Looking Back on… the 2010 Year in Review Staff Commentaries

(This was the last year Alex assembled and posted the GOTY-related commentaries; 2011 didn’t really see anything get posted that I can recall, or at least not for staff commentaries, and I picked up the role from 2012 onward. Otherwise there’s nothing to note, save that this was the first of two years I attended E3, the second being 2011, before real life kind of got in the way of doing this thing, sadly. I’d like to go back once life sorts itself out a bit, though the older I get, the less likely it seems that’ll happen. Oh well.)

Mark B.’s Top Ten
Senior Editor

1. Mass Effect 2 (360)
2. 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (NDS)
3. Dead Rising 2 (360)
4. Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PS2)
5. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage (360)
6. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (360)
7. Splatterhouse (360)
8. Deathsmiles (360)
9) Yakuza 3 (PS3)
10. Bayonetta (360)

(That top five is fucking rad as hell, I don’t care what anyone says. I’d easily say Harmony of Despair could be subbed out, since right afterward they patched it to “balance” it and fucked up so much of the game that I’ve actively uninstalled the game and never gone back. Strange Journey could’ve easily taken that spot, I think. Otherwise, Splatterhouse could’ve been moved down a couple notches, though I still like that it comes with the classic games enough to keep it in there.)

I don’t know how 2010 is going to ultimately be judged, in terms of overall quality, but I can say that I’ve had a good amount of fun this year. A lot of fantastic games came out that, if I had a longer list, would be all over it, including the wonderfully Mario Kart inspired Blur, (Matt has since suggested we should play this thing online at some point, and I can’t imagine being any good at it at this point.) the fast paced nail’d, (I barely even remember the game now.) the hard hitting Vanquish, (Which was essentially the point where the luster kind of came off of Platinum Games for me; their work is still pretty good, but Vanquish felt like a tech demo in retrospect, and a lot of their other work has been hit or miss since that point.) the dungeon crawling Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, (As noted, should’ve been in the list.) the challenging and fun Monster Hunter Tri, (Fuck that.) and more. Unfortunately, I only get ten spots to highlight my favorite games this year, so let’s get to it.

It’s hard to remember the games of the beginning of the year at the end of the year unless they stand out, and that’s something that Bayonetta does in spades. (I generally always try to pick something from early in the year for my various top whatever lists when possible, though it’s a lot easier if the games at the beginning of the year don’t suck out loud. Sometimes this is harder than others, of course.) Taking the gameplay of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta is a ridiculous and memorable character who is absolutely shameless and incredibly badass, and the game is a riot. (To this day, Bayonetta as a character sparks debate between whether she’s a strong female empowerment role model or a classic example of the male gaze given form, and a lot of fairly respectable people fall on both sides of that argument. Says I, the modern Lara Croft is meant to be an example of proper female empowerment, and she sucks out loud; sometimes it sucks when a character is created, visually, with the male gaze in mind, but it can result in some truly awesome characters. As soon as we can get past the mentality that “female character growth = crying a lot” we’ll probably be better off.) The game discards any semblance of trying to be grounded in reality and creates a universe where invisible angels that look like your worst nightmares attempt to assault a lead who can turn her clothing into dragons and breakdances while firing guns out of her feet, and if I have to explain why that’s awesome, you should yell at your parents for not encouraging your imagination when you were a kid. (The sequel is that plus journeys to hell, so clearly the dev team is on the good shit.)

The Yakuza series has become a favorite of mine. Taking the elements that would have made Shenmue awesome if the game hadn’t become eighty million pounds of boring and sticking them onto a series of organized crime stories, the franchise has become my favorite modern Sega franchise. (I still contend that we should wrap up the Shenmue series not with a third and final game, but with a cross-over game that pairs off Kazuma and Ryo to resolve the plot of the Shenmue series, but with Yakuza mechanics. It’d be a great payoff, would resolve the Shenmue series for longtime fans, and would open the door to more games featuring Ryo down the line. It might even freshen up Yakuza a bit. Just a thought.) Yakuza 3 continues that trend by bringing the franchise to the PS3, which tacks a visual upgrade onto a fantastic combat system and plot, and the results are everything I wanted. Kazuma is still a compelling, complex character who is likable despite his penchant for shattering faces, and it’s exciting following him through his adventures, enough so that I’m looking forward to Yakuza 4 already. (Yeah that stopped about ten hours into the game.)

