Top 10 wrote:10. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP, Square-Enix)
The team behind Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII deserves some kind of medal – Square-Enix went above and beyond the call of duty to fill their game with so much more dignity than was actually necessary for a story about cool dudes with big swords and great hair. The battle system is snappy and direct, the cut-scenes are heavy and quick, and the graphics are crisper than anything on PlayStation 2 (though maybe that’s because you’re holding the screen in the palm of your hand).
As the flagship title at the launch of the redesigned slim and lite PSP, Crisis Core also sold fabulously well, and carried the PSP into a several-weeks-long stint at the top of the console sales charts, triumphing over the DS. (Though maybe that was just because everyone owned a DS already.)
9. The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS, Nintendo)
After nearly a decade of Zelda games failing to set Japan on fire, series director Eiji Aonuma faced the difficult task of making the series relevant again in its native land. Phantom Hourglass attacked the “genre” of Zelda; it stripped away much of the plodding and collectionism, it focused its controls entirely on the DS stylus, and it based its puzzles on common sense rather than “Zelda Logic” (killing all the enemies results in a door unlocking, as does lighting all the torches in a room). In short, it pulled Zelda away from the classification of “videogame” and closer to “entertainment.” With over a half-million sales in Japan, it’s safe to say Phantom Hourglass is a success. The next challenge for Aonuma should be in keeping games of this calibre coming regularly. I personally would love to see one little DS adventure a year from Link.
8. Armodyne (PlayStation 2, Sony Computer Entertainment (Omiya Soft))
One of the more under-the-radar titles of the year, Armodyne mixes the bones of real-time strategy with the brains of Advance-Wars-esque mathematic precision. It's easily one of the more interesting strategy-RPGs ever made -- instead of telling your units where to move or who to attack, you give them a rough objective and then tell them how you would like them to act: assign a repair unit to an area where a heated firefight is going down, and issue the "defensive" command -- the healer will avoid attacks while, each round, repairing whichever nearby unit needs it the most. Have one unit pursue a fleeing enemy "defensively" as a diversion while another, slower unit approaches "aggressively". This set-up creates a sparkling, organic flow to the large-scale battle maps. With peculiarly high production values added to the mix and a surprisingly unique mecha and character customization system, it's a wonder this rock-solid gem didn't take off.
7. Yuusha no kuse ni namaikida (PSP, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio (Acquire))
Acquire is a developer known for a strong heritage in ninja games – they created the Tenchu, Way of the Samurai, and Shinobido franchises. Its latest game, for PSP, is a bit of a head-scratcher. The title means roughly “They’re Audacious Even for Heroes.” It’s kind of an RPG, kind of a real-time strategy game, kind of a dungeon-building game, and kind of a puzzle game. Whatever it is, it’s 100 percent amazing, and it came completely out of left-field to earn a tantalizing score of 10, 8, 8, 10 from Weekly Famitsu.
Basically, you play as a demon lord’s apprentice. Your goal is to make the caverns twisty enough and full enough of monsters to stop the heroes before they can reach the demon lord. Killing pesky adventurers just feels awesome. And to top it all off, the game features plenty of actually hilarious parody of RPG stereotypes.
6. No More Heroes (Nintendo Wii, Marvelous Entertainment (Grasshopper Manufacture))
In recent years, Grasshopper Manufacture’s Goichi Suda has been looking to the broad scope and ambition of Western games like Grand Theft Auto, and the inspiration is evident in No More Heroes’ fictional city of Santa Destroy. The quirky little story is definitely something you wouldn’t see in GTA—a man wins a laser sword in an Internet auction, decides to use it to challenge a local professional killer to a duel, and ends up roped into a kind of pyramid scheme wherein he has to defeat the ten best killers in America. The graphical style is Grasshopper’s trademark sophisticated cel-shading, and Masafumi Takada’s musical score is an electric, eclectic, perfect mix of rhythm, bass, and noise. The game structure is GTA-loose when it wants to be and Megaman-sharp when it has to be. And for the first time, shaking the Wii remote in a game – and violently, to charge up your sword’s batteries – is so hilarious that it’s actually fun.
5. Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360, Microsoft (Mistwalker / FeelPlus)
Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Lost Odyssey is a loaded pistol pointing (perhaps in jest) right between Final Fantasy’s eyes. It’s been touted over and over again that the story in this game is penned by an actual literary novelist (Kiyoshi Shigematsu), though you really can’t appreciate just how amazing that is until you’re right there in the thick of the game. The character designs by a world-renowned genius comic artist (Takehiko Inoue) are unique enough to grab your attention and the voice direction is superb.
