Hippo Manchester
December 29, 2005

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Games: Everybody loves a clip show

The games of ’05

By Glenn Given  production@hippopress.com

Picking the ten best games of the year is a tad trite.

After all, while gamer A might enjoy a rousing bout of digital fisticuffs (err ... swordicuffs) in the superb Soul Caliber 3 others may appreciates the Byzantine worlds and innovative game play provided by a more artistic title like Shadow of the Colussus. It’s an apples and oranges affair. I can’t with good conscience rate Burnout Revenge a “better” game than, say the intensely addictive Unlimited Tower of Goo.

Rest assured, the titles I present to you, some for the first time in the Hippo, are wonderful gaming experiences. These stand outside and above the field of pablum video games; A games, the lot.

Best Non- “Racist Italian Stereotype” Character in a Platformer

Raz from Psychonauts

Double Fine Production

(PS2/XBOX/GC)

Goth nerds will notice that the psychic summer camp scamp Raz shares a voice actor with the screechingly hilarious Invader Zim. But the off-kilter plot and dialogue is the delicious butter cream frosting on this wonder of a game. As Raz you jump from brain to brain at psychonaut training camp recovering “Emotional Baggage” blasting psychic censors with your telekinetic punches and bursts of pyrokinesis. Each board/mind is expertly designed to reflect the outrageous characters they reside within. From spy infested suburban M.C. Escher landscapes to a twistedly geometric space cube thing Raz’s adventure captures the imagination.

Runner-up: Stubbs from Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (XBOX/PC/MAC): Oh baby there is a special joy found in raising an army of zombies and trashing a city. Stubbs throws poison bombs pulled from his own rotting guts, eats brains and smokes like cancer doesn’t matter all to the beat of 50s rock tunes covered by some of todays best musicians. I love zombies.

Giddiest Moment of Gaming Zen

Nintendogs

Nintendo

(DS)

Sure pulling of a sweet combo in Tekken 5 then smack talking your friend into the fetal position has its pluses. And yes, caroming a compact car into a rival racer as you shoot down the mean streets of Burnout Revenge gets the adrenaline flowing. But none of these things elicits the sheer wonder and freaky amazement of blowing bubbles at your digital schnauzer. Why, well it’s not some secret combo or expertly timed buttoning; it’s lifting the Nintendo DS to your lips and blowing into the mike that makes the bubbles. It may sound stupid but everybody who has seen it took a half step back in smiling awe. Kudos Nintendo you’ve made the video game equivalent of a sunny day.

Runner-up: Gravity Head (PC): it’s barely a game. Available for free from Carnegie Mellon’s Experimental Gameplay Project (www.experimentalgameplay.com) Gravity Head allows you to reverse the massive gravity generated by the head of a screaming boy. The goal, water flowers: then use gravity to shoot the flowers at your girlfriend.

Most F-ing Metal Game of the Year

Guitar Hero

Red Octane

(PS2)

Finally a game that rewards the mastery of air guitar. While the peripheral guitar controller may put timid shoppers off at first, this shred-tastic rhythm game makes rock gods out of each of us. The simplified guitar controller imparts all the elements of awesome guitar rocking while sparing you the finger bleeding years of practice. You’ll be bending the whammy bar on “Spanish Castle Magic” hammering on the fret board for “Killer Queen” and just, horns in the air, rocking through greats like “Bark at the Moon” and Franz Ferdinand’s uber-addictive “Take Me Out.”

Runner-up: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GC): Guitars barely out-rock the bongo pounding innovation of Jungle Beat. With its novel control and delightfully robust platformer elements Donkey Kong hasn’t been this much fun since I laughed at the plight of a certain Racists Italian Stereotype’s girlfriend who was captured at the top of a series of pixelated ramps. Mmmmm barrels full of monkeys.

Zombie Spaniards Most Deserving of Shotgun Death

Resident Evil 4

Capcom

(GC/PS2)

Capcom practically invented the survival-horror genre with Resident Evil for the original Playstation. While running about Raccoon City conserving ammo and running pooplessly scared from head biting frog monsters and zombie virus infested ... uh zombies has been done to death since the series debut in ‘96 RE:4 brings back the joy. It’s hard to go wrong with zombies and when you need to freeze a zombie midget with CO2 and shatter him with a rocket launcher that just fills you with a warm loving feeling inside.

Runner-up: Ummm, sorry I can’t think of another game with zombie Spaniards. Although you can play as the Spaniards in the nearly perfect Civilization 4 (PC). And I guess you could make zombie noises while you enjoy this rich intricate strategy game.

Best Game that is Threatening My Marriage

World of Warcraft

Blizzard

(PC/MAC)

OK I hit the World of Warcraft drum pretty loudly in these pages. Admitted. And, yes I may be developing an unnatural fixation on becoming the best virtual seamstress on my server. But, seriously now, if you’re playing a Massive Multiplayer game that’s not acronymed WoW (and for damn good reasons) I pity you. It must suck to not romp in the lush jungle ruins of Stranglethorn Vale. How tiresome online gaming seems when you’re not chasing your enemy across the red rock flats of The Barrens. I think I’ve fallen for you World of Warcraft. Shh, don’t tell my wife, this will be our secret love.

Runner-up: Battlefield 2 (PC): When the Warcraft servers crash I’m not making “family time,” I’m planting C4 on enemy artillery emplacements in the best army vs. army first person shooter ever made. Boom!

Best Uppercut to the Groin

Street Fighter Anniversary Collection

Capcom

(XBOX/PS2)

One on one fighting is a staple of the video game world due mainly to the quarter munching awesomeness of Street Fighter 2. The fireball slinging karate masters Ken and Ryu have gaming icons amidst all the Sonics and Marios. Capcom, after many many years of crapping all over the fighting genre has released all it’s best material on one disc. Here you get all versions of the ridiculously graceful fighter Street Fighter 3 as well as a mash up version of Street Fighter 2 that allows fighters to choose which release version of each character they want to use. It’s a bit nerdy but fighting enthusiasts have rediscovered the holy grail of 2d ass whupping.

Runner-up: Jade Empire (XBOX): This brilliant kung-fu role playing game nicely blends fighting with traditional RPG character development. As developer BioWare did with Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic the world is big enough to foster the epic sense of adventure but tightly scripted and wound around a wonderful plot.

OK, OK, I’ll bow to editorial pressure and let you know the hands down ...

Bestest Best Game of the Year

Indigo Prophecy

Atari

(PS2/XBOX/PC)

Who doesn’t love a murder mystery? I’ll tell you who; the corpse. But those of us with a pulse and a sense of experimentation know that Indigo Prophecy (the slightly MYST-like, slightly Resident Evil-like adventure mystery movie/game thing) is the game to beat. Remember being a lonely nerd playing against yourself in chess? OK that was shameful and lame but the concept of controlling the pursued and his pursuers is an approach both narratively innovative and expertly developed here. From maintaining your character’s sanity to scouring the crime scene Indigo Prophecy IV’s its intrigue into your brain. Sure there’s not so much bang, boom and boobies but there is a hell of a lot of awesome gameplay, intricacy and sublime interface design.