The Year in Review 2007 Feature - The Next Level

The Year in Review 2007

A look back at the staff's top picks of 2007.

Article by TNL Staff (Email)
January 12th 2008, 05:50AM

Val's Top Five Picks of 2007

5. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC)
Publisher: Activision    Developer: Splash Damage

I'm not the biggest fan of FPS, though the public sure is. Their insatiable desire has inspired developers to flood the industry with first-person run-and-guns, and there aren't many gems among the tons of mess. The glint of Quake Wars drew my eye for a few reasons. The good ol' classes (from the original Team Fortress), like Engineer and Medic, were familiar. There was that pick-up-and-play, arcade quality to the general gaming experience, too, but what sold ETQW were the features that made it into a thinking man's FPS. There's no single-player story mode, so it isn't that – it manages to make you feel somewhat unique and important during your online struggles, giving you a purpose and goals to accomplish. As a gamer who isn't interested in gunning from point A to point B for no real reason, objective-based gameplay made all the difference.

4. Rogue Galaxy (PS2)
Publisher: Sony   Developer: Level-5

Making RPGs in Japan can be like making a sports game in the United States. If you aren't EA (or for the RPG crafters, Square-Enix), you can't guarantee that anyone's going to care. With several exceptional titles under their belt, Level-5 has managed to rise in spite of its many more established competitors, and a lot of their experience culminated in the fantastic Rogue Galaxy. A lot of RPGs have had you travel worlds and star systems, but few of them managed to bestow the epic sense of scope and adventure that it did. It was science fiction with a smidgen of fantasy flare (most Japanese RPGs are the opposite), the battle system wasn't a total snore, and if the Japanese could completely re-invent the original Star Wars trilogy, well, maybe it'd play out a bit like Rogue Galaxy.

3. Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii)
Publisher: Sega   Developer: Sega

Various constraints kept SEGA from porting Sonic the Hedgehog (aka "Sonic Next", the 360 and PS3 incarnation) to the Nintendo Wii. They wanted it done, and if they had their way, they could've created something horrifying. That didn't happen. Instead, Sonic Team was given a budget, a short amount of time, and the freedom to design anything they wanted. Naysayers may consider this a detriment, but many internal developers would kill for that opportunity. When you think of how the various people handling Sonic's development have been forced into churning out predictable, stale crap year after year, it was refreshing to watch their imaginations run wild and create something radically different. A more technical look at Sonic and the Secret Rings tells any longtime Sonic fan that this is what Sonic could've been, if he developed in a 3D way that stayed closer to his 2D roots. Whether they ever get a chance to smooth out its flaws and make another like it or not, I'm glad Secret Rings made me proud to be a Sonic fan again in 2007.


2. Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii)
Publisher: Capcom   Developer: Capcom

Mega Man Legends 3, is that you, under the guise of a platforming puzzler? You star as one mysterious young man out to enthusiastically solve the world's riddles, and gain great treasure, but you're called Zack, for some reason. There's a monkey aside you, and he's called Wiki? What's with this? You have companions who understand your ambitions, a la the Casketts, and then there's a bunch of weird foes you meet along the way (some resembling the Bonnes). Well, Keiji Inafune said his dream is to make Mega Man Legends 3 someday, so I know that's not what you are, Zack & Wiki. You stand on your own as an incredibly fun brain-tease game that uses the Wii's graphical powers to whimsical extent, and its motion-sensing controller in more useful ways than what Metroid Prime 3: Corruption dreams of managing. You're one of the few real must-plays the Wii has, and I hope we see you again!


1. Super Paper Mario (Wii)
Publisher: Nintendo   Developer: Nintendo

I'd be a liar if I didn't credit Mario for guiding me from the Atari era to the gray toaster-ey goodness of the NES. He couldn't keep me there, since the un-Mario, Super Mario Bros. 2, was my final favorite on the system. That kind of affection wasn't rekindled till Super Paper Mario came along. Intelligent Systems, you've done a great thing. You've successfully implemented enjoyable Mario platforming (that you've been polishing since the first Paper Mario), fleshed out into one of the best side-scroller adventures I've played in years. Oh, and I love the story. Witty, wacky, and innocent usually wins in my book. The fun uses for the Wii Remote and simplistically entertaining mini-games keep it interesting, and leave me hoping we'll have a Super Paper Mario 2 someday.

