Monday, 16 January 2012

2011: A year in games

It's that time of year again where we have to sit on our thrones, look back at the stuff we've played in past 300-something days and cast judgement upon them. Of course we can only talk about the games we've actually played. The ones we missed will get thrown on the ever growing back catalog pile. Maybe if they're lucky they can get some attention in 2012. We decided the winners based on aggregating our personal rankings and duking it out with both novelty- and regular-sized Q-tips.

Best character

Sissel (Ghost Trick)

Congratulations! You are dead.
The balance between sardonic and douchebag characters is a very delicate one. It’s easy to miss marks or overdo it, which makes you grow to dislike the character more and more with each quip. Sissel is one of those characters that manages to pull the sarcastic cynic off in a lovable way. While he does have a fair few misconceptions about how the world works, he’s intelligent, inquisitive and relatively friendly. Because of the game’s set-up, both the player and Sissel himself explore his character, alignment and past together.
Conceptually Sissel is easily one of the most original characters of the year. Aside from the striking art style and absurd hairstyle and permanent sunshades, the guy is pretty much dead already before the game even begins.  Unlike most dead characters (not that there are many of them) he doesn’t set his sights on reclaiming his life back. After learning that he only has a few hours until his spirit leaves the earthly plane, he accepted his fate and just seeks to find out how and why he died.
Did I mention he can possess inanimate objects and rewind time to try to prevent the deaths of others? Well he can. Sissel’s one of the harder characters to discuss, as he is deeply woven into the storyline of Ghost Trick. I wouldn’t want to spoil one of the finer experiences of this generation, so if you haven’t played it yet, I highly recommend you do.

OMG Sissel ;o;o;o;o;o; I can’t really tell you exactly why Sissel is so awesome, you really just have to play the game. You spend the game trying to discover who you really are, and it leaves you going WHAT THE HELL? I DON’T THINK I KNOW ANYTHING ANYMORE up until the very end. But again, whoever you really are, you’re very selfless and loving to everyone you meet.

Runner up: Reyn (Xenoblade Chronicles)

Worst character

Melissa ‘MB’ Bergman (Metroid Other M)

The hairpin is important.
This game introduces you to a kind of superhuman/hybrid/experimenty type scifi cliche in the form of fey emotionless 20-something womanchild. She wanders off on you and acts like you’re a big scary and generally winds you up, with quite hammy acting and all. Her mother-figure fails to get her to like humans because they were all meanies for no reason, and she eventually turns on you in a boring twist that probably isn’t worth even tagging as a spoiler. In a game that already annoys you by turning Samus into a weeping schoolgirl all the time, you’d think they were all sad schoolgirl’d out but yeah, no.

It's not hard to see what the idea behind this character was. With some misdirection make the weak and feeble girly-character turn out to be the big baddie. It's just a shame that their idea had been done a gajillion times before and most of all wasn't even done well. But while being utterly derivative is pretty bad, the biggest crime MB brings to the table is being BORING. The writers clearly noticed their main villain was uninteresting as well, because they wrote in a infiltrator-betrayal subplot in the story. Though that one doesn't really go anywhere either.

Runner up: N (Pokémon Black/White)

Best Soundtrack

Xenoblade Chronicles

To go with the stunning environments, Xenoblade has a stunning soundtrack, composed by some of the industry's best; Yoko Shimomura of Legend of Mana and Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Cross fame. Sounds sweet, and it is! I basically listen to it all day at work. Not just soundtrack of the year for me, probably in the top 3 of all time. It's bliss. If you like Final Fantasy music, check it out.

I was so sure that NieR had this category locked earlier last year. It was an amazing soundtrack from start to finish and it would take a Justice League-esque collaboration of the gods themselves to knock it off the first place... and that's exactly what happened. The two composers who made my two all-time soundtracks,  mentioned by Allie, came together and made magic happen. It managed to craft the perfect balance between catchy, memorable and atmospheric. It's a score that will make you laugh, cry, get you pumped and, most of all, make you feel like you're on an adventure.

