What the Giant Bomb blogging community sorely needs right now is an award ceremony that honors the best games of 2012. That no-one seems to have yet stepped up to the plate and done so seems almost unconscionable. Fortunately, your pal and mine Mento has deigned to put down his discounted Virtual Console copy of Dr Mario for the original Game Boy for a moment in order to throw a bunch of dumb categories together with illustrated award handing-outings (to use the official gerund) to make this glitzy and venerated annual event a little more... I dunno, "fun".
Make no mistake, this isn't just a Giant Bomb GOTY Awards blog; this is the Giant Bomb GOTY Awards blog. Or to be even more specific, this is the Giant Bomb GOTY Awards blog that has stickpeople cartoons and way too much text discussing the most trivial shit tangentially related to video games. Nominees go bold and italics for winner, bold for finalist nominee and plain text for other honorary mentions. Enjoy the show! Sorry I added to the big pile of these things! I'm unusually susceptible to peer pressure! Stop sending me timeshare emails!
2012's 2011 GAME OF THE YEAR
As always, I honor the games of yesteryear that I generally end up waiting to play because it turns out games get really cheap after they've been out a while. Crazy, right? Before I discovered free video game rental vouchers, I usually staggered my video game playing so I'd always be about a year or so behind, but fortunately I had a lot to see in 2012 as well. But most of that had to take a backseat as I spent the good part of a month playing Monolith Soft's Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii early this year. It is an absolutely fantastic RPG and I'm still a little torn that I had to except it as a 2012 game, due to the weird history behind the Operation Rainfall trilogy and their delayed US releases. Or did I?
2013's 2012 GAME OF THE YEAR?
This clairvoyant conferral is for the game I'm most likely to enjoy out of the many I didn't get the chance to play this year, based on what I've heard and seen of them. Of course, we have no real way of knowing this for sure beforehand, right? Might be an interesting prediction to revisit in twelve months. If only for me, anyway. Also XCOM wins it because effin' XCOM. I even loved the brutally alienating (as it were) original, so the chances I'll be playing Firaxis's critically acclaimed new take for most of January is pretty darn likely, you guys.
BEST BABBY GAME FOR BABBY CONSOLES
Every year I like to honor my childhood heroes Nintendo for keeping my inner tyke content with the most colorful and imaginative games of the year. At least, that's the idea. Nintendo's had a busy 2012 - and time will tell if this was actually a good year for them - but I only managed to play a smattering of 2012 games for Nintendo consoles. Three, if I'm being specific. As much as I like The Last Story, this award's very nature as a shout-out for nostalgia means IndieZero's wonderful, whimsical trip through Final Fantasy's 25 years of melodic soundtracks takes it.
BEST GAME I DIDN'T BEAT THIS YEAR
This award is to honor the great games I played but didn't beat this year, so couldn't in good conscience place them in my top ten. If you told me you managed to beat FTL's final boss, then I would call you a filthy liar, throw my drink in your face (should I be holding one) and run off whooping like Zoidberg. It's a sour note to end the game on, but considering the bad shit that almost always occurs in any given FTL run, an entirely germane one. My feelings on Dragon's Dogma can be easily summed up by this Twitter exchange. Syndicate I just couldn't wrap my head around - there comes a point when you're fighting tougher enemies that you're doing the gamepad equivalent of rubbing your belly while patting your head; I just didn't have the manual dexterity or situational awareness to pull it off adroitly. I could definitely see why a seasoned expert of shooter games like Jeff would love it, though. As for the two others on that list, well, I'll be getting around to that in just a moment.
BEST ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
The Indie scene really took this category and ran off with it, far over the hills and the sand dunes and into a big shining light at the top of a mountain. Double Dragon Neon and Hell Yeah!, especially, were middling action games with a great, goofy sense of humor (balance that with something like Borderlands 2 this year) that mostly comes through with their music: Double Dragon Neon's insanely 80s musical stylings, from its remixes of the original's music to the references to various 80s acts in each of their little mixtape power-ups, were a delight from start to finish. It might well have won the award for "Best Credits Song" had I bothered to make that category. Hell Yeah! also excels in its use of musical humor, whether you're jamming to the best shop music since Hot Rod (that's according to Giant Bomb's banner text at least) or the syrupy weirdness of that game's Cute Zone. Journey and Fez, of course, are already receiving accolades aplenty for their moody and atmospheric music from everyone ever already, and The Last Story has some brilliant Uematsu tracks bookended with some slightly experimental numbers which I still enjoyed. So I bite my thumb at you, VGK, for disparaging the final boss music. It's dumb but I like it.
But let's be serious here: Xenoblade Chronicles had the best music, by far. It's science.
