The Best Games of 2008 Feature: Part Two – Adventure/Platformers

Well, the best shooter of the year has gone to Left 4 Dead. Yet another excellent and quality-driven genre is the platformer genre. The genre in its whole has evolved largely from the old style platformers, the collect-a-thon jump quests. Although some may criticize the genre as being repetitive and unchanging collect-a-thons since the beginning, now, the platforming genre boasts nice animations, great environments, and good combat mechanics too. Here’s a look at the year’s top platforming adventures.

1. Prince of Persia (Xbox 360, PS3)

Ubisoft’s reinventioning of the Prince of Persia kicks off with this amazing new game. Boasting pseudo-cel-shaded graphics, great textures, and nice animations, this game looks and feels as fluid as any good platformer should feel. Not only is the new look part of the reimagining of the amazing series by Ubisoft Montreal, but this reiteration brings a bit of co-op into the mix as well. You have a magical partner named Elika that supports you by providing backup magic and revives you when you die. The game itself looks like a living watercolor, and it has minimum pop-ups and framerate lag. It runs on a edited Assassin’s Creed engine, and the controls are similar, a button each for acrobatics, the gauntlet you use to maneuver on walls, your partner’s powers, and your sword. The major change to the Prince of Persia gamestyling is that in this new game, there is a larger focus on slower, one on one combat. There is a God of War-esque feel to some of the fights, as there are on-screen button prompts to trigger cinematic sequences. Although some may not like the game for its constant mollycoddling of the player and the drastic changes to the formula, for those looking for a unique and amazing platforming experience, this is surely a game to look at. I highly recommend this title.

2. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (Xbox 360)

Yet another reinvention of a classic series, this platformer is brought to you by the venerated platformers, Rare. This 20-hour game drastically changes the look-feel of the series. The stars of this platformer are the vehicles. Yes, the vehicles. Most of the game is spent building and perfecting your vehicular creations, and tweaking them to overcome challenges. The game at first looks like a child’s game, but the game is actually a very ambitious, polished title. The core of the game is classic Banjo-Kazooie, where you have to collect Jiggies and Notes. However, with the inclusion of the vehicles, the gameplay has a whole new angle. There are, of course, a few flaws, one being that the game is highly physics-based, which results in low framerate in parts. Anoter byproduct of the physics is that the ways the vehicles behave are startlingly accurate, resembling a Garry’s Mod vehicle or a similar one, requiring that you build the car, boat, or plane perfectly so that it can satisfy the different variables of production (such as whether it can withstand a crash or its torque). This results in a very high learning curve, which shouldn’t be, because the vehicles are supposed to be the main stars of the game, and shouldn’t be hard to master. One last flaw is the multiplayer, which is full of annoying sound effects and a poor lobby system. To build a good vehicle, you also have to go through the entire single-player campaign and collect enough parts for multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong, the game is a gorgeous, polished title, but it just tries to overachieve itself a little too  much. Check this out, it’s a very good game.

3. Mirror’s Edge (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

This is a truly amazing platformer. Digital Illusions CE (DICE) has managed to make a first-person parkour game that is so fluid and visually compelling, it feels like you are actually the one running. The controls in this intuitive new game are simple, and it’s not that hard to link together platforming combos. The visual styling fits the story of an oppressive government, with most of the environment being pure white, with only one or two primary or secondary colors at a time. The game has you basically running along a breadcrumb trail in the form of red elements in the environment, may they be ladders, ledges, or poles. The main combat is a deviation from most first-person games. The combat isn’t based on shooting, but more of a time-based combo attack feature. The animations are fluid, with the main character, Faith’s body coming into the frame at parts. To those who get sick easily from games: beware. The first-person view is very accurate, with the camera following your moves exactly, even into dives and somersaults. The game, of course, has a few shortcomings. One is that the story is abysmal and the characters are not compelling. A cause of this may be the cutscenes that look like bad eSurance advertisements. Another flaw is the retarded AI. They just stand in one spot waiting for you to kill them. The environments are another problem. Although the visual style is compelling, the actual mapping is repetitive, and it seems you were “just in this room a second ago!” Another flaw is the multiplayer, that could have been SO GOOD. Imagine a parkour race in real time against other people! Well, keep dreaming. The only multiplayer is a leaderboard-based time-trials mode. Also, I feel that the game could have been more comfortable if developed with the Source Engine (it just looks and feels like it would be perfect for the engine), but that’s no problem, and not truly a flaw. Lastly, the final shortcoming is that the game is short (pun intended). The game could have been so much longer and hopefully, DICE will make a sequel that shows the true potential of the game. However, if you have any interest at all in this game, get it. It’s a truly innovative title that deserves a look despite its shortcomings.

4. LittleBigPlanet (PS3)

This also, is a very good and innovative title. This game brings gaming back to its roots as a 2D platformer, but with a twist. The main gameplay quirk is the third dimention of background, middleground, and foreground. The gameplay is based on these multiple planes of movement, and although the auto plane switching can be inconsistent, it doesn’t change the overall experience whatsoever. The art and visual style are charming and cute, with everything looking handmade from objects you can find at home. The levels are detailed and nicely put together, and what’s amazing is that the levels are all designed with the same in-game level creator you can use to create levels yourself that you share online with others. The music is cheerful and varied, and truly makes the game feel like a pure fun, innocent title. Even if the game was released with just the story mode, it would still have been a very compelling experience. The 6-10 hour adventure calls you back for more, making you want to go back and unlock new items, costumes, and more. The campaign even has a co-op mode, which really encourages some real co-op moments. Of course, the source of the hype train and the main star of this game are the creation tools, which are as moldable and flexible as the Source Engine by VALVe. You can truly create anything and put it into your game, may it be a giant toast monster or a duckroll. Another great feature is the ability to save prefabs (prefabricated items) made by you and others. The great thing is that since the learning curve is obviously more intense than some other titles, the excellent tutorials are there to help. Another great feature is the co-op creation feature, where up to four people can create a level at the same time. However, one issue (of course) with the creation tools is that there is no way to save states instead of having to undo over and over again. Obviously, this is not a huge problem. This game is truly the redefinition of the 2D platformer. Get it if you have a PS3.

And the winner is… LittleBigPlanet. I was torn between Prince of Persia and LBP, but I felt that a game that not only is a good platformer, but also has endless replay value through creation tools and user-created content should come out on top. Congratulations Sackboy, you are the champ.

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~ by Panzer on January 11, 2009.

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