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The 30 Best Videogames of 2012

December 20, 2012  |  11:54am
The 30 Best Videogames of 2012
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10. Sound Shapes
Developer: Queasy Games; SCE Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony
Platforms: PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita
Sound Shapes twists the basic tenets of the classic side-scrolling platformer into a form of interactive music-making. Every element of the game serves a musical purpose. Coins aren’t just collectibles but musical notes that add new instruments and melodies to the level’s soundtrack. Platforms aren’t just bricks or elevators but words that move, twist and disappear according to a song’s lyrics. Instead of simple obstacles to avoid or monsters to dispatch enemies are drum machines that contribute to the beat. Sound Shapes surreptitiously teaches you how to build and arrange songs while enjoying one of the most beautiful and memorable games of the year.—Garrett Martin

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9. Mark of the Ninja
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft
Platforms Xbox 360 and PC
Mark of the Ninja made me feel competent and clever. In spite of my sloppy thick dough thumbs, it turned me into a meticulous, thoughtful person, pulling from reserves of patience I didn’t know I had. It is a real feat to make the player feel powerful and capable, even as the game repeatedly stalls her progress. As a platformer Mark of the Ninja has a palpable snap, but most of its real thrills are intellectual. In short, playing it feels cool as hell.—Jenn Frank

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8. Dyad
Developer: Shawn McGrath
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 3
The better you are doing at the tunnel shooter Dyad, the less clear it is what is going on. Colors explode across the screen, the music swells and you attempt to navigate audio-visual chaos. There’s no fetishizing clear feedback here. There are times when I was playing this game when I couldn’t tell you whether or not my input was having any effect on anything. Itemizing Dyad does it a disservice. It creates an impression of the game as a series of moving parts that happen to interlock. It misses the point: the smashing of those parts together. Synaesthesia by (and as) design.—Brian Taylor

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7. Spelunky
Developer: Derek Yu
Publisher: Mossmouth
Platform: Xbox 360
The roguelike platformer Spelunky recreates the sensation of arcade games, with the primacy of the leaderboard and simple rules buckling under brutal difficulty, but fragments the most crucial keys to success into an almost infinite kaleidoscope. Somehow it does that effortlessly, with a design free of unnecessary embellishments. Spelunky‘s randomness might seem to entirely dispatch of memorization and pattern recognition, but it merely multiples the instances in which both skills are needed. It expects you to call upon those memories with no advance warning. That makes Spelunky one of the few retro-flavored platformers of late to transcend its obvious inspirations.—Garrett Martin

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6. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
This faithful remake of the classic early ‘90s strategy game makes tactics accessible to console gamers. Clever strategy is crucial during the turn-based battles, but you’ll have to be just as smart running the bureaucratic side of XCOM and planning what new facilities to build and trying to balance the concerns of numerous panic-stricken nations. It will infiltrate your brain and keep you up at night.—Garrett Martin

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5. Mass Effect 3
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC
Mass Effect 3 isn’t really the end. Sure, it ties a big, messy bow on this particular storyline after four plus years, but there’s no way this massively successful series is just going to disappear. Expect spin-offs and tie-ins and new trilogies until there’s no money left in the name. In the meantime just enjoy Mass Effect 3, a thrilling conclusion to one of gaming’s best series.—Garrett Martin

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4. Hotline Miami
Developer: Dennaton Games
Publisher: Dennaton Games
Platform: PC
It’s the way that the extremely violent puzzle game Hotline Miami makes me question what I’m doing that makes it great. It does not rap you on the knuckles for enjoying it: There are no stern lectures or razor-sharp ironies or “Look what you did!”s. It’s an unease, like that post-massacre come down, or the way that the reasons for the violence is left unexplained, the abyss that looks back underneath it all. It offers no protection from the deeds: It is not quite meaningless and free of context, like a blood-filled stick figure flash game, or cloaked with justification, like a war game. Hotline Miami just stares back at me with an awful grin on its face.—Filipe Salgado

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3. Dishonored
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Dishonored is about loyalty: loyalty to country, to honor, to friends. In inhabiting the protagonist Corvo’s many roles—as the princess’s Lord Protector, as revolutionary, as assassin—the player is encouraged to explore that theme from a variety of angles, both by shaping the plot through his actions and by reacting to its multiple twists. If all that sounds a bit heady for a game where you stab dozens of dudes in the neck, well, it is. But the genius of Dishonored is how subtly its fiction and mechanics work together to draw the player into its world.—J.P. Grant

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2. Journey
Developer: thatgamecompany
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 3
No game has ever been as succinctly named as Journey. That’s all this game is about, my forward momentum as I undertake a mysterious quest. I don’t know why I’m doing it, or what waits for me on the mountaintop, but I know it must be done. In reducing the journey to its most primordial form, Journey attains a universal power. Instead of wilting under this asceticism, thatgamecompany wrings as much as they can out of their self-imposed rules, ending with a surprisingly poignant conclusion that hits an emotional high the rest of their game doesn’t even attempt.—Garrett Martin

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1. The Walking Dead
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac and iOS
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is one of the best licensed games of all time because of the way it re-creates the pacing and feel of the comic series. It’s heavy on character interaction and suspense, like the comic and show, and light on puzzles and item hunting. Action sequences are spread out; this is not Left 4 Dead or Dead Island but a character-driven game with action elements only added in when completely necessary. Think of The Walking Dead as Maniac Mansion and a poor man’s version of Heavy Rain put into a blender containing 10 or 15 issues of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s comic—a nice mix, especially for the episode price of $4.99.—Keith Veronese

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