It's January and video game journalists all over the world are publishing their own unique brand of 2010 recaps. You can't go far without seeing at least one or two Ten Best lists, usually with Red Dead Redemption or Mass Effect 2 taking the prize. But there was one list that caught my attention. It comes from the Wall Street Journal, which is not exactly the epicenter for breaking video game news. It's a list that looked at nine games that were The Unsung Videogames of 2010.
As I clicked the link, I expected to see a bunch of smaller games that managed to break through the hype machine. I imagined a game like Costume Quest, which
Instead it showed up in the boring old newspaper. So 20th century!
seemingly came out of nowhere and won over critics and consumers alike. Costume Quest won't win many awards and was all but forgotten by the time the year ended. However, it was still a noteworthy game that would have felt at home in a list of the "unsung" video games of 2010.
Apparently Daniel Dumas decided to go a different direction. Instead of including Costume Quest or Ys Seven, this Wall Street Journal writer opted for ... Mass Effect 2 and Gran Turismo 5? In this episode of They Said WHAT?!? we dismantle one of the most baffling video game write-ups of all time. I hope you're sitting down for this, because you're not going to believe the things this guy says!
Game 1: Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian)
"The common role-playing-game experience goes a little something like this: hit the A button to attack, the B button to defend. Repeat roughly 50 million times, beat game and live with the shame of knowing those hours will never be recovered. Not in New Vegas, where victory means implementing complex tactics over super-smart mutant baddies and difficulty ranges from engrossing to impossible."
If that description of the "common" role-playing game experience doesn't make your blood boil, then you might want to make sure your heart is still pumping. Apparently this story's author, Daniel Dumas (I promise I won't make a joke about what his last name sounds like), hasn't played an RPG since, well, 1990. The idea that modern adventure games are nothing more than "press the A button to attack" is ludicrous. Even old school RPGs were about more than button mashing. And since when has the "B button" acted as defense? I'm not sure what genre he's playing, but it sure isn't a role-playing game.
Even if you ignore Daniel's insane comments about common RPGs, it's hard to justify putting Fallout: New Vegas on this list. For one thing, this is (for all intents and purposes) the sequel to Fallout 3, one of the top selling games of 2008. We're talking about a game that has sold more than six million units; to suggest that the sequel wasn't a big release is to completely misunderstand the video game landscape. Unfortunately, it's just a sign of things to come.
Game 2: Dance Central (Harmonix)
"Embarrassing yourself at a club full of strangers? Sucktastic. Embarrassing yourself in a living room surrounding by friends? That's more like it! The raison d'etre for Dance Central isn't to spotlight your running
man "prowess." Rather, this Kinect exclusive pits you in heated dance battles against yourself or - better yet - against your pals."
Of all the "unsung" games featured on this list, there's a case to be made for Dance Central. It's quite literally the only game on this list that isn't a sequel or spin-off to a popular game franchise. Even with the success of Dance Dance Revolution and Just Dance, this Harmonix release was far from a surefire hit. 2010 was the year everybody started talking about the death of music games, a suggestion that seemed to bear some fruit with the sluggish sales of Guitar Hero and Viacom unloading Harmonix for a rumored $50.
But even with all this going against the game, Dance Central is far from an "unsung" release. Over the last three months, Microsoft has made it a point to put Dance Central in practically all of their advertisements. It's the game that they trot out at conventions and on popular TV shows. It's the must-own game for Kinect owners the world over (though that may have more to do with the lack of better software). Dance Central isn't even the most "unsung" game on the Kinect platform. I suspect that Konami might argue that their Kinect dance game, Dance Masters, was completely shut-out in 2010.
Game 3: Mass Effect 2 (BioWare)
"Games where you blow enemies away with a rifle are typically heavy on action, light on storyline. Not ME2 where the immersive plot takes more dramatic turns than an episode of "All My Children" (seriously, over 25,000 lines of dialogue were recorded) and in-game decisions, no matter how small, have huge consequences on the game's outcome. Don't worry about things becoming boring;
there's a huge list of downloadable weapons meaning you won't be hard pressed to find new ways to kill alien bad guys."
I know a lot of my fellow gamers will take issue with the "All My Children" line, but I'm fine with comparing Mass Effect 2 to the long-running soap opera. Yes, he probably should have gone with something more geek-friendly, like Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica. However, he's not going for a literal comparison. Mass Effect 2 does have a lot of twists and turns, much like a standard episodic television thriller. Plus with all the dialog, he's not wrong that things turn melodramatic in a hurry.
