(This is another edition of “,” a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more).
Usually I reserve this space for some of my more insightful (by my standards) writing with a focus on long-form opinion. However, it’s almost Christmas, and many of you are too busy stocking up on beer to pay attention to any of that heavy crap. With that in mind, I thought I’d use my soapbox as an excuse to pimp out some of the lesser known surprises of 2010, looking back at the games that perhaps didn’t generate as much press as they deserved, or didn’t quite earn the critical acclaim or retail success that they needed.
I like to champion the underdog, and while sometimes that can be a lost cause, I hope that this little article helps you consider something a little more unique and strange when it comes time to spending your gift card money, or while purchasing gifts for the family. By all means, get your hands on Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, but remember the little guys who kept this industry flavorful throughout the year.
Red Steel 2
The very fact that this game was released so early in the year will doubtless preclude it from many “Most Improved” end-year award nominations, but if a franchise ever deserved it, Red Steel ought to be in the running. The original Red Steel was one of the Wii’s first high profile failures. Heavily hyped before the console’s launch, this game was supposed to bring first-person-shooting and intense sword fighting to gamers in a way that they’d never experienced before. What they actually got was an imprecise, rushed, visually hideous mess that was consigned to bargain bins where it stayed and rotted.
Enter Red Steel 2, boasting an overhaul so fresh it could have been called something else entirely. With a new cel-shaded visual style, motion-plus support, tighter gameplay and a unique future-wild-west setting, Red Steel 2 was not only an improvement, but a legitimately good game capable of standing on its own merit. The combat is satisfying and feels much more responsive than the last game, with a blending of gunplay and swordplay that actually feels fluid rather than poorly stitched together. You’ll have a very sore elbow by the end of the game, but it’s an overlooked little gem that’s worth checking out.
The game didn’t sell too hotly despite a mostly positive critical reception. You’ll be able to find this for quite cheap now.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom
I’ve talked about this game before, and I stand by my conviction that Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is one of the most criminally overlooked titles of the year. Many gamers (read: idiotic N4G users) disregarded the title as a “rip off” of The Last Guardian, despite the fact that Team ICO’s PS3 title is yet to be released and we have seen nothing of the game but a few screens and teaser footage. The gaming press was no less responsible. choosing to largely ignore the title throughout the year.
This is a shame, because the game is one of the most endearing, charming, memorable little titles out there. It tells the story of a young thief who teams up with the mighty, naive Majin in a quest to save a forgotten kingdom from the soldiers of Darkness. The opening premise isn’t the most original, but the dynamic duo who instigate it are a wonderfully rich pair of characters, and their co-op interactions throughout the game make them truly stand out. The interesting puzzles, the beautifully designed world, and the excellent music make this the kind of experience that you remember from older console generations, and I mean that in a good way. It’s one of those uniquely Japanese games that avoids the trappings we’ve come to expect from such things.
Namco Bandai wisely launched with a $39.99 price point, and you can find it for even cheaper than that if you shop around. If you enjoy games as complete experiences, this is a title to check out.
While it was high profile by mobile standards, what with being a Square Enix title, one must remember that standards are particularly low when it comes to the average “hardcore” gamer’s appreciation of the market. Add in the fact that Chaos Rings is now largely overshadowed by several other high profile mobile games, including RAGE and Infinity Blade, and you have a really good game that nobody’s going to remember. Yet only a few short months ago, it was temporarily considered among the most impressive iOS games in town.
Chaos Rings is an unapologetically traditional Japanese roleplaying game, although its scope has been scaled down to fit the iPhone. There are no epic eighty-hour stories and sprawling world maps full of sidequests and hidden bosses, but there’s a fun little turn-based battler that works surprisingly well on a touch screen. The game itself gets rather easy quite quickly, but it still remains a satisfying portable JRPG with an interesting story, cool (though now outclassed) visuals and a neat soundtrack.
The game launched at a respectively costly price of $12.99, but at the time of writing, Square Enix has it on sale for $5.99. Or $7.99 if you’re one of those iPad chaps.
