Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years - The End

Hello, and welcome to the finale of A Look to the Past: Games of the Years. The greatest entries from the past twenty years of video games have been successfully chronicled, and we finally make it to the end: all the way back to 2010! We've visited the NES, witnessed the brief reign of the Dreamcast, dropped by to see online gaming take off, and finally come to rest at the current generation of hardware. In case you haven't been calculating information in your head this whole time, here's a recap of the feature for your reading pleasure:

1990 - Super Mario Bros. 3
1991 - Super Mario World
1992 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
1993 - Myst
1994 - Donkey Kong Country
1995 - Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
1996 - Super Mario 64
1997 - Star Fox 64
1998 - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
1999 - Soul Calibur
2000 - Rayman 2: The Great Escape
2001 - Super Smash Bros. Melee
2002 - Animal Crossing
2003 - The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
2004 - World of Warcraft
2005 - Shadow of the Colossus
2006 - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
2007 - Halo 3
2008 - Super Smash Bros. Brawl
2009 - Batman: Arkham Asylum

Game of the Ever: 2004 - World of Warcraft

And here are some fun statistics on the winners in case you're curious:


Nintendo - 12
Broderbund - 1
Namco - 1
Ubisoft - 1
Blizzard Entertainment - 1
Sony Computer Entertainment - 1
Bethesda Softworks - 1
Microsoft - 1
Eidos Interactive - 1

Original IPs: 

3 (Myst, Animal Crossing, Arkham Asylum)


17 (All the others)

Games with multiplayer:

11 (Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Star Fox 64, Soul Calibur, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Animal Crossing, Wind Waker, World of Warcraft, Halo 3, Super Smash Bros. Brawl)

Games that contain the word "Super" in their title:

6 (Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, Super Mario 64, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. Brawl)

As this year comes to a close and people begin to furiously compile their Top 10 lists and select their Game of the Year nominees, it's good to reflect on how far games have come. Compare the first item on the list, Super Mario Bros. 3, with 2009's winner. Has any medium improved so drastically in such a short amount of time? We could debate which of the two games is better until 2012 comes around to unleash the T-virus, activate the seven Halo rings, and wipe us off the face of the earth, but nobody can argue that time hasn't been very generous to games both technically and sophisticatedly. But if nothing else, this has proven how amazing video games are. Looking back on all those years brings nostalgia to my heart and reminds me why I play games in the first place. I sincerely hope that you've enjoyed this Look to the Past, and I'd love to hear your Games of the Years (and Game of the Ever, too). 

And with that, I'm off! See you next time!

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2009 - Batman Arkham Asylum


Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, Xbox 360)

The Joker's arrest has gone terribly awry. Mad, depraved inmates are roaming the grimy halls of Arkham Asylum. The security officers are all but nonexistent; most of them are dead. There's a sinister, evil plot behind these dark events, and the Joker himself is orchestrating it all, viewing the wanton murders and ghastly sights as a twisted joke for his own perverse pleasure. There's only one silver lining in this horrible mess: Batman is here.

Take that concept and mold it into the most awesome video game you possibly can; that's Batman: Arkham Asylum. The tone was dark and grim, dripping with minute details and creepy atmosphere, and you were placed directly into the role of the Dark Knight. Arkham Asylum's crowning achievement was its ability to make you feel just like Batman. The outstanding animation for the fight sequences had him delivering hard-hitting punches and vaulting around the enemies like a pro, always in command and always looking ridiculously cool. The free-flowing hand-to-hand combat was unbelievably fluid, and a daunting pack of criminals could be brought to their knees without Batman ever missing a beat or breaking a combo. The stealth mechanics allowed you to execute sneak attacks and mess with the enemy thugs' minds, slowly panicking them to the state of terror. Moving beyond the frustrations of most stealth games, Arkham Asylum made escape fully possible once spotted, and duking it out was usually an option as well, but creeping through the shadows and taking out minions one by one was supremely satisfying. These two elements blended together perfectly, all wrapped around an enthralling and immersive plot that felt like a blockbuster action film in which you got to be the hero. My jaw dropped during the opening interactive cutscene, and I didn't pick it up again until the credits rolled.

