Best of 2012: Staff Awards

Behind the games

Yesterday we published our Nintendo Life Staff Game of the Year Awards, and it's safe to say that they — or to be precise the 3DS top three — caused plenty of debate. Today we take a slightly different approach, bringing you the results of a staff poll on various categories related to 2012 in more general terms.

We've voted on a variety of topics that cover, in some form, various big subjects of 2012. There's also a special award for the community, in honour of our ever-vibrant and entertaining forums. The voting has worked in the same way as the GOTY poll, with all staff members having the opportunity to choose a top three in each category. Let's get to it.


Indie Studio

With the continual improvement of Nintendo's download services, we're seeing a greater prominence of indie developers on its various platforms. The indie classification is one that can be argued over, as it can be judged on the size of the company, the kind of games released, whether its games are self-published and so on. While a cast-iron definition can be debated, we feel that the following winners all merit a place in this category.

WayForward Technologies will be a familiar name to keen Nintendo download gamers, with its various handheld releases being among the best on DSiWare and the 3DS eShop. It's a company that produces a number of licensed titles to pay the bills, but is particularly well regarded for its own IPs. While its Hotel Transylvania tie-in was a disappointment, plenty have enjoyed Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!, while Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition was an excellent Wii U HD re-make of 2011's 3DS title, with extra challenges thrown into the mix. Shantae And The Pirate's Curse is set for 3DS in 2013, too, which is getting quite a lot of people hot and bothered.

Second Place: Frozenbyte — Summing up Frozenbyte's contribution is easy, as it delivered Trine 2: Director's Cut to Wii U. It's a title that's certainly had an impact on the Nintendo Life staff — it won our Wii U eShop award — and the developer also took early advantage of the opportunity to run a promotional price on the store, as well as promising a substantial update that will bring game improvements and voice chat support to its online play. Perhaps its standing is helped by the fact that Trine 2 isn't a poorly optimised port, but a title that actually outperforms other home consoles on Nintendo's system.

Third Place: Nicalis — We suspect that Nicalis would have been challenging for the higher places had its European release schedule matched that of North America. A company that specialises in publishing, it also takes existing titles and develops/optimises them for Nintendo's handhelds, the 3DS eShop has benefited in 2012 with high-quality releases such as VVVVVV and NightSky; unfortunately the latter hasn't made it to Europe at the time of writing. It's a tale of two continents with Nicalis, but there's little denying that some fantastic premium content on Nintendo's download services is coming from this team; just don't mention handheld Cave Story releases within earshot of any Europeans.


Third Party Publisher

This category is focused on the big household names in game development and publishing, a hot topic with the issue of third-party support on Nintendo systems being ever-present. The winner of this category won by a country mile, though competition for the runner-up spots was predictably tight, reflecting a sense that not many big companies knocked it out of the park for Nintendo gamers this year.

Ubisoft is, alongside the likes of EA and Activision, one of the dominant forces in mainstream gaming. Its output is prolific, which isn't always a good thing, and it's custodian to some of the biggest brands in the industry. Its output on 3DS was minimal this year, but it's Ubisoft's early commitment to Wii U that made it the easy winner in this category; that early enthusiasm isn't a surprise, as the company was similarly keen with 3DS launch releases. There are some Wii U launch games from the company that are average, at best, but the port of Assassin's Creed III is at least a solid effort. This position is possibly a reflection of Ubisoft's willingness to deliver the Wii U exclusive ZombiU, however, while the top-notch demo for Rayman Legends is a lot more than many others have offered on that front. Fans of looking silly could also enjoy Just Dance 4, too.

Second Place: SEGA — Nintendo's former console rival has endured some tricky times in recent years, but we feel that 2012 has seen a solid output on Nintendo systems from Sonic's house. As well as bringing some nostalgia through the 3DS Virtual Console, SEGA published one of the most enjoyable retail experiences on 3DS, Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure, which contributed towards a welcome revival of the music rhythm genre. If that was a quirky release that perhaps didn't get the sales it deserved, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was a high profile game (developed by Sumo Digital) that perhaps exceeded expectations. The Wii U version earned plenty of plaudits here at Nintendo Life, and dare we say may put a little pressure on the Nintendo team that's inevitably working on Mario Kart U.

Third Place: Capcom — This is a developer/publisher that many love to hate, and the company often doesn't do itself any favours with some of its actions. This year it did, however, release the excellent Resident Evil Revelations which, regardless of a humorous packaging typo, was one of the year's best experiences on 3DS. While it maintained some of the focus on action, it did revive some of the franchise's survival horror traditions, all while pushing arguably the most attractive visuals on the handheld. The publisher also recently confirmed that all NES Mega Man titles will be released on the 3DS Virtual Console, a crumb of comfort for long suffering Blue Bomber fans.


