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  1. While 2012 didn“t mark the end of the human race, the release of the Wii U has made it the start of the end for the current console generation. Despite studios gearing up for the future, 2012 saw a slew of great games come out. It might not have been from cosmic destruction, but this year certainly went out with a bang. My biggest regret, and it“s a big one, iis that I haven“t played nearly as many of this year“s releases as I should have. I“ve done GOTY lists before, but never have I wished I had more to say than I have with this year. My list is small and humble, but for those interested, these are the five releases from this year that stand above all the rest for me. 5. Legend of Grimrock This is the odd-man-out entry on my list, being the only game that I haven“t beaten. That said, I don“t hesitate to call it one of my favorites this year. For someone unfamiliar with the old-school first-person dungeon crawler, Grimrock is a fiendishly hard and tense experience. It“s fun to play and builds a great atmosphere that, I“m not ashamed to admit, creeps me out a more than a fair deal. Challenging puzzles round out the experience, making for a game that“s definitely worth checking out if you can. Even after the main game is done, there are custom campaigns to check out on Steam Workshop. Hopefully, someday, I“ll be man enough to finish it and dig into the community content. 4. Scribblenauts Unlimited I haven“t had much experience with the Scribblenauts franchise before, with only a little time spent with the original game. The release of Unlimited on the PC made me want to see just how far the series has come and I definitely wasn“t disappointed. It“s simple, but being able to type out the words on a keyboard makes the experience all the more enjoyable. Solving the puzzles is definitely fun, but the most enjoyable aspect is seeing just how outlandish of a solution you can get the game to accept. It“s sort of a your-mileage-may-vary affair, as you can definitely keep using the same go-to items, but those looking for a fun and imaginative game can certainly make it one. 3. Lollipop Chainsaw Official GP Review Before I played Lollipop Chainsaw, I“d hesitate to call any Suda51 game good. I“ve always enjoyed what I“ve played, but none of them stood out as solid games on a fundamental level. Then Juliet came along. I“m a fan of the hack-and-slash genre in general and while Lollipop is on the simpler side of things, the presentation is top-notch. I“m also a huge fan of works that are self-aware; things that know what they“re good at and just go with it. The whole-hearted embrace of the B-Movie aesthetic is something I love and I had a blast playing through the game multiple times. It might not have the depth of something like Bayonetta, but Suda51 definitely delivered a satisfying experience. The amazing soundtrack didn“t hurt, either. 2. Persona 4 Arena Official GP Review I“ve always been a casual fan of fighting games, though never have been good at them or stuck with them very long. I“d also never played a Persona game until this year, when I played through both Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4, but it“s a series that really grabbed me with its story and characters. I got Arena just expecting a simple tie-in and was blown away by the depth of the content. I easily spent 30 hours going through the story mode and enjoyed it thoroughly. Even the new character, Labrys, is a great addition to the cast and has a good backstory. On top of pleasing the Persona fan in me, it“s also an amazingly solid fighter, especially as far as netcode is concerned. Arena is definitely no cash-in on a franchise“s name and I couldn“t be happier about it. 1. Katawa Shoujo Official GP Review Another first for me, this year marked the first time I tried out a visual novel. Katawa Shoujo is a game I went into with great reluctance and I was anticipating it to fail and flat-out offend. I think it“s hard not to go in with that attitude when you consider the general concept of the game and the origins of the project. Still, I started hearing many people, GP's own Marcus and Leah included, talking up the game and being genuinely pleased with it and decided to try it for myself. I“m glad I did and I“ve never been more glad to be wrong. I spent an emotional 50 hours going through all the content and was left with a great appreciation for a genre I“d never given much consideration before. It“s a wonderful, touching experience and, best of all, it“s free for you try at your leisure. Please do. There“s still a lot I regret not having played. Looking through all these lists definitely shows just how many wonderful games came out this year. There may be some repeats and stand-out favorites, but there are also a lot of differences as well. In a year that“s been painted by analysts as bad for the industry, I think these lists definitely prove that it“s been a fantastic year for the medium.
