Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Five Favorite Downloadable Games of 2010

2010 was a weird year for me in terms of downloadable games. I did play a fair share of them but at the same time, there were many games that I missed out because there just wasn’t enough free time. I usually enjoy downloadable games because they are almost always made to be completed in a matter of hours with the best ones giving you a reason to play through a 2nd or 3rd time. One of my gaming goals for 2011 is to spend more time with these style of games because the digital age of gaming is not going away anytime soon.

With that, here are my five favorite downloadable-only games.

Did not spend enough time to consider:

Limbo (360)
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (360 and PS3)
Scott Pilgrim vs The World (360 and PS3)
(360 and PS3)

Just Missing Out:

Dark Void Zero (DSiWare)
Söldner-X: Final Prototype (PS3)

5. DeathSpank (360, PS3 and PC - Played on 360 and PC)

DeathSpank has a special place for me as I managed to see this game behind closed doors at PAX 2009, almost a year before its launch. It had my attention then, even without getting to directly control the game. When it finally did hit consoles, I was absorbed with its quirky atmosphere and easy to grasp combat. Yes, the way in which you healed yourself was an odd choice, it didn’t really detract from what the developers intended on doing, giving players an action-RPG that didn’t require too much from you. The only other knock on this game isn’t so much a knock on it but a knock on the fact that Hot Head Games quickly released a follow-up, Thongs of Virtue, a mere 3 months after the fact. Added that Thongs of Virtue didn’t improve upon anything left a sour taste in my mouth and hurt the original game’s originality.

4. Joe Danger (PS3)

Having never played the cult classic Trials HD, I felt it was necessary to pick up Joe Danger for that simple fact alone. While I know the two games aren’t that similar, it was still a good call on my part. Yet another quirky game that very few people got to experience but should most definitely do. It doesn’t really require a lot from the player but once you begin to want to master each race, collect all items and get higher score than your friends, you appreciate what the developers set out to do. What I really enjoyed was that levels and situations could be enjoyed in small portions. Play for a bit and then come back whenever you wanted; a must for all great downloadable games.

3. Super Meat Boy (360 and PC - Played on 360)

If it wasn’t for a really bad glitch on the 360 version that deleted a massive chunk of my progress, this game would have been my #1 without hesitation. I was in love with this game not only because it was super-challenging, but it had such a cute charm and quite simplistic in its approach. You would die a couple of dozen times but after each death, you got the feeling you knew what was required to complete the stage, so you tried again, and again, and again. It was a bit disheartening that the glitch, which occurred when downloading anything onto your 360, hurt my enjoyment, but when I feel like punishing myself, this will be the game I turn to.

2. Dead Rising: Case Zero (360)

Considering I really didn’t enjoy Dead Rising, I thought Capcom’s idea of releasing a quasi-prequel to the game’s sequel was a smart idea in order to gauge people’s interests. Yes, this was a $5 demo, but for gamers like me who weren’t too sure if Dead Rising 2 was worth their additional $60, it helped answer that question. It prepares you for the main game but offers an interesting story that leads into the main game. Fine, I haven’t played Dead Rising 2 yet and probably won’t until it receives a price drop, but I am still content that I managed to play through Case Zero a few times to unlock additional content for when I finally do.

1. echochrome ii (PS3)

My favorite downloadable game of 2010 was surprise even to me. I had no idea this game was even on Sony’s schedule for 2010 until they announced the launch date of Dec 21st at the beginning of the month. I got back from vacation and was managed to obtain the game a week before its release for review purposes. It’s an extremely simple game in concept but its execution and the variety was absolutely incredible. I was already a fan of the first game, was probably one of the few people to actually play echoshift on PSP and I had many late nights trying to complete various puzzles in ii. This is also my favorite Move-controller game because of the creative way it uses the peripheral as a flash-light. You point it at the screen and adjust the shadows you place on the screen. It sounds so simple and it is; but it is something that you need to see to fully appreciate. If own the Move-controller and have been waiting for another quality game, download this immediately.

My Favorite Games of 2010

With my 2nd complete year as a member of the Gaming Press behind me, I realized that the way I play games has changed a lot since before Sept 2008 (when I started writing for Game Focus). I used to play only a few games, the ones people talked about or got great reviews, and usually focused on Sports, Strategy or RPGs. With writing about games, I opened the door to new genres, experienced titles I would have never played if it wasn’t for assignments and had a greater appreciation for those really good games. At the same time, because I covered games, often the ones I wanted to play or the ones people most talked about were missed because of other engagements. My favorite games of 2010 was a tough list since while every game on my top 10 I spent a good amount of time with, there were others that I just didn’t get the opportunity to experience and couldn’t consider them. While they might not be on the list, they are still games I expect to play, especially since I already shelled out the cash to get them.