BEST USE OF LICENSED MUSIC
I didn't much like Lollipop Chainsaw for the most part. Its jokey dialogue was a bit cloying and the character action genre is something I've long since lost my affection for, the dispassion of which was exacerbated further by my playthrough of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow this year. However, in much the same way as Hell Yeah! and Double Dragon Neon, it used its music as an effective comedic weapon to hammer home several jokes and references that ranged from laugh out loud funny to just humorously dumb. Buckman and Garcia's "Pac-Man Fever", for instance, is the sort of call out that warms the cockles of my cold dead heart, though I will admit to Toni Basil's "Mickey" and The Chordettes' "Lollipop" becoming the sort of ear worms Chekov might have had to contend with in the Wrath of Khan. That's right, Lollipop Chainsaw isn't monopolizing nerdy movie references around these parts. Hotline Miami needs no further elucidation, since I've heard from many sources how its pumping electronica soundtrack IS the game just about. Borderlands 2's theme "Short Change Hero" from The Heavy is a great use for that song for a pretty awesome intro cutscene, and LEGO Batman 2 piping in the classic John Williams Superman theme just made me smile every time I took to the skies as the Man of Steel.
BEST LOOKING GAME
Nominees: Journey, Far Cry 3, Fez, Sleeping Dogs, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy.
When I consider which games are the most aesthetically pleasing, I tend to prioritize those games which take things in artistically interesting directions, rather than just looking really, really good. I feel like the technology behind making games look really, really good will eventually plateau, leaving that particular "good graphics! we need good graphics!" way of thinking behind to an extent. Also, the best looking games in that regard tend to be compromised in many ways for their down-scaled console releases, which are the versions I tend to opt for as I am not in the market for a £500+ PC right now. Maybe if I were getting paid to write nonsense like this, but then I could just visit Santa Claus in his workshop and ask for one while I'm off in cuckoo fantasy land. So! The best looking game this year was Journey. It's nothing short of stunning from beginning to end, though the highlight is the eye-searing sunset gleaming through and around a series of dilapidated pillars as your little peregrinating protagonist slides down a sand bank into some ominously dark ruins, marking the point where shit is about to get real. If I had a soul, it would've been enriched beyond words by the experience. Fez, too, took pixel graphics in some oddly poignant directions, and I found myself loving the little witchcraft stitch-craft art style of Theatrhythm over the attractive but mostly recycled graphics of its sister product Final Fantasy XIII-2.
But then, Xenoblade Chronicles' environments were just breathtaking and it's the clear winner overall, am I right?
WEIRDEST F'ING GAME
One of my mainstay categories, meant to award (sort of) the oddest games of the year. I appreciate weirdness in all its forms, you see, and anything that challenges us visually or narratively in a game is the best shot the medium as a whole has of being recognized as an artform. As Salvador Dali might've once said, "a plumber eating a mushroom to grow tall enough to stamp on turtles? Well, now I've seen everything!". While games like Lollipop Chainsaw, Hell Yeah!, Far Cry 3 and Asura's Wrath might've embraced their weirdness from the get go, there's nothing in the original Final Fantasy XIII (besides the usual background radiation weirdness of JRPGs in general) to suggest where its sequel might go. A time-travelling, paradox-evading, bizarre series of barely connected events that happen in a rough order dictated by sheer randomness, FFXIII-2's plot makes very little sense by any metric you care to attach to it: It's incomprehensible even for a JRPG, it's about as far as you can get from a straightforward linear narrative (almost certainly the point, given the backlash for FFXIII) and so many elements are thrown in for the sake of interesting puzzles to puzzle out and interesting strategic fights to stratergerize without any sort of explanation or logic proffered. Sure there are inter-dimensional pockets where you solve sliding block puzzles. I guess there are monsters willing to join side-ponytail and not-Zidane to have this neat monster-raising sim aspect. Of course a moogle with a squeaky accent knows why everything is what it is 500 years into the unmapped future (maybe it has a direct line to Ziggy?). I just stopped questioning things after so many hours. They should've renamed the Sphere Grid the Marble Grid, because that's where Final Fantasy's all went.
Nominees: Masocore Indie Platformers, Crappy Endings, Locked Away DLC Endings, Region Locking PS3 Games, Assassin's Creed's Decline.
