While elevating three separate games to take a single, shared “best game” title, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other games that deserve special recognition. These three games aren’t necessarily the fourth, fifth, and/or sixth best games made in 2012, but they excelled on their own terms, and drew attention to the year’s trending platforms and experiences.

ZombiU

ZombiU isn’t just the best Wii U launch game: It represents the merits of designing a game around the hardware it’s meant to be played on. One of the scariest games of the year, it manages to incite stress over even smallest obstacles, and it does so by making players constantly switch their gaze between multiple screens and building the sensation that you never actually know what’s coming.

As a lifelong game-player and an avid RPG fan, I rarely take notice of how much time I spend in menus. In ZombiU, the game doesn’t pause when you enter menus; instead, you simply become immobile while go through your bag: the menu is on the gamepad screen, while TV shows your immediate surroundings so that, if you’re paying attention, you can react to an impending attack.

Nothing makes you realize how inefficient you are than the constant fear of getting attacked while your head is buried in your controller-screen, rearranging supplies. The most mundane tasks become the most stressful, which makes every moment you spend in Zombi-ridden London an intense and meaningful one.

Like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, ZombiU exploits the idea that raising the stakes and giving players a reason to fear death. That constant anxiety isn’t over a simple jump scare: The zombies of ZombiU aren’t what gamers playing Call of Duty: Black Ops have come to expect. If you see more than one of them hoving in your general direction, you have one choice: Run.

Horrible name aside, ZombiU deserves some a medal or an award or something for being the only Wii U title to take advantage of the console’s potential in a meaningful way.

Sound Shapes

There isn’t a game that I could refer to that would adequately describe the experience of playing Sound Shapes:

-Is it the musical equivalent of LittleBigPlanet? Not really.
-Is it like playing Super Mario Bros. with listening to House music? Nope.
-Is it a rhythm-based platformer? Not really.

In some ways it’s like all of those things. But none of actually describe what makes the game appealing. Sound Shapes is a vibrant and immersive collection of colors and sounds coming together in a seemingly endless number of ways, thanks to the game’s level creation tools.

Playing a track in Sound Shapes doesn’t feel like you’re making a song, it’s feels like you’re inventing it. As sound after sound comes into play, the aural picture comes into view. I’ve never written music, but there’s a moment when a set of ambiant noises comes together as a single song — like someone flipped a switch in your brain — and it feels good, far better than it should. It feels like I invented something. I didn’t, but the feeling is still there.

Though the game is a Sony “Cross-Buy,” available on PS3 and PS Vita for one price, the act of playing levels is enhanced immensely by the Vita’s amazing display. Colors are brighter, shapes are sharper. Similarly, the experience of listening to the music is more “concentrated” when it comes through headphones. It also feels more personal and secure, knowing that you’re the only one hearing it.

FTL

Double Fine Adventure may have been spark that set off the tsunami of Kickstarter game projects in 2012, but FTL is the service’s biggest gaming success story.

In essence, FTL is the Star Trek game you’ve always wanted and never got. Players control a ship, jumping from galaxy to galaxy and encountering different situations. There’s a complex, well designed ship-to-ship space combat system: commands like concentrating fire on a ship’s hull, or put all of their energy into their shields feels right at home with our cultural vision of sci-fi. That blend of conventional aesthetics and randomly generated gameplay turns the game into a fantastic sci-fi story generator.

Like ZombiU, FTL represents 2012 as the year Roguelikes made a comeback: When you die in FTL, you start over again in a new procedurally generated galaxy. There’s no one FTL story, because every game is different. Even if there are only a limited number of scenarios, the combinations feel endless. In every possible way, FTL is more than the sum of its parts.