Perhaps it is the scientist in me, but I believe that there is a natural order to things, that some things are better than others, and that this includes art, music and even video games. So while working on GamerDad's Game of the Year pages, I decided I had no interest in putting up a list of what I thought were the 10 best games of the year.
But why? Shouldn't the act of going through a process whereby some of your favorite games wouldn't get enough recognition to even be nominated make you want to get a list 'out there'? Ah, that word - favorites. That is the crux of things - because I believe that there are things that are objectively better than other things, but those things might not coincide with the things I like. I was actually much more interested in going through the things I really liked last year - and the things I didn't like. Instead of listing everything, I'll just highlight some of the best and worst. And in keeping with my recent rediscovery of 'In Living Color' late nights, I'll label things as 'Loved It' or 'Hated It' ... with the occasional 'meh' reserved for disappointments I had hoped to love. And of course, if I did the GamerDad review, I'll post the link.
GAMING: GameBoy Advance
- Loved It! Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones - they aren't 'units' they're your friends ... this one had me totally hooked, and got me liking turn-based strategy games! My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - so much fun, even if it is shorter than the last GBA Zelda game. Just captures so much of what is fun about gaming, is perfect for on-the-go sessions, and reminds us how the GBA is *still* a vital gaming platform.
- Loved It! Final Fantasy IV - This game took me a bit to connect with, after coming from some mediocre handheld RPG's. But this is a gem, a very well done game.
- 'meh' LEGO Star Wars - This is *not* the LEGO Star Wars you're looking for ... My GamerDad Review
GAMING: Nintendo DS
- Loved It! Castlevania DS - truly excellent game in every way.My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! Animal Cross: Wild World - not being a console gamer, I never did much with Animal Crossing on the GameCube, but thought it was cool. On the DS it is amazing, and I've completely connected - where the tasks in Lost in Blue can be a drag, here they are a blast! My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! Advance Wars DS - ... just one more turn ... this was my first Advance Wars game (we got my older son Advance Wars 2 based in part on the GamerDad Review, but I never played). It is smart, charming, funny, engaging, challenging and just plain addictive.
- 'meh' Lunar: Dragon Song - not bad, not great, not very interesting, but a few 'anti-player' decisions really drag it down My GamerDad Review
- 'meh' Lost in Blue - jeez, let me explore the island for 5 minutes without dying of hunger! At the heart is a survival adventure with a lot of potential - but the routine and mechanics are really in the way. My GamerDad Review
- 'meh' Goldeneye: Rogue Agent - this gets a 'meh' as an average of Love & Hate. I Love the gameplay mechanics, how I could pull off snap-turns reminiscent of NOLF and how well the game shows that great FPS are just waiting to happen ... and Hate how it came packaged in this mediocre game ... My GamerDad Review
GAMING: Sony PSP
- Loved It! GTA: Liberty City Stories - plays like yet another mini-console port, but who cares! It is a blast! My GamerDad Review
- 'meh' Untold Legends - like Sacred for the PSP, it is fairly entertaining, but mindless hack-n-slash only takes you so far, and the game never attempts to transcend it. That said, I already have the sequel on my wish list - I believe taht using the controls and battle mechanics they have, if they can insert an interesting ply and do *something* about the load times they can have a really good game. My GamerDad Review
- 'meh' Lord of the Rings Tactics - dark and bland, but decent combat, this shows the underpinnings of a really cool game, but is weak in so many areas that it feels like a rushed out mess. My GamerDad Review
- Hated It! Coded Arms - crap controls, crap camera, bland environs, crap 'story' ... crap game. Unfortunately it is exemplary of action-heavy first-person shooters on the PSP, which is really too bad. My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! Gothic II Gold - who cares if it is the collection of 2002 and the 2003 games ... this is the expansion's first US appearance, and it rocks! (review pending at GamerDad)
