Game of the Year?

*Sometime after dusk. We are playing Baldur’s Gate 2, a classic of video games, eating a piece of Christmas Cake*

Shadowy Figures (coming out of the shadows in the doorway): We need a game of the year choice.

Me: Oh, game of the year? What game? What year?

SF: This year. Your choice. Of game.

Me: Oh, I left it in my coat. It’s out in my car. Let me go get that.

SF (blocking the door): No! No! You’ve held off long enough. You will not make fools of us. You will tell us, and tell us now!

Me: Okay, okay, fine. Game of the year. This year. You want a choice from me.

SF: You’re stalling for time.

No, you just think I’m stalling. This year is difficult. If anything, it is defined more by its disappointments than by its successes. I mean, sure, when you think about it, there’s been a lot of quality games released this year. Even more I haven’t played.

SF: So what is your choice?

Me: But! In two years, am I going to remember any of these games? Maybe I will. But none of them have left as intense an impression on me as Final Fantasy XIII, or Bioshock 2, or Kirby’s Epic Yarn, or Civilization V, or even Mass Effect 2, and all of their intensity came from the negative. Some of them were good games, but they are games that are memorable for the wrong reasons.

SF: We don’t need your disappointment of the year, yet. We need your game of the year.

Me: But that’s what I’m saying! What constitutes a game of the year? Quintessentially, something you will remember beyond this year. This was a year dominated by the capable but eventually forgettable, and then by the crushingly difficult indie platformers. I mean, Red Dead Redemption, Mario Galaxy 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Fallout: New Vegas are good games, certainly. There is nothing wrong with them. But I think about them. Will I ever play them again? No. Not really.

SF: But those are good games. Why not pick one of them?

Me: Because games have to be held to standards, especially the game of the year. Yes, we could just pick the game everyone loves and say, “I picked my game. Give me my massive critic royalty check, EctivisoftKo, give me my check.” But I can’t do that. Picking an actual game, a game I liked better than the others, how do I do that, especially in a year so peppered with mediocrity. You usually can count on someone to release a big name, all the cards on the table game that blows you away, but that didn’t happen this year. Nothing wowed me on the big budget, recognizable scene.

SF: You’re off topic. Game of the year? This year.

Me: Well, I’ve got a couple nominations. Mass Effect 2 has to be considered, though it will eventually lose. It will lose because, while I consider it a great game, that comes with about five asterisks. It’s a great game that really takes its weight from the previous game, that removes a lot of the good gameplay mechanics and replaces them with planet scanning, and is never really anything more than serviceable at what it does (unlike Mass Effect 1, which was more than serviceable because the emphasis wasn’t always on shooting, like it is in 2). It is, however, a game I am going to replay and enjoy, it’s just…I do not believe that is from its own merit.

I’m going to mention a sequel few else will here in my nominations, and that is Just Cause 2. Here is the caveat: it also cannot win, because it is a broken, flawed game. The problem is that, compared to other games released this year, there is such possibility for pure joy here. Yes, it trips itself up with video gameness, but it is a game where at least half the staff realized exactly why it was fun (grappling hooking two helicopters together and watching them explode, grappling a man to a gas canister and watching him fly away, grappling anything to anything, basically) and said, we love this. This is a game. Of course, some corporate jerk told them to have a plot. I am convinced this is how it went down. You can tell, because everyone has a terrible accent, and all the dialog is cheesy and completely phoned in. Someone no one liked said, We need a plot! and then everyone rolled their eyes and scratched up the face of a modern classic.

Super Meat Boy is our first real contender. Massive, intense, and confounding, it’s a game I certainly have enjoyed. It is, for certain, our runner up. The problem with Meat Boy, though, is that it occasionally sacrifices quality for quantity. It was a game where the developers were so set on making a massive experience that sometimes the quality dips. Not often. It is a very good game, and it carries our highest recommendation, but it is not the game for me. Not this year.

SF: Then what? What is your game of the year?

Me: My game of the year is VVVVVV.

SF: What?! A five dollar indie game that lasts 2-4 hours is your game of the year? That’s preposterous!

