Rooting for the underdogs
Chances are you've heard a lot about all the heavy hitters of 2012, most of which became our Game of the Year 2012 nominees. But there are plenty of great titles that might've slipped under your radar--and now that you (maybe?) have a bit of extra cash to burn thanks to the holidays, you can probably find most of these for $40 or less if you shop around. If you're itching for something new to sink your teeth into, here are some of 2012's most overlooked (but totally awesome) games.
Dragon's Dogma (PS3, Xbox 360)
There's only one action RPG where the "action" involves setting a Griffin on fire, scaling its flaming body, and stabbing it in the head until it dies--and that's Capcom's Dragon's Dogma. With a development staff that included the likes of Hideaki Itsuno (director of Devil May Cry 2-4), Hiroyuki Kobayashi (producer of Resident Evil 4 and Killer7), and Makoto Ikehara (designer of the Breath of Fire series), it's no wonder that the fantasy elements and combat in Dragon's Dogma are so damn impressive.
With a bevy of amazing quests, tons of challenging and intense enemy encounters (including some of the best boss fights we've ever seen), Dragon's Dogma is hard not to recommend. Though it sold enough copies to develop a cult following and warrant a sequel, we'd be remiss to not recommend it to the fantasy nuts out there.
Prototype 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
"Don't mind me, I'm just carrying a car while sprinting up the side of a building!" That's just one of the many awesome things you'll likely scream out loud while playing the mindlessly fun (and brutally violent) Prototype 2. It's an open world game that imbues its pissed off protagonist, James Heller, with superhuman strength and mutative powers. Not only can he toss human beings 300 yards with ease, but he does so with such force that their hurled bodies will cause any vehicle they collide with to explode.
Heller can also shapeshift into any person he consumes to disguise himself, as well as sprout a giant blade-like tentacle from his arm that cuts through anything or anyone that gets in his way. His abilities make exploring Prototype 2's giant open world a blast; you can run up buildings in a matter of seconds, jump glide to your heart's content, and, if you're bored, you can pile drive hobos from 20 stories high. Because why not?
Dust: An Elysian Tail (XBLA)
Despite being one of our nominees for 2012's Indie of the Year award, Dust: An Elysian Tail more than earned its spot on this list. Many passed over it due to its cast of anthropomorphic characters (which earned it a reputation as "that weird game for furry lovers"), which is a damn shame. Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of the best metroidvania games we've ever played.
In it, you play as Dust, a sword-wielding amnesiac cat caught in the middle of a genocidal war. Your goal? To piece together your past and put an end to the merciless slaughter of an ancient race of creatures. The combo-based combat is buttery smooth, and chaining together magic and physical attacks is an absolute blast. There are tons of abilities to find, allowing access to hidden areas you might've missed--and there's no shortage of weapons and equipment, either. You'll even find and free a slew of iconic indie characters from other games, such as Super Meat Boy, during your quest, and the mature story is engaging enough to keep you hooked throughout.
Skullgirls (PSN, XBLA)
All-girls fighting games arent a new concept, but rarely are they done with such a charming pizzazz as in Skullgirls. Its the perfect blend of enchanting visuals and rock-solid mechanics, with art and game balancing done by industry veterans. The games eight-woman roster alone is well worth the price of admission, as each aggressive mademoiselle plays with a completely unique style: grappling, floating mines, disembodied biting heads, you name it. Better yet, you dont even have to leave the house to buy it, and the Xbox Live / PSN play is silky smooth.
But because it wasnt a project with a huge budget and thousands in ad dollars, it didnt take off with gamers outside the hardcore fighting community. That shouldnt stop you from picking it up and having a comic-book-style blast with it--and, as always, its infinitely more fun when playing with an equally skilled friend. We highly recommend playing as Peacock, a Steamboat Willie-esque hitgirl, and Parasoul, with her army of bodyguards and tricky gel mines.