Biggest "Wow" Moment

Now we're getting into the categories that push the buttons of the staff just as gamers, not necessarily as reviewers, news or feature writers. It was a busy year from Nintendo, launching systems and iterations, improving many of its online services as well as changing the ways that it interacts with fans. There was a fair bit to get excited about, but here are the events that most impacted on our team.

This result doesn't reflect anything to do with the buzz around Wii U or whether it's selling to expectations and so on, but is all about our excitement at getting our hands on a new Nintendo home console. That new console buzz only comes around once or twice a decade, if we're lucky, and little can replace that thrill for enthusiastic gamers. Whether it was playing a game on the system for the first time, discovering Miiverse or even contributing to the live blogs here on Nintendo Life, this was the comfortable winner in this category.

Second Place: Nintendo Direct — A year can be a long time, so it's easy to forget that Nintendo Direct hasn't been around long, even though it's now an integral part of how Nintendo shares news with its gamers (EDIT: the article originally stated that Nintendo Direct made its début in 2012, when it actually started in late 2011. It seemed like it really got going in 2012 to the team, however!). Rather than draft in identi-kit photogenic professional presenters, it's typical of the big N that these broadcasts are hosted by the regional Executives or, occasionally, computer generated versions of them. Admittedly this represents a series of moments, and we'll be covering our favourite Nintendo Direct memories separately, but it's safe to say that these "mini-E3s" have been a revelation this year.

Third Place: Rayman Legends reveal — The reveal of Ubisoft's gorgeous Wii U platformer, delayed from launch to early 2013, narrowly pipped reveals of 3DS XL and Bayonetta 2 into the top three. The early footage and screenshots at E3 blew some minds, even leading to debates within the Nintendo Life office at the time over whether screenshots were actually game footage. To say that this game is eagerly anticipated is an understatement...


Biggest Disappointment

While 2012 had some exciting moments, there were also occasions or trends that we'd rather forget. Things are never entirely rosy in any garden, and Nintendo's is no exception.

While there were a few excellent releases on Wii, some in retail and one particular example on WiiWare, it was a rather grim year for the system. Outside of a few choice examples, we endured weeks and months without any decent offerings arriving; Nintendo was clearly distracted by Wii U and 3DS — it's since stated that it has no Wii projects in the works — while most third-parties had abandoned it in 2011. It's been a rather sad end for a console with a legacy of a wonderful games catalogue and, at the time of writing, the biggest selling system of its generation. The Wii revolutionised gaming, making its slow death in 2012 even more saddening to see.

Second Place: Nintendo Land's demonstration at E3 2012 — While E3 was a big event for Nintendo, unveiling its new home console in more detail than ever before, it wasn't without its low points. The Nintendo Land demonstration of Luigi's Ghost Mansion was, while no doubt well intentioned, a bit of a flop. If its aim was to show that Nintendo Land could be intuitive fun, then its lengthy explanation and convoluted demo failed to make the point. Many of the Nintendo Life team, frankly, lost interest as it went on, and the computer-generated fireworks that followed as the grand finale were an example of Nintendo's Japanese culture occasionally clashing with Western audiences — fireworks are given focus and reverence in Japan, while many Western viewers were bemused.

Third Place: Rayman Legends delay — We've already said how much this title impressed us when it was revealed, and it was top of quite a few wishlists for Wii U's launch. Then came the dreaded news that it was delayed, apparently to allow final touches and optimisation to the finished product. That may be the case, but a crowded release list and the presence of a 2D platformer starring a certain plumber may have influenced this decision making.


Best Online Experience

Nintendo systems, despite improvements, are still not associated with top-notch and engrossing online experiences. Nintendo will be hoping to change that perception in 2013, and we've found some examples where we particularly enjoyed going online with our consoles this year.

This was an easy win for Wii U's online platform, accumulating more than four times the voting points of its nearest rival. Miiverse offers a blend of Facebook and Twitter functionality, with easy access to add friends, "follow" others, view a user timeline and post text or hand-written notes for others to reply to or "Yeah". While some bad eggs slip through for short periods, it's also a remarkably clean and friendly place, without much of the crudity and trolling often seen on other platforms. It's intuitive, fun and accessible, and Wii U certainly wouldn't be the same without it.

