2010 Honorable Mentions: Tyler's List

When I finalized my list of honorable mentions for 2010, I noticed an interesting trend: all the titles seemed to be a familiar experience yet has been tweaked in some fashion for a new medium or platform. 2010 was the year game developers finally learned the lessons that a sequel doesn’t need to be identical to its predecessors, and that a port can be a worthy experience independent of it’s original if its well suited for it’s new platform.

Persona 3 Portable

Persona 3 arrived in North America three years ago on the PS2, but it’s such an enormous RPG chock full of Japanese quirkiness that the game became hard to stomach on the console. For my current sensibilities and how I play, the game makes much more sense on the PSP and the changes ATLUS made to the core game significantly improve the experience.

Persona 3 Portable is still an arduously long game, but navigating the story segments is much easier thanks to the visual novel style popularized by adventure games like Phoenix Wright. The ability to put the PSP into sleep mode also makes traversing the dungeons much less exhausting. If Final Fantasy XIII taught me anything, I no longer have patience for traditional Japanese RPGs on consoles, regardless of how gorgeous they are. I have not lost the taste for the genre, however; with games like Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light on the DS and Chaos Rings on iOS devices I just find these experiences now work better on portable platforms.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

If you had told me that one of the original franchises I bought a PlayStation for in 1997 would make a big comeback on the PS3 in 2010, I said that Final Fantasy XIII wasn’t that great. I’m glad that game instead turned out to be the latest title featuring famous mausoleum spelunker, Lara Croft.

I was a big fan of the first two Tomb Raider titles. Eidos and CORE quickly released derivative sequels annually, diluting the series and turning me off from the series. I tried the reboot by Crystal Dynamics, Tomb Raider: Legend, but didn’t find the game changed enough to compete with other modern action and adventure titles. Its amazing, then, that the downloadable Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light would be the way to regain my interest in Eidos’ prodigal daughter.

The Guardian of Light is a superbly designed isometric adventure slash twin-stick shooter with well-paced level design and an addicting score-based meta-game. The addition of co-op to all platforms should only sweeten what is already an incredibly attractive package. Though I remain hopeful for the recently announced Tomb Raider: Reborn, yet another reboot due later next year, I would’ve been perfectly happy if the next Tomb Raider game was a straight follow-up to Guardian of Light.

Goldeneye 007

The original Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 is a zeitgeist game. It is the kind of game where, even if you’re not a diehard gamer, or weren’t in 1996, you knew of Goldeneye because it was so pervasive. The game was most assuredly a system seller, perhaps more-so than even Super Mario 64. At the time, the N64 was the only platform with four-player multiplayer built in, and no other game had made first-person shooters playable on a console. Most gamers have nothing but fond memories of what might be the best movie-license game in the history of video games. Nintendo, Activision and developer Eurocom had their work cut out for them.

I’ll admit that my expectations were pretty low going into this game; I was expecting a soulless cash-in capitalizing on consumer nostalgia and was absolutely thrilled to be proven wrong. Remake is the obvious word to use, but I’m not sure it’s the correct one. Goldeneye on Wii doesn’t play like the original 64 game but it plays like you *think* it did. The level design has just enough in common with its N64 predecessor to tickle your nostalgia, but mechanically the game plays much more like a Call of Duty game. However, after trying the Xbox Live Arcade HD remake of Perfect Dark this year, I’m glad that Goldeneye on the Wii has more in common with Modern Warfare that a nearly 15 year-old, single-joystick shooter. The motion controls are also the best I’ve ever experienced in a Wii first-person shooter.

Beyond the gameplay, nothing about Goldeneye feels half-assed. The story has been completely recast, including Daniel Craig as James Bond. Additionally, the film’s original scriptwriter was brought in to modernize the story. I absolutely had as much fun playing through the 2010 re-imagining of Goldeneye 007 on the Wii as I did with Goldeneye 007 on the N64 in 1996. Activison and Nintendo, two companies known for releasing sequels with minimal changes, showed developers how to correctly market to nostalgia — by providing an upgraded version of the game they remember playing.

Games aren’t like films, despite how much we try to compare them. A movie that was great fifty years ago is generally still great today. Video games are completely technology based, however, and still evolving. A game that played great even five years ago can feel awful dated today. Sequels and franchises aren’t the enemy, poor sequels and franchise fatigue are.