Thursday, 13 January 2011

10 Games For 2011, part 1

Child Of Eden

My gaming moment of 2010 didn’t come from any of the shiny new software released in the last twelve months, but instead from the experience of playing 2001’s Rez in a location that provided the opportunity for a significant recontextualization of this shooter classic: Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries. Part of the venerable art institution’s monthly late events, their night celebrating the many facets of gaming had much to recommend, but this opportunity to play Rez in such a unique setting was arguably the highlight. The gameplay was simultaneously projected onto the wall behind where I sat (thereby instantly bringing up every tedious ‘games-are-art’ debate), but it was the combination of a large HD screen, ear-enveloping loud soundtrack, and an active audience of spectators, that provided the unique rush of adrenaline that, say, playing the game on your own at home just can’t quite compete with. A complete sensory overload then, and one that brought home just what an achievement Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s masterwork remains – a combination of shooting mechanics, music, visuals and concept that was always a uniquely physical experience, even without using the, er, Trance Vibrator.

Child Of Eden then is something of the next step in this creative evolution – a spiritual sequel to Rez that, thanks to the (optional) use of Kinect, could make the aforementioned presence of an audience something to actually aim for. A shooter where the performance – literally physical, when using Kinect - is as important as the on-screen progress. It’s understandably very similar to Rez; there are 5 levels, the story focuses on the threat of an encroaching virus and the Mizuguchi trademark of employing the principles of syanthesia is engrained in the game’s DNA – but Child Of Eden is said to differ to its forbear in a number of striking ways. We’ve read reports of a more dynamic combat system, a purposeful emphasis on the emotional impact on the player, and a visual approach to environment that is more organic than the angularity of Rez. All this is exciting stuff. The fact that it looks astonishing, as the trailer below demonstrates, doesn’t harm Child Of Eden’s chances.

In an interview following E3, Tetsuya Mizuguchi said: “Rez is Rez and Child Of Eden is Child Of Eden. In my mind, after Rez, I spent ten years with the same thought in my head all the time. I think for every game designer it’s the same: what is next? I had many things about Rez that I wasn’t 100 per cent satisfied with, so the question becomes: if I had the chance to make the next game – the next game in this spirit – what kind of game would I make?” We’re hoping that Child Of Eden is the answer. And yes, it might just be the reason to buy Kinect.

The Last Guardian

A game which made an appearance in last year’s Moon Witch Cartridge preview, more out of hope than expectation, The Last Guardian should be released during 2011. Regardless, Fumito Ueda’s profile will be higher than ever in the next twelve months, thanks in part to the much-anticipated HD re-releases of both Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus. 2010’s God Of War Collection showed how such considerate remastering can preserve classic game design, and Team Ico’s iconic Playstation 2 duo are exactly the sort of titles that could do with discovery by the current generation, being titles that are talked about in hushed tones more than actually being played first-hand. It’s the latter game’s interaction between the horse Agro and Wander that apparently formed the foundation for The Last Guardian. Such emphasis on forming a close relationship with the creature Trico can only end one way in a Ueda game (hint, it probably won’t be happy), but to copy what I wrote last year - File under: potential best game of 2011.

Kirby's Epic Yarn

The first console-based Kirby platform game since Nintendo 64’s The Crystal Shards eleven years ago, Epic Yarn completes a loose trilogy of revivalist 2D Nintendo Wii platformers. Sitting neatly alongside New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn may lack the retro self-awareness of the former, and the hardcore old-school challenge of the latter, but in their place is a remarkable patchwork aesthetic, similar to LittleBigPlanet, that had me transfixed when I first laid eyes on the game at a Nintendo showcase last year (the same place where I first got my hands on the 3DS). Levels fold over, made as they are out of fabric, their stitching unwinds beautifully, with all reports pointing to an exercise in platforming where the emphasis is on exploration, collection and extreme cuteness. The first essential Wii game of 2011. And definitely not just for the kids.

The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time

2011 promises to be quite a year for all things Link. Firstly, there’s the small matter of Skyward Sword, the first full-blown Zelda adventure developed specifically for Wii. I also intend to get a Triforce tattoo at some point in the next three months. Of the former, we are of course very excited at the prospect of MotionPlus-enhanced control and combat, though this excitement is tempered by 2006’s disappointingly formulaic Twilight Princess. Of the latter, expect photos (and probably a bit of pain). Despite these two momentous occasions (albeit one probably more keenly awaited by the gaming world than the other), it’s the 3DS re-release of Ocarina Of Time that may just be the key Zelda-specific event of 2011, and one of the calendar highlights for all console gamers of a certain age.

Although A Link To The Past was the first Zelda game I ever played, its stormy opening forever etched into my mind, it was the two straight weeks I spent with Ocarina Of Time, during the Christmas of 1998, that remains one of my cherished cultural experiences. I’ve discussed Ocarina Of Time before on Moon Witch Cartridge (specifically two striking reinterpretations of its soundtrack), but despite my love for the game, I’ve only ever played through the game once; although nearly every facet of Link’s first 3D outing has stayed with me since, the re-release of Ocarina Of Time is excellent news, if only because it offers a welcome excuse for another, long overdue, excursion into 1998-circa Hyrule. Frankly the prospect of 3D visuals is something of a bonus, given that this is the first real opportunity to give a true classic the celebration it deserves.

Nostalgia shouldn’t always be encouraged (although it is becoming, for various reasons, an ever more increasing trend within gaming), but Ocarina Of Time’s thirteen-year(!) design blueprint will still outshine the large majority of 2011’s new titles. It’s the main reason that many – this writer included - will buy a 3DS in the first place. Hopefully I’ll have my own Triforce ready in time.

Portal 2

Very rarely do games have the confidence and wit to comment on the very medium of gaming, and its preoccupations with reward and active player involvement. Portal, however, was one such game. Not only was it fascinating on a dry theoretical level, the original Portal was also one of the most emotionally complex games I've ever played. And that's without mentioning its wondrous marriage of first-person gameplay and fiendish spatial puzzles, allied to a near-perfect difficulty curve which people cleverer than me have identified as an excellent example of something called instructional scaffolding. Valve have certainly set the bar high; come April 22nd we'll know how successful they've been in building on such an illustrious foundation. And here, inevitably, is a video of the Portal credits song Still Alive. Still amazing.

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