Singularity’s poor reputation absolutely baffles me. While I hold firm to the belief that we’re all entitled to our opinions, I don’t get what it was that made people hate this game, and sometimes wonder if it would have gotten the same mauling from critics and gamers had it been made by Bungie or Infinity Ward. Of course, the game’s biggest issue is the fact that it is quite derivative. The thing has a BioShock aesthetic, a Half-Life 2 gravity gun, and scares pulled right from the dark corridors of F.E.A.R. Nevertheless, this does little to take away from the fact that Singularity is a wonderfully put together experience that possesses its own unique sense of charm despite being so blatantly “inspired” by other titles.
If anything, Singularity plays like a “best of” compilation, taking some of the coolest gimmicks of the FPS genre and combining them to form a Transformers-like gestalt. A derivative game that is sloppily designed and lazily put together is unforgivable, but if you have the talent, care and time to pull it off, you can get away with it. In my opinion, Singularity got away with it and created a totally solid FPS that will be remembered by only a few, but those few will likely have fond memories.
The PC version is said to be rubbish, but you’d do well to pick it up for PS3 and Xbox 360. It’s far better than most people give it credit for.
Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
This is a very, very strange recommendation. If I were to recommend a videogame as a simple piece of interactive entertainment, then I would not suggest you try this title at all. However, as a piece of art, as a presentation of narrative and an example of a game that can truly evoke feeling, Fragile Dreams is something that you should make a point of experiencing.
With its backtracking, cumbersome combat and inconvenient inventory system, Fragile Dreams isn’t a very good videogame. Yet the original and compelling storyline, its collection of amazing characters, and its consistently bittersweet atmosphere is something that makes it stand out from the pack, not just on the Wii, but across all systems. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that never ventures into “dark and gritty” territory, it’s a sad game that never becomes sickeningly sentimental, and it’s a weird, eccentric title that never becomes too “wacky” for its own good. Plus it’s one of the first games to feature a male-on-male kiss and not make a joke out of it.
Fragile Dreams is a beautiful piece of intrigue. It may not be a good game, but it’s a stunning … something.
This is a game I have already discussed on a previous , in which I made a point about “easy” games challenging our notion of what a videogame can be. The UnderGarden is not a game in which you die, solve complex puzzles, or really ever run the risk of failing. Instead, it’s an ambient little underwater world in which relaxation and simple amusement takes precedence. The loose aim of the game is to distribute pollen around each stage, brining the plants of the UnderGarden to life. There are very simple physics puzzles scattered throughout, but nothing that will tax the brain.
That will doubtless sound dull to many of you, but those who remain interested are in for a laid back, calming, thoroughly pleasant title. It’s cute and it’s silly, and there are plenty of rewards for those players who are willing to give it a chance and not write it off for being “too easy” or “boring.”
If anybody gave you an XBLA/PSN card, you might want to throw some dubloons in The UnderGarden’s direction. You’ll have to buy the PC version for hard cash.
I’m not apologizing for it. If you read any of my work outside of GameFront, you may already know what I think of this. Deadly Premonition is a budget release from Ignition that launched earlier this year and became a cult hit due to viral coverage and, according to some, a little evangelism on my part. The very thought that I could have contributed to this title’s success is something that fills me with pride. I love this game, and despite its cult status, there’s a good chance you haven’t played it. You need to try it.
I have said before that Deadly Premonition is like watching two clowns eat other — it’s morbid, it’s wrong, and yet it’s so utterly, entertainingly compelling. This bizarre, genuinely hilarious horror comedy may suffer from archaic gameplay design, but it more than makes up for it with humor and “so bad it’s great” production values. Everything about Deadly Premonition is slightly wrong, and yet that’s what makes it so very right. It goes beyond bad, goes through a black hole of awful, and comes out as near perfection. Nearly every cutscene is comedy gold, and some of the laughs are actually intentional.
Really though, no literary description can do it justice. You have to see it for yourself. It launched at $19.99, and that’s for a game that can take over forty hours to beat! You can find it for much cheaper now and you should. For me, this was the game that defined 2010.
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