With Mircosoft and Sony once again going head to head for the biggest slice of the Christmas shopping cake, MM reveal the year’s 20 best games that you can bestow on someone as a gift – or even get your teeth into yourself.
15. Kid Icarus: Uprising
In a troubling year for Nintendo, many worried where the father of modern gaming might find a saviour in the midst of financial crises and hardware struggles.
It seemed the most unlikely time to rediscover Pit, the flightless angel, but the release of Kid Icarus: Uprising on the 3DS saw system sales boost significantly – a year after launch.
The range of weapons, items and a surprisingly fleshed-out multiplayer stood Icarus out from the crowd, as well as some not-so-awfully hammed up dialogue, a rarity in Nintendo intellectual properties.
Hampered slightly by fiddly controls, flying and dashing around as the angelic archer provided a pleasant break from the usual IP shovelware championed by the Japanese gaming giant, earning Pit and Palutena a spot in this year’s list.
14. Mark of the Ninja
With the number of stealth releases this year, 2012 may well be “Year of the Ninja”, so it’s only fitting that MotN finds its’ way into the list.
A surprise autumn hit on Xbox Live arcade, this stealth platformer from the makers of Shank took mechanics from bigger games and flattened them into a distinct, comic-book style adventure.
Taking most of its inspiration from Arkham Asylum and Thief, developer Klei Entertainment chose solid starting points to craft a very well presented 2D stealth title, making excellent use of light and shadow.
Forced into covert action by your weakness to bullets, you’ll soon find that you are far more powerful than vulnerable in the darkness above your prey’s head, ready to unleash any number of your powers onto the unwitting victim below.
One of the best stealthers of the year, but there’s more to come…
Indie games have come on leaps and bounds in the past year, far from being resigned as hobbyist projects some now rival established studios in terms of polish and playability.
Kicking off this year’s independent representation is Dustforce, the 2D platforming tale of a janitor’s bid to sweep up every bit of dirt in sight.
As a premise it’s ridiculous; however as its closest predecessor Super Meat Boy proved, the story is there only to provide a backdrop to compelling gameplay.
As backdrops go, this is beautiful, a simple palette keeps visuals sharp and the dulcet chiptune tones of Lifeformed keep you in a state of Zen as you flip, slide and sweep your way through every level.
As an A to B platformer, this is hardly challenging, but when you realise the trick is in catching every leaf or bit of dust as fast as possible while keeping your combo intact, you’ll discover Dustforce’s true, addictive nature. Extremely replayable.
12. Max Payne 3
The film-noir gunplay of Max Payne returned to screens everywhere this year, with the titular antihero assuming a suitably decrepit role as an aged alcoholic at the end of his tether.
Following The Fall of Max Payne, the New York cop has taken a private security job in São Paulo, protecting rich, young idiots at tech-thumping parties from kidnappers and corrupt police.
The usual amount of gun-toting, diving and pain-killer popping is still here, but the visual style has been thoughtfully updated by Rockstar. Now addicted to the drugs, Max suffers strange techno-glitches in his narratives, while still punching out the usual detective voiceover one-liners.
This couples well with the soundtrack and, alongside an incredibly captivating plot, keeps you ploughing through droves of baddies as bassy club-inspired tunes mingle with the pounding gunfire.
Adrenaline-fuelled fun even if you ignore the top-notch multiplayer.
From the studio that brought us Flower and Flow comes another style-over-substance masterpiece which challenges the notion of contemporary gaming.
thatgamecompany in conjunction with composer Austin Wintory produced Journey as another attempt to showcase games based not on objectives or mechanics, but the emotions they evoke from players. Despite no dialogue, plot exposition or even explicit instruction, Journey is instantly intuitive and deeply absorbing.
As you control a hooded figure in a seemingly vast desert, you float your way through beautifully bleak landscapes dotted with simple puzzles towards a towering mountain on the horizon, instantly drawing you to it.
The emotional experience provided by Wintory’s score is heightened by the inclusion of a multiplayer system where you have no clue who you are playing with, and no communication beside “chirps”.
The feeling you are left with at the conclusion of your journey is made all the more strange by the knowledge that you will never meet the person you shared it with. Utterly enchanting.
Pictures courtesy of Wiki Commons, with thanks