2008 Japanmanship Awards Listpost

It's that time of year when all websites and blogs do a list-post regarding the most fantastic, disappointing, rubbish, sexy, stupid, numerical, pusillanimous, retarded, hyperbolic games of the year and as I've been behind my posting for a while, due to being rather busy doing other things, I thought I'd bash out a quickie listing my personal gaming highlights of 2008, combined with a little mention of what I am looking forward to most in the coming year of the cow. The awards I'm dishing out today are the "Japanmanship Nugatories", recipients of which get exactly nothing other than a mention on a middling-to-irrelevant blog.

Retail Game of the Year - Little Big Planet
I have had some fun times playing many of the astoundingly great games we've been fortunate enough to buy this and the previous year, and I have been pleasantly surprised by a lot of them. There definitely seems to have been a jump in quality, which in my estimation occurred somewhere midway 2007, after which a lot of triple-A games have been, well, fantastic. No game in recent memory, however, has given me more delight and enjoyment as Media Molecule's Little Big Planet, causing me to lay awake at night dreaming up all the contraptions I wanted to make in its excellent editor. And though it had a few teething problems at first, now the servers all seem to be running smooth and players have begun to understand and use the true power of the creation tools we are beginning to see user-generated levels that can easily match the developers' own in creativity. With a continued dripfeed of new costumes and now new content I suspect I'll be playing this game well into 2009 and possibly beyond. I urge everyone to play until the contentious level-sorting clicks in your brain after which it's smooth sailing for many many hilarious and creative months. And Stephen Fry, of course, bonus points.
Visit the official website here.

Downloadable Game of the Year - World of Goo
It has been an excellent year for download and independent games, a trend I hope and fully expect to be continued into the next year. From the excellent PixelJunk Eden, the retrogaming fanservice of MegaMan and the Bionic Commando remake to astounding development achievements like Castle Crashers my digital wallet has been under attack egregiously, which, seeing as I have a hole in my hand already when it comes to money, let alone digital magic money, has meant some months of living close to the button. One title that stands out for me, though, is 2D Boy's excellent World of Goo. It has an excellent aesthetic, a smooth yet unforgiving learning curve and offers probably the best physics-based puzzle gameplay since forever. Little touches like OCD targets and your own tower to compare to other players' are the icing on the cake. On top of that there is a lot of personal sycophancy involved too. Once employees at a large corporate game studio the 2D Boy boys went for it for themselves and, in my view, succeeded. They had a dream and went for it, and that is inspiring. The fact they created an excellent title like World of Goo in the process is both hatefully jealousy-inducing and laudable. Everybody go buy it and support their next title.
Visit the 2D Boy website here.

Timesink of the Year - Pic Pic
Counting pure hours lost on a single game 505 Games' Pic Pic for the Nintendo DS beats the rest by several man-months worth. Whenever I had some time to fill, be it loafing around listening to podcasts, battling my fiber intake issues on the toilet, waiting for the wife to get ready to go out or experimenting with not shaving to see how long it would take before the fluff gets too itchy and annoying (2 days) Pic Pic was always there. At its base a simple package it offers three different types of drawing-related puzzle games; one a simple maze game, which hasn't gotten much playtime from me yet, one a difficult to explain yet easy to understand game where you connect numbers on a grid, by far my favourite, and a third more complicated one where you draw or clear blocks in a 3 by 3 grid surrounding a number. Each puzzle type comes with an astounding 400 puzzles, ranging from the small and easy to the huge and intricate, offering the perfect five to fifteen minute play to fill the gaps in much the same way ice cream does after a particularly heavy meal. Any DS owner who claims to like puzzle games has no excuse not to own this one.
Read Eurogamer's fawning review of it here.

Free Indie Game of the Year - Dyson
Imagine an engaging, beautiful and deep strategy game for free! Well, you don't have to because there is Dyson, a procedurally generated RTS of sorts in which you, the player, tries to colonise an asteroid belt. The controls and rules are as simple as can be yet offer surprising depths of strategy and engagement. Though still in development, the title is already robust and enjoyable and I urge any broke or tight-fisted strategy gamer to check it out.
Download Dyson here.

