Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Games of the Decade: #40 - #36

#40: WarioWare Inc. (2003)
GameBoy Advance
There's nothing quite like WarioWare Inc. Even the sequels don't manage to quite capture the frenetic charm of the original. Hundreds of three-second games, each requiring only a single action ("Dodge!", "Stab!", "Throw!"), packed back-to-back at eyeball-breaking speed. It's a concept bred from genius and the implementation on its first showing is impeccable. It distills the pick-up-and-play philosophy that made the GameBoy such a hit to its absolute purest and frankly I think Nintendo would be better served by re-releasing the original on new consoles rather than trying to replicate it.

#39: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (2002)
The cleverest survival horror game ever made. Not the best - it's covered with edges so raw they'll cut you - but the cleverest. The reason? The sanity system. As your character encounters the supernatural menaces teeming in the game's corners, their sanity begins to slip away, and as it does the game becomes steadily less trustworthy. Doors open into deathtraps, where you watch your character die, only to awaken back outside the door. Mad voices whisper instructions from the speakers. Cockroaches crawl across the inside of your television screen and items you thought you'd acquired turn out to be entirely hallucinatory. In one memorable sequence the game pretends to reset back to the GameCube boot-up icon, purportedly erasing your entire progress since your last save.

#38: Pikmin (2001)
A totally unique game mechanic, a legion of adorable characters, and a compelling dog-eat-dog environment to explore and conquer. It's just one of the many triumphs of living legend Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario and Zelda, amongst others). Pikmin's originality is matched only by its competence; for many franchises it takes several iterations to refine gameplay to this level but Pikmin achieves it on its first outing. As tiny space explorer Olimar, you use the analogue sticks to sweep your army of plant-like Pikmin around to assault enemies, explore territory, and convey heavy objects back to your ship for transport. It went on to inspire the reasonably decent Overlord games and the less exciting Pikmin 2.

#37: Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy (2005)
PlayStation 2, XBox
In Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy to Americans), developer Quantic Dream revisited the early 90s concept of the "interactive movie" and by and large got it right. They developed a compelling mystery, interesting characters, and a new, pulse-pounding way of interacting with and experiencing videogaming that is totally unlike anything before or since. The first two scenes, where you play first as a man struggling to hide a dead body and escape a crime scene, and then as the two detectives investigating that same scene, establish a high point that the rest of the game never quite lives up to, but it remains a breathtaking trip through territory rarely explored by mainstream designers.

#36: Zone of the Enders / ZoE: The Second Runner (2001)
PlayStation 2
I'm including the two ZoE games together as they really form a single, epic game stretched over two installments. The first game is so short you can't help but feel it's not complete and the second game is so tough in spots you'll feel like you missed a tutorial. Together they form a single narrative vision. Hideo Kojima's tale of humanity, rebellion, and spacefaring giant robots is a representation of mecha anime unparallelled in gaming history. It flawlessly defeats the problems of 3D-movement and combat that have been the bane of similar games and goes on to tell a powerful, engaging story spread across two planets and two main characters. They're hard to get your hands on these days but if you get the chance they're not to be missed.

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