- Loved It! Fate - family friendly, budget friendly, casual gaming friendly, but still cool for hardcore RPG-ers like me. My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! F.E.A.R. - marred by bland environs, this still absolutely rocked. My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! LEGO Star Wars - definitely falls in with some of my all-time fave Star Wars games! My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! Disney's ToonTown Online - this is the family-fave ... my younger son it totally into it, and my wife even plays when we're not home (and she's a NON-gamer). My GamerDad Review
- 'meh' Quake IV - great looking, but mediocre gameplay and weapons and a who-cares plot ... My GamerDad Review
- 'meh' Serious Sam II - somewhat prettier retread ... not much else to say, except that I discovered 'Sam' when 'The Second Encounter' came out and simply adored it. My inability to get psyched about the first one or replay the second one much should have been a warning, but I still hoped this one would take it to a new level. It didn't. My GamerDad Review
- Hated It! Dungeon Lords - definite candidate for least finished major game ever ... and while I don't support it as 'worst game of the year', it definitely carries 'biggest disappointment' My GamerDad Review
- Hated It! Restricted Area - short, stupid and bug-ridden - this is the kind of game that starving cRPG fans pick up for all the wrong reasons. My GamerDad Review
- Hated It! MetalHeart: Replicants Rampage - there is a clear difference between 'paying homage' and 'peeing on the memory', and this Fallout clone takes the latter path, showing you can copy a great game without having a clue what made it great My GamerDad Review
- Hated It! Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend - I admit to enjoying Postal 2 ... and I even replayed after finishign this to confirm I still liked it. I did - but this absolutely horrid expansion sucks all the fun, open-ness and any other positive qualities from the original. My GamerDad Review
GAMING: Mac gaming
- Loved It! GeneForge 3 - There is something charming about the 'one guy in the garage' asapect of SpiderWeb software that is cool. But that isn't the draw - the games he makes are deep, involving and *long*. GeneForge 3 advances the series admirably, and I hope to finish it soon ...
- Loved It! Avernum 4 - This game is a recent Mac release that I'm beta-testing on the PC (shhh!) ... graphics get a nice bump, and the mechnics are just terrific. As GeneForge is to single player games, so Avernum is to party based games.
- Loved It! Ultima V: Lazarus - The 'mod' community can be amazing ... as a 'game' like this shows. This ~525MB file uses the Dungeon Siege engine to recreate and reimagine the classic Ultima V, and the results are quite amazing. The scope alone for this project made most assume it would never get done - let alone turn out so fantastic.
GAMING: Gaming Media
- Loved It!Focus on the Family! - This year I saw more stuff - outside of GamerDad, no less - about involving parents with kids in video games, involved parenting in general, and about how important striking a balance in all things is to overall health and weel-being. Great Stuff!
- Loved It!Forget Weird Science - this is *Bad* Science! - As a scientist and statistician I'm offended by 'fluff' science put out there to prove someone's point using a one-dimensional experiment. So I was glad that there was also a great move to debunk 'bad science' - like the 'Classical Music makes you smart' thing. Sure, *learning* classical pieces on piano has been linked to better analytical skills, but that is a simple matter of correlated cross-training. Sticking headphones with Mozart blaring on your wife's belly is not going to make the baby smarter.
- Hated It!Video Games are Killing Our Kids!!1one - OK, it was the year of 'Hot Coffee'. The year of hysteria, where politicians and lawyers and so-called advocates we coming out of the woodwork to decry the evil gaming industry and the ESRB. While there are lessons to be learned by gamers, developers and the industry as a whole, I have yet to figure out why people are so much more outraged by poorly done pixilated simul-sex in a game for 17+ adults than they are about a game like Soldier of Fortune 2 where you can blow off someone's head, watch the blood pump out as they gurgle and crumple up and die. Also, the copy of Indigo Prophecy I got from eBay was from someone with the European import, so I got see the poorly done pixilated simul-sex ... and it makes the 'skinimax' stuff I saw late nights in college in the mid-80's look outrageously explicit by comparison.