Here are my favorite games of 2011

Games I couldn’t consider since I didn’t spend enough time with to qualify them:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (360 and PS3 - Currently playing it on PS3)
Bayonetta (360 and PS3 - Currently playing it on 360)
Call of Duty: Black Ops (360 and PS3 - Currently playing it on PS3)
Fallout: New Vegas (360, PS3 and PC - Currently playing it on PC)
God of War III (PS3)

Just missing out:

2010: FIFA World Cup South Africa (360, PS3 and Wii - Played it on all three)
Alan Wake (360)
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (360, PS3 and PC - Played it on PS3)
Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising (PC)
Halo: Reach (360)
Mod Nation Racers (PS3)
Super Street Fighter IV (360 and PS3 - Played it on PS3)
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction (360 and PC - Played it on 360)

10. Civilization V (PC)

I remember when I was younger watching older kids showing off the first two Civilization games and me being awe-struck with the game. What a simple concept involving taking a group of people and see what you could do it them. You could take it easy and coast through the ages, be aggressive or be defensive, there was no right or wrong way of playing because every choice you made was the correct one (in your eyes). I honestly was afraid of spending too much time with Civ V because I knew I could easily get lost and start in the early afternoon only to look up and realize it was already morning. It’s a real time sink but it never got bored; you’re thinking of things to do, contemplating your decisions and devising your next course of action. If you have never played a Civ game, this is the perfect place to start and once you start, it’s hard to stop.

9. Red Dead Redemption (360 and PS3 - Played it on PS3)

My enjoyment with Red Dead Redemption was a roller-coaster affair. There were times when I straight-up questioned why it was given so much praise: trying to aim while riding a horse was realistically difficult yet dead aim was such a thrilling aspect to ever gun fight. I felt the story’s pacing was off especially once you reach Mexico, the 2nd half of the game, and the three key parts that could have ended the game, but I will completely admit, I teared up for obvious reasons (won’t spoil it). Because I had that emotional attachment, it was reason enough to give it praise. I still prefer GTA IV in terms of the grand scheme of RockStar’s Open World style of games but my 28 hours playing as John Marsden was worth every it in the end.

8. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (360 and PS3 - Played it on PS3)

The Need for Speed franchise has been very up and down but one I’ve invested a lot of time, money and love with. Without a doubt, the most memorable games in the series have been the Hot Pursuit branded games (NFSIII and NFS:HP). Thanks to Criterion, this game is fast, frantic and extremely addictive. Even with only a small group of friends on PSN on my Autolog, I am always looking to find ways of improving my time. Also, how strange is it that for a game where you want to play as the man; being a Police Officer is so satisfying when you smash that punk racer’s car into a wall. While the Autolog is incredible, the lengthy career as both a racer and an officer is so deep and there is much to discover and experience. Don’t get me started on the cars, so many great choices that any car aficionado will find one that they will love to drive.

7. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (360 and PS3 - Played it on 360)

Who says word of mouth doesn’t help. I can honestly admit that when Enslaved was released in September I had no knowledge of its existence or cared about it. But then a fellow member of GF gave it such high praise and others also followed suit, I began to pay more attention. Then I picked up the demo and was completely prepared to get it. Luckily the game dropped in price and I managed to snag a copy in time for the holidays. In what I thought would be a game I would play on and off ended up being two minor sessions followed by a massive six hour period where I completed the game and began to question what the game’s ending meant and would we see more. The gameplay might not be that original, but so very few games are. What held my attention was the wonderful set-designs, beautiful character designs (I absolutely love the way Trip looks) and captivating story. I seriously doubt we’ll see a follow-up to this, but if Ninja Theory get the opportunity to expand the game’s mythos, I will be first in line.

6. Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii)

Talk about being super cute. I remember sitting in the E3 Media room hovered over a computer when Nintendo revealed Kirby’s Epic Yarn and realizing then and there this would be a smash hit. The Kirby frachise has always taken risks and this is no different. Could a game that looks like your grandma’s hand-made quilt be really that good? Yes it can!. Fine, the game is really easy but the things that you can do and the unlockable surprises along the way more than make up for that fact. Even with a story that can be rushed through in about 5-7 hours, if you invest the time to get everything in each level and play all the bonus games, you can quickly see that number double, if not triple. Best part, those bonus games were where the real challenge began to show itself and presented some interesting thoughts in my head (Is this purposely difficult or am I not as smart as I think I am). It might be geared towards younger gamers and parents with kids, even someone like myself, in their mid-twenties, can jump in and leave with smile on their face...something games are supposed to do.