It’s hard to say whether Lost Odyssey will find more or less success abroad than at home – the Western gaming press’s rejection of Blue Dragon, Mistwalker’s first game, might not have left the best impression on the loads of people who don’t realize that Lost Odyssey was Mistwalker’s main project. Time will tell if Sakaguchi has a new Final Fantasy on his hands.
4. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii, Nintendo)
For Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo obviously wanted to create a cultural event on par with the original Super Mario Bros. And while just about nothing about Super Mario Galaxy’s presentation (in short: very talky) is as instantly infectious and hummable as the original Super Mario Bros.’s theme music, it’s definitely a game with metric tons of heart, scope, and overall game design wonder. Like Super Mario 64 before it, Super Mario Galaxy will no doubt inspire dozens of game developers for years to come, which is both a good thing for game developers and a wonderful thing for gamers.
I’m of the humble opinion that there’s just plain too much genius in Super Mario Galaxy; at parts it feels stretched thin, at parts it feels repressed by its unending need to do something new. Which is to say: if other game designers are going to mine a game for concepts, Super Mario Galaxy is probably the one game they could all pick and end up not looking like anyone’s copying anyone else.
In the first month of its release, it’s sold just over half a million copies. Will Super Mario Galaxy see a sequel in the next three years, or is it back to the drawing board for the team? It all depends on how long Super Mario Galaxy floats around the sales charts.
3. Wii Fit (Nintendo Wii, Nintendo)
Nintendo’s biggest release of the year (in terms of size), the most talked-about, and the one with the most potential to launch the Wii into cultural superstardom the way Brain Training promoted the Nintendo DS is Wii Fit, and as of the time of this writing, it’s been on Japanese store shelves for all of four days.
The news has yet to report any rioting or earthquakes directly related to the game’s release, and I’ve so far had no luck finding a sign outside a store proclaiming that they’re sold out of Wii Fit. But even the phenomenally successful Brain Training took several months before sales exploded.
Currently, review-writing customers on Amazon.co.jp are saying that the product has a cute enough presentation to probably keep them coming back once a day, though at the moment, it’s still too early to tell. The sales of this game depend on both Nintendo’s presentation prowess and the Japanese people’s will to keep exercising. In Tokyo, though, where the average citizen walks at least a mile a day, people tend to be a lot more fit than, say, a country where fast-food restaurants have drive-thrus (no offense; I could go for some Fatburger fries right about now). Do the people “need” to exercise over here? Do people feel bad enough about their imperfections to use Wii Fit every day, and then to tell their friends to use it? And will they see results?
The future for Wii Fit remains uncertain, though it sure as hell is going to be interesting to watch. And maybe someone will make a decent snowboarding game.
2. Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Nintendo DS, Level-5)
Level-5 certainly has the hardcore gamer’s attention with games like the action RPG Dark Cloud, the more mainstream Dragon Quest VIII and the upcoming White Knight Story. But what of the casual gamers? That’s where Professor Layton comes in. The hook is simple – you play the part of a detective-professor’s apprentice. You’re investigating a mystery in, as the title suggests, a Curious Village. Investigating the mystery involves literally hundreds of real-world-logic-based puzzles. They come relentlessly, one right after another. Your reward for completing one is a lovingly presented, gracefully short, irresistably cute cut-scene – and then another puzzle.
It might take you twenty minutes to solve one of the expertly-crafted puzzles alone, or it might take you two weeks. Either way, to consult a strategy guide would be terrible blasphemy.
If you complete the game, you probably won’t want to play any of the puzzles again. Even then, replay value is never a problem. This is because Level-5 understands the notion of quality – they’ve been delivering spectacularly on their promise to make new puzzles available every week after the title’s launch. And they’ve got a third game coming early next year – that raises the total number of puzzles to well over 6,000. Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma was quoted, in 2007, as saying that the goal of puzzle-crafting in a Zelda game is to make the player feel smart; I suppose that makes Layton better than Zelda, in that completing all these puzzles through your own hard work can actually make you smart.
1. Pac-Man Championship Edition (Xbox Live Arcade, Namco)
Pac-Man creator Tooru Iwatani never had any smashing success with any games aside from Pac-Man; nonetheless, as the one game designer Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto claims to respect above all others, he’s certainly earned his keep. He’s spent the last few years as a lecturer in various Japanese universities, and as of March of this year, he has officially retired from Namco to take up a post lecturing about game design at Tokyo Polytechnic University. He certainly didn’t leave quietly, though: Pac-Man Championship Edition is a bang of a statement. In an era capstoned by stop-and-pop shooters with normal maps and particle effects, it’s fitting and beautiful that a version of Pac-Man exclusive to the Xbox 360 is the best game of the year.
