The biggest gaming stories of 2012

OUYA/Kickstarter

2012 was quite a tumultuous year for gaming for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the current console generation has lasted a bit longer than any previous generation. Microsoft and Sony are pushing the Xbox 360 and PS3 to their limits with powerhouse titles like Halo 4 and Far Cry 3, but every gamer in the world could tell you that the time for new consoles is now. Unfortunately, true next generation systems will likely not see the light of day until E3 2013, so until then, let’s take a look back on the hardware and software that stuck out in another notable year for video games.

New Consoles

Both Sony's PlayStation Vita and Nintendo’s Wii U launched in 2012. Unfortunately, they both have garnered more negative than positive press, and seem to be poised for a difficult future.

PlayStation Vita : Sony’s first portable console, the PSP, never quite reached Nintendo-level heights of popularity, despite its superior power and a good deal of support from third parties, so when Sony first introduced the Vita, many of us were taken aback. Not only was its name a little on the goofy side, it appeared to be a direct successor to the PSP, with a similar form factor, pricing model, and a less-than-stellar launch lineup.

Sony

When it did finally launch in the US in February, gamers were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the portable system. Its dual joystick approach to gaming was enough to potentially change the way we play games on the go. All of a sudden, controls for first-person shooters and cameras in platformers would be as painless as their console counterparts. Couple the experience of playing on the Vita with its broad approach to online social interaction, and it seemed like Sony might finally have an answer to the 3DS.

Then the system launched. Despite the rave reviews for the system itself, the launch titles failed to turn many heads, and the Vita has been faltering in retail ever since. The Vita has had its critically acclaimed gems during its year on the international market, such as Gravity Rush and Persona 4 Golden, but the Vita is anything but a success for Sony so far.

Wii U: Of course, it isn’t all roses and unicorns for Nintendo, either. The Wii U, unlike the Vita, was shrouded in mystery for over a year until it finally reached store shelves this fall. Nintendo refused to talk technical specifications or price until much closer to the system’s launch, which confused and irritated gamers and the press alike.

It all started when Nintendo showed off the Wii U GamePad at E3 2011. The audience was baffled as to what the touchscreen device signified. Was there a new console coming? Was the GamePad an add-on for the Wii? Eventually, after some painfully drawn out discussions, Nintendo revealed that yes, the Wii U would be their new console, and the GamePad would be their next innovative iteration on console gaming.

Nintendo

The system is now available worldwide, and despite some minor issues (long loading times, lacking TVii at launch), the system plays great. I picked one up shortly before the holidays and my family has had a blast with Nintendo Land. Unfortunately, my personal experience with the Wii U does not reflect sales figures. At every electronics store in my city, only days before Christmas, Wii U Basic Sets and Deluxe Sets crowded the floor as the retailers desperately tried to sell Nintendo’s poorly marketed new console.

Media reports note that the console is underperforming worldwide, especially compared to the console’s popular predecessor. Hopefully 2013 will see the introduction of both Sony and Microsoft’s new home consoles, which might reinvigorate a relatively stagnant market for new gaming hardware.

Kickstarter Success Stories

In this crazy new world of Kickstarter, anyone with a good idea can have the opportunity to have their dream product become a reality with a little help from excited fans. Two projects in particular took the gaming scene by storm earlier in 2012, and we would be remiss if we didn't include them in our wrap-up.

OUYA: Of all the incredible gaming-centric Kickstarter projects that made the rounds in 2012, none managed to garner as much attention as this hackable Android console. The OUYA takes everything gamers have come to expect from their consoles, including high prices, strict limitations on homebrew games, and promptly tosses them out the window. And in case you had any doubts that the console would actually see the light of day, OUYA developer kits have already started shipping to developers. Rejoice, for the Android gaming revolution cometh!

Oculus Rift/Kickstarter

Oculus Rift: OUYA hopes to change the way downloadable games are distributed, but another successful Kickstarter project might fundamentally change how gamers view their games. The Oculus Rift will attempt to do what Nintendo’s Virtual Boy failed to do: bring a quality virtual reality headset to the world of gaming. If the press is to be believed, Rift might finally be the piece of hardware to accomplish such a monumental task.

Biggest Surprises

Telltale Games
A screen from The Walking Dead.

For my money, there was no bigger surprise than Telltale’s return to form with The Walking Dead series of episodic adventure games. By making player choice really matter and presenting us with one of the most brilliantly crafted stories in 2012, The Walking Dead stole the show. The characters, the story, and theenormously positive critical reaction all managed to capture the interest of the gaming community at large,. I can't imagine anyone who leads Lee Everett all the way through this adventure not being emotionally impacted by his fatherly relationship with Clementine. Season 2 can’t come soon enough.

Speaking of revitalized genres, XCOM: Enemy Unknown attempted to single-handedly bring strategy gaming back into the public eye. XCOM keeps many of the elements of real-time strategy that fans of the genre will be familiar with, while stripping out the unnecessary clutter and streamlining the entire experience. Unlike The Walking Dead, the mechanics of XCOM make this a can't-miss experience for any gamer who wants to try something new.

Polytron Corporation
Fez.

Finally, what might have been the strangest surprise of all was the slow unraveling of Fez. During my first playthrough, I savored every moment of precise and clever puzzle-platforming. The environments were beautiful, the music was pitch-perfect, and exploring felt fantastic. Then I began to peak behind the curtain. There was a much larger world, a more mysterious world hiding behind the scenery. In fact, a vast majority of the game’s content, as well as its greatest challenges, were hidden behind made-up languages, confusing codes, and time-consuming puzzles that required half of the Internet to solve. Fez might have been the largest scavenger hunt ever conducted, and it was all for the sake of small golden cubes.

So that’s 2012 in gaming. Sure, there are countless more stories that we missed, but these are the highlights that stuck in our mind. Let us know what you remember most about video games this year in the comments below.

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