Here we are: The beginning of 2011. Now that 2010 is officially done and over with, it’s time to reveal the winners of Diehard GameFAN’s 2010 Gaming Awards. Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We all debated, squabbled, eventually voted and in the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head…but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. If you are interested in a specific staff member’s pick, you can always read our individual staff commentaries. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2010.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 2 GAME
So, this year pretty much marks the death of the PS2. There are still a scant few games planned for the console, but Gamestop no longer has a Coming Soon tab for the console and everything planned for it is a port of some sort of big name release, so it’s fair to say that the console is done. The console had a good run, to be sure, but this year wasn’t one of its best, as virtually nothing came out for the system that wasn’t a port of something or another, and the console has been phased out as developers work towards developing things for the 360, PS3 and Wii. That said, this year did give us one bright spot in an otherwise drab year: Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. Generally, we don’t highlight multi-console releases as the best games on any one platform, but as the Wii version of the game was a port of the PS2 game in the first place, and as the PS2 had an abysmal year otherwise, it seems fitting that this be the last recipient of our PS2 Game of the Year award, as it’s essentially the last truly great game the system is likely to see.
The game is a fantastic hybrid of turn based strategy and dating simulation elements with interesting mini-games and timing based Active Time Events thrown in that actually work nicely in context. Further, the PS2 version of the game actually comes with two discs: one featuring an English dub, and one featuring a Japanese dub. Both are quite good, honestly, but it’s great that NIS gave PS2 players the choice, so as to avoid any arguments over why one way or the other is better in this case. One could almost make the argument that NIS KNEW this would be one of the last truly great games for the system and went out of their way to make it some sort of love letter to fans and the system itself. Whether or not this is the case, though, it’s a great note to go out on for the console. Hats off to you, Playstation 2. You had a good run, and as grand finales go, Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is a pretty good one indeed.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 3 EXCLUSIVE GAME
Trinity Universe was one of those games I think everyone underestimated from the time it was announced until even now, where it has been largely ignored by the gaming public. Too bad for them, because not only are they missing out on one of the best games of 2010, they’re missing out on the surprise winner for our “PS3 Game of the Year” award. Although this was my favorite game of the year, I was shocked to see I wasn’t alone in my love for this quirky, hilarious and charming turn based RPG that actually gave you two RPGs on one disc. Considering this beat out titles like Heavy Rain and God of War III, that alone should tell you the quality of Trinity Universe from beginning to end.
Storywise we’re given two different playable tales – that of Demon Dog King Kananta (my favorite new character of the year) and the valkyrie Rizelea. Throw in familiar and beloved characters like Etna, Flonne and the prinnies from Disagea or Violet and Pamela from the Atelier franchise and you have a cast and crew that you can’t help but love. Both stories will having you laughing out loud as you play through them and you’ll find yourself really caring about these characters that have far more depth and characterization than you’d expect in either a comedy or a cross over game. Best of all, you don’t even need to have played any of the games that cross over here to love Trinity Universe. Our own Chuck Platt has never touched an Atelier game and my girlfriend had never heard of any of the Nippon Ichi characters until she saw me playing this and she instantly fell in love with Etna (she’s currently working her way through the first Disgaea via my PSP).
Gameplay is the real kicker here. To say that the staff of Diehard GameFAN is a bit unfriendly to turn based RPGs is a pretty accurate description. As whole we tend to prefer and reward SRPGs or action RPGs with top honours. Digital Devil Saga was the only true exception until now. Why? Because unlike most turn based RPGs where you just pick commands and actions from a menu in a repetitive fashion, Trinity Universe gives you a battle system that requires you to have fast eyes as well as reflexes. It’s the most engaging turn based battle system since Shadow Hearts and its judgment ring.
Look, I can keep going on with a myriad of praise for what is easily the most underappreciated title of 2010, but I shouldn’t have to. The bottom line is Trinity Universe was our PS3 exclusive for the year and it’s one of the best games of 2010. The game contains an awesome engine, two fun filled stories that lack the usual Sturm und Drang that have made JRPGs synonymous with emo and angst. It has an wonderful voice acting cast and a ton of DLC for those of you into that. If you missed out on Trinity Universe the first time around, don’t make that mistake twice – go out and pick up this game while you can and see just why it’s more than deserving of our PS3 Game of the Year award.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME
When the first Valkyria Chronicles came out, it combined turn-based battles and third person shooting along with some real time strategy and wrapped it all in an epic presentation of the story contained therein. The combined package was something never seen before and an unprecedented experience. It flew under the mainstream radar, but garnered much praise and won both the best on game on a system award and overall GOTY from us that year. When a sequel was announced for the PSP, there was initial trepidation that the game wouldn’t be able to retain what had made the first game so great due to being on a less powerful system.
While it’s not quite as graphically impressive as its predecessor, the graphics in Valkyria Chronicles II take advantage of the PSP’s capabilities just fine. More importantly, it does a good job of converting the unique battle system into portable form. It even fit in some additions, such as the branching class system, which gives you some customization option as far as your squad lineup goes. In addition to switching around classes, you can also unlocks potentials from each class and carry them over from class to class. The classes themselves have been rebalanced, making each more useful (and rendering the “scout rush” tactic less broken/viable). You also receive more options for tuning up your tank, and you can choose to convert it into an APC instead if you wish. Side characters get some individual development, something the original sorely lacked (though even in the original they had their quirks, and you still cared when they fell in battle). There’s also ad-hoc multiplayer mode, which lets you either team up with or go head-to-head against some friends, which, while not groundbreaking, does provide another way to play as well as show off your units. All in all, while the sequel fell short of the overall GOTY award, Valkyria Chronicles II still manages to net the PSP Game of the Year award, and quite deservedly so.
The next game in the series looks promising, so hopefully we’ll be seeing good things from it as well.
