5) Hector: Badge of Carnage Episode 1: We Negotiate With Terrorists (iOS) – Sure, this game is unsuitable for kids. Sure, it features a puzzle where you have to fish something out of a toilet with a used condom. But it's still awesome. This game took me back to my memories of the now legendary point & click adventure games of my youth with its humor, its "just hard enough" puzzles, outstanding voice work, and great art design.
4) Mass Effect 2 (360 / PC) – I doubt that I can say anything that hasn't already been said about this game. It's more shooter and less RPG than its already-pretty-shooter-y predecessor, but it's still great. As a suicide mission, the middle chapter of Shepard's struggle to save mankind (and alienkind) brought some real tension (and some real frustration, given the difficulty of saving your whole team) to what could have been a boring bridge between the story's beginning and its climax.
3) Infinity Blade (iOS) – As I said in my recent review, every so often, a game comes along that completely changes what we think a piece of hardware is capable of delivering. Infinity Blade is that game for the iOS. It may be the first game on the system to use Unreal Engine 3, but I can't imagine it'll be the last, and that could mean very exciting things for iOS gamers. Even better, it's not just a pretty face. It's fun too, and for me, fun is king.
2) Deathspank (PSN/XBLA) – I admit it: Ron Gilbert could probably release a game about pocket lint, and I'd still buy it. Because it would be great, like Deathspank. This game is both fun and funny, and I mean that in the very best way. Plenty of games try to make jokes, but they fall flat for one of a million reasons. Deathspank somehow manages to miss those pitfalls – probably by bashing them in the face with an axe. Yes, Deathspank would find a way to bash a pitfall in the face. The second installment wasn't quite as good, partly because it tries too hard on the humor front, but both games are absolutely worth playing.
1) Chaos Rings (iOS) – Before Infinity Blade came along, Chaos Rings was the best-looking game I had played on my iPod, and it's no slouch even after Infinity Blade's release. It still looks great, and its art design is still top notch. In fact, with the exception of its puzzles, Chaos Rings is an outstanding game in every regard. It's got a great, nuanced story that manages to keep four parallel universes from getting confusing. It controls really well. Its music is good stuff. There's no question that this game is fun enough to justify playing it the eight times it takes to get the true ending. It may be the priciest iOS game you'll ever buy, but it's worth it. As one of my colleagues said in a recent episode of our podcast, Square Enix could have released this on the DS or PSP, completely unchanged, and have been justified in charging $40. I, for one, am glad they didn't.
Disappointment of the Year: Zenonia 2 (iOS) – As the sequel to the game we picked as 2009's iOS Game of the Year, I expected that Zenonia 2 would be another great game for the platform... and yet, it wasn't. The story is weak, the music is uninteresting, and there are numerous flaws in the gameplay, including an ill-advised multiplayer mode that pits you against AI-controlled clones of other players' characters, rather than allowing for any real interaction with other people. Zenonia 2 is not unplayable, but it is so much less than the first game that I couldn't help but be sad.
Power of the Patch: Song Summoners: The Unsung Heroes Encore (iOS) – I named this game as my Disappointment of the Year last year, and it would be unfair of me if I didn't acknowledge the fact that a patch was released this year that completely resolved my issue: poor library management that caused the game to be essentially unplayable for gamers with lots of music. On many modern platforms, patches are a double-edged sword: they allow developers to fix issues that were missed in pre-release testing, but they also mean that a game can be released in an unfinished state and fixed up after the fact. Thankfully, the unique economy of iOS games and the constant influx of new games into the market makes the downside of patches unprofitable on this platform. If a game isn't in pretty good shape when it's initially released, there's little chance it will be able to regain gamers' focus after patches bring it up to snuff. Let's hope that stays true as the market matures.
Death by Release Date: Aralon: Sword & Shadow (iOS) and Eternal Legacy (iOS) – December 2010 brought far too many high-dollar releases on the iOS for a small team to cover in a short period. Infinity Blade, Dungeon Hunter 2, and Eternal Legacy were all released on the same day, with Aralon: Sword & Shadow coming just one week later. Clearly, the intention was to get all these games released prior to Christmas and the gift cards that accompany it, but that may very well have done the games a disservice rather than a favor.
I've been able to spend some time with these two games, and Aralon: Sword & Shadow looks like portable Oblivion (the game Ravensword was supposed to be, but wasn't), and aside from some very spotty voicework, Eternal Legacy appears to be as good a rip-off of Final Fantasy VII as we'll probably ever see. However, as a result of being released so close to each other and so close to the end of the year, I wasn't able to give them enough of an analysis to include them in my personal calculations for our Game of the Year awards, so I'm giving them my own personal award for Death by Release Date.