Another year is in the books, and, as expected, XBLA has continued to grow and reach milestones that one would not have imagined possible seven years ago when the first few XBLA games released. In 2012, XBLA games set many records only to break those same records again and again in the ensuing weeks. From Fez to Trials Evolution to Minecraft, the downloads just kept queuing up all over the world. The success of XBLA in 2012 was impressive to say the least.
That meant that we had quite the task in front of us when coming together as a staff to try to decide which game to pick for each Game of the Year category below. The nominee list for each category offered so many great choices, but at the end of the day, only one game could win each award and as a staff of passionate XBLA gamers, we think we did a pretty good job of presenting the highlights of Xbox Live Arcade in 2012. Hope you like what we picked, but if not, let us know in the comments what you would have voted for. Without further delay, here are the 2012 XBLA Fans Game of the Year awards as chosen by the XBLA Fans staff.
There were a few surprises on XBLA in 2012 but none quite as surprising as World Gone Sour. This game was generally sneered at by most gamers when it showed up in their news feeds, but the fact of the matter is that World Gone Sour is a pretty damn good game. And at a price of only 400MSP, you would be a fool not to at least download the demo and give the game a fair shot.
Not only is World Gone Sour a charming game with solid voiceover work from The Office‘s William Charles Schneider, but the game is also very well designed, making it much more than just a five-minute laugh. With a difficulty curve that walks the fine line between fun and frustrating with ease, World Gone Sour is accessible and intuitive, making it a game that a wide variety of gamers can enjoy, and that is where it really shines the most. World Gone Sour is never about pixel-perfect platforming, brain-busting puzzles or even forcing candy advertisements into every area. It’s all about fun, and that’s evident from start to finish. If you brushed this game to the side as just another “advertainment” download, then we urge you to go back and see why World Gone Sour was worthy of our Biggest Surprise of 2012 award.
Andrew Crews – Community Manager
Deadlight showed a lot of promise when it was first announced. People quickly made comparisons to Shadow Complex and to the old school Prince of Persia games. As part of the Summer of Arcade, which has previously hosted XBLA greats including Limbo and Bastion, it seemed Microsoft was giving the game its stamp of approval. It was a 2D platformer set in a zombie-riddled 1980s Seattle, and it looked to be something special.
But things didn’t turn out that way. Deadlight looked fantastic, and it had some interesting survival moments at play, but it failed on basic levels of platformer design. The controls were inconsistent and cumbersome, and the game seemed more than willing to instantly kill you without much desire to tell you why, or what you could have done to avoid it. To top it off, Deadlight featured a half-baked story, laughable voice acting and a nonsensical twist ending. It was far from the Summer of Arcade highlight we expected.
Phil Nachum – Contributor
HD remakes might bring the visuals of classic games into the modern era, but all too often they only serve to highlight how dated their gameplay and mechanics may have become. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is the best kind of remake; it’s a shining example of timeless gameplay, and the fact that its graphics can now stand proudly among those of current-gen games is simply a bonus.
One of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD‘s most admirable achievements is that it still feels like a slice of time, despite an overhaul that makes it feel contemporary in many ways. Revisiting these familiar skate parks feels like coming home, and a great selection of the songs that featured in the original games fuels a late-90s nostalgia trip. Best of all, it’s every bit as fun now as it was back then.
Chris Leggett – Contributor
Five years in the making, Fez both delighted and disappointed when it finally released on XBLA this year. Players fell in love with Gomez and his mind-bending, dimension-shifting world. Those gorgeous 8-bit graphics took us back to an era we thought we’d long since left behind, and those insane puzzles will have us talking about Fez for years. However, the game was not without its problems. Many fell victim to game-breaking save file corruptions, and when that was patched it brought more issues that Polytron were unable/unwilling to fix due to Microsoft’s costly update rules.
For those reasons Fez missed out on a few of our top spots, but one thing we could all agree on was its standout soundtrack. Both uplifting at times and hauntingly beautiful at others, the score guided us through the game’s many mysteries. Its suitably trippy beats made us want to put our feet up and enjoy just being. Fez‘s charming soundtrack was not only the best in 2012, but it will surely be remembered as one of Xbox Live Arcade’s all-time greats.
Christine Mitchell – Reporter
Without delay. Sine Mora astonishes your eyes, fuels your adrenaline and provokes your mind. This shoot-’em-up from Grasshopper Manufacture took us across gorgeous vistas and a deep narrative. With a Hungarian-spoken narrative and a time-based survival mechanic, many features shined in this diesel punk shmup, including creative yet challenging boss battles and alternative narratives to encourage multiple playthroughs.
This XBLA gem graced the marketplace in early spring and was met with much critical acclaim. But before long, it was forgotten. Its niche genre, possibly challenging gameplay and noticeable lack of marketing (surprising for a Microsoft-published game) are a few factors that contributed to its loss of interest. Its notable absence from Microsoft’s Block Party XBLA Campaign also contributed, as it would likely have fared much better than the lackluster Nexuiz and polarizing I Am Alive. Nevertheless, Sine Mora will remain a hidden gem in the XBLA Marketplace. We highly recommend you queue it up if you haven’t already. It’s definitely worth it, and you could even make a case for it in XBLA Game of the Year discussions.
