Thursday, December 25, 2008

Retrospective: Top Ten Games of 2008

The title of this post is intentionally misleading. What this retrospective is all about is taking a post to remember 2008, not in terms of new releases, but by examining the games that I spent most of my time playing. I encourage any readers to post their own lists, with optional commentary.

2008 was an extremely busy year for me, between working, applying to graduate school, blogging, programming and designing games I still found time to sink hundreds of hours into new and old classics. The following works of art are especially memorable and set the tone of 2008 quite nicely.

10. Animal Crossing: City Folk
Nintendo's latest entry into the Animal Crossing series has been a pleasure, and a slight disappointment. I was hoping for innovation and expansion of the series's scope, yet neither were delivered. What we received, however, was a solid entry and a slight improvement over Wild World. Incredibly fun if view objectively, one can't help but be disappointed. Though released only a month ago, I think this title sums up the mounting animosity that gamers have with Nintendo. They are abandoning their original consumer base, and, most frighteningly, it's working. Well, good luck in 2009 Nintendo, because there will be a lot less of your games on this list next year.

9. Ys: Book I & II
These classic TG-CD games were hotly anticipated, but were released without much fanfare. I finished Book 1, and am working on Book 2. This is one of two games on the list that I haven't beaten, but I was looking forward to its release for months. Adol's adventures running into the sides of monsters never grows old. If you are looking for some amazing music, look no further. Ys is also forever tied to history; it was the first CD-based RPG. This game really shows, like Mega Man 9, what 8-Bit game design combined with advanced technology can produce.

8. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Another year, another Castlevania game. Don't let my brevity fool you, this is one of the freshest, most enjoyable entries in the series. Gamers unlocked the mystery of the sexy amnesiac and a gunslinger, and our faith in the series remained strong.

7. The Dynastic Hero
One of the first games I played this year, and one of the best. The Dynastic Hero impressed me with its bold visual style, CD-based audio, and intricate quest. Though originally a Wonder Boy game, I think the insect motif fit well with the environment. This game deserves serious credit for inspiring me to start 8-Bit City and to start blogging about lesser-known titles, because I had never heard of the game until it appeared on the Wii's VC. And although this masterpiece takes 250 blocks of precious Wii Storage space, it's worth every bit.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I'm a little late to the game, and this is the other game that I have not completed. Hurricane Gustav killed my momentum and I moved on to other gaming adventures (NES Pro Wrestling, which is definitely NOT on this list). I don't share in the disappointment for Twilight Princess, however, and I welcome the return of a serious art style. The Zelda series is definitely showing its age, and Nintendo must adapt. Either take the series back to 8-Bits, and keep it simple, or start innovating. The this work is not without flaws, but the true genius and beauty shine through.

5. Adventure Island 2
It's an island of adventure! Many parties this year ended in my friends and I playing Adventure Island 2. The smooth gameplay, lack of serious glitches, brilliant colors and balanced levels have made this game a favorite among my inner circle. I have owned Adventure Island 2 for over 15 years, and both the cart and my desire to conquer dinosaur island remain firmly intact. Keeping hammer tossing, Master Higgins!

4. Cave Story
Pixel's masterpiece painted a brilliant picture of sorrow and triumph. Cave Story showed us that one man can create great video game art. There is no title I anticipate more than the Wii Ware release of Cave Story, coming in early 2009.

3. Super Smash Brothers Brawl
How can I not mention the game that consumed over one month of my life and almost devoured my blog? Super Smash Brothers Brawl should act as a beacon for game designers. Never have I experienced so much content and balance in a fighting game. This game is so close to perfect, one wonders where the series can go from here. Probably down. Please prove me wrong.

2. Mega Man 9
I'm still playing Mega Man 9, in fact, I just beat the game without the helmet (and without dying). MM9 proved that 8-Bit is not an ancient necessity but a legitimate artistic medium. The conscious decision to used "outdated" styles caused ripples in the gaming community. The notion of "graphics" in professional reviews was questioned, and reviewers were forced to look at artistic design rather than technical capacity. Mega Man 9 aided intellectual video game criticism more than any other title and helped the mainstream understand that video games are a serious medium and that an increased vocabulary is need to properly describe them. In addition, Capcom managed to top Mega Man 2 and create the best entry in one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. I would have thought this impossible, and was thankfully proved wrong.

1. Final Fantasy VII
Love, life, and death. I journeyed through the world of Cloud and Tifa again this year, visiting old friends and exploring familiar locations. Everything about this game is dear to me; it is my favorite game of all time. Final Fantasy VII feels real while maintaining the mantle of fiction. It's ambitious story strives to tell a tale equal to the sublime heights of Dante's Comedy. Its themes are timeless, its music profound. It's unique, brilliant, and beautiful.

Extra Mention: 8-Bit Killer
I left this list for a few hours before posting it, and I realized that I left 8-Bit Killer off of the list. This title, along with Fallout 3 and others, are proving the legitimacy of the first person shooter. Anyone not a fan of the genre should play 8-Bit Killer and be converted.

Extra Mention: Monuments of Mars
Personally this game was a big inspiration and a breath of fresh gaming air when I needed a break from other games in which I was involved. Something different and ancient. Addicting gameplay and pure simple graphics.

Extra Mention: Super Paper Mario
I finally played this game, and though I am at the gates of the final castle, I haven't yet beaten it. A great game overall, this is the consciously retro and innovative platformer the Wii needed.

That sums up most of 2008 for me. Other titles probably should have made the list. Anything reviewed for this blog certainly does, but it'd be pretty redundant to just list them all. What about you, when you think back to 2008, what games will you remember playing?

Saturday, December 6, 2008


An 8-Bit video game I am developing. Now with screenshots!

In the ancient times there was a city of immense proportions with vast citizens and warriors. But the city fell into darkness under the influence of the Technomancer, a powerful wizard able to create matter and space. Unravel the mystery of the ancient city, Simulacrum, and your own haunted past.

You are Ishmael, a robot in the giant undead city. You'll explore decaying palaces, forgotten towns, fields of graveyards, a cursed tower, castles, ruins, and more! Solve puzzles and collect the artifacts necessary to unlock the key to the Necropolis and defeat the immortal Skeleton Kings. This cursed land is filled with thousands of individual skeletons programmed to kill you.

Featuring a real time battle system. You have no way of defeating any monster in the entire game. Dozens of unique monsters, including the impossible Skeleton Kings. You will have to outwit a literal army, with no weapons, to beat the game. It can be done.

Enlist the help of other heroes! Johnny Star, the human, Rocket, the red robot, and Arthur, the fallen knight.

Journey through the Simulacrum on an epic journey of knowledge, a tale of redemption and tragedy.

Stunning state-of-the art graphics will blow your mind as backgrounds are pre-rendered in stunning monochrome.

These screenshots are taken from a working build of Skeletronic, which has been in development for about 6 months, but was announced on the sidebar November 19th. A Summer 2009 release date is anticipated.