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The Best Video Games… of the DECADE

Classic Game Revival… of the DECADE

First Prize: Space Invaders Extreme · 2008 · DS · PSP · XBLA

Kevin sez: To be fair, I expected very little out of Space Invaders Extreme. The prerelease footage made it look like a bizarre mash-up of the original classic with Rez, crossed with a modern bullet-hell shooter (only without the bullets). The end result, however, is actually quite an achievement, and the game itself stands as a nonpareil exemplifying how to reboot a simple, classic game.

Updates to the invaders themselves are pretty minor—some have shields, or are split in twain when shot, or are very (very!) large—but what makes the game work is the frenetic pace of the combat, the color chaining, the usage of the Mystery Ships to enter bonus rounds, and the downright clever use of the DS’s dual screens in boss battles.

And those lucky gamers who snagged the Japanese DS Paddle Controller were rewarded with a control scheme that unexpectedly augments the already high-speed gameplay—pleasantly enough, paddle support was included in the North American releases of both SIE and its sequel.

But what really glues the entire package together is the presentation. The trippy visual style, combined with the musical accompaniment—your every shot adds to the soundscape—together give this title a sonic, synesthetic bent, taking it from “fun reimagining” to “one of the best games out there.”

Jenn adds: While I think the game is at its hands-down absolute best with the Japan-only DS paddle, Space Invaders Extreme is so freaking pretty, and maybe even trippier, on the PSP. Buy both?

Runner-up: Pac-Man Championship Edition · 2007 · XBLA

Jenn sez: Pac-Man C.E. inexplicably feels like all the good parts of Every Extend Extra, with none of the boredom. But that’s not why I play. Look, I’m not in this for the glory. I don’t need the scoreboard fame, and I’m not gunning for ‘achievements.’ I am in this to win. I am sick and tired of seeing your smarmy stupid gamertag ranked one spot ahead of me, and one of these days, I am going to beat your ass. Man, you don’t even know.

Superhero Game… of the DECADE

First Prize: Crackdown · 2007 · Xbox 360

Jenn sez: I walked into the office. “Oh, maaaan,” I said, stretching in exhaustion, “I have been playing a ton of Crackdown.” This happened about three years ago, or a little less.

Garnett said, “You bought Crackdown?”

“Definitely!” I nodded.

“Wow!” I remember him saying to me. “You must really want to play Halo 3!”

“What,” I said.

“Because, isn’t that the only reason anyone would buy Crackdown? So they could play the Halo 3 Beta?”

“How dare you,” I might have said then.

I know I’m borrowing liberally from Scott in calling this a superhero game at all. But the man is right! Tall buildings are leapt in single bounds! Automobiles are hoisted into the air and hurled at no-gooders!

Best of all, there is virtually zero story. Want to play the game out of its intended order? Go ahead. Want to play the game cooperatively? Go ahead—and if, at any point, you decide to go rogue and hurl automobiles at your friend instead, feel free.

If you want Crackdown to be a driving game, it can be that. If you tend more toward melee beat-em-up button-mashing than you do shooting guns, then your Hero will become pretty good at punching baddies to death. And so on: Crackdown really is whatever you make it.

Maybe you think it’s contrarian of me to give Superhero First Place to a game that never had to contend with the handicap of comic book or movie licensing. That’s fine! Maybe you’re right! Maybe I should give this award to Batman: Arkham Asylum after all!

But I’m not giving the award to Arkham Asylum, or to Spider-Man 2, or to any of the other rarely good licensed games of the last ten years I’ve conveniently forgotten about. Neither is Kevin. So try not to “Hulk out” on us. Nerd.

Kevin adds: I uh, may have actually bought Crackdown for the Halo 3 beta, but the game definitely became one of my favorite and most unexpectedly awesome 360 games.

Runner-up: Marvel vs. Capcom 2 · 2000 · Arcade · DC · PS2 · Xbox · XBLA · PSN

Kevin sez: I do love my 2D fighting games. From my childhood spent playing Street Fighter II on the SNES, to my tournament heyday in 2001 and 2002, to the modern era of regularly playing against friends, 2D fighters are one of my favorite genres. Quick thinking, skill, and luck are the name of the game, and MvC2 exemplifies all of these.