Namco had, for years, been issuing somewhat stingy compilations of their oldest games, filling CDs roughly 0.3 percent full with the likes of Mappy and Galaga, so when Microsoft announced that they were joining forces with Namco to bring a Pac-Man World Championship via Xbox Live, no one exactly had to throw their hands on top of their head to keep their hats from flying off. I personally wondered how a “championship” of a game can take place if there are several men in the world who are capable of playing that game absolutely perfectly. A championship wouldn’t be too much fun if you weren’t one of those guys – or even if you were.
What a shock it was that Pac-Man Championship Edition is, essentially, the perfect videogame. Championship Edition is undeniably Pac-Man, and it is undeniably perfect. Instead of eating all the dots on the maze to progress to the next stage, the maze continually reseeds itself, and organically changes, depending on how quickly and efficiently you manage to eat the dots. Tiny touches (like sparks when Pac-Man rounds corners, a thump of loving vibration whenever you eat a ghost, the pulsing, retro-arcade-invoking neon aesthetic) mingle with monster-huge game design hooks (it’s intensely satisfying to eat multiple ghosts in a row).
Some have complained about the game’s preset length of five minutes, and yearn for an endless mode. I say it’s perfectly fine as it is. It’s all about the score, anyway, and it’s enough of an achievement to simply survive. If you ask me, the only disappointment is the terrible default music track – probably the cheesiest techno music imaginable. I suppose this is why custom soundtracks were invented. Good thing you can still hear the delicious sound effects while listening to your own music.
Maxim wrote:1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
2. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
3. The Orange Box
5.God of War II
6. Super Mario Galaxy
7. The Darkness
8. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
9. John Woo's Stranglehold
10. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Time wrote:1. Halo 3
2. The Orange Box
3. Rock Band
4. Super Mario Galaxy
6. Call of Duty 4
7. Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
8. Mass Effect
9. Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation
10. God of War 2
Amazon.com editors wrote:1. Super Mario Galaxy
2. The Orange Box
4. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
5. Rock Band
6. God of War 2
7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
9. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
10. Halo 3
10. Am I Having Fun? - flOw PS3
Raph Koster once posed the following question to me: “Can we make a game about the taste of a peach?” Maybe not, but we can certainly make a game about entering a Zen state (as anyone who’s played flOw can attest to).
flOw starts off our countdown because I have no idea where to put it. I love the “game” but I’m not even sure if it’s fun.
Since I can’t decide if flOw is a genius revolution in gaming, the first of a totally new form of “interactive experience”, or just a near miss that fails to incorporate the experience it’s presenting into a game, I’ll let it round out the list at number ten. On a different day it would have been number one.
9. F’k That – Warhawk
It takes some serious balls of steel to stand in a room full of suits and say “you know that multi-million dollar console game you paid us to make…well we just cut single player,” but somebody did it for Warhawk.
Warhawk is not only one of the best (and not only because it is one of the only) exclusive PS3 titles, it’s also a harbinger of what’s to come. Warhawk represents console developers and the console audience becoming truly comfortable with the idea of connectivity. The fact that Warhawk was sold as a digital download as well as a retail product may well mark the blurring of the line between what most players consider “downloadable games” and “real games”.
For understanding that single player is no longer an essential part of the console experience, Warhawk clocks in solidly at number nine.
8. Reimagining the Controller – Assassin’s Creed
Love it or hate it, the Assassin’s Creed controller is something different, not only practically but conceptually. Thinking of the controller not as “an agglomeration of buttons that serve to convey mechanical commands” but rather as “an extension of the player’s very being” is a sea change.
You may ask “why is it such a leap, after all we’ve had the Wii for a year now?” It is a major leap because the Assassin’s Creed controller achieves what it does without forcing the player to mimic the motions of their character. This opens up a much wider field of satisfying play.
Did Ubisoft execute it perfectly? I’ll leave that for you to decide. In the meantime, I’ll applaud them for providing us with something rarely seen in the industry these days: a total conceptual shift.
7. Hook it to my Veins – Call of Duty 4
Want your MMO fix in tasty bite size morsels? Then Call of Duty 4 is the game for you. In Call of Duty 4 you get the satisfaction of a good grind with a sense of accomplishment in 15 minute intervals.
