Welcome to Warp Zoned’s second annual Golden Pixel Awards. It was definitely a good year for gaming. With the fight over Mass Effect 3‘s ending, the resurrection of Sleeping Dogs, and the launch of the Wii U, we were treated to 12 months of interesting stories.
So sit back and relax as we reward the best (and worst) games of 2012 with a series of accolades based on their rather unique accomplishments.
The Apocalypse List
The bombs have fallen, the economy has collapsed, food is scarce, the zombie hordes are scratching at your door, and you’ve boarded yourself up in a bunker that’ll stand for a hundred years. What better way to spend your time in “The Vault” than by playing Warp Zoned’s favorite games from 2012? It doesn’t matter if you call it a “Top Ten List” or “Our Favorites From 2012,” but these are the games we plan to keep playing even if there was no game industry to keep making games.
Angry Birds Star Wars: “Angry Birds Star Wars is a pretty great game. I like Star Wars, I like Angry Birds, and I like the way Rovio combines the two and inserted Star Wars-themed characters and elements into the Angry Birds format.”
Borderlands 2: “[Borderlands 2] is a game that appeals to everyone, from RPG fans to FPS fans and everyone in between. Gearbox isn’t going to get any awards for innovation, but they get my vote for making a sequel I loved just as much as the first game.”
Dishonored: Heart-pounding stealthy bits, a steampunk city, palace intrigue, a masked assassin, a mysterious being who might be the devil, plague-ravaged streets, and rats… lots of rats. Dishonored has it all.
Halo 4: “343 has done the impossible and surpassed even the toughest fans’ expectations [with Halo 4]. The franchise is in good hands and I can’t wait for the sequel.”
Journey: “Everything about Journey is perfect. It’s more than just a stunning game – it’s a work of art. From the acute loneliness of the main character, to the spiritual undertones of the background story, to the delightful interactions with the fabric creatures, there’s so much emotion in a tiny package.”
Mass Effect 3: “Throughout [Mass Effect 3], the combat remained interesting and challenging, enemies continued to intimidate Shep’s squad, and every single crew member on the Normandy showed how great of a friend you really were to them. That’s the mark of great storytelling.”
Sleeping Dogs: “What is it about Sleeping Dogs that keeps me coming back for more? United Front Games has nailed what it is to be fun in a video game. There’s so much that’s great here: great characters, great storyline, great mission progression. You want to see it, to hear it, to play it.”
Tekken Tag Tournament 2: “Over the last eighteen years, the Tekken series has proven itself synonymous with the term ‘fighter.’ Whether you are a casual [fighting game fan] or you are looking to take home the title, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has you covered.”
The Walking Dead: “In a world where nearly every medium is overwhelmed by the undead, yet another zombie game seems gratuitous. Is there really anything more to say about the living dead? Telltale seems to think so. And, [with the five episodes] of their new game series based on Robert Kirkman’s massively successful comic, The Walking Dead, I can’t help but agree.”
Xenoblade Chronicles: “Xenoblade Chronicles is not just a game; it is an experience you will miss when it is finally over. It manages to raise questions about our own beliefs and spirituality as well as about the role of machines in our lives, and all while, offering up one of the greatest game playing experiences of this generation.”
The Participation Trophy
The Participation Trophy is awarded to a game that wasn’t necessarily great, but it was great that we got to play it.
Winner: Binary Domain
Binary Domain looked like a simple humans vs robots story. Producer Toshihiro Nagoshi and the rest of his Yakuza Studio plucked plotpoints and design cues from The Terminator as well as Blade Runner, I, Robot and The Matrix. But when you also throw in a dash of Japanese weirdness, the familiar threads get woven into a game that becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Binary Domain never becomes great, but there is something that’s so off-center about the whole thing that you just have to keep pushing forward.
Best Game Where an Alien’s Head Pops Like a Grape
Spaceships, little green men, giant mecha, the world of science fiction will always have a place in video games. This is our favorite game where an alien/robot/mutant gets an RPG to the face in 2012.