While shooters turn up on the Xbox Live and PSN services, finding one that’s truly special is quite rare anymore, or so it feels like. Deathsmiles is one of those rarities, a shooter that is not only “great”, but is great IN SPITE of the ridiculous concept of “super powered gothic lolitas fighting weird demons”. (The sequel, featuring said gothic lolitas fighting an evil Santa Claus, Satan Claws because of course, is even worse if you can believe it.) The game is aesthetically amazing, the mechanics are surprisingly involved, and the fact that the game actually has a solid storyline and MULTIPLE ENDINGS (!) is, with that alone, a major step forward for the genre. The game comes with multiple revisions as well, which just feels like an added bonus on top of everything else, and the overall package is like something Working Designs would have released back in the day. Here’s hoping we see Deathsmiles II over in the states next year. (Cave ended up releasing the game on XBLA themselves, sans translation or an understandable plotline; this in no way impacted the experience, mind you, but it did have the side effect of making the game even more nonsensical than it might have been. This was part of a big experiment on Cave’s part to see if it was financially viable to just release their games direct to the US market; since they stopped doing it after this and Guwange, I’d assume the answer was “no”.)

As I noted in my review, I’m a huge fan of the Splatterhouse franchise, so anything that was associated with that was likely to make my list of favorite games of the year. That said, Splatterhouse ended up being surprisingly good, given all of the drama surrounding it, the bad first impression it left on me at E3, and the undesirable change of Rick’s appearance. (“Surprisingly good” does not, in retrospect, mean “good” so much as it means “better than I expected” but I picked it up recently and it’s still fun enough.) It helps that it comes with the first three games on the disc, and it doesn’t hurt that a lot of the in-game music is remixed versions of the tracks from the older games. The game has its flaws, as I’m not a huge fan of the metal soundtrack or the nudie pictures of Jennifer throughout the game, but underneath the blood and nudity and shock value antics, there’s a game that gets what the franchise is about, and while it doesn’t always show that, it does so enough that I enjoyed it so much that I felt I HAD to include the game as a result. (Yeah, I was apparently one of the very few, because no one bought this thing and the franchise is basically dead all over again.)

Well, I’ve lost close to two whole days of my life to Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, so I obviously liked it. (Past-tense appropriate.) Surprisingly enough, a multiplayer Castlevania game works on a level I can’t describe, as running through a level with friends, slaughtering Dracula and friends to level up and get new gear is surprisingly close to mimicking the MMO model, but in a way that doesn’t offend in the same way something like Worlds of Warcraft might. It helps that all of the characters have their uses and values in battle, and that the game is a blast with multiple players. Unfortunately, they’ve also shown that they’re going to go the Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom route of nerfing characters because players aren’t using them in the way the developers intended, so I’ve abandoned the game entirely, but I enjoyed the game for a good six months at least. (Oh so the patch came in before this write-up? I assumed it was later on. Oh well, point still stands; aside from buying Suikoden II for six bucks the moment it launched, I haven’t bought a Konami game unless it was through the second party market, IE used, because I frankly hate it when companies decide that they need to balance co-op games in a way that nerfs characters you’ve become accustomed to and forces you to relearn them or play as someone else. Competitive games, sure, balance them as needed, but you developed the fucking game, if you couldn’t spend the time to figure out that people might use a character in a set way, then choose to “fix” it in a game that features cooperative play, where it hurts no one, then you don’t deserve to stay in business. Sorry, but Konami’s been circling the drain for years.)

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage seems like Koei’s first steps towards trying to change things up a little from the normal Dynasty Warriors concept, and if such is the case, it’s a good one. (Not so much; they mostly keep doing the same things they’ve always done.) Granted, I’m a fan of the franchise, and the idea of a dude punching someone so fast his fists become a blur, followed by said punched dude exploding, is awesome. That aside, though, Ken’s Rage actually feels like an evolution for the series, due in large part to the fact that the game isn’t exclusively about taking over bases and obliterating millions of dudes, and features more standard third person action segments that feel, well, refreshing given the game in question. (As I recall, the second game went back to that formula, more or less.) It also doesn’t hurt that there are a large amount of characters to play as in the game, nor that each character comes equipped with a whole mess of skills to unlock, and it’s great that the game feels authentic to the product. Also, shattering Jagi’s face is satisfying, so there’s that. (Funny story: I played this at E3 that year, and while talking to the lead dev via a translator, he clued into the fact that I’m a fan of the franchise. He asks me what I think of it, and I tell him, it’s absolutely a game I’m buying day of release, because I love both franchises. He then asks me, do I think it will do well in the US, and I tell him, “Absolutely not,” because Dynasty Warriors has a limited fanbase and Fist of the North Star has an even smaller one. I honestly hope I was wrong, but he seemed very sad about that, and I don’t blame him.)

