Another year, another top ten list for video games. Unlike last year where it was a bit difficult to come up with a top ten list, this year there were only a few titles that I feel one could argue could have made this list that aren’t on my list. Actually, I was not too surprised that Screwattack had nine out of the ten games I picked on their top ten list. Additionally, Gametrailers only had a top five but all five were games from my top ten list. Even though my list is being published last (I usually publish it on New Year’s Day), the list has essentially been in the bag for almost two weeks now. Had I published it earlier, I could have accused other sites of ripping me off. However, I think it’s because there were very few MUST OWN!!! games this year that it’s no surprise that there is quite a bit of consensus across the Internet. The last couple of years there has been major differences between the lists of most outlets. Now, it almost seems unanimous.
There will be a special Weekly Video Game Podcast posted tomorrow featuring myself and Chris Karpyszyn where we’ll look at the list and discuss it. There will be a supplemental podcast on Monday where we quickly talk about this list and compare it to the previous years. The second podcast almost didn’t exist as we were wrapping up the first one and then we started talking about the last year and the year before that. Before I knew it, we had talked for half-an-hour. Once the podcasts are posted, they’ll be linked to on the front page as well as this article.
Whether you agree with this list or hate it, say something about it. Leave a comment at the bottom or send me an e-mail at email@example.com and I’ll read your comments during the next Weekly Video Game Podcast,
This list is not in any order other than alphabetical.
Call of Duty: Black Ops – Activision (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Activision is in the enviable position of having a franchise that is the cream of the crop in its genre. They could have easily re-released Modern Warfare 2 with a few new guns and maps and it still would have sold well and received high praise. However, Black Ops isn’t just a stopover between Modern Warfare titles; it actually feels like a more complete game. Black Ops still possesses the strong multiplayer component that Call of Duty is famous for (and it is still the best FPS multiplayer game at the moment). While this would have made a game of the year candidate in the minds of many, the single-player campaign is probably the best the series has seen since the release of the original Modern Warfare. The single-player campaign doesn’t feel like an afterthought or a practice arena for would-be multiplayer enthusiasts; there actually feels like there is substance to what used to be considered the principle part of any game.
Civilization V – 2K Games (PC)
It seems like that with every release of Civilization, there is universal praise and that there is no question on how incredible the game is. Yet, 2K Games has managed to do it again and released Civilization V; a game so great, you’ll never think they’ll be able to improve on it (until they release Civilization VI). Even though the previous Civilizations were captivating games, this version feels less like a chess match and more like an action game despite the fact that it’s a turn-based strategy. Even if you play for several hours and go through an entire game, you will still not have touched everything the game has to offer. They’ve managed to add so much to the game without it feel too complicated or redundant. Both new players to the series and seasoned pros will have no problem getting started with this game and losing many hours in its immersive gameplay.
Donkey Kong Country Returns – Nintendo (Wii)
When the original Donkey Kong Country was released for the Super Nintendo in 1994, the creator of the franchise mascot, Shigeru Miyamoto said quite a number of negative things about the game. He criticized the gameplay and essentially said that the game was more about style than substance. Many disagreed with Miyamoto (and Miyamoto has since apologized for his comments and has since praised the game for its achievements in the platforming genre) but when one plays the first level of Donkey Kong Country Returns, you can sort of understand what Miyamoto was trying to say. Donkey Kong Country was an average game compared to Donkey Kong Country Returns. DKC Returns is one of the best platformers ever made. While the series has always been known for its graphics, it’s the gameplay that stands out this time around. Each level feels different despite the fact that the game has the standard lumping of levels in a themed world. Even levels with the same gimmick (like the cart levels) feel unique and different from one-another. If it weren’t for the questionable controls, Donkey Kong Country Returns could have been the best platformer ever made. Considering this is on a system with many other incredible platformers this year, to be sitting on such a lofty perch is quite the accomplishment.
Dragon Quest IX – Nintendo/Square Enix (DS)
Unfortunately for the portable systems, RPGs have remained a somewhat standard affair. While the RPG genre on the consoles and the PC has taken off in different directions thanks in part to series like Fallout and Mass Effect, playing an RPG on the DS or the PSP hasn’t changed much since the release of either system (or even since the days of the Game Boy Advance). That’s why Dragon Quest IX was such a breath of fresh air. Sure, it’s no Mass Effect and it’s not like it’s a major evolution over Dragon Quest VIII for the PS2 but considering that there is so much to do in the game, it genuinely feels like an adventure. Even though the main game can take dozens of hours, it doesn’t feel like a grinding chore. Even when the main quest is done, there is so much other stuff to do that it almost feels like this DS RPG is actually an MMO. Then again, this game does have a great multiplayer option which may make some dream optimistically of the possibility of a Square-developed MMO on the DS (or 3DS) in the future.
God of War III – SCEA (PS3)
Some people may rave about Uncharted and its action gameplay but there are those that have criticized it for it basically being a movie with gaming interruptions. That same accusation cannot be said for God of War III even though it feels like it was developed to be a blockbuster movie. Sure there are some annoying quicktime events that mean nothing and there’s plenty of video to tell the narrative of several movies but the main focus of God of War III is gameplay. The series that redefined the beat-em-up genre is at the top of its game here. In fact, if there was one game this year that should have convinced gamers to buy a PS3 over any other system, it was this game. As a fully-immersive HD experience, there’s nothing like it. It’s fun, easy to get into, and just as easy to get lost in.
