Pour yourself a pitcher of egg nog, fire up a yule log, and join the GameCritics.com family as we reminice about the year that was. We'll reveal our game of the year, and discuss the best and worst 2009 had to offer. Featuring Chi, Brad, Mike, Dave, Dan, Richard, Tim, and a special appearance by one of our favorite listeners, Hargrada. Thanks to everyone for listening; we really do appreciate it. Have a happy and safe New Year's, and we'll see you back here in January.
Tim Spaeth: Happy holidays, one and all! It is the GameCritics.com podcast holiday special. I'm Tim Spaeth; let's set the tone right from the top. I want you to think of this show as the spiritual successor to the old Bob Hope Christmas specials. Y'all remember those? You love them. You watched them with your families year in, year out, until Bob Hope died. If you remember, Bob and his wife would invite guests into their home—on a Hollywood soundstage—they would drink egg nog and brandy (mostly brandy).
But where this show tonight will differ is that Bob generally had no idea who any of the guests were. 'Cause he was blitzed on brandy and generally incoherent, and then, of course, the dementia. But Ricky Martin would saunter into his house, and Bob would be like: "Hey, how are ya, Ricky?" and then that would be it.
Anyway, I digress. This week, we are welcoming guests tonight, and we know exactly who they are. We love them dearly. They'll be rotating in and out throughout the evening. Tons of guests; a cavalcade of stars. With us for the duration of the show, though, you all know my dear friends Chi Kong Lui. Hey, Chi.
Chi Kong Lui: Hey, Tim; how's it going, man? I didn't even know Bob Hope was dead, actually. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: He died in, like, 90-something.
Mike Bracken: He died a long time ago. It wasn't the 90s, but it was a long time ago.
Tim Spaeth: It was quite a while ago. So I'm sorry to break that to you. I'll now always be known as the guy who told you Bob Hope died. Let's also say hello to Brad Gallaway.
Brad Gallaway: Hey, guys. How's it going?
Tim Spaeth: And, of course, Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: Happy holidays, everyone.
Tim Spaeth: Happy holidays to you, sir. Let's extend a warm welcome to our first two guests. Say hello to podcast favorite Daniel Weissenberger. Dan, hello, sir.
Dan Weissenberger: Howdy, folks.
Tim Spaeth: Also joining us, podcast favorite Richard Niak. Hello, Richard.
Richard Naik: Merry X-mas, everyone.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, you're no longer the new guy. You're now the wily veteran. I think the last time you were on, you had recently joined the site, but now you've risen.
Richard Naik: Yeah, I know. There's three people under me now.
Chi Kong Lui: Let's welcome those three people: Sparky Clarkson, Matthew Kaplan, and Trent Fingland.
Brad Gallaway: Hey's Boy from the boards. Longtime loyal board-goer, finally earned his stripes. Congratulations especially to him.
Tim Spaeth: Fantastic. What a wonderful holiday gift for them.
Richard Naik: He gets stripes?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, on the shoulders. It's probably a chevron, actually. Not actual stripes.
Tim Spaeth: Well, now that we've got all the warm love and greetings out of the way, here's how the show is going to work. We're taking a look back at the year that was 2009, the year in games, in convenient category format. I will read a category, and we have tons of them. We will each bring some nominees to the table; we'll discuss them a bit and move on. Now, we won't really declare any winners, because really, just to be mentioned on this podcast—how much more of a winner do you need to be? But we will declare one winner at the end of the show, and that of course, is Game of the Year. We will be doing that at the very, very end. Everyone will get a pick, and then we'll have fighting and we'll end up with the GamCritics Game of the Year. Let's get right to it. Does anyone have anything to say or add before we get started here?
Dan Weissenberger: I'd like to jump in here for one second. 2009 is gonna go down in history for me as the year I did not play any knew video games, so look for me to be very, very uninformed about Assassin's Creed II.
Brad Gallaway: [I'm glad we?] brought you on the show.
Mike Bracken: Way to sell you appearance there, Dan.
Dan Weissenberger: Just thought I'd be honest right up front. I'm not gonna lie.
Richard Naik: I didn't play it, either.
Chi Kong Lui: A little late there, Dan, yeah.
Dan Weissenberger: [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Well, Dan, we have a category just for you coming up, so you're gonna like that. But we're gonna start with what we call Surprise of the Year. We're spinning this as a good surprise, so what game, game moment, announcement made you feel all tingly inside? I think we'll start with Richard. As our guest, we give you the first chance at the mike. Surprise of the year, sir.
Richard Naik: My surprise of the year was Batman: Arkham Asylum. Right before it came out, there was a ridiculous amount of hype for it. Honestly, what I was expecting was something like every other Batman game that's ever been created: a beat-em-up with a Batman mask thrown on it. Just a really, really half-assed kind of thing. What I got was this really interesting blend of fighting and the really predatory nature of Batman. It was quite full-assed, actually. It was quite a full-assed experience, if I may say so.
Tim Spaeth: It's interesting—Batman is popping up on a lot of Top 10 lists; a lot of Top 3 lists, honestly. There's never been a good Batman game, so no one really had any cause to think this one would be good.
Richard Naik: Well, there have been Batman games that have not been garbage.
Chi Kong Lui: An 8-bit one by Sunsoft is okay.
Richard Naik: Yeah, there's an 8-bit one, and there juwas one for the Super Nintendo that was based on Batman: The Animated Series that was playable. But nothing has really captured the very predatory of Batman. In Arkham Asylum, you get to stalk rooms of bad guys and jump down from the rafters and grab them and hang them by their ankles from the ceiling. Capturing that part of the Batman experience is just something that hadn't been done in any of those games before, and I was just really surprised by it.
Chi Kong Lui: Don't forget about the detective work, also. I thought that was a very interesting choice as well.
Richard Naik: Yeah, that was pretty well done, too. Actually, the writing in it was pretty good. It wasn't quite as good as I was expecting it to be, especially since Paul Dini, one of the writers of the original animated series, was doing it. It was good. It wasn't great, but it was good. The Scarecrow parts were awesome, too.
Chi Kong Lui: I was really surprised at how thoroughly good it was. It was just really well-done—really thought out from top to bottom. It felt really well-polished, and from a relatively unknown developer. I totally agree; it's a great choice there, Richard.
Richard Naik: Really, the only part that I thought was kinda lame about it were the boss fights; but that's supremely forgiveable, especially given everything else.
Brad Gallaway: I'll have to copy what you guys said. That was my pick as well, and for exactly the same reasons. Every Batman game prior to this point has basically been a flop with the rare exception, and I just really appreciated how everything in the game was dedicated towards unifying the whole experience. It felt like a very seamless, streamlined experience that was very tailored towards giving the player a real front-row seat to what it might actually be like to be Batman. They captured everything that I feel like all the past games missed, and for that alone it realy is worthy of recognition.
So that was my surprise of the year as well. Never in a million years would I have thought it would turn out as good as it did. I was ready to start hating on it, based on the amount of hype prior to release. This is one of those rare instances when it was actually warranted.
Tim Spaeth: So who else has a surprise of the year?
Dan Weissenberger: Oh, I've got a surprise of the year. It's not a game; it's the announcement of a game. I've gotta say—there was nothing I was looking more forward to than Way of the Samurai 3.
Chi Kong Lui: Bam!
Dan Weissenberger: When I heard that it was actually coming out in North America, that was my pleaseant surprise of the year. I thought I was gonna have to learn Japanese and buy an international XBox to play this thing. That was the pleasantest surprise I could've gotten.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm right there with you, Dan; Way of the Samurai 3 was actually my pick as well. Not only was it a great announcement, but the game was pretty damn good, too.
Dan Weissenberger: We'll be bringing that up in another topic a little later on, so we'll talk about it then.
Chi Kong Lui: Okay. Although I've talked about it plenty already.
Tim Spaeth: I'm stunned! Chi thought that there would be no references to Way of the Samurai 3. That was the game that nobody heard of, and here we are—seven minutes into the podcast—and someone else has mentioned Way of the Samurai 3. That's great. That's fantastic.
Chi Kong Lui: There's a two man fanclub—it's me and Dan, basically.
Tim Spaeth: So, Mike: surprise of the year. What do you got?
Mike Bracken: Surprise of the year was very easy for me; it was the surprise announcement of Final Fantasy XIV at E3. But now that the afterglow of that has sort of worn off for me, I'm not entirely convinced that this is going to be a good thing. Square has taken the same races from Final Fantasy XI and brought them back.
At first, I thought that was gonna be cool; they were trying to placate all our senses of nostalia—all of us who've spent thousands of hours on Final Fantasy XI. But I've since concluded that it's probably a case of Square just being really lazy. I'd love to think that Square has finally learned from their almost daily missteps in handling a Final Fantasy XI, but since I hear they're still making them in Final Fantasy XI all these years later, I'm not totally convinced that the new game will be any big improvement outside of the graphics. But I would really like for it to be, so when that little video came on during the E3 coverage, I was all giddy and excited.
Tim Spaeth: If you had to guess—if you had to look into your future—how many hours are you gonna put into Final Fantasy XIV?
Mike Bracken: Me and a friend had this discussion the other day. Final Fantasy XI, I've got more than 4,000 hours in, and I don't want to do that again.
Dan Weissenberger: Oh, my God!
Brad Gallaway: That's like a lifetime!
Mike Bracken: And it's extra sad, because I've got a World of Warcraft account that has well over 2,000 hours on it. I play way too many MMOs.
Dan Weissenberger: You realize that's a full year, right? A full year of your life?
Richard Naik: That's actually 166 days.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I did the math once. We don't speak about the math anymore.
Richard Naik: That's why you have the Windows calculator open during the podcast.
Chi Kong Lui: You shouldn't bring this up in front of Richard, 'cause this is Richard's role on the podcast. He did it that last time he was on, so that's your fault. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Somebody might react to 4,000 hours by saying "What the F?!" And that, coincidentally, is the name of our next award. By the way, I should get an award for fantastic segues.
Brad Gallaway: That's an epic segue right there.
Tim Spaeth: It really was. It was amazing; it was just incredible. This is awarded to the game, game moment, announcement that caused you to cry out: "What the F?!" Dan, I gotta imagine this is something you say with regularity. What was your big moment?
Dan Weissenberger: I'm not gonna get into this too much, because it has been covered both here on the site and everywhere else on the internet: What the F, Left 4 Dead 2? If they had sold me that as a $20 extra content pack for the first Left 4 Dead, I would've been completely satisfied. But releasing that as a full-priced game is crazy.
Tim Spaeth: Have any of us played it yet?
Richard Naik: Yeah; I bought it. I reviewed it, actually. Personally, I thought there were enough changes in it that the second game was actually warranted—especially when you consider other franchises like Madden and crap that release sequels all the time. All they have is, the rosters are updated; maybe Brett Farve's facial hair looks a little bit more realistic, and there's maybe a little different controls. Honestly, they fixed everyting I thought was wrong with the first game, so no, I didn't really have a problem with it.
