Saturday, November 13, 2010

Game Review - Soosiz

Soosiz - $1.99 (Appshopper Link)

Mario-style platforming games are kind of a hit or miss with the iPhone's on-screen controls. Depending on how the developer implements the buttons, it could be very bad (like Mega Man II), or very good, like the game I'm reviewing right here. For action-platforming games, reflexes are key; being able to jump at a moment's notice to avoid an enemy or obstacle is the difference between life and death. The problem with on-screen controls is that there's no physical feedback for your finger to know whether you've pressed the "right button" (read: the correct part of the screen). In the iPhone port of Mega Man II, I too often found myself pressing not the jump button, but just one or two pixels to the left or right. Yes, that's a problem.

With Soosiz, on the other hand, the developers did a great job. The jump button is big and responsive, as are the buttons to run left and right.

So you're probably wondering "So what is Soosiz? Why is its name so funny?" Well, I can't answer the second question, but I can answer the first. Soosiz is unique in that it takes the 3-D Super Mario Galaxy style gravity mechanic and removes one dimension, to give you a rather fresh side-scrolling (and rotating) experience. In this game, "down" for your character is essentially the center of mass of the platform he's currently standing on.

You play as this strange yellow circle with big feet, big eyes, and green spiky hair. If I didn't know any better, I would think he's a mutated Goomba.

The levels are set up as a collection of worlds broken down into about 6 stages each, along with two or three bonus "collect all the blue coins" stages. The goal in each normal stage is to rescue all your buddies who have been scattered across the land. Some of them grant you special powers like higher jumping and faster running, which last until that stage is complete.

The gravity mechanic alone makes it worth checking out, though if you get dizzy easily, you may want to skip this one.

Soosiz comes in four flavors: iPhone/iPod touch full version, iPhone/iPod touch Lite, iPad full version, and iPad lite. Check out the appropriate lite version to see for yourself.

Check out my Soosiz screenshots at Picasa Web Albums

Game Review - SkullPogo

Skullpogo - $1.99 (Appshopper link)

I really should have written this as a Halloween post, but I guess better late than never. Skullpogo is another simple game that you can pick up and play for a few minutes. As the name implies, you control a skeleton dude on a pogo stick, whose lot in life is to bounce forever and knock out pigs, zombies, bats, black cats, and other pesky creatures. You slide your finger across the bottom of the screen in order to move, and there are on-screen button to control the height of his bounce: low, medium, and high.

The goal, of course, is to get a high score, and in order to do that you try to get special combos. There are also powerups that will allow you to do things like take out multiple enemies at once, or slow enemies down to make it easier to catch them.

There are three different stages: Halloween, Farm, and Classic, each with a different backdrop and slightly different play modes. Skullpogo also includes Openfeint support for tracking high scores and granting Achievements for those who perform special feats.

Skullpogo is a nice game to play for a few minutes at a time, but that's not to take away from its variety. It's very unique, and a lot of fun.

Check out my Skullpogo screenshots here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Game Review - Bit Pilot

Bit Pilot - $0.99 (Appshopper Link)

Video games have been around for a bit over 30 years now, but in that relatively short time, they've evolved considerably. Just about every aspect of gaming has changed - the graphics, the storytelling, the exposure, and the types that are out there. We've got billion dollar companies churning out games with budgets bigger than Hollywood movies and teams of more than 100 people. Yet despite this shift (or maybe because of it) a new subgenre has emerged in the gaming world - "retro games".

Originally it just included remakes or rereleases of old classics, mainly for nostalgic reasons. You're familiar with these classics: Namco's Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man series, Pong, Space Invaders. For whatever reason, people of a certain age like going back to these games in spite of the availability of games that are, at least on the surface, far superior.

Then came the arrival of a new type of retro game. This new type of retro game can be any genre, such as puzzle, action, shooter, etc. but usually includes some or all of the following traits: low-resolution pixelated graphics, 8-bit electronic "chip-tune" music, simple, vibrant color schemes, and lack of a meaningful storyline.

Bit Pilot is one of those new types of retro games. It's not a remake of a classic from the 70s or 80s, but it looks as if it could have been. The premise is simple. You're in an asteroid field and you're supposed to navigate your little ship to avoid the rocks and collect medicine-looking things for points. That's it. That's the whole game. Pixelated graphics? Check. Awesome chiptunes? Check. Storyline? Nope.

You control your little dot of a ship by swiping in the appropriate direction with your thumb. To accelerate faster, you use both you left and right thumbs. This is necessary when you get to the higher levels and the rocks move much faster. Some of the medicine things add a layer of shields to your ship, allowing you to take more damage. Occasionally a big laser beam comes and covers the whole horizontal length of the screen, so your reflexes are important.

