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 May through August.
Chris Ingersoll: How absolutely tiny the screens on standard-issue DS systems are. I picked up a midnight blue XL along with Dragon Quest 9 and now it’s almost impossible for me to even look at my old Phat (kept to serve as a glorified GBA SP should the need arise) or a friend’s Lite. I’m actually (half-heartedly) considering not picking up a 3DS at launch so I don’t have to go back to a non-XL screen. Honorable mention goes to the fact that Nintendo published DQ9 themselves, thus allowing me to pick it up at launch without having to pay the $5 “Square-Enix tax”.
Justin Last: Monday Night Combat (XBLA). I wasn’t expecting to like this one and only really decided to buy it because it was essentially free after deciding ahead of time that I was buying the other four titles in this year’s Summer of Arcade. Boy am I glad that I did, because it has turned out to be my favorite of the bunch. It’s equal parts TF2 and Defense of the Ancients, and I can’t stop playing it. Classes that are well-balanced, a great mish-mash of shooting, game show commentary, and upgrading, and a great co-op mode make Monday Night Combat a standout that I didn’t expect.
Andrew Passafiume: Nothing was more surprising these past three months than what Nintendo had to show at their E3 press conference. The 3DS is probably the biggest surprise for a lot of people, but I was a bigger fan of the new games they had to show off. A new, incredibly original Kirby game, a new Donkey Kong Country from Retro Studios, and the return of Kid Icarus. Nintendo has clearly learned from their mistakes and delivered one of the most surprising and entertaining press conferences I’ve seen from them in a long time.
Graham Russell: Protect Me Knight (XBLIG). When I first heard about this $3 Indie Games title, I obviously didn’t have high expectations. But this is the best 45-minute-long party game out there. Ancient’s turn to downloadables after Big Bang Mini looks promising, though it’s unfortunate that this wasn’t a full XBLA release. With the retro homages, RPG elements and a solid base mechanic of princess protection, it’s worth a purchase for everyone.
Shawn Vermette: Civilization V coming out this year. This or the 3DS topped my list of surprises this quarter, but given the fact that I have yet to get a chance to actually see the 3DS for myself, Civilization V wins out. Civilization is by far the game series I’ve spent the most time playing in my life, and while I was hoping for Civilization V to be announced at E3, I harbored no hopes or illusions about it coming out before the holidays of 2011. So I was very surprised, and ecstatic, to hear that it was not only in development, but scheduled to be released this September!
Chris Ingersoll: Can I say the entire Wii line-up for this portion of the year? I’ve never liked Mario platformers, so I didn’t even have Galaxy 2 to carry me through the absolute dreck that was foisted upon the system these past months. I gave Fragile Dreams and Monster Hunter Tri a shot, but they both fell incredibly flat for me and nothing else has really grabbed my attention.
Justin Last: Don’t get me wrong – Mafia II is a fine game. I just wish that it was actually an open-world game instead of a game that happens to take place in a large world. As someone who has played through GTA IV and both expansions, Just Cause 2, Crackdown, and Infamous where are the optional objectives? Where are the side missions? Where is anything to do that isn’t the main storyline? The narrative is great, and the characters are fleshed-out, but Empire Bay exists only to tell Vito’s story instead of becoming a living, breathing entity.
Andrew Passafiume: Microsoft usually gives us a pretty entertaining press conference, but this year it was a huge misfire. Despite showing off some cool looking games, making Kinect the focus of the majority of the event was a huge mistake. None of the games appealed to the people they were showing them off to, and the technology, while impressive, never really grabbed anyone the way the Wii did when it was unveiled. Most gamers will look past the Kinect (and its large price point) and instead spend their money on the games they’ve been buying for years.
Graham Russell: Arc Rise Fantasia (Wii). Wow, how voice acting can torpedo a game. What could have been a pleasant JRPG in the vein of Baten Kaitos and Tales of Symphonia ends up just being grating due to the horrible voice track. Of course, you can turn it off, but then you have awkward silent pauses while on-screen characters move their mouths. It’s still a decent experience, but just not the great one I was hoping for.
Shawn Vermette: Honestly? My biggest disappointment is finding out that my computer overheats when I try to play StarCraft II. If I have to go with an industry disappointment though, it would definitely be Risk: Factions. I went into it expecting a lot more than there was. Sure, for the first time ever I can play classic Risk and mission based Risk online. However, the factions part of it and the actual implementation of the online game don’t really work for me. In the few games I’ve played online, I’ve had bugs crop up repeatedly, and the factions offer no gameplay differences whatsoever.
Game of the Year, part 2
Chris Ingersoll: Dragon Quest 9, full stop. I’ve put over 260 hours into this game as of my sending this in, and will probably put in at least another hundred before the new Professor Layton title finally pries open my XL’s deathgrip on the cartridge. I haven’t put this much play time (especially condensed into so little real-world time — unlike, say, Animal Crossing) into a non-Pokemon game in forever.
Justin Last: My relationship with the Wii is a strange one. It sits unused for months at a time until a new Nintendo game comes out and then I can’t peel myself away from it. Metroid: Other M is the most recent game to convince me that getting a Wii wasn’t a poor choice. I love Samus’s adventures, and it’s nice to see the series taking a chance with a new control scheme and an emphasis placed on close-quarters fighting. Other M is absolutely gorgeous, and the Bottle Ship makes for some great level design. I’m falling in love with the series all over again one missile expansion at a time.
Andrew Passafiume: Updating the already excellent formula found in Grand Theft Auto IV and bringing it to the Wild West was the best thing Rockstar has done in quite some time. Red Dead Redemption truly impressed with it’s excellent story, characters, and truly immersive game world that was unlike most settings you would find. With the added bonus of an addictive multiplayer component, RDR is easily one of the best games of the year, and will still be remembered years after its release.
Graham Russell: Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP). Got in under the wire, didn’t it? Blur was on top for a few months, managing to survive E3 and its aftermath, only to get toppled on the last day. VCII is not quite as cohesive an experience as the original, and it suffers a bit from asset reuse. But it seems Sega knew that it couldn’t beat the original, so it tries to create its own advantages. Customization, branching class paths and co-op missions help it do that.
Shawn Vermette: As much a Final Fantasy fan as I am, I have to tip the hat to Square Enix’s other major RPG franchise- Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest IX has won me over. The classic feel and the polish on the game easily made it my favorite game thus far. Although, looking ahead, that may change in September.