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  1. Last year was interesting because there was really only one game that stood out above everything else for me - The Legend of Skyward Sword. Going into 2012, I wondered if any other games would really resonate with me like that title did, and what transpired throughout the year manage to surprise me quite a bit. It became evident to me that the games that would really stick with me were the ones that were mostly shorter, powerful experiences above all else. That isn't to say there weren't games to enjoy purely for the fun of it, but there were at least four or five different surprises for me throughout the year that I wasn't expecting at all. Take a look below, as you might be surprised at more than a few of the games I selected for my top 10. 10. Nintendo Land If you're looking in disbelief at the #10 spot right now, know that I would've been right there with you just a few months ago. Upon actually playing it, however, Nintendo Land is deceptively deeper than originally thought. The actual minigames have a simple-but-fun element to just about all of them, but when you factor in multiple modes, multiple difficulty levels, and multiple levels (sometimes spanning into the 20's-30's) for some of the games, there's quite a bit of content here. And the actual task of using coins won in minigames to help pad out Nintendo Land's theme park with statues, remixed music, and other objects from the publisher's history is a lot of fun in itself. 9. Rhythm Heaven Fever Official GP Review Rhythm Heaven Fever exceeds and surpasses 2009's Rhythm Heaven (DS) and does it with the push of a button, literally. As much as I loved the DS predecessor, tapping and flicking the touch screen amped up the difficulty considerably on certain games (which often required precise timing), so that hampered my enjoyment a bit. Fever returns the series to a button-only control format and it's much better off for it, not to mention that a lot of its music features what I consider the catchiest songs of the year. If you love rhythm/music and unique games, definitely check it out. 8. LEGO The Lord of the Rings This year saw the release of two of the best LEGO games yet; the first being Lego Batman 2, which introduced an open world format for the first time in the series. However, I found the second LEGO title, LEGO The Lord of the Rings, to be a more ambitious game overall, and it corrected quite a few of the bugs and glitches that LB2 had. Toss in an open world Middle Earth that is fully explorable (along the path that Frodo and his companions took), a brand new item system, and levels that adapt some of the best moments in the movies quite well (Helm's Deep and The Battle of the Pelennor Fields are especially impressive), and it's easily the deepest LEGO game to date. Bring on LEGO The Hobbit next! 7. Tokyo Jungle Official GP Review Tokyo Jungle was never on my radar from the beginning, but I knew that I had to try it when our own Leah and Marshall were raving about it over Twitter. It's a good thing I did end up playing it too, because it's easily one of the most unique experiences I've played in years. Along with some pretty happenin' electro-ambient tunes, what really struck me the most about this game was how different each playthrough felt as a different animal, and how much strategy comes into play in adapting to the ever-changing random atmosphere in order to survive. Post-apocalyptic games have never been that interesting to me before, but Tokyo Jungle's animal-themed take on it took me by surprise and went for the jugular. 6. Paper Mario: Sticker Star Official GP Review Paper Mario: Sticker Star was perhaps my most anticipated game coming into 2012, and for good reason. Introducing a new and innovative "sticker" element to the series, Sticker Star retained the same trademark humor and inventive gameplay that the first three games were known for. Sure, the shift in focus away from a more traditional RPG setting is a little disappointing given the high quality of the first two games, but overall, there were tons of great, memorable moments in this game, and collecting and figuring out what all of the different stickers did was a lot of fun, making it easily one of Mario's best adventures in years. 5. Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure Official GP Review Professor Layton clones are a dime a dozen nowadays (especially considering Konami's failed knockoff Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights) but Rhythm Thief blends the touch-centric Layton gameplay with rhythm segments and catchy music to a wonderful effect. However, the characters are the true heart of the game and its story (even if it is a bit absurd), and the game does an amazing job of introducing them and making you care about what happens to them as well, even managing to throw a twist or two that most players won't see coming. It's a shame that Rhythm Thief's future is uncertain as SEGA dropped much of their internal development earlier this year due to financial difficulties; the cliffhanger ending opens the way not only for a sequel, but an entire franchise to be spun out of this game, and I'd love to see it happen. 4. Xenoblade Chronicles Confession time: I haven't beat Xenoblade Chronicles yet, but from the good amount of time I did invest in it so far, I can say that it has one of the most stunning settings and worlds that I've ever experienced in a game; you can spend hours upon hours in the first area just exploring and doing sidequests alone. The narrative and story are pretty attention-grabbing and heavy-handed as well, and what happens in the first 15 hours is pretty significant, but doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the game as a whole. In an era where JRPGs are largely thought to have had their golden years behind them, Xenoblade reignited my passion for the genre and keeps my hope alive that we'll continue to see great games like it in the near future. 