As mentioned in my Tilt to Live review, these kinds of simple games that you can pick up for a few minutes to go for a high score are tremendously ideal for the iPhone platform. And in spite of this simplicity, there remains a motivation to keep playing. The game records your total score across all plays, and at certain point totals another song is unlocked, allowing you to listen to said song while playing. When you unlock all 3 songs, your next goal is to unlock iPhone wallpapers. Your single-game scores in both Easy and Normal modes are also posted to the online, OpenFeint-enabled leaderboards so you can see how you're doing against others in the world (though the game claims that you're being compared to the rest of the galaxy).

For $1, I'd recommend it for sure, especially if you like chiptunes.

Old-school title screen ftw?

I died shortly after taking this screenshot.

Wallpaper A unlocked!

Game Review - Tilt to Live

Tilt to Live - $2.99 (Appshopper link)

Many have attempted to bring big budget, full-featured games from consoles and computers to the portable, small-screened iPhone. Some games turn out well, but many of them suffer from the small screen and the lack of physical buttons. This is why certain types of games really excel on the iPhone and others don't.

Tilt to Live is an example of a simple game that really takes advantage of what the iPhone can do, while not trying to do something that the iPhone can't do. But don't let the term "simple" fool you.

With that out of the way, here's what the game is about. You control what is basically a white arrow on a rectangular playing field the size of your iDevice's screen. In gamer lingo, it's a 2-D overhead view game. Red dots appear on the screen and constantly try to kill you by touching you. Your goal is to use the iPhone's tilt controls to move the white arrow and avoid the red dots - hence the name 'Tilt to Live'.

But it's not just a survival and avoidance game. Along with the red dot enemies, weapons appear randomly which you can use to destroy the dots. There are eight weapons in all, and three of them - nuke, hadouken (my name, not theirs), and homing missiles - are available from the beginning. As you play the game and achieve certain feats, you gain Agon points. At certain Agon point levels you unlock new weapons. Achieving these feats is half the fun, and obtaining and using the new weapons is the other half of the fun. Eventually you get a freeze blast, detonating shield, spiked shield, lightning shield, and finally the "burnicade" which creates a temporary fiery wall that kills any red dots that come in contact.

Tilt to Live is a great twist on the "survive as long as you can and try for the high score" type of game. Even though you may die quickly at first, there is always an incentive to try again, whether it's to get a better score or to unlock the newest achievement/weapon.

But wait, there's more! What I described above is just one of 4 play modes in Tilt to Live, the Normal mode. Also included is Code Red, the "Normal game, but on crack," where red dots show up much faster and are many times more relentless. There's Gauntlet, in which you get no weapons and red dots are arranged in a side-scrolling "obstacle course" of sorts and you must avoid them and collect Time orbs to increase the time left on the figurative hourglass. And finally there's the newest mode, Frostbite, in which red dots start out frozen and continuously fall downward from the top of the screen. You must touch them to pop them before they reach the bottom, at which point they thaw out and come after you.

If you're looking for a game that can be either a quick time killer or something to keep you occupied on a long flight, give Tilt to Live a try.

The loading screen is always entertaining.

350 Agon points is more than enough to get all the weapons.

Choose your destiny

Red Alert!

We need a burnicade in here, stat!

Game Review - MiniSquadron

MiniSquadron - $2.99 (Appshopper link)

MiniSquadron SE - Free + DLC (Appshopper link)

Every time I do a game review I grapple with the problem of what to mention and what not to mention. If I go into too much detail, I risk making the reader feel lost because he or she hasn't played the game yet. There's so much about MiniSquadron and its followup that it's hard to cover all of it without being too long-winded or overly detailed. So this time I shall endeavor to do this review in fewer than 8 paragraphs.

MiniSquadron is a great "pick up and play" game that you can turn on when you have a few minutes to kill, yet has a ton of neat things that will keep you coming back for more on your next break. You control an airplane, and your goal is to destroy all the other planes that show up in order to advance to the next wave. Visually, MiniSquadron is a cartoony 2-D side-view game with colorful and varied settings. Each area, which features 12 waves of enemies, has a unique theme, such as Face Land, whose background is littered with Moai heads from Easter Island, or Sunset Lagoon, which has a brilliant red-orange backdrop.

Like many other wave-based games, your goal is to survive 12 waves in each area and get the highest score possible. What's neat about the scoring though, is that you're not trying for a high score just to get a high score. There are certain goals to meet, and if you meet them, you unlock new planes. For example, a particular plane may be unlocked if you get 30,000 pts by the time you finish Wave 5 in Face Land. There are 56 different planes in all, and each has its strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.

Each plane also has a certain weapon type. There are 7 weapon types in all: Cannon (your standard bullets), Double Cannon, Triple Cannon, Homing Missile, Cluster Bomb, Drop Bomb, and Laser. Dividing 56 by 7, you get 8, meaning that 8 planes have a cannon, 8 planes have a double cannon, 8 planes have a laser, and so on. But not all planes are the same, even if they have the same weapon. Some may be faster but have weaker armor so you die faster. Others may be slow-moving and not very quick to turn, but have near-impenetrable armor. Finally, most of the ships have interesting and/or funny names that the creators, Studio FungFung, obviously had a lot of fun thinking up.

