Earlier today we posted our annual Game of the Year awards. The deserving winners were the results of group thought, discussion and vote. The Judge's Awards, though, are all about one person's choice.
When we went through the process of picking our annual games of the year, I also asked each writer to nominate a single game for a judge's choice award. The idea here is that each judge would get a chance to pull out a game they think was deserving of recognition, but perhaps not of any of the official awards.
Their choices and reasoning follow:
Judge's Choice Awards
Audiosurf takes any MP3 file you have and translates it into a rhythm-puzzle game that can be as fast-paced and frantic as an EBM tune or as relaxing as an easy listening selection. With variety limited only by your musical selection and community options that not only let you compare scores of friends and strangers but also helps you find people with similiar musical tastes, it really is the ultimate game for music afficianados.
The broadest measure of a video game's excellence is also the simplest: “What was the most fun?” This year, Bionic Commando: Rearmed was the pound-for-pound champion of fun. Not, “thought-provoking,” not “awe-inspiring,” not “most visually stunning,” — just “I want to play this” fun. BCR flawlessly bridged the best of two generations, rendering the addictive, endlessly replayable world of the classic 8-bit platformer in the audiovisual tableau of a next-gen console — at a price cheaper than the original by half.
KORG DS-10 is not a game at all. Straight up, it's the Korg MS-10 synthesizer for the Nintendo DS. While mainstream music games let players pretend their making music, KORG DS-10 actually lets them make music.
Mushroom Men: Spore Wars was the most fun I've had on the Wii in months. It offered a funny little story, interesting character design and amazing art and sound, all while still feeling very this generation. Spore Wars is a must have for any Wii gamer bemoaning the lack of traditional games on the platform.
Grasshopper Manufacture probably didn't get enough credit — or a proper slice of those outrageous Wii sales — for what it did right with No More Heroes. It nailed motion control, gave the Wii an original, mature-themed adventure and made the best of the platform's horsepower, thanks to brilliant character design and cel-shaded visuals. No game was as squarely aimed at the hardcore gamer who happens to own a Wii, if only for the fact that its protagonist is the violent fantasy version of the geek playing it. Definitely the bloodiest Wii game of 2008.
Persona 4 is the JRPG so nice, they made it twice. The gameplay system improves on the innovative dungeon-crawling/dating sim combo introduced in Persona 3 while introducing a fresh take on the tired teen-saves-the-town plot line. The characters are diverse and entertaining - and with the benefit of decent voice-acting, they really draw you into your character of the gray-haired transfer student instead of isolating you as a cliche. And even if you're not into dungeon crawling or dating, the sheer amount of stuff to do in Persona 4 makes it well worth your money - something other $40 games on next-gen systems can't seem to offer.
We tried to do our GOTY awards a little different this year. Reward developers, instead of informing purchasers. And for the most part, I think we succeeded (even if we don't all agree on the ultimate winners). Oh, except for one thing: We didn't have an award for bravery.
I'd give that award to Prince of Persia. For taking "death" out of its stylish platformer. People have whined endlessly that it makes the game "easy", that it cheapens the experience, that removing "death" removes all consequence from the game. Rubbish. All it does is save time, all it does is remove frustrating repetition the bane of a platformer - so all it really deserves is applause.