BEST XBOX 360 EXCLUSIVE GAME
For the longest time Halo was really the only reason to own the original Xbox. Bungie’s game was so good it bordered on the absurd. Yes lots of people complained about the back tracking, and still others wanted it to be an online title, but for a launch title I’d say it ranks right up there with Mario 64 and Soul Calibur as games which sold consoles and immediately made you glad you dropped the cash.
Now after four games, Bungie announced that they were leaving the Halo universe, but not before they would bring it all full circle, by telling the story of how it all went wrong for the UNMC Spartans on the planet Reach. The story revolved around the actions of one squad of Spartans during the final battle, both in the early hours and in the final desperate minutes spent fighting off the horde of Covenant to buy time for the Pillar of Autumn to launch and get away with information (and one slightly frozen Spartan 117) crucial to the survival of humanity.
Both Single and Multi-player were everything gamers have come to expect from a Bungie developed game, and none of the other exclusives on the 360 were really even close. As such Halo: Reach, Bungie’s ride into the sunset, is awarded our 360 Game of the Year award for 2010.
BEST PC EXCLUSIVE GAME
Every once in awhile a PC title comes along and surprises you all over again. Sure I’d heard some very positive buzz over the title but I’d not even seen a single screenshot or looked at a gameplay video before I got a chance to review this one earlier this year. Combining a very tried and true action RPG set-up, Torchlight did something new with the portals and pet system that we hadn’t quite seen before. Add to that a very nice customization system and you’ve got a solid action RPG.
Torchlight went beyond that a bit. With some very nice stylized visuals, stutter and error free gameplay, and the ability to not only mod the game but a nice community behind it, you’ve got a recipe for a very nice PC title. When I first reviewed it near the beginning of the year and I kept coming back to it I knew there was something special with the game and I’m glad to see I’m not the only staff member who feels the same way.
BEST NINTENDO WII EXCLUSIVE GAME
It’s funny, but very few people actually thought Capcom would release Tatsunoko vs. Capcom stateside. After all, few North American gamers knew of Tatsunoko characters outside of Gatchaman/G-Force/Battle of the Planets, Karas, and Tekkaman Blade. From a sales perspective it didn’t seem like it would be a winner, especially with how low the sales figures are for third party Wii titles. However Capcom took a chance and both the fans and the publisher were equally rewarded. Capcom made a ton of money off Tatsunoko vs Capcom and gamers received Capcom’s most spastic and insane fighting game since Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
The game not only gives us wonderful characters from titles like Street Fighter, SF2, SF3, Okami, Mega Man, Darkstalkers, Rival Schools, Dead Rising, and Viewtiful Joe, but it also introduced gamers to over a dozen classic Tatsunoko characters and helped create a resurgence of the company’s multiple anime licenses. It’s no surprise that “Technoman” got a full series release and that it sold pretty well right around the US launch of this game.
Best of all, the controls were wonderful regardless of how you played the game. Wiimote, Wiimote & Numchuk, Classic Controller, Gamecube Controller, or the official fight stick for the game – it didn’t matter. Each provided a dramatically different play experience, but all worked wonderfully. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom proved one big thing – if you make a high quality exclusive title for the Wii, it WILL sell, third party or not. In a year where Nintendo had quite a few big first party releases, Capcom’s newest Versus game proved to be the shining star for the Wii this year and also gave fighting game fans something to adore until we finally get our hands on Marvel vs. Capcom 3
– Alexander Lucard
BEST NINTENDO DS EXCLUSIVE GAME
Dragon Quest has always been venerable. It’s such a popular franchise in Japan that there’s an urban legend about a law that states that the game cannot be released on a workday because too many people call out. In fact Square-Enix took it upon themselves to only release DQ titles on weekends or holidays after studies showed productivity on DQ release days came to a screeching halt and that people faked sickness for both school and work so they could purchase the game. Let me stress that: Dragon Quest has the power to crash Japan’s economy. Imagine all of your co-workers calling out on the day that Madden comes out, and multiply it by ten. Considering the scope of these games and their legacy, they’re already time sinks. Put it this way: some people beat the 100 hour Dragon Quest VII.
So Square-Enix and Level-5 decided to make a Dragon Quest game that doesn’t really end? You can connect with your friends and play it perpetually, doing quests with your friends and downloading maps? The game doesn’t really end until you say it does? Nintendo, are you trying to freaking kill me!?
Dragon Quest IX is essentially the MMO of the Dragon Quest series, without going the full MMO route. They have a full single player quest that you can do by yourself, with bots – like DQIII – but you can also bring your friends in to adventure with you. Have a stronger friend help with a hard area! Have a weaker friend come in and gain some levels! The game’s approach to the quest was great both for single players and more social people, and every time Aileen and I go to Nintendo World, we always end up getting something good from someone who’s canvassing during work.
No other DS game really came close to giving us this kind of experience in 2010, so DQIX was an easy choice as our DS Game of the Year.
BEST MULTI-CONSOLE GAME
There were a lot of great games nominated this year in this category, make no mistake about that. Red Dead Redemption was a fantastic take on the GTA style of gaming with a Wild West theme that’s excellent. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood offers a solid single player experience and a surprisingly good multiplayer component that makes it all around a better game than its predecessors. Black Ops was a worthwhile sequel to Modern Warfare 2 that built on the framework Infinity Ward created nicely, crafting a game that’s as much fun to play alone as it is with friends and strangers. Sonic Colors was a good return to platforming form for Sega’s major mascot, and it’s easily one of the best Sonic games released in the past several years, if not overall.
But Mass Effect 2 was pretty much going to be the winner here from the moment it came out. Sorry.
Mass Effect 2 is basically a prime example of Bioware learning from their missteps and less desirable products, as every moment of the game shows distinct evolution over prior games the company has made. The gunplay and mechanics are a strong improvement over the first game, as the first game was a strong improvement over the less than desirable play mechanics of Jade Empire. The inventory system has been stripped from the game entirely, leaving a functional, slimmed down weapon and upgrade system in its wake. The option to perform various Paragon and Renegade actions as Active Time Events adds an interesting element both to the morality system of the game and to the cut-scenes, allowing you to interrupt the flow of dialogue if you choose, letting the scenes play out in the direction you wish when such options present themselves. Bioware has actively supported the game with DLC of various types, from added missions to added characters to added weapons and armor and beyond, and they’ve even patched elements of the game players didn’t like to make them more friendly and usable (the planetary mining, for example). Their goal, by all indications, was no less than creating the best possible game they could for fans to enjoy, and as of this point, it’s safe to say “Mission Accomplished.”
