Tug Your God Out

Dwell into the pasttime of empowerment; video games

2010 Game of the Year

So 2010 has come and gone. Some gamers may consider this year the greatest year in gaming as companies flooded us with a great deluge of quality titles over the past 12 months starting in January and not letting up until the finish of the Holiday season. While we didn’t exactly match animals two by two, us gamers had an impossible time keeping our heads above water. There were hundreds and hundreds of games released this year. 2009 saw 1001 releases on the major consoles (not counting the iOS and Android platforms I believe) and while I don’t have the final numbers for 2010 I wouldn’t be shocked if that number is completely dwarfed by 2010’s count.

For the first time ever it felt like it was impossible to play everything you wanted. But I sure tried my damnedest to play anything and everything anyone would recommend or found interesting. And there was a ton of great, interesting games put out this year. In fact, my original short list for the top 40 games of the year spanned well over 100 different titles.

Pouring over that short list for about a month (outside of maybe two or three titles, everything worth mentioning is out before Black Friday — I mean it’s only smart business)  I just couldn’t seem to settle on a single order to things.  Granted it’s like that for any list one creates.  You’re usually very aware of what items you want on that list and in what general order those items will go in but there’s a lot of items so close and interchangeable that it gets frustrating trying to differentiate between say the 4th and 5th spot.  And how much difference is there between the 20th spot from the 24th one? Generally this quandary doesn’t bother me too much — lists are, after all, pure opinion separated by arbitrary numbers.  That and generally my opinion on these arbitrary numbers tend to often change vary wildly in the span of six months.  I recall looking back on my 2009 list back in June and it’s dreadful to be honest.  Even the final re-edit was groan-inducing. 2008’s list is so awful it’s not worth even talking about — seriously, LittleBigPlanet and Fable 2 in the top 5? What the hell was wrong with me — I almost despise those titles now. And I don’t really want to remember where I placed Braid before my quest for the true ending made my brain snap.  I swear I feel a slight twitch coming from underneath my cerebral cortex any time Braid is mentioned.  Not just within my presence, but anywhere in the world. My wife thinks it’s a potential tumor but I know better.

Still this year’s list was increasingly difficult and it dawned on me eventually why this year felt more difficult than previous years to order. I honestly try each year to pick the best games and attempt to keep my bias for genre or platform out the discussion.  Obviously, I’m very aware this task is impossible but at least I can be aware of it and limit it to a certain degree.  And there’s the problem — there was just too much quality stuff across every single genre and every platform.  The Playstation 3 continued its steady rise; the 360 saw a solid year built on key sequels;  even the Wii, which I would argue saw an off year compared to 2009 had a strong showing with several amazing experiences that you could only find on Nintendo’s waggle-box; the DS continued to produce some of the most interesting and unique titles on the mainstream market; the PSP quietly had maybe the best year in terms of software exclusives; iOS and Android finally not only established themselves as viable gaming platforms but began to even show the potential to dominant the gaming landscape; Facebook and other browser games brought us diversions from our everyday lives in short bursts; and PC gaming is starting to rise from the ashes and take a foot hold again as it always does as each console cycle wanes on.

If you wanted FPS games — well we had a ton of those as per status quo, but the platformer returned in a big way also.  The fighting game revival continued to pick up steam and 2011 looks to be home for potentially six of the most hotly anticipated fighting games ever (KoF13, Mortal Kombat 9, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Street Fighter X Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Arcana Hearts 3 if you needed to know.) If you liked puzzle games — we had those by the boat load. If you liked RTS games — this may have been a year never to forget. True, RPGs were a bit hard to find but only if you didn’t know where to look. Shmups? Yeah 2010 had them, as well as visual novels, a genre that is quickly becoming one of my favorites. And all the other genres — we saw amazing, quality entries in all of them.

2010 had something for everyone across all genres and platforms and when you try to keep genre bias out of it as much as possible is it really possible to say one great game in one genre is theoretically better than a great game in another genre? As I said, it is possible to just ignore it and keep going — it’s just a list — but when you start trying to shift every genre in front of each other it just gets insane.  Just maybe 2010 was the greatest year in gaming history — it has a lot of tough rivals out there but the variety and depth in variety found in 2010 is just mind boggling.

WITHOUT FURTHER ADO

NUMBER 20. DIGITAL: A LOVE STORY (PC, FREEWARE)

A late contender for my list, Digital: A Love Story by Christina Love came out apparently in February but I didn’t hear about it until Giantbomb had Paul Barnett on their podcast for his games of the year. I quickly downloaded it (Barnett said it couple be completed in 8 minutes….I believe he meant two hours) and ran through it.It’s another visual novel so if it’s not your cup of tea, I don’t blame you, but two hours — what do you have to lose? You can’t even grind out a single level in an hour of WoW.

The game is set “five minutes into the future of 1988” and it’s told through the old Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) that would later evolve into the World Wide Web we know today. I vaguely remember BBSs growing up so I’m worried anybody younger than me might not get the same warm, nostalgic feeling of the interface or the crackling of the dial-up modem each time you log into a new BBS.

The story is told by reading and replying to posts on these BBS. Sadly you don’t get to choose your ‘reply’ beyond just hitting reply but it allows for more control and structure to the story obviously. But as you read and reply to these message boards the mystery of the story starts to unfold. Part of the twist sort of comes out of left field but one BBS and its posts actually at least grounds the twist.I don’t feel the main line story is all that intriguing (although hacking into APRANET is amazing) but the way it’s told it’s unique and totally only something a video game could do (and while mimicking a shell that is wholly unique to computers) and that’s what I absolutely want to see from a Games of a Year list — something that’s original and helps push the medium forward.

 Could this type of story telling be done in a Triple-A title? Definitely not, although it is slightly similar to the non-intrusive story telling you find in Bioshock’s audiologs or the appendices of Final Fantasy XII, where all the interesting back story is told by completely optional means. I think I’m one of the few that loved FFXII but only because I spent the hours and hours reading the information on Ivalice in the game. Still making an entire retail game out of that isn’t going to work.I kind of wish there then was more superfluous entries. You’ll see some BBS posts that are satire of internet culture and of the time period, posts that are completely irrelevant to the narrative impetus but they help ground you in the world of Digital and make it feel more alive. If we could have seen more posts that were just solely flavor I would have been all over that. Still I’m very impressed on how well the structure was able to work.I’m a real stickler on video game stories — 99.9% of them just aren’t up to snuff — but in a year where everyone’s mind was blown by the clusterfuck that was Heavy Rain, it’s a bit of a shame games like this are completely overlooked by 99.9% of the population.

As a movie, Heavy Rain would be awful D-list fare — and it attempts to be a movie more than a game. I’m not going to say Digital: A Love Story tells a fantastic story but at least it tells a solid, competent and heartful story that could only be done in the contexts of interactive fiction.Oh and the music, wouldn’t imagine it, but it’s amazing. Ms. Love, thanks for the experience and I’d be willing to pay you for the soundtrack. I finally found your website but there’s no donation button? What’s up with that?Digital: A Love Story can be downloaded here

NUMBER 19. PROFESSOR LAYTON AND THE UNWOUND FUTURE (DS)

Two years ago I was able to put the first Professor Layton (and the Curious Village) on my top games of the year list. Last year’s entry, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, got the short end of the stick because it didn’t change up much of the formula. Yeah it was one of the best games of the year but with so few spots on an arbitrary list I’d rather use a spot on a game that did something new. I do sort of regret that decision as Diabolical Box’s narrative did something very few video game narratives have done and brought me to tears.