I’m not even going to say MvC2 is necessarily the best game in Capcom’s “Versus” series, which includes all the previous Marvel vs. titles, Capcom vs. SNK, and most recently, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. For my money, TvC is more fun and outlandish than MvC2 has ever been.

But in terms of how well Capcom has captured the Marvel cast of characters’ personalities and powers, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 shines. It has also proven to have such staying power that even now, nearly a decade after its release (and re-release, and re-re-release), the game still has a strong following of players who value the intense skill and strategic thinking it takes to be any good at it.

Perhaps naysayers will rag on the game for being utterly unbalanced, for Capcom pretty much just lifting sprites and characters from other games without testing, or for the music and backgrounds being completely lame. And maybe they are. But all those (arguable) complaints overlook just how much fun the game really is, and for players of any skill level.

Atlus Game… of the DECADE

First Prize: Odin Sphere · 2007 · PS2

Corben Frost, special guest, writes: Atlus, the prolific game publishing company, have a strong cult fan following, given a history of importing Japanese games that are frequently ignored by the mainstream. And among their myriad offerings, Odin Sphere stands tall. Sure, you’ve killed your teenaged self in all of the Persona games (including Atlus’s longest-titled game, the colon-laden and unwieldy Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army), but you’ve probably never played a game in which you cook, harvest tree-sheep (!), stab valkyries, maul unicorns, and do it all just like that annoying kid from Never Ending Story.

Odin Sphere is character-driven in the sense that playable characters are unlocked for new levels. It is refreshing, then, that the individuals presented are not the typical “Bad Boy!” or “Girl Becoming a Woman!” role-playing genre staples: these are complete, realized protagonists, each with strengths and flaws, and though some are more fleshed out than others, all are uniquely interesting.

The hand-painted artwork, comprised of gorgeously rendered sprites, hearkens aesthetically to SNES-era RPGs. It remains one of the most visually stunning games on the PS2 platform, surpassed perhaps only by 2006’s Okami. The music, composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, is stirring but subtle enough to not distract from the challenges on screen. The real beauty here, though, is the writing. Atlus are certainly renowned for their localization of games, but they outdid themselves with a story that takes from Norse mythology and fairy tales, and with dialogue that is good enough to make up for this game’s single hitch—the controls.

It’s no overstatement to say these controls aren’t the easiest to manage. Worse, the inventory system is obtuse, and that bloat becomes ever more apparent as the game goes on, especially since gardening and recipe-gathering are a fairly large part of the experience. Still, unintuitive UI is the one low point in an altogether brilliant game, one that follows in the hallowed tradition of Zelda or Okami. With its superb story, sweeping score, and lush imagery, Odin Sphere is one of the most original and polished games Atlus ever released.

It has even inspired a haiku:

On the PS2
I gots me some wings, bi-atch!
I’m a valkyrie

Well, no… it isn’t a very good haiku.

Runner-up: Persona 3 · 2007 · PS2 · PSP

Jenn sez: Sure, this is a really tough decision, but the answer is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. I played the FES rerelease, but the PSP version is allegedly the one to get.

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7 responses to “The Best Video Games… of the DECADE” »

  1. Chris A says:

    Great lists, but I’ve gotta contest the 2600 choice… have you guys played Medieval Mayhem? Good lord that game is fantastic.


    • Jenn Frank says:

      Ugh I hate Warlords. Hate hate hate. I’ll get a friend to try this with me, though.

    • Kevin says:

      Much as I enjoy Warlords, Thrust and Lead are both just fantastic games that otherwise did not appear on the 2600. It wasn’t the easiest choice, since other homebrews like Vault Assault, Gunfight, Star Fire, or Oystron were all fun games, but those two just set a bar that they don’t top in my view.

      Also, I really need to clean my paddle controllers, because they are all WAY too jittery to play much with them effectively.

  2. Dave D says:

    Is there a version or clone of Thrust on the DS or Wii?

  3. ctuck says:

    Great read, I love how it just ends, makes it feel like a real “piece” of writing, rather than a churned out year ender.

    Though I must say the exclusion of Ogre Battle 64 wounds me! Good day!! HMPH!

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