BEST SPORTS GAME
People who think of annual sports releases as nothing but roster updates don’t realise that sports fans – not armchair jocks, but people that grew up playing sports, still play sports in some cases, and generally love the games – are very serious about these things, and pick up every minute detail. That means that every game update doesn’t necessarily mean a better overall game. Madden ’04 is looked back upon more fondly than later versions of the game, but not nearly as fondly as NFL 2K5, a game that is regarded as better than All Pro Football 2K8. Until NHL ’10 came along, many hockey fans still regarded either NHL ’04 or the archaeological NHL ’94 as the best hockey game made. It’s more than features on the back of the box; we like a game that simulates the experience best, while still being playable. NBA 2K11 does all of that better than possibly any sports game before it, and more.
NBA 2K11 is known far and wide for adding Michael Jordan to the game – something that wasn’t possible for most of the games that came out when he played – and putting him in two modes that showed a reverence to his career and accomplishments that mirrors what most of us feel. If just for this mode, the game would have been worthy of a game of the year award. Then if you add in the other solid modes, and simply the best, most realistic simulation of basketball we’ve ever seen – by far – and you have an easy winner. Years down the road, I think sports gamers will be considering this as one of the greatest sports games of all time. For now, it will settle for being the best of 2010.
BEST FIGHTING GAME
Wow, this wasn’t a stellar year for fighting games, huh? Last year Street Fighter IV came out and didn’t even get NOMINATED for fighting game of the year, and this year an upgraded re-release turns around and wins the award. What happened there? I mean, don’t get me wrong, Super Street Fighter IV is a fine game, but last year it had some serious competition; this year, it had a Blazblue sequel that I was so excited about that I rented the damn thing for two weeks and played all of ONCE before I sent it back in disgust as a blatant rehash (hence it not being nominated), a PSP port of the original Blazblue, a Wii Capcom crossover fighting game that was very much a “love it or hate it” game, a mediocre 3D Samurai Shodown and a fighting game based on a Spike TV show.
Compared to last year, this is not exactly a bumper crop of competition.
Now, in fairness, Super Street Fighter IV is a solid game all around. Let this not be a slag against our winner in the least; the game comes packed with more characters, stages and special moves than its predecessor, and manages to make some positive strides forward in balancing the product while also adding new elements to it. It’s great to see old favorites like Guy, Dudley and Ibuki added to the game, and the game has been rebalanced somewhat, to a point where it feels more robust than its predecessor, if not perfect. Some interesting online options and an Ultra system that now allows you to pick from different moves based on your needs help the game out as well, and while some could argue that this was the game Street Fighter IV should have been, for its reduced price tag, it’s still a good deal, and still earns its place as our Fighting Game of the Year.
Now here’s hoping Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 completely blows everything out of the water next year.
BEST ROLE-PLAYING GAME
Anticipation, if not properly paid off, can ultimately be a bad thing. The longer it takes for a game to come out, or for anything of merit to be said or shown about a game, the worse the results can be for the developer and publisher. If you announce a game and it takes four years for that game to come out, at best, we’ll have completely forgotten about the game or stopped caring. At worst, we’ll have such inflated expectations by the time the game comes out that no possible product could ever hope to please those expectations. The Sakura Wars series kind of became such a product for a lot of US gamers; ever since the very first game came out some fourteen years ago in Japan, people have been tracking the games, harping heavily that they wanted to see a US release, and, in the rare case when someone who knew Japanese got a hold of one, talking about how awesome they were. When Nippon Ichi announced they’d be porting Sakura Wars V stateside, there was much applauding and appreciation to the company for a variety of reasons, but for some of us who’d never had an opportunity to play the games, there was a small amount of worry as well. We’d been hearing about how great the games were for fourteen years, after all, and this was a port of a four year old game to boot. What if it wasn’t as good as we’d expected? Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love was everything we’d hoped for and then some.
You’d never know that the game was released four years ago, as it’s revolutionary enough in its concepts and design that it feels like it could be released five years from now and still be fresh and exciting. The characters are well written and well developed, the RPG elements that come in are based around your interaction with your teammates as much as they are around the strategy gameplay itself, and the conversation tree dating-sim aspects are challenging in their own unique and interesting way, something many similar games don’t do with their conversation options. The game blends together the plot progression elements and strategy elements seamlessly in a way that makes perfect sense and breaks things up nicely, and the pacing of the game is exceptional, to be honest. Sakura Wars V is easily the best RPG to come out this year, and honestly the best RPG you likely haven’t played, which is honestly quite a shame, as you really should.
BEST FIRST PERSON GAME
When BJ Blazkowicz shot his way out of a Nazi prison, video games found their king. No other genre is more popular, more lucrative, or more controversial than the First Person Shooters. From Doom to Duke Nukem 3D, from Half-Life to Halo, from Call of Duty to Crysis, the gaming masses consistently embrace and devour First Person Shooters. In 2010, one developer’s swan song became our best First Person Shooter of the year.
Halo: Reach tells the story of the final days of humanity on the planet Reach, and the group of Spartan super-soldiers who sacrifice everything to try to stop the inevitable. The single-player campaign features a gripping, wonderfully paced story that takes the pristine world and devastates it over the course of the campaign. Short hints at prior games in the series culminate in a hand-off directly to the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved.
