Archive for January, 2010

In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to leave day-to-day things like reviews and previews to the big guys – listed conveniently in the blog roll for you.  Servicey!  The fact is, the Kotakus and Joystiqs of the world do a much better job of breaking news and round-the-clock updates than I ever could, and their staffers just plain play more games than me.  A lot more.  I’ve also avoided the “Game of the Year” trope for many of the same reasons.  From a critic’s perspective, when you haven’t played everything (or even everything good) in a given year, how can you really say one game is The Best?

Games of Our Lives was my more personal attempt at naming a game to define a year.  Those picks have more to do with me, and what was going on in my life when I played each game, than what’s in the box.

This past year might just represent a new low watermark for my time spent playing games.  Getting a puppy and having a baby in the same year will do that to you.  But as a result, I feel like I’ve spent a much higher percentage of my play time enjoying games than ever before.  I didn’t slog through any games “just to stay on top of things” this year.  And I can’t think of any game I stuck it out with this year just so I could feel like whatever time I had already invested was well spent.  Got that, MLB ’09: The Show?!  As such, I think I actually have a better feel for what made this year’s crop of games fun than I’ve had in recent years, and am open to a lot more types of games – casual, hardcore, multiplayer, story-driven, PC, console, iPhone – it was all fair game for me this year.

Of course, this being the end of the 00’s, every big games publication and site spent the last few weeks rounding up the highlights of the  last 10 years.  Having written Games of Our Lives already, and the big guns all poring over a decade’s worth of history, it seemed way less intimidating to focus on the best game of this year.  And considering how the changes in my personal life affected my perspective on games, I may actually have different (perhaps even useful?) reasons for my choice.  So without further ado, the nominees are (in alpha order):

  • Batman, Arkham Asylum – Batman finally got the game he deserved this year, thanks to some ingenious use of the Unreal engine and a superb story from Paul Dini delivered pitch-perfect by quite a few cast members from Batman: The Animated Series. The Metroidvania emphasis on exploration and detective skills was such a natural fit for the Caped Crusader, it’s hard to believe it took this long for someone to make the match.
  • New Super Mario Bros. Wii – Mario’s been to distant galaxies, race tracks, and even his some old  Smash Brothers stomping grounds since the Wii was released, but Nintendo finally put him back where he feels most at home this year.  So much was written about this game’s chaotic 4-player simultaneous free-for-all’s that the sometimes brutal, sometime charming, always well thought-out level design got shoved out of the headlines.
  • Plants vs. Zombies – PopCap is an unapologetically casual studio, but the truth is more hardcore players completely dig their games than would ever admit it to their squadmates.  These guys are just razor sharp when it comes to figuring out where a few bells and whistles can turn a smooth playing, bite-sized game into an all consuming force of addictive wonderment.  PvZ’s sense of humor, learning curve, and seeding of truly awesome minigames coaxed me into installing a game on my PC for the first time since college.  Can’t wait for the iPhone port this year!
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – The secret lovechild of Lara Croft and Han Solo, Nathan Drake, returns in a globetrotting adventure that tweaks and finesses Gears of War’s combat system, then drops the whole thing into a story that you actually WANT TO FOLLOW full of characters that you really do care about.  I know it sounds fundamental and very basic, but the attention to detail and commitment to characters really pulled this game over the top.

…aaand the winner is:

New Super Mario Brothers Wii

At the end of the day, I’m a total sucker for a new Mario game.  I loved Galaxy and Mario 64 as much as anyone else, but everyone’s favorite skilled tradesperson just plain feels better when he’s zipping along at full speed, cracking heads and gobbling up coins in that seminal console genre, the sidescroller.  It’s not just that the big N got Mario and Luigi back into their 2D stomping grounds – the charm of this game is that they put together such an outstanding collection of level designs and worlds to ensure they came back in style.

Considering the audience Nintendo is focused on these days, it’s no surprise that simultaneous multiplayer came first in marketing New SMB Wii.  But throwing 3 more players onto the screen doesn’t just add allies.  It completely changes the pace of the game, and the focus of the players.  The result is a party game that feels much more like a session with Rock Band than a traditional platformer.  It’s a blast to play with more than one player, and I’m honestly a little bit surprised we didn’t see an official hardware bundle this holiday featuring the Wii, the game, and 4 remotes.

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