Runner up: NieR

Best art direction

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Bet he regrets splashing out on business class.
Say what you will about Naughty Dog's games, they all look gorgeous without exception. Uncharted 3 does a great job at making its scenes look grand and alive.

I didn't even really play this, but I watched my flatmates playing it, and it really is exceptional to look at. It's not really a new and experimental style, but the guys at Naughty Dog really went all out with this game and it deserves praise for its spectacular environments. The game also has a lot of bespoke sequences that you parkour your way through at a fairly high speed, and it all looks top notch.

Props should be given for its excellent cutscene direction and well-realised character animations.

Runners up: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Xenoblade Chronicles

Best Story

Ghost Trick

I'll trade you this rifle for those delicious donuts.
To go with best character,  the best story award just has to go to the game that made me weep heartily into my pillow (I take my DS to bed what's it to ya?). In Ghost Trick you spend the game slowly piecing together who you are, why you died, why other people died, what the rules are on this whole being dead thing, and generally what the crazy balls is going on. This game is funny, bizarre, clever, and it has a fluffy wuffy pomeranian in it.

It's very difficult to talk about talk about a story that's so meticulously paced and controls what you need to know and when. It's just a quality story from start to finish.

Runners up: Bioshock and NieR

Best original game concept

Half-Minute Hero

Goddess won't cure your crab problem then what's she good for?
Half-minute hero is a game in which you have a series of world-saving quests to complete in 30 seconds. Yes, 30 seconds. It's pretty satirical, but don't be fooled into thinking it's a torturous non-game. It somehow works. This highly experimental idea has to be the strangest gameplay concept I saw this year.

Oh man. This might be the dumbest idea for a game I had ever heard of. A parody game where each chapter is 30 seconds away from the end of the world. But oh boy, does it milk this concept for all its worth... in a good way. Turns out you can do quite a lot in such a small amount of time. You'll fight monsters, visit towns, buy items and equipment, do sidequests, maybe do a little grinding and then take on a boss. The game features 6 game modes, most of which with distinct gameplay styles. The common thread between the modes is a sassy, capitalistic goddess of time and a villain who loves teaching the ultimate magical powers to lesser beings.

Runner up: Clock Tower

Funniest Dialogue

Tales of Monkey Island

Portal 2 got the shaft for one reason only, which I feel I have to apologise profusely for: I didn't get around to playing it! And I sure as hell am not going to watch someone else play and get it spoiled for me! So here's another game that I KNOW deserves a mention, TellTale's brilliant serial sequel(s?) to the Monkey Island games. In my opinion, Tales of Monkey island is just as hilarious as the original Lucas Games. The totally giggle-worthy writing is enhanced greatly by the voice stylings of charming Dominic Armato and the hilarious Roger Jackson, as new character Reginald Van Winslow.

I didn't have a whole lot of faith in Tales of Monkey Island, if I had to be completely honest. While the series reached admirable highs, it also had some seriously lows. Turns out Tales of Monkey Island became one of, if not my favourite entry in the franchise. The game's script is genuinely funny and the delivery by the voice actors rarely misses its mark.

Runner up: Portal 2

Biggest Surprise

Xenoblade Chronicles

Prison island huh? Those Austrailians have been busy.
Yo, Allie. This game doesn't suck. In fact it's good.

Ooooh girrllll. So, I heard this game was good, but when people say a jRPG is really good you never know what they're really into. I mean, people loved Ico and Kingdom Hearts, so... yeah. Xenoblade doesn't look like anything special at a glance. Anime tropes all round: whiney blond small town protagonist, save the universe with inconceivably oversized swords, outfits with gratuitous butt cleavage...  on both genders... But I took a chance on this game and I was hooked. It excels in every category: the best visuals I've seen on the Wii, the scale of the open environments bends my mind, even the characters were shockingly multidimensional, and the game mechanics enveloped the plot in ways I've never really seen before.