What I can't accept is the idea that this game is somehow an "unsung" release. Much like Fallout: New Vegas, Mass Effect 2 was only "unsung" to those who pay absolutely no attention to modern role-playing games. The first game sold more than two million units, with Mass Effect 2 doing even better. What's especially frustrating about this inclusion is that there were amazing role-playing games that were genuinely "unsung heroes." Apparently Daniel was too busy to pick up Ys Seven or Valkyria Chronicles II.
Game 4: Gran Turismo 5 (Polyphony)
"Most of us will never know the simple pleasures of piloting a multimillion-dollar sports car hundreds of miles per hour and crashing it in a spectacular explosion of burning petroleum and twisting metal. The closest thing we can hope for is Gran Turismo 5, a game that should really be called Catnip for Gearheads. With over a thousand highly customizable cars, a dozen tracks to zip around on and realistic physics (bonk your front
end and the alignment will start to drift), the only thing missing is speeding tickets."
With selections like Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, you might already think that Mr. Dumas (still not making fun of his name) doesn't understand what an "unsung" game actually is. Well, by selecting Gran Turismo 5 it suggests that this Wall Street Journal writer has completely lost the path. Gran Turismo 5 flew under the surface? Somebody needs to send Daniel a new set of batteries, because there's something seriously wrong with his radar.
Gran Turismo 5 is the opposite of an "unsung" hero. It had six years of non-stop hype, which included more delays than any other game released in 2010. Not only is it the first Gran Turismo game in a half dozen years, but it also marks the first full Gran Turismo game released on the four-year-old PlayStation 3. And did I mention that it was literally the only brand new disc-based game Sony had for the holidays? I can't think of a bigger PS3 exclusive, yet Daniel Dumas seems to think that nobody has heard of this hidden gem.
Game 5: Super Streetfighter 4 [sic] (Capcom)
"Chances are you or someone you know pumped quarter after quarter into the original classic Street Fighter. Think of this sequel as a grown up version that's here to entertain you for hours, not steal your parking meter money. Game play is refined and you're never alone-a world-wide network of Street Fighter fans means
you can find a match anywhere you have a broadband connection."
Daniel's write-up about Super Street Fighter IV (not Super Streetfighter 4, as he suggests) proves that he hasn't played a fighting game in about twenty years. Yes, Street Fighter II was a coin-sucking beast. But so is Super Street Fighter IV. Oh sure, he may be playing this game on a home console, but there's still an arcade version of the game that is more than happy to remove that coin from your pocket. There's nothing grown-up about having a home console version of Street Fighter, fans of one-on-one combat have been able to buy home conversions of this series from the get-go.
In his defense (and trust me, he needs one), Super Street Fighter IV probably could use a little help these days. Even though it was a big hit at the time, it's been almost a year and people have largely forgotten about the release. If you aren't a big fan of the genre or pay a lot of attention to video game magazines/websites, you may have missed this release. Still, it's hard to justify calling a Street Fighter game an "unsung" hero.
Game 6: God of War III (Sony)
"Can't remember someone named Kratos from classics class? Don't worry about it -- you've definitely heard of whom he fights in the third installment of the God of War series. Beings with names like Poseidon, Ares and
Zeus are all on a bloody "to do list" and it's up to you to kick immortal ass."
Hey Daniel, what exactly is "classics class"? I took classes on writing and famous literature, but I never attended anything called "classics class". Apparently they didn't teach Daniel anything about video games in that course, because he puts one of the biggest games of the year on a list of "unsung heroes." Baffling, especially when you consider that God of War I and II were some of the most popular PlayStation 2 games of all time (and those PSP games didn't slack around, either).
There's something that troubles me about most of the games on this list. According to World English Dictionary, "unsung" means that it wasn't honored or acclaimed. Yet God of War (much like Super Street Fighter IV, Gran Turismo 5, Mass Effect 2, etc.) was critically acclaimed at the time and honored at the end of the year. This was a huge game that managed to get more than enough hype throughout the year. This is a game that won plenty of awards and showed up on many Top 10 lists. These are not forgotten games, no matter how you spin it. But that's not enough for Daniel, who doesn't give even a shred of evidence for why God of War III is on the list. Care to explain that, Mr. Dumas?
