It’s been an interesting year in videogames—some of the best iterations of popular franchises came out in 2012 and we also saw some interesting new titles such as Dishonored, but it was really the indie developers that got the most attention this year.
Two of our favorites this year were Journey, and Papo and Yo. What’s interesting about both the games is that they tap directly into your emotive side, and instead of trying to provide thrills, these games provide a gentle, thoughtful experience that will resonate with most people, even non-gamers.
Journey is a powerful and meditative game, which most people will get sucked into—the game is a deluge of raw beauty, and lives up to its name, as it lacks any real enemies or obstructions. It is literally a beautiful Journey, with amazing, soulful music, and one unexpected hook—as you walk through the desert, other characters will appear and walk with you, or do their own thing. You won’t even realize it immediately, but these are other people, connected to you on the Internet, but you can’t chat with each other, or affect each other’s progress in any way—you just make the journey, together or on your own.
Papo and Yo, on the surface, looks much more game-like, with cheerful cartoon visuals and clear puzzle based gameplay. In reality though, this game is every bit as soulful, and as unusual, as Journey. The game is an autobiography, where the designer is using the medium to talk about his own childhood, growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father.
Get into the game and the presentation is both real and not—you run around in a realistic looking favela, and suddenly magical chalk lines appear and puzzles need to be solved by making buildings fly around. The game seems cheerful at first, but the deserted favela is disturbing, and as you proceed, you learn more about why this world exists and about the father’s alcoholism. Without giving away too much about those parts, it’s still easy to see that it’s a surreal and well-made puzzle adventure game that’s worth trying out.
These two games were definitely the highlights of 2012, and made the year a far more reflexive one than we gamers are used to, but this is a very welcome turn, indeed.