Mike Bracken: I'm kind of with you; I haven't played it, but I feel the same way. I have a bigger problem with Square releasing Chrono Trigger on the DS for 40 fucking dollars. It's a port of an ancient game. It's a great game, but $40? At least with Left 4 Dead 2, you're getting new characters, new scenarios, all that stuff.
Richard Naik: It is a little bit more than just straight new levels. There were actually quite a few engine changes and under the hood stuff as well. The zombie AI is actually significantly better than it was in the first game.
Tim Spaeth: Didn't you guys fight about Left 4 Dead the last time you were on?
Richard Naik: We did. And I was expecting to this time, as well.
Dan Weissenberger: We're never gonna stop fighting about Left 4 Dead. Just be prepared for that.
Richard Naik: Actually, after that last podcast we fought for an additional hour.
Dan Weissenberger: We talked for an extra half hour about Left 4 Dead.
Richard Naik: And Perfect Dark got into the discussion somehow.
Dan Weissenberger: Which then you put in your article about it, without mentioning that that was my idea.
Richard Naik: Oh, shoot! I totally forgot that I didn't think that up at all.
Tim Spaeth: Uh-oh. All right. Things are bubbling to the surface and we must suppress them. Richard, what the F?
Richard Naik: My What the F? actually has to do with Dragon Age. This requires a little bit of setup. There is a character that you meet very early on in the game—for the sake of not spoiling anything, we'll call him Jim—and later on you get the opportunity to kill Jim. You finish the quest, you kill Jim, you take whatever it is you're supposed to get from him.
Later on I was talking to one of my party members, who I hadn't really explored all that much at that point. One of her dialogue options, you can actually ask her about Jim, and she just says: " Gasp! You don't mean that Jim? The Jim from the legends?" I'm like: "Yes. The one you just helped me murder an hour ago." Then she's like: "I didn't think Jim existed! I thought it was just a story!" I'm like: "You stabbed him a hundred times! You actually got the killing blow on him! I'm surprised you don't remember that."
Chi Kong Lui: That's pretty good. My WTF is actually playing Brütal Legend, and saying: "Wow. This game really sucks. The gameplay really sucks." It's like the game developers made that game in some kind of a vacuum, and didn't compare it to any other game out on the market. The hack-and-slash doesn't feel great; the RTS, everyone's complained about up the wazoo. That's it for me, man.
Brad Gallaway: It's kind of funny you said that. Brütal Legend was my What the F? of the year also, but for a slightly different reason. I do agree with everything you said; but the thing that made me like: "What the fuck?" was how the developers concealed its identity as an RTS until the game hit shelves.
It was like they portrayed it as this hack-and-slash platformerish game in all of the demos, in all of the pre-release materials and all the interviews and stuff. Then all the sudden, it's like two or three days before the game hits shelves, and I'm talking to people who are playing it. They're like: "It's a fucking RTS!"
Mike Bracken: I saw the first review of it, and somebody said "RTS" and I'm like: "This person doesn't know what they're talking about. This game can't be an RTS."
Brad Gallaway: I don't know what they were thinking, confusing the issue like that. You don't wanna trick people into buying your game, because they're gonna be pissed, and rightfully so. Most of the people who bought this on release day or nearabouts thought they were getting a character-based single character platformer. Instead, they get this RTS. Whether it's good or bad aside, just the simple fact that they completely misled the public about what the game was about, to me was a huge what the fuck?
Mike Bracken: Indeed. I went the much simpler route. It's the painfully obvious one: the Wii Vitality Sensor. When I saw the [WTF] category name, that's the first thing I thought of. Then Tim mentions it in the notes for the category. Damn you, Tim. Now I look like I'm stealing ideas.
Tim Spaeth: It's all good, man. It's all good.
Mike Bracken: We've beaten this horse to death on the E3 show, and it's been a while. But, Jesus Christ! What the fuck is the point of this thing? Why do I need to hear about it? I still don't have a clue what it's for or who it's supposed to appeal to—or why you would even go to E3 and put this as one of your big, mega-ton announcements. It's a fucking vitality sensor!
Chi Kong Lui: It invokes instant laughter. Enough said.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's like a bad joke.
Tim Spaeth: The last thing I wanna mention here: I have two quick ones. Where I actually said "What the F?" was the Bayonetta demo. Guys, maybe I'm just old, but really—what the F is going on there? And number two was not so much "What the," but it was a lot of fs. That was every second I spent playing Trials HD..
Let's move on to the next one. Now, this we've actually named after one of the members of our show. We call it the "Brad Gallaway is Single-Handedly Keeping Indie Developers in Business" award. It really wouldn't be appropriate to start with anyone other than Brad Gallaway.
Brad Gallaway: I'll have to accept this opening salvo. There's been so many good indie games this year; it's been really great. I'll list 'em all really quick, and hopefully people listening to this podcast will go ahead and check them out if they haven't already played them. Probably the top of the field that I played this year were Shatter on PSN; Armor Valley on the XBox Live Indie Tab; both The Maw and 'Splosion Man, which are on XBox Live Arcade; the aforementioned f-heavy Trials HD, which I actually did have a pretty good time with, although I hated it. I hated it, but I loved it. Trials HD is also on Arcade; Trine, which is on PSN; and finally, Osmos, which I've played on Steam, and I believe is available other places on PC. For me, those were the high points of the indie scene this year.
Tim Spaeth: Richard?
Richard Naik: My entry here is Machinarium, which is a Flash-based simple point-and-click adventure game that is just so oozing with style ane aesthetic. It was actually the definitive kind of adventure game for me. I can't really describe how good this game looks. Everything about it is just great. The soundtrack is great; the mechanics are solid; the puzzles are really well done.
The only problem I really had with it was sometimes the point-and-click interface can get a little cumbersome. The way you take items in and out of your inventory gets a little annoying sometimes. But beyond that, it was just an absolute slam dunk.
Tim Spaeth: If you had to compare it to the classics of the genre—
Richard Naik: It definitely belongs on the shelf with all of those. If you're asking me to compare it to Tales of Monkey Island or Longest Journey, then, yeah. It goes up with them.
Tim Spaeth: High praise, indeed. Anyone else dive into some indie games this year?
Dan Weissenberger: This was the year I kind of discovered parody games. I think there's a lot in video games that's worth parodying, but they cost so much money to make that no one wants to take a risk at making a comedy game. But that is just all over the Flash game scene. I wanted to talk about things like Achievement Unlocked and [Upgrade Complete.](http://armorgames.com/play/3955/upgrade-complete "Play Upgrade Complete") The strange games that are out there right now that are gamesabout* playing games. Games like that and You Have to Burn the Rope.
Richard Naik: You Have to Burn the Rope was actually quite good; it amused me.
Brad Gallaway: I gotta say, I didn't think it was that great. I played it and I'm like: "Enh, whatever." But I do agree with the rest of those. Those are all pretty good, and I do agree with Dan's nomination of that scene: there's a lot of really, really interesting stuff out there.
Dan Weissenberger: They're not all great. Some of them fall flat, and some of them are kind of obvious. I understand a lot of people did complain about You Have to Burn the Rope because it was a little too full of itself. But the fact is, there's a lot of people in the Flash scene who are really saying something about the way we play games. I think that's something that should be encouraged more, and I would love to see someone try a full-length version of one of these.
Tim Spaeth: All good suggestions, though. Let's move on. And Dan, we're gonna call this the "Dan Weissenberger Podcast Award Just for You." The non-2009 Game of the Year. What game from your backlog did you all finally get around to playing and love? So, Dan, as the person who didn't play any 2009 games, we have to start with you.
Dan Weissenberger: Actually, my non-2009 Game of the Year goes here and in another category, too, so I'll just shout it out then, because I'll only talk about it once. It did not come out this year and belonged on your last podcast, because it is a game that I have spent literally more than 100 hours playing. I can't stop, even though it's terrible. I'd be an amateur if it weren't the game Two Worlds.
Mike Bracken: [scoffs] 100 hours.
Dan Weissenberger: I almost can't express how bad a game Two Worlds is. But at the same time, there's something I've been struggling trying to understand, and I'm actually writing an article about it: trying to express just how captivating I find the incredibly boring world of Two Worlds.
Tim Spaeth: What is the game? I'm not familiar with it; what is it?
Dan Weissenberger: It's a budget, made in Russia version of Oblivion.
Brad Gallaway: It's like Oblivion put through a shit machine, is what it is.
Richard Naik: Yes. Two Worlds is a very special level of suck. It's like suck squared.
Dan Weissenberger: It's so bad. I'm not denying anything you're saying. It's terrible, but it's the only game in existence where you can fight a skeleton's ghost.
The first time I'm fighting the ghost of a skeleton, I'm like: "You win. You win at games." That's just too beautiful.
Chi Kong Lui: I was gonna ask you to explain your fascination, but I think you just did right there.
Tim Spaeth: Who else took a deep dive into their backlog?
Richard Naik: It wasn't in my backlog, so much as it was something I picked up on Steam and thought it was cool. But I think it was actually the first official review I did for the site: Aquaria. It's a 2D side-scrolling platformer. (Even though there's not a lot of platforming). It's similar to Machinarium in that it took a really simple formula and just added so much aesthetic goodness and different environmental puzzles.
There's actually quite a bit of depth in the story, which is not what you'd expect with this game. They actually weave it in pretty well, to the point where there's this dreamlike charm that permeates throughout the whole thing. I thought it was just fantastic. It also belongs on the shelf next to other great 2D platformers like, say, Super Metroid or Mega Man.
Tim Spaeth: Very high praise, indeed.
Richard Naik: It's also an indie game. I considered cheating and making that my indie game selection, but I decided not to.
Tim Spaeth: See, I would've kicked you off the podcast if you'd tried to pull that on my show.
Richard Naik: I would've just thrown down my microphone and…walked out of my…room…symbolically. Which is not actually a room.
Brad Gallaway: Could've left the Starbucks where you're podcasting from.
Tim Spaeth: Chi, what did you finally get around to playing this year?
Chi Kong Lui: Right at the start of the year, I got around to the remake of Front Mission on the DS. I enjoyed that quite a bit; it surprisingly held up pretty well. Of course, anything with customizable mechs is an automatic positive for me.
Tim Spaeth: Mike? Brad? What about you guys?
Brad Gallaway: I'm actually really disappointed that Valkyria Chronicles came out last year. For a long time, I thought it came out this year, because I didn't get around to it until January or something. It came out at the very end of '08.
Richard Naik: That was on my list too.
Brad Gallaway: But I finally did get around to it this year—got it out of the backlog—and I loved every minute of it. I really wish I had covered it earlier, or I wish I had given it more attention when it would've been more appropriate. But Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 is a total winner any way you slice it. So that was my non-2009 favorite.
Mike Bracken: I went in a little different direction; I picked up 2008's God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PSP. I had bought a copy during the annual Toys 'R Us buy one two get one free sale last year, and then promptly put it in the shrink-wrap shrine of games that I have never opened that exists here at my house.