  2. Indie game developers do what others won't. While the less-than-giant-but-still-pretty-big companies such as Atlus release games like Catherine, they are met with much interest. Yes, many gamers love their annual releases of Call of Duty and Madden, but others are hungry to try something new. Despite this void in the market for truly "different" games though it seems we only get them rarely. At least, that used to be the case. Indie developers have been around as long as gaming has but only now are they finally getting some degree of serious attention. Even with indie groups having the power to basically create whatever they want though we still have voids in certain areas. It seems that neither big budget games nor indie titles have ever really delved into characters who are handicapped. That's what Katawa Shoujo is all about - and it makes some players apprehensive. Katawa Shoujo's nicest translation is "Disabled Girls". With a title like that you can't help but view the game with some level of concern. When you look into it further and find that it is a dating sim, well, then it seems even more possibly problematic. If you then discover it's by a group of people who were inspired and met through 4chan then every hope for the game goes out the window. It must be horrible. The game must exoticize, eroticize, and generally treat the characters in some awkward light. 4chan is famous for being an internet hellhole, so what else could be expected? I began to play the game despite all these reservations because I just had to see the damage for myself. Perhaps it was due to the worry in my head that as it started up I became suddenly very impressed. Despite the shady beginnings of the game's development, it had blossomed into an excellent game. Each character seems to be as normal as any other characters in games and have believable ways of coping with their situations. It seems mostly well-researched so that adds another level of believably to the game as well. Everyone in this school is as regular as anyone in any other school, and the game seeks to remind us of this truth often throughout play. Thinking about it for a moment, how many handicapped characters do we tend to see in games? There's certainly a few, but nowhere near the amount of other groups (such as women, minorities, LGBT). It seems almost brave that developer Four Leaf Studios stuck with it. At any time they could have done some really terrible things and made the game into just another droll dating sim/visual novel. Again, it's striking that people who enjoy spending their time on 4chan's video game forum would have the mindset to create a respectful title. Perhaps that's a bit of my own prejudice playing into it, but most other people seem to have been worrying the same thing. That's not to say the game is perfect though. It takes care to focus only one a handful of characters - each with their own different disability. It's like the game is catering to show you "one of each" and it's not the most believable aspect by a long shot. Beyond that, just like any dating sim, each character is cute by anime standards. Unless you count the scars of Hanako, nobody has any facial deformities to challenge the preconceived idea of what is cute. The two amputee characters, Rin and Emi, come closest though. Though the game is basically a dating simulator it is one of the more interesting out there. Most characters are so well-developed that you find yourself wanting to know about them. Their handicaps do play a part in their stories, but how could they not? It is a part of their life and if you lead your character to be interested in them then eventually you will learn about them. Dating sims usually don't even go this far and expect you to play through a game just because of the "prize" at the end of the game, which is getting the girl. Katawa Shoujo's journey is much stronger and attentive to details. The game mostly keeps character depictions in a pleasant light though. Most characters accept their living conditions as anyone else might, and are almost analogous to characters in other genre games. The point of their handicaps is talked about certainly, but not constantly to remind you that there's anything "different" about them. Somewhat niggling is the fact that the main character also has a disability but it is internal. Why is the lead allowed to pass for a "perfect" person when almost every female character has an easily discernible disability? Well, it must be in order to keep him as relateable as possible for the players. Despite how good the game actually is, I have a feeling many gamers will sidestep it if they ever come across it. There's just something about the game that strikes many as being a bad idea. "Disabled girls dating sim" becomes mucky and makes people worry that it's some sort of fetish fodder. If gamers give it a chance though I think they'll see that it blasts past that worry completely. It's too bad they had to go with the name Katawa Shoujo though, as that's probably the most insensitive thing about it. "Katawa" more accurately translates to "crippled", which is definitely not something you want to be calling your game characters. Gaming press seemed to skip over this translation to go with the more acceptable one, and for good reason - it's shameful to say otherwise. I fear that the stigma of the name and preconceived notions of what a game like this would be about will keep possible players at bay. If you have any interest in the game at all though then I urge you to give it a shot. I approached it in a very circumspect manner and was left feeling very pleased with it. There are a few issues with the presentation of characters but for the most part it is excellently done. If anything, the most alien thing about the game is the genre it resides in, as many western gamers are unfamiliar with it. Katawa Shoujo is a powerful little game. The lead character's learning to accept his and other people's disabilities shares a very positive message with players. After playing a title like this you may even begin to wonder why we don't get more diverse characters in our games.