All this week, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: year-end superlatives.
Welcome Trend: Critical Non-Consensus
With the annual "Year in Swooning" quiz, I'm trying to point out how carried away game sites often get when it comes to the flavor of the week. But there is some progress in this regard. This year, I felt like there actually was legitimate, respectful disagreement about some of the highest-profile games, both indie and major-label.
- Deadly Premonition, a game with a Metacritic score of 69, nevertheless becomes a cult hit, thanks to word of mouth and the work of impassioned critics.
- Heavy Rain, a game with a Metacritic score of 87, nevertheless is savaged mercilessly in Boston's second-biggest newspaper.
- Some idiot calls Limbo "the worst sort of art-for-art's-sake garbage."
- Even Seth Schiesel doesn't like something.
PR Knuckleheads of the Year: Gabe and Tycho
Count me among those who thought the original comic was not only hilarious, but took aim at a worthy target. But the followup was a disaster. When some readers objected, Gabe and Tycho could have taken the criticisms in the spirit they were intended. A simple apology would have done nicely. At the very least, acknowledge the complaints respectfully and move on. Hell, ignoring them would have been better than what actually happened.
Instead, Gabe and Tycho doubled down with a comic that not only mischaracterized the complaints, but essentially said that the people who were offended are stupid. And then followed that up by selling Dickwolves merch.
All this was uncharacteristic for two guys who are so generous and inclusive, both with PAX and with Child's Play. These are the guys who banned booth babes from PAX, with the blessing of a majority of their readership. So I certainly don't doubt their motives. To their minds, a joke is a joke, but a bunch of their readers disagreed and I think they they did real damage to their brand by assuming a defensive posture instead of listening. To this day I don't think anything approaching an apology has come out, not for the first comic or for the followup.
For myself, I don't think they would have needed to apologize for the original strip, but they could have dealt with it in a better way than becoming the latest and most ironic exemplars of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory.
Game Blog of the Year: Gamer Melodico
Barely one year into it, Kirk Hamilton and company have already made a big impact with Gamer Melodico. They did it all: good-natured jabs at obnoxious game design; satire; finding inventive ways to comment on topical subjects; round-table discussions that make you feel like you're sitting in a coffee shop with the writers.
All of it's done with a good attitude, a healthy sense of humor, and keen minds. I can't sum up the site any better than they did themselves: "Gamer Melodico is a blog about games, written by friendly people who like to play."
(And, what the hell, an honorable mention for Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits. Paddon's not on-target all the time, but, in the words of Han Solo, "I must have hit real close to the mark to get her all riled up like this, huh kid?")
Developers of the Year: Ex-LucasArts dudes
No big-budget studio jumped out at me this year. Rockstar San Diego did great work with Red Dead Redemption. Retro Studios successfully rebooted Donkey Kong Country. Quantic Dream accomplished most of its very ambitious goals with Heavy Rain. 2K Marin not only stunned me by releasing a worthy followup to BioShock, but by all accounts the "Minerva's Den" DLC was even better (unfortunately, I didn't play it).
But I have to give a shout-out here to two people that I am always rooting for, who found their voices this year with downloadable games. Ron Gilbert, via Hothead Games, brought us the hilarious DeathSpank, which was followed almost immediately by a surprise sequel. And Tim Shafer's DoubleFine Productions rebounded after the disappointing Brutal Legend to release Costume Quest, a funny and light downloadable game that's gotten plaudits from a lot of people whose opinions I value. 2010 was a good year for both of these guys, and they're two of the best we've got.
Publisher of the Year: Nintendo
Even though I still struggle a bit with a lot of the newer Nintendo games, it's hard to argue that Nintendo isn't the big-name publisher that is consistently putting out the highest-quality products. On the Wii, Super Mario Galaxy and Donkey Kong Country Returns were both worthy of their names, and Metroid: Other M was respectable. On the DS, a little game called Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! was my biggest surprise of the year. Maybe sales of the Wii are flagging, but year in and year out, Nintendo never disappoints on the software side.
Game Console of the Year: Xbox 360
We've long since reached the point at which everybody has made up their minds on this generation of game consoles. Five years into it, the Wii's star has started to fall a bit, the PlayStation 3 has never gotten on track, and the Xbox 360 has almost defaulted to the head of the pack, massive hardware failure rates notwithstanding.
So why choose the Xbox 360 as the game console of the year? For one thing, the only hardware this year that even approached the level of buzzworthy was Kinect. The jury's still out, but it's got a lot of potential. It was the Xbox that once again had the lion's share of big exclusives, both in retail and download. And, price hike or not, Xbox Live continues to be the best online gaming option around. That's why I bought my second Xbox 360 this year.
That, and my first one red-ringed after almost five years. It was like the death of the last living World War 1 veteran.
Tomorrow: Honorable mentions.