On the battlefields of multiplayer, the hooks of Halo: Reach go deep. Bungie offers a solid, always-there, and easy-to-access multiplayer package through XBox Live. That’s just the start of the dedication to player satisfaction though. Bungie offers up daily and weekly challenges that range from the simple “Kill 150 enemies in multiplayer” to the complex “Kill 75 Elites in Co-Op Campaign with headshots on Nightfall on Heroic or higher.” Each of these challenges offers players something different, with credits that can be spent customizing their Spartan’s appearance, allowing different looks but keeping the fine game-balance intact.
For a final word on why Halo: Reach earns our First Person Shooter of the Year award, we turn to cold, hard numbers. Bungie has always tracked player statistics to a staggering degree, and on December 10, 2010, published a graph of player and game statistics. In the three months since launch, gamers have played over 1.3 billion games of Reach, representing a time investment of over twenty-four thousand years. Congratulations Bungie, on your most popular game yet.
BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER
Most shooters are successful in part because of their concept and execution as much as their gameplay mechanics. R-Type works in large part because of the “bit” concept and how it’s executed, as well as the way the Bydo are presented as fleshy monstrosities and whatnot. Ikaruga likely wouldn’t be as memorable if it weren’t for the flashy battles and the heavy emphasis on color changing. Raiden wouldn’t be nearly as memorable if not for the trademark gigantic purple lock-on laser that obliterates everything it touches. The concept of any shooter is, usually, a large part of why the game is successful, as one can only spend so much time flying around shooting at things before one gets bored, and a successful execution of concept makes the game that much more enjoyable as a game.
Deathsmiles is quite possibly the only shooter made that works IN SPITE of its concept.
I mean, let us not be unfair here. The world of Deathsmiles is fantastic, melding horror and fantasy with little difficulty into a shooter world that’s quite exciting and well designed. The gameplay mechanics, based more around scoring than any sort of power-ups, and around trying to best make use of your bullets and Familiar, are great, as is the ability to choose the difficulty of the stage you go into as well as the stage you pick from the start. But you’re playing as gothic lolita girls, and the game is NOT AT ALL ashamed about this, to the point where it occasionally feels the need to actually somewhat make use of fanservice here and there with teenage and, in one case, pre-teen girls. Japan might as well be a different world for how little their fetishes make sense to us, but the fact that something like Deathsmiles manages to get past its oddball concept when something like Arcana Hearts never did is something to be studied and celebrated, as Deathsmiles, despite all odds, takes home the Shooter of the Year award.
BEST ACTION GAME
Despite facing some really stiff competition this year, Red Dead Redemption managed to rise above with its polished blend of Grand Theft Auto sandbox mechanics and spaghetti Western setting. The single player story was gripping, with interesting characters that were voiced by actors that delivered some very convincing performances. On top of that, you had a variety of mission types, mini-games, and side quests to keep you busy for hours on end. I’ll admit, I was originally not sold on the idea and almost passed on this game completely. I’m glad I didn’t, as the main campaign was one of the most satisfying I’d played all year.
As if that wasn’t enough, RDR managed to throw in a multiplayer mode for both co-op and competitive play. They were quite enjoyable when the game originally released, but due to DLC that has been released throughout the year (both free and paid) the modes have been bolstered enough to really stand on their own. This includes an entire mission pack for co-op play that was given away free and could be played with up to four players. Not only that, but it had multiple difficulty levels as well, so even such a small content download had a lot of mileage. The competitive modes have seen a number of new maps and such added via paid DLC, including the ability to play some of the mini-games in multiplayer if you’re into that sort of thing. This game is the total package if there ever was one and will continue to be for as long as Rockstar keeps releasing content for it.
BEST ADVENTURE GAME
The two most important facets of any good adventure game are its puzzles and its story. Lacking one or the other severely cripples the game’s ability to suck the player in. Getting through a tough puzzle can be a reward all unto itself, but when all of that work leaves you with some hackneyed plot device that wouldn’t even cut it for a Lionsgate film, the sense of accomplishment is lessened. On the flip side, too much story and not enough puzzle can turn the game into nothing more than a glorified digital novel. You might like the novel, but calling it a game would be silly.
This year, 999 not only had great puzzles, but it had one of the best stories of the year.
Firstly, you had the puzzles. The game dropped you and your companions off into a small series of rooms with no to few clues as to what to do to open a locked door. You knew you needed a key card, but there were none in sight. That locked safe looks interesting, but there’s no way to know what the code is. You had to explore your locations, put items together to get a new tool, and talk to your fellow players to figure everything out. It made the puzzle sections of 999 challenging and fun. On top of that, the puzzles fit the game like a glove. There was usually no way for one person to solve them alone, thus requiring teamwork and they often had a macabre feel to them. It was great.
However, nothing is better in 999 more so than the story. You wake up in a room with no idea as to how you got there. The door is sealed shut and there is no one else in sight. Then, a window breaks and water starts rushing in. You’ve got no time to sit around and ponder your circumstance. You’ve got to get out. I don’t know about anyone else, but the first ten minutes of this game had me hooked like no other story this year. Without cut-scenes, voice acting, or any of the niceties players are spoiled with today, this game still captivates and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Through a combination of near obscene descriptiveness, clever writing, and the conversations between characters, the stage is set for one hell of a page turner.
999 has everything a good adventure game should, and it does it better than any other adventure game released in 2010. That’s why it wins this award.
BEST RHYTHM GAME
After the release of Rock Band 2, I heard a lot of people call it the perfect rhythm game. If it is indeed the case, then how could Harmonix possibly improve on the formula, especially in a time when business seems to be down for the genre as a whole? For a start, they added keyboards, which works just as fine as the other instruments, and opens up a whole new set of songs. It is now perfectly fine to rock out to songs like “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” or “Just Like Heaven” because you can play along to their fantastic keyboard solos.
Harmonix then imported the vocal harmonies system they developed last year for The Beatles: Rock Band, and they capitalized on this opportunity by adding songs that can really make good use of the technology. If you are like me, and have a voice that is not really qualified for main-event status, then you’ll love singing back vocals on “Bohemian Rhapsody” while someone else tries his best to match Freddie Mercury. You will also enjoy just doing the countdown on “Space Oddity” while leaving the heavy vocal work to someone who’s more qualified.
