December 27, 2007

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The best, worst and blurst of 2007 in games
Alienate your family while being rude to your friends
By Glenn "The envelope please" Given & Alec "Long akwardly politicized acceptance speech" O’Mera letters@hippopress.com

• Biggest hit to office worker productivity: Peggle
Oh noes somebody gave Arkanoid a roofie and Plinko from the Price is Right got it all knocked up! The baby: Peggle. You’ll get it as an afterthought in the Orange Box, but this leader of the casual gaming revolution is easily worth the price per download. Peggle understands one of the fundamental truths of human existence: we like shiny things that bounce and we really like being rewarded for watching a shiny ball bounce by having rainbows of fireworks explode to bombastic classical music. — G.G.

• Best “New” Game You Probably Bought Three Years Ago: Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition
Content-wise, there’s nothing included in this version of RE:4 that wasn’t in the updated Playstation 2 version that came out in 2005. The Gamecube edition is almost identical and it came out a year before that. So, do the Wii controls really make this worth picking up again? Honestly ... they really do. It’s already the best game in the series to date; the graphics hold up remarkably and the opportunity to trade in clunky analog controls for IR aiming makes the whole experience that much more fun. Picture the shooting mini game in Wii Play, only if the ducks and cans were replaced by lower-middle class Euro-trash infected with a super-virus. You get the idea. — A.O.

• Best completely random corporate sponsorship: All-Pro Football 2K8
Let’s ignore the fact that this game lets you draft O.J. Simpson onto the New Jersey Assassins, a team with a bloody knife for a logo. The real eyebrow-raiser here is that the Chicago Beasts play in Wolfram and Hart Colosseum, a nod to the demon-run law firm from the cult TV fave Angel. Seriously, if the developers had put half the effort into updating the actual football engine that they did with all the extracurriculars, this could have been a legit alternative to the Madden juggernaut. Sales for this game sucked, so we’ll probably never see a second effort to challenge E.A.’s football monopoly. — A.O.

• Worst Mountain Dew/Halo 3 tie-in: Game Fuel (7-11)
Dear PepsiCo, Inc.,
I don’t need Master Chief to sell me flat Sun Drop mixed with rotten cherries. I think Makers Mark and Coke is all the “game fuel” I need. — G.G.

• Most delicious and moist cake: Portal (PC/360/PS3)
Portal really clears the field. There may be some great games released thus far but none of them promise you cake. And none of them deliver such an innovative approach to first-person gunnery. The last title to tweak the FPS genre so delightfully was Thief: The Dark Project, and a whole subgenre of games evolved from that. Hopefully they will all sport a Jonathan Coulton track as reward for besting a completely sympathetic and understandably evil AI who only wants to kill you to better mankind. — G.G.

Sub-category: Best video-game tie-in that has already sold out: The official plush Weighted Companion Cube.

• Worst Spoiler: Assassin’s Creed (PS3, XBox 360)
The cat was out of the bag on the Inter-Webs months before the game released. This supposedly Med-evil-themed “Grand Theft Auto-meets-Splinter Cell” ripoff ends with a wacko plot twist that involves space aliens and time travel. First off: huh? Secondly ... actually “Huh?” pretty much covers it. — A.O.

• Leading indicator of trends to come: Carcassone (360)
The wonderful tile-based board game Carcassone, along with Settlers of Catan, has taken XBox live by storm. Microsoft, in bringing living rooms together across the country has unwittingly realized something. There are gamers who don’t want to stick plasma grenades onto alien foreheads in order to save holographic space bimbos. There is an undeniable draw to always having a pool of willing board gamers at the press of a button and 2008 will certainly capitalize on that. Numerous board-to-video conversions are planned for distribution across the major consoles to bring another demographic into the gaming fold. — G.G.

• Best Other Woman: Rosalina, Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Mario needs to face facts. Does Princess Preach really manage to get “captured” annually to spend quality time with Bowser, or is something a little more nefarious going on between the turtle king and his main girl? Something that would never be tolerated in the uber-conservative Mushroom Kingdom? Enter Rosalina, Mario’s sassy, teal-gowned companion and ally in Galaxy. She has her own spaceship, the power of the cosmos, and no history of disappearing in the middle of the night and showing up in “another castle.” C’mon; pink hoop-skirts are so 1985. It’s time for an upgrade, buddy. — A.O.

• Worst Multiplayer: Battallion Wars II (Wii)
Online co-op on the Wii . . . that’s good news, right? Wrong. In a move that makes zero sense, the powers that be at Nintendo delivered a deep, real-time strategy game and the option to team up with a friend to take on others, but failed to include the ability to communicate by voice chat with your buddy. News flash, if working cooperatively with someone else is what makes a game fun, it might be a good idea to actually include a way for players to, you know, cooperate. Just a thought. — A.O.