While it's quality was a big surprise, the fact that we even got this game localised is an even bigger shock. After Nintendo of America, who usually is at the forefront of the localisations of Nintendo's first part games, passed on the game, most people were preparing themselves to never see it on our shelves. Sure, Nintendo of Europe had it in their release schedules for months, but those guys are incompetent goons who don't even know what they're releasi-... Wait, it's out for realsies? And due to the European reception it'll finally get published in North America too in 2012? :0 

Runner up: Mortal Kombat

Biggest Disappointment

Metroid: Other M

The colourful monster represents me.
As someone who appreciated Retro's Prime games, I was most excited to see a more real 3D Metroid game, more faithful to the other entries get announced. Team Ninja's involvement sounded strange, but hey, these guys know their action-packed gameplay and their production values! Hype through the roof!

As a massive fan of the Prime series, I didn't expect this game to quite meet the standard that Retro had set, but I expected it to be a pretty acceptable Metroid game. After playing it for a short while I was like 'Yeah, it's got good puzzles, alright visuals, and it tries something a little different and new instead of trying to copy any of the older games' But after a few hours, and Tobi can attest to this, I was like 'ARGH, UP YOURS WHY DID I BUY THIS CRAP.' I found the controls kinda frustrating, and the story, urgh. Considering it's canon and a prequel to the brilliant story of metroid fusion, you'd think it'd be more... yknow... good? I know Samus is younger, but does she have to be so... crappy? Finally, there's this bit where you like have to walk really slowly in unarmed 'first person mode' (rest of the game is in 3rd person) and you get a cutscene, and you end up back in the room you walked from, and then you have to walk back in first person slow motion TO THE SAME ROOM AGAIN. Why?

To be completely honest, I don' t hate this title, nor do I think it's a "bad" game. In fact I did have some good times with it. It's just plagued with strange and poor design choices that weigh it down heavily. There are many worse games released that year, but many far better ones too. 

Runner up: Marvel vs Capcom 3: Obsolete Edition

Most Time Wasted

Harvest Moon: Rune Factory

How could this game be a time sink? It's got fishing!
There are a lot of ways you can waste your time. Sometimes the hours just vanish in thin air when you're having a blast, or sometimes you just have to do something that requires a hefty time-investment because you need to get the proper experience. Too bad Rune Factory isn't either of those things.

Ah, Rune Factory. I kept playing because I've become a bit of a completionist, and I just don't know when to let go. The biggest problem with this game is that it's basically broken. I mean even when it doesnt game-busting glitch on you. The gameplay balance is way off, its pretty hard NOT to exploit or feel exploited... you can only create items that are worth less than the raw materials, you could beat the story in like a single in-game year, but good luck getting in-game married... If you do ever figure it out, guess what it gets you? The town facility your wife used to work at is now closed down and she just stands in your house saying one phrase at you. But this game... I just really did waste a lot of time grinding on this game because... well... I'm an idiot.

Runner up: X-Com 2: Terror from the Deep

GAME OF THE YEAR (released in 2011)

Xenoblade Chronicles


Let me just be blunt here. Xenoblade is addictive, unique and just straight up good. One of the few things it does better than most other games is the perfect consistency between the gameplay and the cutscenes. Anything that can happen in cutscenes can be used in the battles and vice versa. This makes everything feel really cohesive.
Easily one of the most impressive accomplishments of this game is its world. Back when this console-generation started and the divide between the Wii and the HD-twins became apparent, people and developers alike agreed that the scope of game-worlds would be one of the examples where the much weaker Wii would be left behind. In 2011 Monolith proved the world that it COULD be done and it is glorious. Xenoblade’s world is absolutely massive, is busting with life and begs to be explored. The game features many ways to positively reinforce you to explore and soak up the world.

