I’d like to put forward Waking Mars. A beautiful iOS game that caught me totally by surprise. It’s a mix of thoughtful science fiction, exploration and…gardening! It was storytelling like I’ve not seen in a game before. An engaging lesson in fragility, beauty, balance and ecosystems that left me with goosebumps.
Bring A Sleeping Planet Back To Life. It feels good.
Submitted by Sammi Richards.
Great Jump & Slice game: Tiny & Big in - Grandpa’s Leftovers
I would like to suggest the game “Tiny & Big in - Grandpa’s Leftovers”. I like the artstyle and the unique game mechanics. It’s a kind of sandbox game where you can cut the whole environment with a lasergun or grab stuff and even rocketize the cutted pieces to arrange them to your needs to finish the level. I never played a game like that before. Please check out the trailer on the developers website: http://blackpants.de/
Submitted by Stephan Goebel
Glitch Tank is a delight. It’s the best, most social bits of a board game, with a computer to do all of the boring stuff for you. It also has a very simple premise that quickly becomes messy and chaotic.
Each player starts with a big tank, and must destroy the opposing one. A selection of four randomised commands from a larger set (things like move forward, turn right, shoot gun) appear for each player, and are replaced as players use them up.
This is not as straightforward as it sounds. Sometimes, you’re in an excellent position, but don’t have any attack commands available. Or you’d be able to stage a devastating attack, if only you could turn left.
This is not like a strategy game where you have set units and all options open to you at all times. If there were any story residing in it, it wouldn’t be about tank commanders, it’d be about mentally ill tank commanders that can only work their way toward rational decisions in the most roundabout of ways. Your options can limit you catastrophically, but it usually feels funny rather than unfair.
There are two commands in particular that I think are the hinge on which Glitch Tank swings from merely alright to utterly glorious: Drop mines, and spawn baby tank. Every tank of yours performs every command you issue. Tanks bifurcate rapidly. Complex minefields are dropped in seconds. The game ebbs and flows, the screen filling with noise, confusion and more things than you can keep track of, and in a long game with evenly matched players, often ebbs back down to relatively little.
If you’ve ever played the board game Robo-Rally, you’ll recognise a lot of it in this, but cleaned up, made faster and more immediate. It toys with exactly the same contrast of dry, logical command selection, and a chaotic game state that rapidly diverges from even the best laid plan.
It’s an iThing game, which admittedly doesn’t make it particularly accessible, but it’s the second thing to ever catch my eye as a non-iPad owner. Unlike text, or video, or most iOS games, Glitch Tank makes the screen into a shared thing, right there between you both. When I see a friend with an iPad, I usually persuade them to buy it. Sometimes, I offer to buy it for them. It’s becoming a habit, and I’m rather worried about myself. Though, as habits go, it’s pretty delightful.
Submitted by David Hayward
I awake in the molten sands of a desert. Rising, grains of it fall from my scarlet robe, I know I am on a journey, the title has told me that much, and it is all I need to know. As the sand moves under my feet I set off on my pilgrimage, into the unknown of the undulating dunes.
Journey is the latest game from ThatGameCompany who brought the world such varied experiences as Flow and Flower. If you ever plan to play this game then please stop reading, refrain from seeing or hearing any more on it, as the more that surprises you about this game the stronger the experience is.
Whats new about Journey is not the methods by which it leads the player along its path but the way it evokes feelings whilst doing so, one reviewer commented on the elements inspired by other games, and there is evidence of drawing from other game’s strengths. The iconic landscapes of Shadow of the Colossus strewn with crumbling viaducts and bridges features in one section, while the constant goal of the lit peak on the horizon is quite reminiscent of the ever present singularity tower in Half Life 2: Ep.2, always reminding the player of the importance of certain narrative points.
Jenova Chen, co-founder of TheGameCompany, is often reluctant to talk on the artistic intent of his games, but in an interview he did reveal one of the themes for Journey whilst designing its gameplay mechanics. When walking down a street in a crowded city people rarely greet each other, the interaction between people is not cherished as it would be on a moutain hike where to see another person is a rare occurance. Maybe you walk with them and talk a while before separating ways again. This is the experience, and the emotions of companionship and shared memory that go with it, that they strove to create.
In the online gaming community of sports, shooters, and MMOs: identity is paramount. You must connect to your avatar because then you will invest time into developing your character’s skills and appearance in order to differentiate yourself from you team mates or competitors. This culture of individualism would have destroyed the experience Journey aims for as it is very important you don’t have this separation of identity when you meet a companion. For your companions are in fact other pilgrims, on other consoles, travelling with you through bandwidth, and sand.
