I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that Mario Kart DS is my favourite game in the entire series, and when a series carries a name as big as Mario Kart that’s no small praise. Whereas Mario Kart 64 evolved Super Mario Kart, I felt that Mario Kart Super Circuit was a step backwards and Mario Kart Double Dash felt gimmicky, this one felt like a true step forward.
The focus was brought back to the tight and responsive handling and the weapons which have been tweaked and balanced well over the series, the graphics sit somewhere between Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash, and the power of the DS has been used to add much more interactivity than the last great one, Mario Kart 64. On top of that they were clever enough to throw in a nice selection of classic retro tracks (although some of the choices of “classics” could be debated), fully-featured multiplayer with one copy of the game, and the game’s huge new addition – online play.
Nintendo were slow to adopt online play but they certainly made a good choice of a first game to do it with, and despite teething problems on their first attempt (the overly safety-conscious friends system, the lack of punishment for quitting when losing to protect your record, etc) they did a great job. Not only does this make it one of the best games of the year, it’s also proof positive that the DS is a serious system that isn’t only about touch-screen minigames and half-arsed console ports.
When the 2D Castlevanias achieve near unanimous rave reviews it’s a wonder that they keep pursuing that losing battle of trying to make a decent 3D iteration of the series, and this keeps up the trend by being probably the best new entry to the series since Symphony of the Night on the PS1.
Konami deserve credit for just picking up from their good work on the excellent GBA Castlevanias (they even carry on with the new protagonist, Soma Cruz, introduced in Aria of Sorrow) and, on the whole, resisting the urge to shoehorn in functionality based on the unique functionality of the DS. There are some touch screen functions that work like the breakable blocks and some that don’t like the annoying seal-drawing to deliver the final blow to bosses, but most of the additions use the extra power to make some cool cosmetic touches and, naturally, some bigger and more impressive enemies.
Castlevania games are reliable for being lengthy and addictive action adventures, and this is one of the best in a long time. It therefore happily sits in my best of the year.
Despite what I said about WW2 FPS, when they’re done right they can be very, very good, and Call of Duty 2 is certainly done right. The marketing for the original told us that no man won the war alone, and this follows the same credo but with the added horsepower of more modern PCs and the Xbox 360 to enhance the atmosphere. In a game that was all about chaos going on around you that made all the difference, and I think that overall this is the better game because of that.
What I thought were the biggest flaws of the first game – namely that the British campaign was quite poor and that you had to get through the rest of the game to get to the best part, the Russian campaign – have been solved. The Russian campaign now comes first and the other two have been improved, giving them much the same gameplay but with enough changes to atmosphere and setting to make them distinctly enjoyable. The same mix of objectives that range from demolitions to sniping are here, but the aforementioned added power means that you’re now demolishing massive buildings and making your last stand against whole platoons. Only the end, which goes out with a splutter instead of a bang, let the action down for me.
Even in the series’ first wholesale conversion to consoles (previously consoles have received their own, markedly inferior, games) nothing was lost besides the cut-down multiplayer. The graphics run smoother than all but the most monstrous of PCs with their equally monstrous price tags, and even the controller wasn’t a hindrance. That made it my favourite game on the Xbox 360 so far, and my ninth favourite of the year.
Admittedly I have no basis for comparison, but I’d imagine that no game makes you feel like a soldier the way that Battlefield 2 does. For all it’s flaws, of which many are fixable and should have been fixed by now (this is a Battlefield game so I don’t know what I expected), few games have ever immersed me as much as this. Team-based multiplayer FPS always do well with me, but this one just took the idea and ran with it, and thankfully didn’t make it yet another WW2 FPS.
The basic game mechanics are essentially the same as in BF1942 and Vietnam in a modern setting, but thanks to vastly improved infantry combat, an overall balance to the weapons, and a focus on urban warfare I loved this game and really wish for the next one they’d actually finish it before release. The lack of patch support for the bugs is the main reason why this didn’t place higher.
Most games make the single player the focus of their gameplay and generally that’s the best idea, but with BF2 I can think of few gaming experiences more satisfying than joining up to a 32-man army and moving, street by street, into an enemy city, with teamwork and the use of all your combined talents and different weapons as the best way to success. A heavy weapons guy keeps the enemy armour occupied while the machine gunners pin down the infantry so that your own infantry can outflank them and capture their base: there are so many possibilities to how each game plays out. and it makes the list in spite of the problems simply because the core gameplay is so well done.
Looking back, even without the unusual number of hardware launches, 2005 was a very good year for gaming. It had been a long time since I’ve bought, played, and thoroughly enjoyed so many great games, and over the last ten days of 2005 I’m going to be giving you my top ten, one a day at 9pm GMT, with my last to come on 31st December.
It wasn’t easy and the order may well change slightly between now and when they appear, but looking back at what I played brought a lot of “was that really less than a year ago?” moments, and that’s one possible bone of contention – whether or not some of these came out in 2005. Certain games that I’m including were released outside the UK in 2004 and some haven’t even been released here at the end of 2005, so there’s no hard and fast rule here. Basically they got released somewhere in 2005 and were played by me, either on import or the UK release, at that point. The first will be with you tomorrow and you’re welcome to argue with me when more of them are up.