While the industry divides the year into quarters, we realize that there are really three parts to the year: the barren early months, the gimmicky, convention-filled summer and the action-packed holiday season. This time, we look at January through April.
Chris Ingersoll: That Game Freak didn’t phone in the HeartGold/SoulSilver remakes and actually gave us a decent touch screen interface. It really makes me look forward to what Black/White will bring to the table later this year (or early next year for us).
Justin Last: Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City (PS3). This isn’t a surprise about the content of the game. Billy’s story in Lost & Damned was interesting, and it was great to feel like a part of The Lost, and The Ballad of Gay Tony finally gave me what I always wanted out of a Grand Theft Auto game: the ability to replay any mission any time I want. What surprises me is that now, PS3 owners can join in the fun. I honestly expected Microsoft’s exclusivity to last on this one, but I am glad that it didn’t. For many gamers out there Grand Theft Auto is synonymous with the PlayStation brand, and now their GTA IV experience can be a complete one.
Andrew Passafiume: That would have to be Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. I never really expecting much more than a fun SRPG with a dating sim tacked on. But what I got was a very fun, addictive little game that adds way more depth to your average dating sim. With an excellent cast of charatcers, engrossing SRPG battle system, and a truly enjoyable story, Sakura Wars is certainly one game I expect to show up again for me around Game of the Year time.
Graham Russell: Without a doubt, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. This game wasn’t on my radar at all, and I wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t in the dead times of March and April. That would have been quite unfortunate. It’s absolutely worth buying…and for everyone. If you can find it, that is. It’s not the easiest game to find.
Eric Schabel: Just a few months ago I never would have dreamed that Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M, and Sin and Punishment 2 would all be releasing before the holiday season. Really makes me wonder what Nintendo has planned for the last quarter of the year, traditionally reserved for heavy hitters (what’s a heavier hitter than Mario?). Even though Other M and Sin and Punishment 2 have subsequently been delayed, Nintendo’s 2010 release schedule is still my biggest surprise of the year so far.
Shawn Vermette: When I first turned on Tropico 3, I expected to play a semi-decent city building game that might remind me of the fond memories I have of playing SimCity. Instead, I found myself addicted to the strategy and variety of the game. The humor was a great touch as well. In the end, it turned out to be one of my favorite games so far this year.
Chris: Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection; most of the tables were just too old to be fun. Mega Man 10 was a slight let-down compared to MM9, but not nearly as much as Williams vs. Gottlieb.
Justin: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Wii). I was excited when Phoenix Wright jumped from the GBA to the DS and finally made its way to the US. Capcom proved that the games were palatable to Western gamers, and the numerous sequels released proved that we will buy new games with sharp writing even if the graphics engine remains the same, and the mechanics are largely unchanged. Then Capcom announced that a Phoenix Wright game was coming to the Wii. Seems like a natural fit – the Wii remote doubles as a mouse pointer, and shouting “Objection” can be replaced by gesturing with the remote (and yelling “Objection” anyway just because it’s fun). What we got was exactly what nobody wanted – a port of a DS game that is itself a port of a GBA game that we’ve all already played.
Andrew: This one is tough, as I actually can think of three games that have disappointed me this year, but one sticks out the most. I would have to go with Splinter Cell: Conviction on this one. The single player is fun at first, but later missions feel incredibly out of place, and some areas of the game are try to rely too hard on action over stealth. Conviction does stealth gameplay VERY well, but it’s rarely needed during the last few missions of the game. Coming from someone who hated Splinter Cell prior to this game, I still had fun with it, but based on what I saw at E3 and the previews I’ve been reading since then, I just expected a lot more.
Graham: WarioWare DIY was a great game. The creation tools were amazing, the built-in games are fun, and the addition of Big Name Games each week adds a lot to the experience. But with the mangled Wii multiplayer mode being the only option for party play, it’s just not worth it to create stuff for yourself. With a multiplayer like Smooth Moves, it could have been a mainstay.
Eric: Metroid: Other M being delayed! Of course I should have been expecting this, but considering how scrupulous Nintendo is about giving out release dates, I figured I really would be able to dive into the next Metroid installment having just barely finished Super Mario Galaxy 2. Oh well, at least Other M is still coming out this year. Besides, giving developers more time to polish a title is never a bad thing.
Shawn: Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. It’s hard to write about my biggest disappointment of the year thus far, because I’ve pretty much gotten what I’ve expected out of most of the new games I’ve played, with the possible exception of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. Miles Edgeworth is a great game, but it didn’t have any of the courtroom drama that was a staple of the previous games. This made it a less compelling game to play than I had expected.
Game of the Year-to-Date
Chris: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, although Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and FF:CC: The Crystal Bearers are only disqualified due to being released in mid/late December. Monster Hunter Tri might make a run for this once I finally pick it up, but I’ve had too much backlog and other issues to pick up what is essentially a Wii MMO.
Justin: Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. Gearbox is proving that DLC can greatly expand the life of a game. Three times now they have released DLC and convinced me to dust off my copy of Borderlands and return to Pandora for more guns, loot, and Scooter. Zombie Island was a hit, Moxxi’s Underdone was a bit of a miss (I like XP too much to give it up for hours at a time), and General Knoxx absolutely knocks the ball out of the park. If I’m ever not sure what to play, Borderlands gets thrown in the 360, and I always end up back in T-Bone Junction when I visit Pandora.
Andrew: This is easy, Mass Effect 2. This game managed to streamline and improve everything that was problematic from the first Mass Effect, while continuing the BioWare tradition of a truly engrossing storyline and excellent cast of character. The world of Mass Effect opens up even more in this sequel, and the gameplay is the best blend of action and RPG you’ll ever see in a video game. This is, hands down, the best RPG I’ve played in years, and I can safely see it being my overall game of the year in December.
Graham: Yes, my choice is Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. The early months were not kind to me, as the high-profile titles just weren’t my cup of tea. Sakura Wars was a tightly-crafted, charming adventure with a solid tactical element thrown in. NIS America, please bring over some more. I beg of you. That said, it’d be hard for it to hold onto the crown at year’s end…we’ve got eight months to go, everyone.
Eric: Mass Effect 2 is easily the best game I have played so far this year. Although it ended a bit too abruptly for my taste, every moment I spent playing ME2 was pure gaming ecstasy. I was a huge fan of the first Mass Effect game, and the sequel did not disappoint, feeling more immersive and action-packed than I ever hoped for. Even though the year is barely underway, I still have a hard time foreseeing any game dethroning ME2 as my personal game of the year.
Shawn: Final Fantasy XIII. Was there any doubt this would be my Game of the Year-to-Date? First off, it was my most anticipated game of the year. Second, it has fulfilled a lot of my expectations for it. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite RPGs ever, thus earning it my Game of the Year-to-Date.