I haven't been quite as active on my favorite gaming website as I would have liked to be, but that doesn't mean I haven't been gaming like a mad man. As 2011 comes to a close, I'd like to share my year with you. But first, a little backstory.
Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved video games. My first system was an NES I got for Christmas when I was maybe five or so and my first game was Bubble Bobble. It didn't take long for me to get hooked.
Across the rest of my childhood, many other systems and games came and went. Being a dumb child, I must have pissed away dozens of excellent (and now rare) games that I thought were worth the pennies of store credit Gamestop or my other local game store offered me. I think the one that stings the most is the boxed copy of Earthbound (strategy guide and all). I still vividly remember resisting the urge to vomit after pressing my nose against the slime scratch and sniff card. Good times.
I only still own a handful of gaming items from my younger years (my N64, 3DO, Genesis/Sega CD, and my boxed copies of all the original Genesis Sonics), but I've been trying my damnedest to remedy that. A little over a year ago, I got a shitty little retail job selling used video games which is made a lot less shitty by not being a GameStop and carrying even the most retro of games.
Today, my video game collection has exploded. I've done away with temptations to sell my games (unless they really suck, and even then I might keep them if they're a part of a series I like) and have been slowly seeking out all the games I love.
Of course, what's the point if I don't play them?
This year, I set a goal for myself: Play more games! In 2010, I only saw a handful of games all the way through. That was a shit year. In 2011, I played more than 50 different games all the way to the credits. This was an awesome year.
Now, I don't think there's a direct correlation here and I'm not of the belief that video games should be used for escaping the hardships of real life, but I do believe that they're damn fun and can be just what you need after a rough day at work. Also, I think learning to stick with something until the end, even a video game, is an important skill that I didn't really have until now. I feel more focused in other aspects of my life. I've learned that nothing is impossible, from beating Panzer Dragoon to creating a musical montage.
Anyway, getting back on topic, I'd like to wrap up the year by sharing what I think were the best games I played this year. This gets kind of tricky, however, as it's one thing to pick the best out of the games that came out in a year, but what if you played so much more than that? I played so many fantastic titles that didn't come out this year, but I wish so dearly that they had so I could crown them with the honor of being better than all the fancy new bullshit that's come out this year.
It's simply too hard to pick one game that's the best out of such a large pool, so I'll be picking two winners for each category, one out of the 2011 releases and one out of everything else I played.
Best Game That I Did Not Expect To Be That Good 2011 Winner: Catherine (PS3/360) Runner-ups: Shadows of the Damned (PS3/360), Sonic Generations (PS3/360)
When copies of Catherine first showed up at the store, my co-workers and I enjoyed poking fun at it. It looked like Q-Bert with sexy a sexy anime lady whose only personality trait was that she really liked extra cheese on her pizza. Despite being a huge fan of puzzle games, I enjoy a good story more, so I brushed it off as something shallow and not worth my time.
A few months later when we had some used copies to rent, I took it home for a couple nights and fell in love. Uh, not with Catherine. I mean, with the game, not the girl. Uh......
The story in Catherine was a hell of a lot more interesting than I expected. After the main character, Vincent cheats on his serious business girlfriend Katherine with sexy blonde Catherine, his entire world goes to shit. When not in the puzzle sequences, Vincent hangs out with his bros in a bar and texts his lady friends, all of which you get to control him for and influence his faithfulness or lack thereof to his original companion.
The gameplay in Catherine was really unique (not like Q-Bert at all) and I never stopped being amazed at how complex the maneuvers could become despite the basics being so simple. Even late in the game, I was still learning crazy new techniques that I could never actually remember long enough to get much better at the game. I actually had to turn it down to Easy to make it through, something I generally refuse to do, but I think that just goes to show how desperate I was to see how the story ends.
Catherine blew me away with how interesting the story was and how addictive the gameplay was. After finishing it, I realized that the saucy packaging had a lot more to do with getting sales than showing what the game had to offer. I think the old saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" is pretty fucking relevant here.
Retro Winner: The Legend of Zelda - Oracle of Ages/Seasons (GBC) Runner-ups: Metroid II - The Return of Samus (Game Boy), Castlevania - The Dracula X Chronicles (PSP)
I had never been a huge Zelda guy up until this year. I had played a little bit of almost all of them, but there was something about it that never quite clicked with me. I think it may be that they all just have such slow and uninteresting beginnings with no exciting items or weapons to play around with.
My distaste changed with Link's Awakening, which I forced myself to sit down and play before Ocarina 3D came out (which I hated, but I wanted to finally give it a chance). I was blown away by how much I liked Link's Awakening. In fact, I was so enamored with it that I rushed right into the Oracle games not too long after, which were somehow even better.