To make things even more interesting, powerups fall from the sky in the form of different colored stars. Powerups can make you faster, slower, invincible, invisible, shoot a burst of homing missiles, call in an airstrike, shoot a ginormous laser, or just give you extra points. Sometimes a Heart will appear, giving you an extra life. The kicker is that these hearts and stars can also be taken by enemy planes. The heart doesn't do anything for enemies, but the other powerups do, and you'll be at a disadvantage if, say, the enemy gets the Airstrike power.

I played MiniSquadron like crazy and managed to unlock all planes except the last one, which requires completing the last wave of the last area with a crazy high score. I haven't been able to complete it at all, much less get the high score. I will someday, though.

MiniSquadron is currently $2.99, and if you have half as much fun as I did, it's worth it. If you're not sure, you can download MiniSquadron SE, which contains the first 2 levels for free, and the other 6 as 3 separate $.99 download packs. I should note that MiniSquadron SE is a different game, with a new set of 56 planes and all-new areas, weapons, and powerups.

There! 8 paragraphs! For a buttload of screenshots, visit my Picasa web album.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Quick Reviews of stuff I've consumed lately.

Tales of Monkey Island Episodes 1-5 (video game)
A: Didn't know if I'd like the new character designs after playing (or watching someone play) the previous Monkey Island games. But they grew on me, and so did the story. The writers went where I never thought they would, and even though most of the puzzles were not very difficult, I was kept engaged and entertained by the twists and all the wacky characters, a trademark of the Monkey Island games.

Mirror's Edge (video game)
B: The washed out whites and the bold blues and reds really make the police state where this game takes place very unique. Mirror's Edge is the first and only "First Person Runner" game, so it's special by default. Sense of speed and desperation is always palpable, and makes parkour accessible to the most clumsy, uncoordinated of us. It's not always easy to get around, but the game teaches you what you need to do. My main complaint is that the game is too short.

Rocket Knight (video game)
B-: It's a game that can technically be finished in an afternoon. But for $7 this sidescroller starring a possum with a jetpack and sword is worth it. The cartoony graphics and lighthearted setting (if you can call an evil piggy dictator enslaving the possum land lighthearted) work well. There are some tricky puzzles but for the most part it's a lot of sword swinging and jet jumping.

Inception (movie)
A: Didn't know what to expect going in, but it is a fascinating movie. Lots of action and suspense, but also lots of deep thought. Its take on dreaming, reality, and loss was very fresh. Leo Dicaprio and co. were believable and entertaining.

Despicable Me (movie)
B+: Well done. Not too deep, but that's to be expected from a kids' movie. Very cute and funny. Steve Carrell's fake Eastern European accent was hilarious. I can totally see Michael Scott in some of the same situations. Visual effects were good. Minions were entertaining.

Bioshock (video game)
B (tentative, until I finish the game): Bioshock has been hailed by some as one of the greatest video game stories/settings ever. Perhaps the slight similarities to the Fallout series of games that preceded skewed my expectations more toward a big, epic retrofuturistic extravaganza. Instead what we have is a unique steampunk/evil carnival adventure that is somewhat claustrophobic. The claustrophobia can be excused due to the setting being a self-sufficient underwater city, but the story and setting aren't moving me that much. I've heard that it draws heavily from the works of Ayn Rand, but not having read those I suppose I am missing some of the nuances.
As a shooter, this game is good but not great. The vast array of special powers that you earn throughout tends to be a little cumbersome because you can't have them all equipped at once, and you never know which ones you're going to need at any given time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Help me with a quick iPhone usage survey... and win!

This is a pretty crappy topic to make my first post in a long time, but I have to do this now. As you have probably heard, AT&T is changing their data plan for new smartphone customers.

The current plan is $30/month for "unlimited data", which is their way of saying 5GB max.

Now, as of June 7, 2010, new customers are subject to a tiered system, with the following:
- $15/month for 200MB
- $25/month for 2GB.

Now, you may have your strong feelings about this shift, and I have my opinions as well, but that is not the purpose of this post. I'm inviting you to help me in my quest to figure out how the new data plan will affect me, a prospective iPhone buyer/AT&T customer. Will I consistently go over the 2GB limit and have to pay their $10/GB overage fee?

If you'd like to participate, please answer the following two questions:

1) what kind of user do you consider yourself? Do you listen to a lot of streaming music or videos (Youtube, etc) on your iPhone? Are you always surfing the web/using apps, or are you a light user who goes on it once a day?

2) How much data do you use? This can be found by following the instructions in this Macrumors post. I would like to know at least how many MB or GB you used last month, though info on your usage for the last few months would be even better.