5. DJ Hero 2 (360 and PS3 - Played it on 360)

Living in an apartment had more or less ruined my enjoyment of music based games. I could no longer play Rock Band thanks in part to the constant noise complaints my downstairs neighbour made, and just playing Guitars or singing wasn’t enough to interest me and/or my guests. DJ Hero changed that. I didn’t get around to buying the first game, but I spent many lunch hours at a local Best Buy playing setlist after setlist, then finally decided to spend the cash and pick up the sequel. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed mixing and mashing some of my favorite songs by some of the best DJs and Producers in the industry. I couldn’t stop playing this and had to play the game with headphones on because I wanted to hear the music as loud as I could. Not only was the soundtrack fantastic but the blending of set-lists worked so well that it helped fuel my addiction. I just went from one song to the next without realizing how much time I was spending.

4. FIFA Soccer 11 (360, PS3 and Wii - Played it on PS3 and Wii)

Well looky here, a soccer game on my favs list. What can I say, I am a footie junkie and I’m not afraid to admit it. I played a lot of soccer games this year but the one I would always turn to was FIFA 11. It might not be a giant leap from last year’s edition but the subtle changes were enough to keep my attention. Yes, the addition of playing as a Keeper in Be a Pro was not that successful, it showed that EA was willing to take a risk. They included the Russian League and the improved passing system, which felt even more realistic gave me more reason to play. After playing FIFA 10, I was really worried where the series would go but they met my expectations and more. Now I have to wonder what can they improve for FIFA 12 because the bar is just getting higher and higher.

3. Heavy Rain (PS3)

Heavy Rain was one of my most anticipated games of 2010. I remember seeing it for the first time at PAX ‘09 and while I refused to play it the fact that I saw two very different people play out the same part of the game with two completely different end results showed me that this game would be something else. Yes, there are some faults: the story loses traction near the end due to some plot discrepancies and the voice acting is spot at best, you can’t fault what the game’s main intention was, to bring up conversation. Talk to different people and they will have very different thoughts on their experience. If I decided to do one thing, someone else may have done a completely different thing. If you played it a certain way, may have missed a section some one else may have seen. I also had the same emotional attachment to Heavy Rain as I did with RDR, so it struck a cord that way. Then they added PlayStation Move Support which made the game even more enjoyable. In my gaming history there have only been two games I played through more than once from start to finish, Metal Gear Solid and Chrono Cross; I really want to play through Heavy Rain again but I don’t want to ruin my first play through because the end it ended was the way I made it end.

2. Mass Effect 2 (360 and PC - Played it on 360)

When the first game in the series was released, I passed it by without much hesitation; I was never a fan of BioWare and could care less of a sci-fi based RPG. It wasn’t long afterwards that I was eating my words and wanting more. I loved Dragon Age last year and Mass Effect was a hotly anticipated release. I got to experience a great story and one that I blended myself. The cast of characters was incredible, the missions were so much more fleshed out and the choices you had to make felt more meaningful. The last part of the game was extremely tense with decisions that had to be made and there were a few times when I was certain I was making the wrong choice. Mass Effect 2 fits in the same category as Heavy Rain, I want to play the game again but I didn’t want to experience the game differently since it was my story. This will change in 2011 when ME2 hits the PS3 but then I’ll get to experience life as a different Shepard. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait too long after that for the end of the trilogy.

1. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (PC)

“Lock it down” a famous quote by a high-school classmate and a direct reference to the Ghost units of the original Starcraft. It was a game I really enjoyed in High School and the sequel brought up fantastic memories and made new ones. Once again, Blizzard has succeeded in giving us an experience worth playing. New Units, choices that altered the game and an ending that made me anxious for the next game. Missions weren’t that difficult or overly long but it was the choices and the hunting for achievements and additional content that made so happy. I might not be a great player but that didn’t phase me since I still played how I wanted. Best part, even if you’re not familar with RTS, they made it so easy to pick up, that newcomers could jump in and not feel too intimidating. It may have been a long time coming but the wait was certainly worth it and the next two games in the Starcraft II trilogy can’t come soon enough

