Sunday, January 2, 2011

Blog Post: Awesome games that just missed the Top 5

Well, we have my top 5 for 2010:

*Sin and Punishment: Star Successor
*Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
*Final Fantasy XIII
*Red Dead Redemption
*Super Mario Galaxy 2

As soon as I finish a couple of these games, I'll be ready to say for sure which one has been my favorite game this year, and it won't be an easy choice to make.

Until then, though, I decided I'd give some recognition to the games that were good but that didn't quite make it into my top 5.
Here's a list of games deserving of recognition.

Why you should play it: Kirby's Epic Yarn was one of the biggest surprises of 2010 for me. The game has an amazing visual look and a charming atmosphere, not to mention very fun and inventive platforming. Plus, nothing was as awesome as seeing yarn versions of King Dedede and Meta Knight.

Why it didn't make it: The easy difficulty made this a fun, relaxing gameplay experience, but this, combined with the game's very childishly-delivered story, also makes this a game that's a little too difficult to recommend to older gamers for $50. Younger gamers will probably have their minds blown by it. For older gamers, it's a fun playthrough that I recommend, but worth $ Debatable.

Why you should play it: Yakuza 3 was a game that felt like it took forever to reach Western shores, and there was a real debate as to whether Western gamers would ever get the chance to continue Kazuma's epic story. The Yakuza series is one of the strangest (in a great way) game series I've ever played. Brutal, over-the-top street fighting action is mixed with a fantastic story that's delivered in well-translated and voice acted cutscenes and creates a truly awesome tale. The cities you explore (which in Yakuza 3 includes the seaside town of Okinawa) are brimming with life and tasks to complete. Karaoke is beyond epic. This is definitely a game worth playing, and it looks like enough gamers have done that: we'll be getting Yakuza 4 this spring.

Why it didn't make it: The Yakuza series has always dabbled in mundane quests, but Yakuza 3 took this to a new level by essentially making the badass Kazuma errand-boy for a group of whiny orphans. While amusing at first, these nonstop fetch quests began seriously bogging the game down at times, and I wish Sega of America had taken the axe to these instead of removing the Hostess Clubs and some of the sidequests from the Western release. And though the story's still awesome, it's missing a lot of the film noir flare and complex intrigue that made the previous two Yakuza games, especially Yakuza 2, excel so much. It also ends rather anti-climactically, again, compared to others in the series. Still worth a play for sure, but not the best in the series.

Why you should play it: Heavy Rain proves that Indigo Prophecy was no fluke. European developer Quantic Dream has once again blurred the line between movie and video game with every cutscene being interactive and giving you full control of what your character says or does. Any character can die in this game, and once they're gone, they're gone. A lot of this is up to you. Near the end of the game I put my controller down and sat there for 10 minutes, trying to make the hardest decision I had to make in a video game since, well, the end of GTA4. I'm happy to say that unlike in GTA4, this time I made the right choice to get the ending I wanted. :]

Why it didn't make it: Though I enjoyed this game, I have to admit that it lacks some of the freshness that Indigo Prophecy had, and I found myself starting to wish that Quantic Dream would try their hand at something more gameplay-driven very soon. The voice acting is spotty at times, as are the controls, and the commands, relying largely on analog stick and Six Axis movements, are often confusing. If you have the Playstation Move, I'd definitely recommend using it for this game.

Why you should play it: Alan Wake is even more proof that Remedy, the studio responsible of the first two Max Payne games, knows how to tell a story. The narrative here is very strong, as is the soundtrack, which is really one of the best musical scores I think the horror genre has ever seen. And Poets of the Fall needs to be in more video games. Their song fit Max Payne 2 like a glove and the work they've done for Alan Wake is great too. The interesting story and great visuals all combine to make an experience that's as scary as it is action-packed. I fear for Max Payne 3, because it will be done by another studio, and I think it'll be lost without Sam Lake doing the writing.

Why it didn't make it: The gameplay's a bit underwhelming. The flashlight mechanic is innovative and works well, but the endless dark forests you constantly find yourself having to hike through get old awfully fast, and the town of Bright Falls feels like an afterthought when it should have been an essential part of the game. And it's hard to be surprised by enemies ambushing you when the game (loudly and obviously) autosaves right before every enemy encounter.

Why you should play it: Sonic Colors is proof that SonicTeam still has it in them to create innovative and fun platforming. An energetic and catchy soundtrack mixes in with some very colorful environments and cool Wisp powerups, not to mention some fun writing, to create yet another strong Sonic game that demonstrates Sega's willingness to improve the series.

Why it didn't make it: Damnit SonicTeam please do something about these controls. If you're really going to continue taking this series in a more 2D-oriented direction, you need to design a new control scheme that isn't so slippery. And please for $50 make a game that's not beatable in two sittings. Nothing's more of a buzzkill than when an awesome game ends too soon.

Why you should play it: Halo: Reach, the final Halo game from Bungie, tells the story of the ill-fated attempt to save the planet Reach from the Covenant invasion. This is one of the best campaigns of the series, especially if you're playing splitscreen or online co-op. Getting into your gunships and doing battle in the skies as you dodge the tall skyscrapers of the city is easily one of the most epic moments of the series, and the campaign feels a lot more focused than Halo 3's somewhat vehicle-focused campaign did. The areas here are smaller but you feel much more like a team, while in Halo 3 you'd get into a Ghost and pretty much drive away from everyone up to the next massive boss. Aside from a strong campaign, Reach of course has its amazing multiplayer.

Why it didn't make it: It's hard to be surprised by a Halo game after all this time, and Reach certainly feels familiar. The sky battles were awesome bits of new stuff, I wish more of the campaign and multiplayer felt as fresh as these did. I also wish there were more multiplayer maps available in the box. I know the trend is to hold some off for DLC, but come on, guys...the game was $60.

Why you should play it: Metroid: Other M is actually the type of risk I'd like to see Nintendo take more often. Granted, this game has its issues, but I'm just happy to see them make a game (and Epic Yarn was another one) that wasn't afraid to  try something a bit different. Metroid Other M was very story-driven, moreso than any other Metroid game, and the accessible difficulty, fast pace, and interesting use of hand-to-hand combat made this game feel like another world from the Metroid Prime games. It's a lot of fun and I was very glad to have played it. I actually liked the story too and thought it added a lot to the game.

Why it didn't make it: that said, a somewhat surprising lack of polish seems to exist in every corner of this game. Moments where cutscenes stop dead in their tracks for you to locate a tiny pixel on the screen are ridiculously dumb, some areas look nice while others look borderline unfinished, and the voice acting would have sounded a lot better in 1999. Not to mention, the way Samus unlocks her powers makes no sense whatsoever, even in this game's established universe. None of these flaws stop Other M from being a game worth playing, and I recommend it to all Wii owners, but they do prevent it from reaching its status as a top-tier game of the year.

Anyway, there you have it. These were all games worth playing, and I feel that they deserve recognition, even though they, for whatever reason, didn't make my top 5 for the year. 2010 was an awesome year for video games, and I'm looking forward to an exciting 2011.

Next post: My GOTY 2010. Stay tuned, whoever's reading this. :]

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