This has been a big year for our beloved Androids. Although we’ve historically had little to dine on but year-old Apple leftovers, 2012 saw a new generation of near simultaneous launches, terrific support from big-name developers, and even a few games like Dead Trigger and Shadowgun: DeadZone launching and updating on Android first. Of course, we also got our share of long-overdue ports, like Dodonpachi Ressurection and much of Square Enix’s iOS catalog, getting us that much closer to caught up. While we haven’t seen much in the way of big-name exclusives, we were still scrambling to keep up with this year’s releases. None of these selections were easy choices, and our list is by no means definitive. Without further ado, we present the most hardcore of 2012.
Action Game of the Year
Super Monkey Ball 2: We’ve seen games like Dead Space and Mass Effect make some impressive adaptations to mobile, but it’s a rare sight indeed when a console series actually gets better in the transition to the phone. And yet that’s exactly the case with Super Monkey Ball. The accelerometer controls feel like the way this game was always meant to be played, and while they take a bit more finesse than the control pad, they’re intuitive, fun to use, and very accurate. Although this version features a pretty scant offering of the series’ trademark minigames and multiplayer activities, the campaign is in fine form. The difficulty has been dialed down a notch from the series early GameCube days, but collecting all the crowns and unlocking bonus stages proves to be plenty of challenge for the more experienced. There are few games more addictive, and we hope SEGA continues this series on the Android in the year to come.
First-person Shooter of the Year
Dead Trigger: Historically, first-person shooters on touch-screen devices have been pale imitators of their console counterparts, with weak pacing to allow for the weaker controls, and a long and linear campaign that just isn’t right for playing on the go. Dead Trigger has managed to transcend that, with a campaign full of bite-sized missions, and fast, frantic shooting action that doesn’t require careful futzing with your aim. It’s proof positive that the mobile platform can not only handle a good FPS, but maybe even has something unique to contribute to the genre.
Simulation of the Year
Dungeon Village: Simulation games are so abundant they’re practically clogging up the Play Store. Most of these are the usual free-to-play social games; Farmville and Mafia Wars clones that are obnoxious to make progress in and rife with in-app purchases. Kairosoft’s titles are a refreshing break from this norm. Since the launch of Game Dev Story in 2010, they’ve been churning out charming sims with retro-styled graphics at an alarming rate. This year’sDungeonVillage is maybe their best yet, casting players as the mayor of a village in an old-school RPG. You build shops and accommodations to attract heroes to your town in the hopes that they’ll remain there and grind away in the dungeons outside of town. It’s quirky, funny, and easy to pick up whenever, and thankfully bereft of any in-app purchases or the need to bother your friends on Facebook.
Strategy Game of the Year
Total War Battles: Shogun: There were quite a few strategy games this year in a broad range of styles, from the tactical RPG-styled Hunters, to the tower offense hit Anomaly, but Total War Battles proved to have the right formula to make the heady genre work on the go. With a long, deep campaign of fairly short, simple, yet challenging stages, it’s the kind of game you can pick up and play for 15 minutes and not feel like you’ve been slighted.
RPG of the Year
The Bard’s Tale: This was a competitive year for RPGs, with Final Fantasy remakes, the two Chaos Rings titles, two new Zenonia games, and countless others. In the end we had to go with InXile’s The Bard’s Tale. BT has story and character to spare and the lothario anti-hero as protagonist is a refreshing break from the standard tropes that plague fantasy-themed entertainment. And while the story isn’t exactly War and Peace it is genuinely funny, an element that places it a cut above the rest when it comes to RPG narratives.
Aside from certain visuals being compromised by the small screen, the translation to mobile is nearly seamless, and though it has little replay value, the game is suitably large and the usual-suspect gameplay elements are fluently rendered. Lastly, the overall design, a hybrid of open-world and action RPG with aspects of narrative driven adventure games sprinkled into the mix, makes for the best kind of role-playing game.
Racing Game of the Year
Need for Speed Most Wanted: Though there were a few contenders for Racing Game of the Year, Need for Speed Most Wanted was for our money a shoe-in. We gave EA’s racer a 4 when we reviewed it back in the fall, citing NFSMW’s tight, thoughtful control scheme, stunning visuals and visceral gameplay. Across the board EA’s racer went the extra mile. Whether we’re talking about sharp, detailed, cutting edge graphics, tight, smart controls or heart-thumping action, Need for Speed Most Wanted left its competitors in the dust.
Indie Game of the Year
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP: The writing is on the wall. The adventure genre, once left for dead by the mainstream, is on its way back. The Walking Dead picking up some high profile Game of the Year nods, Tim Schafer announced his return to the genre, and Kickstarter has resurrected the careers of nearly every Sierra On-Line veteran. And then there’s Superbrothers. Already a bona fide hit on iOS, and this year it finally landed on PC and our beloved Android.
Despite the chunky, pixilated graphics, this is anything but retro. Superbrothers is indie to the bone, with a moody style, quirky sense of humor, and a fantastically ambient soundtrack. It’s a thoroughly postmodern take on an utterly nostalgic genre, and it’s not quite like anything else out there.
Hardcore Droid’s Game of the Year
Dead Trigger: Any one of the games mentioned in this article could have been someone’s game of the year, but we chose Dead Trigger because more than any other release it pushed the boundaries of what the platform could do, in terms of graphics, design, and execution. It’s a game that at once defies the expectations we have for what can be done on a phone, and yet results in a product that simply wouldn’t be as appealing any other way.