Let's set the scene, shall we? Eleven forty-five p.m., November 17, 2012. High in energy, fresh out of a Holy Motors screening, I joined my comrades in jest, partnering with the inconsiderate a-holes strutting by the midnight Wii U release lines, pointing and laughing at the wide-eyed masses clamoring for their dosage of pre-ordered digital drugs. It was a symbolic, suitable conclusion to a mediocre calendar year in gaming, one that produced a scattering of very good games, but only a couple of legit masterpieces. Much like 2011, it was a year of expected sequels and companies feeding off of the never-ending urge of gamers to quench their thirst for supreme nostalgia. Over half of the titles on our list are continuations or reboots of well-known franchises; hell, there's even a sequel to a sequel, and there would have been another such follow-up had fellow Slant contributors to this poll become as Poké-obsessed as myself.
That's not to say that 2012 was a step in the wrong direction. No, there was much risk-taking on the part of developers, as well as commendable attempts by publishers to alter the way people purchase and promptly consume their video games. Many respected outfits crafted new entries in their respected series that greatly differentiated from what came before, in both style and direction, and while some of them fell flat on their faces (Worst Game of the Year contenders include Risen 2: Dark Waters, 007 Legends, and Assassin's Creed III) and some merely fumbled in execution rather than initial concept (Resident Evil 6), others benefited exceedingly from their throwing caution to the wind and embracing diversification. (In lieu of naming names, I implore you to read on.)
Two thousand and twelve may eventually come to be known as the Year DLC Took Over, as more and more games are being made available for acquisition via the Internet on or before their official retail street dates. Furthermore, so many download-only, independent titles are receiving immense critical acclaim on the spot, and most are far more substantial in originality, scope, and accomplishment than the big-budget heavy-hitters that spawn those aforementioned witching hour launch-party lines. One of these DLC exclusives, Thatgamecompany's sublime Journey, shortlisted by our entire gaming staff, nearly landed at the very top of the rankings. Befitting, though, that in a year of several marked technological adjustments, and the effective birth of the next generation with the Wii U, our favorite game is a callback to the era of the classic JRPG. Mike LeChevallier
25. Persona 4 Arena. That the curiously unheralded partnership of Atlus and Arc System Works managed to produce the best fighting game of the year is all the more praiseworthy given the fact that the well-publicized Street Fighter X Tekken spent the majority of 2012 maintaining such a remarkably tight grapple on the lofty accolade. Yet, in the end, Persona 4 Arena, with its unique visual style, scaled learning curve, and intuitive control scheme edges out Capcom's still-formidable blockbuster brawler by a fair margin. By taking the already vastly celebrated property of Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and, through an utmost attention to detail and a thoroughly innovative spin on the popular 2D-throwdown genre, Arc System Works (Guilty Gear, BlazBlue) translates one of the past decade's most important JRPGs into a perpetually rewarding fighter that not only faithfully retains the eccentric spirit of the source material, but quickly establishes a singular attitude all its own. LeChevallier
24. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. After the disastrous Michael Bay films and the dull, derivative Transformers: War for Cybertron, the first miracle bestowed by Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is that it leads one to actually care about the Transformers franchise, and further, to care about its typically inhuman, two-dimensional robot characters. This is an action game with stakes, in which we see the end of the world from multiple sympathetic characters fighting to stop an apocalypse. The gameplay is varied and thrilling, with clever levels designed to take advantage of the unique talents gifted to the characters. Forgetting the much-hyped, basically awful Grimlock chapter, the game is consistently exciting and concludes intelligently, linking to nearly every incarnation of the franchise. A smart and exhilarating action-adventure, Fall of Cybertron has something for everyone, not just fans. Ryan Aston
23. New Super Mario Bros. U. The Super Mario Bros. series manages to tweak just enough of its classic platforming tropes every year to remain innovative. Now Nintendo introduces the Wii U's tablet-like gamepad controller for an unforgettable couch co-op experience, and in the process perfects Mario's blend of cartoony fun for new players and tricky platforming for longtime fans. New Super Mario Bros. U will transform you into a grinning kid again with its Super Mario Bros. 3-esque gameplay. Also, new power-ups for Mario, Baby Yoshis, and the ability to play as Mii characters add a fresh veneer to an old hat. The Mushroom Kingdom's colorful worlds are meant for an HD screen. Welcome to this generation, Mario. Kyle Lemmon
22. Twisted Metal. David Jaffe's return to his pre-God of War success, the 2012 Twisted Metal reboot built on the existing franchise with a strong story component and the same hilariously over-the-top arcade-style vehicular combat that made the series successful in the PSX and PS2 era. Taking a cue from Saw and its genre ilk, Twisted Metal features some of the most ghastly and reprehensible full-motion video ever seen in a video game, married comfortably to its over-the-top gameplay in which serial killers take to ridiculously modified vehicular death traps to kill and maim each other. Even the difficulty is extreme, making some parts of the compelling and vomit-inducing narrative a chore, but ultimately a rewarding one. Twisted Metal is a thrilling celebration of immature excess with intelligence and a sardonic sense of humor. It's bloody awesome. Aston
21. Gravity Rush. The sensation of realistic human flight, sans any sort of motorized transport vehicle or giant airborne organism, is captured brilliantly in SCE Japan's Gravity Rush, a game that uses the power and freedom of aerial navigation as a metaphor for decrypting its heroine's own mysterious past. Kat is surely in the running for Best New Protagonist of the Year, her subjectively shaded characterization covertly drawing the player in deeply with each passing storyline development. With its coolly interactive comic-book transition sequences, touchy yet intricate manipulation physics, and unexampled graphical approach, Gravity Rush was the first game to truly make the PlayStation Vita stand out among its peers. In all honestly, though, the only systematic rival opposing Sony's current-gen handheld is the 3DS, and if the Vita had released one or two more titles at or above the quality level of this diamond in the rough, Nintendo would likely be shaking in their aggregate boots. Bring on the sequel, please. LeChevallier