1. Tokyo Jungle
Remember how in 12 Monkeys, humanity had all but been stomped off the face of the earth and all the city streets had been reclaimed by wild animals? And Bruce Willis may or may not have been a crazy time-traveling convict from the futurepast stuck in a time loop? And Brad Pitt was there for a little bit? Tokyo Jungle is pretty much exactly like that first part, and it’s a blast. What other game lets you lead a pack of pomeranians to victory over the entire animal kingdom?
2. Escape Plan
Lil and Laarg are in a bit of a pickle. This duo of amorphous inkblots are in trouble, a creepy masked baddie is hot on their heels, and they need to — you guessed it — escape by any means necessary. It’s just too bad that there are mechanized death-trap and deadly dangers lurking at, quite literally, every corner that the blobby bros turn. But hey, like the song says: Just the two of us / we can make it if we try~
3. Sine Mora
As far as genres go, “bullet hell” blast-‘em-alls are generally only taken in by a few dedicated faithfuls. But then there’s Sine Mora, an ace action game from Suda 51’s Grasshopper Manufacture that perfectly blends the studio’s oddball sensibilities with rewarding high-flying gunplay and some of 2012’s prettiest visuals. Come for the anthropomorphic animals piloting airships, stay for one of the year’s finest shooters.
4. Papa & Yo
As interactive media develops both as an entertainment medium and an artform, we’ve been able to stray just a little bit farther from space marine shoot-‘em-ups and into some genuinely intriguing emotional territory. Papa & Yo, which tells the immensely personal story of a young boy and his frightening beast of a caretaker, feels and plays like an enormous step in the right direction.
5. Sound Shapes
Even though 2012 saw a shocking lack of rapping pooches and helmet-headed guitar gurus, one of the year’s best and brightest still turned out to be a pretty amazing music game. Although it dropped with little backing fanfare, Sound Shapes swept countless Game of the Year categories, but still went unnoticed by far too many gamers. And come on — which triple-A action game lets you bop businessmen on their noggins while you remix Deadmau5 in real-time?
6. Quantum Conundrum
Real talk: how in the holy hell do you top Portal, formally regarded as one of the all-time puzzle game greats and the spawner of roughly a million and a half memes? Ask creator Kim Swift, who’s sophomore effort, Quantum Conundrum, packs the same brand of off-kilter charm that made her 2007 epic such a memorable masterpiece, but boasts all-new trans-dimensional puzzle mechanics that’re guaranteed to keep your head twirling.
7. The Unfinished Swan
Case study #4,289 that gaming’s going in the right direction: when the line between art and gaming has gotten so blurred that one of the year’s best games is a game about making art but you’re also playing a game. Phew, talk about Artception. The Unfinished Swan is a slow, meditative experience that reveals itself only as you create, and the more you explore, the bigger your canvas becomes.
8. Zen Pinball 2
How do you improve the best digital pinball title on the downloadable marketplace? Why, throw in a couple of cameos from the stumbling, fumbling undead. Zen Pinball 2 is a peerless pinball experience in its own right, but the Plants vs Zombies table DLC is a synergistic blast that caters to two of gaming’s favorite pastimes: racking up points and smashing zombies in their dumb, dead skulls.
Nine out of every ten games released have to make spectacles of their hyper-realistic graphics and blinding explosions. It’s that rare release, that one in the crowd, that flourishes in the dark. Closure is a prime puzzler that makes excellent use of its core mechanic and creepy-crawly backdrop. It’s a far cry from last year’s louder fare, and that’s just fine.