Staff picks of 2010 – part one

2010 staff picks one - playwisegaming.comIn order to celebrate this year in gaming, playWISE has been featuring several articles detailing the most memorable games of the year. So far we’ve talked about both our biggest disappointments and the best hidden gems of 2010.

It was hard to narrow it down, but each of us has selected two games that were released in 2010 that are our favorite for whatever reason. You can find the first group of picks below and read more about why these incredible games were chosen.

Check back on Saturday Jan. 1 for the second group of staff picks.


Super Mario Galaxy 2
After purchasing “Super Mario Galaxy 2” back in May, immediately ripping it out of the package and playing it for four hours straight, my face hurt. I had been smiling the entire time without even realizing it.

Playing “Super Mario Galaxy 2” is a joy.

Every nostalgic, warm-fuzzy memory you have of playing through previous iterations of the Mushroom Kingdom as a child is recaptured in this game. Goomba bashing, pipe warping, dinosaur riding, triple jumping, butt stomping, Koopa smashing and star grabbing all make a return in a brand new galaxy that begs to be uncovered.

The level of variety in this game is astounding and, in my opinion, unrivaled. Series veterans will be chasing down every last one of the game’s 242 stars for at least 35 hours across 49 levels through both 3-D and side-scrolling 2-D stages.

The last batch of stars is unlocked after the main levels are beaten, and they can only be obtained by the most adept “back flippers” and “Yoshi abandoners.” Obtaining these last stars even changes the way levels are observed and forces players to exploit some of the game’s basic play mechanics.

“Super Mario Galaxy 2” is the best platformer of 2010 and this entire generation. If you like Mario even slightly, you are missing out on his biggest and best adventure to date if you haven’t yet played this masterpiece.

Heavy Rain

David Cage’s “Heavy Rain” is the future of the adventure genre — those games of yesteryear that involved questing kings and pulley-filled rubber chickens. It takes the concept of fact finding and puzzle solving into a more cinematic experience while adding the production values of a Hollywood blockbuster.

The game is not without its shortcomings, like a complicated control scheme and spotty voice acting, but it takes gaming in a different and refreshing direction. It’s almost hard to classify “Heavy Rain” as a game at all; it might be more accurate to label it as interactive storytelling.

Whatever “Heavy Rain” is, it’s nothing if not emotional. The golden goose that the gaming industry has been chasing for the last 20 years seems to have found a home in Cage’s studio.

Killing a man means something, hurting the protagonist is no longer reversible by merely finding a health pack and death is a very permanent state. Unlike most current titles, “Heavy Rain” makes you think.

This is where the adventure titles of the 90s should be today. I believe that “Heavy Rain” holds the key to returning the former glory this now stale and underdeveloped genre once held. Sadly, “Heavy Rain” is one-of-a-kind.


2010 has been the year of the surreal. Games like “Heavy Rain” and “Mass Effect 2” pushed the limits of photo-realism and storytelling. Is there room in this brave new world of gaming for a sandbox game consisting entirely of gigantic blocks? In a word: yes.

“Minecraft” is a PC game that’s part creation and part survival. Players start out with literally nothing but their own two hands, but, by gathering blocks to create tools, just about anything can be created, from a simple underground dungeon to a scale model of the Starship Enterprise.

But, when the sun goes down, this game quickly goes from carefree to deadly. Enemies like zombies and creepers run wild at night and are oftentimes exceedingly difficult to fend off.

What is it about this game that enticed over 2 million players to join before the game even went into beta? It’s quite possibly a cross between potential and possibility. Game developer Markus “Notch” Persson has given “Minecraft” a vast wealth of resources, from limitless worlds to fully functional online multiplayer and is continuously updating and improving the game.

The rest is up to you, and with such endless possibility, you’ll be coming back again and again to see what you can create next.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

The RPG is a gaming staple, and the Dragon Quest franchise has been doing RPGs since 1986. You’d think that, by the ninth iteration, Dragon Quest might be out of tricks — not so. “Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies” is the most innovative title in the history of the franchise.

Of course, the most obvious differences involve the implementation of the Nintendo DS touchscreen, but that merely scratches the surface. In “Dragon Quest IX,” playable characters are customizable in every way, and changes to clothes and armor are visible in game. Monsters are visible, too, replacing the random encounter.

The most innovative aspect of Dragon Quest IX is the implementation of the local Nintendo WiFi Connection. This tool, frequently overlooked in DS titles, is embraced in “Dragon Quest IX” with the introduction of a fully integrated multi-player function. Players travel smoothly from one game to another and can participate in almost all gameplay. The Nintendo WFC also gives players the ability to download treasure maps, new dungeons, and rare items.

“Dragon Quest IX” takes the RPG to another level, and, hopefully, other developers are taking note, because the changes made to the franchise in this title are changes that many other franchises could benefit from.


Transformers: War for Cybertron

Giant sentient robots battling each other for the control of a world. This epic premise transfixed children’s imaginations back in 1984 and cemented Transformers as a staple in world entertainment. Unfortunately, most recent Transformers games were rolled out alongside movies or television series in hopes of snagging sales.

However, among these cash-ins, one shall stand: “Transformers: War for Cybertron.” Much like 2009’s “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” “Transformers: War for Cybertron” pulls from classic lore and infuses it with a new style, creating something fresh, familiar, and phenomenal.

I loved seeing the big bots, such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, and Starscream, in their Cybertronian robot and vehicle forms, which are sleek and alien while still staying recognizable.  It was novel and interesting to wage the war from both the Autobots and Decepticons point of view as well.  A combination of different Transformers with various abilities, fun levels with epic setpieces and online co-op made me want to play through the campaign several times.

What really blew me away though was “Transformers: War for Cybertron’s” multiplayer.  A blend of standard third-person shooting mechanics with the twist of being able to transform into a vehicle anytime the player wanted kept the pace fast and exciting.  Mixing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” perks and kill streaks with a class based system similar to “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” guaranteed the desire to play one more game to earn that next level, earning new skills and abilities.

Besides a few oversights, like lack of host migration in multiplayer matches, High Moon Studios really came out of nowhere and created something fantastic where mediocrity reigned.  I can’t wait to see what they do with the sequel.

Halo: Reach

At this point, people generally know what to expect when it comes to the “Halo” series, but “Halo: Reach” decides to make things a little more personal.

While still epic, I enjoyed the smaller theatre of war.  As a result, the planet Reach becomes its own character in the story.  Multiple Spartans interacting and working as a squad was a welcome change to the lone-wolf Master Chief, giving the story more personality and characters to care about.

Of course, it wouldn’t be “Halo” without intense multiplayer.  The expanded customizability of your Spartan’s aesthetics kept me playing just one more match to get additional credits and that next rank to unlock the armor I wanted.

With the added strategy of armor abilities and  over 30 variations in matchmaking, “Halo: Reach” is both the perfect beginning and ending for the series.

Image Credits: Nintendo/SCE/Notch/Square/Microsoft

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