The new year is upon us and its a good a time as any to take stock of the year that just past. 2011 was quite a year for gaming with several hotly anticipated block buster releases hitting the shelves, some mere weeks after each other. It was also something of a coming of age for this blog in terms of game reviews, seeing myself being flown up to Sydney to preview Modern Warfare 3 and getting my very first ever review copy of a game. Now with the year over it’s time for me to put my vote in for game of the year and whilst I’d love to say it was a close competition it really was anything but.
All in all 2011 saw me complete 22 games total (there were far more played, see here for an explanation as to why they didn’t get reviewed) and here’s an exhaustive list of the reviews in chronological order:
As I was creating this list it struck me just how mixed this list of games is. Whilst the dominant platform is still PC for me there’s 2 other platforms in there and their respective releases both felt right at home on their platform of choice. The dominant genre here would appear to be FPS although just going off the usual 8~10 hour playtime rule for said genre I dare say that the vast majority of my gaming time in 2011 was spent on RPGs or games with a RPG element to them. Although if I’m honest I have blown quite a lot of my time recently in Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer and a heck of a lot more in Star Wars: The Old Republic (review coming soon!).
Before I dive into the game of the year however there’s a few games that deserve recognition either for their accomplishments or outright failures.
Gemini Rue is by far the most underrated game of the bunch. It’s been well received critically both here and elsewhere but it’s still a title most people would not know if they heard it. I’d say this was because of its lack of a release on Steam when it first came out (which has since changed) even though it had a digital distribution channel. Still the game is expertly crafted, bringing up all kinds of nostalgia whilst delivering a story that I really cared about, thoroughly exploiting all aspects of its chosen pixel art medium. Whilst it might not make the cut for my game of the year it would definitely get my vote for independent game of the year, hands down.
For most over-hyped/biggest let down of the year the title can go to none other than Duke Nukem Forever. I was thinking about making it a tie between said title and Rage but in defense of id’s latest release it at least had some redeeming features in the engine and game play. Duke Nukem Forever is unfortunately nothing like that being little more than a generic shooter that rode the Duke brand as hard as it could. Indeed it’s the definition of a critic proof release as for Gearbox it was a commercial success despite it’s woeful critical reception. I’ll be honest this is the only game that I played through to the end just so I could review it as for any other title I would’ve just stopped playing and not bothered to review it.
So what then is my game of the year for 2011? The answer is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
As a game Human Revolution really is something amazing. The graphics are simply superb with it rightly taking the title away from Crysis as being the game to stress test your new rig with. That’d all be for naught if the game wasn’t good but suffice to say it’s brilliant. The plot and characters are engrossing, there are wide and varied game mechanics ensuring that no 2 playthroughs are the same and it has rekindled that feeling that everyone had when they first played the original Deus Ex. Put simply Deus Ex: Human Revolution sets the bar for the FPS/RPG hybrid genre and does it with an almost effortless elegance. It’s fitting then that it received my highest score review score of the year, putting it second only to StarCraft 2.
With 2011 now done and dusted its time to look forward into 2012 and the games it holds for us. It’s already shaping up to be a fantastic year for gaming with games like Diablo 3 and Mass Effect 3 due out early in the year. It will also be the year when I ramp up my game review efforts significantly on here as I’ve got plans to make my console reviews better (and do more of them), dabbling with the idea of producing video reviews and overall playing more games so that I can do more reviews. In the end that’s what its all about, well that and my not-so-secret desire to be a games journalist… 😉
I consider myself to be pretty good at video games. More often than not I’ll go for the hardest difficulty setting as otherwise the game will just feel too easy and beating the challenges the game puts before me just won’t be as satisfying. Still I lived through a time where making a game extraordinarily difficult was one way to make the game last longer, like the insane level of difficulty in the game Battletoads. I spent years playing that game and I believe I only ever made it to level 4 a couple times and the experiencing was so scarring that I’ve never been back to defeat my old foe. Still when I came head to head with Super Meat Boy I felt like I had been sent back 15 years to my youth, where the games were simple and incredibly hard.
Well this looks easy enough…
You play as Meat Boy a little red block who’s girlfriend, Bandage Girl, is taken away by the evil Dr. Fetus. At its heart the game is a good old fashioned platformer challenging you to get from the starting area of the level to the other end where Bandage Girl is. Of course every time you reach her Dr. Fetus appears and takes her away again, usually giving her a firm beating right in front of you before disappearing again. There are of course numerous obstacles that are in your way when you’re trying to navigate the levels and a good chunk of them will turn Meat Boy into a lovely explosion of gibs, sending you right back to the start of the level.