The Unfinished Swan (PSN)
You know that whole "games are art" movement? Well, The Unfinished Swan took that notion to a literal degree. This light hearted indie game is unique in that it starts you off in a blank, white room; only by throwing blobs of black paint can you unveil the environment and navigate the level. The strange, magical world you inhabit evolves fairly quickly, and you'll end up using a variety of paints to uncover its many secrets.
At its heart, The Unfinished Swan is the sort of fairytale that could only exist in video game form. Its enchanting tale of a young boy who must come to terms with losing his mother is both cheerful and heartbreaking, and the imaginative game mechanics lend themselves well to the whimsical charm that permeates the entire experience. This is certainly a game that's more about exploration and discovery than it is about in-your-face action.
War of the Roses (PC)
Ever hear of Call of Battle: Medieval Warfare? No? Well, that's because it's actually called War of the Roses. This multiplayer PC game lets you head into battle as a knight of the York or Lancaster factions in 15th century England, where you'll be tasked with choosing a loadout of swords, spears, and bows as you engage in a large scale medieval skirmishes.
In practice, War of the Roses borrows a lot of familiar gameplay elements from online shooters, such as unlockable perks, weapons, armor, and customizable class loadouts. Though there are only three modes available--team deathmatch, a single-life mode, and one based on capturing checkpoints--the game is immensely enjoyable for anyone interested in testing their melee skills.
Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii)
Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven Fever is one of the most bizarre rhythm games out there. Two things will happen 100 percent of the time when you play it: First, you'll smile a lot; second, you'll constantly murmur "what in the holy hell is going on?"
This collage of rhythm-based minigames is charming, strange, and utterly goofy. You'll have a surprisingly great time hitting buttons to the beat of some truly wonderful tunes, and watching giggle-worthy events unfold as you do so makes the whole experience all the more endearing. We don't endorse drug use, but man--this would be the perfect game to play in some sort of...altered state.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Oh yeah, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier came out this year. We almost forgot. Which is a shame, because this game is awesome. It's squad-based missions lend themselves well to the game's emphasis on planning and tactical strategy--and the entire campaign can be played in four-player co-op, which is absolutely the way to go if you have enough friends that are interested.
The gadgets in Future Soldier, such as the adaptive camouflage, made for some truly memorable infiltration missions, and we loved pulling off synchronized shots with the rest of our squadmates to down multiple enemies at once. We even had a blast tinkering with our unlocked guns (which featured some of the most intensive customization options we've ever seen in a shooter), and the multiplayer was surprisingly great.
Yeah, shooting other players in the third-person is fun and all--but so is calling in base structures from outer space and watching them land on your enemies, resulting in the most glorious moments of "Fffuuuuuu, did you see that?". Starhawk blends base building and third-person shooting in a nearly seamless manor, allowing you to call in structures from the heavens during your quest for battlefield dominance. These range from protective gates to workshops from which airships and tanks can be summoned--and the Warhawk, a ship that can turn into a ground-based mech, is the most fearsome of the bunch. Best of all, summoning buildings is incredibly easy--and if you don't have any interest in doing so, you can always just shoot fools in the head.
The Darkness II (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac)
Wish you had a few superpowers in all those first-person shooters you played this year? Then you'll definitely want to check out The Darkness II. This marks a powerful return for series protagonist Jackie Estacado, now the don of a mafia crime family. See, Jackie is a feared man thanks to his ability to harness the titular Darkness, which essentially lets him sprout superpowered tentacles (quad wielding weapons is awesome!) that can tear enemies in half--or rip car doors of their hinges and hurl them at high speeds like a frisbee.
The Darkness II is brutal yet beautiful, as its cel shaded visuals help reinforce the game's comic book vibe. It's also quite trippy. Jackie struggles to grasp what is real vs. an illusion while he fights off the cult-like Brotherhood, a secret organization obsessed with stealing the Darkness powers from him. If you love shooters but are getting bored of the Halos and Call of Dutys, give this series a go.
Great but mostly forgotten
These are but a few of the most overlooked games in 2012--have you had a chance to play any of them? What other games would you include in this list? Let us know in the comments!