Finally, there’s the new “pro” modes, which tries to match the real instruments as closely as possible without learning how to play the real thing. It takes the video game much closer to real life, without sacrificing the fun. Drummers now have a distinction between cymbals and toms, while guitarists and bassists can now play on a genuine guitar, sold separately of course. It’s the closest you’ll get to feeling like a rock star without leaving your living room. The illusion is almost perfect.
If you add this to the incredible support Harmonix has given the series by releasing new songs every week for the past few year, then you get the best rhythm game to be released in 2010. Guitar Hero‘s come back fell short in its quest for a come back, and DJ Hero gave a honest effort in trying to establish something new, but Rock Band 3 was the best mix of new gameplay and familiar concepts. Is it the best game in the series? This is still up for debate. But if was definitely DHGF’s favorite rhythm game of the year.
There’s no denying that Pokémon is that most successful RPG series of all time. There’s also no denying that the Johto generation is considered to be the best amongst fans who have been there from the beginning. So when Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver were announced, Nintendo might as well have just been given to keys to Fort Knox. Not only have the Johto remakes been of the best selling games of 2010, but they were easily amongst the most popular. Our articles on HeartGold and SoulSilver out hit everything else we wrote this year – COMBINED. That is a lot of love for Chikorita, Totodile, Cyndaquil and the other Pokémon that make their home in Johto.
So what made this remake so great besides reworking the most popular handheld RPG of all time from the ground up? Well, the game gave us the remixed storyline from Pokémon Crystal, some of the best visuals on the DS so far, a Poke walker that actually got chubby little kids off their duff and not only got them to exercise but rewarded them with exclusive (and rare) Pokémon or special items. You received new storylines with Giovanni, Celebi, two different Pichus, and more. You had a Safari Zone in generation II for the first, along with tag battles and even a full Battle Frontier. Most of all, you had the multiplayer aspect of battling and trading with other gamers from around the world that helped to make Pokémon so popular in the first place.
At the end of the day, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver is a remake of the most beloved game of the most popular video game series of all time. Even better, they improved the game in nearly every way. With that in mind, and nostalgia goggles firmly in place, it’s no wonder 2010 was the year of Pokémon for literally millions of gamers. Even if you’ve shied away from Pokémon over the years, HeartGold and SoulSilver will reignite the love you once had for the series. No other remake, release or compilation comes close in 2010.
The year after Batman: Arkham Asylum revived the Batman character in video games after years (decades?) of uneven and poor games, the Caped Crusader returned in a completely different, but utterly enjoyable game.
Modeled after “The Brave and The Bold” style of Batman cartoons and comics, Batman: The Brave and the Bold for Nintendo Wii takes a cartoony and light-hearted spin on the Batman character and universe. The game is about as old-school as you’ll find, with hand-drawn 2D graphics in a side-scrolling setting. Each of four “episodes” of the game have Batman teaming up with another hero to take on a self-contained story and arc. The gameplay for each of the episodes is unique, and it’s almost like playing four separate but related games. The graphics are top notch, the voice acting is superb, and the gameplay is tight, albeit a bit on the easy side.
This marks two consecutive successes for developer WayForward as well, with Batman proving an effective follow-up to A Boy and his Blob in 2009. As 2D niche developers, they have really made a name for themselves over the last couple years.
In a year loaded with killer platformers, Batman: The Brave and the Bold stood out for its excellent execution, solid graphics and faithfulness to the original source material. >
– Jon Widro
BEST HORROR GAME
Dead Rising 2 is a fairly surprising game, as it’s a massive improvement in every way that matters over its predecessor, which I say is surprising because Capcom didn’t develop it. Not that Capcom has been doing well for themselves lately or anything, mind you, as their home-grown releases are all over the place, from the awesome Resident Evil 5 and solid Monster Hunter 3 to the less awesome Devil May Cry 4 and Lost Planet 2, but when they hand concepts over to third parties, well, the results are no better. Bionic Commando: Rearmed? Excellent. Dark Void Zero? Fun stuff. Bionic Commando? Drek. Dark Void? Passable at best. With a track record like that, it’s surprising they’d hand over what could easily be their hot new zombie franchise to a third party, especially one like Blue Castle, whose only game of note is The Bigs, a sports title with absolutely nothing in common with the zombie slaying craziness of the first game in the least.
But, to borrow a tired metaphor and use it as a stupid joke about their origins, Blue Castle really hit it out of the park here. Yeah, I feel dirty even making that joke, sorry.
Anyway, the point is that Dead Rising 2 is not only a good game, it’s a better game than its predecessor in nearly every way that matters. The allied AI is actually somewhat capable of handling itself when left to its own devices and in some instances the survivors were actually useful for accomplishing tasks (arming four survivors with guns and having them rip apart Slappy was a truly satisfying experience, let me tell you). The game is actually less punishingly difficult all around in that you’re not basically starting over ten or fifteen times to try and get the best ending because you keep running out of time. The combination system is exceptionally cool, due in large part to the fact that the developers basically threw every weird concept they could at the wall and let players make things that are by no means feasible in real life as weapons, and they are awesome. The multiplayer, while a little buggy, is exactly what the game needed, as slaying zombies with friends is far more fun than doing it on your own, especially when you can laugh together about the stupid and hilarious ways you can do this thing. Dead Rising 2, in short, is a good time all around, and while it’s flawed enough that it never manages to be one of the best overall games this year, it certainly deserves the title of Best Horror game this year, if nothing else.
BEST ALL-AGES GAME
It’s kind of hard to imagine what could ever beat a Pokémon title for our all-ages award. After all even though the original generation of Pokémon gamers are now adults, the franchise is still unparalleled in terms of drawing in a rabid pre pubescent audience. It’s hard for even someone like myself, who has worked extremely closely with the Pokémon franchise to understand how little kids these days discover and fall in love with Pokémon in all its forms, be it video game, anime, or the TCG. After all, they weren’t there for the origins of the series and the plethora of history behind it. In the end it doesn’t matter as no matter how the kids discover it, there is something about the series that makes them fall instantly in love with it, its characters and of course, the gameplay.
