Paper Mario: Sticker Star
It's possible for handhelds to mute the epic scope of role-playing games, but Paper Mario has always done a pretty good job at adjusting. For Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the franchises first ever portable game, the developers made the already-simple game more streamlined and focused than ever, but without losing what made the previous entries so memorable.
Worlds are divided similar to the core Mario games--1-1, 1-2, etc.--so exploration is more casual, yet the devs make the adventure one of the most open in Paper Mario history. Longtime RPG fans might dislike that many genre tropes are replaced by stickers, but the unpretentious combat is as engaging as it ever was. Sticker Star also has some of the funniest writing of the year and a great soundtrack, making it a handheld adventure worth bringing everywhere.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
After years spent languishing in the Nintendo vaults, 2012 featured the Kid Icarus series getting a comeback that some fans had waited 20 years to see. Headed up by big name game director Masahiro Sakurai (Super Smash Bros.), Kid Icarus: Uprising revived the series as a clever mix of on-rails shooting and on-foot adventure. Uprising quickly established itself as one of the best handheld games of the year thanks to high production values and a focus on gameplay fundamentals.
The shooting sections have some of the flashiest visuals the 3DS has ever displayed (especially in 3D), and once you get used to the admittedly quirky control scheme, the on-foot sections have some surprisingly dynamic action. Uprising also boasts insanely deep weapon customization options, online action, and an adjustable difficulty that plays into its well-realized economy. Uprising wouldve been a standout on consoles, making it easily one of the most impressive portable games of the year.
The LittleBigPlanet series had already established its winning formula of play, create, share on the PlayStation 3, and the transition to Sonys shiny new handheld was a successful and seamless one. Woven into the gameplay of LittleBigPlanet PS Vita was tighter controls, intuitive touch mechanics, and a treasure trove of tools for you to create custom levels. There are endless possibilities to level creation when the power of a blank canvas is handed over to the creative minds of the community.
While the basic premise is the same, LBP Vita was packed with quirky minigames, endless collectable items, and fun, detailed, platforming levels that made us fall in love with Sackboy in the first place. Attention to detail is just one of LBP Vitas strength, even if Sackboys charming good looks goes a long way. But what actually goes a long way is that LBP Vita is bursting with content, while still being an entertaining and rewarding experience that fits in the palm of your hand.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
The charming Professor Layton series was a perfect fit for the DS, mostly thanks to a winning combination of challenging puzzles, deep narrative, and whimsical art. That tradition was kept alive by Miracle Mask, the first entry on the 3DS, but it did so while refreshing Layton with some much-needed updates. Miracle Masks story took a new twist by delving into Professor Laytons past and introducing a boatload of extras, all while still pushing players with new brainteasers.
Miracle Masks most obvious update can be seen from the visuals. This is Laytons first 3D outing in more ways than one--it had polygonal characters for the first time ever to accompany the glasses-free 3D visuals. Big shifts like these showed the franchise was ready to move forward into this next generation of handhelds, something we hope to see expanded upon in the next 3DS entry, so long as the puzzles stay just as good as they were in Miracle Mask.
Lumines: Electronic Symphony
Lumines: Electronic Symphony is the kind of game that takes over your life. Even after youve unplugged your headphones youll still be haunted by the stellar musical tracks rhythmically beating your eardrums. Even after youve turned off your Vita youll be hard pressed to rid yourself of falling blocks, stacking into larger shapes before exploding in a cascading chain-reaction of points and multipliers.
Electronic Symphony is absolutely intoxicating, and represents a near-perfection of the Lumines formula that started years ago on Sonys first handheld. Featuring some of the most memorable musical tracks the series has ever seen and the same great gameplay that made it one of the best puzzle franchises around, Lumines is easily one of the best offerings available on the Vita.
And the winner is... Gravity Rush
Gravity Rush is a pretty weird game. Its super-powered protagonist, Kat, is a bit of an airhead; she owns a celestial cat made out of... outer space(?), and she's been tasked with saving the world from weird amorphous blob monsters. And you know what? We absolutely love it all.
Never before has the simple act of movement been such an enjoyable treat in a video game. In Gravity Rush, you can go anywhere thanks to Kat's gravity manipulation powers. Suddenly walls, ceilings, and otherwise unreachable surfaces become the very ground beneath your feet--and as Kat plummets through the air after shifting the center of gravity, she flies with such force that we became enamored with exploration. Everything from the game's motion controls to its level design were testaments to the power of what Vita games can achieve--and Gravity Rush is simply one of the most memorable experiences we've had in gaming this year.
What's your pick?
There you have it. We've broken down the biggest and best games of the year by genre and named a victor for each category. But now we want to hear what you think of our game of the year choices. What were your favorites, and which ones do you think should wear the crown. Let us know in the comments below.
If you're looking for more amazing games to play, have a look at our Best games of all time list.