I’ve decided to remedy that mistake and geek the hell out about Layton’s third adventure:

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMOMGOMGOMGOMG

Professor Layton is amazing and if there was one video game characters I could hang out with and go on adventures solving puzzles with it would be the Professor and his apprentice Luke. And guess what — that’s the strength video games have. I can go on a grand adventure and solve puzzles with the Professor and Luke and I’m an active participant in that adventure even if the story is linear (ooh, there’s that evil word again) and the puzzles usually have little connection to the actual plot.

The improvements Level-5 made to Unwound Future are small and subtle but make a huge difference and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for us with the next three Layton games: the Specter’s Flute, the Mask of Miracle and the Towering Silence. Honestly one of my early 2011 ideas for a blog post is why Professor Layton is prehaps the greatest video game series ever created. I’m confident I can back that up.

NUMBER 18. THE MISADVENTURES OF PB WINTERBOTTOM (XBLA, PC)

I think I’ve made it clear that I despise Braid.  PB Winterbottom is what Braid should have been — you know, a game and not a bunch of pretentious crap for the sake of being a douchebag.  

The object of the game is to collect pies and you do so by making clones of PB that will repeat whatever action you recorded.  The puzzles are fun and interesting and I love the silent-talkie film aesthetic which felt a lot cooler and stylistic than Limbo’s “hey, let’s make everything silohetted. That’s be artistic!”

It was on steam for a whole 50 cents over the Holiday break so if you missed out of it you really ought to kick yourself.

NUMBER 17. GOD OF WAR 3 (PS3)

I believe this is the lowest the Playstation 3 has clocked in on my list since the PS3’s freshman year (which really only included a single month) and there will be no three-peat with Sony’s black box taking home the top slot the previous two years.

Sure God of War 3 is more God of War but everything is ramped up to the Nth degree for the series debut on the PS3.  The Cestus and other new weapons expands and prefects the combat — which was fairly fantastic the last time out to be honest.  The brutality is off the chain too as all I have to mention is Poseidon, Zeus and Helios and anyone who’s played God of War 3 will cringe.  And the set-pieces also have gone through the roof — YOU’RE RIDING ON THE BACK OF A FUCKING TITAN TO OPEN THE GODDAMN GAME!  HOLY FUCKING SHIT THAT’S AMAZING! WHERE’S MY FUCKING UNICORN THIS SHIT IS AWESOME! God of War has always known how to put its best foot forward to start off its games and hook you.

I’m a little grumpy about the post ending, I’m really in the camp that says Kratos needed to die for the sake of the narrative but I’ve come to gripes with it.  Maybe he deserves to retire peacefully to some deserted island.  Though knowing what we know about Kratos, he’ll never have peace until he’s dead so I can only imagine it means another game is coming.  Is it a bad thing? No but God of War 3 is epic enough that I’ve had my fill for a while.  Playstation 4 launch title? Now I’d be up for that.

NUMBER 16. YS SEVEN and YS: THE OATH IN FELGHANA (PSP)

At 15 we get a two-for as I think both games are pretty much the same as they both came out in the West in 2010 and Ys Seven builds so strongly off of Felghana’s work five years previous.

I know why the PSP hasn’t done well over in America but while no one was looking over the past two years it has built up a fairly impressive library.  There are some flat-out fantastic games on Sony’s little portable that couldn’t and while the Japanese get it (it was the highest selling platform in 2010 there, thanks to Monster Hunter Freedom obviously) I really wish some of that enthusiasm would leak into the US market. Sony really needs to fix up this hardware because the software library holds its own.  More than likely Sony will make the same stupid mistakes with the PSP2 but we can hope (and pretend) they learned from their stupidity and be excited for the handheld.

Both Ys Seven and Oath in Felghana (a remake of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys) came out in America over the past calendar year although Oath is five years older.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Ys III but it’s admittedly a horrible game that attempted to riff off of Zelda 2 and failed miserably. They pitch that out the window and use the game engine from Ark of Napishtim, which I’ve admittedly not played.  The engine works and the experience is a much faster pace and a complete blast to play.

Ys Seven builds off of the same engine and was built specifically for the PSP in mind and introduces dodging and being able to control multiple party members.  Ys Seven may (I’d have to deliberate on it further) hold two very nice RPG distinctions for me.  It may be the fastest pace combat I’ve ever seen in an RPG and it might have the coolest/best boss battles.  I really looked forward to what the game was going to throw at me next.

The only down side to Ys Seven is JESUS THEY NEVER SHUT UP and the dialog is so poorly written that you almost hate your party members for being the dumbest people you’ve ever encountered.  Hey you think she’s the princess? Nah! I NEVER thought I would hate Dogi in a million years but Ys Seven I came very close.  I don’t mind reading — I mean I do have two visual novels on this list — but when the game begins to almost insult your intelligence with its pathetic writing that’s where I start to have beef.  It’s a shame because good God the combat is so much fun.

Oath in Felghana is slightly older and doesn’t feature multiple characters or the dodging during combat but I almost enjoyed it more as very little dialog got in the way and I was prehaps more familiar with the story playing Ys III dozens of times. Though come to think of it each Ys game pretty much is the same thing over again.

NUMBER 15. ENSLAVED: JOURNEY TO THE WEST (360, PS3)

The caveat here is Enslaved is one of those games I’ve yet to finish or even get too far into thanks to so many games I’ve been playing lately.  But Enslaved is one of those games that I can see really moving higher and higher up my list the closer and closer I come to the end of it.  Although I hear the ending is totally weird to a fault.

Enslaved does a tremendous job putting forth one of the best character driven narratives of the year (although it falls short of being the best in that category) through tremendous motion-capture and voice acting work.  The extra care and work (and Andy Serkis) they put into those aspects really helps to connect you to those characters and while they’re not terribly interesting or unique characters they’re certainly endearing enough to be memorable. 

The combat is surprisingly deep and fun for how simplistic it is.  I was worried after completing the demo that would be it but thankfully the combat really does get better.

Also I’ve noticed I’m  starting to become a sucker for parkour games — Prince of Persia 2008, The Saboteur, Assassin’s Creed — I find myself hopelessly addicted to games that involve a lot of climbing on shit by just holding the left stick in the right direction. 

NUMBER 14. GREED CORPS (XBLA, PSN, PC STEAM)

I’ve been championing Greed Corps the game came out and no one listened.  It’s a great little four player ‘board game’ that takes about 20 minutes a match as you attempt to harvest as much of the map as you possibly can while trying to avoid having the land collapse along with you. I talked about it at slightly more length in a previous blog post. Seeing as I haven’t posted much this year, it’s probably not hard to find.

NUMBER 13. BIOSHOCK 2 (360, PS3)

I know, I know — BIOSHOCK 2 DIDNT NEED TO HAPPEN!! It seemed like Bioshock 2 was damned by gamers before it even came out. How dare they make a sequel to the beloved Bioshock, which story was deemed very much “complete.” Well they did so by just doing another self-contained story set in the same atmosphere of Rapture. And guess what — it was as good, if not better than the original.

Sure it comes off as odd that we had never heard of Sophia Lamb or some of the other new important characters but alright — yeah it felt like a retcon because IT WAS. Here’s my advice to gamers when it comes to games — games are a lot more enjoyable when you stop being a douchebag and start looking at a game for what it is and not for what it isn’t. OH MY GOD FINAL FANTASY 13 ISN’T AN OPEN WORLD!!!! Well it was never intended to be. HALF LIFE 2 IS LINEAR — Well duh, that’s how one tells a story experience — IN ORDER.