Seeing as how Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is the only game in the series we’ll be getting (THANKS SONY! DROWN IN A RIVER OF PISS!), it’s good that it’s fantastic. (The story behind that comment is as such: basically, various companies have been trying for years to get Sakura Wars released stateside, with no success, before NIS finally succeeded with So Long My Love. The game comes out, does okay as I understand it, and Sony basically tells NIS, fuck you, you can’t release any more of them, even though there are a bunch of them waiting for translation to the PSP, a system that is dying for more software. NIS more or less says, well, since Sony told us “fuck you,” we’re not in a good position to go to Nintendo, and is more or less forced to abandon bringing out any more, even though, honestly, if I were NIS, I’d have tried with Nintendo since the DS has far more users but oh well.) I mean, I like dating simulators, but if you like Bioware RPG’s chances are good that you do too so you can shut up. Sakura Wars manages to make the dating simulator aspect work beyond how you’d expect, however, by complicating the dating simulator aspects. (I’d like a glass of ice water with ice.) Not only do you have to pick the right choices based on the person you’re talking to, but there are mini-games involved in doing so that limit the time you have and make the act more complex. It doesn’t hurt that the strategy portions of the game are also a lot of fun, nor that the plot is quite engaging and surprisingly well written. It’s really a shame that this is likely the first and last time we’ll ever see a Sakura Wars game in the US, but it’s a very good thing that we saw one game, at least. (I honestly feel like Sakura Wars was one of the few times we’ve seen an actual dating sim in the US that isn’t… well, geared toward the female demographic. I mean I’m glad that gamers get a chance to play otome games, and lord knows they’re a better “girl game” market than the shit that has been coming out, but I kind of wish something like Hakuoki with ladies had caught on, instead of people bringing out more Senran Kagura. Yes, I’m saying I’d rather have thoughtful dating sims than exploding costumes and bare breasts, boo hoo.)

I like cutting zombies in half with a chainsaw-laden boat paddle, so it’s about time that a video game spoke to my needs, which Dead Rising 2 does. I mean, look, I could talk about the improved gameplay mechanics, the improved survivor AI, the online multiplayer, and everything else that makes this game great, but come now. Kayak paddle. With chainsaws taped to the end. Really? Do I need to spell this out? (Dead Rising 3 lets you drive around in a tank and make a bomb that obliterates zombies for about three blocks, as well as your costume, so I think it won. Though if the next one lets you summon orbital strikes…)

So, I played like five DS games this year, and two of them were demos at the Natsume booth at E3. I’m not really interested in Dragon Quest or Pokemon titles, honestly, and if we hadn’t received a review copy of Etrian Odyssey III I lwouldn’t have bothered with it. (Sometimes I wonder why I even buy handheld consoles, since outside of Atlus, XSEED and the odd Aksys game, I almost never play the damn things.) 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors really… spoke to me when I first saw it, however. I knew next to nothing about the game, but the amazing artwork and the demo on the official website were enough to sell me on the game… and I’m glad they did. At its core, 999 is basically your typical adventure game with some atypical puzzles, but what drives the game isn’t the mechanics, but the outstanding storyline and character development. Few games have moved me on the level that 999 did, and the fact that the game did so without voice acting, or fancy graphics, or high production values is a wonderful thing. Bar none, 999 was the best DS game I played this year, and in any other year, would likely be at the top of my personal list overall. (Boy was that a franchise that shit the bed in record time. 999 was amazing, but VLR, even if I liked it, was waaaaaay too fucking windy and self-important for its own good, and the franchise basically had no intention of resolving itself in a way that would be satisfying to anyone. If you ever wonder why Dangan Ronpa took off and the Zero Escape series didn’t, here’s why: Dangan Ronpa sums up thought experiments in two sentences instead of ten paragraphs, and Dangan Ronpa leaves room for at least the concept of romance in its game world. When your game is more interested in explaining to me the Schrodinger’s Cat experiment than it is letting the main male and female lead have anything approaching the possibility of a “happily ever after,” you clearly don’t understand your target demographic.)

But this isn’t any other year, this is the year Mass Effect 2 came out, and to say that I’ve been playing it off and on for the entire year is not an exaggeration. (Twice all the way through, in fact.) Third person shooters are a dime a dozen, and Mass Effect 2 offers a shooting experience that’s as enjoyable as any other, but the fact is that Shepard is a fantastic character, and his (I refer to Shepard as “him” entirely because I played as a “him” but I am totally okay with the idea that FemShep is a thing that exists, and that Bioware doesn’t declare a set continuity for what gender their heroes were in their games in general. Just for reference.) crew members equally so, to a point where I can point to this over others in the genre and say that I care what happens in this universe. I’ve bought all of the DLC for the game, and I’ve come away from each bit of add-on content feeling that the purchase was a good one. I mean, at the end of the day my favorite game of the year was a multi-million dollar sequel to a hyped game, and the game in question was itself hyped up, but this was one of those rare experiences where the hype did not let me down when I picked up the game and played it, and I think that deserves rewarding. (What’s funny is, I thought this and Dragon Age 2 were both fine-to-great experiences, and that everything was fine for the most part in EA-owned-Bioware, but everyone basically hated the crap out of Dragon Age 2 so Inquisition basically changed everything, while Mass Effect 3 was the same game as its predecessor with a shite ending and multiplayer. So I guess the moral here is that Dragon Age 4 will be the same game as Inquisition, and Mass Effect 4 is going to be some wacky new thing. I’m secretly hoping it’s The Adventures of Han Solo in Mass Effect but we’ll see.)

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