GMotY-Awards 2010

December 2, 2010

The year 2010 is approaching its last days and it´s time to look back at the best stuff that video games offered over the course of these 12 months. However, don´t be mistaken: This is not a game of the year-entry. Rather, it is a gameplay of the year-award, mentioning gameplay mechanics that made for terrific experiences. Even in critically well-received, hyped games, superb gameplay is often something not to be found. The following games went beyond the means of hype and scores and delivered certain elements of gameplay that made me give them this special mention. Of course, I´m only going to mention games that I played myself, so don´t take this as a “these and ONLY these entries are worthy!!1”, but rather give these games a second chance if you haven´t played them, yet. Also, I´d love to see some comments from you about which mechanics you loved.

These are the gameplay mechanics of the year-winners:

Metroid: Other M for its satisfying combat. A game that got mixed reactions, ranging from best to worst. Personally, I loved the fluid, smooth movement of heroine Samus Aran. What especially stood out, though, was this game´s combat. I´m a big fan of the Prime-games as well as the Zelda-series, but both these franchises have obvious weaknesses to their respective combat. Battling enemies in Prime 1-3 boiled down to tedious non-stop shooting, slowly lowering the foe´s health points, whereas in Zelda-games, each boss-monster has to be hit three times (or four, if Nintendo decides to surprise the player!) and that´s it. Engaging in boss-battles in Other M is like the sweet-spot between both of these concepts. It feels more like an actual fight like Prime-series´  bosses, but without the frustrating large amounts of health points. And it has you on the look-out for special weak points, without divulging into feeling more like a puzzle than a fight. It´s also balanced out by having Samus die quickly as well. Together with the auto-evade function, this created a super-fun, dynamic combat mechanic that felt like no other game this year.

Mass Effect 2 for interactive story-telling. Games as a medium are unique thanks to one simple fact: They´re interactive. They let the player change stuff that happens in all-virtual worlds. But while gameplay mechanics regarding character-movement are nothing special, granting the player freedom in terms of story is even moreso. Personally, its predecessor was even better in that it gave you more big decisions, but Mass Effect 2 is one of the few games that actually tackles an interactive narrative, and that over the span of a 30 hours+ title. In a time where games get shorter and shorter, more like watching a movie with in-between action-scenes, Mass Effect 2 is the definitive cinematic experience and handles story-telling just the way a video game should do.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for most immersive experience. There a fun games, games that are a great time-waster, games that are all about the “epic scenes”. And then there´s games that try to create an environment so incredible, believable and logical that it pulls the player deeper inside that world. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for Wii did a fantastic job at exactly that.  It´s probably the most tragic bomb on the Wii-system, even moreso because of Konami actively deciding not to advertise the game. Shattered Memories makes such perfect use of the wiimote´s pointing-functionality and combines that with impressive visuals, all one-upped by the terrific lighting effects. When the Wii launched, people thought that Luigi´s Mansion 2 would be a great fit for that, but Konami was faster than Nintendo and proved how great this control-style suits a flashlight-featuring game. Unfortunately, the game is only six to seven hours long before you see the credits-screen, but everything that you explore within that  never boring, never filler-ish time is immersive gameplay at its finest. On top of that, Shattered Memories gave another example of interactive story-telling for games that are not meant to be grand role-playing games. A special mention goes to Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, which achieved a similar rich atmosphere and only fell flat due to its less smooth, old-fashioned character-environment interaction.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 for Flip Out Galaxy. Admittedly, this is a title that´s surely going to be mentioned in a lot of goty-lists, but I wouldn´t have put it up here were it not for that one level. I got a little over 100 stars after getting the game on release-day, but then let it rest on the shelve. Some weeks ago I finally decided to go for “all” 120 stars and that´s exactly the only way to see this galaxy. It´s the last one. The final galaxy in the game that you unlock last. So, what´s so special about it? One simple fact: It made my mind go all “they didn´t really do that, right? They can´t! That´s … absurd!“. This level was not like the rest of the game, where although not easy, you always felt like playing a typical Mario-game. This one galaxy, however, was like one of those self-made 2D-Mario games you can see on Youtube. Not all the way like it, but search for “asshole Mario” and you get a feeling of what I´m talking about. That galaxy wasn´t nice, challenging Mario. It was “look, consumer, you complained about lack of difficulty in our games? Suck it!” And how I did! At one point I was close to crying, especially since I wanted to get that medal, too. Getting the medal quickly became really easy, but then there remained the last section of the level: By shaking the wiimote, blue and red objects would switch between back- and foreground. In that final part of the level, you had to wall-jump in-between several red and blue walls, each only being touchable by the player´s tightly chosen controls. Of course, missing a wall or activating it too late would result in a fall to death, no floor underneath. That was the single finest piece of level-design I´ve ever encountered in any video game. And guess what was that galaxy´s second star-mission? The same level, only now chased by shadow Marios that follow your very steps and hurt you when coming in contact. Damn!

