With the maturation of game design and technology, we’re surrounded by an awful lot of great software. You can pick up any modern game controller or handheld and immediately have a choice of great games to interact with, and we owe much of that to some masterful developers that have been delighting gamers for years now.
Of course, we’re also pleasantly surprised by the handful of AAA games from studios that have never pulled off anything like that before. Whether their previous games kind of sucked or they jump right into the deep end and start cranking out great content immediately, the following games and studios came out of nowhere to delight the masses.
Crash Bandicoot – Naughty Dog
This article is pretty much the converse of what I wrote last year, and Naughty Dog was on that list, too. That article, though, was in the spirit of bringing the big wigs down a peg, and from the ashes of Way of the Warrior rose Crash Bandicoot.
Not unlike Square’s original Final Fantasy, Crash Bandicoot was a last-ditch effort to keep the studio afloat. Despite Way of the Warrior’s dismal budget (and quality), Universal Interactive Studios signed Naughty Dog to do three more games … games that would end up being the first three games in the Crash Bandicoot series.
The first Crash was a ton of fun to play at the time, although now it’s essentially just another ultra-linear platform game. It still plays well, though, and it was refreshing to have an animal mascot that didn’t spew annoying one-liners every seven seconds.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions – Beenox
Beenox is a studio that have actually existed since the year 2000, although it would be a whole decade before they’d have their first breakout hit with last year’s Shattered Dimensions.
In those ten years, they managed to keep themselves busy porting games for Activision — 41 ports across Mac, PC, and Wii. The only original games that they’d worked on included movie tie-ins Monsters vs. Aliens and Bee Movie Game, as well as Guitar Hero: Smash Hits. When Activision announced that they were the studio chosen to work on a new Spider-Man game, people were understandably skeptical.
As it turns out, Activision was absolutely right in letting them handle the Spidey franchise. The idea behind the game was ambitious as hell: controlling four different Spider-Men from four different Spidey dimensions, while ditching the open-world structure of previous games and going with a linear level-to-level approach. This worked beautifully, allowing each Spider-Man to shine in three of his own levels for a little under an hour each.
Now Beenox is ready to ship Spider-Man: Edge of Time in October. While it’ll only star two of the four Spideys from SD, those two were my favorites to play as. Needless to say, it’s a game you should be looking forward to.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – MercurySteam
MercurySteam have made four games, including Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The three games that preceded it were American McGee Presents: Scrapland (meh), Zombies for Nokia cellphones (lolwut), and Clive Barker’s Jericho (more meh). Not exactly a commanding body of work, that.
As such, it wasn’t surprising that Konami held off from saying that Lords of Shadow was a new Castlevania game when it was originally announced. Since previous 3D Castlevania games were less-than-pleasant, with Hideo Kojima involved as well, it simply wouldn’t have computed. When they finally did say that it was a new ‘Vania, it still didn’t.
A little over a year later, we were singing the game’s praises. Lords of Shadow was one of the best-looking games of the year, while using and upgrading the Combat Cross was always satisfying.