Why do Game of the Year stories exist?
//Jordan Potter, Columnist

One of The Many Things That Annoy Me™ while I comb the video game blogosphere, aside from the word blogosphere, is the near-universal trend of stretching Game of the Year awards well into the next calendar year. However, as someone who is now responsible for producing electronic-entertainment focused puff pieces of my own, I have finally gained an appreciation for why they resort to turning what should be a straightforward feature into unbearable month-long countdowns. Essentially, nothing ever comes out in January. Yeah, \Dead Space 2 came out last week, but beyond that, the annual pre-Hanukkah deluge of AAA titles creates a post-Christmas famine of both releases and news that forces one to milk the previous year for content.

Surprise! This also applies to me. Here are my three favorite games of last year.

Monday Night Combat

Uberentertainment, a game developer who gained notoriety from documenting the trials and tribulations of being a startup via their blog, released their first game last summer. Monday Night Combat reminds me of this wonderful food I ate once at a party -- a casserole dish filled with sour cream, cheese, hashbrowns, mushroom soup, onions-cooked-in-butter, topped with potato chips. See, MNC is a slop that combines everything you love, working against all odds to form a Mega-Zord of delicious. It’s got a bit of Team Fortress 2 (you pick from six distinct classes), a bit of Defence of the Ancients (you can destroy mobs for XP) and just a pinch of Tower Defence (you can... build towers). This might make the game sound derivative, and maybe it is, but its level of polish and great sense of humor set it apart not only from any other downloadable title, but from its competition in the online shooter space. Players take on the role of clones in a violent future sport, a setting that is kept lighthearted by the ever-present arena announcer who openly mocks player performance and gives brief insight to the grim dystopia the game takes place in. No game released last year demanded more of my leisure time. A lot of its addictiveness comes from the brief duration of matches (timed to 15 minutes or less if a team forces a win) and the fact that while your character gains experience points that can be used to upgrade their abilities, these are reset at the end of every match. This way, the game avoids the monotony one might feel with a persistent character like in Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, and encourages players to try new builds frequently. Also, as mentioned previously, it’s only $15. Buy it. Buy it like the wind.

Super Meat Boy

Coincidentally, also a $15 downloadable title, Super Meat Boy was the critical darling of last year, an impressive feat given that it was essentially only made by two people. The game is a platformer that revolves around the age old requirement of travelling from point A to point B. SMB is in many ways the spiritual successor, both in gameplay and in acronym, to Super Mario Bros. Like the original Mario classic, the game is incredibly simple, with just four inputs (right/left/jump/sprint), and yet you will die. A lot. Over and over. Forever. The game progresses from its easy tutorial, to soul-crushingly difficult within the course of its first hour. But you will revel in your own suffering, because while the game is hard, its precise controls and clever level design makes your (decreasingly frequent) triumphs all the more satisfying. In a way, the game rewards your perseverance. For example, as you continually die trying to complete a level, the game records your attempts, so when you finally do manage to reach the end, a replay shows all of your fallen meat boys meeting their demise along side your one survivor. SMB isn’t for everyone, but if you like old-school difficulty, and hate yourself, I highly recommend it.

Red Dead Redemption

I hate Grand Theft Auto as passionately as most 13-year-olds adore it and yet, a game that was hailed as “GTA with horses” managed to convince me that occasionally, the people with Rockstar know what they are doing. The first time I saw RDR was at a live demo at PAX 2009. The game looked buggy, the world seemed empty, and the American Apparel T-shirt they gave me upon leaving was, at best, a decent fit. By the time the game launched last year, though, it was extremely stable, the explorable world was full of encounters and interesting characters, and my T-shirt had shrunk to a snugger fit. Redemption fixes every problem I have with the GTA series. The combat isn’t chained to its ancestors’ clunky lock-on system. The missions aren’t repetitive. Most importantly, the protagonist is actually likable. John Marsten, the scoundrel with a heart of gold, is infinitely more empathetic a figure than any denizen of Liberty City. Great games are often remembered for singular moments, and the ending of Red Dead, which I will not spoil for all six of you who have yet to see it, stands out as one for the ages.

//Jordan Potter, Columnist

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