2012 Game of the Year Awards: Tyler's Honorable Mentions

When I moved to Japan I made a hard choice. I didn’t think it’d be prudent to bring over two dedicated video game consoles, so I sold my Xbox 360 and brought my PlayStation 3, as it was the more reliably region-free device and I liked watching Blu-rays. I haven’t replaced or upgraded my aging MacBook since I left the U.S. and I sold my DSi LL (XL for you Yanks) due to it sitting in my closet collecting dust. Thanks to this you could say I’ve come to be known as a Sony defender in our little Sasquatch fivesome. After all, the PS3 is where I do the most of my gaming. As unfortunate as it is that I’ve missed out on Xbox-only games such as Halo 4 and Forza Horizon, Sony has made my decision this year pretty easy with significant improvements to its subscription service, PlayStation Plus, and new programs like the Indie Pub Fund.

I first subscribed to PlayStation Plus about 14 months ago. Telltale Games was offering the complete Jurassic Park game for free for new subscribers. In retrospect, that may have been a poor selling point, but it was worth it to introduce me to the service. PS+ back then was not the service it is today. Free games were few and far between, mostly PSOne Classics or Minis, and the service’s primary bullet points were discounted PlayStation Network titles and cloud saves. I didn’t feel cheated in any way, but it would be difficult to recommend anyone subscribe when compared to Xbox Live Gold. However, my attitude changed at this year’s E3 press conference.

Sony rolled out a new policy for their premium subscription service at E3 in June: “Your Instant Game Collection.” Rather than offer a single free* game per month, subscribers would have access to a dozen free titles that would rotate month-to-month. This included major first-party games such as InFamous 2, LittleBigPlanet 2, and Ratchet & Clank: All-4-One; brand-new releases such as Virtua Fighter 4: Final Showdown; and major third-party releases such as Just Cause 2, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Saints Row 2. For a frugal consumer, this policy is a boon, and over time it has given me access to games I likely would not otherwise give the time of day, such as Starhawk, Quantum Conundrum and King of Fighters XIII.

PS+ also sold me a PlayStation Vita. The handheld device interested me; I enjoyed my PSP, but it was a flawed device. The Vita is a premium dedicated gaming handheld with games at a $40 price point during a time in which I had grown accustomed to disposable dollar games on my iPhone. There were certainly Vita titles I had a desire to play but nothing that could warrant the large investment. In November, however, the PS+ instant game collection came to Vita, including Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Wipeout 2048, Jet Set Radio and Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack.  With six games I wanted to play instantly available to me thanks to my already-existing PS+ subscription, the device suddenly became a much easier sell. I bought one that week. Since then, I’ve also purchased an additional half-dozen Vita titles due to PS+ discounts. Much in thanks to PS+, in the span of two months the Vita went from a device I was completely uncertain about to my favorite gaming handheld since the Gameboy Advance SP.

Four years ago people began to take the online libraries on consoles seriously. Games like Braid and Castle Crashers were significant titles that couldn’t be found anywhere else. For a long time, the difference between Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network was stark. But in the past year or so, Sony made pushing original creative content a priority. In addition to Thatgamecompany’s magnum opus, Journey, titles Sony published this year included Closure, Sound Shapes, Papo & Yo, Dyad, Retro City Rampage and The Unfinished Swan.

Any one of these games I could expand into their own honorable mention, but I believe the kudos belong to Sony for taking a chance on such seemingly niche titles. Best case scenario, these are titles that would’ve seen release on Steam to little fanfare until their inevitable appearance in the next Humble Bundle. Papo & Yo even more than the others exists due to Sony’s Indie Pub Fund. It’s such a personal piece, dealing with the creator’s experience of growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father, that I cannot imagine it being released without Sony’s direct involvement. And early next year sees the release of another Pub Fund title I’m incredibly excited for, DrinkBox Studios’ Guacamelee, the luchadore Metroidvania.

Games like the musical platformer, Sound Shapes, and the abstract, first-person narrative puzzler, Unfinished Swan, are absolutely in my personal top games of the year. What they accomplish in design and meaning and the way they play is unlike every other game out there. That I can only play those games on a PlayStation validates my decision to remain invested in Sony hardware. My kudos to Sony for pushing creativity in games in a big way in 2012.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Organ Trail, an iOS and Android post-apocalyptic zombie variant on the elementary school classic Oregon Trail. It is a game that manages to be simultaneously involving, immersive, challenging and nostalgic without being gimmicky, cloying or frustrating. The act of naming my fellow travelers after the other Sasquatches (Nick, Aaron, Spencer & Doug) made already hard choices even more difficult. Do I spend more time searching for Aaron after he got lost, using even more food that the rest of us need to survive? Do I give Nick another day to fight off the infection and risk him turning and biting someone else, or do I shoot him now and put him out of his misery? Do I attempt to bargain with the hostage taker for Doug’s life or do I attempt to take the shot and risk hitting Doug as well?

Much like another indie Kickstarter game released this year, Organ Trail has enough random events that the experience it delivers feels unique and tailored to every player. The story the game tells is your own, and with it, personal moments that only a video game can deliver.