But let’s remember that all-ages is indeed ALL AGES. Remember how I said the original generation of Pokémon gamers are all adults now. Well those five and six year olds that played the Kanto games in 1997 are eighteen and nineteen now, and those that were older when Red, Blue and Yellow came out are well on their way to male pattern baldness or menopause, but for those tens of millions of gamers, Pokémon still can make them wax nostalgic and nothing moreso than the Johto generation of Pokémon – Gold, Silver, and Crystal. With this in mind it’s no wonder that the HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes not only broke sales records but brought a lot of ex-Pokémon fans back into the fold, rediscovering why they loved this series and remember the timeless innocence that paradoxically goes along with a game that is basically cock fighting. Even better, HGSS brought back a ton of gamers that had stopped gaming altogether and allowed them to not only recapture their own youthful memories about Pokémon, but giving them a chance to play the same game from their own childhood with their own children, albeit it on a new system with souped up graphics. I’ve talked to quite a few parents in their mid 20s to 30s that would reminisce about their own “Johto Journeys” in middle school and high school and how happy they were to see the games remade and happier still to see their kids enjoying them just as they did when they were young. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver is one of a kind in that it seems to bridge the generation gap unlike any other game we’ve seen so far. Not only is it a highly social game in this age of online aloofness, but it’s giving parents and children a chance to play together and enjoy the same title, but on two very different levels. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver is what all age gaming is about – being an incredible game that you can fall in love with whether your six or fifty-six.
BEST RACING GAME
There’s something to be said for the simplicity of the arcade racing games of the eighties and nineties. Games where you could basically hold down the accelerator and rocket toward the finish line, pausing occasionally to brake when absolutely necessary, are a rare commodity these days. Racing games tend to either make heavy use of gimmicks (Blur, Split/Second) or real world controls (Gran Turismo, Forza) to bring in players, and the days of Ridge Racer being king of the hill died at about the same time the series started regressing instead of evolving. Games like Jet Moto and Wipeout are basically relics of the past these days, and most of the games that come out that ARE built from that simplistic mold are often, to be polite, garbage that’s not very fun to play.
nail’d is something of a return to that sort of racing concept. It’s a game that says, “Hey, let’s make the racing as simple as possible so that we can get you going,” instead of forcing you to learn proper drifting techniques or how to effectively use power-ups or what have you. It’s a game that challenges you by sending you rocketing into busy areas full of obstacles and expecting you to come out unscathed, and when you manage to do that, the experience is quite satisfying, to say the least. The game is, literally, arcade racing in its purest form, but with enough additions to the formula, like changeable vehicle components and online play, to make it enjoyable for the modern crowd. nail’d doesn’t try to be a serious simulation of racing, with its focus on catching big air and rocketing through forests like a madman, and it’s better for that, as it ends up being different enough from everything that came out this year to stand tall on its own merits instead of hiding in the shadow of its peers.
BEST DOWNLOADABLE GAME
I don’t think we can really say that Limbo “came out of nowhere” to take any awards it’s won. After all, it was the first game in Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade, which is the period of time they break out their top XBLA games. Therefore, Microsoft knew they had a gem on their hands, and were confident enough to put the game up against big names like Lara Croft and Castlevania. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Limbo beat all of those games out for our downloadable title, because Microsoft knew something we didn’t.
No matter where it came from, we got a great game that put us in an atmosphere that sucked us – or at least me – in and didn’t let us back out. The gameplay was solid, the puzzles were well integrated with one leading to another seamlessly at times, and the ending, whether you liked it or not, at least left you talking. I don’t hear anyone talking about the endings of very many of the big budget releases.
Downloadable media’s come a long way the past couple of years, and Limbo shows that you don’t have to be a big budget, brick-and-mortar release to make a huge dent in the industry. All of the nominees this year are worthy games in their own right, but Limbo stands out as the best of that lot.
BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME
Long before online gaming was even close to common place; Pokémon was the social networking of video gaming. With the ability to take your game anywhere via your Game Boy and using a connectivity cord to let you either trade Pokémon with your friends or battle against each other. You would see kids get together for a quick battle or evolution based trade that wouldn’t otherwise speak to each other in a school setting. There were get togethers at Toys R Us’ or game stores like Babbages and Software Etc. Nintendo would hold events where people would come together and play Pokémon. Truly Pokémon did what no other game did before it and that was help casual and diehard gamers alike make friends they would have never otherwise met.
Fast forward to 2010 and although some of the details have changed, the situation is still the same. In a day and age where most gamers only communicate with each other online, Pokémon still brings players together for face to face contact. We still have tournaments and game stores have events where you can get special Pokémon. Kids still bring their gaming systems to school for battles and trades – it’s just they are DS’ and DSis instead of Game Boys. In a day and age where society is being well, less social, Pokémon is one of those rare games that actually bring people together and gets them playing (and talking) face to face. Pokémon was designed to bring people together and even though technology and gaming in general has changed drastically in the past fifteen years, the Pokémon franchise still does the multi-player aspect of gaming better than 99% of the other franchises out there. Coupling that with HeartGold and SoulSilver being a phenomenal game in its own right, and you have the makings of a game that is just as good in the solo player RPG campaign as it is when you mix it up with countless other gamers in an attempt to beat their unique team with your own.
BEST PUZZLE GAME
The first Puzzle Quest put together two things in a combination that seems natural now, but that had not been done before: match-3 puzzles and RPGs. It quickly became a hit, and it was easy for it to turn into a time black hole if you weren’t careful. However, up to this point attempts to follow up on this success have fallen short. Galactrix tried to go outside of the box, but was bogged down by balance issues and the infamous cumbersome leapgates. Puzzle Kingdoms, a spinoff from the creators of the Puzzle Quest games, fared better, but it still didn’t quite capture the original’s je ne sais quoi.