• Ballsiest move by a Console game: Warhawk goes multi only.
I’m not ashamed to say it but I may be wrong about the PS3. Looking back on its library this year I’m seeing some marked improvement heralded by the triple-fisted ass-kicking of Warhawk. First it’s a solidly good land/air 3PS. Second it’s available as a digital download for less than the retail version and thirdly it’s multiplayer only. Not every game needs a poorly written plot, people. Sometimes there need only be the simple joy of a well-designed, expertly balanced playstyle. Hell, we don’t need personality and motive to make chess a great game, it just is. Warhawk maybe isn’t the best game to make this point but it gets my kudos for telling gamers to embrace a new baseline for multiplayer gaming. — G.G.

• Most Addicting Game Not Called World of Warcraft: Puzzle Quest: Rise of the Warlords (DS)
Puzzle Quest is crack with a stylus. Cheesy “match the gems” puzzle games like Bejeweled have always been oddly hypnotic. Adding RPG elements to give matching those gems up an actual purpose was brilliant. Cruelly, horribly brilliant. The game isn’t even that much fun, but players find themselves constantly chasing that next level-up or that next magical item. Suddenly, “just one more orc battle before bed” turns into an all-night affair. — A.O.

• Most Addicting Game Called World of Warcraft: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (PC/MAC)
Squeaking in just after New Year’s, Burning Crusade put the fire back into my MMO relationship like a drunken trip to the swingers club, exhilarating and possibly marriage-ending. Adding 10 levels, dozens of dungeons, oodles of welcome corrections and balance tweaks on release was only the beginning. Since its January launch, regular content patches have pushed massive multiplayer gaming to the edge. Yes the graphics are starting to fray, but with 9.3 million players this is a hell of a stampede to ride upon. — G.G.

• Most Likely to Cause a Future Health Crisis: Guitar Hero III (all systems)
Somewhere during Guitar Hero II, playing the in-game songs on expert actually became more challenging than playing them on a real guitar. By the third version, the hand gymnastics have just gotten literally painful. Mark it down: five years from now, we’ll be reading a news story about permanently crippled teenagers who have developed horrible wrist and hand injuries from playing instrument games throughout their childhood. — A.O.

• Welcomest relief for my poor arthritic hands: Sony announces Rumble for the PS3 DUALSHOCK 3 controller.
Due to “technological limitations” Sony was unable to put haptic feedback (a.k.a. rumble for you rubes) into its early PS3 controllers. Between the lines, there was an ongoing legal dispute between rumbles copyright owner and Sony up-n-ups whose hubris prevented them from including this Sony signature on their latest. Might this have added drag to the PS3 launch? Meh. But when gamers learned of the silly bitterness that surrounded rumble inclusion on the PS3 their already low opinion of Sony worsened. Thanks for finally coming to an accord, guys; my aching knuckles missed your spasming robotic caress. — G.G.

• Best Game Improvement Developer Gets No Credit For: Madden 08 (all systems)
This may come as a shock to you ... but this year’s Madden is really just last year’s game with updated graphics and rosters. Gold star for Electronic Arts! With that said, however, this year’s Madden is by far the best version of the game ever for New Englanders thanks to the unreal 2007 New England Patriots. Going online and listening to people from the rest of the country complain as you grab your home team, listening to them whine about cheating as you run up the score with Randy Moss ... hey, if it’s in the game, it’s in the game. The ’07 Patriots may be the most dominant virtual football team of all time, right there with Bo Jackson and the “Los Angeles” team in Tecmo Super Bowl. — A.O.

• Biggest missed opportunity: 1 hojillion dollars ignored by Nintendo.
Granted, the DS prints money and the Wii was the system to beat, but failing to meet consumer demands has sent more money to Sony and Microsoft than Nintendo can possibly imagine. I mean nearly a month ago (11 months after launch) the Wii was a rare find. I got mine early and I won’t gloat; the system is fun. There are at least a dozen A-grade titles available or coming very soon and that’s a pretty good lineup for $250. Add in a Web browser and the Virtual Console and you’ve made a nice package that will never meet its potential. I got news, Mario: 2008 will be your last good year. Gamers are going to see the second and third generation of games from Sony/MS and give in, you’re going to run out of titles after Smash Brothers and the next Zelda. E for effort. — G.G.

• Best Game No One Bought: Zack and Wiki (Wii)
Through November, Zack and Wiki has sold less than 35,000 copies nationwide. . . and it’s really a shame, because this is one of those underrated gems that gets lost in the shuffle because it doesn’t have a plumber headlining the game. It’s an old-school adventure game with awesome environmental puzzles a la Myst or King’s Quest. People complain all the time about how many sequels come out every year, and then a game like this gets zero love from anyone. Boo. – A.O.

• For shame: America’s Army: True Soldiers (360)
I’ll give credit to the original America’s Army Propa-game. Wrapping the bloodlust of twitch first-person shooting in a flag and enforcing a modicum of restraint and tactical savvy wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The propagation of said game via free distribution as a promotional tool for our armed forces, while creepy and underhanded in a Last Star Fighter kind of way, is probably not as loathsome as the results of your typical gamer’s Googling of “the animes.” What shocks and awes me is that, in a delectably ironic manner the army has, despite best intentions (semi-realistic combat/WMDs), they stuck with a losing concept (the Unreal engine/nation building) at an increasing cost to the public ($60/$1.9 trillion). Way to make me sad, guys. — G.G.