Winner: Mass Effect 3
From Our Review: “I jumped immediately into the campaign to see all of my old friends and to check out how the Mass Effect universe was dealing with the Reaper threat that was established in the first game. Seeing the galaxy at war was exhilarating, but at the same time, I felt as if everything I did as Shepard was just moving everything closer and closer to impending doom. Or salvation. It’s open to interpretation.
Each action I performed felt like it carried more weight, since I was trying to stop the annihilation of the known galaxy while tying up loose ends from previous games, bringing several storylines to a close.”
Jason Voorhees Memorial Award
The rotting corpse of Jason Voorhees has shambled his way through 12 movies since 1980 and horror fans can always be counted on to return to Camp Crystal Lake. The hockey mask-wearing slasher is so perennially popular that the “Memorial” part of this award will always be in question. And so it is with video games, which often manage to get better after the 11th or 12th iteration of a series.
Winner: Lego Lord of the Rings
It’s hard to believe the “Lego _____” series began less than ten years ago. Lego Star Wars was a real eye-opener when it made its debut in 2005 and in just seven short years the series has ballooned to more than a dozen games. Lego Lord of the Rings is the 13th game in the series and while it doesn’t make many changes to the “group of Lego minifigures go on a big adventure” concept, the simple addition of using actual audio from the movies makes all the difference in the world.
The “Great Scott” Award for Best Trilogy Ender
Everyone loves a trilogy. And no one loves a trilogy more than game publishers. Getting three games out into the marketplace that can sell, sell, sell is a publisher’s dream. Thankfully, a few people still take this trilogy business seriously as we look at 2012′s favorite finale (until the inevitable fourth entry).
Winner: Mass Effect 3
From Our Review: “From the beginning of the game to my 38th hour, I loved every second of it. The majority of the game held some very deep, very intense, and very gripping moments. In my opinion, the original Mass Effect spent a lot of time on Commander Shepard while leaving the scope of the story fairly distant, allowing a lot of more vague detail and base-level story to be established. Mass Effect 2 seemed to zoom in further on Commander Shepard, and identify his situations with Cerberus and the rekindling of his former crew. Mass Effect 3 did what I thought was best – took the focus further away from Shepard himself and allowed all of the characters/races to completely identify themselves.
The interaction between these characters and Shepard seemed to magnify the tremendous amount of character development that is suddenly realized here. The game does a great job of ramping up the player’s emotional investment with the characters who they’ve spent the last five years with. It’s like taking the cast of Cheers, putting them on a ship, and having a few drinks in space.”
Most Disappointing Sequel
It’s a Hollywood adage that a sequel is always worse in some way. But for video games, it’s just the opposite. Taking everything they’ve learned from the first game, developers are able to put much more into a sequel (even after a dozen tries: for example, see above). Sometimes, things don’t work out that way.
Winner: Final Fantasy XIII-2
From Our Review: “Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a game that has no idea what it’s doing or where it’s going. It’s full of time traveling, paradoxes, role-playing, platforming, and more than a few puzzles to solve. It’s full of changes and alterations, but at the core, it’s very much a sequel – and it shows. It feels like the game is experiencing growing pains, with short bursts of interesting moments infused with utter dullness.”
Al Gore Award for Best Use of Environment In a Game
Ever since games moved beyond being about a simple character moving against a black background, they’ve used the environment to help tell their story. Who can forget the unique playground of Super Mario 64 or the hostile terrain of Half-Life 2? And because sometimes you just want to stop and look around at the world.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles
From Our Review: “Monolith Soft has crafted an open world that evokes a sense of freedom more akin to Fallout or Grand Theft Auto: from the Great Plains of the Bionis Leg, through the breathtaking Makna Forest, to the floating city of Alcamoth above the crystal clear Eryth Sea. Each area is populated with a plethora of imaginative creatures to fight and people to aid, with four hundred plus sidequests.”
