Category Archives: Best of 2008 Awards

Best of 2008 Awards: Best Co-Op Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards. I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap. The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point. I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played. But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Cooperative Game

  • Gears of War 2
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Rock Band 2

You know what? There was no contest here. Left 4 Dead wins this by a mile. I’m not going to spend a long time blabbering about why, primarily because I already have in a previous award. This is, plain and simple, one of the best cooperative experiences I have ever had, much less the best of 2008.

Playing through a game together with a friend is, to my taste, worlds more fun than competing against them. For a while it was something that was also fairly rare. I am pleased to see that more and more games are adding in co-op as a feature, and more of them are putting quite a bit of emphasis on it as well. None of them do it as well as Left 4 Dead, however. The visceral thrill of surviving the zombie hordes with the help of a good team and some decent strategy is simply unmatched.


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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Shooting Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Shooter

  • Gears of War 2
  • Left 4 Dead

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Shooters are quite the competitive category these days. It is a genre I enjoy, but one in which it is easier than some of the other crowded categories for me to choose a favorite. This is because I tend to be rather selective with my shooters. It is a genre from which I accept no mediocrity. The primary reason for this is honestly that I get bored of any shooter that isn’t fantastic, so I don’t waste time or money on anything that’s not pretty much spectacular.

Thus, for me, a game like Call of Duty 4 was only a rental. I haven’t even bothered to play Resistance 2 yet. Call of Duty 5 and its WWII setting holds no appeal whatsoever. You see my point.

Two shooters in particular managed to sneak their way into my lineup last year. For me the choice was clear. Gears of War 2 was a brilliant dose of high-octane, testosterone packed, spectacular action fun. It was also immensely predictable, bogged down with poorly told story points, riddled with a few too many moments that were overly frustrating, and set damn near entirely in drab underground environments.

Left 4 Dead, on the other hand, is a game that is brilliantly simple. There’s no unnecessary story. Just four people, a few guns, and a whole hell of a lot of zombies. The environments themselves tell all the story you need to know (and do a great job of it). It is one of the best cooperative experiences I have ever played in a game. While there are perhaps fewer levels than I might like, you can go back to them countless times without getting bored thanks to the AI Director.

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This artificial puppeteer keeps things so consistently intense that you’ll never once be bored, changing things up every single run through a level just enough to keep you on your toes and avoid too much predictability, but at the same time rarely lets things feel frustrating or needlessly difficult (unless you happen to be playing on Expert of course, but the entire point of that difficulty level is to be stupidly hard, so I can’t really fault the game for delivering there).

I even enjoyed the online play and the versus mode, which are things I normally don’t even touch in shooters. Now that’s an impressive feat.

Left 4 Dead is one of the most intense and consistently fun games I have played in a long time. It nails the aesthetic, the difficulty, the co-op mechanics, the online play, the versus mode, and pretty much everything else (hell, even the achievements are pretty well done), making it clearly my favorite shooter of 2008.

Now come on, Valve, just give me a few more levels.

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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Racing Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Racing Game

  • Burnout Paradise
  • Mario Kart Wii

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As much as I love Mario Kart and as great as I thought last year’s particular rendition of the game was, let’s face it, it’s not really in the running here.  Mario Kart is fun but this iteration was probably even less innovative than the GameCube installment.  There’s nothing wrong with that mind you, and I had plenty of fun with it, but come on, it’s up against Burnout Paradise.

Mario Kart Wii’s biggest new feature was probably its motion controlled steering, which nobody who actually cared about winning every once in a while actually used.  On the other hand, Burnout Paradise took an already awesome racing series, took a rather spectacular leap into an open-world setting, and made it significantly more awesome in the process.  Seeing your Miis cheering from the sidelines of the race courses, while awesome and much-appreciated, just can’t compare.