Game 7: GoldenEye 007 (Eurocom)
If you nearly flunked out of college (guilty!) for playing the last GoldenEye, prepare for another assignment of intense first-person shooting with a handy Wiimote instead of a clunky controller. Oh, and good news: Pierce Brosnan's smug mug has been swapped for Daniel Craig's. Finally
a Bond who looks like he could legitimately take you to bed and break your kneecaps."
Pierce Brosnan's smug mug? Finally a Bond that could legitimately take you to bed? Good gravy, Daniel, I can't decide if you have a man-crush on Daniel Craig or just really hate Pierce Brosnan. Either way, it's hard to understand why this game would make the list. For one thing, it has one of the most recognizable names of all time. Even if you haven't played the original Nintendo 64 game, you'll likely recognize the name of the movie or at least the "007" part. And let's not forget that this was worked on by both Nintendo and Activision, two of the biggest video game companies in the world. The only way this game flew under the radar is if Daniel had that radar completely turned off.
At one point in this write-up, Mr. Dumas suggests that the Wii's remote is a step up from the Nintendo 64 pad. Considering neither have two analog sticks, I would argue that they are both ill-equipped for the action in GoldenEye 007. Instead he should have played it like the rest of the world, using Nintendo's classic controller. Using the motion to aim will make you seasick, which may explain the lousy quality of this Wall Street Journal piece.
Game 8: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 (EA)
"Tiger may have failed to win a title last year, but the games fronting his name still play like champs. Especially on the Wii where, using the ultra-sensitive
Motion Plus controller, you get two new swing modes, a 1:1 first-person view and the ability to scan the map and make changes to your stroke on the fly."
Tiger Woods just couldn't get a break in 2010. When he wasn't losing major golf tournaments, he was allegedly having sex with the entire population of Los Angeles. And if that's not enough, the mainstream press can't seem to decide whether his newest game is an "unsung" hero or a low-selling disappointment. I guess it depends on who you ask. Just a few months ago Chris Morris of Yahoo! Games listed Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 in an article called "No Sale: 2010's Most Disappointing Games." Maybe Chris and Daniel need to compare notes, because they both can't be right.
Even if Daniel is right, he doesn't offer any evidence to justify putting Tiger Woods on this list. His reasoning seems to be that this year's PGA game (with its "1:1 first-person view and ability to scan the map") is a great game, which may be why it deserves to be on his personal list of games of the year. But this is an article called "The Unsung Video Game Heroes of 2010." I refuse to call any game with an annual sequel an "unsung" hero ... especially when the game sold significantly less units than the years prior.
Game 9: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (EA)
"Star Wars games, unlike Star Wars prequels, actually can be awesome. They have top-shelf action, coherent story writing and no sign of Jar Jar anywhere. In Force Unleashed II you play as a former secret apprentice of Darth Vader hell-bent on brutally destroying the Empire. (Good luck with that!) Sure the title is available on
Xbox 360 and PlayStation but the Wii is where it's at - flicking a Wiimote around like it's a lightsaber is the closest thing most of us will ever get to being a Jedi."
Daniel is right. Star Wars prequels can indeed be awesome. When they're done properly, they can have "top-shelf action, coherent story writing and no sign of Jar Jar anywhere." Unfortunately, The Force Unleashed II is definitely not the game he's describing. Perhaps he's confusing this mess of a sequel with the original, a well-received action game from a couple years ago. This low-scoring sequel failed to deliver on the original's potential, making it one of the most lackluster releases in 2010.
We can quibble all day about the quality of the game, but there's going to be no debate over whether this game "flew under the surface." Just like so many other games on this list, The Force Unleashed II is the exact opposite of an "unsung" release. Nothing in this world is bigger than Star Wars fandom, even when it comes to half-assed video game releases. Assuming Star Wars makes the list, I would hate to see what games Daniel decided to leave off. No Super Mario Galaxy 2? Call of Duty: Black Ops? Maybe those games were too big for Mr. Dumas, but it's more likely that he didn't get around to playing them.
The advantage of being a real video game critic (as opposed to the fake kind that works at the Wall Street Journal) is that I get to play a lot of REAL unsung games each year. There are genuine classics that will go completely unnoticed, which is a real shame. Star Wars doesn't need the WSJ's help; they already have multi-million dollar ad campaigns. Where's the love for DJ Hero 2, Costume Quest or Ivy the Kiwi? What about The UnderGarden, Vibes or Star Ocean: The Last Hope - International? Seriously, I don't think Daniel Dumas could have made a worse list if he actively tried. This isn't a list of "unsung video game heroes," it's a list of the nine games Daniel played this year.