But this year I finally got around to cracking it open, and I am really glad that I did. Usually when a game is a big title and it's getting a handheld spinoff, you know it's gonna suck; theyr'e gonna farm it out to someone who is gonna do a really shitty job of it and it isn't gonna compress down to a handheld. But Chains of Olympus is like playing one of the console God of Wars in portable form. I could go to the bathroom and play this game whenever I wanted to, and not have to wheel my TV in there.
It looks fantastic; it plays fantastic. I think it looks better than some of the first-generation budget 360 games we saw. It was the first time I have every finished a PSP game in my life and was actually happy that I own a PSP, 'cause it mostly gathers dust. This is a great game—probably still the most polished and well-developed game on that system.
Brad Gallaway: I'll second that; that's a quality title, for sure.
Tim Spaeth: I'll wrap it up by saying Dead Space, which will forever be the game I played while my wife was recovering from her C-section in the hospital—at least, that's how I remember it. Probably not how you will remember it, but…
Brad Gallaway: That is actually how I remember it, too.
Tim Spaeth: Good.
Richard Naik: I haven't played it, so that's how I'm gonna remember it now.
Mike Bracken: Every time I use the saw blade and slice off necromorph arms, I think of your wife's C-section.
Brad Gallaway: Ohh. Too far. You pushed that one too far.
Richard Naik: It's only a matter of time before somebody went there.
Chi Kong Lui: Tim, before anyone thinks you're a total douchebag, you should clarify that you weren't actually playing this game while she was having the C-section.
Mike Bracken: Yes, he was.
Tim Spaeth: It was hours later, while she was struggling with the newborn. No, I was there. I helped perform the surgery, and then afterwards I said: "Look, I have to go play this fantastic game." So I went home, played some Dead Space.
Really, to me, it kind of renders Resident Evil obsolete. I'm playing Resident Evil 5 right now, and I feel totally justified in saying that. Resident Evil 5, to me, not cutting it at all; not living up to the high standard of Resident Evil 4. I don't need it anymore. I've got Dead Space, and of course, the upcoming Dead Space 2.
Mike Bracken: Which sounds sweet.
Tim Spaeth: It does, indeed.
Richard Naik: Resident Evil is dead to you.
Tim Spaeth: It is. It is dead to me—especially because they took out the vendor guy, who's like: [creepy, gravelly voice] "Hey, what'cha sellin'?" Man, I love that guy!
Mike Bracken: I used to just talk to him for no reason at all, just to hear him talk.
Tim Spaeth: A sexy voice. Sexy voice. Let's move on to our next topic. Oh, here we go, guys. We're all gonna have the same answer, so we're gonna have to take Scribblenauts out.
Brad Gallaway: No, no no. I guarantee we're not gonna have the same answer; I went out of my way to not pick Scribblenauts, so we got something else.
Chi Kong Lui: I got something else, too.
Tim Spaeth: All right. "Most Disappointing Game of the Year," other than Scribblenauts. Brad, why don't you start us off?
Brad Gallaway: Instead of picking a disappointing game, I actually picked two pieces of DLC, which were just as bad as if somebody had squatted and crapped in my mouth: Pinnacle Station for Mass Effect, and Mothership Zeta for Fallout 3. Both of those [non-DLC] games are fantastic and I love them to death; they're actually both on my Top 10 list as we speak right now.
But, in an interesting twist, the developers for each of those projects decided to end the experience by releasing the weakest, most slapped-together piece of DLC each. Pinnacle Station for Mass Effect was a completely broken shooting gallery that I actually could not finish, because it was so buggy. And Mothership Zeta was a couple hours of walking through a coppery gray hallway, shooting the same alien a million times in a row.
I could not believe the bitter note that both of those superb games ended on; those were just completely piss-poor endings to fantastic experiences, and I wish that neither of those had ever been released.
Tim Spaeth: Those are really good choices. I agree wholeheartedly. I didn't play Pinnacle Station because you talked me out of it. 0 out of 10—I've never seen that from you before.
Brad Gallaway: My first full 0.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, most disappointing game of the year.
Richard Naik: Mine is actually cheating just slightly, because it's from December 2008, and I played it in January of 2009. So, apologies beforehand. If you wanna boot me from Skype now, you are free to do so.
Chi Kong Lui: This better be a damn good choice, man.
Richard Naik: Prince of Persia, the new one that came out on next-gen consoles. It had a very, very good concept. Since they started the [new] Prince of Persia series with Sands of Time, it's been…The way you traverse the world has always been great. The effortless athleticism with which you scale walls, you climb things, you just run around all the time. It works really well.
However, in this one, I like to think I understand what they were trying to do—and this is pure speculation on my part—but they were trying to go for more of a Shadow of the Colossus feeling, to where instead of fighting lots of smaller enemies, you fight several bosses, which are more memorable and more challenging.
But the problem is, none of the fights are memorable—at all. They're all exactly the same. Only one of them is even slightly different. And then on top of that, the way you progress through the game is you collect these stupid little light seeds. It requires you to run through the same level three or four goddamn times. It was so annoying.
For the record, for the review I wrote for this, originally I did give it an 8, but that was before I really understood how the review scale worked here. I thought that like in most public school systems where a 70 is a C or an average score, whereas at GameCritics, it's a 5. In retrospect, I would have given it a 6.
Tim Spaeth: I actually like that game quite a bit, so [joking] I am gonna kick you off the show. But I do agree with you on the boss fights, though. Did you play the DLC for it, by any chance?
Richard Naik: No, I did not. I think I may have downloaded it at some point, but I don't think I played it.
Tim Spaeth: It's a three-hour experience where you fight one of those bosses eight times in a row. It's the one you have to knock off the cliff and then he jumps back on.
Richard Naik: That's the one that's actually slightly different from the others. But the rest of them, you just keep hitting them and their attacks are all the same. They're counters are all the same, and the way you attack them is all the same. It just got so monotonous.
Tim Spaeth: Something we should talk about for a future podcast is the quality of boss battles in modern gaming. Do they even make good boss battles anymore?
Richard Naik: They do. In Aquaria, there are a few good ones. If you give me time to come up with something on this, this is a topic I can go on for an hour about.
Tim Spaeth: Future show, sir. Disappointing game of the year: Chi, what do you got?
Chi Kong Lui: I got Muramasa: The Demon Blade.
Brad Gallaway: Thank you!
Mike Bracken: That was almost my choice, too.
Chi Kong Lui: Here I am thinking this game's gonna be the last hurrah of the Wii. We know the Wii sucks; the Wiimote sucks; waggle sucks. Here's one thing they can't possibly screw up: a 2D platformer fighting-type game. The artwork's awesome; it's rumored to have tentacle hentai porn in there.
Mike Bracken: That's what sold me.
Chi Kong Lui: Then the game comes out, no hentai porn. Big letdown. Seriously, we [talked at length](http://tinyurl.com/y8vmgtf GameCritics: Podcast 22 transcript") about it. It was a big letdown, and a horrible game experience overall.
Tim Spaeth: Mike, what about you, sir?
Mike Bracken: I went with Star Ocean 4 on the XBox 360. tri-Ace developed this game, and they're a pretty respected RPG developer. But they continue to tarnish their reputation with yet another mediocre game that they've put their name on. How bad is Star Ocean 4? It's so fucking bad that I quit 35 hours into it, and I was only on the second of four disks.
I expect stupid stories in Japanese RPGs these days, which is another thing we could do an entire show on. But I don't expect a lame combat system in my tri-Ace titles, and that's what I got there. That was two strikes against it right off the bat. Then if you add in the tons of stupid fucking backtracking that I had to do in a game that was already on four discs and I was 35 hours into; then the penchant for naming everything with a stupid acronym and making the lead character an emo asshole. It was not only my biggest disappointment of 2009, but it was also the game that annoyed me more than any other this year.
Tim Spaeth: And that leaves us with Dan.
Dan Weissenberger: I know this is gonna be a weird, controversial one where Chi is concerned, but I'm gonna say it: Way of the Samurai 3. I know no one else cares, 'cause no one else played it or cares about the series. I'll go at length when Chi writes a review and I write a second opinion. But the ways they've made the game accessible really piss me off.
I come to Way of the Samurai for a punishingly difficult samurai simulation. While I like that they added an instant kill mode to make it so I can get killed at any moment with a single hit, the fact that I don't lose my sword for screwing up, and the fact that I can take as much time as I want to finish the game really pisses me off.
To be fair, I haven't finished playing it 'cause last week, Way of the Samurai 3 killed my XBox. I've only completed it five or six times, so I haven't gotten the full experience yet, but we'll see.
Chi Kong Lui: I gotta counter that. For one thing, while the game doesn't force you to have to progress through the game like they did in previous games, neither of those things have anything to do with the challenge. The fact that the game progressed naturally even though you weren't doing anything in the previous installments didn't make them any harder or less hard.
They let you keep your swords [when you died] in the second game, too. But [not being able to keep my swords] was my main complaint about the first game. That was the worst thing about it. It was soul-crushingly bad. I was gonna say it is getting easier because you can save anywhere, but you can still get killed pretty easily wherever you're at. I kinda don't agree with those points.
Dan Weissenberger: I appreciate where you're coming from, but the one thing that really bugged me was…What I loved most about the world of Way of the Samurai up until this point is that it really felt like everyone else was going on living their lives, whether I was there or not. If you just sit around doing jobs in Way of the Samurai 2, you can miss the game story. People don't stop living just because you're not talking to them. That's what I liked about the world, and the fact that they took that away to make it more video gamey kinda pissed me off a little.
Chi Kong Lui: That's a better way to put it. It made Way of the Samurai less special, and it made it more like a Grand Theft Auto, so I'll agree with that. It's still a good game, though.
Dan Weissenberger: Oh, it's still a good game. It's just my most disappointing game.
Tim Spaeth: You guys should totally start a Way of the Samurai podcast. I would listen every week.
Dan Weissenberger: Us discussing strategies and plot points and how to get the special swords.
Chi Kong Lui: Only if you and Matt start your Too Human podcast first.
Tim Spaeth: Interesting you mention that, Chi, and I assume you're setting that up as a segue. That takes us to our next award. It's the "Too Human Award for Inexplicable Excellence—dedicated, of course, to my favorite game Too Human. Let's begin with Dan. You've gotta have something here.
Dan Weissenberger: Skeleton's ghost. I've played Too Human. You know what? There's nothing in there to equal the beauty of a skeleton's ghost.
Brad Gallaway: Next! This is supposed to be a game that's good, right?
Dan Weissenberger: No, a game you love.
Chi Kong Lui: It's a bad game you love, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, do you have one?
Richard Naik: I do, and I'm gonna brace myself for the wave that's about to hit me. I listened to you guys totally eviscerate this on one of the podcasts: that Turtles in Time: Re-Shelled remake that came out for XBLA.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, no. Richard, no!