Legend of Guardians for Flying. A rather odd choice, I realize, but not a wrong one either. The license game about owls is nowhere near being a special game, a must-play, so to say. But it manages to do one thing very right. That one thing being the feeling of flying through mid-air. A lot of video games that take place in the sky exist, but only a vast minority gets “it” right. Legend of Guardians made it, and has you experience overseeing gigantic areas from high above, rushing downwards at enormous speed, only to make a sharp turn upwards to glide over the ground. It combines a satisfying feeling of being up there with gorgeous environments (that, unfortunately, lack interactivity). I really hope to see the day where a big, epic action-adventures includes a fun, dynamic, rich flying-mechanic. Until then, Legend of Guardians does a great job at giving you that.

That´s it. Sure, I played a lot more games this year than just these five, but these five examples of gameplay mechanic stood out the most to me. Maybe I forgot something, then I won´t hesitate to update this article. Either way, I hope to have shed some light on games that did something very right and maybe you feel like wanting to share your own GMotYs in the comments. Thanks a lot for reading The FlyingFisch and merry christmas and a happy new year!


Sidenote about Metroid: Other M (includes endgame-spoiler)

November 21, 2010

Had some other game done something like the powerbomb usage at the end of Metroid: Other M without informing the player directly prior to the fight, but left it at mentioning the strength of the powerbomb only in the very beginning, THAT game would have been praised by the very same people, that are now complaining about it,  for its artistic, innovative choice. Did I like the way it played out? No, but then I also don´t care about games being artistic or not.

Are you sexist? Probably.

October 2, 2010

So for several days now a discussion about sexism in video gaming has been going on. Specifically talking, people accuse Fumito Ueda, creator of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, of being sexist. For all that´s worth, the discussion is beyond being absurd and I´ll totally defend that game designer. And god knows, I am no fan of Ueda, I really dislike Shadow of the Colossus, and I´m not that hyped about the upcoming The Last Guardian, either. But there´s a limit to how stupidly accusing people can be, and that limit was reached.

Evil mastermind: Fumito Ueda

The quote that ignited the “controversy” stems from two interviews. One is new and about The Last Guardian, the other one is from 2004 where Ueda talks about SotC. This is what 1up published on their website: “Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn’t have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt.” And some years ago, Ueda told this to Gamasutra: “ICO’s composer was (female composer) Michiru Ohshima, and I didn’t want to create the same image for this game. Aside from that, ICO was a game that both male and female players could enjoy equally. But I think this is a game that male players will enjoy more. So I chose a male composer.

