01 December 2010

The 10 Best Games of 2010 (5 Thru 1)

OK, you jackals, here are the rest of my You-Like-What-You-Like picks for 2010. Feel free to chime in with your personal picks, recommendations, and/or hate mail below. [Missed the first entry? Too lazy today to scroll down a few pages? Click here to view my 10 through six picks.]

One more point I'd like to make before I continue: These games are not necessarily perfect 10's. In fact, every game in my like-what-I-like list is flawed in some significant way. Perfection isn't a part of the like list. The like list is simply about the games that I wound up investing the most time into in 2010.

Anyway, let the grousing begin!

5. Rage of the Gladiator (WiiWare, Ghostfire Games, Wii)

The only thing I love more than Nintendo's Punch-Out!! series is a good Punch-Out!! clone. Which is exactly what Rage of the Gladiator is. Instead of the spunky Little Mac, the game stars an up-and-coming warrior named Prince Gracius. There are some cutscenes that explain exactly who Prince Gracius is and why he is fighting. But I usually can't skip through them fast enough. All I want to do is return to the arena/ring and dole out more ass-beatings.

The game features 10 opponents of various sizes and shapes. Once you've defeated all 10 enemies, Challenge Mode is unlocked in which you re-fight everyone a second time, only this time each opponent has new powers. There is a final (final) boss who you battle only after getting all the way through Challenge Mode. It's a pain in the ass to get to him--or should I say "it"?--but trust me when I tell you that it's worth the effort.

You can customize your attacks thanks to an RPG-like skill tree. But what really sells the game for me is the playful spirit of the whole operation. It's even more playful than Next Level's Punch-Out!! do-over was last year, which is really saying something, since that game was pretty playful. Fighting ogres and ninjas and lions who have dual snakes growing out of their backs is fun, but when those creatures transform into--well, let's just say most of your opponents transform into something else after you've knocked them down twice--is the exact moment when Rage of the Gladiator becomes far more than a Punch-Out!! clone.

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Nintendo, Nintendo, Wii)

Wondering why you've never played Super Mario 65? The answer is this: Nintendo normally does not do sequels. And it certainly never does sequels on the same console. Here's an exception. The level-design geniuses at Nintendo had obviously worked up a head of steam after finishing the first Super Mario Galaxy. The result: this masterwork, which somehow, some way turns out to be even better than the perfectly awesome first game. Sure, spotlight hog Yoshi is the big selling point for the sequel--he practically takes up the entire box cover for SMG 2. (He's far bigger than Mario is.) But it's the game's crafted platforming that's the real star of the show here.

"Crafted" is the right word. There isn't one element of this game that feels slapped together and hustled out the door. Every jump, every flip switch, every Goomba, every boss fight feels considered, honed, perfected. But this platforming heaven, thanks to the steep difficulty level, occasionally turns into a hell. I say: stick with it. The sense of satisfaction you feel after completing an especially challenging level will stay with you long after you've powered off the Wii.

3. Kirby's Epic Yarn (Nintendo, HAL Laboratory, Wii)

From crafted, we move to craft-y. My mom was a big sewer when I was a kid. She had tins filled with all sorts of odd buttons. The racket of her sewing machine ruined many episodes of The Brady Bunch for me. Which no doubt explains at least some of the primal appeal that Kirby's Epic Yarn has for me.

The game is constructed entirely of different fabrics, yarn, and thread, as if the whole thing was literally woven together. It's that tactile quality--the want-to-touch-it quality--that really drew me into the game, and helped me conquer the semi-rotten first impression the game made on me. Yes, the game makes a terrible first impression, thanks to all the cutesy bullshit I had to endure at the start.

Yin-Yarn, Fluff, and and Metamato--all characters from the game--are overly sweet. But it's the cloying voice work of the narrator that really made me want to throw up on my shoes. Thankfully, he goes away fairly quickly, and I was able to get down to some old-school, two-dimensional platforming goodness.

It's not nearly as challenging, or as satisfying, as Super Mario Galaxy 2. But Kirby's Epic Yarn turns out to be far more charming and addictive. Like the stop-motion Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that airs each year, Kirby's Epic Yarn has the stuff to become an annual holiday staple. There's just something about the game that will always feel like Christmas to me. And for that, HAL Laboratory and Nintendo, I salute you.

