Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Games of 2011, Part 1

So, the moment I've been dreading and anticipating is upon us, the actual 'let's quantify the unquantifiable with rankings' time of Game of the Year voting has been up on PA for a few days, but I've been doing a little research into one of the games on my list so that it could, in fact, make it on my list.  I'll explain when we get to it which should be tomorrow's post.  (Yes, I'm dragging it out over the days like I did originally, mostly because I've gotten a little more accustomed to doing this and might be a bit more verbose this year.)  Aside from the way I'll be handling the list in multiple posts, there are a few odd similarities with this year and last years list that have me a bit confused, though I suppose these things just happen.  Like last year, my list contains 12 games when I've worried for half this year that I wouldn't make 10, and of those 12 games, I've only physically played 10 of them, leaving me with two games that I feel I am knowledgeable enough to rate without having played them directly.

Neither of those games are in this post, however, so rest assured that I'm not simply grabbing two games and throwing them at the end to pad the list up.  Quite the opposite as they both scored fairly high for reasons that I'll get into when their number ticks up.  First up, however are four games that brought a range of opinions to the table, from disappointment to being impressed and from quick, satisfying romps to prolonged, satisfying, yet still unsettling sessions of a game whose length is measured in days, not hours.  I won't say that they 'earned' their spots on the list, because that implies that the games higher up 'earned' their spots as well and, with only a couple exceptions, they're basically numbered by happenstance and is not indicative of overall quality.  So, of course, with the first game on the list, I'm going to go right against that and speak directly to its (lack of) quality.

12. Pokemon White (and Black)

I've said it a few times before, and I'll likely say it several more times before all is said and done, but I did not like Pokemon White.  For what had been all but billed as a reboot of the franchise, willing to make all sorts of much-needed changes to the 'formula', White proved to be 'yet another pokemon game', doing absolutely nothing that the hype attached to it which was rather unfortunate as you might guess.  Even though it was all 'different' it was all the same and that's certainly not a step in the right direction for a game that has the possibilities and potential as the Pokemon series.  So this would be the real disappointment on my list and, were it not a game that I obviously liked despite everything I hated about it it wouldn't be on my list period.  Regardless, its spot on the list ensures that I'll get to air out all of my concerns and complaints.

As I said, the thing that bothers me is just how much White is the same as everything that came before it.  Same stupid storyline with a kid going out to index pokemon for a professor who has a bunch of aides but instead chooses to rely on a plucky tween from the same knowledge, same stupid plot hook of Team (Word) being stupid and eventually getting their crap kicked in by said tween, and same "Go here, challenge gym, win, move on, repeat" formula that certainly drives the game forward, but in a rather shoddy way nowadays.  Even all of the 'new' pokemon that they stated with vehemence that you had to use, as no other pokemon from previous iterations would be available prior to beating the game (which was instantly disproved by the existence of the Dream World which sent me a Farfetch'd before my third badge I believe) had very obvious roots into the design of pokemon past.  The same Fire, Water, and Grass starters, the obvious Pidgey-line, the obvious Geodude-line, etc. etc. were all present and accounted for, as were the fuck-off instant-run Legendaries that haven't been a good idea for three versions of Pokemon and do not change in that.

The other issue at hand, and this is the one that I really, really take issue with, is Team Plasma.  Not only do they mark a continuance of relying on a plot hook that's been tired for a long time, but they manage to be the single dumbest thing to ever grace a Pokemon game and possibly DS games in general.  There's spoilers here, but they're mild because who plays Pokemon for the story, honestly.  Anyways, the message Team Plasma is trying to spread is that Pokemon Trainers are committing unspeakable evils by using pokemon to fight battles for nothing more than pride and profit, which is okay enough of a message I guess.  Where it's muddled is how Team Plasma uses pokemon to fight trainer pokemon to convince the trainer that they're stronger so the trainer should release their pokemon.  Just mull that over a bit - Team Plasma uses pokemon battling to promote anti-pokemon battling beliefs.  Yeah.

Still, I enjoyed Pokemon White as I enjoy any pokemon game; it was fun building a team and getting across the various gym challenges and I was more than happy to start meta-planning super teams, but eventually I just got tired.  It's the same thing I've been doing since Pokemon Red and unless there's an actual change of form between Black/White and the next iteration (not the inevitable Grey version), it'll be the last time I'll bother with it.  Of course, I'm lying, but when I play the next iteration, if it's the same old thing, I just won't even bother to mention it.

11. Sonic Generations

I just recently went through Sonic Generations, so I'm fairly convinced that I know where I wanted to place it, and while I'm comfortable with where it's at I am a bit surprised.  There's very little about Sonic Generations that I disliked and, in fact, quite a lot that I liked about it.  So why is it so low on my list?  I suspect it has something to do with just how short it is and while it manages to impress, it doesn't stick to you.  I can't call it forgettable because that would just be dishonest, since it's very memorable if just because of all the neat versions of stages that are brand new, as well as faithful recreations of others.  Generations has the most consistently good gameplay of any Sonic game for a long time, as it takes the best part of the last 'good' (or at least not absolutely terrible) Sonic Game, Sonic Unleashed (though Sonic Colors is supposed to be rather good as well), in the form of just straight-forward speed-focused maps (from Daylight Sonic, obviously) and makes a game out of it without bogging it down with something unnecessary.

