Wednesday, December 23, 2009

King of Aughts: The Shock of the New

Never forget: Somebody invented Tetris. In June of 1984, a new light dawned on the world. Tetris was not a simulation of some extant human activity; when those blocks descended from the top of the well, something theretofore unimagined came into being. Especially in 2009, a year defined by its parade of ocassionally-ingenious incremental refinements, we must celebrate the new. This is no time to cheer retrenchment.

Grand Theft Auto III
Even now, it is not difficult for me to summon up the wave of awe that I felt on first playing this game. One representative detail is burned into my mind: there were radio stations. Not only could you walk on a street and get into a car, but that car was connected to a wholly fictional radio network. While the later games in the GTA series better achieve the perverse environmental sensibility that the first open-world GTA groped towards, there is no downplaying the fact that that wonder, the thrill of jumping in and out of cars and driving around a populated cityscape, was the maybe the most impressive thing that happened in a video game this decade. All I know is, I wasn't playing much during late nineties, and it was putting this game into a rented playstation 2 in winter of '01 that got me thinking: I should keep an eye on these video games. So, GTA 3 was my personal road to Damascus moment when it comes to computer generated entertainment. Feel free to allot blame accordingly.

Katamari Damacy
God bless Keita Takahashi. Seriously. Katamari Damacy is a game of only one idea. But what an idea! This game would have been revelatory for its wholly unique mechanic and playful manipulation of scale, a work of genius even without the dadaesque sensibility that informed the gameplay: the panicked shrieks of innocent children and livestock, the batshit crazy king in the sky, the continuous splendid parade of visual nonsequitur.

Rock Band

To think: how happy we were in '07 to be onanistically plunking away at plastic guitars. Perfecting our run at Buckethead's Jordan. Make no mistake, I loved that shit. We just didn't know any better. Rock Band wasn't the mere accretion of supplemental prosthetic enjoyments. It took the core pleasure of Guitar Hero, participating in the creation of music, and brought a wholly novel feeling of collective achievement. It unlocked in me a previously unknown, burning desire to croon in a semipublic forum. It added drums. It was the most fun I had with a video game this decade. Just watch the video. Look how happy these people are! And the they are right.

WarioWare: Twisted!
I am continually amazed by Nintendo's uncanny grasp of the basic elements of play. When it published its first collection of microgames for the GBA, we confronted a shuffled deck of primordial gameplay elements, sheathed in an absurdist casing and revealed under duress. WarioWare posed a novel challenge to its players: "figure out what this game is! You have three seconds!" Twisted!, the second game in the series, gets the top nod for the way it expanded the number of verbs at hand. Furthermore, physically rotating a gameboy is the way that world 1-1 of Super Mario Brothers was meant to be played.

Boom Blox
To me, Boom Blox is the first and maybe the only Wii game that made optimal use of the gestural possibilities afforded by its hardware. An accelerometer bestows myriad potential actions, and it just so happens that hurling objects with physics at blocks and cubical beavers is the best among them. Layering puzzle elements and a marvelous version of Jenga into this formula only heightens the impressiveness of this seemingly obvious discovery.

World of Goo
I must admit that I had not given much thought to the gameplay potential of adhesion. The virtual representation of physics was a mainstay of this decade's games, but World of Goo stands apart for the way it devised an innovative game around the pedestrian idea of structural engineering. If that were not enough, the game spins a delightfully indirect yarn throughout the course of the game and continually introduces novel gameplay wrinkles into its basic recipe. As the game develops, you are always doing something new with your brain, and that is a mark of great design.


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*starts a slow clap*

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Ninjeff said...

This reminds me that I need to get to writing my list!

World of Goo and Katamari are definitely two games that deserve to be recognized as the best of the last decade. Not only do they both prove that a single gameplay mechanic can carry an entire game, but their unapologetic style and universes make these mechanics all the more interesting. If we were rolling up junk in a realistic sandbox (a la GTA), I don't think it would be nearly so engaging. It's the cognitive dissonance of a brightly colored world and the horrified screams of fleeing people that is HALF the fun of playing the game.

Great list thus far. I guess I should feel bad about never having played a WarioWare game (although I do own Rhythm Heaven, which I understand is similar).

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Everything you say is absolutely correct. I especially connect with WarioWare... the first game blindsided me. You were shown a verb and needed to figure how that could be translated into an action and: blamo, it's gameplay! They continued to refine it with each iteration... twist, touch (although I thought the Wii version fell short on many fronts) before presenting the absolute bliss of Rhythm Heaven, which married these mechanics with beautiful narrative vignettes. Wonderful.

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Awesome! I feel the same way about GTA3, although I began the decade playing Perfect Dark on the N64 I bought in August of 2000. By Thanksgiving of '01, it was all GTA all the time. As much as I love Vice City, and San Andreas, there wasn't the same sense of awe that came with GTA3. (Don't forget how great it felt when you pulled off a fantastic, gravity-defying, laughing in death's face jump and were rewarded with that bling: "Unique Stunt Bonus." The hours I spent after that first one looking for more things off which I could drive at high speed; I was an achievement whore long before x360, thanks to GTA3.)

Rock Band, Katamari, Boom Blox: You actually hipped me to all of these games, and they were everything you said: fun, innovative, top of the form. Rock Band takes the cake, though, if only because it;s the gift that keeps giving, thanks to weekly new dlc. (and it's so much fun to hear you singing..)

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