Journey creates commonalities between players to help foster that kinship of two travelers. Mechanically you have a common destination, the very act of walking beside someone, whether you’re leading or following creates literally a shared direction. Visually you have a common appearance, you are clearly here for same reason. Your red robe and dark face mean that you have no reason to discriminate or even differentiate between yourself and your companion, you belong together. Aurally you speak the same language, an alphabet of woodwind words, flute-like in timbre. This simple method of speech allows primitive expression that can connote fear or excitement with some rapid toots, a call or farewell with a louder sustained note, but none of this is taught to the player or written in a manual it merely exists as a system of expression between players to further unify them.
Yet for all this common ground between players it is still essential that players are strangers to begin with. As strangers the evolution of your acquaintance with each other parallels the evolution of the journey you take together, you discover a new place whilst simultaneously discovering a new person. Another of the game’s metaphorical systems of play is the attainment of scraps of cloth to add to your scarf. Mechanically this allows the player to spend longer in the air as they expend the magic symbols inscribed along the length of their scarf. It also gives the player a sense of history, like each scrap is a memory collected and stored, and who has the most memories? The well traveled, the experienced: the elderly.
When I met a companion with a scarf significantly shorter than my own, I had subconsciously understood the game’s systemic analogy for age and automatically felt a sense of responsibility that I couldn’t place without the hindsight I now have. My relationship to this companion took on the role of teacher and disciple, the veteran pilgrim leading a traveler on their transition into adulthood, though I had never completed the journey myself, I took the lead followed by my companion, when I waited so did my companion. I developed a connection to the point where I gasped when my companion was attacked by a leviathan of a creature that resided in the cave we were passing through, I feared my disciple was gone, permanently. I felt responsible. I had not been the protection I should have been. This consistent ‘tight coupling’ of mechanics and themes is something that I spent 9,000 words advocating in my dissertation, so to see it in a game the day before hand in was just a complete joy.
There are other anecdotes of abandonment, euphoria, and relief at not being alone at the end. And this is only one person’s experiences with a game that offers such an emotional range I imagine there are thousands of emergent stories being told by players, all variants on the template which ThatGameCompany created. Journey is just one of those very rare games that manifests its vision so completely, so elegantly.
“This move (to abstraction) underscores ThatGameCompany’s sophistication: in a medium where interpretation is scorned as indulgent and pretentious, Journey gives no ground: the player must bring something to the table.” (Bogost, 2012).
After its all over you are presented with a screen of PSN ID’s, the online identities that you spent your journey with. So if you did value your time with you fellow traveler, maybe you actually did find a like minded person who you now have the opportunity to contact, now you have the opportunity to extend that relationship beyond the boundaries of Journey. But the screen fades before too long and I got into the digital equivalent of that situation where you lost the contact details of someone you met on holiday, so if my companion debellatoro1 (or similar, because that PSN ID didn’t work) ever reads this, send Olninyo a message.
I’m glad I was not alone, on my journey to the end.
Submitted by Olly Skillman-Wilson
I think Mario Kart 7 should win because it is by far the best Mario Kart game in the series. Not only that, but it’s also, in my opinion, the best racing game of all time. Why? Because it features tonnes of features from Kart customisation to using gliders complete with amazing 3D effects. The online multiplayer is unfaultable as well,and there is no way you can possibly not enjoy it. Mario Kart 7 is a fun game for all ages, which is hard to find when most games that come out are repetitive shooters and so called ‘hardcore’ games that for some reason everyone plays.
Submitted by Sean Bassett.
Fez has to be one of the most charming and challenging games I’ve ever played. Like anyone who’s played the game through to completion I have my own set of scribbled notes that resemble a combination of an over thought blueprint for Tetris and a Cubist’s musings.
For a low-price release Fez bettered the 2D/3D hybrid of Paper Mario Wii with aplomb and added elements of puzzle-solving that in a less digitalised form would not be out of place at Mensa. Even more impressive, then, was the reception it received when released to a gaming public all too often perceived as being pubescent males (albeit less so these days thanks to awards such as this). Fez instantly grabs the seasoned gamer with its retro-charm, pixelated environment and 8-bit music and slowly lures you in until you’re scrawling down anything you see whilst adventuring in the vain hope that it will help you solve any of the myriad of puzzles you’ve yet to crack. Having said that, it will likely attract a lot of other gamers for those same reasons.
With many of the other games I’ve played I’ll now usually jump online and find out what to do if I’m stuck for more than about 10 minutes (the internet is a double-edged sword sometimes) but not so with Fez. I almost instantly felt like I owed this game more than simply Googling my problem and moving on through it, I felt like I had to earn my progress. With much chagrin, it was, that I finished my first playthrough without collecting all the cubes. I instantly booted up New Game + to see what would happen and to complete the outstanding puzzles I had remaining only to find I needed to do this to unlock something to help me solve most of them. When I did finally turn to the internet (and I’d be surprised if someone didn’t - the black cuboid!) I was amazed to see the collective efforts of the gaming community to solve the ‘final’ puzzle.
