Best of the Rest: JC's picks of 2010

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Best of the Rest: JC's picks of 2010
Dragon Quest IX
DQIX is secretly two games: when you're playing through the main quest, it's a traditional JRPG with a light but interesting story populated by unexpectedly engaging characters and perfectly brisk pacing; then as you approach the end, it becomes a dungeon crawler driven by a dungeon map trading mechanic using the passive communication of the DS.

How compelling is that "tag mode" mechanic? I can't think of any other game for which I would go hang out at a GameStop and then a Best Buy, but that's exactly what I did when Nintendo held DQIX events this summer. I needed those maps. That's how I know this is my favorite game of 2010.

Bit. Trip Runner
I developed a bit of a Bit. Trip Runner problem that spanned months after its release. Every time I wanted to play a Wii game -- or, say, had to play a Wii game for review -- it was always preceded by a few minutes of Bit. Trip Runner. The levels are just so perfectly bite-sized, the music so catchy, and the rhythmic gameplay so mesmerizing that it's far too easy to get sucked in for, really, an indefinite period.

It's the epitome of the Bit. Trip design: it's simple enough to understand how to play immediately, but extraordinarily taxing on the player's reflexes, ensuring that it'll take plenty of time and practice to get through. The Anamanaguchi tune in the title screen is awesome, too.

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
This might be my favorite rail shooter of all time, mostly due to how much more involved it makes me feel: I'm not just sweeping a pointer across the screen, spamming the attack button; in order to play successfully, I have to strategize, to maneuver my character around the screen, and combine shots, charged shots, dashes, and even projectile-reflecting melee attacks to have any hope of making it through the spectacular stages.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Ubisoft could easily have made this a lazy tie-in game, especially with the classic game nostalgia built into the movie and comics. But instead, it gathered the best artists and musicians (like Anamanaguchi, making their second appearance in this list) in and around the game community, and put their contributions into a genuinely competent, well-designed brawler. The final boss was too hard, though.

Picross 3D
I interacted with this the way I do with all truly great puzzle games, maybe the way everyone does. I played it the first time, and thought, "This is kinda neat!" And then I wanted to play it again, forever. The gameplay, involving whittling cubic chunks off of solids until the real image is revealed within, makes perfect use of the touchscreen, and is ideal for the kind of short-session play people want from handhelds. This is the essential DS puzzle game of 2010 -- even if I don't exactly know what the final image is supposed to be until the game tells me.

Super Scribblenauts
5TH Cell fixed the control issues that turned some people off the first game, and added adjectives to ratchet up the insanity. Those are the obvious changes -- more important are the changes in level design. 5TH Cell increased the number of puzzle stages and reduced those requiring quick action, and also introduced some more abstract puzzles about manipulating objects with combinations of adjectives. It's just a better game, and I liked the original a lot.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
I didn't get around to playing this until this week, even though I love Metal Gear Solid games and knew from the demos that this was a good one. Had I realized that the management of conscripted soldiers so closely resembled the Servbot training metagame in my favorite Mega Man game, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, I would have picked it up immediately.

In fact, there's a lot of similarity between the PSP stealth title and the obscure Mega Man Legends spinoff. Both games allow you to choose self-contained missions from a menu; both use the management of a group of assistants to boost the stats of your main character in battle, and both even involve sending some of your troops out on missions to bring back loot. It's a shame there's not a minigame in Peace Walker about serving the correct lunches to each soldier.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
What a weird game this was. It's "artsier" than the original, with a lot of the exposition delivered in riddles by a peep show performer, but it's also just as loaded with anime and game references. Protagonist Travis Touchdown experiences a crisis of conscience about the assassins' bloodsport that is at the center of both games, in a plot line that feels like Suda 51 talking directly to fans of violent games like this one -- but there are more assassins to kill than ever. And that doesn't take into account the really weird stuff, like the bosses who live inside portals to other dimensions, or the cat weight loss minigame.

Spelunker HD
Until I played this PSN sequel, I didn't really "get" Spelunker. I thought of it as a quaint retro-gaming joke, notable mostly because the protagonist is so fragile. But with the ability to save in this sequel, I felt able to give Spelunker more than the minutes I'd afforded the original, and I found a platformer built not on speed or daring leaps of faith, but on caution.

Since Spelunker can die for pretty much any reason (a fall of more than two feet or so, standing too close to one of his own bombs, being pooped on by a bat) you have to pay close attention to your surroundings at all times, and be precise with your movements. This exact gameplay was present in the original, but it's (slightly) more accessible now. Also, there are dozens more levels, online multiplayer, and freshened-up PS3 graphics (which I never use!).

WarioWare DIY
Developer Intelligent Systems lowered the barrier to game creation with WarioWare DIY to the point where it isn't just easy to make a game, it's fun. And that opens the door to rapid experimentation with game design, and teaching yourself by playing. It's an educational toy! The fact that it's loaded with a bunch of premade WarioWare microgames only adds value to a game that basically has infinite value.

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
Surprisingly, for something that looked like such a dramatic departure from its predecessors, the point-and-click style investigation in Ace Attorney Investigations didn't feel that different from looking at still-image crime scenes. What did feel totally different, however, was seeing the whole game through the eyes of the haughty, self-confident prosecutor Miles Edgeworth instead of the desperate, frequently lucky Phoenix Wright. Edgeworth doesn't have to consult with the dead to solve a case! Just ... a semi-magical computer reproduction of the past. That's completely different.

Kirby's Epic Yarn
This may be the easiest platformer I ever played, but I still delighted in every moment I spent with it. The inventive, beautiful presentation and the excellent co-op make this the ideal game to play with non-gaming friends or relatives -- especially if you know someone who would appreciate the cutest thing ever.

I also kind of want a whole game about Kirby-as-firetruck: I could have spent hours in those few levels, spraying water (made of yarn, of course) on every single surface (also made of yarn).

Donkey Kong Country Returns
I was impressed with the level design of this game as I was playing it -- even as I was suffering from panic and rage due to having to complete this seriously difficult game in like three days -- but it wasn't until after I had finished it that I found out about the cute Easter eggs hidden throughout the game. Buried in the backgrounds are references to the Game & Watch, the original Donkey Kong, and even former Donkey Kong world record holder Billy Mitchell.

I didn't need any of those cues to know that Retro Studios made this game with love. I expected a retread of a series I didn't care much about in the first place, and instead got one of the best platformers on the Wii. Don't let your dislike of the Rare Donkey Kong games keep you away from this game!

3D Dot Game Heroes
3D Dot Game Heroes is like a secret third quest of The Legend of Zelda, centered on a series of increasingly diabolical puzzle dungeons that wouldn't have been out of place in the original -- except, perhaps, Those puzzles are the foundation for a game decorated with super high-res graphics and self-aware humor. And hey! Spelunker's in this one too!

Cave Story
Technically, this isn't exactly a 2010 game, but the WiiWare version is now the definitive version, after the recent update fixed the sound. Anyone who has yet to experience the original game should start here, and anyone who has played through the PC version should pick it up for the new, lovingly crafted visuals.

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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