Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Year in Review: Honorable Mentions

All this week, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: 2007 honorable mentions.

The best games of the year were superb, every one of them. Today I want to give props to some high quality games that didn't make the list.

Two games this year belonged on the list, but were disqualified on a technicality: they were ports of games that had previously been released. They were Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition and Guitar Hero II (360). In fact, Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition would have grabbed the number one spot if not for that rule. It's the best game I've ever played. But I think it's important to give the spotlight to new games, especially since RE4 and GHII have both made past top-ten lists. (I didn't play Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PS3, but there's a strong chance that would have been mentioned here, too.)

But there were a lot of other worthy games this year that, while not up to that high standard, are still worth anybody's time. In chronological order:

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney -- Justice for All. The Phoenix Wright series just a joy to play. Not only are the games funny and populated by a menagerie of crazy characters, there's also a noble undercurrent running through it all: everybody deserves a fair trial based on the evidence. Phoenix wouldn't be half as appealing if he were a prosecutor. I'm also looking forward to Capcom's upcoming Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law game based on the Phoenix engine.

MotorStorm. Sony's alleged system seller may not have been that, but it was a good, solid racing game that hinted at better days to come for PS3 owners. And once they released free DLC that included essentials like a time trial mode, MotorStorm's value only increased. It's now a pack-in with the 80 GB PlayStation 3 model. You could do a lot worse.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. Could also have been called Tom Tancredo's Ghost Recon, what with its hilariously paranoid take on US-Mexican relations. Still, GRAW2 was a tight tactical shooter that offered tense survival scenarios and was easy enough for someone as dumb as me to play through without much difficulty.

Super Paper Mario. Super Mario Galaxy got all the press, but Super Paper Mario was just as trippy and innovative in its way. The "flipping" dynamic between 2D and 3D space consistently surprised and delighted. Paper Mario's only real problem was a slow pace thanks to some uncomfortably integrated RPG elements.

Odin Sphere. Atlus's PlayStation 2 side-scroller was like Final Fantasy meets Streets of Rage. Its gorgeous, hand-drawn visuals had an artistic flair lacking in most games with technically superior graphics. A little too Japanese and weird at times, but its unique play dynamics really worked. Who knew you could make planting seeds fun?

Sam and Max Season 1. Like Phoenix Wright, the Sam and Max games are all about using your wits to solve hilarious criminal scenarios. Although this new series doesn't reach the twisted heights of LucasArt's classic Sam and Max Hit the Road, it's a worthy successor. The streamlined, low-budget approach suits the material well.

Skate. Probably the biggest surprise of the year. Skate tried to depict a more realistic skateboarding dynamic than you usually see. Its skaters don't have superhuman abilities -- they can't jump ten feet in the air or survive massive drops. Instead, the game was all about identifying trick opportunities in a realistic city, and it was a lot more fun that that description makes it sound. Skate landed one right on the chin of the Tony Hawk series.

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. The Umbrella Chronicles is a whirlwind tour through the Resident Evil canon, in the guise of a light-gun shooter. With a few deeper mechanics than you'd expect, like the surprisingly useful knife, it's got a little more meat on its bones than something like House of the Dead. And being able to experience memorable RE moments and boss battles from a fast-moving, first-person perspective is worth the price of admission. For as much grief as I've given on this blog, their description of The Umbrella Chronicles as a love letter to Resident Evil fans is exactly right.

Tomorrow: The worst games of 2007.

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