- Please post your answers in the comments section below. If you are unable or unwilling to do so, you can send your response to omnigeno @ (remove the spaces).
- I don't need to know how many SMS messages (texts) you've sent/received or how many minutes you've used for phone calls. Just data, please.
- Anyone who replies to both questions satisfactorily will be entered to win a $25 iTunes gift card code from me as a token of gratitude.

Thank you so much!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Game Review - Eyegore's Eye Blast

Review - Eyegore's Eye Blast - $1.99 (free version available) (Appshopper Link)

One of the great things about the App Store and the games in it is the propensity for its developers to take a formula that works and use the special capabilities of the iPhone/iPod touch to add something very cool and interesting. In some cases, it has to do with touch controls being more precise than moving a pointer around on the screen with a mouse or arrow keys. In the case of Eyegore's Eyeblast, it has to do with using the device's accelerometer to inject some innovation into the good old Bust-a-Move/Puzzle Bobble formula.

For those who were deprived, Bust-a-Move was an old Super Nintendo/arcade game where your goal is to shoot a colored orb from the bottom of the screen at a group of orbs at the top of the screen to make them disappear. Your ability to estimate angles and vectors was key, because the orbs were shot out of something resembling a rotating turret.

Eyegore's Eyeblast takes that tried and true system one step further. Instead of being stationary at the top of the screen as in Bust-a-Move, the orbs in Eyegore's Eye Blast are suspended on a chain, and using the accelerometer (i.e. tilt controls), you can move the chain and orbs as if they were a big pendulum. This introduces an extra element of strategy, because you now have a tremendous amount of control over where your shot lands. For example, if you're aiming for a red orb at the top of the bunch, inaccessible to direct shots, you have to slowly tilt your device from side to side, gathering up enough momentum for the pendulum, and with the right timing, ricochet your shot off the side and top walls to get to the that red orb on top while it's exposed.

It's really a lot of fun, and I think those who enjoy the challenge of playing billiards will appreciate this pocket-sized puzzler. Oh and by the way, instead of being colored orbs, the things in Eyegore's Eyeblast are EYEBALLS!!! Eyegore's Eyeblast is connected to the Agon Online network, which tracks global scores and records your achievements for accomplishing special goals in-game.

If you're curious, at least check out the Lite version (link above).

Game Review - Samurai: Way of the Warrior

Review - Samurai: Way of the Warrior - $1.99 (free version available) (Appshopper link)

One of the things iPhone game developers have to contend with when designing controls for a game is the lack of physical control buttons, like a game console or other portable like the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. Since the beginning of iPhone games, many creative control schemes have surfaced to compensate for this. Some have been great and intuitive and others have proven clunky at best.

Samurai: Way of the Sword is mostly in the first category. You control an honorable Samurai warrior, who arrives in a town and finds that it has been taken over by a brutal, powerhungry warlord and thus is crawling with his lackeys. Samurai is an action game, primarily consisting of you moving around and using your swordsmanship to wipe out waves of enemies as you move through the towns.

And that's where the controls come in. You simply tap on the screen where you want the guy to walk to. To attack or dodge, you swipe your finger up, left, or right on the screen. As you play, you will "unlock" various combo moves that consist of repeated swipe combinations (such as Left, Up, Left).

As simple and intuitive as these controls are, however, I have found Samurai to be the touchscreen controlled version of a "button masher", where it really doesn't matter which way you swipe or which combos you use - I just ended up going nuts swiping in every direction. I don't know if this is due to my impatience or the inability to tell the difference between all the different combos I was supposedly performing. Still, the cartoon brushstroke visuals and cheesy yet gory enemy deaths are worth a look if you like simple action games.

I would kind of see myself enjoying this game as more of a "play for 5 minutes while waiting in line" type of game rather than something to get sucked into for hours. I have not finished the game yet, but it feels like it can get repetitive pretty quickly.

Look at the screenshots below and check out the free version (link at the top of this post).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Game Review - Alchemize

Review - Alchemize - $2.99 (AppShopper Link)

The puzzle game genre has been around a very long time - since the early days of video games, really. The first one that comes to mind is Tetris, in which falling blocks fit together to make rows disappear. Since then, thousands of other games have paid homage to it or otherwise tweaked the formula to make things a little different and a little more interesting. A recent entry in the long line of puzzle games on the iPod touch and iPhone is "Alchemize", a game that, like those that came before it, involves matching 3 or more objects with the same color/symbol to make them disappear, give you points, and get to the next level.

Alchemize has an interesting twist on the tried and true (or overplayed?) match-3 formula. Instead of the items simply disappearing when matched, they transform into one item of a different color/symbol. For example, matching three or more green flasks yields one yellow bottle. And, as the game's name suggests, the ultimate goal is to create gold. I haven't gotten far enough in the game to find the item that transforms to gold, but I'm sure I'll feel like an accomplished alchemist when I do.

Alchemize has several game modes, of which I've only played two. In Classic mode you have unlimited time to relax and match those flasks, bottles, and goblets at your leisure. The game ends when the screen fills up with unmatched items or when you create gold. In Action mode, you have a limited amount of time to do each move. More time is given for each match, but no time is given for simply dropping items w/o making matches. It's pretty frantic.