2. Dead Rising 2 (Capcom, Capcom Vancouver/Blue Castle Games, 360, PS3)

The first Dead Rising is one of my personal all-time favorites. Yes, it's a well-established fact that I am a complete sucker for zombies. But in addition to awesome zombies, Dead Rising had a terrific sense of place. The Willamette Mall will forever be as real to me as the Shoppingtown Mall, in Syracuse, New York, is.

If you've scanned ahead, then you know that Red Dead Redemption is not on the list. Sorry, RDR, fans. The reason RDR is not on the list is illustrated perfectly by Dead Rising 2. Red Dead Redemption, which also had a terrific sense of place, was too sprawling, too repetitive, and just plain too boring for me. Dead Rising 2 never felt too big, never overwhelmed me with its scope, and never made me do anything that felt like a waste of my time. Everything I did in Dead Rising 2, whether I was saving survivors or finding a store with a steady supply of chainsaws in stock, always felt purposeful, and essential and dramatic.

One more thing: If you're on the fence about committing to the $59.99 full game, download Case Zero first for $5 and see if its for you. Case Zero is the best damn game demo I've ever played, bar none, and it's a great introduction to the rest of the experience.

1. Limbo (Microsoft, Playdead Studios, 360)

No game has gotten under my skin, and stayed there--not ever--the way that Limbo did this year. From the creepy opening screens--which make you feel like you're about to watch a low budget horror movie--to the minimalist art design, this game is the embodiment of the phrase "and now for something completely different."

What makes Limbo so remarkable is how well it adheres to the show-don't-tell adage. It never beats you over the head with exposition, the way that games like Epic Mickey and Red Dead do. It slowly, and confidently, pulls you deeper into this strange world, never over explaining anything, always trusting you--the gamer--to be smart enough, and curious enough, to figure things out on your own.

Best of all, the game generates a sense wonder like no other game I have ever played. Even now, months after I played it, I constantly think about the things I saw in Limbo, and the experiences I had there. No, I can't explain the ending. No, you will not walk away from Limbo feeling satisfied. It never lets you exhale--that final, cathartic exhale--the way that we expected games to let us exhale. That's what makes it so brilliant, and so special, the way that it slyly flouts convention. It's short--you can get through it in a night or two--but not since Portal has a gotten into my subconscious and dwelled there the way that this game has.

Buy it. Play it. Love it.

Anyway, here's to a terrific 2010--one of the best years I can ever remember for gaming. And here's to an even better 2011. As Vic and I often say to each other, "We live in a golden age." Never was it more true than it was this year.


  1. Great list! I always love reading other people's yearly best-of lists for videogames because most of the time I find out about a gem that I missed somehow. In this case, Rage of the Gladiator. I did not have time for it when it came out, and then it dropped off of my radar.

    While my own top-10 of the year list looks significantly different (save for Limbo being #1) I completely understand why someone would choose the 10 that you chose, because all of those games are remarkably great.

    Keep "liking-what-you-like" Scott, because you like some pretty great stuff!

  2. Surprisingly great list! Not exactly what I was expecting. Can't wait to finish my M.Sc. in two weeks to start playing all the great games that came out in 2010.

  3. What no pac-man CE:DX ? :)

    Limbo was very gripping but it left me wanting more(a sign of a great game?)

    Dead Rising 2 is awesome but always makes me want to go shopping

  4. Great list Scott!

    I know it came out at the very beginning of 2010 but Mass effect 2? Best game I have ever played!

    p.s. glad to see none of the popular FPS's on the list, although Goldeneye might deserve a special mention.

  5. I am a little surprised to see that Donkey Kong Country Returns wasn't on your list, as you seemed to be really loving it.

  6. I really need to get back to Super Mario Galaxy 2. I bought it, but played it for maybe an hour until some shiny light drifted by my vision and I went to chase it.

    I agree with you completely on Red Dead Redemption. I got to Mexico, played a few missions and realized that, 12 hours in, I'd seen enough. It's a fantastically well produced game, but it was dragging by that time and I just couldn't muster the care to continue.