3. The Unfinished Swan Official GP Review Not everyone will appreciate The Unfinished Swan like I did, but for those who did, the world created within is unlike any other. For me, like the top two games on this list, what this game does as far as imagination goes is pretty extraordinary, creating a storybook-like world with a narrative that unfolds through pages as you make your way through a world that was created with a single paintbrush. What's most unique about the game is how its gameplay evolves as you progress and new ways of interacting with the environment begin to open up. Coupled with a unique and heartfelt story, The Unfinished Swan is one of the best experiences I had all year long. Did I mention that Monty Python's Terry Gilliam does some superb voicework here? 2. Papo & Yo Official GP Review Another huge surprise, Papo & Yo was another title that I vaguely acknowledged up until a week or two before its launch. What looked like another Ico-like puzzle platformer was revealed to be a game with much deeper meaning, as it came out that the story in it is actually a metaphor for creative director Vander Caballero's abusive childhood under his monster-like alcholic father. The game itself isn't without issues, but the world it presents in child protagonist Quico's imagination is truly outstanding, being one of the first video games wholly grounded in South American culture, from its made-up Latin-gibberish language to the setting of a Brazilian favela and themes of poverty within it. Artistically, it's unlike any other game I've played this year, and its soundtrack is one of the most heartfelt and sorrowful (yet beautiful) in a year of largely excellent video game music. But the ending alone is what truly cemented Papo & Yo as one of the must-experience titles of this year; what it leaves behind when you're finished is a powerful lesson that stands true even for those who may not have experienced a childhood under an abusive family member. 1. Journey Official GP Review It's hard for me to truly describe why Journey is such an amazing experience. Is it the extraordinary art style - an otherwise painterly aesthetic that transcends the realism most other modern games shoot for (pun entirely intended)? Is it the groundbreaking effect and emotional ties that the multiplayer creates with seemingly unknown and random online players along your journey? Austin Wintory's hauntingly beautiful score which fits the game's narrative to a "T"? Or is it the story and narrative, a tale of death and rebirth, and destiny, that seem to linger in my thoughts? Or perhaps it's all of that at once? The idea behind Journey is something that largely has never been attempted up to this point. There is a goal, but there is little skill involved in reaching it; rather the emphasis is shifted to your experience as you journey to the final destination. Emotion through narrative, as creative director Jenova Chen put it. As I reflect on my playthrough and what other people have written about the game, one word keeps appearing above all else - "transcendent." "Surpassing usual limits," or "beyond the range of usual perception" as some definitions put it. And really, that sums up the experience as a whole for me, especially the final area. There's nothing else quite like Journey, and there may never be another game like it ever again.
  2. Shigeru Miyamoto is without a doubt one of, if not the most important video game designers within the last 30 years or so, and he's widely credited for much of the success that Nintendo's own games see time and again thanks to innovative and fun game design. Make no mistake though, when it comes down to the approval process for games in development, Miyamoto means business according to a recent Iwata Asks interview. Such was the case for Intelligent Systems and Vanpool Inc. when Paper Mario: Sticker Star had been in development for upwards of three and a half years. Development on the game started at the tail end of 2009, and the game that was announced at E3 in 2010 as one of the many titles that would be available for 3DS was actually the first iteration in what would be a longer and more arduous process than most 3DS games usually go through. The reason for the long development? Miyamoto rejected the team's design several times before it became what it is today. Upon playing a demo of the game after E3 2010, Miyamoto told the development team that it felt like a port of the Gamecube version (which many fans consider to be the best game in the series, I might add). That meeting ultimately led to the creation of the whole "sticker" concept and thus an entire game based around stickers, even down to the battles. A year later, the team would again present their work to Miyamoto, who told them that it felt too "boring." His counsel and suggestions led them to rework much of the atmosphere while also focusing less on story and more on the Mario world itself. Ultimately, the end design for Paper Mario: Sticker Star worked out pretty well as our review can attest to, but I will admit I'm a little sad to hear that Miyamoto wanted less emphasis on the story and characters this time around. With all of this in mind, hopefully the next Paper Mario won't take nearly as long to make.