Just forget what YOU think Bioshock 2 should be or forget you even believe there should never have been a sequel to Bioshock and look at the game for what it is and hey, imagine that — an enjoyable experience with better weapons, more diverse combat, better choices, a better story and probably one of the most bad-ass video game characters ever — Eleanor Lamb. And let’s face it — the Gathering sequences may just be some of the most intense gaming moments of 2010 on the highest difficulty.

Give Bioshock 2 a chance. It’s about $20 now and even the DLC Minerva’s Den is worth the download as another self-contained, fantastic story. Can’t speak for the multiplayer though — I never did try it.

NUMBER 12. DESKTOP DUNGEONS (PC, FREE WARE)

Pretty much all of us gamers that grew up in the NES era are finding themselves lamenting the lack of time they have for games now that family, work and other commitments have encroached upon our gaming time. As I said with  Etrian Odyssey 3 I love my dungeon crawlers. I think Rogue is the most brilliant thing ever done with a computer (well other than Half-Life 2 and the internet) but sometimes I don’t have time to tackle massive randomly generated dungeons. Thankfully the guys at QCFDesign have answered my prayers and designed Desktop Dungeons.

At the start you pick your race, your class and what type of dungeon challenge you want to tackle and you’re plopped right down in the middle of a generated dungeon that’s no more than a window. Combat is handled fairly simply — you run into a creature until it dies — or you die first. You have health and mana potions, although both magic and HP are recovered by exploring unexplored portions of the dungeons. Some enemies can cause status effects like poison (which stops you from regaining health while exploring) or mana burn (the same but for magic) and you can even find alters to gods you can pray too. Each god will bestow your crawler with bonuses (as long as your pious to them) but also come with strong drawbacks.

With 7 different races, 18 classes, and 8 dungeon types there’s a lot of surprising depth but here’s the greatest part — dungeons take no longer than 10 to 20 minutes to complete. Sure, a lot of times you’ll be finding yourself in a unwinable scenario but that comes with the random generated territory.Though the funny part of Desktop Dungeons is while it’s genius and strength is in its ability to be played in less than 20 minutes, I’ve routinely lost 5 or 6 hours playing this. I almost always have it on in a background window while I’m doing something. In fact I’m attempting to finish the Snake Pit with a Blood Mage as we speak….I’ll be back in ten minutes for our next entry.

Desktop Dungeons can be found here…for free. http://www.qcfdesign.com/?cat=20

NUMBER 11. SIN AND PUNISHMENT: STAR SUCCESSOR (WII)

Yep, the best Wii game was a Nintendo property this year but sorry Mario and Kirby you’re playing second fiddle to Treasure’s on-rails shooter Sin and Punishment 2. Honestly I don’t think there was a single game released in 2010 that had more care, love and attention poured into it than this one. If I had to do a top-10 list, Star Successor is a hands down top 5 release.

Granted on-rails shooters are expensive to make and thus you’re starting to see them less and less, and it doesn’t help that anything that’s not an open-world game finds itself with the unwanted criticism of douchebags on internet message boards claiming that it’s too linear and therefore inferior to even dog shit in terms of playablity. But I guess they don’t realize these experience are more difficult to program and balance. Every little piece of the game is precisely calculated and designed to challenge and engage the player. The camera effects S&P2 uses are amazing and God I wish Michael Patcher was right for once and Wii HD would happen.

The original S&P holds a huge place in the hearts of importers as it was fully localized into English before it was decided not to release it out over in America. Its release on the Wii Virtual Console was reason to celebrate but damn if that game wasn’t made specifically for the awful N64 controller.  Playing it with a Gamecube or Classic controller just didn’t do the brilliance of that game justice.  I’m glad to see the franchise get another release and here’s to hoping another one isn’t far off.

Anyone who wants to say Japanese game development is dead and is no longer producing innovative, thrilling experiences needs to shut the hell up and pick up their Wii remote and Star Successor.

NUMBER 10. RECETTEAR: AN ITEM SHOP’S TALE (PC STEAM)

Probably the most fundamentally flawed game in the top 10 but it’s charm and art carries it a long way for me. It’s quite a unique tale as you’re not playing the handsome hero charged since birth to save the world. No, you play as the item shop keeper who has to stock all those wares that allow the heroes of the world to go on doing what they’re doing. You play as the titular Recette who’s inherited all of her lousy adventurer father’s debt and is forced into running an item shop for the dungeon faring town.  She’s accompanied by/spurred on by an advisor/faery named Tear.

You have only a few customers each day who come into your shop either trying to buy an item you may or may not have or they’re trying to sell an item to you.  You get two chances to make an offer to the customer to see if they accept it.  The value of the item is displayed on the screen (although I wish sometimes this wasn’t the case forcing you to guess at its actual value) so you have a general starting place.  If the customer doesn’t like your second offer you lose the sale, and as you only get a limited amount of customers a day these become huge risk-reward situations in guessing how high or low your costumer will go. 

Buying and selling low is only part of the it as the item shop is pretty much just the wrapping around a dungeon crawler for the obbessed complused.  The combat might not be the best but it’s fairly addictive nevertheless and later enemies start to require more strategy and skill than just whacking them — in fact some of the boss fights are just marvelous. Still once the loot you procure in the dungeon far outweighs anything a lone adventurer brings into your shop to sell, the illusion and premise of the game sort of breaks apart. Yet then again, the solo task of running just an item shop by itself would have worn thin much quicker.

If you don’t pay off the debt by Day 29 don’t worry — it’s kind of like New Game+ or hell Dead Rising 2 — the game just loops back to day one with a lot of things intact for you.  Though once you do pay off the entirety of the debt so much more  of the game opens up.  It’s simply enormous for only $20.

I almost disqualified this title as it did not originally come out in 2010 but seeing as 2010 was the first time it was available to the West in English I’ll let it slide this time — although man it leaves the door open for Dragon Quest V, but no — I’m only making one exception and it’s for Recettear. CAPITALISM, HO!

NUMBER 9. DARKSIDERS (PS3, 360, PC)

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about Darksiders as it seemed to picked up steam over the course of the year and people finally acknowledged it but let’s face it — Darksiders is a message to Nintendo that you better get your shit together because someone just did Zelda better than you. Darksiders got a lot of shit for ‘stealing from other games’ but honestly, game design is entirely an iterative process. Whatever you do is built upon that which became before you. Shouldn’t we then be lauding the Darksiders team for being able to tie so many small things together into such a tight package? The amount of times development teams have tried to combine elements from different games and failed miserably numbers up in the incomprehensible. It’s pure madness.

Let’s give Darksiders credit — it’s a damn good, solid game; what more did you want?

Also if you’re getting tired of post-apocalyptic worlds then well this one says fuck all that and brings on the actual real apocalypse.   Now only if we can get the well hinted at sequel before December 2012. If Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword isn’t just as good as Darksiders then sorry Nintendo I’m done with the Zelda franchise until you decide to get your shit together. Between Darksiders and 3D Dot Game Heroes I really have no need for Link.  Deep down that makes me sad but you at least attempt to innovate with Mario, Metroid and Kirby — why give Link and Zelda the short end of the stick since Majora’s Mask?