Shortlist Fez for this award as it is one of the most original games ever made in my opinion. The satisfaction of solving one of the more fiendish puzzles in Fez or that glorious moment when you realise you’ve finally cracked one of the codes rate as some of my most memorable moments in Gaming (I’ve been playing since 1990).
Virtually everything about this game is incredible and it deserves the recognition here it will most likely not get elsewhere.
Submitted by J Grey.
It might only be two hours long, but it’s arguably the most visually stunning, emotionally affecting game of the year by a long stretch.
Oh, and perhaps the most innovative multiplayer mode of the year.
Submitted by wiccadwitch.
Roughly halfway through my first playthrough of Dark Souls, I was forced to fight a massive wolf in order to gain access to a new area. Unfortunately for me, the wolf proved to be a difficult opponent who was not easily beaten. Time and time again I charged into the wolf’s lair, and time and time again I lost to the beast. Soon I was no longer fighting for advancement, instead fighting to conquer and eliminate this seemingly insurmountable obstacle. I wanted revenge.
After countless attempts, I was finally on the brink of defeating the monstrous beast. I smiled, knowing that I would achieve my revenge and be able to progress further after having been stuck at this roadblock for so long. However, as the wolf was about to die, my smile faded, for the great beast began to do a remarkable thing.
It began to limp.
And not just limp, but actually slow down. It’s attacks, which once required careful dodging, could now be easily sidestepped. I heard it cry out in pain every time I swung my axe at it’s body. The once monstrous beast now looked… pitiful.
And as I dealt the finishing blow and listened to it’s last howl of pain, I did not celebrate. Instead, I walked towards the tomb that it had been guarding, knelt on one knee, and prayed. It was the least I could do in order to honor the opponent which had bested me for so long.
Dark Souls is a game which brings out emotions in the most surprising ways. Hope, despair, sympathy, and sorrow are all communicated not through dialogue, but through the environments, enemies, and situations that you encounter along a breathtaking and expansive journey.
To ignore such a game would be a travesty, which is why I hope you consider Dark Souls for the 2012 Game City Prize.
Submitted by Preston Dozsa.
About fifteen minutes into my first time playing Journey, I saw another traveler for the first time. We moved towards each other tentatively at first, not really sure what to expect from this mysterious stranger in the desert, but when it was time to progress we moved as a pair through the gate ahead of us. Over the next two hours we stuck together no matter what, learning and discovering the secrets of the game together, waiting if one of us dropped behind, never able to speak or send messages to each other but somehow always being able to communicate through our movements and chirps as our Journey progressed.
Then, as we neared our goal at the top of the mountain, we lost each other. I’ll never know how or why, but when I emerged into the light I was alone. What should have been a euphoric and uplifting moment was suddenly filled with sadness and melancholia. I never knew who my companion was, but I struggled to find satisfaction in finishing the game without them.
After a few more playthroughs that ended alone, I found another player at the same point in the game. This traveler was more experienced but just as eager to travel together. We dashed through the game, leaping and spiraling around, diverting occasionally as they showed me hidden areas and secrets. When we emerged at the top of the mountain, we were stood side by side. Finally walking into the light with a companion at my side was one of the most beautiful and uplifting things I’ve experienced.
At a time when almost every game has some form of multiplayer, Journey strips the concept to its bare bones - two players with no information about each other or any way of communicating, put together with nothing but the game itself to connect them. Journey is as much about discovering and connecting with the people you are paired with as it about the journey itself. I’ll never know who my two companions were, but they provided me with some of the most incredible, emotional and memorable experiences I’ve ever had in gaming.
Submitted by Chris Evans
Dragon’s Dogma is a great game, where combat is excellent and varied depending on class and play-style. The game shines in its battles, and shares elements of Shadow of the Colossus.
The game’s scope is epic, where you travel across the lands in search of the dragon who ripped out your heart when he attacked your small fishing village. You survived the encounter to become one of the “Arisen”, a chosen people who can control “pawns” from another dimension known as the “Rift”. This is where the game’s innovative multiplayer comes in. While not directly a co-op experience, this game allows you to play with others Pawns, which can be fully customized in looks, class, and items. Your Pawns learn from things you do (Quests, battling monsters) and assist you the next time you, or another player with your Pawn, does them. For instance, if you have killed many Ogres, your pawn may know that if you grapple onto his back, he will jump in the air and land on his back, damaging you severely. If your Pawn then goes into another players world, and they are fighting an Ogre, he will shout out ‘Don’t jump on his back, he’ll try and squish you’. Very helpful; you can have 2 player’s Pawns, along with your own, anytime during your adventure.
This game did not have a critical reception, but the combat of this game makes me feel that this game is a must play!
Submitted by Getus; Pawn- Xalterax