Richard Naik: I don't know what it is. I listened to everything you guys said, and I agree with it, but I still like it and I don't know why. The thrill of it is still there. I get that it's an old gameplay mechanism; it doesn't really have anything new to offer. But really, my only complaint about it is it's based on the arcade version and not the Super Nintendo version. It doesn't have the Technodrome level where you fight Shredder by throwing foot soldiers at the screen. That's the only thing I don't like about it.
Chi Kong Lui: I had the same reaction as Tim; I felt bad for you. Did you actually play through the game? I don't have anything to say about that, really.
Richard Naik: I played that whole thing.
Chi Kong Lui: My condolences.
Richard Naik: I actually played through it twice, 'cause I played through it by myself and I played through it with other people.
Mike Bracken: [scoffs] Twice.
Dan Weissenberger: This is too sad. Let's move on.
Tim Spaeth: Mike, what do you got?
Mike Bracken: This was a funny category for me. I have a game, but it's not inexplicable. I went with dGhostbusters. I didn't find the controls or the gameplay to be particularly great, and I understand swinging around a ghost attached to a proton pack would be difficult in "real life;" but it's way fucking harder in this game than it needs to be. I was also annoyed by the difficulty spikes that would happen at random points for no obvious reason, like the final level or the scene at the museum where the fucking possessor ghosts take over all three of your people and then wail on you with the other ghosts in the room.
But I kept playing entirely because playing the game was like watching that third Ghostbusters movie that we should've had years ago which we may eventually get. Spending time with Venkman, Ray, Egon, and the black guy who no one knows what his name is, but everyone just calls him "Ernie Hudson."
Dan Weissenberger: Winston.
Mike Bracken: Exactly. Winston, yes. That makes up for all the technical shortcomings for me. It was the one time in my entire gaming experience where I found myself thinking: "Please, just let this cut-scene go on for an hour so I don't actually have to play this game again, and I can just watch this like a movie instead." Ghostbusters isn't bad, but it does have a lot of problems and I enjoyed it probably more than I should have. It's not quite in the same league as Too Human, but that was the one game that sprung to mind when this category came up.
Tim Spaeth: And your verdict on Bill Murray's performance? Is it just bad acting, or is it delightfully understated?
Mike Bracken: I think it's delightfully understated, personally.
Brad Gallaway: What?! Dude, he was high on methadone or something.
Mike Bracken: No! This is what Bill Murray does now. He was in fucking Lost in Translation; what does he have left to prove?
Brad Gallaway: He could've at least sounded like he cared enough to be there.
Mike Bracken: He's an Oscar-calibur actor now; he's above Ghostbusters. I just expect him to phone it in, and that's funny in itself.
Richard Naik: If Bill Murray were in Two Worlds, he would've made Two Worlds awesome. That's how great Bill Murray is.
Mike Bracken: Look what he did for Zombieland. I mean, Christ!
Chi Kong Lui: For the record, Mike, you just agreed with Dan 100 percent.
Mike Bracken: If David shows up and we agree on something, the world is ending tomorrow.
Tim Spaeth: Chi, what's your inexplicably awesome game?
Chi Kong Lui: It was OneChanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad
Brad Gallaway: Gah!
Mike Bracken: That was almost mine.
Brad Gallaway: You guys are high, man!
Chi Kong Lui: Admittedly, it's a bad game; but cowgirl in a bikini samurai slashing zombies—it had all the right elements in there. Actually, the one thing that saved it for me was that combo system. That combo system was actually really well done. That felt right, and that made the whole thing tolerable. Of course, all the extra skin was just the cherry on top, there.
Mike Bracken: You can't forget the horrible translations. Those were awesome.
Tim Spaeth: I deleted that off my XBox Live profile yesterday, and it felt so good. Brad, what do you got?
Brad Gallaway: I went in as different direction; if I think something's excellent, that means it's good—therefore, it can't be bad.
Chi Kong Lui: This is classic Brad; he just cannot understand what a bad game is.
Brad Gallaway: To tell you the truth, I actually didn't read the description before we came on the show. What I found to be inexplicably excellent was Section 8; I don't know if you guys played this. It should've been a totally generic sci-fi third-person multiplayer shooter. It should've been totally by-the-numbers forgettable. In fact, if you look at retail performance, it was.
But, for being in a genre and a kind of game that I usually detest and stay far away from, I actually thought it was really well done. It was engaging; it really kept my attention; I thought they added a lot of really excellent elements. The multiplayer actually was a blast, and I played it more than any other multiplayer game this year. I thought it was a fantastic game. What I expected to be a steaming, forgettable pile ended up being inexplicably excellent.
Chi Kong Lui: Good choice, Brad; I like that.
Dan Weissenberger: Excellent attempt at a save.
Brad Gallaway: Thank you. I'll read the notes next time—promise.
Tim Spaeth: We're gonna burn through this next category in 30 seconds: Developer We are Most Sorry to See Go. I do wanna say, I feel bad that we're using people losing their jobs as podcast fodder. It occurs to me just now that maybe that's not exactly classy. Dan, what do you got?
Richard Naik: [Ensemble Studios.] (http://tinyurl.com/36pcv "Robot Entertainment: Age of Empires III") They made the old Age of Empires games; they were the first PC games that I really sunk my teeth into.
Tim Spaeth: I hate that they went out on Halo Wars. Classics of the genre, the Age of Empires games. It is a shame. That brings us to the end of our time with Daniel and Richard, but we will not let you leave until you reveal your picks for 2009 Game of the Year.
Richard Naik: This was actually a very, very difficult choice. I was actually debating this while we were recording the podcast, because I really didn't know which one I wanted to pick. But in the end: Dragon Age: Origins. This won't come as a surprise, 'cause I gave it a 10. It was like they were listening to every singl problem that I had with Mass Effect, and incorporating it into this. They literally took the steps forward that I was wanting them to take; they fixed what I wanted them to fix. A very, very, very close second is Machinarium, which at the very last second lost out.
Chi Kong Lui: I got no problem with Dragon Age as your top pick, actually.
Brad Gallaway: And you're talking about the PC iteration, right?
Richard Naik: Yes, I am. I'm aware that the console version has issues, and I've been derided for that. The PC version is a knockout.
Dan Weissenberger: I'm picking Batman: Arkham Asylum. This could have been a guilty pleasure game; there are some things where you don't even have to be good and I will like you anyway. I like Tenchu Z. It's a terrible game, but it's the best representation of a ninja out there. I love Vampire Rain. Although it's a godawful game, it's the best game ever about being a commando fighting a vampire.
If this had been just the best Batman being Batman game ever, I would still love it unconditionally. The fact that it's also a great game on its own, aside from the Batman stuff? It deserves to be the Game of the Year. It's the first suprerhero game ever to friggin' understand that it's not hard for a superhero to beat up punks. Back as far as those old Superman games, I was always having my ass handed to me by a punk. And I'm Superman!
Richard Naik: You can actually get your ass handed to you pretty easily, especially by groups of thugs.
Dan Weissenberger: My point is, ten guys? Yeah, it's a problem. But if you learn the fighting system at all, ten guys aren't a problem, because you're the goddamn Batman. It is the only game that has ever grasped just how much ass this characrter kicks. That's why I loved it, and that—and so many other reasons—is why it deserves to be Game of the Year. And not just my pick: the Game of the Year.
Tim Spaeth: At the end of the show, we will bring that back into the conversation. Who knows? One of those games might be the GameCritics.com Game of the Year.
And now we welcome one of our favorite listeners to the show: Hargrada, who's joining us on Skype from California.
Hargrada: Great to be here.
Tim Spaeth: Now I understand that you've brought with you your top games of the year.
Hargrada: Top 5 games of the year: 5. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. I'm actually really surprised how it turned out.
Tim Spaeth: I've often wondered what Might and Magic means now, because there've been so many games and it's lasted so long. Is there any tie to the original PC RPGs, or is it just branding at this point?
Hargrada: Well, from what I understand, this is an offshoot of the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Supposedly it takes place before part five, but I'm not really up on my Might and Magic lore.
Chi Kong Lui: That's a turn-based strategy game, then, right?
Hargrada: Yeah. Heroes of Might and Magic is a turn-based strategy game. It's for the PC.
Brad Gallaway: The one you're playing—isn't that a puzzle game?
Chi Kong Lui: All right, man. That's a good sell.
Brad Gallaway: Sounds good to me.
Hargrada: I really like it. I'm not done with it yet; it's actually really hard, and you gotta get some levels to get anywhere. But I really like it—I'm really digging it. Scratching that Puzzle Quest itch that, for some reason, nobody's been able to scratch until now.
Tim Spaeth: Including the Puzzle Quest creators themselves with Galactrix.
Brad Gallaway: Too true; too true.
Tim Spaeth: So, number four on your list?
Hargrada: Number four is Flower for PSN.
Mike Bracken: Yes. Nice choice.
Hargrada: You're all aware of that, so I don't need to go really deeply into it. I loved it. I played it again recently,especially the level where you're painting the ground. It's like: "Wow. They need to make more of this, 'cause it's so great."
Tim Spaeth: Number three, Hargrada?
Hargrada: Number three: Dragon Quest V.
Mike Bracken: Oh, that's a real good choice.
Hargrada: Yeah. From way back in the Super NES.
Chi Kong Lui: Is it me, or in all the Dragon Quests from three to five, do you always get stuck and just stop playing the game?
Mike Bracken: No. I finished.
Chi Kong Lui: Really? That's happened to me from three to five. I always just get stuck at some point.
Hargrada: I didn't get stuck. I haven't played three in a long time, but I played four and then I played five, and five is just a really great RPG in general. It's probably gonna end up being one of my top JRPGs. Such an old RPG, too. But it's never come out over here, so it counts.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: It's a nice throwback to what was so great about the 16-bit era RPGs. It's just very nostalgic and simple, and it's not overly complicated like every fucking JRPG now. It's very nice and laid-back. Great game. There are no three-hour tutorials or stupid acronyms for combat systems or any of that.
Hargrada: [Unknown—skill?] trees, or whatever.
Chi Kong Lui: "Fight" still just means attack.
Hargrada: One of the things about Dragon Quest games in general is that the status effects you can get and the spells are actually useful in battle. It's not just "Press 'fight' ten times and you win" or something.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. That's very true.
Hargrada: Number two would be Punch-Out! for the Wii.
Tim Spaeth: I completely forgot that came out this year. I kept meaning to play it and never got around to it. What struck you as wonderful?
Hargrada: Well, the formula works. It's great; I was actually surprised. It helps that we haven't seen a Punch-Out! game in a decade. After all, all it is is a straight-up timing-based puzzle game: throw punches where you see openings and memorize their pattterns and everything. But it's a lot of fun just mastering the fights and seeing how the enemies react to you. Not to mention the presentation itself, where all the fighters speak their native languages. They don't subititle it, so you've gotta guess what they're saying.
Chi Kong Lui: Was that intentional?
Mike Bracken: See, I'm such a cynic I'd say: "Aw, fucking Nintendo. So cheap they can't even subtitle the dialogue for me.
Chi Kong Lui: These days, yeah.
