First, I'd like to take a quick bow. Last year at this time (while lauding the great Jetpack Joyride), I pointed out that we'd never chosen a first-released-on-mobile game for our top 10 list, and that 2012 might be the year it would finally happen. And as you've seen on our final list, we did finally pick a game that fits that definition in 2012.
But it wasn't my pick: For my money, Puzzle Craft is the best mobile game of the year, and definitely in my top five overall. Right now it's free on iOS, and offers a gorgeous and polished mix of casual puzzle gameplay that slowly gets more and more rewarding and complex as you level up and stockpile farm-based goodies. I love the "days of the year" time mechanic, I love the way that the rules change as you grow your town, and I just plain love this game. Hopefully we'll see new content in the new year, because I've been at max level for a while now. Max level, that is, on all three devices I've installed it on.
I gave Diablo 3 a perfect score in my review here on Joystiq, and throughout all of the server outages, auction house nonsense, and angry commenting, I stand by that judgment. This is a brilliant game, with one of the most rewarding gameplay cycles you'll find, whether you're jumping in for a quick ten-minute play session or grinding away for hours and hours. Yes, it's different from Diablo 2, and yes, if you play it for over 200 hours it might get a little repetitive. But I think the versatile and fascinating skill/rune system is a fresh take on abilities, and no game out there made it easier to jump in and immediately play with my friends (or anyone on Battle.net) the way Diablo 3 did – and still does. I expect I'll be playing this (with or without true PvP) for a long time to come.
A lot of players (including myself) tuned out this incredible XBLA release when it arrived this year, for two reasons: One, the title is admittedly terrible, and two, Dean "Noogy" Dodrill is clearly a fan of the "furry" aesthetic, a look which turns a lot of jaded gamers off automatically. But anyone who ignores this incredible work does so at their own risk. Not only is it a beautifully designed title with fun characters and some touching stories, but it's a heck of an action game, too, with a full item crafting system, skill trees and player stats, and twitch combos that can go upwards of a thousand hits in the right circumstances. The well-crafted world (which took Dodrill three years and a Microsoft Dream Build Play award to finally finish) has lots of Metroidvania secrets to find, too. History will probably list Dust as one of the most underrated games of 2012, so don't be one of those who miss it.
It's kind of a shame that Torchlight 2 did eventually come out after Diablo 3. Though not all of the furor around Blizzard's game was positive, I think it did overshadow Runic's great release a little bit. Still, Runic put together a really excellent follow-up to its first project, honing the hack-and-slash gameplay while simultaneously expanding the world and its quests to a great degree. The inventory system is smoother and slicker, the crafting game is more fun – and multiplayer! In Torchlight! Finally! If the first game is any indication, this game probably won't rise to full prominence until it's on Steam for $5 next year (and XBLA soon after that, I'm sure), but Runic did a fantastic job on this one, and it was a very nice payoff for fans of the first game.
I've told this story a few times: Back before 38 Studios' big collapse, back when I personally sat down around a table at Comic-Con with Curt Schilling and Ken Rolston and RA Salvatore (!), Schilling was trying to explain what this game was supposed to be, and I was trying to get him to stay away from video game announcement hyperbole. "I don't know another way to explain it without treading on that slippery slope," he told me at the time. "I don't know a way to tell you, 'Hey we're taking God of War and marrying it with Oblivion.'" Of course, Schilling's promises about the big MMO never came true, but as far as I'm concerned he wasn't lying to me about Reckoning. 38 Studios' first (and now only) game did combine really great action combat with a startlingly deep RPG, and for a World of Warcraft fan who also loves smashing buttons on a controller, it's a dream come true.
At this point, most big companies have essentially given up on the hardcore subscription MMO, abandoning it for more accessible pastures like free-to-play or more casual multiplatform offerings. But ArenaNet took a look at that ravaged marketplace, shrugged, and made a hardcore subscription MMO, minus the actual subscription. On top of that feat, the company also innovated in the form in a way that hasn't been done since the early days of World of Warcraft, compressing a huge amount of skills and abilities into just a few accessible slots, and making the quest system totally open and rewarding rather than a slog through the many variants of boar-killing. Combine all of that with gorgeous graphics and a fascinating "personal story" system, and it's easy to see why Guild Wars 2 is the best MMORPG to come along in years.
I didn't play a game that was more "pure" than Spleunky all year long. You can talk about how beautiful Journey was, or how brilliantly XCOM offered fascinating decision after fascinating decision, or how The Walking Dead put player choice and interaction at the forefront of a harrowing tale. But when it comes down to pressing A to jump, dodging giant spiders, and rescuing princesses, nobody did it better than Derek Yu this year. Journey and Mass Effect 3 might be what I put in when I want to show off to non-gamers what the best video games look like, but when I'm ready to just go mano a juego with a game on the couch by myself, it's Spleunky all the way.