"We constantly have to revisit 'Why would Donkey Kong do this?' or 'Why would this environment be like this?' And then we start thinking: 'We're making a game about a gorilla wearing a tie.'"
-Michael Kelbaugh of Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country Returns
"I have to say it's kinda scary how much you know about this game."
-Nicolau Chaud creator of Marvel Brothel
This year has been a good year for gamers. No matter what your preference is, you've likely gotten something good, and it is really hard to not be happy with the industry at the end of a recession. As a gamer, I'm probably having the best year I've ever had just in terms of accessing games that I want to play.
With all of the awards shows and best of lists, I figured I'd wrap up my version of 2010. For the first time ever in my life, I have decided to do one of these. Mostly because I have opinions too!
Best Game I Didn't Get Around To Until this Year Nominees: BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift Yakuza Valkyria Chronicles
I usually attack my backlogs some time after the year has ended, just because for some reason I didn't get to them that year. That's where this wonderful little category comes in to play.
BlazBlue is probably one of the prettiest things I've ever seen. The hand drawn sprites are gorgeous, the characters are diverse and it's a fighting game that won't reward your button mashing. An expansion came out this year, but this is the one I've got and I'm ok with it.
Final Fantasy Tactics is a series near and dear to my heart. While this game isn't nearly as deep in narrative as the previous two, some of the side missions really have a lot of heart to them. The mission with the Pink Zombie in particular was presented really well.
Yakuza is an open world brawler. Correction, it is one hell of an open world brawler. The depth and vision of the game is enormous and it really achieves things that GTA hasn't. Even with the English dub, it's a series that should be respected.
Valkyria Chronicles is probably the most polished SRPG I've played in a long time. The battles are well planned and the system is brilliant for a Strategy game. The fact that it is glorious eye candy isn't necessary, but is greatly appreciated.
Winner: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
All four games are amazing and if you haven't played any, for shame. FFTA2 however owned a part of me this year. It doesn't have a great story like the last two, but it makes up for it with the delicious pub system. Missions are planned out on top of each other and total in the 100s. The job system isn't as deep as I'd like for the total number of hours I invested, but it's still the perfect system for this series.
Simply stated, this is my drug and it is so very good!
Game of the Future Nominees: Disgaea 4 Fez Batman Arkham City Portal 2
Disgaea 4 has a lot of making up to do. Disgaea 3 was disappointing to say the least, but NIS seems to be pulling themselves around. I'm only concerned with the team's focus. Disgaea is probably the most innovative series in SRPGs, but it is the least focused series of games. The additions that are being made have enormous amounts of potential. Fix the flaws of 3 and we can have the best game in the series, maybe the best game in the genre.
Fez is adorable. Fez is interesting. Fez looks like a brilliant game on par with Cave Story or Braid. It has every chance of being that and more. The puzzle possibilities of rotating a 2d world on a 3d plane boggles the mind and I can't wait to explore the game even further.
Batman Arkham Asylum was one of the best games of the year, and deservedly so. They found a system that worked magnificently in the confines of Arkham. Now what they are hinting at is that Batman will have all of Gotham to explore. If they hadn't taken over two years to develop the game, I'd be concerned. Now, I'm excited.
Portal 2 is the sequel to Portal. It is made by a company called Valve. If these 2 things don't get you excited I don't know what will.
Disgaea Team's main problem is structure and Disgaea 4 is doing things that will blow structure out of the water. Batman Arkham Asylum was all about using the world around you to attack your opponents. They are now going to quadruple the size of Batman's world. Portal was all about the way the game immersed you inside of it and it really is hard to reproduce that, even if you're Valve. I believe all 3 teams will be able to pull it off, but doubt still lingers.
Fez is unique in that it isn't going to compare itself with anything. It is a game that will bend the genre on it's head similar to Braid. It might not be the best platformer, but it will be something that you'll remember.
Fez is simply gorgeous and all I can do is wait til I have my hands on it. Man I can't wait to get my hands on it.
Biggest Disappointment Nominees: Final Fantasy Failures Singularity/Prototype Xbox 360 Super Mario Bros. 25th Anniversary Edition
In the span of a year, the Square side of Square Enix has cast serious doubts over their core franchise. Final Fantasy XIII was recieved with mixed reviews and Final Fantasy XIV came in with no fanfare. Meanwhile, Dragon Quest has achieved some new popularity in the west. We have officially entered in to Bizarro World.
