In certain segments of the gaming community, there exists a mythos about 1998 that circulates every few years. The idea is that 1998, smack dab in the middle of the N64/PS1/Saturn era, was the best year of gaming releases in our industry’s history. That year saw the releases of Ocarina of Time, Half-Life, Banjo-Kazooie, like nine Bomberman games, among many others. People hold a sort of reverence for this year and on some communities, there’s always lamentations of “This year was good, but it was no 1998.”
So was this year as good as 1998? Let’s see!
BEST GAME THAT I ASSUMED WOULD DISAPPOINT
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Dead Rising 2, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Sonic Colors
These are all games that I did not think would be bad, but I did not think would be particularly great, either. Maybe it was because the last game in the series was so amazing that I couldn’t imagine a sequel a year later being as good, or maybe it was a developer team switch, or a game in a series that has not been great, or a game in a series that is just god awful most of the time. And the winner is…
It speaks volumes that all these games that I had reservations ended up being great, but only Lara Croft left me feeling like any concerns were completely unjustified. While there are issues here and there, such as some glitches that can make things difficult for some players, such as incongruous glitches in online mode. Lara Croft makes a strong, strong case for polished, inventive downloadable games and is an overall contender for Game of the Year.
Game of the Year: Handheld Edition
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Game Dev Story
Despite all the bluster about the PSP’s lack of games, the system was kind of a handheld tour de force this year, miniaturizing console experiences and sometimes even improving on them. The DS and the iPhone also had strong contenders this year, the former putting out a massive entry in a series I love and the latter condensing humor and addiction in to 7MB. In what might be the last year handhelds are separated from consoles in GOTY awards, what game ends up taking the crown?
This was a close race between the two PSP games. While Peace Walker might actually be a better crafted game, it failed to adapt itself well to the PSP, especially in terms of controls. Kingdom Hearts not only managed to adapt its controls, it changed the battle system in the process for the better. Birth By Sleep ended up as an engaging handheld experience that improved upon its console predecessor and was just a damn fine game aside from that.
Plot Synopsis: Literally everyone is Sora.
Best 2009 Game That Hit Its Stride in 2010
Left 4 Dead 2, Borderlands, Super Street Fighter IV, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
These are games that initially made some sort of splash, but either because of DLC, new modes, a new edition, or just the fact that nobody finished it when it actually came out, they didn’t really make the impact they were going for until 2010. The year-late winner for this award is…
The idea of a slow burn is antithetical to most video games. We’ve been conditioned to think that games should turn it up to 11 from the start and never let up, which is a perfectly valid view. Shattered Memories does not do that, however. It offers only a slow creep, a chance for the game to get in to your mind, even as you’re trying to figure out what the hints mean. It culminates in a twist that would have blown people away in 2009…if they had gotten that far.
Game of the Year
Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, Bayonetta, Trauma Team, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Nier, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Nominees for game of the year seem like crazy things, because really every game that came out that year is technically a nominee. But then I started culling the list, and culling, and trying to figure out what it was I wanted to hold up and say “This is my favorite game this year.” Was it going to be the high-budget stuff that I had a lot of fun with? Or the quirky Japanese stuff? Would it be the follow up to the game I considered to define a decade or an out of nowhere downloadable hit?
This year, much like 1998, presents me with a crossroads of game philosophies. Is the most expensive to develop game necessarily the best? Is the best necessarily my favorite? Can I love a game but still recognize it’s deeply flawed and still call it Game of the Year? I considered all these questions and, after a lot of twisting and mental gymnastics, came up with this.
At various points in the year, I was convinced each of the nominees was going to be my Game of the Year, but sitting here and really deliberating it with myself, I eventually settled on Bayonetta. While there are truly amazing, industry-changing games up there, the hardest contest eventually came between Bayonetta and Nier. I felt like they were two sides of the same coin, where Bayonetta faltered, Nier succeeded, and vice-versa. But where Bayonetta succeeded is extremely important: It was a fantastic video game, filled with content, that was extremely replayable. What some games would force on you as DLC, Bayonetta let you have them by playing the game. I won’t argue Bayonetta makes no missteps (the Space Harrier level comes to mind), but it succeeds at being a video game to a degree no other game this year matched. Bayonetta is my Game of the Year after a long, hard fight against strong contenders.
Substance over Style?
It wasn't until I finished my own list, which involved a lot of arguing in my head, that I noticed Nitrobeard colleague Mark Bradshaw also chose Bayonetta as his Game of the Year. His reasons are a little different from mine. I do have Sega nostalgia as a kid, but not to that extent. Bayonetta was just the most well-made game on the list. In an industry where we constantly try to legitimize gaming as art by trying to prove how cinematic it can be and how it can evoke feelings of love and tragedy, we sometimes forget that it would all mean nothing without good game design. Bayonetta is the distilled essence of that and I'm glad I'm not the only person to think so.