The most important feature of a fighting game, in contrast with many other games, is how methodical and accessible its tutorial is. In the fighting genre, more so than any other, there is a mixture of subtly different mechanics which set a game apart from competitors, and complex fundamentals of the genre which need to be mastered. Understanding these skills – and understanding what genre knowledge is transferrable between games – is a vital prerequisite of play and so a comprehensive tutorial explaining both basic knowledge and advanced nuances of a specific game is a key feature of a well-designed fighting game.
Based on initial impressions from the first episode, the 2013 animated series Majestic Prince is unashamedly, and in most entertaining fashion, a cartoon. Its characters warp and stretch and deform for comic effect, it is populated by caricatures and it plays with screen space in a comic-book esque way. This, in many ways, contributes to its strength as an entry in the “real robot” genre; it is a parody by virtue of its unquestioning adherence to the traditions of its genre set within a visually absurd framework. If anything, its closest analogue would be an OVA like ARIEL or Shooting Star Gakusaver, both of which are interested in highlighting the absurdities of their genre.
The sniper level in Call of Duty Modern Warfare was considered one of the game’s highest points; its combination of stealth with setpieces – despite being a highly curated experience – was a tense kind of mission in a game that was rapidly redefining what a cinematic FPS could do in its use of curated setpieces. Sniper 2 is a game formed entirely of these moments – mixtures of tense marksmanship and frantic action in the aftermath. It is a game which, rather than offering vast selections of experiences in a kind of action buffet, focuses on making one single one – sniping – as seemingly realistic and simulationary as possible. Finding the midpoint between simulation and accessibility in a game like this is crucial, and Sniper 2 succeeds only in part.
A number of OVAs of the 1980s aimed to be part of long-running series, or to have continuations; examples include Dangaioh, Relic Armour Legaciam and so on. Similarly there were OVAs like ARIEL, which played with the idea of taking an episode or arc out of a non-existent series and presenting it as a standalone adventure (in ARIEL‘s case this is a conscious stylistic choice; the light novel series it is based on is structured like a series of episode summaries for a TV show, and it is very self-aware in its use of the cliches of mecha anime). As a result, the half-hour Cool Cool Bye sits in a strange place between being an unfinished or undeveloped experiment and an intentionally contextless single episode.
Considered in the context of science-fiction anime, Big Wars is an entirely unremarkable, average example of the OVA; it has a simple story which it tells to completion in its 71 minute running time. It suffers from being rather over-compressed to tell its story in such a time – the introduction, which seems interesting in its own right, is a couple of minutes’ unvoiced expository subtitles to set the scene of a war of attrition on Mars between humans and aliens called The Gods. Yet as a whole it is a briskly-plotted and coherent film that does not outstay its welcome, ends satisfyingly rather than with some cliffhanger and is quite enjoyable to watch.
The automatic runner genre, arguably the most pared-back form of the 2D platform game, has a strong heritage on mobile platforms and in Flash games. Titles like Canabalt, Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride have strong reputations for being polished games which are well-suited to short play sessions and which represent the purest form of gaming as a reaction test. Making the shift to consoles and thus the change in perception from casual to core audiences, however, seemed at first to be an unusual move; by paring down the gameplay to a limited number of inputs it seems like the capacity of consoles or PCs to offer more complex experiences is being ignored. Yet Runner 2 is clearly very much a core game in its presentation and amount of content; by framing its gameplay in the traditional terms of non-automated platform games (themed worlds, unlockable characters and a gradual progression of abilities), Runner 2 has the sense of achievement beyond simply beating a high score that a good game needs.
The board game Dreadball, one of a number of Kickstarter success stories begun late last year and now developing into their own product ranges looking to the future, is frequently compared to the classic Games Workshop game Blood Bowl; both are based on fictional sports derived from rugby or American football, with stock genre fiction races and archetypes forming the teams. Yet Dreadball has several crucial points of difference which make it not only its own game, but also a significant improvement.
The Cave is a game full of familiar elements of the puzzle-platformer genre but which fails to come together in a way which supports the designers’ intent for it to be played three times over to completion. Conceptually, it is appealing; from a collection of characters, pick three and enjoy three small adventures with a deadpan narrator filling in the gaps in their backgrounds. Each is a pastiche of a different genre of fiction or type of game, with refreshingly dark humour that often hits the mark.
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This game embodies the psychedelic excess associated with video games in a way which few games – even the landmark destruction orgies of the Call of Duty series – match. It is a game where robot samurai ride robot horses to attack giant aliens, a schoolgirl and her pet talking moles (note: actually platypi) launch boulders at the enemy while quoting cartoon shows, and a red-and-gold robot can take an orbital laser shot full on and receive no lasting damage. Everything about it is larger-than-life, primary-coloured and loud, a very exuberant sensory overload which comes as quite a surprise set as it is in a fairly in-depth strategy RPG framework.
To make a round top ten, here are five more games from 2012 that stood out as particularly good; again, the titles are in no particular order, with no specific categorisation by format.