"Come on, boys. He's just one man! One man dressed like a lunatic and armed to the teeth! Hehehehehehe! Go get him!"
-The Joker speaking to his men via the PA system.

The setting went a long way to securing Arkham Asylum a place in the history books. The Joker's hilarious and sadistic remarks spoken over the PA system never became stale, and each inmate was well-acted and convincingly insane. Alone and against impossible odds, Batman had to maneuver every inch of the island and use every trick in his book to survive, which made everything all the more amusing for the maniacal Joker. The brave superhero was set up for failure every step of the way, but always he forged ahead without complaint, saving victims and beating down foes. This dynamic between the two central characters made everyone else seem like pawns in a horrible game of chess, except that Batman's side consisted of only one knight, and it had achieved both mental and physical perfection. Such tense struggle between good and evil, the sane and the insane, was the perfect story to be told in the madhouse known as Arkham Asylum, and it won't be forgotten any time soon. Of course, I missed out on some of the more popular games from 2009 such as Assassin's Creed II, Resident Evil 5, blah blah blah and etcetera. I think I've made it clear that I can't always play all of the newer games due to time and price restraints. However, I did get a chance to spend some quality time with games like Mario & Luigi 3: Bowser's Inside Story, Dragon Age: Origins, Demon's Souls, Halo: ODST, and (of special note) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. And let me tell you, I spent very long and tortured amount of time deciding between this final option and Arkham Asylum. Every time I came to a decision, I would change my mind and start over again, continuing the endless cycle in my indecisive mind. But in the end, it was Arkham Asylum's sheer originality that takes away the final prize of this Look to the Past, for it sprang seemingly from nowhere and forged an eye-opening new path of its own. Never before had I felt more like I truly was the main character of the game; Arkham Asylum nailed Batman, and that is a feat to be proud of.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2008 - Super Smash Bros. Brawl


Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

I count myself as a pretty big Nintendo fan, as this Games of the Years features has no doubt highlighted. From the early days of the NES to the present day Wii, Nintendo has consistently put out some of the best, most high-quality products on any platform. When you combine over thirty Nintendo characters, over forty Nintendo-inspired stages, and over two-hundred-fifty Nintendo songs, it essentially creates Heaven in video game form. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is yet another game on the list that is too big for words... unfortunately, this blog is generally constructed of words, so I'll have to do my best. In 2008 the madcap fighting style of Super Smash Bros. was unleashed upon the world once more, making everybody within a hundred yard radius exceptionally happy. I wouldn't go so far as to say Brawl perfected the series like I think Halo 3 did; Super Smash Bros. Melee's gameplay was superior in some ways. However! Brawl upped the overall quality and content (especially in the music department) so dramatically that it barely makes a difference. New characters were added to the fray, and most of them were fun to play as and interesting choices. Of special note was the inclusion of two outsiders: Konami's Solid Snake and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog. These were among the greatest newcomers to arrive in Brawl, and helped to set the stage for even more crazy, fan-fiction-inspired showdowns. Levels were bigger and more interactive than ever, showcasing a great Hylian bridge that comes under attack by evil forces, a guided tour of Delfino Plaza's sunny entirety, and a Mario Kart track rife with reckless racers to name a few. The many, many songs set to these levels were composed by dozens of renowned video game musicians, from Nobuo Uematsu to Koji Kondo to Akihiro Honda. Most of them were remixed tunes from Nintendo's past, and the music as a whole was fantastic. Almost every piece was a winner, and some topped their original forms. Brawl was clearly intent on having both quality and quantity in all respects.

I don't know about you, but this is exactly what my crazy fan-fiction showdowns look like.