NUMBER 8. BAYONETTA (360)

Some people in my gaming circle have asked me why it’s a bad thing that the Japanese gaming industry is falling apart at a rapid rate.  Sin and Punishment 2 is one good reason and Bayonetta is another. The Japanese, for whatever reason are all batshit insane. Even look at Shigeru Miyamoto — does he not look a little “off?”  Kenji Inafune this year proved he’s about as crazy as they come. And we know from Bayonetta that Shinji Mikami, Hideki Kamiya and the guys at Platinum Games are driving the crazy train — but luckily for them crazy makes some of the best shooters (of the third person kind) on the market.

I LOVE — LOVE — Devil May Cry. I’m sure the first game has not age well at all but I don’t care, I still hold it on a pedestal.  I loved DMC3 and I thought DMC4 was very good and I liked Nero a lot, enough to be sad about the upcoming reboot.  But not that sad because I’m pumped for the reboot — Ninja Theory (the guys behind Heavenly Sword, which I loved, and the aforementioned Enslaved) and Dante? It couldn’t get any better.  I even make excuses and “tolerate” DMC2 — so I’m a fan.

I LOVE Platinum Games.  I’m not sure if they really “get” what Western audiences want or if they “get” it on such a level the human brain can’t comprehend.  Because you look at their games — MadWorld, Bayonetta, Vanquish and to a smaller degree Infinite Space — and they’re all so over the top and seemingly trying to produce a Japanese version of what the West wants that it almost comes off a pathetic attempt — like white kids attempting to be thuggish black kids — it’s just painful. But then something with it just clicks and some how it elevates to parody and then finally to pastiche in your mind.

Bayonetta is about a sexy woman in glasses dressed up in a suit that looks like leather but is made out of her own hair, who kills angels with a gun in each hand….and a gun in each heel.  It’s just bat shit insane and it keeps getting weirder and weirder after the initial graveyard sequence and going up even into space. I’d love to explain the plot or at least the narrative set up but I’m not even sure I could attempt doing so. I have a vague idea about what went on in that plot but as I attempt to type it out I just feel dirty.  It’s cliché but Bayonetta is just one of those experiences that has to be experienced, mere mortal words cannot do it justice.

There’s a button to make Bayonetta pose….in sexy ways. Let’s not mistake what the target audience here is.  I know some feminists have attempted to equate Bayonetta to female empowerment and what not but you’re wrong — there’s nothing philosophical about  Bayonetta beyond guys just like leather and T ‘n A. I love the character but the fact that she’s showing up on some ‘best characters of 2010’ list is an outright joke.  Every time I think the industry is making a step forward (see Mass Effect 2’s Miranda, Samara and Tali) it still shows how very deeply rooted it is in adolescent fetishes.  Again — not taking away from what is a brilliant action game, but it just irks me to see Bayonetta talked up as some great character when she’s prehaps one of the most shallow of 2010.

NUMBER 7. 9 9 9: 9 HOURS, 9 PERSONS, 9 DOORS (DS)

 Where do I even begin? This might be my favorite experience game of the year and it happened to be the last game I played and completed of the year. And not just completed but completed four times in three days and I still need two more endings. I’ve been addicted to this game since Christmas night.The way I’ve tried to sell people on it is it’s a visual novel version of Saw.

You snap awake from the sound of an explosion to find yourself in a locked room. There’s a blood red ‘5’ emblazoned across the door with a keycard reader to the right of the door. You have a watch attached to your wrist with a digital read out of ‘5.’ Unfortunately you don’t have too much time to figure things out right now as the explosion has shattered the window — and you realize you must be on a oceanliner as now gallons and gallons of water is now pushing itself through the open window. Time to escape.

Upon escaping you find out you’re one of nine people who have been abducted by a person identifying himself only as Zero. The nine of you have nine hours to find the exit hidden behind the door labeled with 9. Each of the nine doors on the ship can only be opened by groups of no less than 3 but no more than 5 determined by the combined digital root of the bracelets of the group. Break the rules of this Nonary Game and the offender’s bracelet sets off the bomb Zero placed in each participant’s stomach.

Why were they each abducted? Who is Zero? Is Zero amongst them? With only one 9-door is it even possible for everyone to get off the ship alive? You know the drill in these types of stories but suffice to say there are a couple of surprises along the way and a couple turns that I didn’t expect or see coming. As you dig deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the Nonary Game and the ocean liner that may become your coffin in 9 hours the story just keeps branching out. Obviously nothing is a coincidence and by mistaken.

The meat of the action comes from the locked room puzzles which play out as self-contained adventure games. You have a locked door and a room or two and everything you need to open that door Zero has kindly provided you within the confines of that space. You just have to find it by solving puzzles and combining items. All the puzzles are logical (no rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle found here) and really never come off frustrating. As long as you have half a brain and are awake you should be able to come up with the answer in a respectable amount of time.

Bridging the locked room sections are the story portions of the game which play out visual novel form. Be prepared to read a lot as there’s quite a bit of text in some sections but it’s all compelling and worth taking the time to explore. 999 does at least a very strong job in breaking up the walls of text with visual portions on the screen and you are allowed to fast forward any text you have read/seen in a previous play through so you’re not bogged down with having to read one early section that takes nearly a half hour again.

The story does sort of get a bit too weird for some tastes — at times I almost wish it completely ditched the elaborate back story behind the Nonary Game and concentrated more on the intense feeling of just escaping the situation but what we get is pretty damn good. This might be the best visual novel I’ve ever played — granted we don’t quite get as many as Japan where the genre is about as common place as action games. I implore anyone with a DS to track down a copy — hell I may just be willing to lend it out as the price in the secondary market is starting to skyrocket now that it sold out over Christmas. I believe in the game that much.

NUMBER 6. NUMBER 5. SUPER MEAT BOY (XBLA, PC STEAM)

Only in video games can a cube of meat be considered cute

I don’t say this often but if you don’t like Super Meat Boy then you’re an idiot. No other game released this year completely embodies what a game should be at its core. This is a gamer’s game and it’s brilliant. You also won’t find slicker controls or more tightly designed levels than you will in SMB. Yeah the game is difficult (prehaps too difficult) but if you mess up a jump and die you have nobody to blame but yourself — the controls are that precise. This is the 2D platformer fine tuned about as far as it can get. And all this done by just two dudes. The indie scene never ceases to amaze me.

God it’s brutally hard at times but the short length of each level and the fact that death just means starting back at the beginning immediately I’ve never really thought of the game as frustrating. Now some of those Dark World levels I start-up, take one look at and go “oh fuck this” and immediately back out and return to the Light World levels, but I’ve never got so frustrated that I’ve had to chuck my controller across the room.

It’s like a bad relationship where you know you should get out but you love him — as you dab the ice-bag against your battered and swollen eye one more time and use a tissue to soak up the blood coming out of your lip.  Yeah, Meat Boy you’re a bastard but I love you so much.

NUMBER 5. METAL GEAR SOLID: PEACE WALKER (PSP)

At one point or another in the past month I’ve had each of the top six games at the number one spot.  I really have never seen a year where six games could have easily been the favorite.  Usually it’s just one game that stands heads above the rest or at the most two. And how weird is it that a PSP title very much was in the running for my game of the year?  Obviously it didn’t finish ahead of the fourth spot where Half-Minute Hero placed last year but did I ever once think of putting HMH at one? Never.

There are tons of good stuff on the PSP, it’s a shame Sony’s dropped the ball with it in America. And it’s not for a lacking for trying because well Peace Walker is the best Metal Gear game to date.  Yeah, they put the best game of one of their flagship series (yes I know Snake started on the MSX and has appeared on the 360 and the Wii and is coming to 3DS but when you think of Snake you think of the Playstation brand now) on their tiny system that no one in America bought.