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Rarely does an open world game truly feel like it needs to be open world to me.  Most of the time all it means it that you have to walk farther to get to where you need to go instead of being able to select it from a far more convenient menu.  Sure Burnout Paradise should have given up some of its realism for a restart option, but it used its open world setting to its fullest.  Just driving around randomly at top speed for no reason was immensely entertaining.  Every street had its own records to set.  Every stretch of road contained its own challenges.  Showtime mode is addictive in its simplicity and can be played at any time the player desires.  The game is filled to the brim with fun stuff to do and is one of the most refreshingly fun racing games to appear in quite some time.

On top of all that, the developers have produced what has to be one of the more impressive efforts of post-release support for a game seen outside of the Rock Band platform.  The sheer amount of cool free stuff they have released for the game combined with the paid content that is quickly forthcoming has kept this game relevant and continually fun and fresh for far longer than it would have otherwise.  The motorcycle content alone could have been its own $10 download and few probably would have complained.

Plus, we’re getting our restart option now too.  And for free.  It’s nice when a developer listens to its fans.

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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Puzzle Game

Zestful Contemplations Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Contender:

  • Braid

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Few puzzle games have ever been able to grip me, for whatever reason, so in 2008 there was really only one puzzle game that mattered to me. That is to say, it is the only puzzle game I can remember playing. Luckily it was a really, really good one, so even if I am fairly ignorant of the genre, I can be halfway confident in stating that this would be a strong contender even on a list that came from slightly more experience than this one happens to.

Braid is a game that could almost be called pretentious, in a sense. I would argue this is not a bad thing. It is almost the very definition of the type of game the snooty games-as-art people bring up when they say that a game can be more than just mere entertainment; that a game can be considered, rightfully and truly, as something with a deeper meaning, purpose, and connection to the viewer.

For the record, I am one of these snooty games-as-art people and that is why I love Braid so much.

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It demonstrates with wonderful enthusiasm that games can do so much more than just provide the next summer blockbuster where your fingers happen to be pressing buttons to make things happen every once in a while instead of munching on popcorn.

It has a gorgeous and totally unique art style fit for framing and hanging on the wall. Its story is brilliantly told in a minimalistic fashion that doesn’t get in the way, but is still emotionally meaningful and impactful when the big twist comes your way. It uses its level designs to enhance the story.

Perhaps best of all, it shows how a small development team can create an absolute masterpiece to rival some of the best productions of the big studios (in its own little way) and almost singlehandedly shoves downloadable games into the realm of relevance.

Oh, and it has some pretty good puzzle elements in there somewhere too, now that I think about it.

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Best of 2008: Best Platforming Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Platforming Game

Contenders:

  • Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • LostWinds
  • Prince of Persia

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The platforming genre is not as strong as it used to be, which is saddening for me as it has always been one of my personal favorites.  Still, even though there weren’t many entries this year, the ones that did come around delivered some pretty amazing gameplay.  So while we might be lacking in quantity, we certainly had quality this year.

Before anyone asks, yes, I think Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts belongs in the platformer genre.  Just because you’re platforming with cars and boats instead of the feet of a fuzzy bear doesn’t mean you’re not still platforming.  The methods have changed but the genre ha stayed the same.

Though it couldn’t quite compete with the big boys for the ultimate award, I would like to give a shout out to LostWinds here.  It proves what great things can be possible with downloadable games and remains easily one of the best things available on WiiWare.

Nuts and Bolts and LittleBigPlanet have some interesting parallels.  For one, they both have control issues that produce a few frustrating moments but manage to be incredibly fun despite this.  For two, they both emphasize creation of content by the user.

For the big prize, I had to give it to Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.  It was a tough decision, but here’s my reasoning.  What made LittleBigPlanet fun for me was its environments, its creativity, and playing other people’s levels, not necessarily its gameplay.  In fact, the core mechanics of the game are some of its biggest drawbacks.  Imprecision is an unfortunately common accomplice during play.

