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In a year filled with retro remakes, Super Meat Boy stood out as a retro original. The game may be filled with awesome references to its predecessors, but this is not some blindly worshipping homage. Super Meat Boy is the real new Super Mario Bros, having learned all the right lessons from the platformers of yore, while at the same time recognizing all their faults and forging its own unique path.
For example, while Super Meat Boy is undoubtedly a masochistic experience that will kick your ass like few other games can, it isn't maddeningly cheap – instead, its expertly designed levels challenge you to become a better player. The controls are airtight – you know that if you can just get that one last jump right, you’ll be able to move on to the next bite-sized level. Like the best teachers, Super Meat Boy is tough yet fair.
As Nintendo pushes the Wii as far as it can for the next Link game, From Software used the PS3 to make a downscaled tribute to the original Legend of Zelda on NES. Probably as close to a remake as legally possible, 3D Dot Game Heroes is a love letter to games of old, with a top-down adventure that’s reverent while still being a quest all its own.
Epic and Chair Entertainment’s iPhone debut isn’t so much impressive as it is offensive, in that it subverts everything you previously believed about the natural laws of the universe and turns everything you held dear on its head. It now seems that the Unreal Engine 3, the powerhouse responsible for Gears of War and BioShock, is perfectly cozy when squeezed into a small box barely any bigger than a cigarette packet. Down is up. The sky is green and the grass is blue.
Not only that, but the UE3-powered Infinity Blade is a mighty accomplished game. No mere tech demo like its similarly mind-blowing predecessor Epic Citadel, it’s a fully functioning (albeit incredibly linear) dungeon-crawling action-RPG, with controls that get the best out of the iPhone’s interface and a sense of place and ambience that’ll make you think your phone is really a magic time-window to the middle-ages of mankind or the future of gaming.
iD’s John Carmack has dedicated his life to the kind of witchcraft and arcanery that makes Aleister Crowley look like Barney Rubble. His latest feat of the dark coding arts? Making the insane-looking Rage engine run on a humble iPhone, with an eye-popping vibrancy and smoothness to usurp even the Doom 3 Xbox port, iD’s previous quart/pint pot pinnacle.
We’ve already gushed about FFXIII’s exceedingly impressive graphics, but there’s a whole other layer of excellence that deserves pointing out – the beautiful, utterly immaculate menus. In just about every other game, navigating through all the information is a tiresome chore. In FFXIII, every single list of details is presented in a flawlessly clear yet spectacularly gorgeous fashion. Character profiles animate as you flip through, each shop menu has a unique logo and design, even the in-game HUD looks fantastic. There are still some “normal” menus tucked in here, but by and large this is beyond anyone’s expectations for data navigation.
It’s a silly thing to award, but hey, no one else is going to acknowledge how much work went into something that most people will just poke through. If you’re one of the millions who played FFXIII, you know precisely what we’re talking about.
It’s not what's in them that make StarCraft II's menus special… it's what's behind them. Head to the armory and watch as vehicles and special units you’ve collected come to life in the background. See Tychus blast down incoming swarms of mutalisks while you choose how to spend your resources. StarCraft II's menus make even the most mundane and repetitive decisions seem exciting.
In a lot of ways, it’s been a bad, bad year for Sony’s increasingly ill-favored handheld. While we’ve been hearing about no shortage of stellar games arriving on the DS and iPhone, the PSP’s been drip-fed top-tier games at a rate of about one or two per month. Don’t write it off just yet, though, because the games that did make it were really, REALLY good. Not just “good for the PSP,” but great by any console’s standards.
Let’s single out a few of the best: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, while borrowing a little too heavily from Monster Hunter’s playbook, turned out to be a deeply varied, endlessly addictive adventure that was much longer on gameplay than it was on cutscenes. God of War: Ghost of Sparta was nearly as good as (and a little more character-driven than) God of War III on PS3. Valkyria Chronicles II turned out to be an amazing tactical RPG completely devoid of much-dreaded dating-sim aspects, Persona 3 Portable offered experiences that neither of its PS2 versions did, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep was brilliantly realized and Ys Seven expanded on its franchise’s traditionally button-mashy action-RPG gameplay with multiple characters and more complex battles.
So, true, there haven’t been as many choices as usual for PSP fans this year, but that might be a blessing in disguise. After all, fewer games just means more time to devote to the ones available – which, considering how long some of this year’s crop run, you’ll probably need.
Presented by GamesRadar Senior Wildlife Editor (and Horse), B. Buttercup: "Look, I know that all horses probably look the same to you - and I’ll admit that it’s hard for me to tell you humans apart sometimes. But I can at least tell the difference between a weak human and a clumsy gorilla. So why can’t my co-workers tell the difference between a horse and a unicorn?
I assume that I’ve been chosen to announce this award because of a) this year's surprisingly large number of videogame unicorns, in everything from Comic Jumper and Costume Quest to Red Dead Redemption's zombie DLC, and b) my equine heritage.
Which is a bit of an insult. Horses are real. Unicorns are not. If I must pick a game that used unicorns particularly well, however, it’s clear that the winner should be Adult Swim’s Robot Unicorn Attack. The Flash game has gone multiplatform with various versions available on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. That’s partly due to the way it embraces the glittery goodness of unicorns, which appeals to non-horse gamers’ appreciation for ironic humor. But beneath the sarcastic celebration of this mythical beast and its stoner-friendly sensibilities lies a simple – yet solid – platformer that’s addictive and incredibly challenging."