Yeah, I said it — Peace Walker is the single best Metal Gear Solid game out there. It’s funny the game that has the least of Hideo Kojima’s bullshit (remember all Japanese are insane) and the least talking heads comes out as the best game. Hmmm who would have known? Something tells me they won’t learn their lesson and the upcoming MGS Rising and (you know it’s happening) MGS5 will go back to not shutting the hell up.

For the most part when it comes to a Metal Gear game you play it once, beat it and your done with it. Your head hurts but you’re done with it. You can play the higher difficulty levels and unlock some of the cheats but usually the rewards you get aren’t exactly worth it — you’ve beaten the game already. Peace Walker’s story mode can be finished in under 20 hours easily.  With 100 extra missions and the whole army/Outer Heaven building aspect it’s hard to put Peace Walker down hours and hours after that. It’s easily the biggest Metal Gear game also.

It’s easily the most straight forward in terms of story.  After the events of Snake Eater and Portable Ops, a shaken Snake leaves the United States and forms Militaires Sans Frontieres, a militia organization of mercenaries. It doesn’t take long before a professor and a girl are knocking at Snake’s door with an offer.  The CIA has invaded Costa Rica, who is without a military, thus they want the MSF to become Costa Rica’s protectors.  Snake laughs at their offer but the Professor plays a tape that supposedly proves the Boss is still alive.  Finding Boss is the driving motivation for Snake, none of this Patriots shit or who’s related to who.  You have a jaded and hurt Snake who had to kill the woman he loved for his country…and now she’s alive somehow.  And he obviously has a lot of questions for her.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Metal Gear game without Metal Gear and the threat of a nuclear warhead but that’s all secondary to Snake’s search for the Boss. Once those two missions are out of the way Snake’s job is then to build the MSF that will later become Outer Heaven.  As addictive as it is don’t be surprised if you dump twice as many hours into that than you did on the main story.

The biggest and best Metal Gear game and yet Sony doomed it to only have been played by only the most dedicated of the series fanbase. How about we rectify that with a slightly up-res’d PSN release that can be played on the PS3 and all for $20?

NUMBER 4. VANQUISH (PS3, 360)

It’s a little cheese ball and it’s cringe-worthy that this is how the Japanese generally view the West and their tastes but much like Platinum Games other major release this year in Bayonetta they find a way to go beyond satire and deliver us something incredibly fresh and original.  You’d be surprised how satisfying and useful the rocket slide is not only in offensive situations but defense ones as well.

I’ll just get this out of the way though — Vanquish is the single best 3rd person shooter of 2010 and maybe one of the best action games of all-time.  Yeah a lot of people poo-poo’d on it for only being four to six hours but would you rather four to six hours of complete awesomeness or would you rather them padded the game out to twelve hours and made itself repetitious and redundant?  Every single review of Vanquish seemed to take points off for the game’s length and that seems to be one of my major gripes this generation (and even going back into the sixth generation as well) that people seem to think every experience needs to be the same. Every experience needs to be open world or needs to occupy X-number of hours to be worth it’s price tag or value. That’s why so many goddamn games are put out in a year — so we can get a variety of experiences, not every experience has to be like the other ones.  Why can’t a solid five hour game stand on its own if it’s just damn amazing?

If you like arcade type shooters then why haven’t you tried Vanquish yet?  Considered where I put Sin and Punishment 2 on this list and my great affinity towards The Club, released earlier this generation, and my love for Mikami’s work it’s no real surprise that Vanquish finished as high up on my list as it did.

NUMBER 3. ASSASSIN’S CREED: BROTHERHOOD (PS3, 360)

Up until a month or two before it’s release Ubisoft was touting this release as a multiplayer expansion to the franchise and not much was said of the single player campaign up until even the release of the game.  Little did gamers know there was a full scale single player campaign inside Brotherhood and while slightly on the short side it not only offered up some interesting new gameplay additions and a nice variety of missions, but a story that’s almost integral to the continuation of the franchise.  The ending of Brotherhood is not just something they can breeze over in a typical “previously in” cut scene prior to the opening of Assassin’s Creed 3 or Lost Legacy or whatever is the next chapter in the franchise.  I just find it odd that more wasn’t made of the single player campaign as it’s their best yet and so important.

Though I guess one reason would be because that multiplayer is damn addictive. I’m not a huge multiplayer fan in general but I spent a good number of hours playing Wanted matches until I even decided to take a look at the single player stuff. Ubisoft really needs to be given their due props. Everyone was skeptical that they could make multiplayer work around the main tenants of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and yet not only were they able to do so they were able to do within the framework of their existing game mechanics as well as work it into the fiction and storyline.  It’s not just a mode separate from the single player but it sews itself into the fiction alongside the Facebook game, Project Legacy, released a few months back.  The Templars are building an army and they’re going to come to fight. It’s not subtle but you don’t realize at first how much shit is about to hit the fan. 

For a series that started off so poorly (I absolutely loathe the first game despite suffering through it start to finish twice and even collecting all those stupid flags once) it’s just shocking on how much they’ve managed to improve the series in just two more entries. Both AC2 and Brotherhood have their fair number of flaws, technical or otherwise, but they’ve managed to both be engrossing and fun while spinning a historical conspiracy thriller that is open to go to any location and to any time period it so chooses.  Thanks to both of these games I can’t stop thinking about Assassin’s Creed and I can’t stop playing Assassin’s Creed.

NUMBER 2.  AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT

So amazing I’ve gone back to play through the Penumbra games — also thanks Humble Indie Bundle for that.

A survival horror, adventure game in the first person perspective, your character (Daniel) wakes up in the halls of Brennenburg Castle with no memory beyond he knows something is chasing him. As expected the back story and plot are told by finding diary entries and notes scattered around the castle. Two of the earliest notes are amongst the most chilling and serve as the impetus of the narrative — one reveals Daniel purposefully made himself forget; the other instructs him to travel deep within the castle and murder the baron of the castle, Alexander.

Sorry but Amensia chews up and spits out anything ‘survival horror king’ Resident Evil has ever attempted. This is legitly the scariest game made to date.  The game is strongly influenced by HP Lovecraft and it makes no apologies for it as it tends to deal with one’s sanity more than common ‘bump-in-the-night’ frights.  In fact ‘sanity’ replaces ‘health’ in the game-sense.  Sanity drops in one of three cases — seeing unexplainable events; staring at enemies; and being in the dark.  Once Daniel’s sanity tanks he become difficult to control and he begins to have visual and auditory hallucinations.  They’re fantastic effects but I do suppose Eternal Darkness did some more mindfuck stuff with its sanity meter. Still it does tension like so few games are able to do and a lot of it is in thanks to some stupendous pacing. I tend to think the term “immersion” is a stupid over-used buzzword but Amnesia really was able to suck me in.

The first time you see the beast it’s only for a fleeting moment as it passes by a door.  Knowing that Daniel is unable to protect himself, it’s one of the most tense moments I’ve ever felt in a game as I went through my head every single escape route out of that room just in case.  It’s not often that I forget that I’m playing a game and actually worried that much about my digital surroundings, but Amnesia was able to do it almost throughout the entire playthrough.