As such, Nuts and Bolts does the core of what it sets out to do better.  Sure its control is plenty wonky, just like LittleBigPlanet’s, but that can usually be mitigated somewhat by altering your vehicle.  This integration of creation with gameplay is the other thing I really admire about it.  While it’s entirely optional to create your own levels in LittleBigPlanet, it’s absolutely necessary to create vehicles to succeed in Nuts and Bolts.  Making the creation aspects not only easy enough that anyone can use them but also vital to success is an ingenious move that is highly satisfying to the player.

So as much as I adore LittleBigPlanet, the prize goes to Banjo.

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Game of the Year Awards: Best Action Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Action Game

Contenders:

  • Castle Crashers
  • God of War: Chains of Olympus
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • No More Heroes

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Talk about a hotly contested category.  Just about every game in existence could be slotted into this space without trying all that hard.  Still, when you break the categories down as much as I have in these awards there are relatively few true contenders for this title among the games that mattered to me this year.

God of War: Chains of Olympus was incredible, but nothing we haven’t seen before (plus the needlessly difficult ending seriously turned me off).  No More Heroes was brilliant in story and graphics, but the gameplay, as good as the majority of it was, spent too much time in its tacked-on and horribly done “open world” bits to compete for this award.  Castle Crashers was a good little blip of fun, but, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it as replayable and addicting as most seemed to.

No, as anticlimactic as it may be, the gold has to go to Grand Theft Auto IV.  As much as a part of me wants to see something else win because everyone under the sun is giving innumerable awards to GTA IV and it would be fun to be different, there’s a reason why GTA IV is hording the awards for itself this year.

GTA IV is essentially a reinvention of its franchise that is a lot different than what many were expecting (much like Prince of Persia).  With this in mind, I think GTA IV pulls off the change the best.  I won’t ramble on for hours about its obvious strengths (although I could), but in short: the graphics are amazing, the world is incredibly detailed, the story missions are actually fun this time, the story is worth caring about, it has a great cast of characters and great voice acting, it has its own damn Internet, etc.

This is the first GTA game I have actually gotten to the end of before getting really sick of it.  I didn’t even feel the need to screw around and pointlessly kill hapless passersby either, although I did sate that urge on occasion.  The main package was strong enough this time that it didn’t need all that pointless haphazard nonsense to succeed, although it was still mostly available if you wanted it.  Niko’s tale was emotionally gripping, enthralling, and fun, making it the best action game of 2008.

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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Music Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Just in time for 2008 to be a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.
Best Music Game

Contenders:

  • Audiosurf
  • Rock Band 2

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I’m just going to be honest here.  Audiosurf was really original and a lot of fun, but when it comes to the best music or rhythm game of the entire year, there was only one real contender.

Music games have become remarkably popular in the last number of years, and so marketing teams around the world made sure that we saw more than enough of them to go around in 2008.  The Guitar Hero franchise alone could have provided enough entries to fill the entire genre.

You’ll notice Guitar Hero: World Tour isn’t even on my list of candidates.  The old girl just hasn’t been the same since she started sleeping around with Neversoft.  What can I say?  Blatantly ripping off most of Rock Band’s ideas but not doing them as well doesn’t help either.  Neither does a lackluster track list.

I could go on, but I digress.

What more can I really say about Rock Band?  RB2 was a game of refinements, not revolutions.  It may be the same basic game as the first one, but the changes and additions that have been made are greatly needed and appreciated.  It also has a downloadable content scheme going that I’m sure every publisher in the industry envies (and one that I wish more developers would learn from).  I’ve probably never logged so many hours (or so much money…) into a game as I have into Rock Band across its two iterations.  Few games can match the sheer awesomeness of the multiplayer experience this game provides with a good group of friends (a category you just might see reappear soon enough).  It’s the best plastic instrument experience out there, and I don’t see it getting old anytime soon, which with my short attention span is pretty damn impressive.

Way to go Harmonix.  Keep up the good work.

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