Today through Christmas Eve, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: year-end superlatives.
Today, we're handing out accolades to the games, systems, and people who made the year so interesting.
Welcome Trend: Downloadable Content for Consoles
Downloadable content is nothing new, but 2008 was the year it matured. If you wanted to play the most interesting and innovative games, you had to download them. The Wii finally branched out from Virtual Console re-hashes and offered original content like the charming LostWinds, the much-loved World of Goo, and Mega Man 9, which I couldn't in good conscience have played on any other system. Sony continued to quietly turn the PlayStation Network into a high-end boutique with games like PixelJunk Eden, Echochrome, and Wipeout HD. And, of course, Xbox Live Arcade was the videogame equivalent of the 1927 Yankees when they released Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2, Braid, Bionic Commando, and Castle Crashers all in one month's time.
Noble Failure of the Year: Mirror's Edge
But we're not talking about this anymore.
PR Knucklehead of the Year: Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard
As quoted in MTV Multiplayer:
The games Activision Blizzard didn’t pick up, he said, “don’t have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. … I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus… on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we’ll be working on them 10 years from now.”
Not that it's anything we didn't know already, but usually they're a bit more tactful than that. Get ready for more awful Guitar Hero games, everybody!
On the other hand, maybe we should be giving this guy points for honesty.
The Donut Hole Award: Fairway Solitaire
Ineligible for this year's top 10 list because it was a 2007 release, and left out of last year's because I didn't play it in time, Fairway Solitaire was nevertheless one of the most fun and addictive games to come down the pike in quite some time. You really need to try this one. I guarantee that the 60-minute demo will convince you to buy the full game.
Game Blog of the Year: Hit Self-Destruct
Put simply, nobody else I know of is doing what Duncan Fyfe is doing at Hit Self-Destruct. He's a superb writer, whose narrative approach to writing about games is insightful and often very funny. He can take a subject like the old practice of naming your save files and make it sound both wistful and hilarious, while still making a good point about the player's role as co-author of the gameplay experience.
Publisher of the Year: Microsoft Game Studios
I say this not because of its major console releases, although Gears 2 was very good and an awful lot of people seemed to love Fable 2. In a year when Xbox Live Arcade beat the doors down, Microsoft deserves a little love. They published Braid and Castle Crashers, both independent productions made with a lot of love by their creators. Surely these weren't massive expenditures, but it still shows their appreciation for a creative vision. (Bonus points: Microsoft even put up with Dennis Dyack, which is prize-worthy all on its own.)
Developer of the Year: Harmonix
Rock Band and its sequel are both spectacular right on the disc, but Harmonix is special because of its commitment to supporting their games after its retail release. The breadth and quality -- not to mention the value -- of Rock Band's ever-expanding DLC is staggering. This company treats its property, and its customers, with care and respect.
Console of the Year: Xbox 360
Hey, didn't the Xbox 360 win this last year? Yep, well, there was no clear alternative for 2008. The Wii phenomenon is well beyond the limits of my understanding at this point, but a same-old, same-old sequel and a fitness trainer are not what I'm looking for out of my game console. The PS3 did better for itself than in years past, but its biggest exclusive title was a massive disappointment. Even the 360's exclusives weren't quite as great as in years past, but it did have more of them, and better, too. It continues to be the system you've got to have if you self-identify as a serious gamer.
(Oh hey, remember when the most consistently innovative games were coming out for the Nintendo DS? What happened there?)
Monday: 2008 honorable mentions.