While I’ve played a fair few good games I really enjoyed this year, Xenoblade just made me crazy for playing it. I could play it all weekend, sometimes I did. It’s huuuuge, it’s completely gorgeous, it’s just jammed full with good ideas, and things that impress me. Yeah, so the story says you’re inhabiting the surface of a giant monster, but it’s not like you’re ACTUALLY going to be able to see tha- OH YES YOU ARE. So the characters all develop friendships with eachother, but it’s not like there’ll be any relevant in-game mechanics to support this-YES THERE ARE. And the main character gets the ability to change the future based on premonitions, but there’s no way that’ll actually apply during say, and actual battle- HAHAH IT DOES. IN YOUR FACE.

I don’t know about you, Allie, but I have played a lot of RPGs in my life... more than I’d like to admit even. Xenoblade turned out to be one of the best the genre has to offer, nesting itself among the classics.

Runners up: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Portal 2

DINOSAUR OF THE YEAR (released before 2001)

Day of the Tentacle

60% less hamster cruelty than Maniac Mansion, would you believe?
Me and Tob played this old gem together this year, and it was super great! This was another of the Lucasarts Point&Click adventures, but based on a brilliant premise: Time travel. You lose your two buddies at different points in time: one in the past with George Washington, and one in the future where Tentacles have enslaved mankind. You can send a single item back and forth in the time machine to eachother, and as you might have guessed, things you do in the past will CHANGE THE FUTURE WOOOO. You have to fix the broken time machines and save the world using just... well, the worst ideas. It's also presented in an unusual nickelodeon-esque style, to match its ridiculous plot.

At this point I can no longer tell if most time-travel games are great or if it's just me that loves time-travel games. Day of the Tentacle is a funny, inventive game that will make you feel smart and stupid at the same time.

Runner up: Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and For the Frog the Bell Tolls

Craziest Amateur Game

Hatoful Boyfriend

I love it when you speak pigeon-english.
You should remember this game from a previous blog entry. When we heard that out there somewhere, there was a dating sim for girls where you dated men who were pigeons we all went 'Oh, Japan'. I did at some point expect that it wasn't really as crazy as it sounded, but yeah, no, it is.

It's awkward when you start off with a crazy premise like this and somehow delve deeper into the insane. Not sure if I'm happy we experienced this.

Runner up: Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure


Kaine (NieR)

You are not leaving the wardrobe, let alone the house.
Oh Kaine, honey, what were you thinking? I'm not even sure if you're allowed in a fetish shop dressed like that. I'm not sure if I could come up with a more exploitative character design if I tried.

Man, look at this thing. It's like she's wearing a nightie, except its an ass-less apron, and then she's got her mostly naked butt stitched up or something, some asymmetrical mummy bandages. One leg must be really warm and the other really cold. Just because you're a tranny doesn't mean you have to dress yourself like a giant woman-sized wound. Sell one of those giant bread-knives and get yourself some pants, girl!

Runner up: Sophitia (Soul Calibur 4)

Headache of the Year

Katamari Forever

If you can figure this image out, you have acheived enlightenment.
What do we mean by headache of the year? A game that actually does wreck your noggin. This is a big problem, usually for Tobi *waves* , as he suffers from severe low-framerate-induced-sickness. However, this year my nomination, Katamari Forever wins. I played it on a non-HD TV (my sister's game), and for whatever reason, it literally made my eyes bleed. It didn't stop me from coming back to it every time I could because it's awesome, but without fail each time I'd form little pink blotches in the whites of my eyes. Katamari, you're clearly too beautiful to behold.

Forever continues the proud Katamari-tradition of assaulting your senses. The screen wobbles through bright stages at an unstable framerate, with bright flashing pictures all over the place. To complement this visual onslaught, the catchy, yet absurd music is laced with all sorts of random sound effects that will drive you insane.

Runner up: Heretic

Worst Trend of the Year

Touchscreen ports of classic controller games

To simulate: try pressing the button right now.
So I saw someone show me a port of DOOM on their ipad. It has a little interface mockup of some keyboard controls so you can press them on the flat screen to do things. 

Argh. It only takes you a few hands-on seconds to learn that this control-scheme is an abomination that simply does not work. Yet people keep pumping these games out at a steady pace.