The first developer who can do this with Co-Op game play will walk away with a lot of cash…
6. Better than Duck Hunt – Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
“How can we make a good shooter on the console?”
This question has been asked a thousand times and been answered in a thousand ways but, until now, the answer has never seemed to satisfy. This is largely due to the fact that when people ask “How do we make a good shooter on a console” what they really mean is “how do we make a shooter that feels as quick and responsive as a PC shooter on the console.”
Apparently the answer is the Wii mote. I was blown away by this fact. Nintendo had always been the “family friendly” console to me so I didn’t consider the FPS ramifications of the Wiimote but clearly it’s the best tool for the job. With some tweaking and some refinement down the line I could see the Wii (or a console with Wii like controls) becoming the platform of choice for hardcore FPSers, even over the PC. If this does become the case it will owe it all to Metroid Prime 3.
5. Second Genesis? - EvE Online: Trinity
There are only two reasons why successful MMOs die out: either they become too complicated – and thus become inaccessible to new users – or they just start to look dated. CCP, the creators of EvE-Online have figured out a solution to the second problem, patch in a new graphics engine.
While this may not seem like a design innovation, it opens up an important new possibility for gaming: the perpetual game. There is no reason why, if you are willing to give away major technological overhauls, you can’t create a world that lasts for decades, perhaps centuries.
Imagine having thirty years development time. Imagine what a world could be like after a quarter century of additional content and art. Imagine a living world filled not only with myth cycles and lore but history!
For letting us dream EvE earns its place at number five.
4. *Oh My Jesus God* – Line Rider
As a game designer there are some games that just make you want to weep…the simplicity, the elegance, the grace: why didn’t you think of that. Line rider was one of those games. The first time I saw it I thought to myself “I could make forty beautiful games out of this”. The first time I played it I thought to myself “this is a beautiful game”.
When I last checked there were more Line Rider videos on YouTube than Gears of War. To put that popularity in perspective let me just say this: making line rider cost less than buying a retail copy of Gears and I can tell you all of the rules of Line Rider in under a minute...
It’s simple toys like this that serve to remind us that all the mechanics have not been found, that there are still activities which are engaging and fun that don’t require a multi-million dollar budget to execute, and that’s why line rider earns it’s place on our list.
3. Reinventing the Wheel – Mass Effect
I can’t remember the last time I saw a dialogue tree in a major release game...but you know what I can remember? I can remember having a conversation with a group of game designers who said that dialogue trees were dead, that a modern audience wouldn’t sit through that amount of reading. Bioware blew this line of reasoning out of the water with the dialogue wheel in Mass Effect.
Moreover they did it on a console...
The dialogue wheel not only allows players to quickly assimilate their choices but also adds an intriguing uncertainty to the game play. The wheel allows the player to choose the tenor of their responses but not the responses themselves. Surprisingly this leads to a feeling of greater choice rather than a restrictive gimmick thus earning Mass Effect its place at number three.
2. Not Just for Your Grandma Anymore - Puzzle Quest
Puzzle games hold my attention for all of twenty minutes. Once I figure out the core mechanics I’m usually pretty done...
I’ve played at least 150 hours of Puzzle Quest.
Puzzle Quest deserves to be on the top ten most innovative games of 2007 for a myriad of reasons. First off it combined puzzle games and rpgs. That in and of itself would deserve a mention, but Puzzle Quest did so much more. It successfully bridged the gap between casual and hardcore players. Most of the attempts I’ve seen try to do this by separating out the “hardcore game” and the “casual game” and simply package them together in the same application, not so with Puzzle Quest. In Puzzle Quest it all depends on how you play. If you are the type of player who just cares about doing a neat puzzle every once in a while the game certainly has that, but if you are the type of player who wants to Min/Max your 1337 skziills and see how much you could pwn, well that was there too…in the exact same activity the casual player was doing!
Moreover, Puzzle Quest finds unique answers for several questions which have plagued the design community for years. Most obvious: how do we make combat in an RPG fun? Puzzle Quest managed to avoid stale menu based combat without blundering into the “action-rpg” brier. Also, like the next title on the list, Puzzle Quest demonstrates how much you can do with a single play mechanic, creating a crafting, taming, capturing and training system all out of the same color matching rule set.
I hope you all ended this year with a new found respect for bejeweled...
1. Sine Qua Non – Portal
Portal takes the cake.