Second Place: ZombiU messaging — Voted third in our Wii U retail games list, we think highly of Ubisoft's survival horror title. While multiplayer is restricted to local play, the main campaign does go online in clever ways, such as zombies of others player's deceased characters popping up in game. Another neat feature is the way the game notifies you of the deaths of those on your friend list, should you want to hunt them down, while it's also possible to use spray paint to leave messages for other players to see. The game developers post the best messages, including leaderboards for the day and, apparently, their Miiverse username.

Third Place: Kid Icarus: Uprising multiplayer — As well as a substantial and epic single player campaign, Kid Icarus: Uprising also includes a more than decent online multiplayer option. With team and individual modes on offer, these land battles can be frantic, exciting affairs, while selecting the best weapons and item load-outs is essential for those that want to win regularly. Despite lacking rankings, the depth of customisation of weapons and items is integrated well, while the simple choice of the developers to fill spaces with bots until more players arrive is a delight, avoiding any frustrating waiting times.


Best Nintendo Direct Moment

We've already voted the Nintendo Direct début as our second biggest "wow" moment of the year, but the various broadcasts brought their own share of classic meme-worthy moments. These videos often have enough charm and humour on their own before any games are even shown, so we've chosen our favourite moments from the broadcasts so far.

First Place: Satoru Iwata's Wii U unboxing — It's been an incredibly tight vote in this category, but Nintendo President Satoru Iwata snatches first place by just a point. Before anyone was able to produce a half-baked shaky-cam unboxing of Wii U on YouTube, the Nintendo boss beat them all to the punch. It's hard to say what the stand-out moment is, whether it's the grand musical opening to the ceremony, the white gloves or Iwata-san's quips that he felt like he was working on a shopping channel. It's an unmissable video.

Second Place: Non-Specific Action Figure début — Maybe it's the name, or the humorously generic design, but this little action figure become a cult icon after its début in a pre-E3 Nintendo Direct focused on Wii U. In a quirky segment designed to show off Miiverse and Wii U Chat, the toy quietly stood alongside an excitable gamer, getting its ears covered to spare its feelings and giving a famous thumbs up when a zombie monster was beaten. It'll surely feature in the next Smash Bros. game.

Third Place: Iwata and bananas — It's typical of Nintendo Direct that Satoru Iwata can be shown staring at a bunch of bananas, and that it instantly becomes a popular and often-quoted moment. It's prompted follow-ups, peculiarly, with Nintendo of America's Bill Trinen staring at an orange and LEGO Iwata staring at a carrot. What does it all mean?


Best Forum Thread

This final award is for the community, of course, particularly those that join in with the various shenanigans on the forums. At times the forums tackle big topics, share tips or organise online gaming sessions, and at times they're utterly bonkers. A special thanks to Desiree Turner (aka theblackdragon / TBD) who not only selected these winners and wrote this section, but also does an amazing job to maintain and support a friendly, convivial atmosphere on the boards.

First Place: "Ask James" — It all started when user 'KaiserGX' created a thread to ask former editor James Newton when the Ice White 3DS would be coming to NA (as if he knew the answer!), and it eventually turned into James fielding any and all reasonable questions users posted at him. He eventually moved it to General Discussion since it had grown past the original 3DS-related question.

James really went out of his way to film all those 'episodes' where he answered questions from our forum denizens. He was always legendary for his 'drunken post' threads, but we think the 'Ask James' thread is probably the best example of his love for our users. He was truly a man of the community, and we hope all is going well for him in his role as an online editor at Nintendo of Europe.

Second Place: "Is there a physical NintendoLife HQ?" — A genuinely fun question. We're not sure if the original poster intended for it to be truly serious or not, because it was actually posted around E3-time and I think there had been pics of a NL office-looking place floating around, but the thread played out in a funny way. TBD won some internet points from The_Fox, pixelman was killed for revealing the secret coordinates (complete with a joke avatar he had up for a few days), and Philip J Reed's pants turned out to be quite the happening place overall...

Third Place: "Welcome to NintendoDeath" — Wherein everyone's favourite Lord of Madness on the boards ushered in Halloween on our forums, playing off the awesome 'Nintendo Death' site skin that had gone down that day. It's a rare thread indeed where the boss-man Anthony Dickens puts in an appearance nowadays, and more than a few users piped up with scary video-game-related images, so it was just a fun time overall.


So there you have it, our staff's Gaming Awards for 2012. Share you views in the comments below as always, and tomorrow brings the eagerly anticipated Game of the Year Community Awards 2012.