- Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC): A horror game that, unlike most others, removes the weapons from your hands, instead chasing you around with particularly psychotic elements. The game asks you to play it with the lights out and headphones on. Do so at your own risk.
- Recettear (PC): This Japanese game mocks the RPG genre by focusing on the dinkiest part of those games: the item shop. Run a little shop of your own and haggle with anime-looking characters on the price of a broadsword. Think of it as Diner Dash for the D&D set.
- Risk: Factions (X360, PS3): Play the board game hit with classic rules or a nicely updated set of "objectives." The silly art style helps, as does the sped-up dice-rolling.
- Helsing's Fire (iOS): Move a candle around on the touchscreen to redirect light and destroy critters. Some critters get stronger when hit with light, which means you'll also need to use shadows to your advantage. An amazing mechanic.
- Ninjatown (iOS): Like most iPhone games, this one's a mindless timesink, but it's my favorite. Cute, bubbly ninjas crawl up an endless tree with oddball super powers.
- Minecraft (PC, Mac): Technically, this LEGO-like exploration game launches in 2011, but a playable "beta" version has already sold over 800,000 copies. Keep your eye on this one.
Retail Game Roundup
I also reviewed Halo: Reach
last month, which I still believe is the year's best shooter. Not even
Call of Duty can touch its mix of shameless, movie-level bombast,
crafty enemies, and massive online portal. A few other faves are below.
- Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii): So beautiful; this game renders its world and inhabitants as if they're made of hand-knit fabric. Where this game really shines is how it scales. Kids and new players can get through with ease, but a "find all the jewels" system means obsessed players will have a lot of creative puzzles to solve, too. Consider it the Wii's best of 2010.
- StarCraft 2 (PC): The national sport of Korea got an upgrade this year, but even more impressive than its online tournament system is how Blizzard Entertainment transformed the franchise's blatant cheese into a solid, solo adventure. It's one of those rare quests where every objective makes logical sense, keeping the player enjoyably occupied (and teaching the game's complex military strategy without fans ever realizing it).
- Just Cause 2 (Xbox, PS3, PC): People rave about the open-world play of games like Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas, and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, but I don't have time for their plodding plots and game-crashing bugs. If you want a big, open world to blow things up with little fuss, Just Cause 2 is the year's ultimate action-movie sandbox, full of Bruckheimer-level inanity.
Best of the Year
Video games allow us to fake our way through experiences that are otherwise out of reach. Control a full NFL team. Save a princess. Even the Wii's popular tennis and bowling modes are crude facsimiles of the real thing.
Dance Central, for the Xbox 360's Kinect add-on, is different. By using full-body motion tracking, this game delivers a 1:1 evaluation of real dance moves. The activity for which you score points is the same as the activity in your living room, and no other video game has pulled this off—let alone so successfully and with so much fun. With equal parts novelty, tech, energy, silliness, and accessibility, Dance Central is my easy pick for video game of the year. Here's to hoping the rest of Kinect's library can catch up.
The App Store ecosystem. It's hard to single out a game for iPhone this year, especially since many of the biggest hits saw their debuts last year. So I can't laud the hugely popular Angry Birds, but not just because it too launched in '09. The game's touch-to-fling mechanic feels great, sure, but the puzzle design is some of the worst in an iPhone game.
It's a funny thing, its success. Angry Birds had no promotional budget, and most outlets didn't step up with a review until the game had sold its millions. Yet business as usual doesn't matter in the App Store ecosystem. $1 games and ad-supported freebies are getting into millions of hands that otherwise don't play "traditional" video games. Still, inherently, people love games, as much as they love sharing and talking about them, and thus the "little" titles, like Strategery, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, Infinity Blade, and Lilt Line, keep getting word-of-mouth raves and selling big.
The new American gamer spends $1 at a time the way we used to burn through quarters.