Archive for January, 2007
I did a top ten list last January, so I think I’ll do another.
10. (NE) Dragon Quest VIII (PS2)
I remember it annoying me when I played it. But I also remember loving it. And it gave me my single most satisfying gaming moment ever – killing the final boss after a 45-minute battle.
9. (NE) OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast (XBOX/PSP)
Not really a new entry as OutRun 2 was in the chart last year, at number five. I’m rating it lower this year because I never seem to play it. The Xbox version doesn’t work on the 360, so I never play it, and the PSP version, though lovely, is hampered slightly by the PSP’s analogue nub and a pretty rubbish framerate.
8. (7) World of Warcraft (PC)
It gave me some of my best gaming moments ever. (The trip to the contested area of Booty Bay to buy parrots with two friends! The first time we ganged up to invade Alliance territory!) However, I never got a character beyond level twenty-five and don’t really like teaming up with random strangers so it can’t be higher.
7. (9) Mr Driller: Drill Spirits (DS)
Best (English language) Mr Driller. Drill Land might take the spot if it was out in English. But it’s not. And there’s been no new Driller to challenge this in the last year.
6. (10) Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS)
I don’t play it as much as I used to. Probably been a couple of weeks or more since I last had a wander round Venture. But it lasted for hundreds of hours of play and helped cement my relationship with the woman who is now my wife. Thanks Nintendo!
5. (6) ICO (PS2)
Haunting, atmospheric, etc. And unlike Shadow of the Colossus I actually finished ICO.
4. (3) GTA: San Andreas (PS2)
Last year I said, “Best setting, best map, best features, best everything.” Still true when you’re talking about the GTA series, but Saints Row now exists and it does a lot of stuff an awful lot better than GTA does it. GTA IV is going to have to be something very special now.
3. (4) Mario 64 (N64)
Loved it then. Love it still. It was losing ground in my top tens, but the Virtual Console version has reinforced how much fun it still is, so it gains a place here.
2. (NE) Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (360/PC)
Morrowind was in this spot last year. Oblivion doesn’t do everything better, no. It feels a lot smaller, possibly down to the fast travel and quest markers. The land doesn’t have the strangeness of Morrowind. The levelling system isn’t as bad as many make out, but is ever-so-slightly broken. But in other ways it makes many, many improvements. At times it looks breathtakingly beautiful. The combat is much improved, especially the ranged combat. The stealth works brilliantly – so much so that it seemed almost everybody went for a stealth-based character when playing the game. It’s been over a hundred hours of glorious fun, with more to come.
1. (1) Doom (PC/360)
Genius that hasn’t aged in anything but graphics. Gameplay, level design, feel… it’s still all there. And the 360 version has the best controls since pre-Win95 PC keyboards. BEST. GAME. EVER.
Viva Pinata (360) – I’ve either been playing this or watching my wife play it. Between us I think we’ve got all but three of the pinatas, though I may have missed some. Yesterday I finally got Parrybos and she got Roarios. Our entire style of play changed over the weekend. She sent me a crate and it wouldn’t let me unpack it my garden. So I started a new one as she couldn’t remember what was in it and we were curious. Turned out to be Mike Tyson, a fourheads. (Think as he was wearing a crown I’d reached my accessories limit for the garden, as everything else was very low.) Anyway, as I’d started a second garden I decided to go with it and turned it into a watery wonderland for all the water-loving creatures in the game. So, then, we moved to a multi-garden model. We also became farmers, specifically raising pinata to fulfill certain criteria and then selling them once they’d served their purpose, with no goodbyes or regrets. I still have pinata I love, from early in the game, but the majority of my new pinatas are just means to an end. Next, unless my wife gets one this afternoon, comes the great Galagoogoo hunt. Oh – and thanks to this game my wife now has Xbox Live friends, yay!
Super Mario Bros (NES) – Oh, yes, I played this too. Warped as far as World 5-2, but couldn’t remember any further warps… and died, anyway. Feels a bit off to me, somehow. Still fun, but the controls aren’t as invisible as they normally are when I play Mario.
Viva Pinata 2 (360) – More, more, more pinata, more items, bigger gardens, slopes so streams can run downhill, real bridges, more crossbreeding, variant colours being passed on (full gene-based model possible?), better pathfinding, bigger garden limits, fish, BUG FIXES, more responsive controls, ability to select sick/new animal from alert, ability to visit other gardens online, no bad guys, multi-item crates, proper online auction houses, Leafos not to lie so fucking much and/or Leafos to be dead, etc.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance (360) – Well, I’ve got it. But I want to play it. After Viva Pinata, whenever that turns out to be.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (PSP) – Well, I’ve got it. But I want to be good when I get round to playing it, whenever that turns out to be.
Crackdown (360) – Otherwise known as “that game that comes free with the Halo 3 beta”. I’m hoping for Hulk-style goodness. Luckily there’s a demo coming out in time for the pre-order to be cancelled if it’s rubbish.
Viva Pinata (TV) – The cartoon. Downloaded an episode (“Candiosity”) on the 360. Very annoying characters and not saved by a handful of pop-culture references and one slightly funny moment.
Viva Pinata (360) – Well, the noise the disc makes in the 360. It’s really starting to grind and I’m not entirely happy about it.