Me: Actually, it launched at a very deserved $15. But I digress. VVVVVV is my game of the year, and despite my previous vitriol, a very worthy game.

SF: Why? How can one man possibly craft an experience better than many highly paid gentlemen?

Me: Because it is perfect. I’ve taken so long to put this together because it meant answering a deep, fundamental question: would you rather have 10-15 hours of a very good thing or 2-4 hours of a great, unchangeable thing? It’s an impossibly difficult question. Well, no, it’s not. Super Meat Boy has sold a bajillion copies for an indie, and VVVVVV has sold moderately, so the public has a clear answer. However, as someone who likes to think seriously about these things, it is a major question. A long, good experience, or a short, incredible one, the kind that leaves you smiling from ear to ear?

In the end, I pick perfection. And VVVVVV is perfect. I have played it four times. Each time was as good as the last. It has charm. It has more character development with two facial expressions and 8 bit dialog than most big budget games. It has more charm than any game ever made. It has one core mechanic that is undeniably rock solid, coupled with exploration. It has one of the five best soundtracks in video game history.

In short, it is flawless. And how could a flawless game not be my game of the year?

SF: So that is your choice.

Me: It is. It is.

SF: Fine. We’ll just have to live with it. How about another choice. Disappointment of the year.

Me: See, this is much easier. Bioshock 2 is one of the most disappointing games of our time. It’s not its fault, really. Bioshock the original was so good that a sequel was a necessity. Not an artistic necessity, a financial necessity. It had to be made, and 2K Marin jumped on the sword, rather than let someone else, someone wholly unqualified, fuck over the legacy. In retrospect, Bioshock 2 is better than it could have been. Yes, it tarnishes the reputation of one of the best games of this generation. Yes, it does that. But it doesn’t completely ruin it, and that makes a salvageable game.

Of course, Bioshock 2 isn’t my disappointment of the year. Not even close. Not even close. It is an honorable mention in name only.

That’s because Final Fantasy XIII still exists. And is still, by far, the worst game in the series.

I mean, we should be thankful for it. It solves the eternal What is the worst (non-MMORPG, as Fern insists I mention) Final Fantasy? question. Before, we had to hem and haw, and it got awkward when someone picked one of my favorites (VIII and XII) and I picked one of their favorites (II or V or (let’s face it, the only anger inducing one) IX). Now, everyone in the world can just say XIII and get it out of the way. It solves one of gaming’s oldest questions.

I mean, Final Fantasy XIII was so bad that people I know who don’t usually play video games hated it. I’ve heard third parties conversing about how not playable it is. Final Fantasy XIII was shit sandwich with the crusts still on. There was only one good part about the game, and that is this:

See, if all the game were that good, we’d have an amazing work.

What makes Final Fantasy XIII so iconically disappointing was just how hyped it was. Fuck. I remember being beyond excited about it. It was the most exciting game. And it duped us! It duped us all! We were a bunch of rubes, and it was the worst game in the series, a terrible, slapstick hodge-podge of trailerisms and cliches, surrounded by pretty things designed to distract us from the fact that it was incredibly bad.

Do I think FFXIII could be redeemed? Possibly. I have a feeling I’ll play it in four years and get it, like I did with Chrono Cross. Removed from expectations, it could be a good game, possibly. But it wasn’t. It sponsored the god damn NBA all star game. It deserves everything it got expectations wise.

SF: Exciting. I’m glad you still hate Final Fantasy XIII.

Me: Damn right.

SF: What was your favorite gaming moment from 2010?

Me: This wasn’t in the contract! I was done! Game of the year and Disappointment! They’re the only things in my contract.

SF: Oh, we changed the contract. Your fellow writer David, he was most helpful in inventing this new idea for us. So, your answer?

Me: Oh fuck, fine. Favorite moment, huh? Beating Veni, Vidi, Vici in VVVVVV. Few things will ever top that in terms of sheer effort in a video game.

SF: No honorable mentions? We pay you by the honorable mention.

Me: You don’t pay me at all! We’re done here! We’re done! *Tom storms past the Shadowy Figures, in search of a ginger ale*

SF: Thank you for your efforts. They are most appreciated.