All in all, Alchemize is very intriguing and should be a lot of fun for fans of casual puzzle gaming. I'm not in that camp, but I can't deny that these kinds of games are the best for short bursts of gaming when you're on the go or waiting in line for something.

There's also a free Mini version that you can try before you buy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rogue Planet - Free

I've always been a fan of real time strategy (RTS) games and turn-based strategy games. The problem is, I suck at them. So normally I ignore them. This is why you may have noticed they were conspicuously missing from my list of top 15 games of the decade. However, I was drawn to Rogue Planet as soon as I saw screenshots of it. The beauty of the App Store, of course, is that lite versions allow you to try before you buy, lest you get fooled by pretty graphics.

Rogue Planet is a turn-based strategy game, and like others of its ilk, you take control of several units to attack the enemy or to protect allies. Different units have their own strengths and weaknesses, and you need to use those, as well as the terrain, to your advantage.

Oh, and there's a pretty neat storyline, of which I'm going to spoil the beginning a little bit. You are an officer aboard the colony ship Nimah, which is returning to Earth after years in space. But as the Nimah approaches Earth, no radio signals are detected on the surface, so the captain decides to investigate. But the Nimah is attacked, and the engineering crew is killed. The ship is forced to land to assess the situation and attempt repairs, and it's your job to defend the ship from an unfamiliar enemy.

What impresses me the most about this game is its visual style and theme. The menus, conversation screens, and backdrops have a well-detailed futuristic look. Everything moves very smoothly, even on a lowly first-generation iPod touch.

I completed the single mission included with the Free version of the game, and I'd say it was time well-spent. Based solely on this free demo, I would recommend the full version to fans of turn-based strategy and science fiction. At $4.99, however, it is in the medium portion of the App Store's price spectrum for games, so try the Free version first. If there's a decent price drop or sale, I will probably pick it up.

Cartoon Wars - Early Impressions

I came across this game called Cartoon Wars when looking for new iPod touch games to play. It's a "castle defense" game with a hand-drawn stick figure style to it. You start out with your castle, which has a giant crossbow attached to it, and the ability to train warriors, your basic fighting units. The opposing castle is at the opposite end of the screen, which you can view by scrolling with your finger. As you defeat the constant stream of enemies emerging from the other castle you earn gold, which you can spend on upgrades to your Warriors or to obtain the ability to train different, more powerful (but more expensive) units. Gold can also be spent to upgrade your castle or improve the artillery.

I haven't gotten very far in this game, and the goal of destroying the opposing castle seems tougher than I'd like it, considering how weak your warriors start out and how strong their attackers are. The best I've achieved is a stalemate. Apparently you reach the next level each time you destroy the opponent's castle, and the game saves itself. I haven't gotten that far, so I've had to start over from the beginning each time I've played it.

Cartoon Wars is a great concept, but the controls for aiming the crossbow are a bit laggy and the lack of a Save feature in the middle of the level is quite annoying. Nevertheless, you may have more luck (or skill) with this game than I, so at $0.99 if you're interested, I'd say go for it. There's also a free Lite version available, and a followup called Cartoon Wars Gunner, which seems to be a totally different type of game.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's here! My top 15 Games of the Decade

Hey! Everyone's doing it. So why not? The following is my list of the top 15 games of the last ten years. I tried to do a top 11 list but I just couldn't settle on that last one.

Please keep in mind that since I've been a high school student, a starving college student, and now a full time employee, I don't have a ton of different systems to play games on, or the time to try all of them out. This list is limited to the ones that I've played for a significant amount of time and liked a lot. And it's limited to games on systems I own or have ready access to, so that mainly means XBox, Playstation 2, iPod Touch, Gameboy Advance, Mac, and Windows.

One last thing to keep in mind is that the list is for games that I liked the most due to their being unique, groundbreaking, or just plain fun, and those I think are underrated. Obviously it doesn't include games or genres of games that I don't play, so no World of Warcraft.

And so, here are my top 15 games of the decade!

#15: Escape Velocity: Nova (Ambrosia Software, March 2002, Mac/Windows)
This shareware game, which is the third in a series of space adventure/RPGs, can be as much fun as any other commercial release out there. The premise is that you are a lowly space trader just starting out, doing odd jobs in your little corner of the galaxy. Eventually you earn enough money and reputation to join one of many factions in a galactic struggle. With hundreds of unique missions, ships, upgrades, and planets to visit, as well as a fantastic branching storyline, one can play this game through three times and still not come close to seeing everything. You can become the galaxy's premiere trader, the most feared pirate mercenary, or a revered defender of justice, with every action determining your standing in the galactic community. If you haven't tried it, you're missing out, big time.

