Reading so many lovely Game of the Year lists debates and lists had me thinking about the nature of GOTY roundups in general, why we do them, but also the inherent nature and how it alienates certain types of titles that may deserve recognition. Kotaku bravely discussed Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery as one of their top picks, and while anyone that played it may see the validity in that approach, an equal number of voices surely will be heard today saying, "An iOS game? What the fuck?"
The current state of games is in an exciting place -- that being that people are figuring out so many different ways to make them and platforms to distribute them on. While games look better than ever before, some longtime gamers also complain of feeling "less engaged," despite high end graphics and big budgets to create them.
I'm notorious for being a picky gamer, not the type to be satisfied with the average release. That being said, my GOTY picks rarely look anything like most lists, even though they can share common points. But, part of the excellence of appreciating games as a media art form is seeing how they affect people differently, and in the spirit of that, I'll share the games that meant the most to me this year.
5. Minna No Rhythm Tengoku (JP)
This making the list is not mystery, as I'm a hardcore fan of the series and trumpet about it more or less any chance I get. Still, the Tengoku series has always been incredibly challenging, and to pull off a new title and make it not feel stale, the magic is in the music -- something that composer Tsunku has somehow managed to make work for three games in a row. Seeing Tengoku at its prettiest ever helps with the jump from portable console to the Wii, but its cartoonlike style also works really well on it. I don't tend to enjoy the Wii control scheme, but Minna no Rhythm Tengoku makes you forget about it entirely.
Called Rhythm Heaven Fever for its US release on February 13th, I expect this challenging rhythm title to capture some hearts with its catchy music and hilarious minigames. Tsunku's done it again -- and kudos to Nintendo for localizing this title and getting that there's an audience for it!
I love that one of the most affecting titles I played this year was on my iPhone. Obviously, the game is all the better on an iPad with more room to see, but even on the iPhone it made quite an impression. While S & S's aura of mystery was surely one of its most memorable attributes, what stuck out about the most for me was the distinct feeling that I was playing an unforgettable classic, something I wish I had realized when playing adventure games for the first time a decade ago. That emotion is difficult to invoke, so I applaud superbrothers for this one. I go into more detail about it in my review for GamesRadar, but this beautiful little gem was one of the most unique of the year and should not be missed.
I was worked up about Catherine long before the game's release -- all I needed was a trailer to send me flipping out and wailing all over the internet about how it would redefine how we perceived sexuality in games. In an editorial for Gamasutra, I sketched out a ton of ideas about what the game could symbolize, and a lot of them weren't quite spot on. While the initial trailers for Catherine made it look like a very sexy game, in the end, it was anything but.
Catherine was not always a pleasant game to play. If you dug deeply enough into it, however, you would see that pleasant gameplay would never fit this behemoth of a project -- it aimed to expose something even more uncomfortable than we originally speculated. On occasion it felt heavy handed, but the significance it placed on choices and their consequences was unforgettable. I'm not sure I will ever play Catherine again, but I can't name any other game this year that stuck its hand it my gut and twisted it so successfully. (My post-analysis of the game is here.)
2. Portal 2
Valve is king when it comes to a polished release, and the first Portal was so beloved it echoed through fan consciousness for years. I'm majorly wary of sequels, especially when I think the story has been already been told conclusively, and so it seemed with this series. At least, until I played Portal 2 and realized I had found the cure for the common sequel -- a story that introduced new characters that were completely compelling, writing that took an event that could be poor in lesser hands (GlaDOS' resurrection) and gave it reasoning and body, and added co-op that felt anything but tacked on. A model for what a sequel should be like, Portal 2 was nothing less than an absolute triumph.
1. To The Moon
To The Moon is the absolute opposite of a game like Portal 2 -- at least when it comes to budget and production. Portal 2 had a team to give it such shine, whereas To The Moon was created by one person ... and still shone with one of the brightest lights I've seen in some time. This clever RPG was a dream come true for a retro enthusiast, looking right at home alongside titles like Chrono Trigger.
However, To The Moon bravely plunged forward and did something that RPGs haven't done in all too long, too. Daring to tell a story that was emotional and sometimes painful, sketching characters that were memorable enough to truly care for, and accompanying it all with a score that's literally the most beautiful I've heard this year, To The Moon really did something special. It was worth it to borrow a PC to play this game, and I can only hope to see more games that dare to take such bold chances. My full analysis of To The Moon can be found here.
What games made your personal list? Why were they important to you?