Chungking Espresso

Link Dump & My GOTY

Posted in Game Analysis, Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on January 2, 2010

Hey friends. So the other day my blog hit its highest single-day traffic of all time. Thanks to everyone who has RSS’d me in the past few months and those who linked my AC2 piece for making that happen. I have about 50 regular readers now, which is 25 times what I had at the beginning of the year. My blogroll has ballooned in size, each with a mutual link between another blogger who I’ve made the acquaintance of over course of the past year. It’s kind of hard to remember what life was like without 130 friends on Twitter ready to indulge my every desire to nerd out about one game or another.

I’ve finished my lists for my top ten films and videogames of the past decade, but I’m still polishing up the explanations on those. I would like to note a few things about 2009 in particular first.

GOTY 2009: Shatter

Charles Pratt posted this cute quote a few months ago; one of his friends (maybe his girlfriend?) said of him that, “he’s so hardcore that he only plays casual games now.” In a way, I feel like that sort of describes me as well. This year, I played in excess of fifty “small” games on top of the sixty or so AAA games that I completed. I had, by far, a much more enjoyable time with the smaller titles. They’re singular in their expressive goals, and they tend to represent the efforts of a small group of designers hoping to break into the industry. Of course, I wouldn’t describe my experience with them as “casual”—most I ravenously devoured within a sitting or two. Up there on the list would have to be Panzer General, PixelJunk Shooter, Critter Crunch, and Trine, all of which I had the great honor to review (for free) at my newish gig as associate editor and go-to-guy for downloadable games at Sleeper Hit.

But my game of the year, by a long shot, is Shatter. This game was quietly released one night on PSN at a bargain price, something like seven or eight dollars. It’s an Arkanoid or Brick-Break or Breakout clone, whichever you like to recognize as your first of the kind. Shatter is different. It’s a game about breathing.

Supplementing the somewhat rote action of knocking a Pong-like ball into a wall of individually-breakable blocks is a mechanic for blowing air out and sucking it back in. By calculating your inhalation or exhalation, you can arc the ball in any direction you wish. It’s highly user-friendly, with a little arrow showing you where the ball is currently headed. You don’t even have to use the paddle most of the time if you don’t want to, choosing instead to constantly exhale. On top of this novel mechanic are the added benefits of a shield, special ball-types, and an overpower assault. Each of the ten levels has a unique boss that remind me of R-Type in many ways. I completed the game in the course of three hours, using only one continue, that first night it came out, and I haven’t picked it up since. Yet, it’s stuck with me—one of the only games this year that was perfect from start to finish.

My favorite consumer reviewer of the year: Simon Parkin of Eurogamer.

My favorite unsung videogame blogger of the year: Gatmog of Tales of a Scorched Earth.

My videogame review archnemesis: Brad Gallaway of GameCritics.

Links to my other recent work around the Internets:

The Humble Crickler – Excerpt by Ian from our upcoming book on newsgames, supplemented with some added analysis by me, about the crickler—a form of interactive online crossword puzzle (News Games).

Gotham Gazette’s NYC Election Games – Analysis of a suite of editorial games produced by the Gotham Gazette, funded by the Knight Foundation, to critique the 2004 NYC electoral process. An example of lightly-skinning classic games to great effect. Also, heavy use of the rhetoric of a “broken” game representing a broken real-word system (News Games).

QIXX++ – This Taito remake has nothing to do with Jeff Minter, despite the somewhat neon visuals and “++” epithet. Stay the hell away from it (Sleeper Hit).

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising – I have no idea how this made its way into my hands. I think our staff is pretty down on the tactical shooter genre, and I was the only person willing to make an honest go at it. In contrast to many games in the genre, this one doesn’t take place in the dusty city streets of Somewhere, The Middle East… so that’s a plus (Sleeper Hit).

LostWinds 2: Winter of the Melodias – Awesome short-form narrative, family game for the WiiWare. My only complaint was that my hand hurt from how jumping works (hold A and swipe the controller). Beautiful art style, cool contrasts between elemental energies that I considered really incredible until I played PJ Shooter the very next week (Sleeper Hit).

Rainbow Islands: Towering Advenure – Another half-assed Taito remake that was actually the first bad game I had to review. I don’t really know what else to say, except that I’m still waiting for someone to tell me whether or not it’s redeemable as camp (Sleeper Hit).

Dragon Age: Origins – My editor made me write this consumer review after I’d already written my NGJ-style post about the relationships in the game. Mostly I complain about how bad the combat system is (Sleeper Hit).

Panzer General XBLA – Chronicling my attempt to learn how tabletop wargaming works and my thrilling online victory over Owen420Canada (Sleeper Hit).

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