What else can I say? It reminded me why I design games. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, it’s elegant. All the touches are just right. More than that, it’s innovative, it allowed us to step into a new gamespace, to play with a mechanic that’s never before been done. Who knows if we’ll see this mechanic used again (probably not to this extent) but it doesn’t matter, they pushed the mechanic to the limit. The game itself was just a deep exploration of the mechanic. It gently unfolded all of the ramifications of the rules, ushered the player through a complete examination of the emergent properties of the ruleset and forced them to think in a new way. Thus to me it is the designer’s game of the year and the most refreshing piece of gaming I’ve experienced in a long time.
Of course none of those things are why it’s on this list. Actually the reason it’s on the list has almost nothing directly to do with design. Portal is actually on this list because Valve hired the entire team that made Narbacular Drop.
Allowing students to innovate and incubate in the safe environment of school and then, if their ideas have exceptional potential, to provide them with the guidance and resources necessary to fully realize their vision is something that I believe will revitalize game design. My hat’s off to you Valve for your bravery and your forward thinking. You well deserve this year’s Greatest Innovation Award.
Edge magazine wrote:Award - winner (runners up)
Best Game - Super Mario Galaxy (The Orange Box, Halo 3)
Best Innovation - Halo 3 (Crysis, Portal)
Best Visual Design - BioShock (Team Fortress 2, Super Mario Galaxy)
Best Audio Design - Super Mario Galaxy (Halo 3, Colin MCrae: Dirt)
Best Online Experience - Halo 3 (Forza 2, Wii Channels)
Best Hardware - Rock Band (Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii)
Best Developer - Valve (Bungie, Nintendo)
Best Publisher - Nintendo (Microsoft, EA)
5. BioWare (Mass Effect)
While it may verge on the over-complex in some gameplay mechanics, BioWare's masterful Mass Effect feels like a genuine space opera. It has whirling emotions and a genuine story arc - so genuine, in fact, that you start to realize how basic the story in many other games is.
In addition, the character customization using Unreal Engine 3 made players even more acutely aware of their immersion in the action. And with fruits from Dragon Age to the 'mysterious' MMO still due under new taskmaster Electronic Arts, one can't help but think that the golden age of BioWare's story-driven epics has only just begun.
4. Bungie (Halo 3)
Some cynics might say that Bungie not being #1 on this list means that they've failed, given the stratospheric expectations for Halo 3. Well, hardly - the single-player game was still rapturously received. But where the newly independent developer scored, for me, was in the multiplayer immersiveness.
With social networks ravenously engulfing the rest of electronic media, the incredibly complex stat tracking and multimedia upload capabilities of Halo 3's online modes make for a world in which tracking and replaying your interactions mean as much as the gameplay itself. Games still have a long way to go on their path to social media, and Bungie blazed the trail in 2007, while quietly setting up as independent of Microsoft.
3. 2K Boston/Australia (BioShock)
Of course, the team we'd all love to call Irrational always knew that BioShock was a critical darling, but to break out to commercial success - and with such a relatively odd, highbrow setting - was a surprise to many.
But Ken Levine's team took their time and presented a carefully structured game world where morals mattered, dynamic and emergent gameplay was rife, and Daddies were Big. It may already be a 'franchise', but as an original piece of art, BioShock rocks, and 2K Boston should be proud of the iteration and perseverance in birthing it. [UPDATE: Jay Kyburz notes in comments that 2K Australia should also be honored for its role in co-developing the game. Agreed - now they are.]
2. Harmonix (Rock Band/Phase)
When a developer thrives after its signature franchise has been taken away from them - that's when you know they're destined for greatness. And Boston's Harmonix did just that with Rock Band, possibly the best multiplayer game of all time - while sneaking in officially overlooked iPod breakthrough title Phase along the way.
It's not just the pure technical execution, either. In the innards of Rock Band, you can feel the love of rock music screaming out to be heard from the developer, something that's widely agreed to be somewhat lacking in Neversoft's still competent Guitar Hero III. It's a game that makes you feel - and most often, that feeling is great. Bravo, Harmonix.
1. Valve Software (The Orange Box)
Sure, plenty of other developers shipped a great game this year. But, let's face it, how many of those developers shipped three great titles all in one year, while simultaneously owning and operating a major PC game distribution portal?
Thanks to the puzzle humor genius of Portal, the beautifully art-directed multiplayer smartness of Team Fortress 2, and the pitch-perfect storytelling and humanistic drama of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, all packaged up neatly in The Orange Box, Valve deserves Gamasutra's award for the 2007 Developer Of The Year. (Mind you, expect a Halley's Comet-style gap until they next release this many titles in 12 months!)