There's a great line in Adam Carolla's new book, In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks:
Far too many guys in their forties can't turn a wrench or swing a hammer nowadays. But they have tons of opinions about the new Silver Surfer movie.
I'm only 36 (that's plenty young, ladies, don't fret!), but still, there's a lot of truth in this. One of my personal goals for 2011 is to diversify my interests and skills. Hopefully a year from now, you're reading about my "Top Ten Pliers of 2011" or my "Top Ten Wine Cooler Hangover Medications of 2011."
But for now, you're stuck with my Top Ten Games. If you dig this, you might enjoy my podcast on the same topic, recorded with my friends and colleagues.
Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
I'm largely disappointed with Red Dead Redemption, or as we call it in the industry, Red Dead. Structurally, Rockstar basically remade Grand Theft Auto as a western. It drags terribly during the Mexico sequence. The tedious plant and cougar teeth collection quests? Rockstar is better than those. Indeed, Red Dead wouldn't have earned a place on this list if not for its extraordinary denouement, a final three hours so powerful that I'd rank it among gaming's all-time narrative triumphs. Unfortunately it's impossible to discuss further without spoiling it, but for me, that sequence was totally worth trudging through the 35 hours that preceded it.
Risk: Factions (PlayStation 3)
Everything I know about Risk I learned from my dad. We used to play epic three-on-three matches with an ancient, tattered set he played with as a kid. Over the years, every effort to improve upon the original game (Castle Risk, Risk: 2210 AD, Risk: Star Wars, Risk: Perfect Strangers, etc.) has overcomplicated the simple purity of those childhood battles. Risk: Factions comes the closest, not only providing a fantastic game of proper Risk, but offering a personality-packed single-player campaign pitting the titular factions (Humans, Cats, Robots, Aliens, Yeti) against each other in a fully animated, completely insane storyline. Even if you don't play the game, watch the cutscenes on YouTube.
You know what the world needed desperately in 2010? A new "match colored falling blocks to make them disappear" game. At least Shibuya, a PAX 10 Indie Showcase Winner, brings something new to the table: touch controls that are fully integrated and important to the gameplay, and achievement-based difficulty levels—complete four achievements to unlock four harder ones. OK, neither of those things are actually new, but they are so well implemented it doesn't matter. For $1.99, this should be installed on every iOS device. Currently I'm the 74th ranked Shibuya player on Earth. That's going on all my resumes.
Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
No 2009 game was better supported this year than my guiltiest pleasure, Borderlands. Of its four expansions, Knoxx was the most ambitious, upping the level cap, extending the story, and adding a WoW-style raid boss, Crawmerax, to the mix. Destroying Crawmerax caused hundreds of loot drops to rain down from the sky, and folks, if that's not appealing, I don't know how to help you. My greatest wish for 2011 is an official announcement for the rumored sequel, Borderworlds. Well, that, and for a network to option my TV pilot script, Boxleitner Force: Battle for Vancouver.
Game Room (Xbox 360)
I'll give you a moment to let that sink in.
Let me be clear. It's a disaster. Overpriced games (what, you wouldn't pay $3.00 for Atari 2600 Combat?), half-baked emulation, frequent lock-ups, and virtually no marketing support from Microsoft—it's like Game Room was sent out to die. And yet the concept is genius. Here's the deal: EVERY OLD GAME MATTERS. Making them available to young and old, offering challenges, medals, leaderboards, achievements, integrating them into a single interface—it's everything I want, implemented in the worst possible way. I bought 36 games on Game Room because I still believe it can be something amazing. Will it go the way of 1 vs. 100? Probably. But I'm a hopeless optimist. I have to be. I'm from Cleveland.
Game Dev Story (iOS)
All those games you mapped out on graph paper as a kid? Now you can bring them to life in this probably-not-like-real-life-at-all game developer simulator. My team's (Shatneros Studios) top five games of all time? Horse Love 2, Fresh Catz 2, Race for Booty, Bloody Ears, and Rock Monkey. The real fun comes from mixing and matching genres to find the ultimate best-selling combination. For me, that was Animal Romance RPG's.
What? Why are you looking at me like that? Stop it.
Limbo (Xbox 360)
This is the game you show your friends who quit gaming in the 90′s. It'll bring them back, every time. While the puzzles may be obtuse and occasionally frustrating, once you learn the rules of the game world (essentially, try anything) the frustration melts away and is replaced by wonder. WONDER, for heaven's sake. Sure, you could make an argument that the demo features the best part of the game (actually, I did make that argument on the podcast), but regardless, Limbo's minimalist, yet haunting visuals give the proponents of "Games as Art" some powerful new ammunition.
Pinball FX2 (Xbox 360)
There's not much to recommend here if you don't like pinball, but if you do, this is a no-brainer. (Also, if you don't like pinball, you have a serious problem.) Most of the new tables are excellent, and the social competition features are best-in-class. The physics still feel slightly "off," like the ball has too much kinetic energy (last year's Williams Collection is the gold standard for pinball physics) but it doesn't detract from the experience. And kudos to Zen Studios for importing all the tables from the first game for free. They could have easily charged an import fee (and I probably would have paid it) but doing for free is all class. Bravo.
Picross 3D (NDS)
I've all but retired my DS, but what a game to go out on. A number logic game that has you shaving away cubes from larger cubes to form sculptures, Picross 3D at first seems impossibly complicated. But the exceptional learning curve (a tutorial that doesn't feel like a tutorial at all) introduces new concepts and techniques so gradually you won't struggle at all. If you like Sudoku, this is light years BETTER than Sudoku. Sudoku is for chumps. CHUMPS. Picross 3D is the new hotness.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Here comes the gushing: It's the best 3-D platformer ever made. I said it on the podcast, and I'll say it here too: Every level is like opening a present. No game released this year offers such a relentless onslaught of creativity and joy. Is it essentially more Galaxy 1? Sure. Sometimes, more of the same is a bad thing, but not here. The Galaxy duology reminds me of the old Nintendo, the Nintendo of my youth, the Nintendo that's now all but lost to motion control nonsense and creatively void rehashes of their former glories. I take comfort in knowing that somewhere at Nintendo, they can still recapture the magic.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
It's bloated beyond belief (upgrading 17 blacksmith shops is just absurd) but Ubisoft increased the number of "crypt-y," Prince of Persia-style levels (a highlight of Assassin's Creed II), and the multiplayer is as good as everyone's saying it is.
Back to the Future: The Game (PlayStation 3, PC)
I'll be talking about this on the next podcast, but for now, let me just say the guys doing Marty and Young Doc offer two of the best vocal performances you'll ever hear. A must-play for Back to the Future fans.
Mass Effect 2, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Star Trek Online, Civilization V, Metroid Other M, Comic Jumper, Lego Indiana Jones 2, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. Want to know why I'm scaling back gaming in 2011? This list is why.
Worst of the Worst
Final Fantasy XIII. I can't say it any better than I did on our podcast, starting at the 1 hour, 21 minute mark.