Going by the first quote, the first part of it shouldn´t be offending at all. Boys are stronger than girls. It´s absurd to call that sexist, since it´s a generally accepted view within society. And simply going by my personal past, it is true. It´s possible that the differences in strength at the age of 10 and around that are less pronounced than at an adult age, but differences exist nonetheless. Of course, maybe those people that get worked up over that part only knew big, ugly bully-girls. That´s hardly more than anecdotal evidence, though. Then there´s the second part of that quote, the one about skirts. It implies that in Fumito Ueda´s opinion, girls and skirts are inevitably connected with each other. Now, there are several points that could be made, but one simple one would be that if you make your ingame-character a girl, you have to show that in some way. If you don´t show off the gender in any way it is redundant for one, and sexist, too, for assuming that the appearance of a little boy is the “neutral image” of a person. With a kid of age 10 the options for making clear that it is a girl a limited. I doubt the people already complaining would go totally nuts if Ueda gave visually pronounced tits to a 10-year old girl. Such young girls also wouldn´t wear make-up or feature long eye slashes. Long hair also wouldn´t cut it. So the easiest way to show that your character was a girl would be to give her a skirt, a piece of clothing that is generally taken as female-exclusive clothing. And that´s a no-go according to Ueda. However, what´s also a reason against a female kid is that it would absolutely point some focus towards that single fact. Like it or not, but for video games that have no intention to involve some kind of gender importance, having a boy being the main character is more neutral than having girl. If it was a girl in The Last Guardian, people´s feeling would be all like “oh, that´s so sweet” and “come on, big bird rat, protect that cute little girl“. The way it is, however, people couldn´t care less about the character´s gender and instead simply care about the adventure in front of them. Full stop.

The second quote from 2004 actually is not sexist at all, and I´m having a hard time trying to imagine how one could be offended by that sentence. Actually, it just shows how much Ueda takes into consideration various things when creating a game. Some people might argue that there´s no difference between male and female artists, but it´s just as legit to argue the opposite. And if Ueda thinks that a game is more likely to be enjoyed by boys and he needs are more masculine soundtrack for that purpose, it´s his and only his right to choose a male composer for the job. You can disagree, sure, but calling it sexist only makes you look very stupid.

In the end, being sexist doesn´t necessarily make you a bad person, since there exist, at least, two different kinds of sexism. One would be the misogynistic kind, the kind men that dislike or hate women for one reason or another. They believe they´re better persons simply due to their “superior” gender. But then there´s the other kind of sexism, which is: romantic people. You know, the kind of men that open doors for girls, tell them “ladies first” or do silly, dangerous stuff because they like a girl. These men are kind of conservative in their world view, but they don´t harm women with that perspective. For what is worth, I think Ueda falls into that second group of sexists. To be honest, I´m like that myself. I prefer being romantic, not neutralizing all aspects of life. I´m also one of those guys that put the girl they like on a pedestal, which many “smart” guys believe is the wrong way to get a girl friend. But calling someone a bad person because he connects girls and skirts is silly. Just as silly as calling Metroid: Other M a sexist game. It´s funny how artificially outraged people become about sexism in video games at the moment.  Other M portrayed Samus Aran not as a woman, but a human being. It never connoted any weaknesses with her gender. The one moment where Samus Aran shows fear should be clear for any knowledgeable Metroid-fan. But I mean…I even read some people calling The Legend of Zelda-series sexist, so maybe we should just stop talking about it, because apparently everything is sexist today. Fumito Ueda, Metroid, Zelda, me, and most likely you, too.

Why Nintendo will always do what they deem best

March 6, 2010

An often voiced complaint about Nintendo is that the company always does things in a very unique way. Which isn´t always meant in a positive way. You never know if a Nintendo hardware has certain features that other console manufacturers long ago included in their systems. You also never know if a game makes it overseas. Just several days ago, we got to know that some high profile titles are being released in Q2, surprisingly close to each other´s release date. Some time before that we found out that Endless Ocean 2 wouldn´t feature custom soundtrack, something that its predecessor had.

But it really is Metroid: Other M now that shows how Nintendo should just do whatever they deem is the best. It certainly isn´t unheard of gamers complaining about Nintendo´s games lacking story and depth in the past. Now, Team Ninja and Yoshio Sakamoto, director of the Metroid-games, are investing a lot of effort into fleshing out the entire Metroid-universe and Samus Aran´s background story. Guess what happens? A lot of fans snapped and are now vocally expressing their opinion about how all that sucks. Some of the funnier “fans” even complaining about Samus Aran being portrayed as woman. With breasts. Because that is somehow overly sexual. That a woman has breasts. Oh well, never mind.