With Puzzle Quest 2, they went back closer to their roots and planted more to spruce things up. Instead of just wandering from point A to point B on an overworld map, you can now actively wander around a town and dungeons, which gives the game more of an RPG feel. Thanks to the addition of action points, your equipment plays more of a role in battles since you can use them instead of them just having passive effects. New classes and abilities provide room for different builds and play styles. The variety of minigames helps to vary up the pace, and they give tangible rewards so playing them doesn’t feel like random busywork. By going back to the original formula for success and adding new things to make the experience feel both familiar and fresh, Puzzle Quest 2 earns our Puzzle Game of the Year award with flying colors.
Back in the day before downloadable content, gamers (PC gamers mostly) could look forward to twenty dollar expansion packs that were almost sequels in and out of themselves but ever since the scourge of DLC arrived, we’re being forced to pay ten dollars for two-to-three hour extensions of our games that offer no new features or worse, include features that should have been in the game in the first place. Even Dragon Age: Origins is guilty of this! Bioware didn’t even include a storehouse to store your excess items till the Warden’s Keep DLC!
Fortunately though, they made up for it by releasing a proper old school expansion pack. For 25 dollars, you’re getting at least a good 20 hours of entertainment and over 30 if you try to complete everything in the game. New characters, new weapons, new locations. It’s almost a semi-sequel, like the expansion packs of yore!
THAT’S why Dragon Age Origins: Awakening won best “DLC” this year. Because it offers the biggest, best bang for your buck!
WORST GAME OF THE YEAR
Walk it Out is one of those games that is terrible on every level imaginable. The graphics would have been considered date during the 32 bit era of gaming. The music selection contains some of the most annoying licensed tracks of all time and changing the music is convoluted as hell. Most of all is the game play. This is a video game where all you do is WALK. You walk around a completely digitized town and earn rewards that are new musical tracks and scenery for your game. You can’t run or jog because the game can’t recognize that fast a pace. All you can do is walk as your avatar traverses one of the most insipid video games in the history of this industry.
Seriously, how sad and pathetic do you have to be to enjoy this game? Are you that lazy and unmotivated that you can’t go outside and get some fresh air and scenery? Too stupid to realize you can purchase a hand bike which would work your legs and arms and let you watch TV at the same time if you are that much of a couch potato? Only the most pathetic and wretched excuses for a human being would actually purchase or enjoy this game and so you have to wonder who would have thought up such a horrible thing. Everyone at Konami, from the marketers to the developers should be ashamed they even came up with the concept of Walk it Out and triple that for actually making the game. If anything Walk It Out is indicative of everything that is wrong with the gaming industry. It proves that anything can and will get published in this day and age, no matter how awful the game, and that gamers are still worthy of the negative stigma the fandom has had for thirty years. With literally dozens of exercise games on the market these days, most of which are far better for you that walking in place (which is horrible for your knees to beginning with), Walk it Out is nothing but an attempt to fleece the stupidest, laziest, most pathetic and possibly fattest members of our collective fandom from money that could actually be spent on something better for them or that they can do for free already.
CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
2010 was the year of the prinnies dood! Not only did they star in one of the best adventure games of the year (Disgaea Infinite), but they had a supporting role as your main character’s wife in our runner up for the PSP game of the year, ZHP: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman. Most of all they were a major playable character in our PS3 game of the year, Trinity Universe, where a Prinny was not only one of the most hilarious characters in the game, but also vital to your team if you were going for a high hit count total for your party. In fact, some trophies are impossible to get without mastering the power of the Prinny, dood. Finally, if you’re in Europe, you also got Prinny: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! , which North America won’t get until 1/11/11. In this game 1,000 prinnies make up your playable protagonists in this follow up to one of the most psychotic platformers of all time. That’s three to four well made games they had a major role in, depending on what side of the Atlantic you live on.
Prinnies are hard not to love dood. They’re pathetic alcoholic rapscallions in every sense of the word, but there’s something about them that is just so damn charming. Maybe it’s the character design. Maybe it’s that we all root for the underdog, and prinnies are the ultimate underdog. Maybe it’s how they say “dood” all the time. Maybe it’s the excellent voice acting from people like Grant George and Dave Wittenberg. Most of all, it’s probably that they tend to be comedy relief in a constant string of high quality games. Regardless of why we all adore the prinnies, these peg legged bat winging penguin looking souls of the damn have not only wormed their way into the hearts of gamers everywhere, but they were major players in several well made games that span four different genres. The diversity and quality combine to let the assorted motley crew of Etna’s lackies win of Character of the Year award. Congrats doods!
We have to hand it to Bioware for being able to cleanup in this category (Dragon Age: Origins won this award in 2009). It’s true that they have a talent not just for creating fantastic stories, but for creating worlds, or in this case, universes. The Mass Effect universe is full of various races with their own backgrounds and customs, as well as entire galaxies that can be explored at your leisure, and every planet you find has its own story too. The amount of lore in this franchise is staggering and this is only the second game in the main trilogy!
Of course, a game’s storyline is more than just its universe, so it’s a good thing that it is filled to the brim with interesting characters. The first Mass Effect had a memorable cast, but ME2 manages to top it by allowing you to recruit characters both new and old who may be reluctant at first to join your cause. Especially since each and every one of them has their own demons to pursue. They eventually grow on you during your adventures in space, even the least likable ones. This makes the fact that you and everyone aboard your ship can wind up dead by the game’s end really drive up the stakes. I can’t think of many titles that can successfully make me feel like there is so much on the line with every choice I make, and Mass Effect 2 pulls that off in spades.