#14 Cave Story (Doukutsu Monogatari) (Studio Pixel, 2004, Mac/Windows)
I still can't believe that this game was made by a single person. Sure, it probably shows when you're looking at the 8-bit graphics, but they serve their purpose, and when compared to original Nintendo games, Cave Story just looks better. Cave Story can be best described as a Metroid-like platform shooter game. You play as a silent robot protagonist who gets mixed up in a conflict between a mad doctor and a clan of endangered rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas. The dialogue can be very humorous despite the sometimes heavy storyline, and I found myself actually feeling a little bit for these pixelated creatures. The controls are extremely polished, the music is classic chiptune goodness, and it's clear that Pixel paid a lot of attention to the details when creating side quests, a dozen different guns, upgrades such as a jetpack, and easter eggs galore. By the way, did I mention that this game is free? I'd pay money to play this game. It's that good. And you should get it now.

#13 Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 (Square-Enix & Disney, 2002/2006, Playstation 2)
Disney characters mixed with Final Fantasy in an action role-playing game? When I first heard about KH in late 2000, I was interested as a Final Fantasy fan, but very skeptical nonetheless. Final Fantasy has always had fairly adult themes, whereas Disney animation is usually family/child friendly. My fears were averted when I got my hands on the first game. It's still a bit strange how they got the mash up of random Disney characters and locations to come together to form a cohesive storyline, but it works because it's fun. Both Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 follow the story of a kid named Sora, who like many a Japanese hero, is the one destined to wield a weapon of unique power in order to seal away a growing darkness that is engulfing all the Disney licensed properties. Things get weirder in the second game, and the story turns itself upside-down while introducing some new adversaries. But gameplay is smoother, if not more of a button-mash fest. It's no less charming than the first, and how could you not love Mickey Mouse being a Yoda-esque badass, fighting off monsters while wearing a hooded black cloak?

#12 Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (LucasArts/Raven Software, 2002/2003, Mac/Windows)
My first first-person shooter was Star Wars: Dark Forces, back in the mid-90s. For its time, it was fantastic. I couldn't stop playing it. But I never played its sequel, Dark Forces: Jedi Knight, because it never made its way to the Mac platform. So it was such a treat when I got the opportunity to play Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. This is the story of Kyle Katarn, mercenary-for-hire-turned-Rebellion-hero-turned-Jedi-Knight-turned-mercenary again. Was that too confusing? Good. Kyle Katarn, having hung up his jedi robes "for good," returns to being a normal Rebel agent, alongside his sidekick/pilot/love interest (?) Jan Ors. The two are sent to investigate some powerful crystals that are apparently of interest to the Imperial Remnant, but they run into a renegade fallen Jedi dino guy, who captures and kills Jan. Kyle decides to pick up his lightsaber again and regain his Jedi powers to seek out and destroy the dino guy and find out why he killed Kyle's lady. Yeah, it's actually a pretty good story. Jedi Academy's story is largely forgettable, but both games do so well to fulfill every Star Wars fan's dream of wielding a lightsaber and unloading all kinds of Force powers on his enemies. Evil players will use their Force lightning to electrocute everyone in their path, while Light Siders will use their Jedi Mind Trick to turn enemies against each other. And oh yes, throwing Stormtroopers off ledges into bottomless pits never, ever gets old.

#11 Halo: Combat Evolved (Bungie, 2002, XBox/Mac/Windows)
You know, it's hard for me to define why I like this game. I played a bit of split-screen, 4-player Halo deathmatch back in the day, and it was fun. The vehicles were unique, the sticky grenades were fun (or frustrating, depending if you were the recipient or the giver), and pistol-whipping was pretty innovative. But are those enough to make it my #11 game of the decade? I thought the single player story was good, and I'm a fan of decent science fiction. I liked the idea of a world (or worlds, as it were) that exists on the inner surface of a ginormous ring (which I now know was first postulated in Larry Niven's Ringworld). Having the AI construct Cortana around as a Jiminy Cricket/Otacon character was neat. But was that groundbreaking? I don't know. Oh and there's Master Chief, the badass, stoic protagonist who apparently is the only good guy who knows how to stay alive. And he has his regenerating shield thingy. That was pretty cool. So why is this #11? We may never know. Or maybe it's because of the Needler.

#10 Final Fantasy X (Squaresoft, 2001, Playstation 2)
It's not my favorite Final Fantasy game, but it's special for many reasons. It was the first Final Fantasy on the then-brand new Playstation 2. It was the first Final Fantasy game to feature voice acting, and in spite of fan skepticism, it actually turned out pretty darn well. It traded the series' signature Active Time Battle (ATB) system for a custom turn-based one that kept things interesting. And it was also the first Final Fantasy to have fully 3-D environments, rather than having 3-D models moving around against realistic 2-D backdrops as was the case in FFVII-IX. Fans are divided regarding the new Sphere Grid system for allocating stat and skill points, but I thought it was innovative and well-done. Final Fantasy X played smoothly and the visuals, one of Square's special talents, did not disappoint one bit. The game's story and world were unique, vibrant, and engrossing. And apparently Square liked Auron as much as I did, because they gave him a pretty neat role in Kingdom Hearts 2.

