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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.
Developer: Minority Publisher: SCE Platform: PSN ESRB: E10+ Release Date: Out Now Every so often, a game comes along that aims to do something different from the rest. In the case of Journey, it wasn't so much a traditional game as it was an interactive experience. Rather, the game focused more on the surroundings of where you were, where you were heading, and the silent narrative which followed in order to create a powerful experience. Similarly, Papo & Yo aims to tell a story, or parable of sorts, and it isn't the easiest to tell or to listen to. But the ensuing experience and what you manage to take away from it easily makes this one of the most memorable games of the year. Papo & Yo is, in effect, a powerful analogy about the relationship between alcohol and abuse, and how it affects those near to the abuser in such a situation. It's based on creative director Vander Caballero's childhood and thus serves as a somewhat autobiographical account of his relationship with his father growing up. The beginning of the game illustrates this as much, showing the child protagonist, Quico, as he hides from his father's destructive tendencies after a night of alcohol abuse. To escape the cold reality he lives in, Quico delves into a dreamworld of sorts, imagining a whole reality that opens up before him as a door made out of chalk appears on the wall. As he appears on the other side of the door, he finds himself amidst a favela (a Brazilian shanty town of sorts), following a mysterious girl who keeps running away from him. In this world, he discovers that the environment can be manipulated to an end by interacting with certain chalk designs on the floor and on walls. Simply pushing in a chalk gear on a wall can literally change the world, with buildings moving and exchanging places, platforms raising up and so forth, whereas turning a chalk switch can give life to buildings, making them sprout wings or grow legs (all in a cartoonish fashion) and move away. The mechanics are fairly simple at best, mainly consisting of running, jumping, and manipulating the environment in order to let you proceed through each area. If you're here for challenging gameplay and mind-bending puzzles though, you'll not find it here. The puzzles in Papo & Yo are never quite clever enough for their own good; rather, they serve as an impetus to further the story and narrative. That's not to say the gameplay doesn't have its share of enjoyable moments; just don't expect something along the lines of Portal 2. Many times it's just a matter of finding something to interact with in an area, which leads to something else to interact with and on, but the way it's carried out is pretty entertaining. And there are a few puzzles that did really make an impression on me, not because of any complexity, but rather for its imagination and really driving home the point that this is a world of fantasy where anything is possible. Sometime after the beginning area, you'll then be introduced to Monster, a giant orange creature who, at first, wouldn't as much hurt a fly, and Quico soon begins a friendship as he learns to work together with him to solve puzzles and progress through the winding world of the favelas. However, though by nature he is generally a gentle giant, it's discovered that Monster has a weakness for poisonous frogs, which upon eating (and to Quico's horror) turns him into an uncontrollable beast in rage. In this dangerous state, Monster can't rationalize friend from foe, which creates a potentially life-threatening situation for Quico, and the only way he can sober up the creature is by giving him rotten fruit. When it comes to Monster's enraged state, the game drives home some powerful imagery when Quico is unable to escape from him as he suffers the abuse of his friend, being flailed around and tossed in the air, screaming. While it doesn't go much beyond that description, that single act alone drives home the disturbing reality of family members who are betrayed by their alcholic parents and suffer abuse. Yet there are also times when Quico must use this terrifying state of Monster to solve a few puzzles, so it creates an element of constant fear that's pretty effective. Ultimately, the purpose of your quest becomes clear as you and the mysterious girl go on a journey to attempt to rid Monster of his bad habits, and ultimately try to save himself in the process. Analogies aside, when it comes to the visuals, the game is a mixed bag. At first glance, the graphics can be a little muddy looking, with jaggies being prevalent, almost like that of an early PS3 game. On the other hand, the art direction is astounding, and the attention to detail in the world is pretty spectacular, from the exotic grafitti prevalent in the different areas to the actual structures and buildings of the favela themselves. Papo & Yo's world is truly a convincing world that I found myself lost in from the get-go. Though the the realization behind the concept of favelas is a sad reality (one that relates to poverty, in essence), there is a subtle and inherent beauty to their design and environment in this game. Beyond that, the more fantastical elements that are found in the world push the limits of imagination - one of the last areas nearly borrows from a certain scene from the movie Inception, but for me, it was definitely one of the most memorable areas in the game. Unfortunately, the game isn't perfect in every respect as there are a few moments and areas where the framerate drops (such as when Monster goes into a rage) and mild screen-tearing occurs. There is also some infrequent clipping with certain objects and certain strange visual choices, such as characters not moving their mouths as they speak (the characters speak what Minority calls "Latin gibberish," and is subtitled in English), but during my playthrough, none of these things were noticeable enough to truly hamper the experience. If there's one thing that absolutely stands out almost above all else in the game though, it's the outstanding soundtrack. Composed mostly with an acoustic guitar, flute, and some percussion instruments, the music ranges from Spanish/Latin guitar to sounds that are more akin to tribal rhythms and the like. There's a beautiful melancholy feeling to it, and it works so well within the confines of the game's environment and story. By the end of the game, Papo & Yo really took me by surprise. I thought I had the story all figured out, but the ending is beautifully crafted and will without a doubt leave a lasting impression on you, whether or not you can relate to having an alcoholic parent or family member. The fact that Vander Caballero and his team were able to convey such a powerful story dealing with a hard-hitting subject like alcoholism and abuse in such a way that anyone can understand, even a child, speaks volumes of the talent behind Minority. And though the story itself is the true star of the game, I found myself endlessly fascinated by the world created within as well. Papo & Yo may not be for everyone, but it is a fantastic game and story that I hope many get to experience, and one that has me excited for what Minority has in store for the future. Pros: + Amazing heartfelt story + Great art direction and environments + Soundtrack is fantastic Cons: - Graphics can be a bit muddy looking - Some framerate slowdown, clipping, graphical oddities Overall Score: 9 (Out of 10) Fantastic Papo & Yo is a fascinating first game from Minority, balancing intriguing gameplay, an imaginative world, and a truly heartfelt and bittersweet story. If you love games with a unique narrative, don't miss out on this.
As stated yesterday in the Playstation Store Update Overview, next week's PSN Play title, Papo & Yo, is now available for pre-order on PSN for $14.99 ($11.99 for PS+ members), which also comes with an exclusive Papo & Yo PS3 theme. The developer, Minority, has also teamed with the experience filmmakers at Rezolution Pictures and talented Montreal director/director of photography Alfonso Maiorana in order to bring us a cinematic trailer that blends live-action footage with in-game action. If you don't yet know what Papo & Yo is about, the trailer illustrates it perfectly with virtually no words to explain it; the PSN game definitely looks to have a powerful message behind the story. Look for Papo & Yo next week on the Playstation Store.