John Drake is the Director of Communications and Brand Management at Harmonix Music Systems, makers of Rock Band and Dance Central. He is most often found flying on planes to and from demos or trying to coax Ryan Davis into a dance frenzy with his patented move, the “Dazzle Crotch”. He also hosts the Giant Bomb Homage-fest that is the Harmonix Live Stream every Monday.
10. Sound Shapes
I bought my Vita as an impulse purchase at a Best Buy, due to general techno-lust. While it hasn’t made any strides in replacing my suite of Apple devices for on-the-go gaming, Sound Shapes stands out as a varied, charming and uniquely musical platforming experience that made fighting with the PlayStation Store trying to add money to my wallet worth it. The game got more intriguing with every level (I particularly liked the Beck suite) and justified, for a short while, carrying my Vita and headphones around everywhere.
Anything that gives me an excuse to get Alex Rigopulos, Eric Pope, and Nick Chester into a room together and just scream nonsense at them is worth all the money in the world. Oh, it’s free? WELL DOWNLOAD IT ONTO EVERYTHING THEN. Seriously though, Spaceteam is the best experience I’ve had with local iOS multiplayer…probably ever. Who is your ideal Spaceteam?
Is it bullshit to put a game you worked on onto an end of year list? Is it? Mikey Neumann was all "I’m too good for that, I’ll just mention it in my post script." Well fuck that--Dance Central 3 is the best game ever developed for Kinect, it involves time-traveling dance crime fighting secret agents, it has Gangnam Style now and it allows you to HIGH FIVE YOUR OPPONENT TO START--GAME OF THE YEAR. (Except 8 on my list cause I’m willing to be an asshole and put it on here, but not THAT much of an asshole.) Though I’m clearly a biased representative, if you have people in your life who are looking to dance, have fun and use a Kinect, get DC3 and Double Fine’s Kinect Party for the 1-2 punch of hilariousness. Seriously.
Just the weirdest, brain-bendingest game wrapped up in a smart and simple execution. It’s really the open-world game of platformers. And just when you think you’re done, you get sucked back in for a whole new bizarre adventure. Also, QR codes--equal parts genius and ridiculous.
Though it suffers from the “all-story” meta-narrative that all AAA games this year were infected with, I really, really enjoyed running around historically nerdy scenes, trying to be stealth, failing, and just hatcheting my way out of them. I had a lot of issues with AC3, but I also had a TON of fun during parts of it. Many of this year’s biggest games left me feeling uninspired after a few hours, playing out of obligation and not out of desire. With Assassin’s Creed III, I felt compelled to push history along and watch these characters grind the revolutionary war out. Additionally, I’m excited for the DLC that’s coming out where I’mma get to murder George Washington, because that guy has it coming.
Trials is still Trials, which means constant restarting of levels and the sweatiest hands I get all year as I muscle through ever more complicated levels. The crew at Harmonix was often found crowded around a 4-player multiplayer match screaming at each other, which was a welcome addition. Lastly, though I didn’t have time to dig in myself, I was particularly wowed that the devs at RedLynx figured out how to compact their level editor down into a robust tool fans could use to torture everyone around the world.
Alright, so I bought a Wii U, I really need a game that makes me feel justified in that purchase, and ZombiU freaks me out a little too much to complete. Where is a gamer to turn? Ah, like any Nintendo product--straight to a first-party title. Thank god NSMBU came out at launch. Though it’s “just more Mario”, that’s a welcome respite between bouts of Funky Barn. The platforming is tight and familiar, the graphics look great, and the extra bells and whistles are quirky and interesting. Additionally, This Mario Bros meant that our house has begun using the term “Bubbling” in casual conversation – When shit is just too stressful, bubble yourself and float through the level. “You okay, man?” “Rough day dude, but it’s cool--I’m just bubbling through to tomorrow.”
Thank god (or Telltale) for characters we can care about, environments and an art style that feels natural for the end of the world, and gameplay that stays out of the way. Pretty much everything that can be said in praise of The Walking Dead has been said at this point, but I enjoyed watching fans stumble across it over the course of multiple months--playing through it episode by episode, marathoning it all at once, or putting it down and picking it back up again weeks later. Walking Dead became lodged in your brain when you weren’t playing it, and that’s a testament to the writing and design at its core. So good.
Probably the most UNIQUE experience I had this year with a game, Frog Fractions is a fever dream wrapped in a nightmare wrapped up in Number Crunchers. Leap-frogging (see what I did there?) between a rapid-fire set of game styles, it’s frenetic and messy and confusing and awesome. I stumbled across the link (because LOL it’s a flash game) at 1am in a hotel, intending to play for 4-5 minutes just to check it out. I ended up unable to put the game down. So great. So, so weird.
I wasn’t won over quickly enough by the gameplay in ME1 or ME2 to fall in love with the franchise, so I was surprised when Mass Effect 3 completely sucked me in for a few weeks this year. It tightened up everything I was hesitant about previously, making the shooting/combat fun and the quests comprehensible. Evolved gameplay aside, Mass Effect 3 felt like a crafted celebration of how the world BioWare created has evolved across 3 amazing games. The story, characters and universe were all equally compelling and made me feel like my moment-to-moment actions in this world had real consequences. While that causality was somewhat undermined by the catch-all endings, I thought the 25-30 hours I put into the game were some of the most enjoyable I’ve had in this console generation.