In a way, that isn´t the first time that something like that happened, only that it happened after the game´s release back then, instead of the pre-emptive complaints now. Of course, I´m talking about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Most of the fans wanted a Zelda-game that focusses on story. And when they got it, they complained about the game being a mess BECAUSE of the story.

I´m personally disappointed in Metroid: Other M, because of its gameplay style. I´m not a fan of the 2D-Metroid games, and really think that Other M is a step back from RetroStudios´ fleshed out 3D-worlds. But I always wanted to see more of the Metroid-universe. See how normal people live in that universe. See who the people are that Samus works for. And maybe see what Samus does when she´s not inmidst of an unknown, dangerous planet. So I am very interested in seeing how the story of Other M pans out and what the great looking cutscenes are going to show me.

Twilight Princess was the game many fans wanted, and they didn´t love it. I´d say it´s best to let Nintendo work and simply give it a try, whatever “it” turns out to be. I myself often talk about what I want from certain Nintendo-related franchises. But that´s because I have a detailed picture of what I want in my mind, and it is very easy to miss it by just changing tiny bits of my idea. And it is just the same when Nintendo does whatever it wants: It may not sound great in the beginning, but when we get to feel it, we realize all the tiny bits that make that certain game feel right, maybe even awesome. That is why Nintendo will and should always do what they deem best.

Nintendo´s mystery that is 2010 Q3/Q4 and the time after

February 25, 2010

Nintendo´s Media Summit 2010 is over – and it actually delivered! Kind of. American gamers can rejoice, while Europeans have to deal with an unknown date for Metroid: Other M sometime in Q3, and many other smaller games haven´t even been mentioned. Still, everyone got dates for Sin & Punishment: Successor of the Skies, Monster Hunter Tri and, most importantly, Super Mario Galaxy 2, which will be out at the end of May/early June, which is a lot sooner than many people expected. There is reason enough to be suspicious, though.

The first half of 2010 is definitely packed on the Wii. We already got Endless Ocean 2, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and we´re getting Red Steel 2, Fragile: Farewell of the Ruins and Monster Hunter Tri. Not even mentioning a Mario- AND Metroid-game. All of that for just the first half of the year. That makes one wonder: What does Nintendo have up their sleeves for the second half of 2010?

Game-wise, we know of Xenoblade and The Last Story. Xenoblade does have a chance, as it is supposed to be released this spring in Japan. Tales of Graces should be coming overseas, as well. Then there´s Epic Mickey from Disney. And that´s it. That still is missing a real blockbuster for the end of the year, which is why many people started to think that that´s where Zelda Wii comes in. Satoru Iwata and Eiji Aonuma already mentioned that the game´s supposed to be released in 2010, but nobody really took that for granted until now. With all bigger known Nintendo-games coming out in Q2, though, that picture changed. Zelda Wii now seems like the obvious choice for Nintendo´s big Q4-title. And we also know that the 5th gen Pokemon-game will be released in 2010. Maybe we´ll be surprised and see an oversea release soon after the Japanese release date?

2010 looks really good on the software side…so good, actually, that it makes one wonder what´s after. All big known Nintendo-games will be out at the end of the year. Nothing left to release. It´s unlikely that we´ll see another Mario- and Zelda-game on the Wii, and filling 2011 with more niche franchises like Starfox, F-Zero and Pikmin (and Kirby) isn´t really a smart business decision.

It has been speculated many times, but it really looks like 2011 is the year we´ll see a new Nintendo-hardware. Whether that will be a handheld or home system is in the unknown, but some kind of hardware seems likely. It becomes all the more likely if you consider my theory about Nintendo engaging a hybrid-console concept, where there isn´t a clearly defined generational cycle anylonger. The one developer we haven´t heard from for a long time is RetroStudios, and taking all this time would suddenly make sense if it´s for a gorgeous launch-title of a new system. After all, an HD-game of the quality of a Metroid Prime is not something that can be done over night.

In the end, all of the above speculation is for fun only, because it´s the “Now” that is interesting at the moment. So let me, again, remind you to buy Fragile. And maybe GDC will reveal new interesting stuff.