2012: My Top 5 Gaming Obsessions

2012 was a great year for video games, with indie games finally taking their rightful place amongst AAA titles, the launch of the first ‘next-gen’ hardware, the return of some great IPs and the introduction of some brand-new ones.

While not all of the following titles can be considered 2012 releases, these are the 5 titles that took the majority of my free time throughout the last 12 months…

Pullblox / Pushmo:

Pushmo

I’d heard some fantastic things about this title. A Nintendo published, download only, 3DS exclusive certainly peaked my interest, so I added it to my library never expecting much to come of the purchase. Having sunk more hours into this title than I ever imagined, it’s clear to see why this game has become such a hit.

Pullblox feels like Tetris for a new generation, a simple, block-based puzzler that fits perfectly into the Nintendo aesthetic with its colourful style and unique mascot. The learning curve is spot on, with early levels easing you into the concept, while later levels crank up the difficulty until you find yourself spending a significant amount of time trying to discover the unique combination of blocks that will allow you to progress.

For a platform that is still trying to find its feet after a slow start, Pullblox is a promising sign of things to come. A company that once showed no interest in online and digital distribution has now provided one of the best gaming experiences I have ever ‘pulled out of the air’ and kept it away from Apple’s monopolising App Store in the process.

If you own a 3DS, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

Mass Effect 3:

Mass Effect 3

The final chapter in one of my favourite video game series of all time. There’s not much to say about this game that hasn’t already been covered in my previous love letter to the franchise, so take a look at that article for a full run down of what makes Mass Effect so special to me.

The final installment of this saga was met with significant criticism once gamers started reaching the controversial ending. I did not share the opinions of most gamers and found the conclusion to be as satisfying as could be expected, considering the intensity of the experience I had spent over 60 hours immersed in. I’m sure Bioware felt like they had written themselves into a corner due to the complexity of taking every possible combination of player responses and weaving them into a compelling narrative and finale; the fact that they managed to pull this off is a real accomplishment.

Mass Effect 3 really does feel like the culmination of all the decisions I had made in the two previous installments; species I had rescued from extinction made their presence felt, the team members I recruited in Mass Effect 2 continued their fiction, some of my favourite characters uttered their last words, while others I hadn’t seen since the first game made a surprise return. Mass Effect 3 brilliantly concluded Bioware’s science fiction masterpiece, living up to the incredible track record of a series that has become a staple of the modern console generation.

Mario Kart 7:

Mario Kart 7

The Mario Kart series has evolved very little since its introduction, but in spite of this, the franchise never feels tired. A refresh in graphics, a couple of new characters, and some fresh tracks thrown in with some old favourites is all it takes to rekindle my love for the karting classic all over again.

I downloaded Mario Kart 7 from the e-shop to replace Angry Birds and Doodlejump as my main commute activity, but I quickly found myself turning to the turquoise handheld for my gaming fix over the grander experiences provided by the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. In spite of all the criticism aimed at Nintendo regarding their inability to adapt and evolve with the rapidly evolving climate of the video game industry, their ability to craft colourful, exciting and genuinely entertaining games has never waned, and the popularity of their characters continues to transcend the medium like few characters ever will.

One of the best aspects of modern Mario Kart games is their willingness to combine old with new, and Mario Kart 7 doesn’t disappoint. Classic tracks, like Kalimari Desert, or Koopa Beach, feel as fresh as they did when I first experienced them on the Nintendo 64, while new tracks, like Maka Wuhu and Rock Rock Mountain, are immediately placed among the best the series has to offer. Some tracks even eschew the traditional three lap structure in favour of one long course that continually throws up new twists, turns and surprises that never allow you to get accustomed to the design.

The thing I really admire about Nintendo is their reluctance to churn out lacklustre titles. Regardless of their console’s performance, they will not rush a Mario game to market just to boost sales, and that is something to be commended. Mario Kart could have been rushed and thrown onto shelves in time for the the 3DS’ launch to guarantee a quick buck, but they didn’t. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever having a bad experience in a Mario Kart game. Nintendo’s insistence on perfection and polish has allowed Mario Kart 7 to live up to its predecessors as one of the best in the series.

