These are the shining examples of gameplay greatness this year, as decided by Snackbar Games staff. In this first installment, we look at portables and special categories.
Shawn Vermette: Dragon Quest IX is a great RPG that harks back to the good ol’ days of RPGs. It’s story is a little strange, but the gameplay is all classic turn-based JRPG. You only have one character that matters in DQIX, the rest are characters you can create on your own, or you can adventure around with three friends if you desire. In addition to the nostalgia factor, the party customization, and the classic turn-based combat, the sheer amount of content in DQIX is enough for it to be one of my best games of the year.
Graham Russell: I’m pretty sure this game doesn’t end. Designed for the compulsive tendencies of the Japanese hardcore gamer, DQIX has a wealth of post-game content and many advanced strategies and classes to pursue. (And unlike a game like Disgaea, it stays fun after the first hundred hours.)
Runner-up: Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Chris Ingersoll: Seven years of dormancy (and thirty years of story progression) haven’t dulled the shine on Camelot’s handheld RPG series. The unique djinn mechanics and the use of psynergy to solve puzzles are just as fun as they were on the GBA the first two times, and it’s neat to see how the world has changed since the exploits of the original heroes, in a rare display of sequel continuity.
Mike Clark: Fast-paced action mixed with a RPG system featuring a main character who isn’t annoying like other RPG heroes and a game progression that’s tough but fun. Ys: The Oath in Felghana kept me going even through my anger at the tough bosses. It did have hard bosses but the way it did those bosses was right: not artificially difficult, just requiring the right strategy.
Runner-up: Valkyria Chronicles II
Graham Russell: Many have griped about the series’ move to the PSP (me included), but Valkyria Chronicles II was about as good as a game can be on the device. The segmented, recycled maps got a bit annoying after a while, but after all, these guys are fighting on their turf. They should know it well, right?
Graham Russell: Kairosoft’s little iPhone game certainly had an undeniable charm. Not only that, though, it’s hard to put down. While that may interfere with your ability to get things done, it’s a sign of a game with some tight design.
Runner-up: Rock Band Reloaded
Eric Schabel: Rock Band Reloaded is the series’ second outing on the iPhone and it only improves upon its predecessor’s formula. The game is not as feature-rich as its console brethren, but its core gameplay is still very fun and familiar.
Graham Russell: It’s clear that this game was designed by Magic: The Gathering pros as soon as you start it up, but that’s not always a bad thing. The tactics involved with every decision are balanced and require an awareness of others, and it’s a testament to its design that it doesn’t get old after a few dozen plays.
Graham Russell: It’s hard for a worker placement game to break out of that box of having placement be a matter of arbitrary point values. Fresco’s framework of a day in the life of a fresco painter actually works, and manages to maintain its coherence well into its lifespan.
Eric Schabel: Before I played Red Steel 2, I had serious doubts about just how well MotionPlus would work for accurate swordplay. Thankfully, the game delivers not only as a proof of concept, but also as an enjoyable East-meets-West action adventure slice-em-up. Switching between swords and guns is seamless; the combat is so well done that it lifts up parts of the game that sag a bit, such as the mostly lifeless environments.
Andrew Passafiume: This is the first (and still only) Wii MotionPlus game I have played, but it’ll be hard to top it in terms of fluidity and controls. It’s a bit of a repetitive game, sure, but it manages to take the basic (and poorly implemented) sword fighting controls from the first and complete change them for the better. I was skeptical at first, but the MotionPlus really does add a lot to the gameplay, even if it is just the little things.
Runner-up: Kinect Sports
Graham Russell: The Kinect, as a product, lends itself to body movement, and Kinect Sports is the best real game so far that takes advantage of it. Just be careful, everyone: you’ll probably break things if you don’t clear out your play space.
What do you think of our picks? Agree? Disagree? Discuss in the comments!