Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Favorites from Recent Years

It's the time of year when everyone is either putting together "best of" lists or looking forward to 2012's releases. I'll be sharing my thoughts on both of these topics in the days to come, but today I'm going to slack off a little bit. The subtle, yet ever-present pressure to stay abreast of the latest releases is felt most acutely during the end of the year. Even so, I still can't help but come back to some of my favorites from recent years.

VVVVVV: It came out in 2010 and still manages to impress me every time I load it up. From a design perspective, it has some of the tightest, well-executed platforming dynamics of any 2D platformer. It's level design is inspired and the level editor lets you explore the game's surprisingly-complex dynamics. On top of all this, it's hard to find a more rocking soundtrack:

PixelJunk Eden: It's still my favorite PixelJunk game. Something about the mixture of intense skill challenges, ambient music, and psychedelic continually draws me back. It makes a certain amount of sense: the game is cyclical in nature. You start off by collecting a single spectra, build up to five, and then go back to one on the next level. You move by making wide, arcing jumps and spin in circles to collect points and time. I find myself looping back to the game every few months.

Vanquish: Another one of my favorite games from 2010. Despite it's fast-paced, chaotic environments, I find Vanquish strangely relaxing. Extremely precise controls and a heavy emphasis on tactics let's me achieve a flow state. When enemies attack, I know exactly what to do and how to do it. It's mixture of cover-based shooting and high-speed melee combat offers a compelling alternative to the Gears of War school of third-person shooter design.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii: New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a social game in the most traditional sense of the word. When people come over to my house, I still try to get them to play a few levels with me. Of course, playing NSMBW will test even the strongest relationships (I'm pretty sure "assault with koopa shell" is grounds for divorce in some states). Because of this, I usually play with my brother, as we are quite accustomed to each other's mischief. Our current mission is to get all of the end-game stars, which means finishing multiple playthroughs while achieving objectives like finding each star coin or dying a minimum number of times.

Looking back on this selection, I see a pretty accurate picture of my natural gaming proclivities. When I'm looking for video game "comfort food" I turn to skill-based games that test dexterity and quick thinking. I love games that take simple concepts and then iterate on them to find all their permutations. Apparently, it doesn't hurt if they do so in 2D perspective either.

The years have tendency to go by quickly, as do the games released each month. Sometimes it's nice to slow down in the middle of the year-end rush, revisit some modern classics, and savor the experiences that often get left behind. I'll go back to talking about recent games soon enough, but before I do, what are some of your favorites from recent years?


  1. Nier was a pretty special little title for me. It came out in 2010 as well and wasn't too well received critically and it definately didn't do well commercially. It has some stellar game concepts and story elements though. I highly recommend it.

  2. That sounds like a good pick. I've actually heard some good things about Nier. Those that like it seem very devoted to it. One more game to add to the list!