Hargrada: No, I think it's intentional. If you were there in the Punch-Out! ring, you wouldn't automatically understand. There are no subtitles.
Mike Bracken: Good point.
Tim Spaeth: Now, Hargrada, I don't know how old you are. We're all incredibly old—we're ancient on this podcast—but did you play the original Punch-Out! back in the day?
Hargrada: Oh, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: How does that compare? I've heard it's the same thing, just upgraded.
Hargrada: Well, it's a remake, so…
Chi Kong Lui: So it is the same game, literally. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: So there you go.
Hargrada: It's a mix between Punch-Out! and Super Punch-Out! They got some stuff from the original and some stuff from the sequel in there.
Tim Spaeth: Excellent. And that takes us to Hargrada's number one game of 2009. Hit us with it.
Hargrada: All right. Now, Brad's gonna be really excited about this: Demon's Souls.
Brad Gallaway: Oh! A man after my own heart.
Chi Kong Lui: Woo-hoo! I'm excited, too.
Hargrada: Yeah. I'm a huge fan of King's Field games: number 2 is one of my top favorite games of all time. This one is just like a third-person King's Field for the most part, and I just loved it to death.
Chi Kong Lui: Brad, we gotta start a King's Field podcast now.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: All three of us love King's Field. We just have to get Tim on board.
Tim Spaeth: Yay, King's Field! Woo! Press buttons and things…
Hargrada: Let's not talk about King's Field, all right.
Tim Spaeth: So you guys and your Demon's Souls. My goodness. I'm gonna have to get a PS3 now.
Hargrada: Yeah, seriously. No excuse.
Tim Spaeth: So, Hargrada, clearly you're an RPG guy. You were playing Shiren the Wanderer, weren't you at some point? That was your big game for a while.
Hargrada: Yes. It was my number one game when it came out for that year.
Tim Spaeth: Can you save me if I send you a password or something?
Brad Gallaway: He actually saved me. He saved my entire Shiren experience. If it wasn't for Hargrada, I never would have finished that game. I still owe him a cup of coffee for it, too. I never actually bought you that coffee, dude.
Hargrada: Yeah, I know. It freaked me out. I save somebody and they're like: "Oh, I gotta talk to you." I'm like: "What?"
Brad Gallaway: I wanted to say thanks, man. I was so appreciative.
Hargrada: It's a great game—looking forward to the Wii version coming out next year.
Brad Gallaway: Upcoming pick for 2010. Nice, nice.
Tim Spaeth: So, Hargrada, any final thoughts on the year? Any overarching themes, or anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap up our time together?
Mike Bracken: Anything you hated?
Hargrada: Well, I wouldn't call it "hate," but I played Plants vs. Zombies.
Brad Gallaway: Oh! Aw, snap!
Mike Bracken: This is gold.
Hargrada: I didn't take a dump on it or anything, but…
Tim Spaeth: I literally just stood up. I just want you to know that. Go ahead.
Hargrada: I played it, and everybody was like: "Oh, my God! This is so awesome!" I played it, and it's like: "Yeah, okay. It's a nice little game." Put six hours in, finished it, and I don't even remember it. [Unknown] I don't understand the love.
Brad Gallaway: Classic, man. I'm so glad you came on tonight.
Mike Bracken: That made your appearance totally worthwhile. It was good before, but that just put it over the top.
Tim Spaeth: At six hours, you've only just begun. You've barely unlocked all the minigames. You haven't unlocked the Survival Mode yet, which is where the real challenge and the real strategy comes into play. You don't have all the aquariums yet. You've really only scratched the surface at six hours. The beauty of that game is everything that comes after you finish it.
Mike Bracken: That's always the retort of guys when you don't like a game that they love: "Well, you just didn't get deep enough. It's 100 times better if you've played five mor minutes."
Tim Spaeth: I say that every week, it seems like. That's my defense of Borderlands: You didn't play 15 hours! Why didn't you play 15 hours of it? Then you'd know."
Hargrada: Yeah, Brad. What's up?
Brad Gallaway: I only sat through 12 hours of Borderlands. If I had made that 13th hour, the whole thing would've turned around for me.
Chi Kong Lui: We have to hear Hargrada's counter to what Tim said.
Hargrada: I just don't wanna play it anymore.
Brad Gallaway: Simple as that.
Tim Spaeth: It's hard to argue with that: you just didn't wanna play it anymore. It depresses me a little bit. But you weren't charmed by it? You didn't find the unlocking of the different plants…you weren't interested to see what the more advanced plant weaponry was like? And unlocking the more advanced zombies? None of that interested you at all?
Hargrada: No. I mean, I beat the game, but I didn't feel it. It was just "walk away, put it down." There was nothing there.
Tim Spaeth: You took your first step into a larger world.
Brad Gallaway: Give it up, dude! He didn't like the fucking game; let it go.
Tim Spaeth: Fair enough.
Hargrada: It's only five bucks.
Tim Spaeth: All right. That's fair. Hargrada, thank you so much for joining us. Any final thoughts before we say goodnight? We wanna make sure we give you a plug. Do you have a website you'd like to plug? A Twitter account? Anything so that people can keep in touch with you?
Hargrada: My Twitter's @hargratta. I don't have a website or anything like that. Final thoughts is it's great to be here on the Wii hate podcast.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, it's beautiful. Well, Hargrada, you're welcome back anytime. Thanks so much for listening; we really appreciate it.
Hargrada: Sure. Keep pumping 'em out and I'll keep listening to 'em.
Tim Spaeth: We are joined now by David Stone, who is violently ill; who's up far past his bedtime, and, David, I don't know if you really wanna talk about this on North America's favorite podcast, but—
David Stone: Why don't we just go with the Northern Hemisphere's favorite podcast and just call it a day? We'll cover a lot more ground that way.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah, I think so. I think you're probably right. But a big event is happening in your life right now. Do you wanna tell us about it?
David Stone: With that kind of setup, how can I not? Erin and I are expecting our first child in April.
Tim Spaeth: Aw. Look at that.
Chi Kong Lui: Congratulations.
Brad Gallaway: Congratulations, Dave.
David Stone: Thank you; and we know it's a boy.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, hey! Nice!
David Stone: So we got a guy ready to do some shmup action. I'll teach him how to play Street Fighter II. He'll know how to do a hadouken before he can actually speak.
Chi Kong Lui: Street Fighter II? That's an old game, man.
David Stone: He's gotta start with the basic elements, and then work his way up.
Tim Spaeth: I was thinking: this has been a very fertile podcast. I had a son; Brad had a son. David, you and Erin were on the show in August? I'm not saying that the show somehow caused your pregnancy to happen, but I would like to take some credit for it.
Mike Bracken: You know conception happened right after that segment.
David Stone: Tim, I don't want you taking any credit for the pregnancy. I'm sorry. However, we weren't pregnant at the time, so I'll bet the vibes of that podcast were why we have a son, too. So there you go.
Tim Spaeth: That's probably what it was. Well, congratulations; we can't wait to hear all about him. If he's born in April, my son was born on April 15th, so maybe he'll have the same birthday and then we'll be bonded that way, as well.
David Stone: That'd be cool. Due date's April 21, so wierder things have happened.
Tim Spaeth: That's right. So, David, again, congratulations on that. Now, we are burning through categories like there's no tomorrow. I think we're now into our eighth hour of the show. So we're gonna try to get through these as quickly as possible. Do you have the list of categories in front of you?
David Stone: Yes I do. And my answers as well.
Tim Spaeth: Outstanding. We're gonna start with "The Best Argument for Abandoning Discs. David, I'm gonna let you start us off. If there's something you don't have an answer for, let me know.
David Stone: Oh, you know me. I've got an answer for everything. That's an easy one, actually. This year, no doubt, Shadow Complex on XBox Live Arcade. It felt like a retail game, and I only downloaded it. And I'm not talking about oldies but goodies like Castlevania: Sympony of the Night-appearing, or these nice indie games or anything like that. This was a full-fledged release that never saw retail. I thought it was absolutely fantastic.
Chi Kong Lui: Ditto 100 percent. It's my pick as well, Dave.
Mike Bracken: It's not my pick. My pick is Torchlight. I'm not a fan of downloading anything—I like physical media—but I like Torchlight a lot, and it made me happy I downloaded it. I'll leave it at that, because I talked about it to death last show.
Tim Spaeth: We talked about Shadow Complex and Torchlight on this show quite a bit, actually, and those two plus 'Splosion Man are my picks. I'm not sure there has been a better year for downloadable stuff.
David Stone: I think part of that is that they've finally gotten rid of all the caps. Now that most consoles are having 120 gig, 250 gig, or I've been hearing some interesting rumors that they might be going to cloud storage eventually. Back in the day when we got our first PSP, they gave us what? A 32-megabyte memory stick? See how far we've come in such a short time for storage.
Chi Kong Lui: I think the initial cap was a good thing, though. It kept them focused, and then a couple of guys branched out. But if they didn't have a cap right from the start, you can imagine how much crazier it would've been.
David Stone: Yeah, I know; we wouldn't have had 50 releases of Gauntlet again. I mean, gosh! What would we have done?
Mike Bracken: Ouch.
Tim Spaeth: Nice.
David Stone: Shadow Complex was the turning point for me for XBox Live Arcade. Other than some great old arcade re-releases like Mortal Kombat 2?which didn't age as well as I'd hoped—or Symphony of the Night, which will never get old, Shadow Complex really showed the future of what downloadable gaems can be, especially when they're well-supported by the big guys. Shadow Complex was supported by Cliff Bleszinski and Microsoft. But I'm with Mike; I like my discs.
Chi Kong Lui: Dave, I was gonna say: Mortal Kombat didn't age well one week after it was released in the arcade.
David Stone: I've wasted so many hours playing that Super Nintendo Mortal Kombat II. Don't you dare insult my childhood, Chi. [Laughter]
Chi Kong Lui: All right; we'll save it for another one.
Tim Spaeth: I think we hit everybody there, so let's move on to our next category. It's "Promising New Franchise." I'm just gonna say Borderlands and let you guys go nuts. Brad, why don't you kick us off on this one?
Brad Gallaway: Sure, sure. First I would like to totally disagree with you. But getting on to what my actual pick was: I hate to sound like a broken record, but I do wanna call Batman out again. Thankfully, they already have announced a new sequel.
Based on what we saw in Arkham Asylum, it seemed to me like there was an infinite amount of possibilities. With all the Batman stories that have been written over the years, and the different ways that the formula Rocksteady introduced could be applied to different situations, it seems to me like this is the start of something beautiful. I'm looking forward to at least a couple really great Batman sequels.
Tim Spaeth: Chi, how about you?
Chi Kong Lui: It's gonna be [UFC 2009 Undisputed.](http://tinyurl.com/d9hynk "Wikipedia: UFC 2009 Undisputed) Mixed martial arts has really been rising in popularity over the last decade, the timing was just really right, and they did an awesome job. Any fan of mixed martial arts, it's hard not to just fall in love with this game. Not only is the striking really great and accessible, but the ground game is just so complex, so well-done. I'm looking forward to future iterations of this one.
