2012 a banner year for Canadian video games


We’re almost at the end of 2012, which means it’s time to cue up the year-end lists. My contributions to this proud tradition began with the best console games of the year, over at The Globe and Mail.

One of the striking things about that list is how Canadian it is. With four entries, it’s in fact 40% so. I certainly didn’t include any Canadian-made games out of patriotism. The included titlesMass Effect 3, Far Cry 3, Assassin’s Creed 3 and Sleeping Dogs—simply warranted being there.

There were three other Canadian-made games that nearly made my list; I cut them only after long consideration. All told, I don’t think Canada has had a year in video games like 2012 before. You could easily create a top 10 list solely from games made here, which is what I’ve decided to do.

With the top four titles above already set, here are the other six:

5. Max Payne 3

Publisher: Rockstar Games. Developer: Rockstar Vancouver.

It’s hard not to like the drug-addled, borderline crazy anti-hero that is Max Payne. Rockstar Vancouver’s take on the film noir-esque protagonist was a hoot, sending Max deep into Brazilian favelas while morphing into a Walter White-from-Breaking-Bad lookalike. The visuals were stunning and the story, which centered on the protagonist’s quest for personal redemption and his dance with insanity, was thoroughly engrossing. Rockstar has since closed its Vancouver studio and relocated some staff to Toronto. With any luck, they’ll keep putting together games like this one.

6. Fez

Publisher: Microsoft Studios. Developer: Polytron Corporation (Montreal).

If there’s one thing indie developers do exceptionally well, it’s pointing out that good games don’t necessarily need huge-budget ultra-graphics. Fez, the brainchild of Montreal-based developer Phil Fish, takes the idea of platforming and twists it, literally, by letting you rotate the board. That conceit adds an entirely new dimension to the game’s simple quest of collecting glowing cubes. The graphics are rudimentary but no less appealing—you don’t have to be realistic to be stylish and memorable. Also, as if the game wasn’t enjoyable enough, there were Fish’s off-console hijinks to take in, including a criticism of Microsoft for its high certification fees and a lambasting of Japanese developers and gamers alike.

7. Sound Shapes

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment. Developer: Queasy Games (Toronto).

It’s hard to believe that just two guys could make a PlayStation Vita game that’s better than those pumped up by giant development teams, but that’s what Jonathan Mak and Shaw-Han Liem did. Sure, they had some help from Sony Santa Monica, but Sound Shapes is their baby—and it’s an adorable one at that. The game is the perfect showcase for Sony’s portable system. It’s a simple platformer that can be played for a few minutes at a time, yet its level creator also utilizes the device’s various touch inputs in useful ways, which is more than can be said for a lot of Vita games. (Sound Shapes is also available for the PlayStation 3.)

8. FIFA Soccer 13

Publisher: Electronic Arts. Developer: EA Canada (Burnaby, B.C.).

EA Canada’s FIFA franchise is kind of becoming a victim of its own success; its annual iterations are on a sort of awesome auto-pilot, in that each release is slightly better than the last one, which was already really good. That makes it easier to overlook the games—and sports franchises in general—when coming up with year-end lists. Still, with upwards of 100 million copies sold, the FIFA series is Canada’s biggest video game export to the world ever, and deserves some mention. The fact that Canadians can create a great virtual version of a sport that we’re generally not that good at is pretty amazing.

9. Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment. Developer: Drinkbox Studios (Toronto).

If there’s a common theme to be gleaned from looking at the best of the year, it might be that Canadian indie developers are really good at making fun, downloadable platforming games. On top of Fez and Sound Shapes, there was also Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack for the Vita, from Drinkbox Studios, which featured an angry blob out to eat everything. With inventive environments and clever puzzles, it’s as timeless a game as any Super Mario or Rayman release. Drinkbox’s next game, Gaucamelee, looks like it’s going to be just as cool.

10. The Darkness II

Publisher: 2K Games. Developer: Digital Extremes (London, Ont.).

As a gory first-person shooter, The Darkness II wasn’t for everyone, but for core gamers it was a satisfyingly dark follow-up to the original 2007 game. This time around, London’s Digital Extremes handled the chores, taking over for Sweden’s Starbreeze Studios. The result was a more action-packed affair, with mafia hitman protagonist Jackie Estacado fighting back the dark demon (unnervingly voiced again by Faith No More frontman Mike Patton) inside him. The game suffered in the replayability department since it didn’t have a multiplayer component, but with any luck a Darkness III will rectify that. Digital Extremes, meanwhile, is going to have a busy 2013 since its next game is tied to the Star Trek Into Darkness movie. A release date for the game hasn’t been announced yet, but the movie is coming out in May. The game has been in development for about three years, which means the studio has had a decent amount of time to come up with something compelling.

The list could keep going—indeed, LittleBigPlanet Karting from Vancouver’s United Front Games and Dyad from Toronto’s Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket probably belong on it, too. Obviously, next year’s Canadian Videogame Awards—being held in Vancouver in April—are going to be an exciting affair.