Game of the Year: Super Mario Galaxy 2
With Nintendo releasing a title of this quality, were you really expecting anything else from me? But you don't have to be a Ninty fangirl to see that yet again, Mario has managed to get himself into a spot of trouble that is really something special.
It may be a direct sequel with an almost indentikit format and gameplay to the original but it is perfectly polished and absolutely bursting with innovation and fresh Mario magic. Of course, in this instalment, Yoshi comes along for the interplanetary ride but thankfully he never feels over used or shoe-horned in, and, while the little green guy has sometimes made me want to tear out my toenails in frustration, this time gallivanting around on his back feels largely intuitive and you'll usually find yourself glad to see him.
The game impresses from start to finish with its fantastic presentation, superb level design, precise controls, perfectly balanced difficulty curve and, most of all, incredible fun factor. Despit how huge it is (with an awesome surprise longevity booster revealed to you once you have collected 120 stars) it never feels like it loses focus, no level is built from filler material.
True, I didn't love it quite as much as Mario's original topsy-turvy planet hopping adventure, but that is testament only to how incredible its predecessor was, rather than an indictment of Super Mario Galaxy 2. It's big, bold, beautiful, bright and brilliant, and, despite some strong competition, I can think of no other game that has flown so close to flawless this year.
Favourite Game of 2010: Mass Effect 2
When the first Tomb Raider title came out, I thought I might die of cringing at all the attention that its nubile heroine received from lonely gamers, so it is sheepishly that I admit that even though it is months since I completed Mass Effect 2, I still cannot think of Thane Krios, the sensitive Drell assassin, without sighing wistfully. What human could possibly live up to this fascinating and mysterious fictional alien? It is this sort of emotional reaction that is key to my love for this Bioware epic. Because Krios is not an anomaly; Mass Effect 2 is populated by a cast of characters that I truly wish were my friends (but thank god are not my enemies!) and, for me, this is what truly makes the game shine.
That's not to say that these beautifully drawn characters (dull as ditchwater Jacob and moany Miranda aside) are lonely sailors adrift in a sea of mediocrity; this second outing for Shepard and co is a lesson in deft and elegant story-telling and a highly effective third person shooter, complemented by streamlined RPG elements. I loved the narrative and the beautifully presented cinematic style which somehow manages to avoid feeling like an interactive movie.
The combat is much improved from the first game with battles now feeling meatier and more realistic but mostly I got a kick out of hurling enemies around with the boosted biotic powers.
It's not perfect; the mind-numbingly moronic mining mini game which replaces the much maligned Mako is a disaster that plays like a recipe for RSI and I really missed idly exploring uncharted planets but such things are just tiny blemishes on the glorious face of all that Mass Effect 2 has to offer.
Biggest Disappointment: Final Fantasy XIII
When I began my stint working as a localiser for Square-Enix, I could not quite believe that my first title was to be Final Fantasy XIII. Despite how little I had liked the look of characters revealed thus far, I was instantly overwhelmed by a thrilling, childish sense of abject glee; alas, by the end of my first day of playthrough this had almost entirely dissipated. When I complain about games being linear, I am usually speaking figuratively but for the majority of Final Fantasy XIII: Curse of the Constant Corridor you are simply rushing down an interminable straight line. This forward march is broken up by a narrative that is not so much intricately woven into the gameplay but instead pasted crudely atop. The lack of opportunity for exploration is more than matched by the lack of choice the game affords you. For the vast majority of the game you have virtually no control over anything (you are even given an Auto Battle button to allow you to completely dispense with thought during play) and once you get over the abject thrill of the game opening up a little, you realise that your choices are still painfully stunted. Dammit, the game knows better than you, lowly player!
There's been no end of cooing and hooing and ha-ing over the graphics but, video scenes aside, I have never quite understood the fuss; it's a pretty game for sure but there's plenty of fluffy textures and pixellation and unnecessary details like Vanille's queerly placed and horribly angular bangles regularly drew my attention to the aesthetic weaknesses.
The FMV sequences can hardly be faulted but I would gladly swap these for just one town, NPCs with whom I could actually interact and, most pressingly of all, a Moogle or two.
Best Gaming Moment of 2010: Bioware goes to the opera
Despite how many great scenes there were in Mass Effect 2, I firmly believed that nothing could top getting drunk on Serrice Ice Brandy with everyone's favourite incidental character, Dr. Chakwas and for some time nothing did. But a serious conversation between Commander Shepard and on board scientist Mordin Solus about the Collectors' inability to appreciate art gave way to one of the most shocking scenes I have witnessed in a video game. From the instant Gilbert and Sullivan were mentioned, my eyebrows had begun to travel up my forehead and when he casually leapt into his somewhat altered rendition of the Major General's song I could not believe my gleeful eyes and ears.
This sixty second scene absolutely cemented stiff, emotionless Mordin as my favourite character in the game, elevating him above even my beloved doomed sweetheart Thane. I've had plenty of amazing gaming experiences this year, from the moving to the ludicrously gory (*cough*God of War*cough*) but nothing has surprised and delighted me quite as much Dr. Solus singing his superb Scientist Salarian solo.
Most Anticipated Game of 2011: The Last Guardian
Even in a year which sees the release of a new “proper” Zelda title, Portal 2, Uncharted 3 and Dragon Age II, my answer could not possibly be anything but The Last Guardian. Shadow of the Colossus is my favourite game of all time and from the moment I sniffled through its ending credits, nothing in the world of gaming has excited me so much as the puzzle of how Team Ico could possibly follow up this strange and delicate masterpiece.
Thankfully the trailers for Ueda's newest title have managed to completely blow me away, despite my extravagant expectations. Shadow of the Colossus was a beautifully designed game, let down slightly by the limitations of its own graphics engine and the capabilities of the PS2 but, if these scenes are anything to go by, The Last Guardian will be a truly exquisite treat for the eyes as well as the mind. I am just as excited to see how the relationship between the boy and Trico will develop throughout the game; the sense of isolation in SotC really helped to reinforce the bond between Wander and Agro and Ueda has spoken of taking this idea and building upon it for his new title.
Despite this being only their third game, there is no developer I trust like Team Ico and I feel utterly convinced that even if it is the only thing I ever play on the console, The Last Guardian will make me revel in the glory of my PS3.