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2012’s gaming canon: the first five titles you can’t miss from a wonderful year of games

2012’s gaming canon: the first five titles you can’t miss from a wonderful year of games

We're not that interested in ranking games here at the Penny Arcade Report, and the idea of choosing one “Game of the Year” seemed like an impossible task. Instead, we're going to list the 25 games we feel you need to play from this year to get a sense of 2012, and the trends of the year. Our list, with input from the entirety of the PAR and Penny Arcade staff, spans all formats and most of the consoles, and we'll be discussing five games every day until the end of the week. These are not in order. None are greater than the others. Each is worth your time and effort.

Super Hexagon (iOS, Steam)

It’s easy to mistake scope for greatness when you look back at a year of games, but it can be just as hard to make a simple game as it is to make a huge game. While Assassin’s Creed 3 delivered a great story and was definitely one of the better games of the year, the mechanics often left much to be desired. Super Hexagon has no such problems. On iOS devices you merely move left or right and try to navigate through each level. It takes a split second to try again after you fail. Games last seconds. But the graphics, music, and limited voice acting all work together to create something that looks and feels like nothing else. The mark of a great game is that you can look back and say that there is nothing you would change or improve. Super Hexagon is as perfect as it gets. Want to read about it? Super Hexagon for iOS devices is training by indifference

Sleeping Dogs (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)

It’s always surprising when a game has a troubled development history but is of such high quality when released. Sleeping Dogs avoids the Grand Theft Auto traps by taking place among the triads of Hong Kong and delivering memorable characters and situations to the player. The game isn’t as big as other open world games, but the hand-to-hand combat system stays enjoyable throughout the game. Open world titles often fight each other on size, but Sleeping Dogs made the conscious decision to be better instead of bigger. It was a good play, and the game was one of the best titles of the year. Want to read about it? Sleeping Dogs focuses on “better” instead of “more,” and the result is an engrossing crime drama Fewer guns, better fighting, unique setting: Sleeping Dogs should be on your radar Sleeping Dogs proves that an unlikely champion of modern PC games is… Square Enix?

Fez (Xbox Live Arcade)

Fez creator Phil Fish often became a much larger story than his game due to his outspoken nature and inclusion in a now-controversial documentary, but Fez remains unique and enjoyable to play. You can finish the game by exploring and finding the more obvious secrets, but to truly master the game you need to sink an incredible amount of time into digging into some truly obscure puzzles. Fans of the game began to keep detailed notebooks filled with scribbles, notes, and attempts to decode writing found in the game. Fez rewarded a sort of fevered single-mindedness, and players who were willing to give the game the necessary time discovered all sorts of fun surprises. In a time when tricky games are crowdsourced as much as they’re played, Fez had the challenge of hiding its deepest secrets from the entirety of the Internet. Want to read about it? Fez offers fun, clever puzzles for players… but there are darker and trickier secrets inside The $40,000 patch? Fez won’t be fixed, but blaming Microsoft is only half the story

Papo & Yo (PlayStation Network)

We've seen a lot of games this year deliver bold, carefully-crafted stories, but nowhere will you find a more distinctly human tale than one centered around a monster. In Papo & Yo, you play a boy, Quico, trying to cure your friend, Monster, of his addiction to frogs. Or are you? The game goes to great lengths to show that what you're really watching is a scared boy who still loves and wants to help his abusive, alcoholic father. You're exploring a child's escapist fantasy, and the heartbreaking conclusion that shatters Quico's illusion was powerful enough to warrant a follow-up discussion with the creator of the game as well as a healthcare professional. Papo & Yo takes a taboo, mature subject matter and treats it respectfully and honestly. We need more games like it. Want to read about it? Papo & Yo is heavy-handed with its metaphors, but bittersweet and beautiful in execution Saving the Monster: what the ending of Papo & Yo can teach us about abuse (SPOILERS) Papo and Yo erases monstrosity with art: an interview with the game’s creator

Mark of the Ninja (Steam, Xbox Live Arcade)

Mark of Ninja all but ruined the stealth genre by delivering all the necessary information to the player in a smart way, and then giving the player the tools they need to take advantage of the situation. It's a stealth game where you'll never throw your controller and yell “Bullshit!” at the screen, and the story itself is well above average. Klei's Nels Anderson wrote a wonderful guest post about the thoughts behind the game and gave us a look into some of the early mock-ups of the screen, and it felt like a lesson in how to do stealth correctly. Every other game released this year that asked you to sneak around felt poorer in comparison. It's kind of weird to say, but we hope people begin to rip off this game's systems for dealing with stealth and detection; the genre will be better for it. Until then, this is an amazing game. Who knew 2D stealth could be such a breath of fresh air? Want to read about it? Mark of the Ninja advances 2D art and stealth combat, this is not an optional purchase The secrets behind Mark of the Ninja’s bloody 2D stealth game play Coming up tomorrow: the next five games. Discuss our picks, and list some of the games that influenced you in some way this year, below.