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Posts Tagged ‘Uncharted 2’

As I prepare to say goodbye to to the blog, I thought it would be a great time to revisit “Games of our Lives.”  The original 3-part series was some of my favorite material to write, and I still go back and re-read them every now and then.  I intended to cap off each year with a new entry, but that got away from me after I concluded part 3 with 2007. So without further adieu:

2008 – Super Smash Bros. Brawl – The original Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64 was a high school, and later dorm room favorite.  I didn’t play very much of the GameCube followup, but the promise of more Smash Bros. on the Wii – a console I was already having so much fun with – was a no brainer.

Brawl is the last game I stood in line for at a midnight launch, a month before my wedding in 2008.  It could very well be the last midnight launch I EVER attend.

With all its game modes and hidden characters, Brawl is an unbelievably deep game.  A month after launch, I was still having a blast discovering things in the single player mode.  So when I couldn’t sleep the night before our big wedding weekend, I naturally popped in Brawl.

The familiar feeling of smacking around characters like Link and Kirby with my old pal Mario really brought me back.  I had just quit my job the day before, and was about to start my family the day after.  But for a few pre-dawn hours, none of that mattered.  I got to play.

2009 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – Last year was the first time since I started writing the blog that I named a Game of the Year, so it would have been easy to choose New Super Mario Bros. Wii. But when I think back on 2009, it all kind of pales in comparison to an unseasonably warm Sunday in early November when I got to meet my beautiful daughter.

I had missed the first Uncharted. It came out before I got my Playstation 3, and while it sounded cool (especially Nathan Drake’s badass shirt per Tim Schafer), but there were a ton of great games in my backlog by then.

Among Thieves was met with critical acclaim upon release, and must’ve set some kind of record for enthusiast press podcasts devoted to singing its praises.  It’s a technically solid game, puts endearing characters into a compelling story, and even threw in rich multiplayer modes for good measure.

All that aside, I was desperately trying to finish Uncharted 2 as my wife’s due date approached, and that’s why it will always stick out in my mind.  That whole week was a blur of making sure we were ready, from packing the hospital bag to washing the newborn clothes.  And whenever my wife took a nap, or I managed to snag a spare moment, I would jump back into Nathan Drake’s search for Shangri-La.  I was at the final boss, this close to beating the game when we finally had to go to the hospital, and I didn’t end up beating it until about a week after we brought my daughter home.  So it has the distinction of being the first game I played as a dad, too.

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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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