When we think of graphics, we think of older games that looked better than they had a right to. NES games had good graphics for having cut-scenes, like Ninja Gaiden. SNES games had good graphics for using computer imaging, like Donkey Kong Country. As technology has improved, our ideas about proper graphics have evolved. Sometimes, it’s about realism, like Afrika. Sometimes, it’s about an artistic impression, like with Shadow of the Colossus. Sometimes, it’s about visceral appreciation, bright colours melding together in a kaleidoscope of imagery, like Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
Heavy Rain is the first game I can think of that goes beyond mere “graphics”. It’s a video game that tries desperately – in more ways than one – to make the player forget that they’re playing a video game. The actors in the game are modeled after real actors, and the game shows that level of detail. Everything looks like it’s an actual movie, from character details to camera tricks and the like. Add in multiple angles that show, in great detail, everything from background movements to character emotions, and you have a game that wears the “artsy” label with pride.
Whatever your idea is of attractive graphics, just about everyone can agree that Heavy Rain was the best looking game of 2010.
The correct answer is the soundtrack (though “badass shootouts” is also an acceptable answer). Spaghetti westerns had some of the best and most epic sound tracks of any movie genre.
Though it’s somewhat unfair to compare Red Dead Redemption‘s music to classic composers’ such as Ennio Morricone, it still manages to capture the nostalgic feel of those old movies. If you go to Mexico in the game, the soundtrack changes to take a Mariachi theme while moving to the cold winter mountains of Tall Trees gives you a very quiet soundtrack with nothing but a slow piano in the background so you can soak in the snow-covered forests and listen to the crunchy sound that your footsteps make in freshly fallen snow.
As for the voice acting, it’s typical Rockstar. They’ve got voice acting down since the Grand Theft Auto III days and with every game they seem to get better. I seriously could not think of a single character in the game that could have been voiced better. Rob Wiethoff performance as John Marston is one of the greatest all time voice acting performances of all time and the rest of the cast are not far behind.
LA Noire may have that fancy new face capture technology, but without a VA performance equal to Red Dead Redemption‘s, I’ll consider it a step back for Rockstar.
We see so many games try to combine gameplay elements into one game. It’s been happening for decades when you think about it; who remembers The Adventures of Bayou Billy, the 1989 NES game where you could play a side-scrolling beat-’em up, a light gun game, and a driving game in one cartridge? Unfortunately, Bayou Billy, in a way, proves the greater point about genre combination because Bayou Billy wasn’t a very good video game. So many times, game developers try to shoehorn different play styles into their games, whether they’re trying something innovative or just trying to fit things onto the back of the box. Sometimes, it works, like with Recettear. More often, it doesn’t.
Sakura Wars V combined dating sim and strategy role playing game aspects together, but then modified them to be even better than they normally would be. How do you make a dating sim better? You bring in the LIPS system that makes everything time-sensitive. No time to look up GameFAQs for the best route, kiddies! The strategy also has some interesting changes to it that keep the game from being a copy of earlier games in that particular genre.
The end result is a game that combines two completely separate genres, and does them both better than other games that are dedicated to their one particular craft. It seems like this is the last legitimate game to be released on the PS2 unless Madden gets crapped out one more year. If it is, a game that reinvents so many wheels is the best way to go out.
SYSTEM OF THE YEAR
Sony Playstation 3
The voting was pretty close this year, and there were arguments for pretty much every system except the DS. The Wii came on strong with new Kirby, Mario, and Donkey Kong games. The PSP made up for its lack of quantity with games like Metal Gear Solid, Valkyria Chronicles II, Cladun, and several others. The 360 had great support from DLC titles like Limbo while also going strong with sequels like Halo: Reach and Deathsmiles. As such, it very nearly took this award.
However, the PS3 is once again king.
For starters, Heavy Rain helped redefine what an adventure game on consoles could be like. With its innovative gameplay, immersive story, and fantastic production values, it was something to behold. Then we’ve got God of War III. I’m sure you’ve heard of that one. It gave us a greater sense of scale than any action game before it and ended one of Sony’s marquee franchises on a bang.
For RPG lovers, there was Atelier Rorona, which even managed to wow Alex Lucard with its laid back approach and dynamic story. On top of that was our choice for PS3 game of the year,Trinity Universe. Another Nippon Ichi game, it proved that the PS3 is perhaps the system of choice for Japanese RPGs.
There are still plenty of exclusives to talk about. Yakuza 3 was another great action adventure, Gran Truismo 5 was finally released, ModNation Racers proved the Little Big Planet style could work with racers, 3D Dot Game Heroes brought some old school goodness to the table, MAG was an interesting experiment that rewarded those who got into it, and Sly Cooper was brought back for the masses to enjoy. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned the Move or Playstation Plus! Not every exclusive was great, but the studs outweighed the duds.
Basically, the PS3 was the best gaming system in the year of 2010.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Games tend to fade from memory as the year progresses. What was hot in January is not in December as newer and fresher games come out and take the spotlight away from the early year releases. While certainly it’s not impossible for a game to come out early in the year and hold people’s interest as the definitive “Game of the Year” for that particular year, it’s not incredibly common. Generally the more impressive games tend to come out later into the year, once the holidays are upon us and people are buying everything they can for the gamers in their lives. For a game to have such a lasting impact as to be not just a contender for, but the winner of, the Game of the Year award says a lot about that game and its quality.
Mass Effect 2, nearly a full twelve months after its release, has proven that it’s such a game. To be honest, I’m not even a little surprised.
The first Mass Effect straddled the action RPG line evenly, offering deep character customization, heavy inventory management systems, and a large amount of dialogue alongside the “shoot everything that moves” gameplay, and the end result was a game that offered a good framework for greatness, if not quite the great game itself. Mass Effect 2 is more streamlined and focused and benefits immensely from that. Gone are the cumbersome inventory screens, replaced by a more focused and user friendly universal upgrade system and simplified weaponry menus and choices. Gone are the massive character skill trees that reflect every aspect of a character’s combat performance, replaced by simplified upgradable powers and skills and the assumption that hey, your characters are fighters and should probably have a decent idea how to wield their weapons in the first place. By focusing on what the game does well and refining the elements that didn’t work into things that do, Mass Effect 2 manages to not only be a dramatic improvement over its predecessor, but also one of the best games released this year, and the game that Diehard GameFAN has elected its Game of the Year for 2010.