A note from Paul Franzen, Editor-in-Chief:
So, it’s that time again—that time of year when the GameCola staff puts aside all their differences, and then immediately picks them back up again because I will be damned if my own website isn’t giving my own videogame, Life in the Dorms, all of the awards, including Staff Member of the Year. It’s time for the 2012 GameCola Awards!*
You might be wondering how, exactly, a site about “gaming outside the mainstream” could even put together a year-end awards list. After all, what’s more mainstream than talking about your favorite games from the past year, aside from then giving half of those awards to Mario?
Well today (and tomorrow), we’re dipping back into the mainstream. We don’t want to just talk about our own weirdo favorites—your Katawa Shoujos, your The Grunts: Beard of Beeses, your Curioisites: what’s inside the cubes—we want to talk about the best, and sometimes the best isn’t just the strangest.
…Of course, sometimes it is the strangest, which you’ll see once you get to our Best PC Game award winner. But for now—and without further ado—let’s wax nostalgic about a year that just ended a month ago.
* The GameColies? The Colawards? Help me out here.
The Walking Dead
Christian Porter: Although praise has been heaped on Telltale’s The Walking Deadleft and right for its superb storytelling—and it is very well done—less often is it mentioned that Telltale finally created a chimera that has eluded game designers for years: a combination between point-and-click adventure and action game. Telltale’s continued dedication to innovating adventure games has opened the genre up even to those who thought the genre didn’t offer enough action for them with previous games.
Honorable Mentions: LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game; Adventure Time: Hey Ice King, Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!
The Simpsons Arcade Game
Nikola Suprak: The Simpsons Arcade Game has been one of those titles that fans had been demanding a port of for some time, because for some reason most people don’t own a fully functioning arcade in their garage. When they finally did get around to porting it, they could have most likely released a barely functioning game that crashed every other minute and fans of the original would still have built a small but functional shrine to it in their family room. Thus, it was genuinely surprising when they actually made a good port out of the title. While it hasn’t aged as well as some might hope, the re-release came packaged with not only the fully operational arcade title, but the vastly superior Japanese original that pretty much perfected the gameplay. After including some online multiplayer and leaderboards, you had one of the best re-releases of the year.
Honorable Mention: Okami HD
Matt Gardner: Gravity Rush marks an interesting point in the history of non-traditionally-controlled videogames: It’s the first time I’ve felt that a game used motion controls to a complete benefit, and enhanced the experience beyond what a traditional joystick-and-button setup is capable of. That’s right, I actually sat there playing it and thinking “Holy crap, these motion control features were a super great idea!” Never thought I’d live to see the day.
This game takes you into a world where gravity can be warped to suit your whims. As Kat, you can fly around merrily as can be, run up the sides of buildings, or fall crashing down onto…the ceiling. Your Vita screen becomes a sort of window into another world, where things happen in front of you, behind you, above you, and below you, and all you have to do is move the Vita itself to see it all. Enemy coming at you from above? Just point your Vita to the ceiling to get that bugger in your sights. Aim, alter gravity, see new sights. You’ll find yourself twisting around, spinning in your chair, and acting all manner of foolish as you explore your way through Kat’s engrossing story.
I know when people think of motion controls, they generally imagine Wiimotes or the flailing ridiculousness associated with the Kinect, but kudos to Gravity Rush for reminding us that it’s not only possible on a handheld gaming platform, but can be done to near perfection. Also, double kudos for being a game that asks me to physically move around the screen I’m looking at, but somehow doesn’t make me physically ill. Truly impressive work, folks.
Honorable Mention: Kinect Party
Handsome Jack (Borderlands 2)
Sean Laurvick: We like heroes in this day and age, but we like villains better. Handsome Jack is just the right amount of funny, creepy, and irreverent to make his evil side that much more…evil. You hate him and what he stands for, and he states right off the bat that his whole purpose in life is to kill you. Still, you can’t help but like the guy. It helps that Jack is voiced by Dameon Clarke (who also did the voice of Cell in pretty much every English version of Dragon Ball Z). His scripted lines are pretty good to begin with, but Clarke’s voice acting really brings the character to life. He’s the kind of character that you’d have no problem killing, but you’d also have over for your next party. Anyone who brings over a diamond horse named Butt Stallion is fine by me.
