Prince of Persia
Wait ... really? This is in my personal list and not our main top ten? Look, I love my coworkers, but I'm going to punch them all in their stupid, stupid faces for this disgrace. Prince of Persia is one of this year's most elegantly designed games, one that does away with disruptive deaths and punishing repetition. While I'll concede that the difficulty posed to veteran platforming fans (myself included) is minor, I think it's naive to believe that every game is -- or should be -- designed with a similar, player-opposed intent and structure. This game and its seamless expression of motion isn't meant to be beaten, but enjoyed and absorbed. It's inspired, poetic and even funny. So what if it was easy?
Tomb Raider: Underworld
Underworld's UK review controversy was all sorts of ridiculous -- particularly in how people were actually giving this mediocre scores. A great counterpart to Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider: Underworld is the result of a developer (Crystal Dynamics) realizing exactly what it's good at. Combat is improved (hammer time!), yet minimal, and Lara's tombs have increased both in size and complexity, yielding fantastic, lonely playgrounds that slowly reawaken to her touch. Striking a perfect balance between Legend's story-driven approach and Anniversary's intricate environmental puzzles, Underworld is the kind of game they just don't make anymore.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
It's this year's Pac-Man: Championship Edition -- that game where minutes turn into hours and Xbox Live friends become the worst of enemies. Some of us still aren't talking to each other.
Tales of Vesperia
I can't stand "Tales of" games. Except this one, which is surprisingly earnest in its desire to craft a lighthearted and proper adventure. I'm not the biggest fan of the often chaotic battle system, but the vivid graphics and charming localization compel me to hang out with Vesperia's sly Jurie, his grizzled, pipe-smoking dog (yes!) and the hilariously sheltered Estelle.
Yes, I know, the online play was broken for an unacceptable period of time, but the other people on the couch didn't seem to mind. Castle Crashers is a pure, noise-free joy that keeps its easily summarized gameplay -- you and three friends whack everything that moves -- fresh by constantly changing environments, enemies and expectations. You won't believe what's in that last chest!
Condemned 2: Bloodshot
This one's on my list by virtue of being the only game to put me in a decrepit house with an enormous, psychotic bear.
Sure, it's been available on the PC forever, but I got my first taste of N's punishing, pixel-perfect jumping on Xbox Live Arcade this year. This momentum-based platformer is the ultimate one-more-go game, with a hundred failures serving to fuel a hundred more attempts. Thanks to those flipping missiles.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Dolphin Olympics 2, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, Rez HD, Lumines Supernova, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Silent Hill: Homecoming, Boom Blox. What a year!
- LittleBigPlanet: I'm genuinely amazed by Media Molecule's creation. The presentation is utterly lovable and, thanks to a recently reorganized search system, I've come across some really impressive and imaginative user designs. Unfortunately -- and I really mean that -- the core gameplay just failed to grab me. It's the one part of the game that lacks personality, not to mention precision. If only there was a way to combine LBP's charm with the motion of N+...
- Ninja Gaiden II: This is partially my fault, since my alarmingly intense love for the first game blinded me to the potential pitfalls of a sequel. I certainly didn't expect it to be such a lopsided, rushed and sometimes outright irritating follow-up to my favorite action game. Don't get me started on the exploding armadillo twins.
- Fallout 3: You know how your character becomes slow and encumbered when you pick up too many items? That's exactly how Fallout 3 feels as a game, anchored down by tiresome statistics and tedious management. I think Bethesda's ruined world is wonderfully realized, but the vacant people and unsatisfying combat rendered it thoroughly uninviting.
- Sonic Chronicles: Not even BioWare can salvage Sonic, it seems. Though the game's writing was tolerable for a change (that's almost like a compliment, right?), its turn-based battle system failed to elicit more than a "meh" from me. I do have a more decisive opinion on the soundtrack, though: Really, shockingly awful. It's like an inebriated vagrant broke into the BioWare offices and passed out on their MIDI keyboard.