Super Meat Boy differs from the old school traditional platformers in several ways, most of which are done in order to keep the game play fast paced and incredibly intense. For starters each level is quite short, with many of the early levels over in under 6 seconds. Towards the end they do get quite a bit longer but even then none of them are longer than a minute (the non-boss levels anyway). There are no lives in this game either (save for the special Warp Zone levels) and the re-spawn time is incredibly quick, so much so that sometimes when you die you’ll be able to see your previous Meat Boy’s gibs still exploding as you respawn. This is not to say the game encourages you to just bash your head randomly against the keyboard until you finish the level, far from it. There are many additional elements to the game that encourage precise, carefully timed movements and finding the most optimal path to the end goal.
Oh what the hell!?!?!
Each level has a set time there for you to beat and doing so will earn you a “Grade A” mark for that level. It will also let you switch to the Dark Side of that level which is usually an incredibly more sadistic version of the same place, requiring even more precise timing in order to get through to the end. Additionally most levels have a bandage in them which can be used to purchase additional characters to use in place of Meat Boy. The bandages are usually placed so out of the way that you really have to go out of your way to get them and if you’re vying for Grade A status you’re usually going to miss them (as I did, I think I have 4). I’ve heard unlocking the additional characters can make the game quite a bit easier than the insanity that I experienced by doing the entire game with just Meat Boy.
Woah, single rainbow all the way.
When I first started out playing Super Meat Boy I relished the challenge that it presented to me. As a long time gamer I pride myself on being able to conquer most modern games without having to break too much of a sweat. As many gamers will agree the past decade has seen many games go the route of not being particularly hard in order to drive their adoption rates and thus games with difficulty that decades ago wouldn’t have been out of place are now infamous for their difficulty. The trick is not making a game difficult for difficult’s sake, more it is to teach the player to overcome what they once thought was impossible and rewarding them as they learn.
Super Meat Boy does this quite consistently, presenting you with challenges that on the surface look nigh on impossible until you start having a crack at them. The last 5 levels are brilliant examples of this having stumped me to the point of staring blankly at the screen for minutes on end trying to figure out just how the heck I was going to beat the puzzle laid out before me. The learning curve is pretty smooth at the start but quickly ramps up into insane territory towards the end. I think this is best shown by my played time which sat at a 8 hours as I hit the last zone and 12 hours after finishing the game¹.
My Twitter followers will probably perk up at this point and say “Dave, wait a sec, didn’t you say you used a trainer to finish this game”. Yes I most assuredly did thanks to the last level requiring a key sequence that I just couldn’t master after 2 hours of trying to. The game tells you every time that you start it up that the keyboard is an inferior input device for Super Meat Boy but I had gone this far without using one and couldn’t be bothered setting up my PS3 controller with it. So I did what any programmer out there would do, I coded up a program in AutoIt to press the right keys with the right timing for me:
Sweet, sweet AutoIt.
If you look at that script you’ll get a sense for just how precise timing you need in order to execute the right moves in order to complete some of the levels. This script only gets you past the first major obstacle on the last level but that was more than enough as I was able to complete every other part of the level after an hour or so. It doesn’t work perfectly every time either with the sleep timer usually being off by a couple milliseconds either way, leaving Meat Boy standing there doing nothing or foolishly leaping to his death.
This sums up how I felt after finishing it.
Super Meat Boy sucked me in with its nostalgic feel and hat tips to classic gaming only to turn up the nostalgia even further by adding in punishing levels of difficulty. Immediately after finishing it I swore that I’d never go back to it, the sheer insanity of difficulty ruining the prospects of ever going back. However I hadn’t taken any screenshots of my adventure so I had to play for a bit to get some pictures for this review. 2 hours later I emerged after unlocking the Bit Trip Runner and playing through a couple of the warp zones I hadn’t seen. Truly Super Meat Boy had me experiencing beaten wife syndrome on a whole new level, I just couldn’t stay away from it no matter how much pain it put me through. Still this game is definitely not for everyone but at $20 on steam (and can be had at sale for $5) it’s hard to go wrong with Super Meat Boy, especially if you’re keen to revisit the world of games as it was almost 2 decades ago.
Super Meat Boy is available right now on Xbox360 and PC right now for $20. Game was played on the PC using a keyboard for the entire game, with a grand total of 14 hours played.
¹I do not care if it’s the real end or not. I got the achievement that said “The End” that’s it, it’s done! *puts fingers in ears* LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!!!!