  3. Jason Clement

    Review: Paper Mario: Sticker Star

    Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: November 11, 2012 ESRB: E for Everyone Over the course of the last decade, Nintendo's mustachioed mascot has been featured in many different series and spin-offs, but none quite so unique as 2001's Paper Mario. The charming RPG became a hit with fans, and was soon followed up in subsequent years with Gamecube and Wii sequels. Now the series makes its way to handhelds for the first time with Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Intelligent Systems is looking to shake the formula up even more with a game based around the idea of the simple joy of peeling and applying stickers. But is it too much of a departure from the other games, or does Sticker Star take the series in a brave new direction? You can breathe a sigh of a relief, as Sticker Star is very much a Paper Mario game at heart, and it's actually the first new game in the series in some 5 years now. 2007's Super Paper Mario deviated from the RPG formula that the first two games had established, instead creating a psuedo platformer RPG that received criticism from some fans for being too different, despite its being critically well-received. Sticker Star ultimately returns somewhat to the series' RPG roots while continuing to experiment with a new direction, this time including the use of stickers. The story begins in the town of Decalburg where the annual Sticker Fest is being held to celebrate the arrival of the Sticker Comet, which is supposed to grant the wishes of those who wish upon it. But wouldn't you know it, Bowser crashes the party and lays his hands on the comet, causing a large explosion and sending pieces of the comet as well as the five Royal Stickers all over the world. Naturally, Bowser gets his hands on the sixth and most powerful Royal Sticker, giving him a newfound power and making him virtually indestructible while kidnapping Princess Peach once again. It's a familiar story that you've heard before, with Mario needing to collect the comet pieces and the five Royal Stickers in order to face off against Bowser and save the kingdom (and its Sticker Fest). For newcomers to the Paper Mario series, the game plays as an action RPG of sorts where a paper-flat Mario moves about in 3D paper-like environments while solving puzzles and encountering enemies with whom he does battle with by entering a standard turn-based RPG battle mode. Sticker Star continues this formula for the most part, but for the first time in the series, also adds a world map into the mix with individual levels that can range from being short, linear areas to full-on Zelda-like labyrinths of sorts; both of which usually end by collecting a sticker star piece. In this particular adventure, Mario goes solo but receives help from Kersti, a floating sticker crown that assists Mario by giving him advice and the ability to "Paperize" and manipulate the environment with unique stickers in order to solve puzzles. For instance, there might be a river that Mario needs to cross but no way to do so, but using the Paperization technique, you can grab a bridge (which in turn becomes a sticker) and stick it down in the right place so Mario can cross to the other side safely. Stickers also play a huge part in the way battles play out, as each sticker represents a unique attack that is one-time use only (though you can always get more). Because of their limited nature, you're constantly needing to be careful of not wasting stickers and using the right kind on the correct type of enemy; jump attacks are no good on spiked enemies unless you're using the Iron Boots sticker, for example. There are also rare, super stickers that do more damage and usually attack all enemies at once; strangely enough, these stickers are actually created by finding real-world items in-game, such as scissors, staplers, and the like, and taking them to a certain place in order to turn them into stickers. If you're worried about the one-time use of stickers though, don't be. Stickers are literally everywhere in the game; you can find and peel them off of buildings and the sides of walls throughout levels in addition to buying them at shops and acquiring them at the end of a battle. There's even a Sticker Musuem you'll eventually discover and help to collect stickers for, and you'll learn that there a lot of different varieties of them. The lower screen of the 3DS actually acts as a stickerbook which houses the stickers you collect throughout the game. As you progress, you'll add more pages so that you can carry more, in addition to collecting stickers of bigger size as well (their strength increasing with the size of the sticker). Aside from the sticker element, there are also some other interesting changes made to battles. You can no longer select which enemy you want to target (unless a sticker attacks all); instead, you must start with the enemy in front and work your way to the back. One could argue that this eliminates strategy from battles, but it actually changes the way you approach the strategy. Thankfully, the action commands return from previous games, and your attacks can be enhanced by pressing the attack button at the right moment(s); conversely, you can increase your defense from enemy attacks by doing the same. This element keeps the battles interesting and helps to stem the feeling that you're just watching your commands unfold. The game also plays up the paper aspect of the game a lot more than some of the previous entries. Enemies like goombas can now change their shape into cones so they become like a spike and hurt Mario if he jumps on them, and they can also fold themselves in half in order to perform two attacks at once. There are new "paper" status effects that can affect Mario and enemies as well, such as becoming crumpled or becoming soggy; both of which will make the affected lose a turn or two while they wait off the effect. Also, since Mario is alone in these battles, a new addition called the "Battle Spinner" has been included in battle mode in order to help even out the odds. At the beginning of each turn, you'll have the ability to pay three coins in order to use the Battle Spinner (essentially a slot machine) so that you can use more stickers at once. If you happen to line up at least two of the same symbols, you'll have the ability to use two stickers that turn; three symbols and you can use three stickers. It definitely helps in cases where you're outnumbered 3 or 4 to 1, or in Boss fights, but the random nature of it makes it difficult to really pin down. Fortunately, the cost of using it isn't too much as coins