Sure, the game has its flaws. I wasn’t impressed with the limited character roster (No Waluigi seems a strange choice) and some inclusions left me perplexed (Wiggler… Really?). But it would be harsh to hold these small issues against a title that continues to dominate my commute and the kart-racing genre that it helped pioneer all the way back on the Super Nintendo. Sega have had their shots at wrestling the karting crown away from Mario, and Rare came very close with Diddy Kong Racing, but none have ever managed to pull-off the balance of accessibility and challenge that Mario Kart accomplishes.

Combine the tried and tested Mario Kart formula with some incredible new tracks and the pick up and play nature of the Nintendo 3DS, and you have the perfect companion for any frequent flyers.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

An Elder Scrolls game can be a daunting prospect; a vast map, a complex skill tree, and a list of tasks, missions and side quests that can keep you occupied for 50+ hours before even setting foot in the main story missions. But those that allow themselves to become truly enveloped in Skyrim’s rich Nordic world are in for an exceptional experience.

The fact that I have invested so much time in this game and still feel as if I’ve barely touched the surface, is a testament to the depth and diversity Bethesda has managed to achieve. My adventure to date has seen my character battle trolls, defeat giants, build his own complex, adopt a child, slay dragons, and join a noble guild of warriors. The wonderful thing is that your time with the game may differ entirely from the experience that I had, and the same guild of warriors that I joined may end up being your most bitter of rivals.

As well as being thematically brilliant, Skyrim is also a technical marvel amongst the current generation. I’m genuinely amazed that a world with so much scope and detail can still be as beautiful as Skyrim while existing on a solitary disc.

It’s games like this that push a generation forward, and I can’t wait to spend another 50 hours in this gargantuan masterpiece.

The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead

The art style, the format, the story, every aspect of this game makes it truly timeless and one of the defining examples of video games as art. While the television series will tarnish and date as the years roll on, this game will continue to thrive as a great example of its medium, alongside Robert Kirkman’s phenomenal comic book series.

It’s safe to say that the characters are what makes this game truly special. Some characters you’ll love and form meaningful friendships with, others you’ll hate and abandon at the first opportunity, but there’s one particular character, a little girl named Clementine, that you’ll want to do absolutely anything to protect. The relationship between Lee and Clementine is one of the greatest relationships ever to grace a video game, and combined with the incredible conversation and choice mechanics that ensure no two playthroughs are identical, The Walking Dead provides one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had on a games console in a long time.

Mass Effect garnered a lot of praise for its choice-based gameplay, but whereas those decisions were blatant black and white morality choices, with a clearly defined ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ option depending on which achievement you’re gunning for, The Walking Dead has no such distinction. Telltale opted for the ‘14 shades of grey’ approach, with a conversation tree that features no obvious right or wrong answers, and no easy decisions. Each action you take throughout the five episodes has consequences that can drastically alter the fate of your group.

I won’t risk spoiling the climax for those that are yet to experience this masterpiece, but once the credits rolled and I had set the controller to one side, it felt like all the air had been sucked from the room. The finale is like a swift shot to the gut that stays with you for weeks, maybe even months after the experience is over. Even Dave Fennoy, the voice of Lee Everett throughout, was brought to tears while recording his lines of dialogue for the game, and that speaks volumes for the impact this game has managed to have on people. Few films are able to keep the discussion prominent months after leaving the theatre, few books can leave you genuinely breathless in their final moments, and very few games leave you with such an incredible emotional response as The Walking Dead.

This is a beautiful game.

An honorable mention goes to another incredible Bethesda game, Dishonored. While this game was one of my favourite of 2012, it was just far too short to be considered a true ‘obsession’. By the time I had really sunk my teeth into the story, it was over, so it never consumed as much of my time as I would have liked.

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