    I'll definitely second the recommendation to check out Dead Rising 2: Case Zero. It perfectly distills the DR experience into a bite sized chunk. The small size (3-4 hours) really lends itself to frustration-free replays, while at the same time giving a great approximation of what DR2 will be like. I was not a fan of DR1, but really enjoyed DR2, due in no small part to giving Case Zero a shot.

    I loved the forest section of Limbo. LOVED it. After that the game really lost a lot of steam for me. I finished it, but by the end of what is a pretty short experience, I was more than ready to be done. The subsequent levels/areas just didn't evoke the same level of wonder and charm as that initial forest area. Being stalked by a persistent enemy and also encountering mysterious child tribes really fueled my need to progress. These things completely disappear from the final 1/2 to 2/3 of the game and the experience is poorer for it. To me it felt like the devs burned through all their really great ideas in that first forest section and added the rest of the game out of some feeling of duty. Instead of continuing on because I wanted to see what might happen next with the children of the corn, I just soldiered on because I was on the left and the end was on the right.

  7. Great points, Steve-O, about Limbo. Something IS missing from the final 1/3 of the game. It's not the best part of the game, by far.

    But the Forest stuff? It's like the videogame Maurice Sendak never made.

    It's so good.

    Let's both go back to Super Mario Galaxy 2 over the holidays, then compare notes in January.

    If only Donkey Kong Country Returns, a.k.a. the 1-up woodchipper, would stop eating up my nights.

    Damn you, Retro, and your ridiculously difficult game!!!!!!!!!

  8. Wow, you've got truly shitty taste in games lol. I mean, what are you, 12? Kirby? Rage o' da Gladiatorz111? Dead Rising 2? K thx bye.
    *facepalm out the back o' my skull*

  9. I'm going to make it a priority to get back to Super Mario Galaxy 2 over the holidays even though I've got Fallout New Vegas and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood competing for my limited time right now. I've just heard too many good things about SMG 2 to ignore it and still consider myself a proper game enthusiast.

    As for Donkey Kong Country Returns, I haven't checked it out yet. I have no nostalgia for DKC because I never owned a Super Nintendo. For shame! My parents just couldn't understand spending $200 on a game system that didn't play my old NES games, so I was deprived of an entire generation of gaming goodness. I did get DKCR for my brother's girlfriend for Christmas as she is a big fan of the old SNES games, but I'm worried it's going to be too hard for her based on what people have been saying about it.

    I'm not sure I could produce a Top 10 list for this year as I finished relatively few games compared to the number I actually played. That said, Mass Effect 2 would definitely be my number one game of the year. Not exactly a dark horse pick, but I love what Bioware does.

    Right up there with ME2 would be Bioshock 2. I don't know why people seemed to be so "meh" toward it. It's a fantastic game and better in a lot of ways than its very excellent predecessor.

  10. DKCR is going to be too challenging for her. I get through about a level a night, and it takes every ounce of gaming skill that I can muster to get through.

    As for BioShock 2... well, you're not going to like my most recent post. Friends still, I hope. :)

  11. I often disagree with you, but that does nothing to ameliorate my high opinion of you and your writing.

  12. I'm not so sure you should say that your mom is a big sewer; somebody might come along and suggest that she needs a manhole cover.
    Or perhaps I should learn to read. Moving on.

    Good list. It is somewhat of a good thing to see that very few titles make it onto our separate lists (that just suggests that a lot of dandy titles came out this year).

    I am a bit surprised that Kirby's Epic Yarn ranked so well on your list. Having played through it myself, I am a bit perplexed that you would include a game with such a limited difficulty to it.

  13. Ha ha, Quiz! I thought the same thing about Jones saying his mom was a sewer.

  14. It pleases me to read that Kirby's Epic Yarn is going to get better. I just started it recently and all of the points you mentioned that gave you a negative first impression were noted by me as well. I'll give it a bit more time.

    It's been a busy year for me so I have no top-10 list... but Pac-Man Championship Edition: DX deserves to be mentioned... and worshiped.

  15. So I ended up playing DKC: Returns with my brother's girlfriend after we gave it to her and I totally fell in love with it. I got myself a copy and am in the middle of World 3. It's a challenging game for sure, but it makes me feel the same sort of joy and wonder that I remember feeling playing Super Mario Bros. as a kid. The game is always showing me something new and spectacular. I absolutely love it.