December 15, 2009
It can only be one!
Wait, no. That’s stupid. What self-respecting publication would do that.
#1. Super Mario Galaxy
Perhaps you’re stunned in to silence by the incredible predictability of this choice. Yeah, choosing a Mario game, particularly a well-liked one, as a #1 choice on any list isn’t very daring.
When I was a kid in 1996, I read a Next-Generation article that proudly claimed that Super Mario 64 was the best game ever made. Their reasoning wasn’t that technology would never improve, or even that there wouldn’t be better Mario games, but gaming was never going to break ground in quite the same dramatic way.
It was not just about the way Mario 64 revolutionized 3D space in gaming, but the way it managed to do so while marrying it to tight adventure design. The example given in the article was a random spot on a mountain with a monkey that had no real business being there. Interacting with it caused it to steal your hat. As you chase it down, trying to get it back, chances are you go over the edge of the platform and slide down, seeing the Pink Bomber happily dancing on a nearby ledge. You may be hatless, but you’re no worse for wear, and have knowledge about where something is that you might otherwise not know.
I’m not going to argue Galaxy breaks the same ground as Mario 64, but it was aware of how to once again bring that back to good game design. Super Mario Galaxy gets praised, perhaps too often, for doing interesting tricks with gravity, but that is not really the main focus of the game. The gravity aids in level design, an underlying concept that forces you to except the rules of the world at a glance rather than constantly explain it to you.
I could go on and on about why I enjoyed Mario Galaxy more than any other game this generation, but people have seen it in numerous reviews and impressions. The game constantly delights and surprises, which it does consistently.
It’s not the best game ever, it’s not the most revolutionary game ever, but I liked it better than any game released over the last ten years. In our young industry, that’s saying a lot.
December 10, 2009
You know the drill by now. Ten games I enjoyed this decade, previous posts below, etc. Let’s go!
#3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
I wanted to stay consistent and not list this whole series so, while I think the third Phoenix Wright game, Trials & Tribulations, is actually a better game, the first one remains the game I actually enjoyed the most. Maybe because it was my first exposure to the series or perhaps something intangible, but it definitely deserved a high place on my list.
There’s a line between people who like the series and dislike it – as much of a fan as I am, I can’t comfortably refer to these camps as those who get it and those who don’t, as either way is just as viable and logical. What makes this series tricky to like is how much you have to overlook to enjoy the mechanics.
The games are very bad at being actual games. There’s no option for figuring things out your own way, no progress investigating unless you click on spots in the order the game has defined, nothing that would scream to you that you must play the title. But I recommend it to people like I would recommend a book I enjoy.
It’s in that weird sense that Phoenix Wright succeeds at marrying mediums where other games fail. The industry is chasing Hollywood and Michael Bay, while Phoenix Wright chases the narratives set out by books. While big-budget games have the goal of letting you play the movie, still ultimately wrapping you in a scripted experience. Phoenix Wright lets you play a story, giving you just enough interaction to feel like you’re part of the story without changing it.
#2. Team Fortress 2
It’s kind of hard to spend some several hundred hours on a game and not place it high on my list. When actually working it out, I decided “high” should be “really fucking high”.
Team Fortress 2, to someone who never really plays online games, is a culmination of what I thought games would be as a kid. Well, it’s not VR and I can’t physically touch things in the game, but it’s close enough. When I played Chip & Dale on the NES, slowly making progress with my brother, or my friends, I loved the idea of cooperating for a larger goal.
Through the murder, immolation, bombings, and inevitable arrows through the head, the game is basically team-based objectives that must be achieved. Every time a strategy comes together and a nigh-invincible enemy sentry goes under and your team rushes to victory, it’s a feeling that most scripted single-player games can’t match. Team Fortress 2 is freeform artistry at its best and that level of enjoyment is what less talented developers can never achieve.
December 7, 2009
I’ve decided to list out the ten games since the year 2000 that I enjoyed the most. For numbers 10 through 6, click here. For five and below, I’m going to go in to a little more detail.
#5: Fallout 3
Even though I’ve only recently become a PC gamer, years ago I would play games wherever I could get them. It was through this insatiable desire to try anything and everything that I came across Fallout 1 at a friend’s house. I played the hell out of it, never quite making it to the end, and never really understanding what I was doing. It was a world of complexity that savaged my child mind, previously unwrinkled by fun but simple platformers and go-kart driving games.
It’s in that same context that Fallout 3 managed to blow my mind, yet in an entirely different way. Despite intense fear of becoming like Tim Rogers, I reluctantly posit that Fallout 3’s opening was literally and symbolically the act of birth. There is, of course, the actual intro where your character is born. After that, when your character emerges from the vault and is given no instruction about what to do next, is what defines Fallout 3 to me. A feeling of post-natal fear and loneliness that has to be overcome if you want to survive.