#9 Beyond Good and Evil (Ubisoft, 2003, Playstation 2)
It was a bit tough deciding where to put Beyond Good and Evil on this list. It's a pretty short game that does not provide much replay value. But on the other hand, it's by far the most innovative and unique game out of all of them. BG&E stars Jade, a freelance reporter, head of an orphanage, and lover of all things green. I mean just look at that outfit and lipstick! Jade lives in the waterriffic town of Hillys, which comes under attack by lizard-like aliens called DomZ. Jade is hired by a small band of rebels to infiltrate and investigate the enemy and uncover a shocking conspiracy. BG&E is a very well-done third-person action game, with stealth elements, puzzle solving, and fast-paced beat-em-up battles. It would be a pretty decent game if it were just for that, but what makes it special is the sheer amount of variety in the gameplay. There's a hovercraft that allows you to travel all around the surprisingly expansive Hillys and it also happens to be equipped with powerful weapons. I don't want to spoil anything, but there's also an airship of sorts that's totally awesome. Collectibles, mini-games, and secrets are everywhere. The hovercraft races are a heck of a lot of fun. The most unique aspect of BG&E, though, is the "side quest" that runs throughout the whole story, which is photography. Hillys is chock-full of artistically beautiful creatures, whether they be red whales in the sea or flying manta rays, and Jade always has her freaking sweet, wi-fi equipped DSLR ready to take pictures and send them to the Science Museum in exchange for special items. This game is so good, it's a travesty that any bargain bin still has copies of it lying around.

#8 Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (Lucasarts/Pandemic Studios, 2005, XBox)
I was saddened by the news last year that Pandemic Studios had shut its doors late last year, soon after releasing its last game, The Saboteur. The overwhelming success of Star Wars Battlefront II, which was the best game of 2005 in my opinion, almost guaranteed that we'd get another sequel. But who owns the license to the Battlefront franchise if the developer goes under? Hopefully I'll find out in the next few months, but until then I suppose we'll always have this game. And what a game it is. It's honestly nothing incredibly innovative, essentially being "Battlefield 1942" but in the Star Wars universe instead. But you know, World War II as a setting in games is getting really stale, and there's always room for more Star Wars. Anyone who enjoys class-based, team-oriented shooters (a la Team Fortress II) would love Battlefront II. It's Rebels vs Empire or Clones vs Battle Droids in a massive blaster, lightsaber, and X-Wing fest. The game is simple: help your team be the first to either capture all the command posts on the map or eliminate the opposing team. It's not too deep, but it works, especially when you've got a friend (or 5) to play with. I've been playing this game with my brother for almost five years, and it's still hours and hours of fun.

#7 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Konami, 2001, Playstation 2)
Is it a movie? Or is it a game? Hideo Kojima's cinematic style of video game storytelling was elevated to a fantastic level in the Metal Gear series' PS2 debut. MGS2's predecessor was a breakthrough in storytelling but it was a little limited by the graphical prowess of the original Playstation. While graphics are not most important aspect of a game to me (see Cave Story, #14), Metal Gear Solid's political and social commentary really requires more realistic characters and environments in order to be taken seriously. And MGS2 had all those and more. The only thing that keeps MGS2 from being higher on my list is the somewhat stiff controls. Well, that and Raiden. Geez, why couldn't he have been his MGS4 self from the beginning?

#6 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Bioware, 2003, Mac)
This is the last Star Wars game on the list! I promise! Knights of the Old Republic, or KotOR, as it is commonly called, takes place thousands of years before the movies, and I think because of this Bioware was able to create an entirely new epic that didn't step on the toes of continuity (fans hate that, you know). At the core of this new adventure was an innovative Light/Dark side system, which gave the player a good degree of flexibility in how they want the story to unfold. Helping people out yielded a good reputation and access to Light Side powers, while being deceitful or just downright evil gave the player Dark Side points and Dark Side powers. The decisions also affected how missions unfolded and the main character's relationship with his or her party members. Never has a turn-based role-playing game been more fun. Just to be cliché, I'll say that The Force is with this game.

#5 Half-Life 2/Half-Life 2 Episode 1/Half-Life 2 Episode 2 (Valve Corporation, 2004, Windows)
I'm kind of cheating, putting all three games together in one, but to be honest, Episodes 1 and 2 would have otherwise taken up valuable spots from two other games on this list. Plus Episode 1 is more of an expansion than a full on sequel, and Episode 2 is mostly more of the same stuff that was in HL2. But that's not such a bad thing. Half-Life 2 is the sequel to a game that earned about a bajillion awards and spawned the most popular multiplayer shooter ever, Counter-Strike. I've never played Counter-Strike, but HL2 in my opinion is far superior to its predecessor in every way. But we're not here to talk about the original Half-Life. HL2 takes place somewhere on Earth in and around the fictional "City 17" after a failed science experiment that eventually led to an alien race called the Combine teleporting to our world and enslaving humanity. Gameplay-wise, HL2 is your pretty standard first person shooter. But the dystopian atmosphere, realistic character interactions and models, and freaking awesome physics engine really make this game shine. But if any of those things didn't strike your fancy, I have just two words for you: Gravity Gun.

