2012 was a rubbish movie, but it was also a rubbish year for my actual playing of games, which means my top games for the year will be a little different than most.
This wasn't the fault of the games per se, mind you; for entirely personal reasons I didn't get anywhere near the amount of time I would have liked. My time was better spent elsewhere, but that means that many of the "big" releases of the year were ones I didn't get enough time to assess. This then, is a deeply personal list that reflects the games that were able to dominate my scant gaming time in 2012.
Borderlands 2 was perhaps the "biggest" game of the year that I spent serious time with; while it's undeniably just-another-first-person-shooter, it's one that balances its humour, challenge and desire for just-one-more-point-of-damage-from-an-elemental-weapon exceptionally well.
Plus, Claptrap. I liked Claptrap so much that my wife hand crocheted me my very own Claptrap, who now wobbles precariously underneath my monitor.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
It's the best Grand Theft Auto game. No, don't bother arguing with me; I've played them all and Vice City still stands out at the top of what is, admittedly, a quality pack. Why yes, it did come out in 2002, which you might think would remove it from 2012 contention, except for the fact that the 10th anniversary edition hit Android and iOS devices late in the year. Ten years is a very long time in gaming, but where Vice City still shines is in the overall plotting and narrative, supplemented by some quality voice acting and decent challenges. The technical marvel of GTA III interested me in 2011, but the gameplay in Vice City grabbed me hard in 2012.
They Bleed Pixels
In the indie games scene, using pixelated art and making things tough is almost a pre-requisite, but few games actually managed to do it well and in a way that led to an enduring challenge. They Bleed Pixels merges pixel art, tough-as-nails-but-fair gameplay and creepy school mythos in an intoxicating blend.
Keeping on the indie track, Hotline Miami tickled my fancy and engaged my brain thinking about the violence implicit in the title; in very real terms, Hotline Miami felt like the most "violent" game I played in 2012, even though the body count was undeniably higher in, say, Borderlands 2. Plus, while I'm not as fanatical about video game soundtracks as some, the music in Hotline Miami fits perfectly
Mark Of The Ninja
Stealth games and I aren't usually friends; while I appreciate the tension in a good sneak-em-up, I'm usually either rubbish at it, or let down by either kludgy controls or enemy AI that borders on the prescient. Mark Of The Ninja, though, does everything within a superbly realised layer of stealth and action, especially if you try to run through each level without killing people. Invariably, I give in to my more base impulses and pick guards off in imaginative ways, but I can still think that I tried the peaceful stealthy path.
My limited gaming time meant that I spent a lot of what time I had with mobile casual games, outside of any writing about them. Punch Quest looks on the surface like it's just another endless runner with a slight fantasy motif, and there were plenty of endless runners in 2012. But it's more than that; the RPG elements within give it a combat edge that keeps on drawing me back, partly because there's always one more sweet hat to unlock, and partly because… well, how can you not love a game where you intermittently quest as a gnome fighting giant angry bees?
Rayman Jungle Run
The other "pure" mobile title that highlighted my 2012 gaming experience was Rayman Jungle Run; proof (not that it's needed) that simple gaming experiences don't have to mean that the simple hook wears off soon, or indeed, that they have to look sub-par.
I like New Super Mario Bros U a whole lot, but there's no denying that there's a standout star in the Wii U's launch lineup, and it's ZombiU. It shouldn't be possible to use a gaming trope as well-worn as zombies and make a game that's equal parts gripping, terrifying and clever, but Ubisoft managed it with Zombi U.
Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition
Again, Minecraft isn't the freshest of games, but with its Xbox incarnation, developers 4J Studios showed how you could take a game that seemingly only made sense on a PC work on a console — and work very well indeed. Equally, as a family man, I spent a lot of 2012 playing games with my kids, and no game got more play time than Minecraft on XBLA did, from the youngest simply digging up sand for the sheer fun of it to family experiments with killer minecarts. I totally get that the PC version offers much more modding variety, but there's something deeply personal about split-screen gaming in front of the sofa that makes Minecraft on Xbox a real hit.
I have a simple rule; in any list of my favourite games, Bubble Bobble is going to feature. Yes, I know it didn't "come out" in 2012, but don't bother me with your fancy "rules" and "dates", man. This is Bubble Bobble; one of the purest gaming experiences ever made. If Bubble Bobble doesn't make my personal top ten list, then something is wrong with the Universe.