Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

My 2010 in Games

I love Giant Bomb, specifically their Bombcast. That’s weird because I almost never have any interest in the gory, noisy games they tend to talk about. But listening to four clever fellows talk about their shared geekery doesn’t get old. Their Game of the Year deliberations have me looking back at the games I played in 2010, and wanting to make a Giant Bomb top ten list of my own. But I barely played ten games, not all of them came out in 2010 anyway. So here is my own Top Ten Games I Finished In 2010.

December 2009 - January 2010: Mother 2

My buddy Chris found me a copy of the Japanese Mother 1 + 2 for Game Boy Advance, and gave it to me at PAX. If I wasn’t going to get around to seeking out and playing his favorite game, he would bring it to me. Well, it says a lot that a GBA port of a SNES game, in 2010, made one of the strongest impressions of my gaming career. This story has more heart, more originality, more pure joy in it than any other ten games put together. I’ll never forget hiding under the covers, yeah, like a little kid, well past the time I was supposed to be asleep, tap tapping through this game.

January: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

After D&D; one evening, Rachael expressed interest in the new Silent Hill game on the Wii, but wasn’t too keen on enduring the creepiness alone. So a crowd of us agreed to meet up and play it together, thus beginning our Silent Saturday tradition. I guess the game didn’t really live up to its audacious psychological profiling claims, and most of the story (up until the very end) was not as compelling as the other Silent Hill stories I’d seen. But the experience of crowding around the TV together with a box of donuts and enjoying the game together amplified the game’s merits and softened its shortcomings.

January: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

H really likes Uncharted, mainly to see its gorgeous scenery, character models, and performance capture. Rachael pretty much dropped the game in my lap, and I knew it wouldn’t be more than a few hours, so I set it on Easy and went about shooting a million guys in the face. It was fun, mainly because I knew that H was getting some enjoyment out of watching me play a game, which is a rare thing.

January - February: Bayonetta

So I got ahold of a PS3 in anticipation of Ar tonelico 3, and I had about 10 days before that game was to come out. On a crazy impulse triggered by the descriptions of the game on the Giant Bombcast, I picked up Bayonetta. What a perfectly insane game it was. I played through it, put it away, and occasionally wondered whether it was all a dream.

February - July: Ar tonelico 3: Sekai Shuuen no Hikigane wa Shoujo no Uta ga Hiku

I have written a good bit about Ar tonelico 3 already, but here is what I think after some time to cool down. The distance of a few months has brushed away much of the frustration, leaving behind a sentimentality similar to what I feel about the first two games. From now on, I can just remember the bits about Tilia, and hope that the series-spanning survey Gust is doing right now will produce some more awesome Ar tonelico games in the future.

April - August: Espgaluda II

It would be great to go back in time about ten years, to my 19-year-old self, who while visiting Japanese arcades for the first time discovered danmaku/bullet-hell shooting. What a crazy genre, so exemplified by the company Cave, and so emblematic of games that we’d never get in the USA. Well, once I’d blown my younger self’s mind by showing him my iPhone 4, then I’d reblow it by showing him that Cave games were available on it, anywhere in the world, for ten dollars, as an instant download.

May - June: Persona

This was a lot closer to P2 than P3 was, which is a great thing. It had a good measure of that fascinating, retro-futuristic, perfectly late-90s storytelling. I ended up going through the game twice, after my first playthrough was sabotaged by a wrong answer in a dialogue. The second time, I played the famous masocore game-within-a-game Snow Queen quest, which was one of the most enjoyably grueling gaming experiences I’ve had. How cool it is that old PSX games I’ve always wanted to play are getting remade on PSP — Persona 2: Innocent Sin is coming in 2011!

August - December: Dodonpachi Resurrection

More Cave excellence on your mobile telephone. I actually play these more on the iPad, and I have gotten pretty good. For all the action games that don’t work as well on a touch-screen device, this sort of shooter is actually significantly better. And they are quite the conversation starter at WWDC or PAX, or on an airplane.

August - November: Persona 4

It’s super rare that H is actually interested enough in a game to insist that I only play it when she’s around. The experience of going through a single-player game together with someone is one that I miss very much: SNES RPGs with Tony in high school, Sakura Taisen with Andy in Japan, and various other precious chances. For once I got to have that with my wife. By the way it is a dang good video game. Everyone says it, but by the end of it the characters felt like family. We are actually not even done with this yet; because of a disappointingly narrow path to the special relationship with Naoto, we are determined to get him in our second loop through the game. 95 hours in, it is still making us smile.

October - December: CHAOS;HEAD NOAH

Something had me wanting a gal-game type of visual-novel with a complex, creative storyline. In 2004 I played Kaen Seibo; it is not an excellent game, but it showed that visual novels can carry you to a world as captivating as a sci-fi novel, not just to a typical Japanese high school. (And they can still have downright alluring characters by Yokota Mamoru, still my favorite character designer.)

The way Chaos;Head declared itself a “delusional science ADV” had me intrigued, and the attention it was getting for having a cerebral story made me go ahead and import it for PSP. Later I found out it was available for iPhone — I wish I could have gotten it instantly and cheaper, and supported the idea of visual novels on iOS. Maybe when Steins;Gate comes out.

The story immersed me in a way few games ever have. It’s rare that I can really feel like I am the protagonist a story. For about two months, playing this game was the thing I looked forward to all day, the thing I did once I had a chunk of free time, the thing I stayed up way too late doing. At several points in the story — Sena mysteriously eating her popsicle in the decommissioned train car comes to mind — I stopped and thought about how much unique, weird stuff is piled up in this one story. It is dark and paranoid without being misanthropic. It is occasionally terrifying rather than constantly painful to endure. And it repeatedly goes in unexpected directions.

Since finishing it about three weeks ago, no other games even seem interesting anymore. It’s a tough act to follow. Its comedy/fanservice counterpart comes out for PSP this month, but I’m sure if I imported it, the next day it would be announced for iOS. The sequel, Steins;Gate, is for Windows or Xbox 360; there are no plans yet to bring it to PSP or iOS. And the third in the series, Robotics;Notes, was just announced.

Chaos;Head gets my meaningless “Game of the Year” award for sure. Overall, 2010 was unprecedentedly packed with enjoyable games.