Even though 2010 wasn’t a particularly great year for myself (or for anyone I know, for that matter) there is still a part of me that can’t quite leave it behind just yet. Curiously, it’s the part of me that enjoys dishing out compliments and recognitions of the sterling work that other people do for the entertainment of the gaming community. Yep, I reckon it’s Game Of The Year time again, ladies and gentlemen. If only it were that simple.
I’ll be honest; if this post was going to be all ‘GOTY’ then I may as well just come out and say “For me, it’s Mass Effect 2. Done. Goodnight and God bless.” However, I know many people would debate that point: a good portion of my gaming friends would argue with me for hours that Red Dead Redemption gave them a much more fulfilling gaming experience. And that’s what Game of the Year really is: something completely different to every individual. Sure, some people might cite Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II as their own personal GOTY, and fair play to them. Just because there are legions of others who like Red Dead or Mass Effect better than anything else they played last year doesn’t mean that they are for everyone, or that they would provide the same amount of fun to some gamers as they do to others.
That being said, I’m not going to even try to pigeon-hole all of 2010 on a game that was released way back in January and say that nothing else released last year ‘beat’ it. On the other hand, I think a more fair way of summing up the year would be though a selection of truly memorable gaming moments. These are, after all, what we play the games for: whether it’s the shock twists in the narratives, the jaw-dropping cinematic set pieces or something the player discovers for themselves that they can do within the game. As my previous post mentioned, I did get the opportunity to play an awful lot of games last year and my memory of some of them is unfortunately a little hazy. However, these are the five moments that I can remember very clearly and will be able to take with me into 2011 and possibly even further into my gaming career.
1. Mr. Stewart’s Epic Sandwich [Deadly Premonition]
The truly great thing about Deadly Premonition for me is that it’s so incredibly quotable. Since finishing the game I’ve found myself adding the phrase “Don’t you think so, Zach?” at the end of sentences, rambling on at length about 80s movies and finishing every rhyme – intended or otherwise – with the addendum “So says Mr. Stewart.” In fact, the character of Mr. Stewart is a great source of amusement to me as I tend to think about a good friend of mine whose name actually is Mr. Stewart. He got the game for Christmas but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t got to this point yet or he would have called me up by now to tell me how right I was about it.
For the uninitiated, at one point in the game our hero Francis York Morgan, a bizarre but genius cross between Dale Cooper, Nah-man Jayden and Tyler Durden, walks into a café to buy lunch. The enigmatic Mr Stewart is then wheelchaired in by his attendant and informs York that he absolutely must try the sandwich that he seemingly has for lunch every day of his curious existence. The ‘Sinners Sandwich’, as York refers to it, is a wacko concoction of turkey, jam and cereal stuffed between two identical triangles of white bread. After a bit of non-sensical rhyming banter, York relents and orders the abomination for his lunch. His reaction after tasting it is absolutely priceless.
Being a bit of a David Lynch nut, I was expecting something along the lines of the oft-parodied “Dame good cherry pie” scene from Twin Peaks in the strangely similar world Deadly Premonition inhabits. This skit is definitely going down that route, but in the context of the game was completely unexpected and as a result it not only made me smile, it also made me cringe and eventually laugh out loud.
2. Missing Something, Ethan Mars? [Heavy Rain]
Heavy Rain had a great deal to live up to in my eyes after David Cage’s previous games, The Nomad Soul and Fahrenheit, were both so unique and impressive in their own ways. Sure, neither of them were particularly polished and the plotline of Fahrenheit in particular did tend to skew off in all sorts of odd directions, but these were two examples of a very talented game creator being given a little bit of artistic freedom. With Heavy Rain, Cage created a world the player could believe in and a genuine mystery to solve: who is the Origami Killer? Now, this is hardly the place where I would feel comfortable spoiling such a fantastic game for anyone who hasn’t played it, but suffice it to say that the Origami Killer’s modus operandi made for extremely intelligent writing and some intriguing moral dilemmas.
One of these that springs instantly to mind is The Bit With The Finger. Without giving too much away, in a very Saw-like situation, protagonist Ethan Mars finds himself in a room filled with a smorgasbord of sharp implements. The Origami Killer then informs him that he must remove one of his own fingers in order to obtain a clue to his missing son’s whereabouts. The clock begins ticking down, and the only thing I could do whilst playing was… panic! I admit, I had to play this section about three times before I found a solution I was (somewhat) satisfied with, but the way this game threw such an unexpected curveball towards a hero we had got to know so closely made this scene much more shocking and suspenseful than anything in either of the two Saw video-games to date. This is how it’s done. Let’s hope Konami are taking notes for the seemingly inevitable Saw III.