#4 Portal (Valve Corporation, 2007, Windows)
This was a triumph.
I'm making a note here, "HUGE SUCCESS."
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.

Isn't it funny how the first three lines of "Still Alive" so perfectly describe the game it was written for? When I think "puzzle game" I think Tetris or Bejeweled. But instead Valve gives us this: the best use of teleportation in a game. Ever. At its core, Portal is a thinking game. You have to use your brain every step of the way to figure out how to make your way through the sterile Aperture Science laboratory rooms in this "first person puzzler". That in itself would be cool, but wrapped around the gameplay in this most innovative game of the decade is a story told through a series of superb visuals and spoken lines of dialogue. The way in which the main character slowly discovers that the facility and its friendly AI overseer GlaDOS is not exactly what it seems is brilliant, subtle, and often terrifying. The simplistic overall look belies the game's hyper attention to detail, such that though you may be tempted to try to rush through things to escape whatever evils may be lurking, you'd be doing yourself a disservice and you'd miss out on a lot.

What are you doing? You haven't escaped, you know.

#3 Mass Effect (Bioware/Demiurge Studios, 2008, Windows)
Oh, what is there to say about Mass Effect, besides the fact that Mass Effect 2 (Jan 26, 2010) could possibly be the best sequel of all time? Perhaps it's unfair that two Bioware RPGs make the top 6 on my list, but if you make good games, you get recognized. Story-wise, it's inspired a little by all the classic science fiction: Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5. Gameplay wise, it just simply kicks major arse. The morality system from previous games is back, where you can decide to be an ass (Renegade) or a heroic individual (Paragon). This time your decisions can have major implications on the rest of the story, which provides for a metric cargo hold load of variety. The story is complex enough to be considered good, but not so convoluted that it takes away from the gameplay or characters. And boy, those characters are very well done. Except for that Alenko dude. I've always liked the idea of freedom of choice in games, but most other games that have tried it to date have made too many compromises, giving you a "lack of cohesive storyline" disguised as "openness". Mass Effect has a great story while giving the player the magnificent opportunity to really shape their own Commander Shepard the way they want. Now after having given this game all the superlatives in the world, what could possibly have topped it? Well, read on. And remember: 1/26/2010.

#2 Deus Ex (Eidos/Ion Storm, 2000, Mac)
You've seen Schwarzenegger. You've seen Stallone. You've seen Willis. But unless you've seen Denton, you don't know the meaning of badassery. Yes, in this 40+ Game of the Year award-winning masterpiece, you play as J.C. Denton, United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition Agent who wears sunglasses at night "because his vision is augmented". Yeah, he's that cool. In fact, he's so cool that he can convey every single human emotion with a single monotone voice and half-smirk. Yeah! Even better, he can turn invisible, run as fast as a cheetah, and make grenades explode in his enemies' hands. And he can see through stuff with his augmented vision. You know what that means! .... .... yeah, I don't either. Deus Ex has the perfect blend of conspiracy theory, political philosophy, big guns, super powers, unintentionally hilarious characters, and Raptor Chickens. Oh, how I hate those Raptor Chickens. But killing them is so much fun.

#1 Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios, 2008, Windows)
Some Fallout series purists claim that Fallout 3 departed too far from the heart of what the series is about. Other Fallout series purists say it just rehashes the same themes and packages them with an inferior story in a too-easy game. Well, to both camps, I say "THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWG! AROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Yeah, never before have I had so much fun walking around a bleak post-apocalyptic wasteland. Seeing what the land surrounding our nation's capital following a horrific, devastating war with China could potentially look like is sobering, haunting, and over a hundred ours of entertainment. Fallout 3 doesn't really take itself seriously, as shown by its kitschy 1950s retro-futuristic overtones. But it's hard not to take this game seriously, because if you look up the word "immersion" in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of Fallout 3 next to it. The Capital Wasteland is so well put together that out of the 130 hours I spent playing this game, about 20 of them were spent just wandering around, seeing what fantastic surprises I'd run into next. By the way, other words in the dictionary that have a picture of Fallout 3 next to them are "masterpiece," "peerless," and "GameOfTheDecade".

Well, that's all, folks. Post comments below or send your hate mail for missing your favorite games, or for using poor grammar, to I'll leave you with one more thought: If games like Sam and Max Hit the Road, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and Final Fantasy VI had been made in the past decade, this list would look very, very different.

Special thanks to my brother for helping me choose the games for this list and for helping me to take three weeks rather than three months to finish it.