Well, in almost all respects. Although the Subspace Emissary (Brawl's attempt at a story) didn't hit all the right marks, the other modes and options made it easy to forget. Players could create their own battlegrounds with the stage creator, which made great strides in replayability. If you ever got tired of the excellent developer-designed stages, you could throw some blocks together and get a whole new experience. As the most notable new addition, it was simple but effective, and the flat-out amazing gameplay made even the slightest differences in stage design meaningful. And of course, the nostalgia-inducing trophies made a triumphant return, acting as 3D collectables to honor past Nintendo history. Other modes and options deepened an already deep game, which is, in essence, what Brawl did to the series overall. Now, I've never played Grand Theft Auto 4, BioShock, or Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (rather popular entries in the 2008 repertoire of games). However, I have played some eye-openers from that year, including Burnout Paradise, Soulcalibur IV, and LittleBigPlanet. Although each of those games were fantastic in their own rights, Brawl knocked them down like bowling pins. It was everything a video game should be: it conjured up images from the legends of yore; it presented new, fresh ideas; it boasted strong multiplayer options; it contained endless variety; it had amazing music; its visual style was both pleasing and impressive; and, last and most importantly, Super Smash Bros. Brawl was just plain fun.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2007 - Halo 3


Halo 3 (Xbox 360)

Halo was hyped. Really, really hyped. Posters for the third and final installment were plastered over store windows everywhere I went, every banner ad on every website ordered me to "Finish the Fight," and there was even a Mountain Dew flavor named after the long-awaited finale to the Halo trilogy. It appeared rather trite and superficial from the outside, having never played a Halo game before. My brother and I jokingly referred to the series as "teh haloz" because of all the poorly-spelled forum posts praising the game. But then we finally tried it, and radness ensued. Now that I've played every Halo game in existence, I can clearly see that Halo 3 was the pinnacle of the series. Maybe it didn't have the ridiculously cool pistol from the first game or the fascinating Arbiter missions from Halo 2, but it had much more than that. Bungie cranked up the scale with a phenomenal soundtrack by Martin O'Donnell, gave the visuals a shiny coat of Xbox 360 finish, and included meaningful features that both innovated and refined. Now four players could team up at once in the game's excellent campaign, which made pummeling Brutes and Grunts all the more exciting. Online multiplayer was essentially perfected with better map design and an overall slicker matchmaking service, along with new modes and weapons to keep things fresh. The most substantial new addition, however, was Forge Mode. With this creative tool, players could drop in all kinds of objects, vehicles, and items to populate their own maps. Imagination could yield great things, including elaborate, explosive traps and levels so heavily modified that they felt brand new. To capture all the magical moments of the game, a Theater Mode was instituted to save screenshots and videos so the hilariously grisly deaths of your clumsy Elite could be cherished forever. Bungie knew exactly how to give the Halo series new life without sacrificing its strengths, and they did so with near perfection.

Hey, this is my favorite thing to do in multiplayer! I always drive, my brother guns. Memories, I tell you...

But it's not only the gameplay that made Halo 3 memorable; story and characters, combined with the universe that went along with them, ensured that this is one game you'll never forget. Even amid a degree of confusion (the plot wasn't clear, going so far as to be flat-out unclear), the people embroiled in this battle for the fate of all was both fun and moving. It doesn't hurt that Master Chief is the coolest character ever. There was a certain vibe to the Halo series-- the feel of the weapons, the tone of the story, the pacing of the level design-- that reached maximum awesomeness in this game. It truly felt like the end of a great journey, one that was started at the dawn of the Xbox and continued into next console for an epic conclusion. 2007 was a good years for shooters. I myself played Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, Warhawk, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and even the jaw-dropping Crysis (a close contender for this very award). However, Halo 3 still reigns as the shooter that does everything just abut flawlessly and contains a world that I always want to revisit. I also want to mention that Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass were both released that year, proving further my devotion to the Halo cause (because those games were SO GOOD). Even amid the uncontrolled hype and raging expectations, Halo 3 was utterly successful in becoming the best of its kind, and in my mind has yet to be topped. For all intents and purposes, it really did finish the fight.