NUMBER 1. MASS EFFECT 2 (PS3, 360, PC)

What is there left to say about Mass Effect 2 that hasn’t been said already?  Yeah it’s only a competent shooter but honestly the only thing that didn’t take one massive leap forward in this sequel was the soundtrack quality.  Everything else makes Mass Effect and ME2 like night and day.  Easily the biggest leap from the first entry in a series to the second, edging out even Assassin’s Creed 2. Even the only remotely intriguing thing about the first entry was completely toppled by ME2 — the characters.

What’s strange is when you look at Mass Effect 2 it’s only a competent to above-average shooter.  The narrative and story aren’t particularly intriguing.  The final boss is a huge let down as well as a “Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot were they thinking?” moment. And I still think Alpha Protocol and Bioware’s own Dragon Age: Origins handled morality and choices better.  Yet some how Mass Effect 2 is more than the whole sum of its parts.  Some how Mass Effect 2 works so well that people have sunk the 30-40 hours into the game multiple times.

They lay the Dirty Dozen vibe on a little thick but I’ll be damn if it doesn’t work and it only works because the characters are damn intriguing.  There’s not one character in the group that I didn’t desire to figure out more about — and I wasn’t alone as evidenced by the amount of people who slapped down the money for the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC.  The content in the DLC wasn’t particularly interesting or strong but the chance to pour over the Shadow Broker’s dossiers on each of the characters was enticing enough to slog through the missions.

While the loyalty missions were completely optional you’d almost be an idiot to skip any of them as they provided the best writing and content found in Mass Effect 2. While I still believe video games have a long way to go in providing interesting and worthwhile moral choices, Mordin Solus and Thane Krios really show how far the medium has come in not only in regards to morality but depth of characters. 

For what started out as somewhere between a riff and a blatant rip-off of both Star Trek and Star Wars (you can feel the influence of KotOR dripping off of the series) has miraculously turned into one of the most fully realized sci-fi fantasy worlds out there.  I may not have gotten what I wanted out of the series at first — a legit successor to the Star Control series — but I’m pretty happy with what we wound up with. After all I’m saying it’s the game of 2010. Though let’s not kid ourselves, I think a lot of Mass Effect 2’s legacy will depend on how Mass Effect 3 turns out.  I’m one of the millions that cannot wait.

AND NOW THE HONORABLE MENTIONS (In no order beyond as I think of them)

Alpha Protocol, Chime, Death is Sleep, Final Fantasy XIII, Dragon Quest IX, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Miner Dig Deep, Protect Me Knight, Shoot 1-Up, Shoot First, Hydorah, Dance Central, Kinectimals, Etrian Odyssey 3, Majin and the Foresaken Kingdom, Split-Second, Gran Turismo 5, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo: Reach, MAG, Heavy Rain, Yakuza 3, Metro 2033, Resonance of Fate, Truama Team, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light, Valkyria Chronicles 2, RUSE, Civ 5, Starcraft 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Toy Story 3, Chu’s Dynasty, Limbo, Deathspank, NBA 2k11, Tidalis, Ancient Trader, Din’s Curse, Infinity Blade, Fruit Ninja, Game Dev Story

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01/08/2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 Games I’m Looking Forward to in Quarter 2

This will be supplemental to yesterday’s post, as I want to also look ahead to April, May and June, or the second quarter.  The releases kind of slow down but I could easily have made a top ten list here and maybe even stretched it into a top twenty.  April kind of slows slightly but there’s still plenty of amazing stuff coming out.

As side notes, I’ll also be looking at games that have confirmed launch dates for retail. It generally takes about 8 to 12 weeks to press a disc for retail and if you still don’t have a concrete date for your release at this point then you’re probably waiting for the holiday season.  However, this doesn’t apply to XBLA, PSN and WiiWare so there’s a few downloadable titles that I took under consideration although in the end none of them made the list (mainly Super Meat Boy sounds like it will be Q3 afterall.)

5. FLIP’S TWISTED WORLD for Nintendo Wii

Flip

It may have a stupid name for the “stupid kid” console which means it will die at retail but it has music by Tommy Talarico (Shiny Earthworm Jim fame) and it seems very much influenced by Super Mario Galaxy….who’s sequel comes out only a few weeks after Twisted World and will continue the burial. Kids do you want Flip’s Twisted World or Mario?  Yeah, this is so going to die.  Good news is you’ll hopefully find a $20 copy come September.

Flip’s a little magician apprentice who gets bored one day and mucks with things he shouldn’t and gets sucked into this prism with a whole bunch of monsters. Standard fair until you realize the chief mechanic revolves around twisted the world around Flip to get from point A to B. By pressing the Wii’s B trigger underneath the remote you’ll be able to rotate the world around Flip and in the process bottomless pits you couldn’t cross only seconds ago are now pathways; odd looking floating platforms are now accessible and your new ticket out of the level. But yeah, watch out for gravity — Flip can still go splat so make sure there will be something underneath him before you rotate.

It’s very much like the indie game And Yet It Moves which I suggest you check out.  There’s also a Swedish (I think) browser game similar to it but I may just be making that up as Google isn’t turning up anything.  Most people will probably go get Mario Galaxy 2 in May, but if you see Flip and you’ve got some money throw it Majesco’s way — it looks like an entertaining and interesting platformer.  And hell, go throw the guys who made And Yet It Moves $10 for their game. 

4. RED DEAD DEPEMPTION on the Playstation 3, X-Box 360

If this gets delayed I wouldn’t be shocked. Seems like we’ve been waiting for Rock Star’s GTA-in-the-wild-west game forever. I’m not the biggest fan of the open-world genre.  Usually if you give me way too much to do at the same time I get overwhelmed and don’t do any of it.  Also there’s too many opportunities to attempt to break the game and the game’s narrative. Open-world games walk a tricky tightrope always and they tend to fail more than they succeed.

We’ll see how Just Cause 2 does.  I didn’t want to put it on yesterday’s list as I’ve only played the demo and I’m slightly worried about how long the grappling hook gimmick can actually hold my attention, but man if it ever got me excited the first couple times I did it.  Red Dead redemption unfortunately doesn’t have a grappling hook but the Wild West could prove to be a better hook for me. There hasn’t been enough games set in the West. Sunset Riders, Call of Juarez and uhm….yeah. Lead and Gold comes out April 8th. There’s a handful of others including this game’s predecessor and a PC game I’m blanking on that I really really really liked.

This is kind of a game I’ve been dreaming of for a long time now.  I’ve always wanted to be a gunslinger in the lawless west, shootouts, exploring for gold, sitting down at the saloon, bringing punks to justice, robbing trains, ect. It’s either going to be a hell of a lot of fun, or a janky mess.

3. METAL GEAR SOLID: PEACE WALKER for Playstation Portable

Well it is Metal Gear and it was once intended to be Metal Gear Solid 5.  And the fact that Hideo Kojima is at the helm again should make everyone take notice. Yet I don’t quite understand the decision to put this on the PSP.  Yes I’m always happy to have more software to buy on my PSP and Naked Snake’s adventures have primarily been on the PSP (Portable Opts) but good job limiting the audience of MGS5 folks. You think this will sell PSPs? Well they do have a bundle and I’m sure it will but MGS isn’t really the system moving killer-app Sony seems to believe it is.

I was pretty much done with Metal Gear once the curtains fell on MGS4.  That was a fitting enough ending, but something about the trailers and demo for Peace Walker gets me excited and worked up for whatever insane and non-senseical adventure Kojima has in store for us. It gives me hope that this may some how open up the door for the real MGS5 and I realize I’m not done with the Snakes just yet.

