Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best of the 2010: The Rest

As the holidays are quickly coming to a close and my work load is about to increase, I've decided to be a lazy bum and condense the rest of my faves from 2010 into one post. Without further ado, I bring you The GAMES of 2010!!!

In no particular order...

Epic Mickey
I've written about this one a lot -- and not always favorably -- but if you can get past that your playstyle doesn't matter as advertised, it's still a wonderful linear platforming adventure. The world and characters has more charm than just about anything I played this year, the story was fantastic, I found the moment to moment gameplay compelling, and it was up there with Nier as having the best soundtrack of the year. Not quite the masterpiece I was expecting, but a noble effort that really stood out to me.

The second most original game I played this year (next to Deadly Premonition). It doesn't do any one thing new, but its constant shifting of genres and tones made it feel extremely fresh all throughout. Characters are extremely memorable and don't fall victim to the usual stereotypes we see in these sort of games, and there's at least half a dozen fascinating vignettes placed throughout. Few games this generation have managed to consistently surprise and delight as well as Nier.

Deadly Premonition
The most moving game I played this year. It's rough as all hell with terrible combat and driving mechanics -- making it one of the only games I'd recommended having an FAQ handy for -- but if you get past some poor mechanics it's got a good story and probably my favorite protagonist in any game, ever. Francis York Morgan has stuck with me all year and I expect will stick with me for years to come. Deadly Premonition's unusual brand of offbeat humor and disarming melodrama make it stand out among anything else I've played in years. It's not "so bad it's good," as some reviewers have claimed, but genuinely fantastic.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
I know a lot of people have written this off as a God of War clone, but I thought it was better than that series in almost every conceivable way. The combat system, the biggest component of the game, was head and shoulders better than that in Kratos' swan song. I loved the light and dark magic mechanic which really encouraged players to vary their attacks. Elsewhere, it had great pacing (after the first couple chapters anyway) with an increasing focus on puzzles, marvelous atmosphere and art direction, and an epic scale. The storytelling was perhaps the only weak link in this otherwise grandiose action/adventure.

I reviewed this one over at Gamecritics. I don't have much to add that isn't in the review, but I'll just say that I don't usually like cover shooters, yet Vanquish managed to subvert that into a very fast-paced, tactical, shooter unlike any I've ever played. We've seen cover, slow-mo, and sliding before, so why did it take so long for someone to combine them?

Tales of Monkey Island: Season 1
Okay, so this came out last year, but its definitive console port on PSN came out this year and that's how I played it. I've not played a point-and-click adventure since Grim Fandango that's lived up to how I remember them being in my youth... until now. Not perfect by any means, but it got all the charm and whimsy of the Monkey Island series spot-on and more importantly showed me that I still have the patience and passion for these games that I thought I'd outgrown.

Super Mario Galaxy 2
I never expect to like these first party Nintendo games so much. Every time one comes out I think I've outgrown such shallow silly games, but when it's done right there's nothing else quite like it. SMG2 is hands-down the most fun I had with a game in 2010. While it's easy to write off as not very innovative, I'd argue that practically every level has some new idea in it. There's no major surprises -- it doesn't all of a sudden become a text adventure (like a certain game on this list starting with an N) -- but the devil is in the details, and every little facet of Mario's second romp around the cosmos is filled with unexpected goodness.

And to be comprehensive, I already wrote about Donkey Kong Country Returns and Bayonetta. I guess that makes it a Top 9. Beyond that, there's a few other standouts including:

Super Meat Boy - Very fun platforming goodness. I loved it, until I could take its abuse no more.

Limbo - Best graphics of the year, imo. Very stylish, well designed platformer/puzzler. I wanted a little more narrative depth, but hey, that's just me.

Enslaved - I'm still a bit peeved at this one for some major plot holes at the end, but it's otherwise got some of the best characters and art direction I've seen in a game this year. Really great time all around.

Bioshock 2 & Minerva's Den - I feel like Bioshock's gameplay has grown rather stale, which is why these aren't higher, but they otherwise both feature some really outstanding stories and end on a high note (unlike the first Bioshock which started strong and ended with a whimper).

Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light - I don't think anyone expected this. I for one still like Tomb Raider, but making it co-op and top-down seemed to defeat the purpose of exploring a 3D environment. Then I played it co-op and it had some of the best 2-player puzzle design I've seen.

There you have it. There's plenty of games this year that I didn't get to play (Amnesia, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Minecraft, etc...) so it's by no means a definitive list, but this is what stood out to me. May 2011 be as full of surprises. Happy New Year and happy gaming!

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