Miles Dyson Memorial Award
AKA “The One Step Closer to SkyNet Award.” Video game technology is advancing at a lightning fast pace and now that next generation consoles have practically reached the limits of photorealistic graphics; the only other place to go is to make the game world as realistic as possible. There’s no fate but what we make and no limit to what a talented developer can do with the right piece of new technology.
Winner: Wii U GamePad
The Wii U GamePad allowed gamers to discover new and creative ways to dispatch zombies in ZombiU (but you better remember to watch your TV too!) as well reinventing couch co-op in Call of Duty: Black Ops II (those of us who played GoldenEye with cardboard over half the screen understand how truly necessary a second screen becomes).
If these new uses for a game controller weren’t revolutionary enough, the Wii U GamePad’s victory was assured the first time my dog walked in front of the TV during a game of New Super Mario Bros. U. Instead of getting mad, I was able to keep playing by tilting my head down to look at the controller/screen combo. Thanks Nintendo!
Thrifty Time-Reversal Award
Maybe you missed it the first time around. Or maybe it was your favorite game back in the day and you want to play it again. Whatever the reason, it’s back in 2012 with eye-popping 3D or a high definition makeover or some other update. And you can’t imagine not parting with your money and playing it all over again.
Winner: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition
Minecraft’s drip-fed march to gaming dominance actually began in 2009 when Markus “Notch” Persson released the alpha version of the game to the public. After a beta release in 2010 and an official launch in 2011, Persson’s creation continued to take the PC world by storm and cemented his company, Mojang, as one of the major players in the development industry.
This year, Microsoft (and 4J Studios) brought the game to the Xbox Live Arcade as Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition. It’s not a straight port of the PC version, but it was never meant to be. Instead, it has turned another population of gamers into Minecraft obsessives and has become the most popular XBLA game ever. That’ll do, “Notch,” that’ll do.
The “This Game Rocks” Award
Games need more than a good story and gameplay sometimes. Sometimes they need to rock (or pop or jazz or what have you). This award honors the game with the best music of the year.
Winner: Max Payne 3
Rockstar Games doesn’t do anything small. Every aspect of the game development process was maximized to make as big a splash as possible. It’s all part of the cinematic culture that the company has cultivated over the years thanks to Grand Theft Auto III, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and many more. Now, you can add Max Payne 3 and its outstanding soundtrack to the list.
Composed by the “noise rock” band Health, Max Payne 3′s soundtrack used synthesizers, drums, and the occasional haunting lyric to really set the mood. The band didn’t strive to create the kind of epic score you usually find in blockbuster games, but they created one anyway by perfectly matching the mood of the music with the tone of Max’s desperate situaton.
The What? Award
The game that most perfectly encapsulates a single thought process as you play it: “What did I just see?”
Winner: Street Fighter X Mega Man
There’s nothing all that strange about Street Fighter X Mega Man (even though the idea of the blue bomber taking on the World Warriors never once crossed my mind before). But the sheer fact that it exists at all is enough to make me wonder if Capcom has lost their collective minds. SFXMM was originally developed as a fangame that was eventually given the publisher’s official blessing and was then released as a free download for the PC just a few days after it was officially announced. That is just unbelievable. Especially after the way Capcom has treated the Mega Man franchise over the last two years.
The Video Game Librarian Award
Being a gamer is about more than just playing video games. As we all know, movie studios are still looking for that breakout title that’ll make “video game movies” the next great genre. But writers of fiction and non-fiction have been turning out some great stuff based on video games for years now.
Winner: Gamers At Work
From Our Review: “Gamers At Work is one of the best books I’ve ever read about the world of video games. It’s got more than just history: it’s the heart and soul of the industry, as told from some of its key members. I only have one major complaint about the book: I wanted it to be longer. This is a book that every aspiring game developer must read, and that anyone into video game history should read. And no, you can’t borrow mine – I got it signed by Nolan Bushnell. Sorry!”