GAMING: Special Awards
- My Favorite Game! Castlevania DS - because it came out of nowhere and completely blew me away. I played the original Castlevania Adventure on the GameBoy in 1989 to the point that the theme is going through my head now. I have Circle of the Moon but just got it last year and never got too far. I read about this, but the perfect confluence of excellent gameplay and effective minimalist use of the DS features made this one a wonderul experience for me, better than I assumed.
Runner Up: Gothic II Gold - that is my favorite game of the year, but since I've been in love with the core Gothic II since getting is in late 2003 it doesn't really count ... but even still I was amazed at how well they wove the expansion into the game.
- My Biggest Disappointment! Dungeon Lords - there are some good things about this game - like the dungeons. The combat can be fun as well. That's about it. You hit the Elf 'city' of Arindale and you realize that the game is devoid of significant depth. Sure there are loads of *words*, but that doesn't define good dialogue ...
Runner Up: Quake IV - for assembling a team whose work I love and pushing out something totally mediocre.
- My Most Hated Game! Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend - In a way this reminds me of Contract J.A.C.K. - just as that used the same engine and many elements from NOLF 2 yet sucked the fun out of it, so does this expansion. Four hours of unfunniness, of linear stupidity - and not the fun stupidity that populated Postal 2
Runner Up: MetalHeart - for looking like they wanted to reward Fallout fans, but not having a clue what that should look like ...
- Loved It!Pat Metheny Group - The Way Up - This is a truly transcendent composition. Everything else is just a bunch of songs in comparison - even some great stuff like the latest from Zorn, Dejohnette, Joshua Redman, Chick Corea or the release of the Miles Davis 'Cellar Door Sessions'. This is 68 minutes that takes everything Metheny has learned in 30 years as a major jazz player and composer, and brought it to bear in constructing a work of epic and sweeping scope the likes of which jazz music hasn't seen since Mingus in his heyday, that rivals the great works of Ellington and Gershwin among the American masters. The band has come together to the point where the only obvious 'solos' are from trumpeter Cong Vu. There were many really cool recordings put out this year, stuff I love and my family loves, but even bothering to mention them detracts from the full focus this work deserves. Yeah, it is that good. And just to appease the 'relativists' out there - I am saying nothing about whether or not you should 'like it' ... that is a matter of taste. My kids would never pick it out, but do at least tolerate it if I put it on. Just as you don't have to 'like' Beethovan's 9th, but any serious person would acknowledge as a truly great artistic achievement in the field of music. This is like that.
MOVIES & DVD
- Loved It! Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - we love this ... which is the great thing about taste - I don't have to justify to *anyone* that I like, so long as we stay away from discussion objective criteria! My GamerDad Review
- Loved It! Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit - we had never been the big fans that many already were, this just looked great - and it was. An excellent story with great characters that makes for a very captivating film. My GamerDad Review
- 'meh' Charlie & the Chocolate Factory - I am not objective here, Willie Wonka is one of my all-time favorite movies. This wasn't as bad as I expected, and while I have had objective arguments showing why this one is actually better - check back with me in 10 years and let me know who is watching this one regularly compared to the original.
MY FAMILY - sure, this is an easy and obvious one, but it is so fundamental that it bears mentioning. This was a year that saw Lisa's dad continue his slow decline towards death, a death that is long overdue but still unwelcome. A year that saw her mother get test results that made it seem almost certain she had cancer in her lymph glands ... and that were thankfully wrong. This year I had a shouting match with my parents because of how they have dealt with us - and particularly our kids. This year my brother within weeks abdicated his role as my older son's godfather and then tried to invite himself to the First Communion. And a year that had Lisa's sister sit on the Christmas gifts we had sent for a month before returning them to us with a mean-spirited and psychotic note. But through it all I had a wonderful wife and two wonderful boys, and we love spending time together. We spend way too much money and took way too many vacations and special trips, none of which I regret. So, despite all of the crap that has happened in our larger families, I am happy as I start 2006 because I'm terribly in love with my wife, and adore my boys.