People actually think this is the future of all gaming. Having faux-buttons for platformers/FPS/etc on a flat hard screen that you have to push carefully with the flat of your finger and hope its responsive enough. I've got some force feedback for you: NO.

Runner up: Cancelling everything with "Mega Man" in the title

Dumbest premise

You are a human female who attends a private school for bachelor male pigeons. (Hatoful Boyfriend)

I'm here to see some fine pecks.
There's a lot of stupid ideas for games. If there was some kind of private awards competition run by me and Tobi, this premise would win.

I'm pretty sure it would win by anyone's standards. It's so unbelievably dumb that I can't help but question the author's sanity.

Runner up: A group of radicals want to emancipate the pokemon from perceived slavery by kidnapping pokemon and forcing them to fight against pokemon trainers for them. (Pokémon Black/White)

Most awkward moment

That awkward moment when Samus turns into a collapsing, useless wreck in Metroid: Other M

Over 4 in 10 woman suffer additional discomfort during their cycles.
I won't get into the public sexism outcries that already manifested months before the game was even released. These people are reaching and are trying to project sexism on moderately harmless concepts. ...that said. UUUUUUGHHHHHH. Oh my lord this game had painfully bad cutscenes and ideas. Every time Samus has one of her many poorly written and acted inner-monologues, you keep a close watch on the door and pray no one walks in on you.

Spoiler warning for people that still want to be invested in garbage.

First off we have Samus meeting her old commanding officer on a mission right after the events of Super Metroid. Because she regretted being a rebellious and unprofessional when she last saw him as a teenager, she wants to prove to him that she has grown on a personal and professional level. In terms of gameplay this meant Samus would need clearance to use anything other than the standard equipment, like the other soldiers. This would be fine if it weren't for the fact that Samus constantly needlessly endangers her life several time because of this restriction. 

Secondly, and this is a big one, Samus completely flips her shit when she stumbles into Ridley, whom she thought she had killed not too long ago. Seeing the monster once more causes her to be so distraught that she doesn't only freeze in place, but also loses her suit. Yes, Samus' suit is will-powered or some bullshit like that in this game. While it is implied that Ridley massacred her parents when she was still a child, and that she killed Ridley only a few hours ago in Super Metroid, it is still really stupid.

We don't often get to hear what Samus thinks and Other M made me realise that it's for the better.

Yeah Tobi really said it all. For me, the whole zero suit samus thing that started in smash bros. brawl was a bad tip-off. In Zero Mission, Samus loses her suit and she's still awesome, stealthing around like solid snake. In this one, they decided to make her suit all virtual so that it can fall off her as she curls into the fetal position whenever shit gets real. I get that they're trying to explore a vulnerable, human side... but you don't achieve that by turning a character from cool to rubbish!

Runner up: That awkward moment in New Super Mario Bros Wii where 4 players start a level and you all run face-first into the same koopa troopa or goomba.

Bognor Award for Exemplary Fucking-Shit-Up-itude

Unravelling harmless bystanders for no reason at all (Kirby’s Epic Yarn)

OK seriously. What the hell is your problem, Kirby? I've been noticing this for a few games now, but you completely wreck everyone in your path unprovoked! In Epic Yarn, he takes this a step further because it has several monsters that simply do not attack you, no matter what. That doesn't stop this pink little prick.

Kirby has always been a bit of a mystery. With the storytelling kept basic, one wonders who he is, what the rules or his world really are, and why it's ok that he's just eating every living flora and fauna that crosses his path? In Epic Yarn you really feel it more than ever, as he tears into fabric creatures and they gush jewels, like a rainbow coloured mortal kombat fatality. He then proceeds to unravel the landscape, and morph into tanks and UFOs and fire engines and trains to just rip the world apart. But it's all for the greater good, right?

Runner up: Hellhounds for hands (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)

There you have it. The highlights and um.. dark, unspeakable moments of our personal 2011. If you'd like to see more about games we have played, are playing and will play someday, check out the backloggery accounts of Allie and Tobi!

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