The game neither leads you along a tightly designed path nor offers an amusement park of activities like some most sandbox games do. It strikes a middle ground that all nonlinear games aspire to, even if they didn’t realize it at the time. Fallout 3 creates a world to explore, and populates that world amicably, leaving you playing a fantasy version of real life.
It doesn’t do it perfectly, and sometimes exposes the flaws of trying to design a world without unlimited resources, but it tries its damndest. And it’s an experience worth rewarding.
#4: Metal Gear Solid 3
I am unsure exactly what prompted me to pick up Metal Gear Solid 3 the first time. I distinctly remember grabbing the box from Blockbuster and, in a description to a friend, inaccurately telling him what the game was about. “I think it’s about Vietnam,” I mentioned. “Some kind of stealth mission that goes on during then?” I had recently finished a review of Spy Hunter, a fairly mediocre stealth game, for the then-fledgling Men.com, and was on some sort of stealth kick. So, having never played a Metal Gear game before for any significant amount of time (and thoroughly mocking their absurdity online), I tried Metal Gear Solid 3.
I couldn’t describe to you why the game grabbed me. Maybe it was the first time I walked across a bridge, saw a guard coming my way, and hung off the edge. Maybe it was that time I stood in the water with a crocodile hat on and proceeded to kill every guard inside a building by setting off the alarm repeatedly outside. It could have even been the very end of the game, where Kojima emotionally manipulated me to feel an emotion I wasn’t aware video games could evoke – remorse. I do know that when the credits rolled, I realized I loved the game. I hate long cutscenes, I hate being emotionally manipulated, I hate cheese, I hate awkward controls, but I loved Metal Gear Solid 3.
It was the game that showed me that some games are more than the sum of their parts. In our review-oriented industry, we like to break down games based on what we like to think are objective criteria. Game X is great because the graphics are at least a 9, the score reminds you of a Jerry Bruckheimer flick, and the developers made sure to fashion the controls like everything else that’s popular out there – 9.7, there you go. MGS3 fails a lot of what I considered important to me, yet the game is dear to my heart. This was the game that made me reconsider why I played games and the answer was to enjoy them, even if I didn’t love everything about them.
December 5, 2009
A friend’s blog, Big Red Coat, recently put up his reaction to a Top 15 Games of the Decade by posting his own list. It would be inappropriate to shamelessly copy that idea by posting my own list, but I’m doing it anyway. Except worse.
I feel one of the major flaws with lists like this is a lack of an explanatory theme. So, these aren’t the best games of the decade – it’s not a metacritic rundown of the top fifteen scores. It’s not even the most influential games of the decade. It’s the ten games from 2000 on that I enjoyed the most, whether that enjoyment be a product of context or actual quality.
#10: Baten Kaitos Origins
The original Baten Kaitos was something of an odd beast, refreshing for the different things it did, but ultimately failing on doing them right. The game was infamous for a terrible localization that took the wind out of what could be considered an interesting premise for a story. The sequel, which was ignored mostly because of the bad first game, takes all of its predecessor’s flaws and makes them golden. The battle system was refined, the localization was top-notch, and the twist tied it together with the first game in a way that many of the much-vaunted top video game writers of the industry have not been capable of. Really a hidden gem.
#9: Mega Man Zero 2
One of the most stagnant series that still, at the same time, gets a lot of shit for changing things, Mega Man has basically branched out in to several different series all offering different but connected gameplay styles. The zenith of this experimentation is Mega Man Zero 2, which is either a bitch-hard game or God’s face in handheld form. In my opinion, nothing the series has done has been quite as good since.
#8: Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2
I can’t remember exactly when Ouendan clicked with me, but when it did, it was some sort of gaming nirvana. I can distinctly remember sitting there for hours, playing songs over and over, starting over if I missed a single note because it meant I wasn’t getting as good a score as I should have. Ouendan 2 zombified me, turning me in to a shambling corpse thirsting only for points. If any game can do that to me, then god bless it.
#7: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
In twenty years, when people try to figure out where platformers have come from and where they could have gone, Sands of Time might be the starting and ending points of both these conversations. Sands of Time, at every instance, knew how to be an excellent video game. It was not trying to be the next Hollywood Blockbuster like Uncharted (a fact that eludes Jake Gyllenhall), it was not trying to be anything but an enjoyable video game. At that, it succeeds. It marries entertaining narrative without stopping your gameplay. It isn’t without its flaws, but the sum product overcomes them gracefully.
#6: Mass Effect
I could sit here and list off many things I don’t like about Mass Effect. There were all sorts of flaws that most developers wouldn’t let past quality assurance, yet Bioware did. If you asked me to tell you what I liked about Mass Effect, I probably couldn’t. Yet, at the end of the day, I still remember it as a game I’ve played through three times, stayed up nights just to see a little bit more, and had me obsessing over whether to choose a blue alien girl or racist jerk as a love interest. That’s more than I can say for most games.