Console of the Year - Playstation 3
Being a slightly regretful owner of all three of the current-gen systems, I base this vote entirely on which console I've spent the most time playing. With the XBox360 having died on me several times this year I have lost all confidence in it and though I occasionally buy some XBLA games, I have stopped buying retail games because I can never be sure I can play them at any given time. The Wii, though exciting, new and shiny, with perfect usability and several fun games, I found is hardly ever used anymore. I only switch it on to stop that annoying blue light flashing in my peripheral vision when watching television. My problems with it are twofold. Mostly it is the lack of games that personally interest me, with the big Nintendo titles cleared and lacking replay value. Secondly, it lacks an achievement/trophy system which I have found myself totally addicted to on the other consoles, actually playing and replaying games often just for the points. Which leaves the embattled Playstation 3. It's undeniably a decent bit of kit, especially my early release one, with its multitude of USB ports and PS2 compatibility and of course a Blu-Ray drive. It has several, though obviously not enough, excellent games on it, including my personal game of the year above. Its on-line store is slowly filling out. Which is why I am so annoyed by Sony for basically fucking up the marketing (and pricing) so badly. Every time a Sony executive opens his mouth and lets forth a stream of obvious nonsense a kitten dies somewhere, for I think the PS3 is worthy of more success than Sony has been able to muster.

Most Over-hyped Game of the Year - Metal Gear Solid 4
It's hard to think of any hyperbole not heaped upon Metal Gear Solid 4, and though it is obviously an accomplished game made by a huge team of remarkably talented people, it did turn out to be the most ridiculous, badly paced and tedious experiences of the year until Sony released Playstation Home. From the terrible writing, the badly cut cut-scenes and gameplay that tried to be a Jack of all trades but ended up nothing in particular, the weird technical choices, including lengthy installs and loading screens that required a button-press to move away from, the game just fell flat for me on every aspect. It causes me no end of annoyance when people praise the story and writing in this game as it is so obviously of the level of your average 14 year old fanboy with too much time on his hands. The secret of writing is to cut away as much as you can and still have the story make sense, yet during the development of Metal Gear Solid 4 it seems they kept every tiny scrap of paper anyone ever made a scribble on and threw it on the pile. You may think it was a great game, but, frankly, you're wrong.

Blog of the Year - Brainy Gamer
This might be a little contentious, as Michael Abbott's, the author of the Brainy Gamer blog, views and my own differ remarkably on most, if not all levels. He engages in over-analysis of games, throws around names of filmmakers and artist as if their work is comparable to video games and promotes many other bloggers with the same stances. Which is exactly why he deserves a mention. His blog posts are almost always of a high quality and well thought out, he is turning into a spokesperson, of sorts, of the gaming blogging community and spends a lot of obvious effort and time in producing sporadic podcasts. The fact I disagree with him so much makes it more interesting to read for me, as it usually engages my brain and makes me consider, sometimes, though not often, reconsider my own views. In a medium filled with bile and hatred as well as fanboyish flamboyance, The Brainy Gamer sits comfortably in an important and overlooked niche of thoughtful, well-written and optimistic navel-gazing. Usually when I strongly disagree with certain bloggers, I simply stop reading them, yet Mr. Abbott keeps me coming back. One day I might be able to break his spirit, but it's more likely he will end up breaking mine.
Brainy up your game here.

Most Anticipated of 2009 - Cletus Clay
I am a sucker for interesting visual styles. I am also a sucker for old-fashioned arcade platforming and shooting games. So when I first heard about Cletus Clay, a claymation old-fashioned arcade shooting game, well, my brain imploded. Coming from the nimble fingers of Anthony Flack of Platypus fame and a small band of co-developers I have nothing but high hopes that my personal gaming proclivities will be satisfied when the title finally makes it out. Whether that will be 2009 is still in question, but I will certainly spend the next year keeping a close eye on the game. This is exactly the kind of weird shit that publishers shy away from yet can flourish in the bustling and growing world of independent development.
Read about Cletus Clay development here.

Personal Gaming Moment of the Year
Reaching the end of level platform in Little Big Planet while playing with three of my mates and trying to obscure the winner from view by standing in front of him and generally being a dick, followed by running around his pod like a child on a sugar-rush and pulling people around and jumping, all the while tears of childish joy streaming from my face as I laughed like an idiot for five solid minutes. I have not had such simple child-like enjoyment of a game for decades and reminded me exactly what games are supposed to be: just plain fun.