Tim Spaeth: Do you think there'd be any serious competition from the EA MMA title?
Chi Kong Lui: There's a lot of talk about that, and apparently it's supposed to be really good also. I think there is gonna be some competition. But I think it's gonna end up being like Coke and Pepsi: Coke was first, and that's what everyone's gonna remember. No matter what Pepsi does, they're never gonna catch up. There's also talk that they may just end up selling the license to EA, because they're a bigger company than THQ. But who knows whether that's gonna play out or not?
Tim Spaeth: Time will tell. Mike Bracken, what do you think?
Mike Bracken: I went with Aion. I don't even particularly like Aion, but I like MMOs, and this game is sort of the World of Warcraft-styled clone from NCSoft. It manages to rip off just enough things that Blizzard's game does really well to make it instantly familiar to all the newbs out there who are tired of hanging out in Stormwind Castle. But it also brings some new wrinkles to the formula as well.
I didn't play long enough to get to the endgame, or anything like that. But videos that a friend has shown me are pretty impressive, so I'll give it that. Basically, in a market where everyone's competing to be in second place, Aion kinda looks like it's got the legs to maybe take that spot. We're definitely gonna see some expansions and stuff like that. It really is probably the most impressive new MMO we've seen in a while. I don't think it's gonna go Age of Conan or Lord of the Rings or anything like that. I think it's gonna actually build an audience.
Chi Kong Lui: God damn, Mike! You got too much time on your hands.
Mike Bracken: I played the Chinese beta for a while, and I got to level 20 and that was enough. But I played long enough to know what it's about. I have a friend who plays it still, and he sends me all these fucking videos 'cause he's always trying to get me to play. I'm like: "Dude, I'm trying to have a life here—not have another fucking MMO to play."
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Mike Bracken: But it's pretty, and if you've played World of Warcraft, that can be a plus or a minus. For me, it was a minus, because I'm like: "Why do I wanna do shit that I did in World of Warcraft at level 10 again, when I can go play level 80s on that game?" But other people like it because you can just hop right in and it's very familiar, and then it does sort of become its own game later, from what I understand.
Tim Spaeth: And finally, David Stone: most promising new franchise?
David Stone: Brad and I think way too much alike, because I totally agree with you about the Batman franchise. I think what Rocksteady did was absolutely fantastic, except for their combat system, which I know they're gonna fix in the second one. The fact that they brought in real writers and real voice actors helped to bring those characters to life in a way that none of the other Batman games have ever done. I loved the art style. I know some people didn't like it; I thought it was fantastic. But I'd also like to see more of MadWorld. 'Cause that game was some messed up shit. I want more.
There's nothing else to say. It's beyond wanton violence; it's one of the most gory, bloody, satisfying games I've played since Dead Rising, as far as bloodlust is concerned. I have to admit, I was sold on that black and white art style. I don't know why. It just really grabbed me, especially with the red contrasting against it.
Mike Bracken: Didn't it only sell 20,000 copies or something really tiny like that?
David Stone: Yes, and I and 19,999 people probably want more because of it.
Mike Bracken: Yep. [Laughter]
David Stone: It's one of the games that should've sold more. I wouldn't put it in quite the same league as Beyond Good and Evil disappointment, but it'd be cool.
Mike Bracken: I'd like to see it on another console, actually.
David Stone: Well, given what they're doing with Mr. Travis Touchdown, I wouldn't be surprised if maybe one day they'll do that. Just 'cause I know we wanna keep moving, the other thing I want to see more of is Scribblenauts. I'd love to see if they can take that interesting idea, triple the dictionary, stop having so many things be duplications and have the solutions be a little less arbitrary.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. I'm surprised that wasn't mentioned sooner [unknown].
David Stone: Imagine a sandbox world where you just build anything and everything, and the game just throws stuff at you and you just have to solve it. Not level by level, but an entire world.
Tim Spaeth: When we did our Scribblenauts talk, one of the things I mentioned was this open-world concept needs to be on something other than the DS to fully realize its potential. Great concept, terrible execution. I don't think it's turned me off completely, but I'm not dying for another one.
But let's look at the flipside of "Most Promising New Franchise." We call this one the "Nail in the Coffin Award." This goes to the franchise that, because of its most recent release, we think should probably either take a rest or go away forever. David, I'm gonna let you start on this one.
David Stone: I think I'm gonna shock the hell out of you guys with this one: Guitar Hero and Rock Band have to go away.
Mike Bracken: Dude, that was my second pick.
Tim Spaeth: That's mine, too.
David Stone: The reason why: Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band: Green Day. Like…what? I'm still getting over the fact that Nickelback was picked as Billboard's top band of the decade…what? Rock Band fucking Green Day. Harmonix, you know I love you; you know we have a history. But I think you guys need to take all the money that has been given to you, give it to all of your employees, go retire, and stop. This is shark-jumping at its worst.
Tim Spaeth: David, we haven't had you on since Rock Band: Beatles came out. The whole music genre was my choice for this. I kind of feel like Beatles: Rock Band was a pivotal release. For a long time, it was "whoever got the Beatles wins the war between Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Now that game has come out, and it was good. It was a good game. But I feel like: Now that we've had the Beatles, what else is there? You've got the Rolling Stones, maybe Bruce Springsteen.
David Stone: Green Day.
Tim Spaeth: Evidently, Green Day. For me it's Huey Lewis and the News.
David Stone: There are a few who would be decent. I think some of U2 would be good; I think a Red Hot Chilli Peppers would be unbe-fucking-lievable, only for the fact that the population couldn't play half the tunes. I think what they need to do is do this as DLC. By all means, go ahead and do downloadable content. You wanna release all of Green Day's albums one at a time? Go nuts.
But the idea of the The Beatles: Rock Band being an individual game is because the Beatles are, for better or for worse, a cut above every other band that's ever come out. Unfortunately, it's hard to dispute that. I know that it can be done, but it's sort of like disputing Beethoven or Mozart. It's gonna be one of those bands that will stand the test of time. Of course, something that sacred, like you said, that was sort of the Holy Grail. Think about what Guitar Hero countered that with. They countered it with Guitar Hero: Metallica, and they were too pussy to have Metallica be the only thing on the disc.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Well, maybe Rock Band: Green Day will be an exploration of the punk genre, and they're just branding it with Green Day.
David Stone: No. They want money.
Tim Spaeth: No? It's just gonna be Green Day? Enh. Maybe the first album, but nothing else for me. Let's go on to Chi: "Nail in the Coffin Award."
Chi Kong Lui: This might generate a little bit of controversy, but my pick is Street Fighter IV. When you talk about Street Fighter 3 and all the Street Fighter Alphas, you always said: "Oh, well that's just Capcom being Capcom. They're always doing their little iteration thing."
But then when Street Fighter IV came out, that was the one where they put everything behind it. They were like: "Yeah, we're gonna relaunch this sucker!" It comes out, and it's the same goddamn thing again. Yeah, it looks great, but really, it's the same fucking game—come on! When you have these guys make up all there characters, inevitably three of them are gonna rock, and everyone else is gonna suck. When I started playing it, it just became so blatantly obvious that certain guys are maxed out and other guys are gimped out. They're barely even trying anymore.
Tim Spaeth: Good choice. I like both picks so far. Brad, what do you got?
Brad Gallaway: I'm gonna have to second Chi's Street Fighter IV for everything that Chi said. On top of that, where else can the fighting genre go? To be perfectly frank, I'm a Street Fighter fan; I used to love it. But it's been done. It's reached the top of where it can go, and there's nowhere else to go. I think they need to just let it go.
The thing that really pissed me off specifically about IV was the last boss was cheap beyond all belief. And then I just read recent interviews that for the next update that they're doing to it, they're making him even harder. To me, that says you guys are going in the wrong direction. I didn't like the new characters. Honestly, I didn't like the art, even. It didn't capture any of the old magic for me. I had a great time with Street Fighter when it was hot and when it was big, and I will always have those memories of it. But they need to let it go. I don't see where it can go in any more positive directions from here. It's done.
Chi Kong Lui: It captured all the worst parts, in that I had to spend an hour just trying over and over again to beat that last boss.
Brad Gallaway: It was miserable. I hated it. It turned me off of the game completely. I'm done with it.
David Stone: And also, no more unlocking of characters. For God's sake, just let me play. Enough. You have to play through the game 12 times in order to unlock everything. No. Just give me the damn characters.
Chi Kong Lui: That's not happening.
David Stone: [sadly] I know.
Tim Spaeth: What I learned about myself from Street Fighter IV is that I can only pull off special moves when I'm standing on the left side of the screen; I can't do it from the right side. That makes it very difficult to play multiplayer. Thank you. Mike, "Nail in the Coffin" Award.
Mike Bracken: I just wanted to say before I got to mine: I wonder if anybody else found it ironic that Chi was bitching about a series with repetitive iterations and repetitive gameplay when he sticks up for fucking Dynasty Warriors every week.
Tim Spaeth: Nice.
David Stone: It happens to some people in abusive relationships.
Mike Bracken: Anyway, my choice was the Tony Hawk series. How have we gone from the original first four Pro Skater games to Tony Hawk's Ride? Let's just be honest: Tony, you're rich. Let it go. You don't need the money anymore. You had a nice video game legacy with those first four games, and then you went and hooked up with Bam Margera and made those fucking stupid off-games, and now you're just totally grasping at straws. Let it go; it's over. We don't wanna play these games anymore. They're terrible.
Chi Kong Lui: There's also Skate, which is actually the better series.
Mike Bracken: Skate is what Tony Hawk games should be now and what they used to be, taken to the next generation. The Tony Hawk games are just terrible; I just wish they'd quit. And I'm totally with you guys on the whole Rock Band, Guitar Hero thing. It's really sad to watch how the game industry can take something that two or three years ago was amazingly awesome, and now we're all sick to death of it because they've run it into the ground to make money from it. It's just disappointing.
Tim Spaeth: Very good; let's move on. Our next category is "The Internet Has No Idea What They're Talking About." It's you versus five million fanboys. Take a stand. Tell them why they're wrong. We'll start here with Brad Gallaway.
Brad Gallaway: I had a lot of things to choose from, and it was really tough for me to pick just one. But if I had to pick one thing that really stuck in my craw more than anything else this year, it would be the way that Uncharted 2—which I found to be a beautiful game technically—was soulless and really boring.
The thing that I hate about it is that people are saying that the story and characters are so great: they're so compelling, they're so well-written. People are holding up Uncharted 2 as an example of quality game writing, and I have no idea what the fuck they're talking about. There's a couple okay scenes where they perhaps didn't fall prey to female stereotypes, which I actually do applaud them for.
But that's not the same thing as saying: "This game is well-written" or that it's interesting, or that these characters are relateable, or like they have any substance to them at all. It's strictly B-movie stuff that's there to keep the ultra-contrived plot moving forward. Whenever somebody says: "Oh, I love th characters; I love the story. This is what games should be about," it's like we're playing completely different games. I don't know what they're even talking about.
