Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Games of the Decade: #20 - #16

#20: Katamari Damacy (2004)
PlayStation 2
When I say Katamari Damacy, really I'm talking about its sequel/remake We Love Katamari, as the original never made its way to Australian shores. But the games are by and large interchangeable so this entry stands for the entire franchise. Using a giant ball to "roll up" items as diverse as paperclips, watermelons, people and the Eiffel Tower is an inherently enjoyable premise, and the quirky visual style and unforgettable soundtrack are the touches necessary to make this one of the most feel-good pick-up-and-play games in gaming history. You just can't help but love it.

#19: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (2007)
XBox 360
Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. One of this decade's best games is only barely visually distinguishable from something from the 1980s. Geometry Wars brought the dual-stick shooter back into fashion. You fly around a playing field with the left analogue stick, and direct your never-ending flow of bulllets with the right stick. Besieged by an ever increasing swarm of enemies, it appears as if you should die within seconds. Every moment you defy that expectation feels amazing and the whole experience adds up to a visceral, addictive, adrenaline-fueled adventure that more sophisticated games struggle to replicate. Geometry Wars revitalised a genre, gave a kick start to Microsoft's now-successful Live Arcade service, and is a hell of a game entirely on its own merits.

#18: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
PlayStation 2, XBox
Seeing as I regard Grand Theft Auto 4 as a vile and unwarranted mutation in the GTA lineage, best quickly forgotten, the pinnacle of the GTA games must surely be 2004's San Andreas. A serious and well-defined protagonist, a sprawling free-roaming landscape of unprecedented size, and a depth and vitality to the gameplay that outstripped its already excellent predecessors all came together to make this the defining sandbox game of the last console generation. It stands here to represent its entire franchise, a franchise that redefined - for better or for worse - the public face of videogaming and invented the urban crime sandbox as a genre quickly populated by imitators both weak (True Crime) and strong (Crackdown).

#17: The Sims (2000)
No analysis of the decade could be complete without mentioning The Sims, one of the world's all-time best-selling games and one of the key steps in placing gaming as a mainstream hobby. Will Wright's little virtual people ensnared the hearts of a legion of gamers and soon millions of people worldwide were recreating their housemates and making them have sex. The Sims 2 and 3 were merely iterative embellishments rather than evolutionary ones so the original will here stand in for the entire franchise and all its expansions.

#16: Saints Row (2006)
XBox 360
Anything Grand Theft Auto can do, Saints Row can do better. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but every so often it substantially improves on the original and that's the case here. The Saints Row franchise has a clearer and more focused concept of what makes GTA fun than GTA does; it's systematically addressed each of GTA's mechanical weaknesses in terms of navigation, mission pacing, scripting, and difficulty, and answered them in clear, unambigous, and obvious terms. It's hard not to see it as the pure and undiluted source of the increasingly murky rivers GTA is floundering through and it's inconceivable that anyone who's spent any length of time with both franchises could continue to prefer what GTA is offering.

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