GAME OF THE YEAR
The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion – It probably wasn’t as good as I was hoping for, the difficulty curve is all over the place and it feels a lot smaller and more constrained than Morrowind did to me, but it’s still one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, if not the very greatest. It’s a shame that there are few surprises after the first few hours – random loot seems to max out and become useless very early – but it’s always fun to wander the land seeing the sights and doing the odd quest. If they can release a couple of big expansions with less traditional landscapes and more to do for high level characters then the full package could be great beyond words.
HARDWARE OF THE YEAR
Nintendo Wii Remote – Yeah, surprise. It’s a controller with a speaker! And you can plug extra controllers in the borrom! Ace! But mainly this award is for the motion-sensing, obviously enough, which works wonderfully when used well (and when the sensitivity is set right in the options). In any other year the DS Lite would have walked it, but 2006 was special.
CONSOLE OF THE YEAR
Xbox 360 – Firstly: profiles. Having completely separate saved games and records based on who’s logged in to the machine is absolutely perfect. (Why in God’s name Nintendo didn’t do something similar for the Wii I do not know. It’s an absolute pain, especially when it comes to the saved states on VC games.) Live Arcade is brilliant, as is the Marketplace in general. Yes, some of the items for sale take the piss and hopefully they’ll fail dismally – I’m looking at you Godfather – but downloading demos and trailers is wonderful. Then there’s the fact this is the only current console to offer 720p as standard on all games. No longer do we have to suffer games that aren’t even widescreen or have shoddy PAL ports. The wireless controller is a thing of beauty, too, rubbish d-pad aside. And then there were the games. With the likes of Oblivion, Dead Rising, Ridge Racer 6, Gears of War, Viva Pinata, Saints Row, Test Drive Unlimited and GRAW the 360 had the best line-up of any console this yearm as well as the best versions of multi-platform titles like Tomb Raider: Legend and Hitman: Blood Money. And it had Doom.
MOST UNDERRATED THING OF THE YEAR
Sony PSP – Constantly dismissed by just about everybody, but it does have an excellent library of games now. You want names, I assume. Okay, here go: Tekken: Dark Resurrection, Football Manager Handheld, Loco Roco, Lumines II, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, Mega Man Powered Up, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, Hot Shots Golf, Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX, Monster Hunter Freedom, Ridge Racer, Sonic Rivals. And those are just games I’ve played – there’s a load more I’ve got queued up at home and even more I’d buy if I had the time and money. There have been long dry spells in the release list and I’m not sure what the long term prospects for the machine are, but it really shouldn’t be dismissed. Shame about the analogue nub and the battery life, though.
WEAPONRY OF THE YEAR
Dead Rising – There’s the katana, simple, elegant, deadly. Possibly the single best weapon of the year. Then there’s the shotgun, too, one of the best since Doom. And then there were dumbbells, knives, frying pans, drink cans, chainsaws, hammers, golf clubs, vehicles…
BEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Saints Row – Should, by rights, have been an appalling GTA clone. But then the demo came along and throwing pipe bombs at cars was fun enough to make the full game a required purchase. It didn’t disappoint. Tons to do and far friendlier than GTA, with a great many improvements to the game structure and controls. In fact, in terms of pure core game mechanics it stomped over GTA with big, heavy boots. If only the general gangsta vibe had been handled with a bit more wit. It wasn’t always unfunny, but the humour mostly fell flat and sometimes seemed to be attempting to be serious. It was hard to tell.
NEGLECTED GEM OF THE YEAR
Company of Heroes – It’s absolutely exceptional. Stressful, epic, exciting, explosive, etc. The superbly designed from the ground up and executed with amazing skill. But it’s on the PC and so I’ve only played it for one weekend. Oops. And not many other people seemed to play it, either. PC gaming just seems to take place in a parallel to console gaming at the moment, more so than ever.
FRANCHISE OF THE YEAR
Lumines – Superb on both the 360 and the PSP, I can never get enough of this game. Block rockin’ beats, and stuff.
DEMO OF THE YEAR
Lost Planet – This demo has been on my 360 since E3 and still gets player. It’s brilliant… but I’ve still not completed either level, so I won’t be buying the full game. This demo is game enough for me. Sorry, Capcom. For demos that do what they’re meant to do (i.e. make me buy the game) it’s a toss up between Dead Rising and Saints Row.
MOST SORELY MISSED CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
Mr Driller – Putting him in Pac-Man World Rally really doesn’t count, Namco. If nothing else, now the Wii’s out, please just translate Mr Driller Drill Land for us. Better yet, a whole new Driller game would be nice… but let us use traditional controls.
IDIOCY OF THE YEAR
OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast – It’s a fantastic game. It’s a brilliant game. It’s a wonderful game. It reminds me why games exist and why I love them, even. However, it came out on the Xbox, not the 360. And it’s not backwardly compatible. That’s idiotic. But even more idiotic is making some of the cars in the PSP unlockable only if you connect your PSP up to the PS2 version of the game. Especially as one of those cars is my favourite car, which I now can’t use in the PSP game. Hooray.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (360) – Not the worst game released by any means. It should have been one of the best games of the year, in fact, but it was ruined by bugs. I never even finished it in the end.
MOST UTTERLY, COMPLETELY HORRIBLE GAMING THING OF THE YEAR
Sonic The Hedgehog Demo – I played this a lot. Just because I couldn’t believe it was as bad as I thought it was. But it was. It was just a pitiful mess and broken beyond belief. And it was Sonic. Our Sonic!