Chi Kong Lui: Brad, you totally stole my pick.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, I'm sorry.
Chi Kong Lui: No, it's perfect, actually. I'm right there with you, buddy. If I really wanted to watch a movie, I'll do that. I don't need to play a game that's like a movie and in a lot of ways is not as good as a movie. In the episode before where we talked about all the stuff that makes a game compelling, Uncharted 2 has none of these things.
The characters sort of talk like they're in movies and they have somewhat casual conversations, but that doesn't make it interesting dialogue. That doesn't make them fascinating. That doesn't make an engaging fact. The only outstanding trait about Nathan Drake is that he doesn't think too far ahead. [Sarcastically] Wow. That's so deep. An action hero who jumps headfirst.
Brad Gallaway: [Sarcastically] He's so human. He's everyman.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, exactly. And the classic case with the so-called love triangle or whatever, I didn't even see why he ends up picking who he picks at the end. I won't give that away, but they just decide: "Okay, well, since you're here, I'll just stay with you." This is the level of deep writing we're talking about here? They never even justify their relationship, and to me, a better game would let the player choose. That's what video games are about.
Brad Gallaway: I'm kinda suprised it didn't—I guess I'm not surprised, seeing as that whole movie is scripted start to finish. But I kept waiting for the moment where you get to choose. At the very least, I kept thinking that the bad guy was gonna hold a gun to one or the other, and that you would have to choose, which to me would've been a pretty cool moment. Man, they totally didn't go for that in any way, shape or form. Whiffed that one, Naughty Dog.
Mike Bracken: Swing and a miss. I actually didn't get a chance to play through all of Uncharted 2—although I did play it—so I can't jump on that bandwagon, although I think the points they raise are valid. I went a different way again. I went with Killzone 2.
Chi Kong Lui: Good choice.
Mike Bracken: I was looking on Metacritic before we came on, just to double-check. This game has fourteen 100 scores over there. Like Brad is asking, I keep wondering to myself: Did we all play the same fucking game?
Before you start sending me hate mail, I'm not saying that Killzone 2 is a bad game. I think it's an above-average console first-person shooter. But it has some really dodgy controls. The story and characters are so uninteresting that going through the game is just an exercise in shooting things in the face. I don't go through it because I give a shit about this guy I'm supposed to be, or any of the guys in my squad, or this overarching story that's going on.
All I can think is that maybe people like it for the multiplayer or something like that, and that's fine if you do. I don't play multiplayer; I like single-player experiences. But if you like it for the multiplayer and you're reviewing it and the single-player still sucks, shouldn't that figure into the score somehow?
Yeah, the graphics are great, but how about a little more color besides brown and fucking gray? You've got the PS3. It has all this power. All I hear about is how gorgeous this game's graphics are, blah, blah, blah. Everything's fucking brown or gray. Boring. Like I said, above-average console shooter. Just not the Second Coming, like everybody made it out to be when it came out earlier this year.
Chi Kong Lui: I'd like to throw in Modern Warfare 2 as well. I'm really getting tired of these games that throw you in the middle of the shit. It's happening so many times now. I get it: War's really chaotic, and you're getting shot at all over the place. How many times am I gonna have to experience this and think this is a great game? Enough, already.
Mike Bracken: Right.
Chi Kong Lui: And the funny thing is, most of the time you end up shooting at little dots anyway. You could barely see who you're shooting at, 'cause it's so crazy. What's so fun about that? I really don't get it, man.
Mike Bracken: I don't really get Modern Warfare 2, either, but I just concluded a long time ago that realistic military shooters just don't appeal to me. But I do generally like the futuristic, sci-fi shooters like the Killzones, Halo, stuff like that. But Killzone 2 just didn't really do anything for me. Like I said, I don't hate it. I just don't think it's quite as great as everybody made it out to be.
Tim Spaeth: And finally: David, where do you and the Internet come to blows?
David Stone: Well, there's a little bit of a Modern Warfare 2 thing, and I'm just gonna one-sentence this and say: No Russian equals no controversy—just get over yourself. It's not that bad, and it's also not that smart.
Tim Spaeth: Here's what I love about that sequence, about the controversy. This is just a special message from me to Infinity Ward. If you put up a disclaimer at the start of your controversial sequence that says: "What you're about to see is controversial," it ceases to be controversial.
David Stone: Thank you.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
David Stone: They did that specifically to get press. I know they say it's part of the plot. If you can skip it, it's not that important.
Chi Kong Lui: The plot barely makes sense anyway. You're just jumping from one scene to the next. I know there's a connection, but you barely feel it. The continuity's just all messed up in that game.
David Stone: There's continuity? You could even start saying there's continuity? Good for you!
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
David Stone: And the other thing I wanted to nail down was Halo 3: ODST. Enough. Halo's not that good. I'm sorry. Get over it.
Tim Spaeth: I saw that for $19.99 and I said: "Hey! No, thanks."
Let's move on. "Best Argument for Games As Art." Chi, I'm gonna start with you, and I bet I know what you're gonna say.
Chi Kong Lui: Yep. The awesome Flower. Nothing more to add to that; we talked about it extensively on this show already. Kudos to Jenova Chen for getting the award at the Spike VGA. That was fun to watch.
Tim Spaeth: I feel like we helped catapult him to his fame.
Mike Bracken: Clearly. It was all us.
I went with Flower as well. I think it's like Zen meditation in video game form. When I really don't believe that games should be art, or maybe that they can be art, Flower is the one thing that puts a kink in that argument.
Brad Gallaway: That's my pick as well. Is there really anything else that makes the argument as concisely and as effectively as Flower does this year? I hate to sound like a broken record, but that is far and away the one that proves the case this year for me, anyway.
David Stone: Oh, good. I get to be different. I've actually become a big fan of the Bit. Trip series, just by its being minimalist yet making music and awesomeness. For me, it's very Zen as well. Based on what the music's doing, I zone into the game and I just stop thinking about it.
There are another couple of good ones which are also free. One of them is called Auditorium. It's a Flash game; you can play the first two levels online for free. It's actually a really decent music, Zen-making game that you really should check out. Another one which I've been bugging Brad to play for months is And Yet it Moves.
Brad Gallaway: I saw the trailer; it looked really fantastic. But man, I have such an aversion to PC games sometimes. I gotta get over it.
David Stone: So do I. It's coming to the Wii in January, and it is gonna make you question the true definition of what a platforming game is.
Brad Gallaway: If it's coming to the Wii, then I'll wait. You just closed the case for me; I'll hold out then. [Laughter]
David Stone: They just announced it. It's gonna make waves.
Tim Spaeth: Before we get to the Game of the Year, we have to do the reverse: the Worst Game of the Year. Or, as we like to call it, the "Steaming Pile Award." If you don't mind, I'm going to go first here, because I have to get this out. The worst game of the year was Star Trek DAC.
It's an XBox Live downloadable title; I know it's also on the PC now. First of all, this is the worst game title probably in the history of games. DAC stands for the game modes: Deathmatch, Assault and Conquest. They just took the game modes to make an acronym out of. It's a top-down starship combat game, much in the vein of the Wing Commander and Battlestar Galactica XBLA games, which are equally as bad.
Somebody at Paramount is killing themselves over not getting out a good Star Trek game to capitalize on the unexpected success of that movie. They've got Star Trek Online coming out in February, and I am looking forward to that. But Star Trek DAC, it's just a festering pile of tribble poop. It's just awful. That is my vote; I will turn it over to Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: I kind of tipped my hand a litle earlier. The year's steaming pile for me is, in fact, Tony Hawk's Ride. I spent 45 minutes with that game this week, and that was 43 minutes more than I needed to figure out that it was a broken piece of shit. I have seen people in comas who are more responsive than that fucking skateboard controller. Tony Hawk should be ashamed of himself. They should fucking give everybody who bought this broken piece of crap game their money back. Awful, inexcusable garbage.
Tim Spaeth: Let's go to Chi Kong Lui.
Chi Kong Lui: I don't know if I'd call this a steaming pile, per se, but my pick is The Conduit on the Wii.
Tim Spaeth: Wow. Was not expecting that.
Mike Bracken: I was not, either.
Brad Gallaway: Good call, though. Good call. I second that.
Chi Kong Lui: Even on the show, I said it was playable, as opposed to great quality. Given all the hype behind it, and given how generic the whole thing was, to me it was just like: "This is a pretty awful game." It just reeked of disappointment all around.
Tim Spaeth: I still remember fondly when I asked you: "What is the Conduit?" and the answer was: "Enh. It's just like a portal."
Brad Gallaway: Way to hang your entire game up on this thing.
Chi Kong Lui: And that pretty much sums up my whole feeling of the game.
Tim Spaeth: So, David: Worst game of the year?
David Stone: I'm actually gonna go with Worst People of the Year. I've gotta go with about 99% of the third-party games on the Wii. Why, oh why do they have to suck? I actually went ahead and looked at some of the games that are coming out. Check this list: Cold Stone Creamery: Scoop it Up. Are you serious?
Mike Bracken: This is like déjà vu.
David Stone: All the work of scooping ice cream with none of the reward. Playmobil Circus. Don't actually buy your kids the toys that give them imagination; give them virtual ones. Walk it Out, the new fitness game from Konami. Either you walk out to buy the game, which proves it's pointless, or you ordered it up from Amazon specifically so you don't have to leave your house. In which case, you have worse things to worry about than a fitness game.
Mike Bracken: I hope there's a spinoff called Pound it Out.
David Stone: Followed by Leaving Your Kids at the Pool. Daniel X: The Ultimate Power. A simulation game called Girls' Life: Sleepover Party. Yeah, that'll go over well. Chicken Riot. Game Party 4. That's what it's called. There was also a Game Party 1, 2 ans 3 I've never heard of. And quite frankly, all credit to former GameCritic Scott Jones, anything with the words "Family," Party" or "Fun" in the title. If it needs to have any of those descriptors in it, then it's probably lying. To prove the point, the last numbered Mario Party game came out in 2007, so even Nintendo figured it out.
Mike Bracken: Whatever happened to the Bob Ross's Joy of Painting game that we were talking about? I still want that one.
David Stone: See, it's gonna come out as Bob Ross's Painting Family Fun.
Mike Bracken: That's true. They're probably remarketing it. The saddest thing about this is…Did you guys see the Dante's Inferno viral video for the Wii game? The Mass: We Pray thing? It was basically this game where you put your Wiimote in a crucifix-type thing and you did like swinging the center thing, and praying and all this stuff. The saddest thing about it was that it actually looked real. You could totally accept that this was some shit that some third-party developer would put out for the Wii.
You know in your brain that this is probably bullshit, but you see so much shit that gets put out on the Wii that it's totally plausable.
Brad Gallaway: It's funny you said that, because I didn't realize that was a Dante's Inferno video. Man, I totally thought that was a real game.