Really, though, Sonic Generations -did- need a little bit more of something.  Sure, you have all sorts of challenges as optional content that will likely add quite a few hours to your total time if you should go for it, but there's very little reward for doing any of it.  Getting Red Rings unlocks artwork of designs from previous Sonic games which is nice and all, but hardly locked to the game itself.  Beating the challenge levels gives you a bit of e-cred, I suppose, if your time is fast enough, and every level has a bell associated with it that'll get you a song to play during other stages or yet more artwork.  But it's all just stuff that's sort of there in the literal backroom of the game that you could very well go through the entirety of the game and not see a bit of it.  I guess what's to be said of it is that it was designed for replayability to be a main factor of your enjoyment, since there's always ways to get a better ranking and a better time on those levels, so it's all up to you to do it.

10. Shadows of the Damned

Shadows of the Damned provided me quite a bit of surprise when I started it up, some welcome and some less so, but nothing overwhelming either way.  After changing the controls to something not-terrible and reminiscent of Resident Evil 4 (which renders the first part of that sentence redundant), I was able to actually play Shadows of the Damned and even grow to enjoy it as I ran through the initial sections of the game.  I became increasingly impressed with how the game opened up to you, very subtly guiding you along its paths and teaching you how to play with the tools it offered in a surprisingly intuitive way that eschewed conventional 'kill 'em with tutorials' methods which was a rather welcome relief.  There was unfortunately a drop-off directly after I came here and sang its praises for doing just what it stopped doing directly after I said it was doing it.

An area that was fraught with things that made the game quite different than it had been reared its ugly head, complete with unintuitive bosses, instant deaths everywhere, and frustratingly difficult sections stemming from those two factors.  While I'm fairly confident that that cleared up directly after, as I touched into an area following that and was met with quite a lot of weirdness and comedy (Johnson and the pay phone, for those of you who've played) that wasn't too bad, I still can't really forget that the game essentially 'fooled' me, or that I think it did with how that whole thing worked out.  Afterwards, I learned a few things that would've been much nicer to know prior to being past them already, which only suggests that the intuitiveness of the first real boss fight was long gone and the game suffered for it.  It is rather unfortunate that I'm gauging this game while not having actually beaten it, and it's possible that I'll sort of change my stance on it sometime down the road for the better, where it's at right now is fine enough I think.  Remember, it might be '10th', but that doesn't mean I think 9 and above are better, just that they struck more chords with me that I had to consider them more.

9. Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3

The last game in this section of my GotY list is a game you've no doubt noticed I've whinged about on a fair few occasions.  I just plain don't like the map design and I think the way that story was handled on top of that was fairly poor.  That hinders the way that not only the original story can be told, but also the way the 'historical' accounts (read:  storylines from the anime) which bothers me quite a bit.  However, what the game annoys with in terms of poor design, it makes up for with simple quantity of quality Mobile Suits and pilots that will certainly grow into the next iteration as well.  Having the choice of being able to pilot Wing Zero, Epyon and Deathscythe Hell is honestly a little thing, but it's such a big thing for me and it makes me genuinely excited for the prospect of playing it again every time I load it up.  Not only that, but the chance to eventually get silly by hopping into a Ball or a Gouf or a Zaku II and destroying on a wide scale is tantalizing.

I'm honestly a big fan of the Dynasty Warriors style of run around and wreck stuff, which I'm sure you're all familiar with by now, so having it on my list should come as no surprise.  And while some will argue that the 'quality' of the gameplay is not there, or is at least dwarfed by that found in Shadows of the Damned or Sonic Generations, I say it's the gameplay that strikes more with me, hence its spot.  Quite simply, being able to store up Special Attack gauges for Wing Zero's Beam Cannon and then blasting hundreds of dummy suits to oblivion in a snap via a broad swath of destruction is something that cannot and will not get old no matter how many times I do it.  Similarly so with DeathScythe Hell's simple slice-through attack; strong enough to demolish most Mobile Suits with that single strike he makes, it's quite entertaining to unleash on someone intent on ruining your day.

So that's 12 to 9 for my Games of the Year 2011.  It was rather difficult actually getting the list put together as I've inferred, and three of these four games were fairly difficult to place, but I'm pretty happy with how it is.  Again, by no means does a game's spot at number 9 mean that I think the game at number 5 is objectively better, but when presented with numbers to assign, that's just kind of what you have to do.  Tomorrow will obviously bring numbers 8 to 5 and hopefully will be a little easier to write than tonights, though I suspect it won't.

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