Most Surprisingly Good Game: Braid
It’s ironic that Braid is actually receiving my first award because I absolutely hated the game. I recognize its importance to the industry, its ingenuity, and its impeccable level design. It had one of the most striking visual styles I’ve seen in modern video games, and I can still hear its haunting soundtrack. Unfortunately, I hated everything else about it. While most people praise the story for its ability to be interpreted numerous ways, I found it pretentious and not at all relevant to the gameplay. Puzzles were, for the most part, fair. But don’t bill your game as a platformer/puzzle hybrid if success in the game is not at all dependent on platforming skills. Anyway, my Braid rant is over. Amazing game, but definitely not for me.
Best New Character: Sack Boy
Honorable Mention: Niko Bellic (GTA IV)
Biggest News: Nintendo Reclaims Console Supremacy
While I think it’s great that the console makers I grew up with are back on top, I wish it were under better circumstances. When I was a kid, the Nintendo Seal of Quality meant you were buying a product that met a certain standard of excellence. This generation, the insignia has been officially shortened to the Nintendo Seal, and it’s obvious that quality is no longer a priority. There are still plenty of great games for the Wii, but those games are overshadowed by the seemingly limitless piles of shovelware that any and all developers are throwing out to make a quick buck.
Best Original Downloadable Console Game: Mega Man 9
Most of my favorite games this year weren’t even retail releases at all. Because of my increasingly short free time, most of the games I played this year came from Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network. Even though I’m far from finishing it, Mega Man 9 gets my nod for best downloadable console game because of sheer audacity. I never imagined they’d continue the original Mega Man line like this, especially after running each of the million spin-offs into the ground. It’s impossibly difficult, but if a game that comes out in 2008 can remind me of playing Mega Man II as a kid, it deserves an award. Even if Capcom is milking every last cent from pointless downloadable expansions that should have been included in the original release.
Honorable Mentions: WipEout HD, echochrome
Best Downloadable Content: Burnout Paradise – New tracks, modes, & motorcycles
2008 was a great year for downloadable content, with plenty of games getting worthwhile additions long after their retail releases. n+ had some great level packs and Harmonix continued its amazing support for Rock Band, but Burnout Paradise gets my commendation for the sheer fact that all of their extra content in 2008 was free.
Best Original Music: Patapon
Patapon gets my award for best original music because the player takes an active part in making the music. Even if it makes it difficult to play Patapon anywhere but at home with headphones, the rhythms in the game are what make it so addiciting.
Best Licensed Music: Braid
As I said before, my favorite part about Braid was its haunting score. Rock Band 2, obviously, is a close runner-up.
Honorable Mention: Rock Band 2
Funniest Game: Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law
Harvey Birdman isn’t a good game. At just about 4 hours, it probably isn’t worth more than $10. But if you’re looking for a good laugh and some watered-down Phoenix Wright gameplay, it’s probably worth picking this one up in a bargain bin.
Best Cooperative Multiplayer: Burnout Paradise
The lack of a retry option in Burnout Paradise occasionally made the single-player experience frustrating. But throw in a few friends and a couple hundred online objectives, and you’ve got a party.
Honorable Mentions: Gears of War 2, n+
Best Competitive Multiplayer: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Super Smash Bros. Brawl was a Nintendo fanboy’s dream. It’s packed with nostalgia and has enough content to last you the next 5 or 6 years until the inevitable sequel. There were plenty of games this year that had arguably better competitive multiplayer experiences, but Smash Bros. gets my top prize because it actually encourages real life friends in the real world to sit down next to you on a real couch and play a game on the same television set. Social skills are fun.
Best Original Game Mechanic: echochrome – Altered perspective gameplay
I’m probably a bit biased for this one because I wrote GameSpot’s review of echochrome, but I really love its perspective mechanic. It has its issues, like occasionally not following its own conventions, but there’s something about seeing an M.C. Escher painting come to life that really has me.
Honorable Mention: Patapon – Using rhythms to command your tribe
Most Innovative Game: echochrome
See previous award.
Honorable Mention: Patapon
Best Use of Control Scheme: Boom Blox
Something about grabbing a ball and chucking it at a bunch of blocks in a sort of anti-Jenga parallel world is really satisfying. Like most good games on the Wii, Boom Blox builds a game around a successful mechanic instead of shoehorning a succesful game into a shoddy new control scheme.
Best Implementation of User-Generated Content: LittleBigPlanet
The possibilities for creativity in LittleBigPlanet are endless. Granted, it will take a very determined player to design the best levels, but the stage is set for some amazing content. As long as Sony doesn’t go overboard on the moderation, LittleBigPlanet has the potential to nurture some great future developers.
Honorable Mention: n+