3. WAAAAARP ZOOOOOOOOONE!!!!!!! [Super Meat Boy]
Super Meat Boy is another entry in the legions of recent games showing love for the titles of yesteryear: 30 Second Hero, Cladun, 3D Dot Game Heroes… even Shadow Complex. All of them come with a very retro style of gameplay that takes those of us old enough to remember right back to our joystick-thrashing youth. What Super Meat Boy brings to the table is a shining example that us gamers who remember The Good Ol’ Days are probably getting soft in our (relatively) old age. I approached this game first of all as a curiosity, then as a challenge, and finally as a way of life! By the time I beat all of the game’s increasingly devilish levels, I could practically see Meat Boy leaping around in my dreams and could hear only two words resounding in my brain… WAAAAAAARP ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE!!!!!
In a respectful nod to the classic series this game shares its acronym with, SMB presents the player with a series of hidden areas, accessible through swirling portals hidden in the game’s main levels. Upon touching one, Meat Boy is sucked into a new level as the announcer bellows in your ears that you might just have found something called a “warp zone”. Not only that, but the warp zones themselves are presented in distinct graphical styles reminiscent of the NES and original Game Boy. It’s those little pangs of nostalgia that hit you as you play those levels that really make you think about how far gaming has come in the past twenty years, and how the core gameplay is still centred on the difficult balance between challenge and fun.
In addition, at random occasions in Super Meat Boy, Bandage Girl will appear as a graphical glitch. Touching her in this state unlocks an extra level in each world seemingly based upon the innumerable Super Mario Bros mods that to the untrained thumbs are bordering on impossible. That Super Meat Boy got its hooks into me and made me want to beat every single one of these “frustration” levels, time trials, dark worlds and all other hidden stuff is without a doubt the sign that this is a game I’ll be remembering and probably referencing for years to come.
4. Is that…? No! It can’t be! Holy crap, it is! [Metroid: Other M]
Way back in 1994, I collected up my pocket money and purchased Super Metroid. When I got it home, entranced by its big red box, I spotted the strategy guide included with it. I instantly gave it to my parents and told them to only let me see it if I became incredibly stuck. Looking back, I am so glad I did this because nothing would then prepare me for the boss of the Wrecked Ship area: Phantoon. This creature shook my whole perception of what a boss should be, by requiring a battle to the death before the level had really started. That I had not seen this in the guidebook meant I wasn’t ready for the battle and really faced a bit of a struggle until I finally beat him. This little piece of my gaming history repeated itself last year in Metroid: Other M.
While this game certainly has drawn a great deal of criticism, I can say without question that I enjoyed every minute of it, including the deja-vu inducing post-credits sequence in which a familiar face (or eye, to be more precise) shows up for one last slice of vengeance before initiating a self-destruct sequence. This countdown brought Super Metroid’s introductory sequence from sixteen years ago straight back to me as though I had only beaten it last week. For me, that’s why games like Other M exist: to give a little something extra to the fans of the outright classics. Whether it’s a full game like Crisis Core or a sly reference like the fallen Slogra in the post-credits of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, the developers know they have fans to please as well as newcomers to attend to. It’s the way in which they go about satisfying the long-term fans that makes me love these new titles all the more.
5. “What’s black and white and red all over?” [Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue]
Ron Gilbert is renowned for being able to create fantastic characters and tell a great tale. His latest creation, Deathspank, is possibly not as clever as anything in the Monkey Island series, but to anyone who appreciates the concept of a dim-witted yet proud hero whose desire for justice far outweighs anything else in existence (think The Tick in armour) this is certainly a game to get. When the sequel, Thongs of Virtue, appeared only a month or so after the first, I was thrilled to be able to dip back into the crazy universe Gilbert and Hothead Games had created. What I wasn’t prepared for was the comparatively epic nature of this quest compared to the “then-impressive, now-small-fry” quest in the first game. It blew my mind!
The primary constant throughout both Deathspank titles aside from its addictive hack, slash ‘n’ loot gameplay is Gilbert’s trademark humour. I remember finding a good portion of the dialogue very funny, but it wasn’t until I met a boss character an hour or so into the sequel that I really belly-laughed. A curious little pixie chap with the ability to grow on screen to slowdown-inducing proportion posed an old familiar riddle to Deathspank: “What’s black and white and red all over?” All of Deathspank’s possible answers were the work of comedy genius as I recall, but I could not help myself but fall into fits of hysterical laughter when I read and instinctively clicked on the bottom answer. Deathspank stares his enemy down and, without a hint of sarcasm, proudly offers his answer: “A COMMUNIST SKUNK.” Absolutely perfect.
Well, those are the five moments I’ll remember the most from gaming in 2010. I should also give honourable mentions to landing on Pulse in Final Fantasy XIII, Clover’s face during the “axe” ending of 999, the hard-rockin’ intro to Green Day: Rock Band and Ezio’s wonderfully-delivered “Oo eez Dez Mond?” from Assassin’s Creed 2. Let’s just hope that 2011 is not only a better year in general, but also provides us all with some more moments like these.
[Currently playing – Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP)] read