Mr. Gerardi’s 2010 Game of the Year Spectacular, Part 3: The Top 10 (5-3)
February 11, 2011 4 Comments
Sorry about the wait, but I went on vacation and then….well I’ve been busy. I’m still writing up my top two games, but I figured I should just publish what I had so far.
You can check out the honorable mentions here and numbers 10 through six of my top 10.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Nintendo EAD Tokyo – Wii)
I wrote an op-ed about emotional responses to video games and which kinds we should expect the medium to provide us with. That piece originally started as a review for Super Mario Galaxy 2, the thesis of which was the game’s unique ability to deliver pure joy to the player. I was sporting a goofy ear-to-ear grin within seconds
of gaining control of our hero, and it lasted throughout most of his journey.
It’s hard to explain what gives Galaxy 2 such a power. Ultimately it’s the sum of its parts. The visuals are vibrant and lively. The controls are tight (with the exception of some motion controlled segments, blech) and familiar. And of course it spawns a shit ton of nostalgia.
Perhaps that’s what makes Galaxy 2 so great; it’s gaming comfort food. It’s familiar, simple and makes you happy. In no way, however, does that mean it’s unimpressive. The level design here is some of the smartest and most imaginative around. The sheer breadth of motifs for each galaxy is astounding and always thematically coherent across planetoids.
As a sequel Galaxy 2 is a triumph. It addresses every complaint that could be lodged against the first game. The camera, which caused some serious confusion in the first game, is no longer an issue. It also does away with the original’s annoying hub world.
Overall it feels like with Galaxy 2 Nintendo has realized what gamers really want. It’s tight, and challenging and polished every step of the way. Most importantly it displays a level of creativity in level design that is unparalleled in the genre.
Rock Band 3 (Harmonix, MTV Games – 360, PS3, Wii)
Harmonix revived and popularized the rhythm genre with Guitar Hero and with Rock Band 3 they’ve perfected it. There’s really not much more to say here. RB3 is an incredibly ambitious product, one that could essentially teach players to play real instruments. Other developers might have included the “pro mode” but only Harmonix would have the vision and expertise to include a trainer that can teach players to take advantage of those higher levels of play and is simultaneously providing some music theory and performance lessons.
Then of course there’s the keyboard. When the keyboard part works it’s a ton of fun. Throw in three-part harmonies on vocals and there’s nothing really left to ask for.
The improvements made to the user interface and career mode (the gutting of it) really help to speed things up and enforce Rock Band’s position as the all time greatest party game. Also helping out in that department is the massive pool of songs available, now over 2000. Even without downloadable content Harmonix’s foresight in allowing disc exports means followers of the series can go into RB3 with around 200 songs.
Rock Band 3 just feels special. It feels like the conclusion of something grand and essentially it is. There’s not much more to do in this space and it’s appropriate that Harmonix be the one to cap it off. It’s bittersweet really. This is the pinnacle of their work and this style of game’s evolution. This is the height and the end.
Super Meat Boy (Team Meat – 360, PC)
I’m not really one for difficult games. Progress is usually my main concern when playing and games that drive me to frustration through constant failure don’t typically get played for long (looking at you Halo: Reach), but Super Meat Boy, arguably the most difficult game released in 2010, held my attention for months and the reasons why are what make it one of the very best games of 2010.
Failure is at the game’s core. It’s not a punishable offense; it’s expected, encouraged and ultimately celebrated. The lack of any discernable respawn time means you’re instantly back in the action and that action is tuned to perfection. Movement feels perfect. It’s loose with a huge emphasis on momentum but the controls are tight and you never feel like you’ve been cheated by the game in some way.
In a clever move finishing a level brings about a replay that displays every Meat Boy used up in the attempt to reach the goal. The more attempts you made, the more fun it is to watch, giving the player even more satisfaction. It’s the inverse of what games have been telling us since their beginnings: failure isn’t bad. It’s part of the process and here: we’re rewarding you for your patience and fortitude.
While the mechanics are the star of the show, the trappings are certainly stellar as well. The art design is charming and music brilliant. It’s also probably the funniest game of the year with cut scenes yielding a handful of laugh out loud moments.
Super Meat Boy feels like the culmination of 25 years of platformer design and a true sign of new directions for the 2D platformer. 2010 also saw Donkey Kong Country Returns, which despite its wonderful visuals and level design, feels like an, archaic mess in comparison. By slimming down levels and objectives (run and jump in anyway possible to reach your girlfriend and guess what? There’s only one type of collectible and it’s not some arbitrary totem) SMB allows the player to concentrate solely on what’s on screen. It forces you to absorb the level, analyze it and formulate a solution all in a matter of seconds. It is ultimately a platformer for the modern age.
While many games in 2010 provided me with that much-desired emotional effect, Super Meat Boy was the only one to cause a physical effect. There were countless moments where the game raised my pulse rate, had me clenching my hands around the controller, sweating, and of course cursing and bleating uncontrollably.