I purchased Singularity because I was sold on a great Bioshock clone. I liked Bioshock. This is no Bioshock. With a Prototype acting as an incentive, I purchased this thinking I would dive into a rich world with interesting characters and fun gameplay. I received none of this. After paying $5 shipping and handling I got Prototype hoping for something akin to Crackdown and was equally disappointed. They are both decent games, however they aren't anything that I should have gone out of my way for.
Microsoft has been focusing dev time and effort on Kinect and all we have to show for it is the same stuff I could get on the Wii. They've raised the rate of Xbox Live. They've changed the way the dashboard works so that it flashes white while scrolling and menu items float, causing me headaches. They haven't released any big exclusive news in a while and with Bungie signing off with Halo: Reach, I'm not confident with their core teams. Also, they sucked this year at E3.
To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Super Mario Bros, we've had a little movie, a red Wii, a red DS and a port of a 17 year old remake of a 25 year old game. Meanwhile PSN is offering some excellent deals in celebration of Playstation's 15 years.
Loser: Super Mario Bros. 25th Anniversary Edition
This really wouldn't be on a lot of people's disappointment lists and it probably wouldn't have been on mine if I were older or younger. This year however, I turned 25. Maybe it's a reflection of disappointment with my own life or just the way that Nintendo of America has treated me over the past decade, but I am upset at a $30 rom. Sadly, it isn't even the original Super Mario Bros. Instead this is a 17 year old remake of the original. Funny thing is that it's not even the best version of the remake. That one includes Super Mario World.
It is painfully obvious that this was all put together to milk the franchise. They didn't have a Mario for Holiday 2010 and sales were slipping. So, when they figured out that Mario was reaching a milestone, they knew they had something. This is all a real shame too as the E3 presentation genuinely got me excited for dusting my Wii off. I'm not going to say that there isn't anything for the Wii, but I'm just not playing it. With so much attention now being afforded to Nintendo, I had a thought that maybe I had judged the system wrong. Maybe I have. I don't know.
I'm just not happy with Nintendo of America. I haven't been for years and this is simply icing. I'm not even complaining about the quality of the games. If you haven't played this I would suggest searching ebay, goozex or any other store for an old copy of the original. They are all good games. I'm annoyed that this is all there is to it. My 25 years of gaming with this company comes out to a poor rehash. I would have rather had the option to pay full price for an NES, SNES and Gameboy Mario compilation disc than a single rom. What about the Gameboy Advance version of SMB 3 with all the added content? You know something fresh for the world to appreciate.
This wasn't a milestone, it was a cash in and it killed me a little inside.
Biggest Surprise Nominees: Donkey Kong Country Returns Keiji Inafune Leaves Capcom Beta.Destructoid.com EVO 2010
I'm a big Donkey Kong Country fan. I remember playing the original game for far longer than Super Mario World. This reboot was a huge surprise and I'm happy to see the big gorilla back in proper form again. Thank god they decided to this instead of another DK Barrel Blast.
Keiji Inafune is the father of Mega Man. He now has nothing to do with his company nor his creation. After championing for years to get Mega Man Legends 3, he quits months after it is revealed to the public.
Destructoid is my go to community in gaming. When they swapped the site, it was both a blessing and a curse. The new layout and potential for Destructoid was enormous and gave me tons of ideas for how to do some blogs. The bad coding was a bit unbearable for some though.
EVO 2010 was better than E3 for me. Maybe it was the 3 days of coverage or the action and commentary, but I really was enveloped by the sport that is gaming. I can't wait for 2011 to kick off.
Winner: Keiji Inafune Leaves Capcom
I'm really surprised that I actually stuck with Keiji Inafune leaving. When reading this list I thought back to what actually surprised me the most this year and I have to say Keiji just felt like the most shocking. I'm not even a huge Mega Man fan outside of 2. If that was all that Keiji did, then I wouldn't care. This guy was instrumental in some of the biggest projects inside of Capcom. He was a representative for reaching out and combining the best of Japanese and Western design techniques. He was one of the cogs that made this machine work.