2. MOD NATION RACERS for Playstation 3, Playstation Portable

Outside their belief that 3-D is the next big graphical step and that mature adults really give two shits about it, I really think Sony has started to hit on all cylinders.  They’ve taken taken home my coveted Game of the Year award the past two years (Valkyria Chronicles in 2008; Demon’s Souls in 2009) and their exclusive library just keeps getting more and more interesting. And I’m really impressed by Playstation Move at the moment and unless NATAL steps up the game then it’s just going to be crushed.  And can’t forget the Kevin Butler, Head of Everything commercials. Those things are brilliant on so many levels and if Kevin Butler doesn’t lead Sony’s press conference at E3 then I’m going to be disappointed.  Sorry Mr. Tretton I don’t want to hear you read off numbers and Kaz-san there embarrass himself.

But back to Modnation Racers — this thing just looks cool and fun and exactly what Sony seems to be going for.  It’s cute without being overly cute. The Beta’s been a blast to play and features LittleBigPlanet‘s mantra of simple but deep customization.  And you can build your own damn tracks and it’s not confusing! HORRAY FOR MAKING THINGS NOT CONFUSING. I hate to say it but it’s Mario Kart meets LBP and it’s just amazingly tight. It feels better than anything Mario Kart has put out.

Blur looks good and might even wind up being great, but Blur’s real car licenses might be enough to intimidate some casual gamers. The cartoony look of ModNation Racers should ensure it to be a hit with your significant other or when you have other people over.

1. SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV for Playstation 3, X-Box 360

Let’s just get this one out of the way as this was a no brainer.  You’re going to give me 35 characters (including some from my beloved 3rd Strike, Cody and a brand NEW awesome character named Hakan), a rebalanced system, new moves and ultras, bonus stages, new costumes and a crap ton more for only $40? Capcom I LOVE YOU.

Yeah kids are going to whine “why wasn’t this DLC” but shut up, if you weren’t there to notice the huge differences that came between Capcom’s seminal Street Fighter II and Street Fighter 3 updates then you have no idea.  Look at just the jump from New Challengers to Turbo, how much that changed the way we played the game. This IS a brand new game and you can’t simply add all of that content via download and expect it to work the same as it will here. That is a substantial update and you’re lucky to be getting it for only $40.  Capcom had no problems charging full retail for the home updates of this stuff before.  And this is probably even bigger than any update they did to SFII.

I could have done without T-Hawk, DeeJay, and probably Ibuki (C Viper I think potentially renders her redundant in a way) and I’m worried how the 3rd Strike characters (Ibuki, Dudley and Makoto) will play without the Parry system, but all the other additions are spot on and both Juri and Hakan look like interesting additions to the mythos and cast. I for one can’t wait to break out the fight sticks for this one.  That is until I go online and face an endless barrage of Kens….

HONORABLE MENTIONS GO TO: Alpha Protocal, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: The Other M, Puzzle Quest 2, Fez, Arc Rise Fantasia, Naughty Bear, RUSE, Picross 3D, 3D Dot Game HEroes, Blur, UFC Undisputed 2010, Lead and Gold, Monster Hunter Tri, Neir

03/27/2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 Games of 1st Quarter 2010

Here we are already at the tail end of March.  The end of the first quarter of the year 2010 already.  And I’m sure you’ve noticed but its been a hell of a release calendar so far for the video games industry.  In prior years the first quarter of he year has been a delegated wasteland of shit that companies just pushed out unfinished to quickly pad their fiscal year numbers. The stuff deemed not quite good enough to get a holiday retail release got pushed back into these months.

For the longest time us gamers decried the holiday season glut of games — “when will they just release games throughout the entire year?!! WE BUY GAMES FOR OTHER REASONS THAN CHRISTMAS!!”  Well in 2010 you have received your wish, but we may have wished upon a monkey’s paw; be careful what you wish for.  The first quarter of the year, in many people’s minds, almost rivals a holiday season this year and yet we just came off the holiday season with an entire backlog of games to finish.  I still haven’t finished Dragon Age: Origins or even the main campaign of Borderlands. Hell I still haven’t even finished Twilight Princess, folks.  Now you’re shoving Final Fantasy XIII and God of War 3 down my throat? You want me to play Pokemon Gold/Silver again?  Another fab edition of MLB: The Show? How much free time do you think gamers have?

This is what we wanted? There’s seriously no time for even an ‘8’ game. If your game isn’t just completely balls to the wall a 10 out of 10 then we just don’t have time for you. Sakura Wars, Glory of Heracles, Dark Void, Army of Two, Tropico 3 — thank you all for coming, it just wasn’t your year. 

Already I could easily make a top ten list for 2010 that would rival some full years. But I’ve decided to narrow it down to my top five so far out of this quarter. Be warned — this will probably serve to piss some people off. I’m not trying to, I just have my tastes and you have yours, sorry that’s just how it rolls. Secondly, I haven’t finished most of these games and that’s alright, I’m not claiming these to be reviews only what I’ve enjoyed the most so far this year. I feel I’m safely along God of War 3 to make a solid enough judgement call that it’s not even in my top five and probably not in my top 10 even. It’s a fun little game, more God of War isn’t a bad thing, but well — maybe we’ll save it for another blog post.

Also a final aside — I have yet to touch WarioWare D.I.Y. or the new Mount & Blade. The former, I usually don’t care too much for the series, the later I doubt anyone will notice being absent.

5. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey for the Nintendo DS

Thanks Persona 3. Thanks for starting a obession with a franchise that is a bitch to track down in America and usually costs a pretty penny er Benjamin to acquire.  Even if you’re not sure you exactly want the SMT game it’s a good idea, thanks to Atlus’s limited print runs, to pick up the game ASAP or you might be paying above retail for it later. Was Persona 2 worth double retail price  years after its release? Probably but does that make me happy? No. Wait — our Persona 2 was only HALF the story? There was another Persona 2 chapter released in Japan? Fuck. 

I haven’t sunk many hours into Strange Journey yet, but it’s advised to get Atlus games quick before they’re gone so I have it sitting here behind a large backlog of DS games.  I have to help solve the mystery of the Elysian Box and have some tea with Herschel Layton before I even step foot back into my strange journey again. 

But if this isn’t the rightful successor to Nocturne  (Shin Megami Tensei 3) then I don’t know what is. I don’t think the aesthetics quite reach mainline SMT games, but it’s just the reality of the industry right now and why the Nintendo DS is great. Do you really think Atlus has the money to produce a big budget HD-graphics RPG?  Doing Nocturne-plus in HD would bankrupt the studio.  But look what happened when Nippon Ichi put Disgaea 3 out on a HD console — it got critically raped because of its PS2 quality graphics.  Nippon Ichi is in the financial shithole (granted most of it is their fault for reasons other than this big push for HD grapics, but again — another blog post for later) and its little wonder why they’ve re-released most of their library (or at least the popular properties) on the DS, PSP and Wii. 

Its kind of hard to explain Strange Journey’s appeal to someone unfamiliar to the overall SMT franchise and I’m not sure starting with Strange Journey would necessarily make anyone a fan — that’s what Persona 3 and 4 are for, as well as Devil Summoner (with two excellent entries on the PS2.) It’s kind of hypocritical of me to look at God of War 3 and say, “well this doesn’t exactly do anything new” and then turn around and laude praise upon Strange Journey, I’ll admit.  It’s especially bad when GoW3 actually does do some neat, clever things like the scope of some of the Titan battles when Strange Journey treads almost no new ground whatsoever.

