Top 10 of 2008

OK! Clearly I suck!

I fully intended to start the list on 1/1. I just failed miserably at finishing the first post. And once you get to day two, and then three, etc. Well, the will to get started just drains out day after day. I also recall being inordinately busy during that time, but that’s just me making excuses. If you’re one of the six people that visit this blog thinking I’ve got something interesting to say, you’re disappointed. Sorry for that.

I can’t really make it up to you… not with ten posts in ten days with a game a day. I failed at that once already so I’m not going to try again. Instead, here’s my top ten counted down, why I picked them in a brief capsule, and what didn’t make the cut and what I’m still trying to get around to playing…

10. Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Nintendo’s top shelf fighting game is one of the best things you can play on Wii, whether you’re in it for a few quick rounds or a lengthy stay in any of its myriad of modes. I didn’t play this game nearly enough last year, and it’s mainly because my kids hog the damn Wii.

9. Mega Man 9 – This is a brilliant sequel to a series that just plain works best in 8-bit form. It’s retro cool in all the right ways, and it’s really not as hard as people would have you believe. You’re just soft.

8. The World Ends With You – I haven’t finished this one yet, but I’m already impressed enough to give it a place on this list because you need to try it. The music is phenomenal, the game design takes unique advantage of the DS, and it’s got character galore. I only wish I had bought it sooner!

7. Valkyria Chronicles – If you’re here from Quarter To Three, then you know I’m a big fan of this game. Strategy games on consoles just have this unique feel to them that doesn’t happen anywhere else. When you combine that intangible uniqueness with some of the people who created Skies of Arcadia, you come up with something quite brilliant in gameplay, graphic design and musical score. It’s by SEGA, but it’s like the arthouse films that win Oscars every year. You really ought to play it, but many of you just won’t for a million different reasons.

6. Frontlines: Fuel of War – The first game on my list that I reviewed for Crispy Gamer in 2008. You can hop over there for a lot more detail, but suffice to say this is the Battlefield game that stepped out of the mold far enough to really get me excited about this genre of first-person shooter again. It’s far better than DICE’s own Battlefield: Bad Company, and Frontlines even includes a superb single-player campaign, too! Criminally overlooked by pretty much everyone last year, and brushed aside by many of the rest. Shameful.

5. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 Wii – I also reviewed this for Crispy, but with the early site came problems with posting reviews and somehow it never appeared online. It’s a damn shame too, because this game reinvents videogame soccer with incredible results! People were looking for reasons to waggle early in the year, and this game nailed the pointer/waggle wand control scheme dead on. If you run across it for cheap, even if you don’t like the sport so much, check it out. You will be amazed at how Konami turned playing a soccer videogame into what’s essentially like diagramming plays as they happen where you can step in and take direct control anytime you’d like. Amazing.

4. The Club – Ah, The Club. Many of you were probably wondering where this was going to turn up on my list. It’s not in my top three, but just barely. Bizarre Creations’ fantastic combo of racing game and third-person shooter is simply sublime.

And no one gets it.

Then  there’s this contingent that gets it, yet wants to savage it because it doesn’t look like they expected it to look, or doesn’t make it easy for them to be awesome at it. Whatever… Bizarre dudes? I get it. You nailed it. Thanks for one of my favorite games of the year.

Not only do I love the club as a single-player game, there’s this multiplayer mode called Team Siege that kicks all kinds of ass. Two teams of four face off against one another with a short time limit for the assaulting team to take out the team under siege. The key? The guys defending have a very small area they cannot leave from which to defend. The defenders also only get one life while the attackers have unlimited respawns. Survive while under siege and you feel like you’ve really done something cool! Map design plays a huge role in making Team Siege so much fun, but the failure of The Club means finding games was a brief blip in the annals of time.

Sometimes people just don’t understand something. This was one of those times.

3. No More Heroes – That last comment about The Club can be applied to pretty much everything that Suda 51 has ever made, except for No More Heroes. Enough people figured this one out for it to make some end of the year lists, and rightfully so! The game takes shots at gamers, game makers and everyone in between. It’s so insider sometimes that you wonder if it’s unintentionally making fun of even itself.