*Note – God of War: Ghosts of Sparta for the PSP was also in consideration. Like God of War III, it had plenty of action and lots of fun gameplay. It played like a console game on a portable system. A prime example that the PSP, when people put the effort into making great games for it, still has plenty of life still left in it.
Mass Effect 2 – Electronic Arts (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
This may be one of the best RPGs of all time. Not much more needs to be said about Mass Effect 2 as most of the stuff that made playing RPGs a chore (such as grinding and boring, statistical-based battles) have been thrown out and replaced with an action experience unparalleled in its genre. The actions of the player have actual consequences (which is what they probably mean by “role-playing-game”) and players can replay the game multiple times with different sequences, events, and outcomes occurring due to the choices they’ve made in the game. It makes it easy to get lost in the story because the player becomes part of the story; it doesn’t feel like one is controlling the actions of a character designed by a development team but that one is controlling the actions of someone they designed themselves. Mass Effect 2’s adventure is on such a large scale that it feels like one is playing through an entire season of an action-adventure television show (if only television was as good).
Red Dead Redemption – Rockstar Games (PS3, Xbox 360)
Some will call Red Dead Redemption a Grand Theft Auto clone set in the Wild West; those who do haven’t played one of the best sandbox games ever. Unlike Grand Theft Auto which has a meager single-player campaign supplemented by mini-games and gimmicks (like blowing stuff up with tanks) to keep the player fooling around in the game’s world for hours, Red Dead Redemption has a large single-player campaign that is incredibly fun to play. In fact, the single player campaign in Red Dead Redemption can take as long to play as it would take to play the single-player campaigns for all three Grand Theft Auto games on the PS2 combined. On top of that, the mini-games are better designed and more interesting in Red Dead Redemption (with the poker game actually playing better than some console games dedicated solely to poker). Another great thing with Red Dead Redemption is the multiplayer which is probably second to Call of Duty in terms of addictiveness (at least on a home console). Red Dead Redemption doesn’t need cheap gimmicks like tank codes to make the game fun. It’s so jam-packed full of content and gameplay that just playing the single-player campaign is fun enough; everything else feels like a wonderful bonus.
Starcraft II – Blizzard Entertainment (PC)
Sure, Blizzard could have re-released Starcraft II as a deluxe version of the original game released over a decade ago with some updated graphics and people would have been happy. However, Starcraft II has given new life to the real-time strategy genre. It’s not so much a graphical improvement but many refinements were made to the game that made it easier to play. Those who haven’t played a RTS before can feel a little overwhelmed by the strategy involved and the need to be quick to handle any situation. Starcraft II makes the adjustment for those used to something like a turn-based strategy a little bit easier without watering the game down completely. The best changes to the game were the online component which, while possible with the original game, is quite limited by today’s standards. Blizzard managed to come up with a game that almost feels like an MMO without having the need to pay a monthly subscription like their crown jewel, World of Warcraft.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Nintendo (Wii)
The original Super Mario Galaxy was one of the best games of all time. No company has been able to come up with an experience on any console that could come close to matching Mario’s first galactic adventure. Even Nintendo couldn’t really top it so they came out with a nearly identical sequel to a Mario game (something that they haven’t done in almost 25 years) with Super Mario Galaxy 2. Some may say it’s sort of like a director’s cut but very little from this game feels borrowed from the first title. Most of the levels feel original and imaginative (some of the levels in this game are the best out of any 3D Mario game). Even some of the gameplay elements like Rock Mario could have been released as its own standalone package and it would have still been considered a title worthy of purchase. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may not be twice as good as the original but at least we’ve been able to experience this fantastic voyage a second time.
Super Meat Boy – Team Meat (PC, Xbox 360)
Super Meat Boy harkens back to a time when games looked simple but were actually quite challenging. On its exterior, Super Meat Boy may look like a game suitable for kids with its apparently adorable main character. However, when one actually starts to play the game and see the punishment Meat Boy has to suffer through to save his girlfriend, that it’s easy to understand why this simple looking package is one of the most hardcore games released this year. Dying is a fact of live in Super Meat Boy. In fact, one should expect to die at least a dozen times on average per level in this game. This is not because the game has horrible controls or the level design is so horrendous that success is hard to come by; it is because it takes skill, precision and patience to make it to the end. The game isn’t responsible for any cheap deaths; it’s the player who is in total control and responsible for their own mistakes. Even with its difficulty, it never feels punishing. Thanks to all this, when one finally does succeed, it feels like an accomplishment. Aside from the wonderful main gameplay, there are many other features that make this a stand-out game: the alternative levels, the Game Boy-esque minigames, and the replays after one finishes a level where the player gets to see all their attempts on screen at the same time to some very messy results. All this in a downloadable game package. Some developer and publishers should take a long hard look at this title and realize what the word value means because Super Meat Boy is full of it.