But what you do get with Strange Journey is one of the tightest feeling dungeon crawlers in some time. Everything fits together perfectly and its got the whole “just one more floor” addictiveness that a good crawler should have. It gives me some of the same vibe I got with Etrian Odyssey, which is good seeing as I believe some of the same people who worked on EO also worked on Journey.  Is it as good as EO and its sequel?  The more and more I think back to Etrian Odyssey the higher and higher my opinion of the series grows. I just don’t think I’ve played enough of Journey to rate it up against the EO games but it’s a promising start to even be mentioned in the same sentence. 

It’s kind of a homer pick but the genre is my jam and the franchise is too.  Again its hard to recommend to anyone that’s outside of the series but if you’ve already picked up a previous SMT mainline or off-shoot game then you already know if you are interested in this one already.  If you’ve played and enjoyed Etrian Odyssey then definitely give this a try while you patiently wait for the absolutely amazing looking EO3. In the context of the genre this is a 9 or 10 easily — unless it just goes to shit towards the end and I haven’t gotten there yet.

4. Darksiders: Wrath of War on the Playstation 3, X-Box 360

Darksiders was probably the biggest surprise in early 2010.  When I first saw the name I really just tuned it out.  It’s a horrible name and I hope we get a better name for the sequel with the subtitle being “Darksiders 2.”  It also looked like another God of War clone.  With GoW3 coming out and a slight interest in Dante’s Inferno (mainly due to the insane concept) I didn’t need another GoW style game clogging up my playtime. I passed over any and all Darksiders information aloof.  I even had friends ask me what I thought about the game and I didn’t know what they were talking about. It’s such a forgettable and generic title.

Then reviews started to come out and people started discussing the game as more Legend of Zelda than God of War.  And when someone compares a game to Zelda favorably your ears are forced to perk up. Sorry, that’s just how it is.  And shockingly, the game was not just average — it was pretty damn good.  There’s certainly some flaws (especially towards the end, and it seems to end abruptly at the point where it starts to go sour) but let us hope Eiji Aonuma took notice of Darksiders.  The game didn’t quite perfect what it was going for but it did take the Zelda formula and at least expand the somewhat stale formula (remember I still can’t bring myself to finish Twilight Princess) in a “new” direction.  This is what Zelda would be if it ever started to evolve.  I know that word is somewhat scary for Nintendo fans, who seem content on playing the same Zelda game over and over again. 

I’m not saying Darksiders is better than Twilight Princess, or even Minish Cap, but it did a lot more for me wanting and anticipating the upcoming Zelda Wii title than Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks did combined. I’m setting myself up for disappointment because I know (Shigeru) Miyamoto and Aonuma probably never have heard of Darksiders (hell, Miyamoto didn’t even know what Ratchet and Clank was when Mario Galaxy came out boasting spherical worlds) but Darksiders gives me hope that if the new Zelda doesn’t do it, there’s at least hope that Darksiders 2 will hit it out of the park.

Will it be on the end of the year top 10?  God I hope I can sit here in nine more months and say yes but of these five it has the worst chance of remaining on my top 10, and sadly it just might be the last portion of the game that ultimately kills it in the end. I can highly recommend the game as a full retail purchase though, there’s enough there to get your money’s worth out of.

3. Mass Effect 2 on X-Box 360, PC

Aw snap.  I know I will catch crap for this one.  Most of the people who will call me out on this one are the same people who will point out I disliked the first game.  I wouldn’t say ‘dislike’ but I did laugh when people started to realize how dated the first Mass Effect felt after ME2 came out. ME2 is a much, much better effort and actually playable.  In some sections of the original I really can’t say that.

A lot of people want to claim this isn’t an RPG. What? Yes, it feels very much like a shooter but you’re still doing much of the same BioWare RPG stuff.  They just took the RPG and boiled it down to its most essential elements and streamlined it throwing out whatever didn’t work.  Now they can build the genre back up and much like Darksiders I’m more excited about whats coming next than what I just played.  This is the future for western RPGs.  There’s not much I can say about Mass Effect 2 that hasn’t already been said elsewhere.  Any complaints I have stem from comparing it to BioWare’s other RPG Dragon Age: Origins and are nit-picky at best.

2. Greed Corps on XBLA, PSN

Yeah, 99% of you didn’t play it or even look to download. I’ll even admit the game doesn’t look that good or seem that ambitious but usually when Tycho of Penny-Arcade praises something I’ll at least check it out. And as he mentions (through Tom Chick of Fidgit’s article) the game could use a better tutorial indeed, but it’s deceptively simple (once you figure out what they forgot to tell you in the tutorial) and addictive as you can actually play it with people IN your living room. For the most part I despise online gaming.  I love games, I just don’t like being reminded I suck at FPS which are all the rage these days.  I absolutely love the Battlefields and Modern Warfares, I’m just awful at them and I’d rather take my small victories over the computer in the main story campaign.  But its different with someone in your living room or alongside you as in a fighting game on an arcade cabinet.

Some people might bemoan that this game is almost too simple once you get down to it, but why overcomplicate things? If there’s anything the top three selections on this list are telling us is my God we’ve got to break things down a little bit and get back to the basics.  There’s nothing under the surface of Greed Corp.  Once you get it, you get it. It reminds me back in December when I was trying to place Solium Infernum on my games of the year list.  The game is fun and its complexities just keep you coming back for more.  You desire to understand everything about the game. Yet its complexities made it a very tough nut to crack.  A nut so tough to crack in fact, the CPU opponents couldn’t even do it.  You needed live opponents to make SI interesting and entertaining. But in Greed Corp thankfully there’s intelligent enough AI to take advantage of the game. Even if you don’t have anyone around you to play, Greed Corp can hold its own.  Smart AI — we bitch about it always (look at Metro 2033) yet no one ever seems to bother to make it happen. 

I’m not backlashing against HD next-gen games as one would expect, if I were you’d expect Mega Man 10 on this list, but I’m very concerned about the direction the industry is going this generation.  Maybe I’m slightly over rating Greed Corp here but there’s something to finding a game that’s fun and didn’t take millions in development to make. 

1. Final Fantasy XIII on X-Box 360, Playstation 3

I don’t want to spend too much time on FF13 because I hope to write a full-on review once I finally do complete it.  My God is chapter 11 long…but FF13 took a huge risk, this isn’t a safe venture by Square-Enix at all.  Much like Mass Effect 2 did for the western RPG it took all the trappings and conventions of the jRPG and decided to look at them at their most basic and throw away what wasn’t essential. This is the future of jRPGs.

I really could write five or six pages on FF13 and why it’s just brillent but 1) this is meant to be a very short blog and 2) I want to save that for when I’m finished. I’m hesistent to call it the best Final Fantasy ever seeing as that’s a bold claim even for someone who couldn’t get enough of the original NES classic but it’s certainly been a blast to play.

So I leave it at that.  Which games of the first quarter have you all enjoyed? How many of them do you believe are still going to be around in the discussion come December when we start making our end of the year lists? Where do the games of this quarter sit in terms of history? Are Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy 13, Darksiders and others worthy additions to a top 100 list of all-time?

Check back on Monday for a supplemental to all of this and any comments answered. At least you have all of April to play catch up.  Unless of course you’re into Monster Hunter….oh shit there’s Splinter Cell. Super Street Fighter IV. TWO Nier games. Ninty-Nine Nights 2. Well I guess not N3-2 but either way it doesn’t look like us gamers are getting a break any time soon. No rest for the wicked I suppose.

03/26/2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment