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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. Out of nowhere, just like Phantom R, it appears that Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure will be ported to iOS sometime this winter. The announcement comes from Sega's Japanese website under the upcoming releases section. This iOS port of Rhythm Thief will apparently be free-to-play (which is a pretty much a steal, considering how good it is). However, according to the website for the game, there will be some unknown parts of the game that will require microtransactions. Also mentioned are new unknown modes and social features, no doubt to cater to the smartphone gaming crowd. While this iOS release of Rhythm Thief is Japanese-only so far, there's no doubt Sega will want to bring it to North American shores as well. We'll see! Would you play this free-to-play version of Rhythm Thief?
  3. Developer: Sega, Xeen Publisher: Sega Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: July 10, 2012 ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older Lurking in the shadows, just a week behind the more anticipated rhythm game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, lays a cunning thief… Rhythm Thief. Phantom R and his game almost became ghosts here in the states, too, with repeated delays and the Sega layoffs in March. It“s been a long, hard road, but Rhythm Thief & the Emperor“s Treasure was finally able to make its grand debut. And how very grand the game itself is. This seemingly unassuming rhythm game is chock-full of old-school Sega charm, and will grab hold of your attention and heart. Rhythm Thief takes place in the beautiful city of Paris, France. Our protagonist, Raphael, leads a double life as an art thief named Phantom R (his motives for stealing and later returning art are explained later on in the story). When pursuing his father, who left him when Raphael was a small child, he finds a bracelet with the same symbol as the coin that his father left him has. Soon enough, he becomes entangled with a girl named Marie, whose violin also carries that same symbol. The two young Parisians are then chased by a man claiming to be a resurrected Napoleon Bonaparte, who is seeking to rule Paris and the world with an artifact called the Dragon Crown. Raphael and his trusty canine sidekick, Fondue, work together to stop Napoleon and his cohorts; doing so to music and rhythm. Obviously, with all of that, Rhythm Thief doesn“t focus completely on being a rhythm game. There“s plenty of adventuring and moving around maps. There are even puzzle elements, though they are very simplistic and could have definitely used some more attention. Not to mention, on top of all of this, an engrossing and in-depth story that is certain to grab those that are not familiar with the rhythm genre. The game seems to take many notes from the Professor Layton series. The art style, animation, and poking around at every part of the screen for medals (instead of coins) make that very evident. Though, at the same time, Rhythm Thief puts its own spin on things and exudes a unique charm that doesn“t make it feel like a copy-cat. In any case, let“s stop rambling and talk about the main part: the gameplay! Rhythm Thief is the most fun I“ve had with a rhythm game in a long time. Sega and Xeen really put a lot of effort to make use of the 3DS“s properties and create a unique rhythm game. It“s not just tapping the screen or pressing buttons the whole time. Most of the rhythm minigames are presented in varying manners and are different from each other. In a way, it feels like a Rhythm Heaven game. Rhythm Thief even incorporates the 3DS“s gyroscope in order to make use of tilting and such in some of the rhythm minigames. It was completely unexpected when the first one that did make use of it popped up for me, but very fun (however, it could sometimes be unresponsive). Another one of my particular favorite set of minigames have you drag the stylus left and right to play Marie“s violin, presented in a way that feels similar to Guitar Hero. For the minigames, there is much help offered to those who need it and this is completely optional. Such help includes a “guide†which is usually an icon on the screen that indicates when a button needs to be pressed or stylus needs to be swiped. You can also buy items with your medals to make things easier - or more challenging!. The instructions presented before a minigame (and some puzzles) is started can sometimes be unclear, however. There was one in particular where I had absolutely no idea what was going on or what to do (it“s R31; be wary!). One of my favorite parts about Rhythm Thief is that some rhythm minigames are even themed around other Sega rhythm franchises like Space Channel 5 and Samba De Amigo. Playing a minigame that feels just like Space Channel 5, where you try to imitate the opponent“s moves, and seeing Phantom R go “chu, chu, chu!†is a real treat for those that are fans of the game. Rhythm Thief also offers bonus chapters at the end of the game, depending on whether you qualify for them or not. Finishing the “Master Instrument†and finding all the Phantom Notes are two such side-quests that need to be done to open up these new story branches. Only the most masterful rhythm thief will be able to do this, though. A lot of the sounds needed for the Master Instrument and collecting some Phantom Notes can no longer be done if you happen to miss them at a certain place at a certain time. Perhaps the most difficult chapter to unlock, however, requires you to get an “A†rank in every rhythm minigame. All of this provides a great incentive for completionists and those looking for a challenge. The gameplay of Rhythm Thief isn“t all that“s fantastic about it. The tracks used in and out of the rhythm minigames are pretty great, as they should be, and do a wonderful job of setting the mood. My absolute favorite piece of music from the game is titled “Moon Princessâ€. It“s incredibly emotional and memorable. As for voice-acting, it“s pretty nice aside from a few laughable French accents here and there. However, a noticeable problem throughout the game is that sometimes the written dialogue doesn“t match what is being audibly said. I wish a bit more attention had gone into that. The animated cutscenes are gorgeous and surprisingly well done (especially in 3D). They certainly rival the ones present in the Professor Layton series, Rhythm Thief“s probable inspiration. The scenery of Paris and other parts of France come alive with vibrant colors and details in both the cutscenes and backgrounds throughout the game. There“s just so much I love about Rhythm Thief & the Emperor“s Treasure; I could go on and on about it all day. It“s an immense amount of fun and a fabulous new IP from Sega. You can tell how much love and care went into making it and I can only wish it was getting as much attention as Theatrhythm seems to be getting. Despite that, I hope it does well enough here in North America so there“s potential for a sequel (and the ending even hints towards one, too!). Rhythm Thief definitely deserves it. Second Opinion by Jason Clement Rhythm Thief caught my eye when it was initially announced and had been on my radar before it was released, but I admit I didn't expect for it to be anything more than an Elite Beat Agents clone with a story. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be much more than that, and also mixed with a bit of Professor Layton as well. The result is a game that's extremely clever in its rhythm game usage and has a charming story to boot. What surprised me the most about Rhythm Thief was just how well each rhythm game adapts to each circumstance in the story; you'll fight off enemy goons to a beat in one game, run along and hide behind differently colored statues to avoid detection in another, and play a violin in yet another one of more than 50 different types of rhythm games. And if that isn't impressive enough, the music absolutely nails it as well, as the soundtrack is incredibly catchy and left me wanting a physical collection of all of the songs. If there's anything that truly won me over though, it's the incredible quality of the animation during the cutscenes and throughout the story. Rhythm Thief has the best and most impressive animated cutscenes of any 3DS game to this point; there's no artifacting whatsoever and the frame-rate is seemless and never drops off. Add to that the wonderful cast of characters and a great story and Rhythm Thief has all of the makings of a great new potential franchise at hand. As Leah mentioned, let's hope this one sells well enough; it'll leave you hungering for that second installment by the end. And unless you absolutely hate rhythm games or don't own a 3DS, Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure should absolutely be on your radar as it's one of the best examples of a game that was built from the ground-up for the 3DS and succeeds because of it. Pros: + Innovative and fun rhythm minigames that make full use of the features the 3DS has to offer, such as the gyroscope + Offers adventure and puzzle elements on top of the main rhythm portion of the game + Tributes to other Sega rhythm games like Space Channel 5 and Samba De Amigo + Animated cutscenes and soundtrack are absolutely gorgeous Cons: - Directions before you start rhythm minigames are sometimes vague and unclear - In many instances, written dialogue does not match what is being audibly said Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Rhythm Thief & the Emperor“s Treasure is a masterpiece of a rhythm game. For those that are fans of the genre and those having even a tiny bit of interest, you need to pick up a copy of this Sega title right away.