are readily found in levels, won in battles, and acquired by beating levels. Another big change from earlier Paper Mario games is that there are no experience points and no level progression this time around. Instead, Sticker Star takes a more Zelda-ish approach; you become stronger by acquiring Royal Stickers, and increase HP by collecting bonus hearts that you find by exploring and doing sidequests. Unfortunately, the lack of any kind of experience and level progression really makes non-mandatory battles moot and pointless, meaning that you can avoid many enemies and save your stickers for more mandatory fights. To its credit though, the game ensures that you'll fight at least half of the non-mandatory battles due to enemy AI awareness and the number of enemies in a given area. Sticker Star isn't quite as heavy on story as the previous three Paper Mario games are, but it has its share of memorable moments as well as the series' trademark humor, ranging from a sniffit game show to dancing disco boos to a truly strange Birdo cameo and more. Conversely, the lack of partner and side characters deprives the game somewhat of the great interaction and progression that those characters provided in earlier games. Thankfully, the gameplay holds up and offers a lot of secrets through the exploration of each level; you might discover areas that can be accessed with certain stickers or areas that can you hit with your hammer and reveal hidden pathways. It must be stated that I had trouble figuring out what to do at multiple points and was stuck for an hour or two at a time before I figured it out. Sometimes the game requires you to backtrack and search for certain real-world items (or "Things" as the game calls them) to turn into stickers, which can be hindrance; or you may have to use trial-and-error to figure out what kind of sticker you need to use to progress through an area because the game isn't clear enough on what you should do. This is the only instance I found to have a negative impact on what is otherwise a fun and great experience, not to mention a long experience as well. When all was said and done, I had clocked in at just under 25 hours, so it's a pretty meaty handheld experience. Paper Mario: Sticker Star ultimately succeeds more often than not with its newfound focus on stickers. The visuals carry over nicely from previous games; the 3D is well done and is used to the same great effect as in Super Mario 3D Land; and the new, streamlined innovations such as the world map and individual levels help make the Paper Mario experience bite-sized and easy to digest for quick sessions on the go. While the sticker concept isn't perfect in every way, it is a lot of fun and contributes to some clever gameplay. Whether you're a fan of the previous games in the series or are simply looking for a fun and lengthy handheld experience, Sticker Star is one of the best original experiences to grace the 3DS yet and well worth the money spent for it. Pros: + Sticker-based gameplay is fresh and intuitive + Trademark Paper Mario visuals and humor are back + Lots to the game; at least 20-25 hours long Cons: - Some sticker puzzles can lead to trial and error solutions - Story is a bit lighter than previous games in the series Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Paper Mario: Sticker Star has a few minor hiccups, but it's a worthwhile investment for fans of the series and those looking to get the most bang out of their buck for a meaty 3DS experience.
  4. Nintendo is finally doling out the release dates for some of the bigger games coming out on 3DS this Fall, from Professor Layton & the Miracle Mask to Skylanders Giants and even Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Remember, with the exception of two games on this list, these are only games being published by Nintendo for 3DS; this list does not represent the entirety of the 3DS Fall lineup. Check out the list of release dates below- Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone - Oct. 1 The next installment of Art Academy, where users of any skill level can learn painting and drawing techniques as well as share and upload certain content via Spotpass. Additional lessons will also be available via DLC. Crosswords Plus - Oct. 1 The next installment of Crosswords (which was on DS), which will feature more than 1,000 different crossword puzzles, as well as wordsearch, anagrams, and a new Word of the Day mode. Users can also share and receive puzzles via Streetpass or receive bonus puzzles via Spotpass. Sparkle Snapshots 3D - Oct. 18 E-shop exlusive that lets you customize your photos with 3D effects. Users will be able to share their creations wirelessly with friends as well as transfer them to SD card and such. Skylanders Giants (Activision) - Oct. 21 More than 20 new figures to collect and play with in-game, including Giants that are twice the size of normal Skylanders, and Lightcore Skylanders that light up in real life and in-game when placed on the Portal of Power. See more info here. Style Savvy: Trendsetters - Oct. 22 Players run their own full-scale fashion shop where they help customers keep up with the latest trends, buying new clothes for their store and sharing creations online. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask - Oct. 28 Solve of dozens of puzzles through a brand new storyline as you try and solve the mystery of the Miracle Mask. Players will be able to download a new puzzle every day for 365 days starting from release date, free of charge. Freakyforms Deluxe, Your Creations Alive! - Nov. 5 Players will create their own creatures and use them to explore a planet that they can customize. This new version of the game features content not previously available in the eShop version, such as dungeons to explore, added creation functionality, and new special powers. Paper Mario: Sticker Star - Nov. 11 The Paper Mario series returns in 3D, and this time, the gameplay revolves around using stickers to win battles and solve puzzles. Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion (Disney Interactive) - Nov. 18 Inspired by the classic game, Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, this game will feature new ways of interacting with the world using paint and paint thinner. No doubt we'll be hearing more release dates for more 3DS games as well as the Fall months creep ever closer. One last bit of news is that Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon's release has been moved to the first half of 2013; no specific reason has been given, but it would seem Nintendo is trying to spread out its releases. Which games are you looking forward to on this list?