2007 Overview

Running strong throughout the year, Nintendo's Wii defied critics by continuing to sell out to and through the holiday season. Its momentum is amazing, and since those who don't understand can't claim it'll fizzle out four months after release anymore, their focus has shifted. Truthfully, their words no longer sound like a half-baked conspiracy theory, and could ring very true. What if Nintendo's shiny white system doesn't have enough Zeldas and Metroids and Marios to please everyone other than the casual gaming sect? Even if it continues to sell well, will third-party developers continue to (or in some cases, ever) care about it? It's made its impact on casual gaming, though one could argue that the Atari or even cell phones did it first. Cell phones are still around, but as for the Atari...

For now, the Wii is part two in Nintendo's epic about conquering the electronic entertainment world, being the successor to the tiny juggernaut, the DS. It's managed to entertain me, and I'll never regret purchasing one whether it starts dying off in 2008 or not. Personally, I don't see that happening. It's like an epidemic, since almost everybody catches the "I want a Wii" bug whenever they're exposed to one, and there are many millions of people in this world who haven't bought it yet. Once Nintendo activates all the systems' super secret brainwashing rays and begins twirling their handlebar moustaches, I'll worry, but till then, I'm along for the ride.

My 360 is going with me right alongside my Wii, or it would be, if I weren't about to ship it off to Microsoft. A lot of people complain about broken systems, and I've finally been struck with the red ring of death for the first time since launch. Companies in the past (like Sony and Apple) haven't bent to disgruntled consumer pressure, and that's why I'm not angry at Microsoft. They've actually listened. Nobody manufactures a perfect piece of silicon and transistors, and if I'm going to get a little coverage because of the mistakes they made, I'll thank them for it. Just wish I wasn't going to lose all my game saves in the interim. C'est la vie!

2008 Outlook

Almost every year, the gaming industry manages to amaze its followers, but we're approaching the usual mid-life crisis for systems like the Xbox 360 (you could say the Wii is in its post-college prime). When you consider that the average console lifespan is four to five years, it's already getting on in its age, showing just how fast time can fly. Sony has said they want their PS3 to live on for a full ten years or more, and maybe it will, but not as the industry leader. They, just like everyone else, will need to start working on something new (and at least in terms of brainstorming, they likely already are). Microsoft has been slowly building their consumer bases up and up, but what is Nintendo going to do when the explosively popular Wii is over the hill? 2008 may give us a more telling glimpse into both their fates.


Ross Top Five Picks of 2007

5. skate (360, PS3)
Publisher: EA   Developer: EA

Finally a game shows that long running franchises can be unseated from the thrones of their genre if you do it right. By which I mean don't just copy what the current champion is doing, but instead ask, "What do people want from this genre?" A killer new control scheme, a solid single-player, fun multiplayer modes, and a rarely seen honest appreciation of the sport... Tony Hawk? This is Skate!


4. Mass Effect (360)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios   Developer: Bioware

Easily the game with the most promise that failed to live up to what the developers originally envisioned. Yet, even a lousy frame rate, terrible load times, sub-par AI, and a "just too short" main quest couldn't keep this game out of my top five. Mass Effect works as a complete experience as long as you're willing to forgive the individual pieces for being less than great. Still, I hope to see more out of Bioware next time... and now that EA owns them I'm sure we'll see lots more.

3. Carcassonne (Xbox Live Arcade)
Publisher: Sierra Online   Developer: Sierra Online

This isn't your Mother's Chutes-and-Ladders, nor is it a mini-game spam fest like Mario Party. Carcassonne has a hardcore following who knows it as "that amazing import from Europe." A deft combination of resource management, diplomacy, puzzle elements, and a simple pickup-and-play game design come together to make the best multiplayer game experience you can have... while still having a hand free to drink.