I started with Seasons and enjoyed it enough to play Ages right afterwards, which really cemented the games' place in my heart. It's really hard to consider these two as separate games, because they compliment each other so well and really feel like one giant adventure. The weapons and items were super cool (changing seasons, going back in time, and also MAGNET GLOVES) and the dungeons (in Ages, anyway) were some of the toughest I've faced in the Zeldas I've played so far.
While I really loved Link's Awakening and later, The Minish Cap, I have to put the Oracle games up on the pedestal for doing the whole "two versions of one game" thing better than maybe even Pokemon has. I was really expecting to go into Ages and feel like I was playing the same game over again, but I was completely wrong.
Best Game That Put A Big Stupid Smile On My Face 2011 Winner: Sonic Generations (PS3/360) Runner-ups: Kirby Mass Attack (DS), Portal 2 (PS3/360), Child of Eden (PS3/360)
As you might have guessed considering the only games I never let go from my childhood were the Sonic the Hedgehog titles, I'm kind of a Sonic fan. My bedroom back home is covered in Sonic merchandise (which my mom put up, I swear I didn't leave it like that) and I own a Sega Saturn mostly so I can play Sonic R.
Of course, my love is not unconditional and I hate pretty much everything Sonic related that's happened in the last 10 years. The last game I truly enjoyed was Sonic Adventure 2 and even that was pretty obviously the beginning of the end for my childhood hero. I thought he was doomed to be the star of furry soap operas for the rest of his career....until Sonic Generations happened. I was skeptical at first, as I had been for every other Sonic title since Adventure 2, but I still gave in and picked it up day one. I'm so glad I did. The moment I got to Chemical Plant Zone, I was sold.
The story is complete bullshit, but I wouldn't really have it any other way. Something about time being eaten or whatever. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that adorable and chubby Classic Sonic has to team up with gangly and green-eyed Modern Sonic to save the day. Awesome.
Classic Sonic's levels feel pretty similar to the good old days while Modern Sonic's feel more similar to the good parts of Unleashed (or Colors, I think, I haven't actually played it). Both sections are pretty fun, but sometimes Modern Sonic's can get a little frustrating with constant falling of edges (which has been a problem since Adventure, so I'm not surprised). Classic Sonic's are a lot more manageable, but I can't deny that blasting through at high speed as Modern Sonic is pretty fucking fun (especially through the Genesis Era levels).
My only real complaint about Generations was the boss fights. The levels (Crisis City and Planet Wisp aside) were fantastic, most of the challenges were the right level of difficult, and the unlockables were worth the playtime (I can play any level with Sonic Boom in the background? Cool. I can play any level with Super Sonic Racing in the background? AWESOME.), but the boss fights were horrid. I had a little hope after the first one, as it's a Classic Sonic boss and pretty straight forward (though a little buggy), but the three Modern Sonic bosses afterwards were pretty frustrating (in a "broken mess" kind of way, not in the "difficult" kind of way).
Despite the stupid grin I had on my face the entire time I played, the part that almost made me snap the game in half was the final fight against the Time Eater. Everything is wrong with that fight. There's almost zero sense of progression ("Am I moving forward at all? I can't even tell."), you play as Super Sonic, which is fine, but it makes you worry about rings too damn much ("Oh great, I missed the only tiny row of rings that's going to show up in the next five minutes."), and to top it all of, the ENTIRE supporting cast feels the need to tell you what to do ("WHY IS CHARMY THE FUCKING BEE TELLING ME IT'S A HOMING ATTACK? HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW THAT?"). The most baffling thing is that I failed the fight a dozen times before finally S-ranking it by doing the same damn thing that had been making me fail. BROKEN BULLSHIT.
ANYWAY. That fight is garbage, but at least I can play the Metal Sonic level and feel happy again (why couldn't all the fights be like that?). Regardless of the total shit turn it takes in its very final moments, the rest of the game gave me the warm fuzzies.
Retro Winner: Kirby's Dream Land 3 (SNES) Runner-ups: PaRappa the Rapper (PS1), Elite Beat Agents (DS), Gitaroo Man (PS2)
Mario is all fine and good, but I'm not sure I've ever played a Kirby game I haven't liked. Kirby's Adventure on the NES was my first and was certainly not going to be the last.
I've always considered Kirby Super Star to be the best of the series (and one of the best games ever, for that matter) and while I've enjoyed later titles, they've all generally been pretty different and not overshadowed completely by Super Star. All except for Kirby's Dream Land 3.
Dream Land 3 came out on the SNES about a year after Super Star. A year after. Why is this a big deal? Because it's not Super Star!
