The Dirty Dozen: 2008’s Criminally Underappreciated Games
I feel like Rosenberg’s Ramblings can’t possibly be a proper video game-focused blog until at least one charticle has been posted. Since my page dwells in the shadowy corners of the gaming Internet, known to few and read by fewer, I feel it’s only natural that my first official list casts a spotlight on some of 2008’s more underappreciated gems.
Some of these you’ve likely played and forgotten; others you missed entirely. Maybe there’s even a title or two missing. Lord knows I didn’t get to play Operation Darkness, but a WWII-based tactical RPG featuring vampires and dragons can’t be totally without merit, can it? The running theme binding all of these selections together is that I played and enjoyed each and every one of them. So please, feel free to append your own choices in the comments section below.
Viking: Battle for Asgard (released March 25, 2008)
A third-person, open-world action/stealth-RPG published by Sega and developed by Total War architects Creative Assembly. I simply don’t understand the lack of love Viking received. Set across three wide-open maps, the goal throughout is to continually build your Viking army (and your viking avatar Skarin), the better to crush enemy-held camps, villages and castles in epic-scale invasions. The combat is pretty brutal too, with slow-mo decapitations and limb removals serving as the norm.
AWAY: Shuffle Dungeon (released October 30, 2008)
Mistwalker’s/Artoon’s Nintendo DS-exclusive AWAY: Shuffle Dungeon was released at the worst possible moment, arriving the same week that Fallout 3 hit stores. What’s more, I think people may have been frightened off by the simplistic, overly cutesy visuals. It’s too bad for that; AWAY ‘s dual-screen dungeon shuffling and between-dungeon city-building makes for incredibly addictive, and frequently challenging, gameplay.
Bangai-O Spirits (released August 12, 2008)
Treasure’s original Bangai-O hit North American Dreamcasts in March, 2001, the same month that the console was to be discontinued here. Its DS-exclusive sequel Bangai-O Spirits features 160 levels plus a full-featured level editor. User-created content can even be shared as sound clips, which can be recorded into another DS via its integrated microphone. At first glance, the game seems like a standard 360-degree scrolling 2D shooter, but a variety of weapon effects, environmental features and enemy strengths/weaknesses create a distinctly puzzler-like dynamic.
Chronotron (released May 2008)
I tried this here Flash game months ago on Kongregate because of good advertising. Chronotron drew me in with a Simpsons reference headlining its description: “It’s about a robot that goes back in time for some reason. (His best friend is a talking pie!)” While I never did find the referenced talking pie, I did find a game which toys with time-based puzzle play in a way very similar to another fairly popular 2008 release, Jonathan Blow’s Braid. This one’s free though, meaning all you have to do is click right here to play it.
The Club (released February 19, 2008)
Bizarre Creations’ The Club is definitely a flawed game, though the core ideas were sound. It’s essentially The Running Man in video game form, mixing the thrill of wanton virtual violence with a racing game-like focus on running laps and time trials through the carnage. All of the festivities are overseen by a disembodied booming announcer’s voice (think Unreal Tournament or Mortal Kombat). Unfortunately, the multiplayer was a flat-out missed opportunity. For a game so rooted in the mentality of classic arcade games, it’s criminal that the only online play options were sorry, utterly generic modes cut from the deathmatch/team deathmatch cloth.
Hail to the Chimp (released June 24, 2008)
Wideload Games’ hilarious Hail to the Chimp remains my favorite party game of 2008. The basic idea of animals duking it out for control of the clam vote – and thus, the Animal Kingdom – in the wake of the lion king’s departure is great on its own. The metric ton of game modes onhand in Hail is further supplemented by fantastic writing. Not only is each candidate realized as a unique, wacky persona – from Floyd the Walrus’s new age ramblings to Murgatroyd the Jellyfish’s incomprehensible burblings – but there’s roughly 90 minutes of hilarious animal kingdom television to be unlocked in a cable guide-like interface.
Korg DS-10 (released November 4, 2008)
There are quite a few DS titles on this list, and with good cause. No gaming platform has exhibited more flexibility than the DS. Sure, it can play games. But it can also do any number of other things, such as fully emulate the Korg MS-20 synthesizer in AQ Interactive’s Korg DS-10. A series of virtual knobs, dials and switches result in a pitch-perfect (no pun intended) digital re-creation of Korg’s excellent, oft-sampled classic synth. Beware though: an aptitude for composition or at least some willingness to learn are required to reap the full range of benefits that Korg DS-10 has to offer.
N+ (released February 20, 2008)
Okay, Metanet Software’s N+ wasn’t exactly underappreciated when it hit Xbox Live Arcade back in February. The simple-yet-stylish platformer starring a stick figure ninja scored high with critics and even garnered a Game of the Year nomination or two in recent weeks. Feb ‘08 is a long time ago however, and much has been released since then to push N+ aside in many gamer’s hearts. Seeing as how N+ offers four-player co-op, a full-featured level editor, online leaderboards featuring full replay videos and – let’s face it – some of the most downright challenging arcade-style gameplay outside of Treasure, I felt that one more end of year mention was in order.
Rise of the Argonauts (December 16, 2008)
Had Liquid Entertainment’s Rise of the Argonauts been released two or three years ago, it would have been a smash hit. Perhaps even an early 2008 release – or early 2009, as was originally intended – would have been better for it. Instead, Rise came along at the tail end of 2008 – fraught with the bugs of an unfinished work no less – and will likely fade into obscurity as a result. That’s a crying shame, since (tech troubles aside) Rise of the Argonauts is an extremely competent action-RPG set in a fantasy-world version of ancient Greece. It may be imperfect, but it’s a damn good time with its satisfyingly gory combat and atypical RPG mechanics which are based on the ties you build with one of four Greek deities.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (released October 21, 2008)
Shaba Games’ Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is also imperfect, but it gets two very important things right. The first, web-swinging, is nothing new; Shaba worked closely with the usual Spidey dev, Treyarch, to implement their excellent web mechanics for speeding through New York City’s urban jungle. The second however is all Shaba. In Web of Shadows we finally have a Spidey game where fighting as the webcrawler feels right. An incredibly well-conceived combo system gives players the ability to wipe out entire gangs of nameless cronies without ever once setting foot on the ground. For any other troubles weighing the experience down, swinging and flinging are both incredibly entertaining.
Silent Hill: Homecoming (released September 30, 2008)
Is it fair to call Homecoming the best Silent Hill game since the second one? I really want to know, as I’ve never played 2 in its entirety. I can tell you this though: Silent Hill: Homecoming is exemplary survival horror, by far the most well-executed example of sticking to genre tenets that I’ve seen in years. Perfect pacing and elaborate level designs lie at the core of Homecoming’s dark, twisted heart. Really, I’ve said all of this before, and recently, on UGO’s Gamesblog.
What’s Cooking? with Jamie Oliver (released October 21, 2008)
I can hear some of your snickers from here. A freakin’ cooking game? Well, no. See, it’s not really a game. This is the thing about the DS. It can play games, but it can also run a variety of useful apps. What’s Cooking? is best described as an interactive recipe book. Sure you can do virtual practice runs for one recipe or another in a game-like space, but that’s kinda besides the point. What’s Cooking? features a powerful set of filtering options for its cookbook, a built-in cooking timer and ingredient shopping lists. It’s not perfect – where, for example, are pictorial examples for some of the more difficult procedures – but it represents yet another compelling step towards a more multi-functional future for the Nintendo DS.