A Few “Games of the Year”: 2010

January 9, 2011


This week, the Moving Pixels year-end wrap-up post quietly showed up over at PopMatters. I chose Rock Band 3 as my game of the year, for reasons I detailed over there. Still, while I didn’t play nearly as many games as the Important Games Journalists (remember the little people, L.B.!) who actually have a say in these things, it was hard to pick just one of the games I played this year as the “best”. One could say this in any year I imagine, but comparing the one-dollar Angry Birds to the four-hundred-dollar (if you upgrade to all the pro instruments) Rock Band 3 seems sort of unfair.

Rock Band 3 won for me by virtue of being as worthy as anything else, by being legitimately innovative within its genre, and also by being the game that I probably played the most this year (I say “probably” because I may well have put more time into Etrian Odyssey III, and I don’t game with a stopwatch next to me).

That said, here are some of the other games that could well have been my “game of the year”:

Angry Birds (iPhone)

It’s one dollar. One dollar, and it inspired a blog post investigating its mechanic and the effect that mechanic has on players. It’s the game that out-PopCap’d PopCap this year, a simple little thing that has hardcore and casual players picking it up on a constant basis, trying desperately to knock down one more block than last time for that ever-elusive third star. The holiday edition, for another 99 cents, is just as ridiculous. It has a sense of humor in its presentation and its level construction that allows the player to laugh in delight even as the mystery of just how to knock things down in a way that will adequately smack every single piggy isn’t easily solved. That a gaming mechanism distilled down to “point, drag, and let go” can be so wildly popular must be terribly frustrating to the developers of modern AAA games.

It’s extremely likely that every phone I own for at least the next five years will have Angry Birds on it. That I can even say that — and know that millions of others could say the same — makes Angry Birds not just great, but important as well.

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City (DS)

I think I see Cthulu in there.

It was extremely, extremely hard to leave Etrian Odyssey III in the also-rans section of my Moving Pixels writeup. As a game tied to a very strict genre — that of first-person dungeon crawling — it executed the essentials of its genre better than any other game this year. This is dungeon crawling done perfectly, a well-built tour de force of interesting mazes, difficult choices, and a surprisingly evil cast of baddies.

That it’s a perfectly build game that also happens to feature surprisingly good music and beautiful art is a bonus. This is the sort of 60-hour masterpiece I’d been waiting for on the Nintendo DS, something that I’ll always be able to pull out and play some more, when other games get tired and old. Etrian Odyssey III always has something new to offer, and it always makes its players work for it.

I hope Atlus is proud of this one, a DS title that could beat out just about any game on any system in terms of pure perfect execution.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Speaking of perfectly executed games, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was a beautiful little game that finished the year fairly overlooked in the “of the year” votes by virtue of simply not doing anything new. While it’s not doing anything new, though, it’s still giving players the best platforming experience that they’ll get on any system. One gets the sense that an application to be a level designer at Nintendo must read like an IQ test.

Super Meat Boy (Xbox Live Arcade)

The game that co-opted Mario’s acronym had a lot to live up to, and it was very much up to the challenge. By perfecting the short-level-high-difficulty formula of N+ and adding a healthy dose of retro-flavored comedy, Super Meat Boy actually made you want to play the same tiny little level 264 times before you move onto the next tiny little level. Somehow, dying 263 times doesn’t feel like an exercise in futility. I don’t know how they managed that trick, but it’s great stuff.

Bejeweled 3 (PC)

It doesnh’t break any new ground, but it is a master study in holding an audience. A carefully crafted balance of new game modes, medals to win, and even a quest mode for those who feel just a little bit empty playing Bejeweled when Puzzle Quest is out there waiting to be finished, Bejeweled 3 is an example of why PopCap is so good at what it does. There’s a lot to be said for a simple formula done perfectly.

Deathsmiles (Xbox 360)

I wrote about Deathsmiles for PopMatters and I got a little preachy over box art that calls it “lolitastic”. Booo. Here’s the problem: the arrival Deathsmiles led to a shooter binge that saw me buying both Raiden Xbox 360 releases, Guwange on the Xbox Live Arcade, Mushihimesama Futari at semi-exorbitant import prices, and even Espgaluda II on the iPhone. And I’d play Deathsmiles over all of them. The reputation that Cave shmups have is that their control and bullet arrangement is such that you always believe that you could have beaten it, even as the game keeps destroying the hell out of you. There are parts of Mushihimesama Futari that simply come off as too much for my feeble mind (and decrepit thumbs). Most of Guwange is too easy if you play it on the Xbox 360 Arrange mode, and too hard if you play it arcade style. Deathsmiles is juuuuuuuust right. And after a while, you actually forget that a pile of its players are in it for the “lolis”.

* * *

There are a whole mess of other games that could have been in the conversation as well, but none of them hit me like the above. Halo: Reach got a ton of play this year (and I’m still coming back to it), Toy Story 3 went way beyond the typical kids’ film tie-in, and Enslaved and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow put interesting narratives onto well-designed adventure gaming. Dragon Quest IX was a wonderful way to return to the series (even if it got swallowed by Etrian Odyssey on my playlist this year), and Toy Soldiers was as interesting a take on tower defense as I’ve ever seen. Heck, even the new Guitar Hero was a ton of fun, even if nobody cared when it came out, and Shiren the Wanderer and 3D Dot Game Heroes were even more reasons to love Atlus.

2010 was actually pretty incredible, and 2011 holds just as much promise even if we’re still diving headlong into a growing sea of sequels and licensed properties. Complaining about the state of gaming seems ridiculous when so much of it is this good; I couldn’t possibly find the time to play all the great games that get released in any given year; the challenge is figuring out which ones are great.

Here’s to looking forward to such a challenge.


One comment

  1. Good reading! Game of the year in my opinion is Angry Birds, many, many hours playing on my Android phone. šŸ™‚

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