, loot. With the smug quips spewed by Handsome Jack ringing in my ears, I couldn’t help but laugh while already grinning and collecting the stockpiles of loot I found. Borderlands 2 usurped its predecessor’s notation at every opportunity. A captivating world filled to the brim with reward and challenge, Borderlands 2 is what I call my favorite game of 2012.

It began with a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from his cousin and since then, he's been fascinated with video games. He enjoys the blissful platforming of the 16-bit era and the rich adventures of the 64-bit era. Favorite games include Metroid Prime, Banjo-Tooie, and practically every 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog title.

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