Can Capcom live without Keiji, definitely. Can Keiji live without Capcom, I hope so. This however is probably the biggest shakeup to a company since Infinity Ward left Activision. Sure it might not be as hostile, but this is a guy that has been with Capcom through the best and worst times of the company. For him to leave feeling like he couldn't work with them anymore is big. Especially after he finally got greenlit on the project he has been begging to do for years. Now we're stuck with a Pokemon character in a Mega Man game.
Game of the Year That I Haven't Actually Played Yet Nominees: Donkey Kong Country Returns Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 Dead Rising 2 Super Mario Galaxy 2
Donkey Kong Country Returns looks brilliant this year and the only thing that would hinder playing it is the motion controls. Glad to see the King of the Kongs back in business.
Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is probably the best looking cel-shaded game I've seen to date. Naruto is a decent character with a good story. Combined with the best looking cel-shading on the planet and I'm hard pressed not to put it in this category. Man, I do love my cel-shading.
Dead Rising 2 is Dead Rising in Vegas. Awesome! I don't care if it has Dead Rising's problems, if you don't feel like killing a bunch of zombies with a chainsaw paddle while wearing a ninja outfit after the holidays, then gaming is not for you!
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the highest rated Mario game ever. I couldn't make a list out that doesn't have this game in it. I mean really, cloud Mario is simply brilliant. Lakitu's not the only one taking to clouds now!
Winner: Donkey Kong Country Returns
Man, what a stupid category. I can't tell you what's amazing about these games. I can't even tell you I'd buy these if I had the chance. I can only tell you that if I put my hands on them I would play the ever loving crap out of them. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a game that stands above the others. I want to scrutinize and judge it. I want to proclaim its failures and its worth to the world.
It might not have King K Rool or Rare, but that's not everything needed to made Donkey Kong Country work. Fun gameplay with amazing visuals do the trick. This game looks like it has that down and more. Whenever I get my hands on this, you'll have to pry the controller away from me.
RPG of the Year Nominees: Recettear Final Fantasy XIII Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love Mass Effect 2
This was an odd year for me because I don't usually play 4 RPGs in the year they are released. Since I don't rent/trade games, this is a lot of games. All in all, I'd say it represents the genre almost perfectly. You have an indie, a JRPG, a SRPG and a WRPG.
Recettear amazed me with it's layers. It doesn't have a real story, but it has such charm and quality in management that it rivals many games in the genre for it's depth. I wrote an entire preview on it and I'm amazed at it's quality.
Final Fantasy XIII truly does have a fantastic battle system paired with gorgeous visuals. Unfortunately, the linearity is so awful that I could time exactly what happened during the first 7 hours of game. Fight 2-3 battles, look for a treasure chest, repeat. Of course the occasional cutscene would interupt that cycle, but then you had back in to the routine. I mean really, even the leveling system is a straight line. This linearity forces the game to rely solely on it's battle system and for 40 hours+ it just can't do that. The story sucking, is a minor offense in comparison.
Sakura Wars V is a solid game. It isn't a great SRPG, dating-sim and visual novel. It just does each one of those elements to the best it can do. It satisfies everything that it tries to accomplish and only has one small pitfall, the voice actor of Gemini Sunrise. The Lips system makes decision making an on the spot affair and changes the system in a good way. Waiting this long for Sakura Wars was a good thing.
Mass Effect 2 is tough for me. I wrote up an article that went in depth in to the problems the game has. Yet, it's one of the only games that has grabbed my attention fully. I made sure to finish this in a week instead of over several weeks. As distracted as I get, that speaks something.
Winner: Sakura Wars V I'd like to say that this is surprising, but I love SRPG's, harems and visual novels. This is all three and fantastic for what it does. I was honestly skeptical of the game, but it is fun. For all the talk about relationships and Mass Effect 2, I had actual fun with the girls in Sakura Wars. Mass Effect felt like a competition.
Graphically, it's obviously nowhere near Mass Effect 2 and FFXIII. I'm okay with that. It has enough heart, diversity in it's gameplay, and all around fun that it's my personal role playing game of the year.
Publisher of the Year Nominees: Activision Take Two Nintendo Disney
Activision has had it's issues with PR, but that isn't hurting it's sales. Call of Duty Black Ops smashed the competition this year. Blizzard released Starcraft 2 which also smashed records in sales. World of Warcraft has another expansion to freshen up the most dominant MMO on the market. Despite some under achievers, Activision had one hell of a year.
