in General, Reviews, Year's Best

Best of 2008 – Video Game

Finally, a category where I actually had trouble narrowing down a list of nominations to a reasonable size 🙂 Here they are:

  • Braid (Xbox 360)
  • Castle Crashers (Xbox 360)
  • Resistance 2 (PS3)
  • Little Big Planet (PS3)

Braid is a downloadable game for the Xbox 360, which on the surface appears to be merely a Mario side scrolling clone. You control the hero, Tim, who runs around levels jumping on enemies’ heads while pursuing a lost princess. A bit familiar, yes? But Tim also has access to a number of time-manipulation abilites which must be used to solve ingenious puzzles and eventually tie into the story’s themes quite nicely.

Castle Crashers is another downloadable Xbox 360 game. Made in the style of old-school brawlers like Golden Axe, CC features four player online co-op hack & slash play. There’s little subtlety in playing the game – button mashing succeeds more often than most carefully thought out strategies. But the game has a twisted sense of humor, and the hand-drawn animation is gorgeous to look at. Due to some unfortunate network glitches (which have supposedly been solved now, but it took months!) which rendered the game near-unplayable online, I can’t award it the trophy. But when it works, Castle Crashers is great old fashioned gaming group fun.

Resistance 2 is on the list solely for it’s co-operative online play. The main single player mode is capable, but didn’t blow me away. Co-op adds the dynamic of picking between three classes – medic, soldier, or special ops. Each has specific strengths and weaknesses, and without tight genuine co-operation and planning between all three you will fail horribly. Getting a decent squad together who understands this, who can communicate and function like a finely oiled machine, is a thing of beauty.

Little Big Planet makes the nominations for, again, it’s co-op play. Sensing a theme of what I like in gaming? 🙂 Like Braid, LBP owes significant dues to side scrollers of years gone by. What it adds to the mix is an incredibly cute design aesthetic, as well as full level creation abilities. And when I say full, I mean full. Using in-game physics, I’ve seen levels created to house amazingly bizarre contraptions – like a fully functioning mechanical calculator. Your ability to create in LBP is limited only by your imagination. I don’t have the creative skills to come up with much on my own, but have really enjoyed downloading and playing through levels designed by others.

Best Video Game of 2008: Braid

Braid

Braid’s time-manipulation mechanic is integrated remarkably well into a genuinely touching and thought-provoking story. The twists are huge, so I won’t spoil them here, but the final level’s events are mind-blowing and completely alter the player’s perspective on all previous events. Tim’s adventure of self-discovery and regret and melancholy is a nice departure from video games’ usual “I’m a guy with a gun and I blow stuff up” stories. The puzzles require genuine thought and creativity to solve, and almost never feel cheap. I got a huge sense of accomplishment after I solved the more difficult ones. And it’s a minor detail, but I fell in love with the game’s background art – it’s like walking through a Van Gogh painting. Add in a haunting and catchy soundtrack, and I’m sold. Gameplay takes about 6-8 hours to complete, or less if you’re really really good at puzzles 🙂 For now the game is available only as downloadable content on the Xbox 360 ($15), but a PC version is forthcoming in 2009.

Honorable Mentions:

Mirror’s Edge earns a nod despite the fact that I haven’t quite finished it yet. It does something radical: it puts a traditionally third person game (the platformer) into the first person. You see through the eyes of the protagonist, making insane Le Parkour-inspired jumps from rooftop to rooftop in an effort to deliver packages and evade the totalitarian Big Brother type government. The rush and sense of adrenaline from seeing the acrobatics from the eyes of the performer cannot be understated. But while a noble experiment in perspective, the game comes to a creaking halt whenever combat is involved. The controls for fighting are clunky and frustrating. If this element were removed, Mirror’s Edge would be a much stronger contender. Available on the PS3 and Xbox 360, I’m playing the PS3 version.

Left 4 Dead: Three words: Co-op Zombie Shooter. I have been waiting for this kind of game my whole life. Like Resistance 2, genuine co-operation is required among players to succeed. I haven’t had much time to play it yet, but from what I’ve seen I think I’ll really like the game.

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