I finally sat down and gave Dream Land 3 a chance this year, despite it not looking as good as Super Star (though I do appreciate the art style) and not being as complex as Super Star (only 8 copy abilities instead of 23 with no button combos?) and not being as varied in content (Super Star was 8 games in 1!). What did I find after giving it a fair chance and completing it, good ending and all?
Okay, it's actually pretty fucking awesome. Super Star might have been badass, but Dream Land 3 has its own adorable charm. The thing I wasn't really sensitive to was that it's a part of the Dream Land series, which had only seen Game Boy titles until now. Those games were obviously a bit less graphically and mechanically intense on that hardware. Dream Land 3 is a great successor to those games, but it does feel a little out of place on the SNES.
Even so, I couldn't stop playing it. Kirby's animal friends did add a bit of depth to the abilities and some of the side tasks required to get the good ending were pretty difficult. What really made it for me, however, was the final battle against Dark Matter, which brought back fond memories of the Nightmare battle in Kirby's Adventure. I always loved that fight and Dream Land 3's take on it was just as cool.
I still think Super Star is the pinnacle of Kirby platformers, but I appreciate Dream Land 3 a lot more now that I've taken the time on it. I liked it so much, in fact, that I went back and did the boss rush (which I beat in one try, somehow) and then proceeded to spend a month trying to do the mini-game rush.
I still haven't 100%ed that game. Fuck you, Chef Kawasaki. Fuck you and your stupid pots and pans mini-game.
Best Game I Played 2011 Winner: Portal 2 (PS3/360) Runner-ups: Dead Space 2 (PS3/360), Sonic Generations (PS3/360), Child of Eden (PS3/360)
Of all the new releases I played this year, Portal 2 was the only one that I ordered long in advance and made sure I would have it at my doorstep when I got home from work that day. I picked it up on PS3 mostly for the PC copy, but also because I really wanted it to be a big screen experience. After I popped the disc in, I was glued to my seat for the eight hours it took me to beat it.
It was quite a few months ago, but I still remember quite well how wonderful the whole experience was. I really liked the first Portal, but I couldn't believe the jump in quality for Portal 2. The story was a lot more complex and engaging, the characters were hilarious, the music was awesome, and the gameplay stayed fresh and varied throughout, even having played the original Portal already.
The day after, I played the co-op in another insane one-sitting run with one of my roommates. After that six hour experience, I had more or less exhausted what the game had to offer (outside of achievements, which I did spend a little time going back for), but that combined total of 14 hours was probably the most enjoyable I've had with a game in years. Quality over quantity, right?
While I'm on the subject, actually, I'd like to note that I while I didn't play Skyrim (nor do I really have too much interest in the Elder Scrolls series), I don't think I would have given it my game of the year award even if I had. It's not that it doesn't seem like a fantastic game, but hasn't it been done before? Has it really pushed the envelope in a unique way? A game that can entertain me for 300 hours is good and all, but shouldn't we be commending games that think outside the box and aren't on their fifth installment?
I dunno, just my two cents. Also, I'm aware that Destructoid is awesome and Portal 2 won their GOTY award, so I don't know why I'm bitching! I might just have a little pent up rage after having to sell so much Skyrim at work...
Retro Winner: The Legend of Zelda - Majora's Mask (N64) Runner-ups: Super Metroid (SNES), Snatcher (Sega CD), The Legend of Zelda - Oracle of Ages/Seasons (GBC)
This is probably no surprise if you know me in real life (since you probably hear me gush about it all the time) and also to those who read my last blog post, but it has to be said again: Majora's Mask is fucking amazing.
While I do have a much greater appreciation for the series now that I've played more Zelda titles, I still don't know that I'm a huge fan of it in the most traditional sense. Sure, the "young hero saving the princess" trope is kind of what Zelda is all about, but personally, I find that the best adventures Link has are the ones that don't take place in Hyrule. Link's Awakening, the Oracle games, and Majora's Mask are easily my favorites, and each of them take place in fancy new lands with unique objectives (though the Oracle games do come back to saving the princess at the end of the linked game).
Now, maybe most people like Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past better, and that's fine, but I hope those people are still giving games like Majora's Mask a chance. It's a little weird and not very Zelda-like in a lot of ways, but that certainly doesn't make it any less phenomenal.
I'm not going to rant and rave about it again, because I already did that once at work this week, but like I said, I wrote a whole damn post about how much I love it if you need any convincing. I desperately hope that the 3DS remake happens, because I can't wait to experience it all over again. There are very few long, story-driven games I've liked enough to play more than once (Earthbound is the only one that currently comes to mind and I want to play Mother 3 again), but Majora's Mask is undoubtedly one of those games. It's really that good.
All in all, it's been a pretty bitchin' year. Was it the same for you? Did you play some awesome games, old or new? What are your picks for each category?