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!

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Galaxy out – Back to the roots (not THE roots)

June 25, 2010

Just recently, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released, the sequel to one of the critically best-received video game-titles ever. And just as its predecessor, SMG2 is as fantastic. Well, almost. Some mean-minded people called SMG2 a “mission disc for SMG1”, complaining about its similar nature. But while it´s true that all the basics are the same, almost each and every mission of SMG2 offers a new challenge that hadn´t been seen before. But I have to admit: A hypothetical Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably bore me.

Imagination at its extreme

Two 3D-Mario-games, both of the highest quality that can be met in this industry. But nearing SMG2´s end, I couldn´t help but think that a lot of those galaxies featured a very similar style, be it the gameplay or simply the visual premise. Not only that, but SMG1´s ending was by far superior to SMG2´s. Here, you just keep playing and playing, and suddenly it´s all over. Whereas in SMG1, the game really pushed a a whole firework into the player´s face, celebrating the finale of that grand piece of gaming. Still, SMG2 managed to build on SMG1´s strengths, such as not to overuse items. And it certainly one-upped the difficulty to please “hardcore”-gamers. Two fantastic games. But now it´s time for something new. Or should I say: Something old again.

Let me assure you that I know that most gamers consider SMG to be the “new” entry in Mario-evolution that they wanted to happen to the Zelda-series as well. I, however, think differently. And I already wrote an article on that. SMG isn´t new at all. It took the nature of 2D-Mario´s gameplay and perfectly mixed it into 3D-Mario´s basics; thus resulting in the linear, short and fun missions we all know by now. But that´s neither new, nor is it the only option for the Mario-franchise.

Exploring Isla Delfina - Fun without direction

It could be argued that Mario 64´s focus on adventure and exploration wasn´t very Mario-esque, but that´s far in the past. Now, I like that style. I loved Mario 64 when it came out, and, while featuring some reeeally annoying missions, I also loved Mario Sunshine. I loved it because it offered me such big places to explore, jump around, climb upon and find out secrets just about everywhere. Isla Delfino was a super fun place to run around. In both this game and Mario 64, missions weren´t always as clear as in the Galaxy-games. Sure, you were always given a certain objective, but you could also stray away from the original path and explore the level – only to find out that there´s another star to get. It´s this non-linear structure that made 3D-Marios so much fun back then. I very well remember the times when I started Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine only to run around the island or castle. The same can´t be said about Galaxy 1 and 2, where both hubs are completely devoid of secrets.

So, after having greatly enjoyed two of the best Mario-games, it´d be nice to see something new, something fresh: A return to 3D-Mario´s roots. Give me one big, open world to explore. Considering that a new home console-Mario might see its release on the next Nintendo-system, with all the extra power Nintendo could even attempt to create a completely seamless world, without any “levels”. We got the extreme of 2D. Now show us the extreme of 3D, Nintendo.


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.