Mr. Gerardi’s 2010 Game of the Year Spectacular Part 1: Honorable Mentions

Better late than never. I’ve been biding my time on this project, finishing up some games and collecting my thoughts on 2010’s trends and innovations. While it wasn’t a tremendous year for games, the ones that stuck out did some really incredible things with the medium and stand as some of the most memorable games I’ve ever played.

I will be rolling this out in four parts, the first being my honorable mentions. Later on I’ll be posting games 10-6, then 5-1 and finally a retrospective on the list and the year as a whole.

So….here we go.

The Honorable Mentions

These are five great games that just couldn’t hang in the top ten, but each one has an aspect so special and important that I felt it was important to talk about them.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light                                                     (Crystal Dynamics, Square-Enix – XBLA, PSN, PC)

Crystal Dynamics’ downloadable Lara Croft adventure melds the series’ typical platforming and gunplay mechanics with classic isometric action. The result is a twin stick shooter with the best cooperative play of the year.

Anyone with half a brain can tell you the worst part of the Tomb Raider series has consistently been the combat. The twin-stick design greatly alleviates those shortcomings while retaining the complex puzzles and smart level design that the series has been praised for. The combat is actually some of the most fun stuff in the game, often frenetic and overwhelming in the best way (think Left 4 Dead). Most impressive is the cooperative play, which successfully combines frantic combat with two-player platforming puzzles. It’s a blast.

Then there’s the matter of content. Guardian of Light is huge. It’s not the longest campaign, but every level is crammed with collectibles and loot, some only accessible by completing special challenges strewn throughout.

Ultimately, this is a successful experiment in bringing a big name franchise onto a downloadable service and changing the design to suit it. We’re likely to see this happening a lot more and Guardian of Light should be commended as the break though that kicked off the trend.

Darksiders (Vigil Games, THQ – 360, PS3, PC)

In one of the most surprising successes of the year, Vigil Games delivered something kind of magical with their debut title. It’s an action-adventure that carefully follows the Zelda structure (overworld, dungeon, item, use item on boss, repeat) but does so with a distinctly western twist. The setting is post-apocalyptic like we haven’t really seen before. Humans are completely gone and demons and angles are battling for their former home. It’s dark subject matter, but Darksiders’ art keeps things fresh and light with bright colors and interesting character designs.

The art and setting combined with a combat system, which starts out boring but opens up into something fairly robust and tons of fun as our protagonist gains new abilities and items, elevate this from a mere Zelda clone. Unfortunately for Nintendo, Darksider’s differences serve as a reminder of how stale their franchise has gotten, but it’s also impossible to argue that the game’s greatest strengths haven’t been repurposed. In that way it’s also a reminder of the brilliance of that Zelda formula in a time when it has become a rarity in game design.

Dance Central (Harmonix, MTV Games – 360)

I have to admit, I wrote Dance Central off upon seeing it for the first time during Microsoft’s E3 presser. Chock it up to pessimism spawned by the rest of their Kinect presentation, but it just seemed like their answer to the surprise juggernaut of Just Dance.

Turns out, it’s way more then a me-too product. It’s the best game utilizing the Kinect right now and the game that proves the technology’s worth and as such it is the essential Kinect experience.

It’s of course not enough that Dance Central just works. Harmonix has filled it with smart design choices that take incredibly complex ideas — tracking the user’s entire body, judging it’s movements and relaying feedback on those movements to the player – and boil them down to an elegant experience that’s clean and easily deciphered. It also benefits from a great art style that permeates every inch and ties the whole package together.

Oh, and it’s a ton of fun.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Good-Feel, Nintendo – Wii)

We saw plenty of games this year that were defined by their art style, but Kirby’s Epic Yarn takes that distinction to a whole new territory. It’s such a distinct aesthetic and the polar opposite of what has become the norm among big titles. It’s bright, colorful, friendly, imaginative and plain fucking adorable. Most impressive, however, is how the game design is tied inseparably to the art.

The yarn and craft style is not just for visual distinction. It ties into almost every game mechanic: traversal via buttons, changing the environment by unzipping layers and pulling on clasps and entering felt buildings only to see the little Kirby shaped protuberance moving around the inside of the material. It represents a sense of knowing and commitment to what could easily have been a throw away art decision meant only to turn some heads and it’s a magical combination.

Bayonetta (Platinum Games, Sega – 360, PS3)

Put simply, Bayonetta represents the pinnacle of combat in character action games. The depth of options available rival even fighting games and unlike many of its peers mashing won’t get you anywhere. The game takes a more skill and timing based approach, requiring the player to master its “witch time” mechanic (bullet time) in order to succeed.

The rest of the game is made up of trite, genre–stereotypical puzzles (elevated by the fact that they do take advantage of the unique combat mechanics) and a story so ludicrous it would make Resident Evil blush.  While the latter may sound like a bad thing, the story allows for crazy set pieces that make up the bulk of the game’s charm. The opening scene, for example, sees our heroine fighting on the face of a clock tower as it’s collapsing. It’s bananas (a trend among Platinum’s games as we’ll come to see…) in the best way possible.

Head over to numbers 10-6 of my top ten here

About Matt Gerardi
Matt Gerardi is a journalist and musician. He also happens to write about video games.

2 Responses to Mr. Gerardi’s 2010 Game of the Year Spectacular Part 1: Honorable Mentions

  1. Pingback: Mr. Gerardi’s 2010 Game of the Year Spectacular, Part 2: The Top Ten (10-6) « Rated J, For Janky

  2. Pingback: Mr. Gerardi’s 2010 Game of the Year Spectacular, Part 3: The Top 10 (5-3) « Rated J, For Janky

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