But that’s part of its incredible charm. Well, that and a light saber that sends geysers of blood everywhere. I’m not one to get caught up in the gore fest. As a matter of fact, I really didn’t like how Gears of War 2 seemed to make that a selling point this time around. But in this game it’s all in ridiculous videogame fun, because not only do the bodies spray blood, they also spray fountains of coins!

I’d like to say more, but I think this is one of those games you just have to play for yourself. The more I tell you about it, the more I’ll ruin surprises best left to the player. Just get it and see it all for yourself.

2. GRID – Racing. It’s a major part of who I am. I grew up in a family that went to the races multiple times per year. Not really big auto racing events, though we go to those too. No, we mostly hit the local dirt tracks, which in Central Pennsylvania means some of the best auto racing in the country.

As a gamer, racing games are a major part of every year for me. I love them in all shapes and sizes. Sims to pure arcade, I’ll play anything that has superb competition, pretty graphics and excellent handling. GRID has all that and throws in awesome and simple online play, too. I got hooked on this game with its demo and couldn’t wait to get on the track with the full game.

It’s the type of racing game that straddles the line between arcade and sim handling, forcing you to always push just that tiny bit more in every corner, beyond the point of no return if it were a simulation, but not so far that you can’t believe it’s “real”. The circuits are so nicely realized and each one provides for a lot of unique automotive action in a varied number of cars. GRID might have made number one for me in another year, but there was one game I played a lot more…

1. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King – Lame pick? Maybe. Should I be burned out on World of Warcraft by now? Probably. The thing is, I’m not. I mean, I was. In the middle of 2008 I pretty much stopped playing. All my guild pals were doing the Level 70 heroics, and PvP and the Sunwell and all that jazz. I wasn’t able to keep up. When you write about games, it’s very hard to commit hours upon hours to a single game in any given year. You just don’t have time to stay involved.

That was my excuse anyway because really I wanted to be involved, and when Wrath of the Lich King shipped I got back in big time. You can read about my Death Knight, Braxorigan, over at Crispy. That fellow is the reason I stood in line until midnight on launch day, came home and installed, and then played until 5:30AM. Everyone eligible to create a Death Knight should run through the first three levels to see just how awesome it is to take on Brax’s journey. It sets the stage for the entire expansion, generating proper excitement for the new character type and for the assault on Northrend.

That’s just the start though, because I’ve seen so much amazing quest design since then that I can’t really pick any other game to stand above them all. Blizzard continues to maintain what’s made World of Warcraft the biggest game of its type while adding all sorts of subtle and not so subtle enhancements to the formula. If you’re going into this game to “grind”, you’re missing out on why it’s so special. Yes, it’s fun to play with friends, and yes it’s cool to battle it out in PvP, but the real genius is in the storytelling and how they make you feel special even though you’re one of millions. It takes some serious thinkers to build something this huge, but even tougher to do is to build it right.

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I’m a little surprised at myself for picking Lich King as my number one game of the year, but it’s definitely top of the list. That said, there are so many I haven’t played or am only now getting to. This week I finally tried both Persona 4 and World of Goo (Wii). Both are pretty incredible from what I’ve seen so far. They could easily become games I’d have wanted on this list. In addition to those everyone else’s number one, Fallout 3, still hasn’t made it into my PC or consoles. I suspect I’ll get around to it on the PC sometime in 2009. And one that really bugs me, Left 4 Dead, simply came out at the wrong time. I was overwhelemed wtih reviews when it shipped and couldn’t buy it because it would’ve taken time I needed for work!

That’s just a small sampling. There are far more. I’m also finding the iPhone games to be pretty substantial so who knows, maybe I would’ve wanted something on there on my list?

I do wonder sometimes how even the full-time guys in this biz can make a definitive list. There are just too many releases and it’s too easy to skip stuff that’s not being released by the biggest publishers. Have they all played GRID?  Did anyone other than me even load up Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii? Probably not.

With that in mind, I’m pretty happy to have put this list together. Hopefully you’ll find something you might’ve missed.

Shorter, more frequent updates are planned. We’ll see if that works out…

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