I'm thinking Giant Bomb's "JUST STOP" is probably a way better name for this sort of category, which is a prime whambulance parking zone for complaints and grudges for where the video game industry is headed. In a nutshell, I'll explain why all the above suck: Indie Platformers getting the notion that in order to be successful like Super Meat Boy, they need to be extraordinarily difficult and frustrating; Crappy Endings in general are the sort of thing to leave a sour taste in one's mouth after what might've been a sterling dozen hours of gameplay and storytelling, and is simply a terrible idea if you want people to talk about your games with any sort of joy or affection after the fact; Locked Away DLC Endings speaks for itself, and I'm really hoping Asura's Wrath was an aberration never to be repeated; Region Locking PS3 Games is something else that only really applies to one game - Persona 4: Arena, yet to see its European release - but I'm pessimistic enough to believe we aren't yet done with that either; and, obviously, how each progressive Assassin's Creed game after Brotherhood seems to be taking a dive in quality, probably due to Ubisoft's insistence of having a new one every damn year. Give it a break already, you guys; it got completely trashed this time and we'll be lucky if there's anyone left who still cares enough to see the next one. I'm calling Masocore platformers the worst this year, because it ruined four promising games (at least!) with fantastic ideas because their designers got the wrong impression that they needed to be bitch hard or have really sparse checkpointing or decided every nook and cranny required an insta-kill spike in order to compete in the Indie market. If your game's more difficult than Rayman: Origins, which I believe sets a perfect level of challenge, then go back to the drawing board and rethink a few things. Don't ruin your neat little Indie puzzle platformer with this frustrating bullshit, I implore you.
Nominees: Far Cry 3's Buck Buck Buck Arc, FFXIII-2's Chocolina (Also a Bird Thing), Tomb Raider's "You'll Want To Protect Lara", the Anita Sarkeesian backlash/#1reasonwhy backlash/other gross sexism/misogyny bullshit of this year, Dust: An Elysian Tail's furries.
I think the cartoon says everything that needs to be said. Besides "I don't really thinkis secretly a rapist mercenary operating in the South Pacific." (Though he might want to look that direction if he wants to get his designer t-shirt empire up and running.) This year didn't make video games look too good in the national press, you guys, though being called out by a colossal moron like Wayne LaPierre for gun violence probably restored some of that lost credibility. Might be time to knock off the sign to our collective treehouse that says "no cooties allowed" at the very, very least. And while us consumers are doing that, we'll ask the developers to knock it off with telling us to white knight vulnerable female protagonists and giving anthropomorphic animals amazing racks for a while. \there's a two-way street to betterment here, everyone.
Nominees: The Amazing Spider-Man, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, Assassin's Creed 3, Darksiders II, Final Fantasy XIII-2.
I try to avoid the truly generic games, so the selection above might not even be the tip of the iceberg of the apathetic asset recycling, idea stealing and half-assed buggy finished products we saw from the video game industry this year. Sleeping Dogs and Borderlands 2, as good as they were, aren't exactly exempt from this category either. The Amazing Spider-Man has almost nothing to set it apart from its nigh-identical superhero peers (including its Prototype-esque viral plot, in the same year as that game's sequel no less) and didn't really feel like sharpening the aspects it did borrow, though at the very least it let you go outside in this one. When the only thing to set your game apart is Bruce Campbell in a blimp, you might want to try to innovate a little harder next time. LEGO games are what they are; I believe there were even two of them this year, so they're not going away any time soon. AC3 at least gave us that ship combat mini-game, Darksiders II can't really be called too lazy for how much goddamn content that game has to the point of tedious lunacy, and Final Fantasy XIII-2's laziness may well get trumped in 2013 by Lightning Returns, so I'll hold off my derision until then (or unexpected joy? I guess we'll see).
WORST (OPTIONAL) WASTE OF TIME
Nominees: Final Fantasy XIII-2's Slot Machines, Hell Yeah!'s Slot Machines, Borderlands 2's Slot Machines.
Knock. It. Off. (Optionally.)
Nominees: ?????, ?????, ?????, ?????, ?????.
Mass Effect's 3 ending I feel has received a sufficient amount of vitriol at this point that everyone is at least aware that its conclusion is terrible. As for the other nominees, well, let's just put up one of these:
Nominees: Sleeping Dogs, Dust: An Elysian Tale, Journey, Resonance, The Unfinished Swan.
Very hard to get into specifics here, so I'll simply say that each of the games nominated manage - in their own way - to reach a satisfying conclusion that effectively conveys the idea that the entire game had been leading up to that moment, rather than some dumb Deus Ex Machina ending (sorry JC) or a cliffhanger or any of the problems of the games in the previous category. It's really not a lot to ask of a game that they don't mess up the landing.
Man, how do I even? Oh hey, I have an idea. Just go visit this Tumblr blog I just created for this category. Solving problems with multimedia!
Nominees: Big Bo and Cain - Binary Domain, Lippi and Frea - Crimson Shroud, Fidget - Dust: An Elysian Tale, Anonymous Journey Player - Journey, Yasha - Asura's Wrath.