Take Two is blessed with luck and good game design. NBA 2K11 became the default basketball game on the market with NBA Elite 11 pulling out. Rockstar's take on the old west was extremely well received and Bioshock 2 didn't do so bad itself. Pair all these games with Civilization 5 and you have a strong year for Take Two.
Nintendo doesn't always deserve to be on this list, even though it's really hard to argue against it. Nintendo this year produced some amazing games with franchise players Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby and Golden Sun doing really well for themselves. They also brought over some great ones. Professor Layton, Dragon Quest IX, and Fluidity almost make you forget about some of the missteps with Metroid: Other M and the 25th Anniversary Edition.
Disney Interactive might not have made the list without Epic Mickey, but they have had a strong year this year. Obviously, there is the tween shovelware like Wizards of Waverly Place or Mater's Tall Tales, but outside of that we get games like Disney's Guilty Party, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, Split/Second and Toy Story 3. I usually discount Disney, but they have brought some good games to the table this year even without Epic Mickey. Disney is getting better and better with balancing their real games and shovelware.
Winner: Take Two
Take Two just hasn't done anything offensive this year while they've provided a bevy of the year's greatest games. The worst thing you can say is that Mafia 2 didn't live up to the hype. That's it. As a publisher they should be damn proud of the year they've had.
It's also one of the first years that the company hasn't had to close shop on a developer. Something that sadly is far too common these days.
Worst Publisher of the Year Nominees: Square Enix Electronic Arts Ubisoft Capcom
Square Enix had one heck of a year. Dragon Quest IX came out to release in America with a solid reception. This is the first time that has ever happened and if the rise of Dragon Quest hadn't been hampered by the complete failure of Final Fantasy, they wouldn't even be mentioned in this list. Even when they seemed to get Lara Croft right for the first time in years, they released Kane and Lynch to terrible review scores.
EA has been having some issues this year. NBA Elite 11 was shelved after it went gold. Rock Band 3 was the best iteration the genre has seen, but Viacom still cut their ties with Harmonix leaving many questions as to the future of the series. Mediocre sales didn't help either. Battlefield Bad Company 2 did pretty good though Medal of Honor came out to middling review scores. Especially when compared to a Treyarch Call of Duty game. It was a very inconsistent year across the board for EA despite starting off with a bang in Mass Effect 2.
Ubisoft hasn't really done something amazing this year. Outside of Splinter Cell Conviction and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, what else was there this year from Europe's biggest game producer? Quirky darlings Scott Pilgrim and No More Heroes 2 did ok, but nowhere near where they should have been. Hopefully this was an off year and they'll show up in 2011.
Capcom has had a decent year. Their western projects have not. Dark Void and Lost Planet 2 did so poorly that Capcom had to revise their design philosophy towards the west. Mega Man 10 wasn't as well received as Mega Man 9. Super Street Fighter IV did well, but there wasn't a solid back to back performance that Capcom had been building up with gamers.
Loser: Square Enix
Square Enix spent so long hyping Final Fantasy XIII that the game was guaranteed success. Sales however, don't necessarily mean that a game is good. The issues with XIII are so painfully apparent that they are borderline inexcusable. They didn't create a bad game, they made a boring one.
This however wasn't detrimental to the company. Sometimes this happens. Final Fantasy II didn't set the world on fire, and the series has done just fine. Final Fantasy XIV however, is widely regarded as garbage. I've never liked the fact that XI and XIV are proper Final Fantasy titles, because they have no finality, but I could see the appeal of XI. When you can't make a proper MMO in the post World of Warcraft world, don't bother to make one and don't apply it to your biggest franchise. You are only wasting everyone's time.
The fact that I'm more excited by Final Fantasy spinoff titles is something that saddens me and Square Enix failed as a publisher this year. Thank god Nintendo brought Dragon Quest IX out here with proper marketing, otherwise I'd hate to have seen the company have this bad of a year.
Also, whoever thought a shaky cam and bright lights would make Kane and Lynch 2 a better game should figure out how gamers actually play these games.