After 2007 it was hard to imagine a repeat of the many great games we had, yet 2008 did a remarkable job at it. Global recession be damned, I hope 2009 will continue this upward trend of excellence in gaming in both the commercial and independent fields. I finally have the sense that gaming has "grown up", meaning it has solidified into a real, immensely diverse quality medium rather than a bedroom tits and guns distraction for single geeky teens with acne.

25 comments:

  1. Your blog and the Brainy Gamer were both pointed out to me by a friend, but truth be told I can't bother to read Abbott's blog anymore. To me he's just another blind fanboy, perhaps one that eloquates the wrongness of fanboy admiration, but still a fanboy nontheless. He stops to make posts about why young kids don't like Chrono Trigger and how the new BG&E game looks "too Pixar", so he's a bit of a blind nostalgic fan as well.

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  2. This was a fun year end wrap up article, and although I haven't played Little Big Planet yet you've convinced me to continually harp on my PS3 owning friend to buy it! It's unfortunate that your X360's acted up so much, I got the red ring more than a year ago and never again after that. Although I haven't seen an inclination towards shooters from you I do think Gear of War was quite fun. Both of them have essentially the same art style, and even though gritty has been overdone they do it well.

    To Ixis; I've never read the blog of this Abbott fellow although I'll give it a shot now, but not all young kids dislike Chrono Trigger. My friends who played the game when they were eight or nine loved it, and I played it for the first time a short while back when I was eighteen. It's in my top three and will likely hold that place for a long time.

    Merry Christmas all!

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  3. Interesting read. I too have been enjoying LBP & it's a fantastic stand-out title. Hope to see more developers take their games on different tangents in future. Well, I can agree with you that MGS4 was ridiculously over-hyped. Yet I found it to be one of the best games I played this year.

    It was definitely not the story or cut-scenes that did it for me. It was the gameplay, it offered so many opportunities to tackle each mission differently through continued play-throughs. And I thoroughly enjoyed the boss-fights, some of the best in the industry.

    Another two titles that seem to be overlooked are Valkyria Chronicles & Wipeout HD-both are gorgeous and very engaging. I believe the PS3's software line-up improved dramatically in '08. Unsurprisingly I also found most of my time spent on Sony's shiny black box than on my other consoles.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

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  4. Thank you very much, J.C., for the kind words about my blog. Coming from you, in particular, I consider it high praise indeed. Our occasional disagreements have helped inform my thinking, especially as it relates to comparing games to other media. You may have noticed that I don't do that as often as I used to. While I think these such comparisons can be useful, I've grown more convinced that, as often as not, we're talking about apples and oranges. Anyway, I appreciate you singling out my work in this way and hope I can continue to earn your respect.

    Ixis: I'm sorry you don't enjoy my blog, but in fairness I've never written about Chrono Trigger in the way you describe, and I've certainly never claimed young kids don't like the game. Could you have mistakenly attributed a remark to me that was made by someone else?

    Like others, I did express concern about the new BG&E graphics, but not out of a sense of nostalgia. The art style just seems aesthetically lazy to me, and that's the point I tried to make. If you read that post carefully, you will see that my beef is with photorealism, not lack of fidelity to the original game.

    You're free to like or dislike my work, of course, but publicly labeling me a "blind fanboy" and a "blind nostalgic fan" are rather harsh accusations to make, especially when you support them with such distorted evidence.

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  5. My only comment is, do NOT under any circumstances, buy World of Goo for Wii. It is arguably unplayable with a Wiimote past a certain level.

    If you're going to get it, get the PC version where you can use a mouse.

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  6. Wow, why have I never heard of Pic Pic? Pity it's not out in the U.S. yet, I'm sure I could sink dozens of hours into that one.

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  7. I've a simple tip for stopping the Wii glowing light: just unplug it. I don't use it enough that having to plug it back in to use it bothers me, and it bothers me infinitely less than having to turn it on to stop the flashing, which is horrible for me since the Wii is in my bedroom.

    Out of curiosity, did you get World of Goo on Wii or PC? If you got the Wii version, are the controls are ok? I find on the pc version that selecting the right kind of goo when there are multiple types all swanning around on the same bit of structure a bit hit and miss - and that's with a mouse cursor.

    Anyway, interesting read as usual :)

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  8. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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