Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Favorite Games of 2008

I don't do a Game Of The Year post anymore, because it's impossible to play everything, and GOTY implies a degree of fairness and perspective that I really don't have. However, I can do a favorite games of the year post, and if you missed any of these games the first time around, they're well worth your time.

Oh, and if you're wondering, I didn't scan through the blog to find likely candidates. I figured that if it wasn't memorable enough to immediately come to mind, then it didn't deserve to be on the list.

10. Head Coach (360)
This game would have cracked the top five, easily, except for a Catch-22 that somewhat derails its brilliance. While the new design is absolutely sensational, and everything off the field is fantastic, Head Coach uses Madden 08's gameplay engine, which is so inferior to the rest of the game that it's a real buzzkill. There's a sim engine that can alternatively be used, and it's much, much more realistic, but then the game loses the excitement of 3D graphics. Still, it's a first-rate design, and a real blast of fresh air in sports simulations.

9. NHL 09 (360)
This game has one of the best balances between reality and fun that I've ever seen in a sports game. Is it entirely realistic? No. Is it somewhat realistic and absolutely, tremendously fun? Yes. Slider adjustments are necessary, because the default settings are far too amped up, but it's a fantastic game, and "Be a Pro" mode is an excellent career mode.

No, it's not The Show, but nothing is The Show. Except The Show, of course.

8. De Blob (Wii)
A whimsical color explosion, De Blob is nearly impossible to describe, although I tried to do so here. It's also the only game I ever played that reminded me of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine. Having a character whose goal is to paint every single thing in an environment is incredibly compulsive (in a good way), and the vibrant graphics make it even more rewarding. This is another excellent game for kids, although I enjoyed it even more than Eli.

7. MLB 08: The Show (PS3)
Simply put, this is the finest sports simulation ever made.

The HD graphics (on the PS3) are nothing short of phenomenal, the animations are amazing, and the commentary is the best ever heard in a videogame. It looks and feels--and plays--like real baseball, with only a very few exceptions. And Road To The Show (career) mode is, essentially, a second full game to play.

The level of sophistication and polish in this game is off the charts. And since I play basically every sports game that comes out, I can say, without hesitation, that this is the sports game of the year. It's so much better than any other game that there isn't even a discussion.

6. Monster Lab (Wii)
This game was the single biggest surprise of the year. It had almost zero pre-release hype, its Metacritic score is a very pedestrian 72, and it's an absolute blast--stylish, extremely funny, and very, very clever. Battle monsters in a Tim Burton-inspired world, scavenge parts, and create more powerful monstrosities in your lab. It was Eli 7.5's game of the year, and we had a ridiculous amount of fun. Plus, there were 20 hours of gameplay, at least, and it never feel padded. Original post here.

5. Fallout 3 (360)
This was the most-anticipated game of the year for me, and after spending 40+ hours exploring the world before I moved on to the main plot, it delivered in almost every category. I loved the post-apocalyptic setting, loved V.A.T.S., loved the character models, loved the scavenging mentality, loved almost everything.

4. Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer (DS)
The best rogue-like game I've played in years, Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer kept me glued to the DS for weeks this spring. Depth, challenge, humor--this game has it all. Here's the original post, plus follow-ups here and here.

3. No More Heroes (Wii)
It's a game absolutely bursting with excess and a comic energy that can only be described as manic, and I remember this game more vividly than any other game I played in 2008. I originally wrote about it here, and everything there is (in retrospect) still true. It's a comic book come alive, basically--from the modeling of the characters to the way that everything is totally over-the-top. I'm sure I'll still remember this game fondly twenty years from now, while almost everything else I played will have long since been forgotten.

2. Rock Band 2 (360)
This is more of a lifestyle than a game, really, and I'm not even sure it's fair to compare it to games made by humans, but Rock Band 2 added almost every single feature I wanted that was missing from the original. It's an 11 in every possible way.

1. King's Bounty (PC)
No, I can't link to my original impressions of this game because I still haven't written them. All I know is that guys who made Space Rangers 2 (one of my favorite PC games of all time) have absolutely, 100% done it again. King's Bounty is almost hypnotically addictive, and it still has the trademark wackiness of Space Rangers 2. Want to marry a frog? No problem. Want to see shamans, cyclops, vampires, druids, alchemists, polar bears, cannoneers, and grim reapers--in the same battle? No problem. Want to go on a quest to improve the quality of beer? You're in luck.

Plus, at the highest detail settings, this is the most vibrant game world I've ever seen. Flags wave, rabbits and squirrels run across your path, fish swim in streams, butterflies flit about, birds fly past--it's magical.

Here's the best analogy I can think of to describe how this game plays. You're nine years old and it's the day after Halloween. You leave your house to walk to school, and you see a piece of candy on the ground. A few feet past that is another. You start following this trail (some kid's treat bag must have split enough for candy to leak out) and putting candy in your pockets. Before long, your pockets are full of candy, but up ahead, there's still more candy.

This trail of candy, as far as I can tell, stretches on forever.

Miscellaneous awards below.

Games I Want To Spend More Time With
Saint's Row 2 (360)
I only spent a few hours with this game when it was released, because it came out at the worst possible time (for me)--there were so many high-quality games being released, and thug life isn't exactly one of my favorite genres, anyway, so it slipped out of the picture. Volition is an excellent developer, though, and what I did play, I liked.

Dead Space (360)
Another interesting title that just got drowned by the competition. I loved some of the design elements (health was shown as part of a character's equipment, which was freaking brilliant), and the game seemed very polished, so I hope to go back to it in the next few weeks.

Games I Knew Were Good But Couldn't Get Into, Anyway
The World Ends With You (DS)
This game was dripping with style, which I loved, and it was exactly the kind of game that I should want to play compulsively. Somehow, though, I didn't, and I could never quite figure out why.

Braid (360)
Another game that people lost their minds over, and I knew (I still know) that it was brilliant, and I should be captivated, blah blah blah, but it did absolutely nothing for me. I think I might have played it for an hour, and I had no desire to ever try it again (although, at some point, I'm sure I will).

Biggest Disappointments
Spore (PC)
This might be a really good game after it gets a dozen expansion packs.

NCAA 09 (360)
What an incredible turd. Everything possible went wrong with this game, and for the first time in years, it was so bad that it simply couldn't be salvaged--no combination of slider settings was enough. Recruiting was tedious, Campus Legend mode was ignored, and Pop Warner leauges have better gameplay.

MLB2K8 (360)
An epic disaster.

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