Perhaps an ambiguous category, Best Teammate is simply the award given for the best PC or NPC that spends a considerable amount of the game fighting at your side. Binary Domain lives and dies on its teammates as a squad shooter and does a grand job of developing them and giving some definition to those characters that doesn't begin and end with "people from [Country] shoot robots like this, but people from [Different Country] shoot robots like this!". Big Bo's just a stitch from beginning to end (but he gets some development time too, don't worry) while Cain is just a great addition from the moment you first meet the guy. Fidget's perhaps the most acceptable Exposition Fairy since... never? Yasha's great for his eventual but entirely expected heel face turn and the Crimson Shroud guys are simply miniatures that the game nevertheless manages to flesh out with some quality backstory and well-written, snarky dialogue. That so many strategies in that game revolve around the three of you working in tandem doesn't hurt either. I guess the Journey guy doesn't really count, seeing as how he's another player, but they might as well be computer-controlled for the amount of human interaction you have with them.
Nominees: Dust: An Elysian Tale, Hell Yeah!, Cave Story 3D, Rabbids Land, Assassin's Creed III (delicious!).
I honestly thought there were more rabbit games this year, but Cave Story's 3DS turn was actually last year. Still, I finally got around to playing that Indie darling this year, so into the deliberations it goes. Honestly, I don't know where all these games are coming from. They're multiplying like... well... yeah.
This was another thing I noticed this year: Video game characters that love getting schwammered. What kind of lesson is that to leave to all the children? That drinking is awesome? Because that's a good one. Augus is the clear winner, though his epic drinking is but one of the many facets of that... complex character. Syrenne's an entertaining souse during The Last Story's moments of downtime and the hero of Risen II downs bottles of rum and grog like they were health potions, which they actually are in that game. You don't see Salvador drink too often (though it's required for one side-quest) but you get the impression he could drink the others in his group under the table, despite being about 4 feet tall. Ditto with Sleeping Dogs' Old Salty Crab, who sounds like he's tying one on every time you call him up for something fun and felonious, and given the content of the missions he joins you in doing it's probably for the best that he gets a little buzzed beforehand.
BEST OVERALL NEW CHARACTER
You'll be happy to hear (probably) that this is my very last award, given to the best new character in any video game, regardless of their role. After some careful consideration, I'm giving it to Assassin Creed 3's Haytham Kenway, who is in absentia for too much of that game's running time. He's an enigmatic and entertaining character for the time you spend controlling him during ACIII's over-extended intro, and continues to be a delight as he clashes with his son at various late stages of the game. Like Vaas, my runner up and another great invention, he departs the game far too quickly and too unceremoniously for my liking. If either of these games feel like doing some DLC - and, let's face it, it's likely - I wouldn't mind being in the shoes of those gents for a while longer. Kind of embarrassing how much better they are than their games' respective protagonists, actually. As for the other nominees, well, they're all great, nuanced characters with a lot of vulnerable depth behind their bravado. I mean, besides Augus.
BEST GIANT BOMB QUICK LOOK MOMENTS
Not an award, just a list of some of the best moments in no particular order as a way of voicing my appreciation for yet another year of wonderful content from Messrs. Jeff, Ryan, Vinny, Brad, Patrick, Drew, Dave, recurring guests Brad Muir and the rest of Double Fine and everyone else at Giant Bomb Industries who makes the site run, even if Alex or Alexis or that new Lt. Squigs Ian fellow or future employee Matthew Rorie didn't get to narrate a Quick Look themselves this year. Here's to another edifying and entertaining year of Quick Looks! (Also a shout out tofor his "Best Of" compilations, without which I couldn't have assembled this list. Or at least not as quickly, in which case I probably wouldn't have bothered.)
- Ravaged - "Let's learn from a pro."
- Sleeping Dogs - "[Vinny laughter] Ohhh, that's just too much fun."
- Sleeping Dogs: Nightmare in North Point - "How's your scripting work? Fuck it. Oh, pick up this purse? Fuck it. Play this DLC? Fuck it."
- Kinect Party - "[DUBSTEP]"
- Kerbal Space Program - "What's the biggest rocket you got?"
- Binary Domain - "Big Bo's freaking out!"
- Spelunky - "I like to have fun when I play video games, sorry guys."
- Madden NFL 13 - "[faceplant over football player]"
- Edna & Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes - "That's so gumbo!"
- Roller Coaster Rampage - "And remember, Big Jeffrey always says: Drop 'em!"
- WWE '13 - "I'm a ghost?!"
- Intel Discovered - "It's really not that hard, okay?"
Finally, my thanks to all you crazy people who managed to read this far. I hope your impressive lack of ADD serves you better in other areas of your lives. But for serious, have a great 2013 everyone!
(Oh yeah, I almost forgot: If you want to read even more goddamn words, take a gander at my overall best games of 2012 GOTY list.)