Kyle Aufderheide – Facebook Coordinator
Mark of the Ninja is all about communication. Where other stealth games have you deal with uncertainty, Mark of the Ninja emphasizes transparency. Failure never feels arbitrary or random, and therefore is never cheap. You’ll immediately understand why you messed up, and that it was entirely your fault.
This is a breath of fresh air for the stealth genre. Your job is to manipulate guards from the shadows, which often means creating a series of cause-and-effect scenarios that ends with guards either dead or bypassed. For example, you might use a noise maker to distract a guard, and then use throwing darts to shatter a light bulb once he’s out of earshot. Once he returns, you can use the cover of darkness to quietly take him out. While many stealth games have tried to pull off this action-reaction dynamic in the past, Mark of the Ninja is the most successful in its execution (no pun intended), impressing almost the entire XBLA Fans staff with its polished game design.
Phil Nachum – Contributor
There are few things more delicate than competitive multiplayer. Thousands of moving parts balanced to account for the limitless possibilities of the unpredictable player. It’s rare that a title achieves more than the sum of its parts, but when it does, it’s something special. At first glance, Monolith Productions’ first-person shooter set in a Batman universe filled with knockoff heroes and faux villains who wage urban warfare in makeshift costumes with fantastical gadgets might seem a little goofy. Spend some time with it, though, and it’ll become clear Gotham City Impostors encompasses so much more than a silly premise; it’s proof that excellence can still be found in the unlikeliest of places.
To say that Gotham City Impostors pulls influence from other multiplayer-centric titles might be a bit of an understatement, but it does so to the benefit of its audience. That indescribable “feel” is perfect – tight, snappy, fluid and familiar. Sure, the presentation is shtick, but it’s embraced wholeheartedly, becoming undeniably charming and occasionally hilarious in the process. Gotham City Impostors repurposes the constant reward structure – a thousand levels to attain, near-limitless challenges to complete and items to unlock – along with that intoxicating high-speed precision that urges you to play just one more game. Whether by design or happy accident, Gotham City Impostors flies in the face of conventional aesthetic, delivering a much-needed breath of fresh air and the best multiplayer experience of the year.
Brandin Tyrrel – Contributor
It may not be the most technically impressive game, but that doesn’t stop Humble Hearts’ Dust: An Elysian Tale from being the best-looking XBLA game released in 2012 and one of the most gorgeous titles ever released for Microsoft’s downloadable platform. One look at the game will inspire a flood of warm memories of classic animated movies from the time before Walt met Steve. The feat is especially impressive considering that all of the art is the work of a just one man: Dean Dodrill.
Dust takes players on a resplendent adventure that spans green fields, fiery volcanoes, icy mountains and spooky manors. Most of the game’s motifs stick to tried and true fantasy game tropes, but you won’t hear any complaints about the game’s reliance on the familiar when those tropes are realized in such breathtaking fashion. Of course, the game’s beauty isn’t restricted solely to its locales: the whimsically charming design and animations of Dust‘s anthropomorphous characters or protagonist Dust’s whirlwind of death attacks are both excellent. If there is such a thing as a beautiful killing, your hands will be stained with blood from such acts after playing through the prettiest XBLA game of 2012.
Nick Santangelo – Features Editor
Telltale Games has always had a flair for adventure games with great stories, but their episodic format hasn’t always played nice with XBLA. When The Walking Dead was announced as the first Telltale game with timely episodic releases, it was a big deal. What we got was a licensed game lacking the source’s characters, a zombie game that didn’t focus on headshots — an adventure game that valued hard choices over hard puzzles. Telltale changed the formulas that we were all used to and delivered a game that was nothing short of fantastic.
Way back in March the first episode was released, introducing us to Lee, Clementine and a whole cast of survivors we’d regret getting attached to. It introduced us to the timed dialogue, the accessible point-and-click gameplay, the more-involving-than-most quick-time events and, most importantly, the moral choices. While a separate story the game still had the franchise’s signature feel, from the comic art style to the gross zombie gore.
The first episode was great, but in retrospect it was much lighter than the rest of the series. Over the course of many months four more episodes were released, each one containing a story more intense, relationships more emotional and choices more soul-crushing. While your choices have more effect on the dialogue and character relationships than the actual story, these subtle changes still make you feel like you’re a part of the world and have a lasting effect on it. Every character is believable thanks to top-notch voice acting, with Clementine being perhaps the best example of a child character in a game.
The story is one of the best-written scripts for a video game. Even when you could tell where the story was going the delivery still left you in awe. It’s amazing how one of this year’s greatest games isn’t one that made you feel happy or powerful, but weak, regretful and above all, sad. It’s rare to find a game this powerful. This is an experience nobody should miss, which is why The Walking Dead is our Game of the Year.
Nathan Bowring – Reporter