December 25, 2008

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2008 in games
A big gain for Sony, Wii scrambles into 2nd place
By Glenn "Eric Roberts" Given production@hippopress.com

While all three major consoles had a strong year, Sony’s Playstation 3 is the machine that left 2008 in the best shape. Yes, the PS3 and XBOX 360 jockeyed back and forth through the year, each planting their second-place flags in different months on different continents. And yes, the Nintendo Wii is the great uniter at family gatherings. But let’s be a bit more realistic. The top 360 games this year were, not counting the time-bending platformer Braid, sequels or cross-platform titles. Nintendo limped by with Super Smash Brothers Brawl and the online offerings Tetris Party (admittedly awesome) and World of Goo. The PS3 on the other hand delivered a number of original titles and console firsts as well as providing the best downloadable content of the three. LittleBigPlanet and Valkyria Chronicles, while financially disappointing, are nearly perfect titles offering innovative gameplay and fresh styles. Sony’s big-ticket sequels like Resistance 2, MotorStorm: Pacific Rift and Metal Gear Solid 4 did far better than the adding maps and patching bugs that most sequels do and brought each franchise to new heights. And online Sony couldn’t be beat. The PSN network, in addidtion to being free (unlike the 360) and stable (unlike the Wii) brought home the immediate downloadable glee of WipeoutHD, Echochrome, Everyday Shooter and toon-actioner Rachet and Clank: Quest for Booty and still stands as the best Blu-ray player on the market. Sony was able to maintain its sales without downgrading the machine (like the 360’s arcade bundles) or gimmicking itself through another quarter (I’m looking at you, Wii Fit). While the Wii can see its sunset approaching and the 360 trudges through its middle age the PS3 took 2008 to have a blast in its teens. Anyways, on with the clipshow.

Best blackout-proof game
Civilization Revolution (DS)
For the past week and a half (thanks for nothing, PSNH) I’ve gotten by with a few rousing eons of Civ:Rev, recharging my DS by car battery and keeping the gaming DTs away by stylus tap. The complexities of nation-on-nation socio-economic competition work wonderfully on the handheld, not so much on the PS3 and 360, where the fancy graphics are merely fluff to inflate the price point.

Second-best blackout-proof game
Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS)
While the loss of Internet connectivity (thanks for nothing, Comcast!) made new puzzle downloads tricky, this Euro-flavored anime-wrapped puzzle collection is still a treat. There is something oddly endearing about staring at a layout of matchsticks and trying to make a cat out of them in the fewest moves.

Least envirnoment-killing game
Lost Winds (Wii) & Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix (PS3/360)
One’s an ultra clever Wii platformer that makes perfect use of the motion-sensing remote, the other features a thinly veiled Mike Tyson punching Chinese women in 1080p. Both are available for direct download and provide affordable enjoyment while giving a big middle finger to the ripoff retail game shops.

Best thing with Mario in it
Super Smash Brothers Brawl (Wii)
SSBB doesn’t take itself too seriously for a fighting game, characters are goofily balanced, the online matches are glitchy, single-player modes are thin and unsatisfying but damn if there isn’t something visercally rewarding in four-player beat-downs on Princess Peach.

Other best thing with Mario in it
Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
First, throw the stupid plastic wheel away. Nintendo finally made its online kerjigger work with Mario Kart and that’s a huge plus. While many tracks are retreads from earlier titles, and the look of the racers, while good for the Wii, isn’t all that slick, Mario Kart Wii is still a perfectly crafted racer with just enough wackiness to offset the intensity of cutthroat competition.

Best games to bring peace to the console wars
Fallout 3 (PS3/360)
& Soulcaliber IV (PS3/360)
Heavy customization and multiple styles of play are earmarks of the best fighter and best RPG this year. Not only does the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-ish Fallout give the freedom to explore the wasteland of a nuked D.C., it lets you sic your dog on radioactive mutants. Soulcaliber IV lets me dress up a pretty Elizabethan lass and have her hit people with a katana in the smoothest online fighting ever.

Simply the best?
Wipeout HD (PS3)
I’ll call LittleBigPlanet a close second for its unrelenting charm, whimsy and Marianas Trench-deep customization, but there is a point at which building a level of hop n bop and decking out your sackboy becomes less a game and more a thesis. For the money the best looking, best playing simply best constructed series of ones and zeros this year is WipeoutHD, a futuristic racer with awesome single- and multi-player modes, fistfuls of rocket cars, the perfect difficulty scale and all presented at 60 frames per second in 1080p. This is why you own an HD tv and a gaming console. Few in the past decade have melded the simple joys of classic gaming with the most modern of presentations as well as WipeoutHD and none for the budget price of this direct download.