Mike Bracken: So did I, when I saw it. I'm like: "Wow. It looks like shit, but what else would I expect from Nintendo at this point?"
Tim Spaeth: I believe that leaves you, Mr. Gallaway: Worst game of 2009.
Brad Gallaway: I have two call-outs real quick: one which we've already mentioned, which is Muramasa. That game was terrible. It wasn't as terrible as some other things I've played, but the reason I'm calling it out is that it had the biggest disparity between how good it actually was compared to how good people said it was. It was nowhere even near remotely a fraction as good as people were saying it was. I had a terrible experience with it, and I think it was made even more terrible by the fact that I was expecting something that was actually decent.
But in terms of being actually the worst, I think I probably would have to pick Fairytale Fights. I didn't expect anything out of this title, and boy, did I not even get that. It was so terrible. You just walk from left to right, you beat up these characters. There was no imagination, and the worst thing about it was that they mapped the combat to the right stick. After 20 or 30 minutes, my right thumb was swollen, red and sore. You don't ever bang your thumb around that much over the span of a human lifetime, and here I am wearing out my thumnb joint for this stupid game. It was terrible.
Tim Spaeth: That brings us at long, long, long last to the 2009 Game of the Year. We already had Dan's pick: Batman: Arkham Asylum; Richard picked Dragon Age: Origins. So let's go around in turn. Chi, as GameCritics founder and owner, I will give you first crack at this: What is your 2009 Game of the Year?
Chi Kong Lui: I had a lot of respect for Dragon Age: Origins, and that one came pretty close for me. It was kind of a tight race, but in the end, for me it's gonna be Demon's Souls. That game just did things that were much more different than any of the games that we've seen in a long time. It was just such classic gameplay as well. They didn't need any gimmicks. Although they had things that you could call gimmicks, they didn't feel gimmicky. It was just classic gameplay, action, role-playing, and it felt great.
Tim Spaeth: So a vote for Demon's Souls. I have a feeling it's not going to be our last vote. Let's go to Brad Gallaway for his pick.
Brad Gallaway: Well, before I give you my pick, I wanna also remind you that we did have Hargrada on, and as a board member that we all respect, we should give his vote some credence as well. He picked Demon's Souls, and I have to say that I totally agree with him and I also agree with Chi: Demon's Souls by a large, large, large margin over anything else that came out this year. For everything that Hargrada said, everything that Chi said.
The thing that I will add is that it displayed such an incredible level of mastery. I'm a huge From Software fan from way back, but this was them at the absolute top of their game; this is them at their full powers; this is them doing things that nobody else has done or even attempted to do. They not only attempted it, but succeeded. This game was head and shoulders above everything else this year, in terms of production, in terms of imagination, in terms of originality. It was the be all, end all for me this year, and nothing else even came close.
Tim Spaeth: Another vote for Demon's Souls. I apologise to Hargrada. I think his Plants vs. Zombies comment made me forget that entire thing happened, but very well.
Let's go on to Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: I'm actually bummed to be voting, because I didn't get to play Demon's Souls or Dragon Age. I played a lot of stuff for this show in the past two weeks and, unfortunately, those were two titles I didn't get to spend time with. I suspect that if I had gotten to play Demon's Souls, that would've probably been my vote. But since I didn't, I can't vote for it in good conscience, and instead I'll have to take a more unconventional path in picking my Game of the Year. This is a really off-the-wall choice, but it was a game that I loved and was really excited for and gave a glowing review at the site.
My vote would be for the new version of Persona on the PSP from Atlus. They've taken a game that a lot of people missed out on, but yet everybody loves MegaTen now; they cleaned it up, they gave us back the Snow Queen quest that we had never had access to here in America. They finally put the difficulty back up where it was supposed to be. As a guy who is finding myself increasingly more tired and bored of Japanese RPGs—as blasphemous as that is for me to say—this was one of the few Japanese RPG experiences I've had in the past year or so that was really exciting to me. So that would be my vote.
Tim Spaeth: Unusual, but a good one.
Mike Bracken: Very.
Tim Spaeth: Finally: David Stone, your vote, sir, for Game of the Year.
David Stone: Mine will be even more unusual, because I am abstaining for a vote for Game of the Year this year. This year there were a lot of really good games; there was a lot of okay, and there was a whole wack of crap. No single game really stood out to me, as Game of the Year material. Last year, my Game of the Year was World of Goo. That game infected my thoughts. It was just so creative and so wonderful.
Uncharted 2 is a good game. It's got great production values, but like you said, it's pretty vapid. I didn't like Demon's Souls that much, actually. I don't know—it just didn't turn my crank, for some reason. But then again, neither does Halo, so who am I to say?
I think the biggest thing was that everything got out of the way for Modern Warfare 2, which robbed us of a lot of really good gameplay possibilities. I think that's a horrible, horrible thing for the games industry to have done, 'cause they just moved the glut forward by three months. We're still gonna be screwed—doubly so, because we're all gonna be piss-poor from Christmas, and then we'll have to buy 20 games in the first three months of 2010. In answer to all of that, I'm spoiling my ballot.
Tim Spaeth: Wow.
Chi Kong Lui: That's controversial.
Tim Spaeth: That is controversial.
Brad Gallaway: Bold move.
Tim Spaeth: So can I have your vote? I just get to take it then?
My pick of the year, which will come as no surprise, is Plants vs. Zombies. Folks, $10 on Steam. Go get it now. Look, I hate Tower Defense games. I hate them. They're boring; you're just sitting there watching things and not really controlling things. But Plants vs. Zombies, there is something about it: soemthing in the art style, something in the writing, something in the unbelievable cleverness that went into the design of the plants that you're using to defend your house, and the design of the zombies that are attacking your house.
Hargrada said you can finish the game in about five or six hours, and that's absolutely true. But as every single level is unlocking something new, and we talk about that carrot on a stick, that thing that motivates you to keep playing. Every time you finish a level you're getting a new plant for your arsenal, you're getting a new zombie to mount a defense against, you're getting a new minigame to unlock. You're always getting something new, and that lasts for over 30 hours.
I have to say, I really think PopCap—between Plants vs. Zombies and Peggle—have really established themselves as one of the premiere developers. I am gonna put them up there with Valve; I'm going to put them up there with Blizzard, which I know sounds ridiculous. But I think those two games, "casual" though they may be, are just the pinnacle of addictive game design. I cannot recommend really both of those games, but for 2009, Plants vs. Zombies enough.
David Stone: Yeah, Tim. You can have my vote.
Tim Spaeth: Thank you.
David Stone: If only because I know Erin would agree with you. She's actually wearing her Plants vs. Zombies shirt right now.
Tim Spaeth: Is she really?
David Stone: Yeah. It's the only one that still fits. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Don't say that.
Mike Bracken: Aw.
Tim Spaeth: No, David. We're gonna edit that out. That never happened.
David Stone: It's the fever talking.
Tim Spaeth: Even with your vote, David, we've got three votes for Demon's Souls, and I think that right there is the official declaration that the GameCritics.com Podcast Game of the Year 2009 is Demon's Souls. Are you happy?I don't have a PS3; I haven't played it yet. But I am definitely gonna check it out when I get a PS3 next month. Clearly, we've talked about it ad nauseam.
Mike Bracken: I think that's our New Year's resolution, is that Tim and I are going to get PS3s.
Tim Spaeth: That is. That's probably the first thing I'm going to do in 2010, is finally pick up a PS3. Gosh, what am I gonna play? Probably Resistance 2? I don't know.
Any final thoughts before we close this out?
Brad Gallaway: If I could start out, I would like to say that this has actually been a pretty phenomenal year for games. There may not have been as many breakaway stars—you ask anybody, everybody's got a different pick for Game of the Year. But overall, I think this year with the quality and the types of games that we got, was one of the best years in recent memory.
I was backed up with stuff to play. And it wasn't just stuff to play, it was really good stuff to play. There was one point when I had five or six triple-A games waiting to be played, and that just doesn't happen every year. For me, this was a really, really good year. The big games were good; the indie games were good; the arcade games were good, the downloads. Everything was really good. I was thinking 2009 was a pretty sweet year to be gaming.
Chi Kong Lui: The only thing I'll add to that is I hate to end the show on a bit of a downer, but playing games like Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2 were a bit depressing, because it illustrated to me why video games are not movies. I really hope we can get away from that paradigm, so we can get games that are actually good, and good for being games.
David Stone: And to finally cement Tetris as Citizen Kane of gaming.
Tim Spaeth: Woo-hoo! I'm with you, brother.
Mike Bracken: I thought this was a good year for games, in a different way than what we're used to. There wasn't necessarily one or two super blockbusters; there were a lot of titles that people felt strongly about, and there are a lot of different valid choices for Game of the Year. That's exciting to see. And again, you could be a downer and say: "Well, we got a lot of sequels and shit too," but there were some good new IPs out this year, and I think that bodes well for the future.
David Stone: I'm actually just gonna disagree, but end it on a hopeful note. This year was very, very meh for me; I thought that there were a lot of really, really good games like you guys said, but there were no real standouts. But I'm looking at the release calendar for what's gonna be coming out next year, and I'm sure for every one game we do know about, there's three that we don't. The ones that we know about look pretty damn good. Like Mass Effect 2 right off is gonna be really hard to beat in my books already. And that's just one of the amazing things that are coming out for 2010. I close the book on 2009 not looking back, but looking forward at what's coming up.
Tim Spaeth: Well said. And I think 2009 for me was the year I realized that I can't play everything. Games I would have played without a second thought in the past—Dragon Age being one of them—I said: "You know what? I just can't. I don't have time to do it." I see games like Mass Effect 2 on the horizon, Splinter Cell…I can't believe these games are coming out in a month. I haen't played Batman yet, Assassin's Creed II yet. I don't think I'll ever catch up, and I have to come to peace with that. I guess it's a good problem to have, but it is a little depressing that I'm not gonna get to some of those great games. Any holiday well-wishes before I close things out?
Brad Gallaway: I think everybody at GameCritics would like to wish a happy holidays to everybody who listens, and thank everybody for listening in the first place. This has been a banner year for the site; we've done really good. We've had lots of great articles, we've got lots of new writers on board. We've got this fabulous podcast, hosted by who I see as probably the best podcast host on the Internet, and I have listened to other podcasts as well.
It's been a great year for us, and we really couldn't do it without people who care enough to come to the site and listen to the podcast. I think I probably speak for all of us when I say: "Happy holidays," and hopefully next year, we will continue to bring all of those listeners and followers and podcast fans with us into the new year.
Mike Bracken: Amen.
Chi Kong Lui: Amen, man. Yeah, well said. You had to dig deep for that one, I know.
Tim Spaeth: Can't say it much better than that. David Stone, thanks for being with us tonight. Chi, Brad, Mike, as always, a pleasure. Looking forward to doing it next year. Let's forgo the sales pitch; let's just close it out. Let's wish everyone happy holidays, merry Christmas, happy Chaunukah, happy Kwanzaa, good night, bonne chance, and joyeux noel. We'll see you next year.