2. Rock Band (Xbox 360, PS3)
Publisher: Electronic Arts   Developer: Harmonix

A stunning breakout hit, even at $170 for the entry level starter kit (that's not including the cost of a 2nd guitar!), that's sweeping the nation. But that's not why I put this on my list. To me Rock Band is the game that finally delivered on the promise of downloadable content. Say what you want about the clunky band management interface or the lack of killer "guitar" songs in the base package; firing up the internet every Monday to see what new songs will be released is now the best thing about the start of my week.

1. Halo 3 (360)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios   Developer: Bungie

This was supposed to be the year of user generated content, file sharing, customization of the end user experience, and massive online communities... oh wait, I was thinking of what Sony promised PS3 owners. Microsoft actually delivered what Sony promised, again. Whether you're looking for a killer 4-player co-op game, the chance to be a multiplayer map designer, or show off your Spielberg-like talents... this the game you should be playing.

2007 Overview

To me this was the year Microsoft's Xbox 360 owned the market. I'm not just talking about how year end projections are showing X360 software outselling everything else 3-to-1. Instead it was the quantity and the quality of the games that hit the system that really surprised me. Everyone I know picked one up this year. If you were a hardcore gamer there was no other system to buy in '07.

You may notice that I didn't put any Wii games in my top 5... that's because I still don't own one. An entire year and they still can't make enough to meet demand? Bullshit. For a system with mountains of shovelware (that isn't selling) to be this hard to find is a sign that Nintendo is quickly creating a system that third-party developers simply won't be able to support no matter how great the hardware sales.

was not a good year for Sony. Bad PR may have finally gone away, but it was replaced with a deafening silence from third-party developers. Even with shelves filled with so-so ports (and not games like Bioshock) exclusive first-party releases including Uncharted and Heavenly Sword failed to garner sales. Still, it's a great blu-Ray player right?

Two final thoughts on 2007 that I haven't seen echoed anywhere else: Crackdown wasn't just a great game; it was really a platformer that was aimed at a more adult market. No cuddly cartoon characters, but still be people were willing to go around collecting hundreds of glowing orbs. Even Ratchet and Clank can't inspire that many people to collect glowy things anymore. Now is the time for a realistic adult take on platforming.

Finally, this was the year that PC gaming died. Yes, I know that World of Warcraft has millions of subscribers... but actual new game sales tanked. When highly anticipated games such as Hellgate: London are released half-done it would seem that even developers don't believe the platform is worth the investment anymore. This must be why so many PC games are being ported to consoles. *cough* Crysis *cough*

2008 Outlook

Looking forward I see the continuing death spiral of PC gaming. There will be momentary stays of execution such as Starcraft II, but for the most part the end is here. There will be a lot of blame to go around, but honestly I don't believe it will be piracy that undoes PC gaming. Rather I think the cost/benefit of building and maintaining a good gaming PC just won't be able to compete with consoles. This isn't to say that PC gaming will disappear; rather it'll be like how arcades became a fringe/niche market serving specific genres.

On a lighter note I believe that the PS3 will finally show signs of life this year, even if only because the X360 has finally run out of big releases. I don't expect that the two most anticipated PS3 games, Final Fantasy XIII and Metal Gear Solid 4, will really sell all that much when it comes down to it. If anything look for MGS4 to hit the X360 later on. Rather, it will be games like Little Big Planet and experiences like HOME that move PS3's off the shelves.

m looking forward to playing Super Smash Bros Brawl... or I would be if I could find a Wii. Instead I'll have to make do playing at a friend's place. The mean side of me would point out that Wii owners once again only have three games worth buying to look forward to this year (two if you don't count Wii Fit). But, the joke about buying a "Nintendo player" is a horse that's been beaten death with a Wiimote inserted into an off white plastic baseball bat accessory.

Finally, while the Xbox 360 will remain the best place for hardcore gamers to play games... they're not the bulk of the videogame market anymore. So while I expect that Grand Theft Auto IV will make waves when it's released, it will pale in comparison the noise the mainstream media will continue to make about the Wii. At least until someone has a heart attack playing Wii Fit.

Still no matter what genre or system you love, this is going to be a great year for gaming!


Hit the next page to read James' picks...


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