Honorable Mention: Lee Everett (The Walking Dead)
Travis Combs: It’s almost too difficult to describe this game. You have to play Journey to truly experience it, because it’s easier to list what’s wrong with it versus what it does right. It’s a truly haunting, almost silent experience of wandering through a vast desert. But as you trek through the most beautiful game ever made (seriously—little arms popped out of the side of my head and rubbed my eyeballs, they couldn’t believe it was so gorgeous), maybe, out of nowhere, someone will begin to accompany you. Journey is so wonderful, so lovely, so intriguing and, yes, so innovative that it caused me to do two things I’ve never done in my life: not curse on this site, and actually buy my first ever download-only game. If that doesn’t sway you, nothing will.
Honorable Mention: FEZ
The Walking Dead
Matt Jonas: In The Walking Dead, I found myself caring about everyone. Every character, what they did, who they were; it all mattered to me. It’s rare that I find myself caring about everybody. In how many games do the NPCs just sit there and spout riddles? The Walking Dead has very real characters and I found myself immersed and invested in them.
Regardless of not having complete influence upon the story, I really felt that every decision I made mattered or had some kind of impact. In a lot of adventure games, you can say this that or the other, but it rarely makes a difference. In The Walking Dead, you felt that even if you were only one character, you were significant and vital to the whole story.
What really drew me into the story and made it hard to put down was how brutal I found the decisions to be. It wasn’t easy making some of the choices, and oftentimes I found myself feeling extremely guilty. The last time I felt like that in a videogame, I’d slaughtered every last living human being through a misguided quest to save my daughter from a twisted disease.
Honorable Mention: Hatoful Boyfriend
Kinect Star Wars
Paul Franzen: I’ll just let this gameplay footage speak for itself.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Scribblenauts Unlimited
Captain Eric Regan: Besides a KAJILLION MILLION BAJILLION guns, humor has been a large part of the Borderlands games. From the silly to the outright ridiculous, humor is entwined throughout the games’ entire stories. While Borderlands 2 does have an incredible amount of one-liners, the fun and FUNINESSERY of the game does not stop there. Parody and nerd culture references are another favorite of Gearbox. Fake Ninja Turtles? Yeah, you totally fight those. An entire area of the game devoted to Demon’s Soul? Why not! Seriously, this list is near endless. Some of my personal favorite moments were the reward of a talking gun that you can actually use in the game…but also wants you dead; Claptrap’s deep ramblings and explanation of why his pun was funny; a THANKFULLY fake quest that pokes fun at the ridiculousness of many MMO quests; and, of course…Tiny Tina. Not only is Tiny Tina hilarious, but she is also pretty insane. It is actually a bit worrisome…but man is it a good time!
Honorable Mention: Lollipop Chainsaw
Wii U GamePad
Sean Laurvick: All you skeptics out there: Before you rag on the Wii U controller for being too big, or too gimmicky, or anything else, remember Nintendo’s pedigree when it comes to controllers and features. Using a D-pad with your thumbs instead of holding a joystick? That was the Famicom. Controllers with shoulder buttons? Super Famicom did it first. Analog joysticks? That’s the N64. Wireless controllers that work perfectly, even from the next room? Enter WaveBird, on the GameCube. And so on, and on, and on. Modern gamepads now have ALL of these features, by default. Nintendo has always been at the forefront of innovation, and the Wii U controller scheme has just as much potential as earlier systems did. Using your controller screen for things like maps and inventory is just the beginning, and I for one am stoked to see what they can bring out of it. The Wii U might not see the best uses of this idea, but don’t be surprised if the features of the Wii U Gamepad become the industry standard within the next few years.
Honorable Mention: A basketball (NBA Baller Beats)
New Super Mario Bros. U
Elizabeth “Lizo” Medina-Gray: Way back in 2009, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a runner-up for GameCola’s Best Multiplayer award, and the series’ great multiplayer action is back (and then some!) with New Super Mario Bros. U. Like its Wii predecessor, this game lets multiple people sit in a room together and play through side-scrolling Mario levels. Having up to four characters running around on the same screen leads sometimes to productive teamwork (“Here, let me jump on your head so I can reach that star coin!”) and other times to frustration (“Hey, you pushed me into a Piranha Plant!”), but it pretty much always makes for fun times with family and friends. And New Super Mario Bros. U adds even more multiplayer options. With the Wii U’s Gamepad, one player can directly impact the level itself, poking the handheld screen to add blocks for other players to jump on (or to mess them up), stunning or killing enemies, and more. Basically, New Super Mario Bros. U lets multiple people hang out together and experience classic Mario gameplay in new ways. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun.
Honorable Mention: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition
For the big winners—Best Indie Game, Best Console Game, Game of the Year and more—continue on to Part 2 here.