Console of the Year Nominees: Xbox 360 Sony Playstation 3 Sony PSP Nintendo DS Nintendo Wii
The Xbox 360 for all it's missteps, is still my go to console in gaming. The games generally are cheaper in price drops, the software is competitive with Sony, and Live Arcade paired with Indie games gives me something unique to look forward to every time I boot up my Xbox. I'm also going to throw in the fact that it is the only console that has Super Meat Boy on it, just to end this.
The Playstation 3 has grown into it's own. Big hits like God of War 3 and Heavy Rain offered unique experiences, while PSN offered classic experiences I've never tried. Gran Turismo 5 is here for auto lovers, 3D Dot Game Heroes is here for Zelda fans and MAG is here for shooter fans. Any system that offers this much variety is doing pretty well for itself.
The PSP has exploded in Japan. For every western complaint of the handheld having no games, there is someone from Japan grinding out Monster Hunter on their PSP. The console is so big that some Japanese companies have supported it almost unilaterally. Throw in some God of War and MGS Peace Walker, and it's been a pretty good year for Sony's little handheld.
The Nintendo DS is going to be replaced by this time next year. To cap off it's final year, we received a bevy of JRPGs. Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Etrian Odyssey and Golden Sun all showed up for the final swan song for the system. Included with those games was a new Professor Layton, a new Ace Attorney and Shantae. That's a pretty good lineup for anyone.
The Nintendo Wii used this year to get the hardcore back in their saddle. Red Steel 2 was followed by Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Metroid Other M, and Donkey Kong Country Returns. Add some No More Heroes 2 and we've got a very strong year for the Wii.
Winner: Xbox 360
This has probably been the hardest year for me to give the award to Microsoft, but the fact is that they still win it in my household (barely). They have a better online store, a better selling accessory and they still have a good deal of multi-platform support. Sony rapidly closed the gap with their diverse lineup of games, the Wii had a phenomenal year full of first party titles, the DS capped off another solid year with a super sized version and the PSP is booming across the pacific.
Microsoft barely stumbled in to first and they should watch out for everyone behind them this time next year.
Game of the Decade Halo: Combat Evolved Grand Theft Auto III Katamari Damacy Gears of War
This wasn't my first decade in gaming, so pure fun isn't the entire basis of my vote. This is about what I would sit back and tell my child about in ten years. This is about the games that changed my perception of how I play video games.
Halo: Combat Evolved was the first shooter that could truly be console accessible. Sure we had Doom and countless others, but this was the game that got it right and shaped what the decade become in the west. Through it's tight gameplay and auto restoration, Halo became a system seller, a brand, and a household name.
Grand Theft Auto III changed the way I viewed the world of games. It's not the missions or the gameplay that changed everything, it's the system in which it was shown to us. Liberty City was a place I could run throughout and do what I wanted in the way I wanted to do it. It was freedom.
Katamari Damacy isn't on the list because it revolutionized a system. It's on it because it took a control scheme and made the ideal game for it. Sure you can play the game now with a 360 pad or a PSP nub, but that's not how you're supposed to do it. You put one thumb on one stick and the other thumb on the stick next to it and you roll. That's when the game really started to open up and become fun. Quirky, insane fun.
Gears of War did two things for me. It taught me to use the world around me to hide myself, and it taught me to play online. You may have some other game that got you in to online gaming, this got me. The innovation in cover mechanics has shaped the 3rd person shooter and is now a necessity to survival. It's a small step, but it lends a vulnerability to your character that wasn't there before.
Winner: Grand Theft Auto III
There was a laundry list of games that could have easily made it in to my choices. They would all have been warranted. Grand Theft Auto III however is something that I can look at the years before and the years after and see how it changed the formula.
I'm not even the biggest fan of the open world game. There is just something that this game did right. GTA3 laid a landscape that changed everything that would come after it. The question I used to ask was "how would the game want me to beat this." Now it's "how will I beat the game." A change that gives users so much more to experience in gaming.
Grand Theft Auto 3 gave me a world to conquer. Something that deserves recognition.
Obviously, this is my ten for 2010 and I really can't wait to hear how everyone else enjoyed the year. As you can tell, the RPG of the Year could also kinda be considered Game of the Year, though I'm hard pressed to call it that with the quantity and quality of stuff out there.
Overall, this year has treated me well with its games. Hopefully, next year will do the same.