Best of the Rest: Mike's picks of 2010

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Best of the Rest: Mike's picks of 2010
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Ninja Theory put a heck of a game together here, with some incredible art direction and animation, level design, and the best adventurous duo since Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher. The world traversed by Monkey and Trip is colorfully portrayed and brilliantly built, the gameplay is perfectly formulated to support the characters and the story, and while I admit the game's early levels outdo the somewhat abrupt ending, this was the best original IP I played in 2010.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
I'm a huge WoW fan, and even I thought Blizzard would be scraping the bottom of the barrel with the third expansion, desperately trying to live up to the game's already legendary history. But no, Cataclysm and its silent non-disc partner called the Shattering have breathed a dragon's breath of new life into this half-a-decade old game. The vast improvements made on even the most familiar quests in Old Azeroth show just how much better Blizzard has gotten at doing what it does so very, very well.

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent
I am a big fan of Graham Annable, Telltale Games, stories based in the snowy northern Midwest, puzzles, quirky characters, freaky gnomes, gum, and subtle humor. And so, of course, I loved this game. I played it on my iPhone, mostly while sitting in Detroit's Metro Airport before and after a cousin's wedding, and despite those circumstances, it was one of the best gaming experiences I've had this year.

Puzzle Quest 2
I'm embarrassed to say how many hours I poured into the first version of Puzzle Quest on Xbox Live, and so, after a pre-E3 hands-on, I was very excited to see the sequel in action. When it finally arrived, some fans were disappointed with how much had changed (not to mention that Galactrix had ruined the series for some), but not me -- the Diablo-style revamp only pushed me to match gems even more feverishly, and grind out my character even further and further, class after class. Where, by the way, is the DLC?

Yes, Joe Mad's video game teamup with Vigil Games did come out this year -- January 5, 2010, to be exact. And while most opinions at the time held that this was just a ripoff of Legend of Zelda, God of War, or even Portal's basic mechanics, I, like many of the game's fans, had no issue with that at all. Great art design and an excellent story and voicework to match the solid gameplay means I'll be waiting patiently until THQ finally releases the sequel.

Pocket Frogs
Here's another iOS title, and outside of Puzzle Quest 2, this is probably the game I poured the most hours into throughout the year. "Freemium" is a new word being passed around the casual gaming space -- it's the idea of a free game that offers a premium experience, all supported by microtransactions for items of convenience. And that's what Pocket Frogs is -- it's free to play, and you can collect, trade, breed (and now even race and show off, thanks to free updates) frogs to your heart's content, only diving into microtransactions if you want (I haven't at all). Excellent, simple design, and a really addictive game cycle has me coming back to this one daily, if not hourly, on my iPhone.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Criterion knows how to make racing games, and the much-hyped Autolog feature puts a catchy name on something that's always been super addictive and really fun: Competition among friends. I'd say more, but Randy just beat my time on the Speedwall (bastard!), and I have to go find half a second somewhere in the Veyron preview race.

Lord of Ultima
While Activision has been crowing about Call of Duty numbers and closing down studios, EA has been doing something extremely interesting: Experimenting, a lot, in the free-to-play browser-based social gaming field. It has Battlefield Heroes, Tiger Woods Online, and about 30 other games already up and running both in-browser and on Facebook, and before anyone even knows it, EA will have built an empire that will make more money and earn more playtime than any single Call of Duty blockbuster ever can. Lord of Ultima is the best one of these they've made so far, but watch out -- I'll bet all my kingdoms and armies that we'll see a lot more of these in 2011.

Final Fantasy XIII
Just in case no one else mentions this one, I'll take the bullet. Yes, it was too linear in the beginning. Yes, the story was pretty incomprehensible, and I struggled to care about Lightning and all of the other characters not named Lightning. But it was a next-generation Final Fantasy release, and that counts for something, doesn't it? I enjoyed the abstraction of the battle system once it all opened up, and I liked the Crystarium and the item leveling, even if I didn't really get it. I don't really want to live in a world where a numbered, single-player Final Fantasy game doesn't make someone's top picks, and so here it is on mine. Maybe the reception on XIII will serve as a wake-up call to Square Enix, and we'll see a nice traditional return to the series in XV.

Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2010 throughout the week! Stay tuned for more must-play picks, and take heed as each staffer stands atop a soapbox to defend those games that didn't quite make the cut in Joystiq's Best of the Rest series.
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