2010 Honorable Mentions: Nick's List
One of our greatest strengths at this site is that we each bring a markedly different set of interests and expectations to the games we play. That means we're able to bring a wide variety of different games to the table for discussion; unfortunately, it also means a consensus in our top-ten list is notoriously difficult to reach.
But that's where these Honorable Mentions lists come in. They're an opportunity for each of us to call attention to the overlooked favorites and misunderstood underdogs that didn't make the cut for the top-ten list. And as the guy who seems to always end up playing the most games each year (what can I say? I'm insatiable), I have plenty of top-notch titles to honor.
So let's get down to it.
Rock Band 3 -- Of all the games that didn't make our top ten list, this seems like the most egregious omission. But as the only one of us who actually bought the game and played it for more than an hour, maybe it's easy to dismiss it simply as an interface refresh with a few new modes tacked onto the same old gameplay for good measure.
Excuse me, but that's a load of bullshit. Rock Band 3 is a brilliant re-imagining of what made the core game great in the first place, and the additions of harmonies, seven-player gameplay and pro instruments make this game just as revolutionary as Rock Band was back in 2007.
It's true that you'll need the stars to align in order to get the most out of Rock Band 3. Instruments aren't cheap, and it can be difficult to get enough friends together to see how the game shines with seven players. But even as a solo experience, Rock Band 3 has the most gratifying progression scheme of any music game to date thanks to its plentiful, rewarding challenges.
But the real stars of the show are the pro instruments. The new pro guitar, bass, keyboard and drums modes effectively blur the line between videogame and simulation and help foster real-world musical skills. Thanks to its robust trainers, including specific tutorials for every song with every pro instrument, those with the patience will find themselves taking on the greatest challenge in any music game to date -- but when you're able to walk away from the game with some honest-to-goodness real-world music skills, there's no question that there's something revolutionary about Rock Band 3.
Bayonetta -- The character-action genre is reborn in Bayonetta, and the experience is peerless. That means a lot to me because I've always loved the frenzied action and almost-tangible sense of empowerment that comes with games like Devil May Cry, God of War, Dante's Inferno and Ninja Gaiden. But ever since the original Devil May Cry debuted in 2001, there haven't been any serious refinements to the formula. Sure, God of War brought its cinematic flair to the table and Ninja Gaiden tightened up the intensity of combat to give it a satisfying, reflexive snap, but nothing out there has really pushed the boundaries of what these games are capable of, nor has any series succeeded in delivering an even tighter and more intuitive combat system.
Bayonetta controls like a dream. If you've played your fair share of console games, you know that some of the best developers are capable of creating an uncanny intuitiveness and responsiveness with a standard controller. The team at Platinum Games succeeded in making its protagonist feel so fluid and alert that it almost feels like Bayonetta is anticipating your moves before you finish executing a combo. It also means that, with such refined controls and carefully constructed enemy encounters, you never feel like the game cheated you. Each victory is earned through skill and dedication; likewise, every defeat is deserved and makes for a good learning experience.
Until Minecraft came along, Bayonetta was the best game I'd played all year. As it stands, it's still firmly rooted in my number-two slot. If you ever loved playing an action game, you owe it to yourself to experience the game that represents the current pinnacle of white-knuckle gaming.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 -- We all agreed at our Game of the Year deliberations that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was a superior sequel to 2007's outstanding Super Mario Galaxy. But we disagreed on whether it deserved recognition as one of the top ten games of the year.
Without meaning to invalidate anyone's opinions, I have to say that I was deeply disappointed with everyone else's interpretation. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the best 3D platformer to date, and it's bursting with more polish, charm and variety than any game on our top-ten list. Sure, you could argue that it's just more of the same, but when "the same" is the sort of brilliant, unadulterated fun that you can't find anywhere else, doesn't that demand recognition? If you own a Wii, you owe it to yourself to play Super Mario Galaxy 2. I guarantee it'll bring a smile to your face the way that Super Mario Bros. 3 or Yoshi's Island did, and if you're anything like me, you'll agree that those experiences are increasingly rare and valuable.
Limbo -- Maybe Limbo wasn't top-ten material, but it's easily the most haunting and beautiful game I played in 2010. With its near-perfect pacing, subtle narrative and claustrophobic atmosphere, Limbo sucks you in and leaves you thinking for a long time after you set the controller down. It’s an essential experience for anyone interested in games that evoke emotion.
Just Cause 2 -- If Assassin's Creed 2 wins the "Most Improved Sequel" award for 2009, Just Cause 2 handily earns it for 2010. Speaking as someone who S-ranked (earned all 1000 gamerscore in) the original Just Cause -- a heavily flawed, buggy, first-gen Xbox 360 game that was ported with mixed results from earlier consoles -- I'll readily admit that there was a lot about the game that was just bad. But Just Cause 2 takes what made its predecessor such a rough gem – the frenzied, insane gunplay and brilliant grappling-hook-and-parachute movement system -- and gives it a very thoughtful and well-designed reinvention. I sank more than fifty hours into JC2, and I'm tempted to fire it up again soon to nail those last few achievements. It's a gorgeous, exhilarating experience whether you're following the storyline or wreaking havoc as you see fit, and it's easily one of the best games I've played all year.
1 Vs. 100 -- Although it debuted in 2009, 1 Vs. 100, the massively multiplayer trivia game, was unceremoniously canceled in 2010 by Microsoft at the close of its second season. Maybe that didn’t matter to most of you, but I was heartbroken. I had spent countless hours playing 1 Vs. 100 with friends. But besides being a solid trivia game, its massive nature and real-world prizes made it something unique to the Xbox Live service. Now that annual rates for Xbox Live Gold are up 20% and 1 Vs. 100 has been dropped in favor of an online poker game (because those sure aren't common), I'm finding myself increasingly dissatisfied with Microsoft's premium service. The cancellation of 1 Vs. 100 might have been the final nail in the coffin for my Gold subscription.
Infinity Blade -- I knew it was going to be gorgeous, but I never expected Epic and Chair's iOS game debut to be so fun and addictive. Infinity Blade is kind of like Demon's Souls on rails, sporting gorgeous environments, a truly satisfying combat system that feels natural on a multitouch platform, and a clever design that makes it highly replayable. I'm a big fan of the 99-cent indie gems that have made the iOS platform so wonderful for gaming over the last couple years (and don't even get me started on my Game Dev Story addiction), but even at $5.99, Infinity Blade sets the standard for what a "premium" iOS game can be. I'm expecting brilliant things from Epic in the future.