My Favorite Five Portable Games of 2010

If it wasn’t for Portable games, I doubt I would be as invested in the industry as I currently am. With all my traveling on various forms of public transit, portable gaming has kept me occupied on each trip, regardless of length. In fact, the first ‘system’ I bought was the Game Boy Color and I enjoyed every moment with that Purple unit. Because of my love of Portable games and my greater involvement in the Gaming Press, I felt the need to give praise to those pocket games I enjoyed during the past Calendar year. My list doesn’t include any games made specifically for the iPod since I only recently began playing games on that system and don’t view them in the same light as DS or PSP titles. This will most certainly change next year but their bite-sized nature just can’t compare to content of other portable games (don’t get me wrong, I play a lot with my iPod Touch)

Without further ado, here are my five favorite portable games of 2010:

Just Missing Out:

Dragon Quest IX (DS)
Persona 3 Portable (PSP)
Ys Seven (PSP)

5. Mario vs Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem (DS)

The Puzzle Genre and Portable gaming go hand in hand and the Mario versus Donkey Kong series is the epitome of the two. Considering how the last game in the series went completely under the radar because of its DSiWare exclusivity, it was such a relief that Nintendo released a follow up a year later with twice as much content. The concept behind leading a group of mini-Marios through various puzzles is so simple but the way in which you can solve each level gives you reason to go back and play it again and again. Then once you’re done, the game opens up so much more content. Then if that wasn’t enough, you can download and create your own levels.

4. God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP)

The God of War series is to Sony what Mario is to Nintendo. Kratos is the face of Sony even if he’s not the model person you want leading the way. The franchise already spawned an incredible first outing on the PSP a few years ago and this one takes the baton and runs twice as hard. It might not deviate too much from Chains of Olympus; the story here, one that opens up so much more to the Kratos mythos is something that fans of the console games should play just for the sake of adding more knowledge. Even when he’s dishing out so much damage, we get to see a Human side to the character that makes you understand more why he acts the way that he does. The game isn’t long so it works perfectly in the Portable gaming landscape; you’re done in about 6 hours but every minute is well spent.

3. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (DS)

I am not afraid to admit it, but Hershel Layton is my homeboy. When I went to Japan in December of 2008, not only did I spend a few hundred Yen (a couple of dollars) on various Layton trinkets (including a Layton Key-Chain that I attached to my DS), I nearly bought the recently released game (which so happens to have been this very game) even though I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand it or play it. The third game, yet again shows what I love so much about portable gaming: easy to pick up, addictive and fun to play. The puzzles are just as creative as they have been in previous games and the story sheds more light on the Professor’s background, including the love of his life. I have introduced Layton to so many other people and I have yet to hear a negative response back from them. If you need to exercise your brain, you can’t go wrong.

2. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP)

The first Metal Gear Solid game on PSP might be viewed by some as a great game but I was not one of them. I found it difficult to grasp the controls, the missions weren’t that enjoyable and as a whole, felt like it wasn’t suitable for portable consumption. What’s even weirder, I enjoyed the Metal Gear Acid series, especially the 2nd game. But with Peace Walker, I did a complete 180. While the changes aren’t that drastic, the cool story, open nature and additional content made me wanting more. Even after putting over 10 hours into it, you will still find things to do and places to explore. The variable control options fixed a lot of the problems I had with the first and the way the story unfolds is done in just a way that you never really feel bored or uninterested. It might not be cut-scene heavy like the console MGSs, the comic book style still offers the same interactivity. On top of interesting story, the added Co-Op options also give you more opportunities to find rare unlockables and discovering additional content.

1. Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP)

When you invest so much time into a game and still manage to discover more, you know you have something special. The strategy genre hasn’t always been well received on consoles except when it comes to turn-based ones but this breaks that trend. Valkyria Chronicles II takes everything that made the first game on PS3 such an enjoyable experience, throws in high-school life and still delivers on what it is supposed to do. This is the perfect mash-up of Real-time and Turn-based strategy with missions that can be completed in a matter of minutes. It’s no walk in the park but the variety in your squad options, the beautiful visuals and great cast make it hard to put down. Even with the high-school setting, it never feels too childish and the way the characters interact with each other feels genuine. Best part, even if you have no previous background with the first game, you can jump into this and not miss a beat. I always thought that this would be a good game but I just never expected to enjoy it as much as I did and I whole-heartedly expect to play more until the third game reaches North America in late 2011.