Donkey Kong Country Returns — It’s not often that a non-RPG will top my Game of the Year list… but Donkey Kong Country Returns, developed by the out-of-left-field Retro Studios (developers of the Metroid Prime series), is an easy pick for me in an RPG-light year.
From the charming art direction (Those silhouette levels? Gorgeous) to the tight, responsive controls and top-notch level design, Donkey Kong Country Returns hit all the same buttons as the original SNES entries in the series and blew other recent platformers (like New! Super Mario Bros. Wii and Kirby’s Epic Yarn) right out of the water. Another classic in the long-running Nintendo franchise.
Limbo — A stylish puzzle/platformer unlike anything I’ve played before. A testament to small development teams with big vision.
Mass Effect 2 — Improved over the first game in some ways (atmosphere, graphics, cast), downgraded in others (exploration, RPG-elements, story). A good-but-flawed sequel to one of my favourite games of this console generation.
Dragon Quest IX — I had huge hopes for this game (being an enormous fan of the earlier games), but was left both satisfied and disappointed by the ninth entry in the long-running series. The gameplay was addictive, but the story just didn’t grasp me in the way that Dragon Quest V did.
Civilization V — What is there to say? As a casual fan of the series, I love the streamlining of the game systems and the new combat mechanics. Just as addicting as the previous Civilization games, with an added layer of pretty graphics on top.
Final Fantasy XIII — It’s hard not to put Fable III in this spot… but at least I managed to finish that one. Unlike Donkey Kong Country Returns, Final Fantasy XIII was missing absolutely everything that make the early entries in the series so important to me as a gamer. It’s incredibly linear, the characters are under-developed, the scenario is contrived and poorly directed, and the writing… oh god, the writing.