This is a tough category, for me. I'm so focused on the big disc releases that I barely indulged in a half-dozen downloadable games in 2010 - which is hardly a representative sample. Still, of the handful I played, most were pretty darned good - and I feel three deserve special mention here.
It does require me to really sit down and ponder on how I'm going to go about this... when I say "best game," should I honor the game that I reckon is closest to its own targeted perfection, or simply the game that I enjoyed most? In reviews, I try to gauge the qualities of a game, find its flaws, and determine its worth via mostly objective analysis - I still allow my personal position to inform the overall impression a game leaves, of course - but there is definitely a gap between "best" and "favorite."
"Favorite" is purely subjective - but "favorite" also points towards the game that I simply had the most fun with - and that's the whole purpose of games, isn't it? Game A may be, in all measurable ways, nearly flawless - but if one has more fun with Game B, can they really say that A is the better game?
I'm going with 'no'. And that's how I settled on the winner.
Ron Gilbert and Hothead Games' Deathspank is a delightful confection of bright, bold art direction, unreserved creativity, dry, zany comedy and the age-old gamer gratification of simply exploring a world.
Sure the "action RPG" aspect of the game is a bit half-baked, with simplified combat and almost zero character customization beyond the weapons and armor you choose - but it's still a game that's just a pleasure to slip into and while away the hours, bashing on feral gingerbread men with a blunt instrument and hunting down abandoned youth to fill your Orphan Bag.
Limbo is a nearly flawless exercise in restrained, thoughtful design and inspired presentation. The flickering grayscale world you explore, shrouded in fog and bristling with sharp objects and nightmare creatures is one of the most memorable environments of the year, and the game's nonexistent narrative - and meaning - is wholly unique to the individual playing it.
Like all art, Limbo's ethereal, disturbing symbolism has no real message, no real meaning save the one imposed on it by the player - and it resonates on a level most games never approach. Its puzzles are clever, its platforming is comfortable, and it's easily one of the most striking experiences of 2010.
* * *
BEST DOWNLOADABLE GAME
This one is certainly an upset - and to be honest, it actually took me a bit by surprise, given how hard I was on it in the review - but as I look back at the downloadable games I played in 2010, this is always the one that springs to the front of my mind. It's the one I want to go back to and play again, the one I'll show to a friend before any of the others.
I'm not just talking about the (glorious) presentation, either. I had more straight-up fun with it than any other PSN or XBLA title in 2010 - and let's face it, that's what counts.
"Brock Sampson simulator. Set in a Robert Rodriguez movie. That's Shank.. . .It's basically designed to throw a thousand insanely good-looking half-frames at you throughout the course of a level, and it's just delicious that it succeeds in this pursuit. The wonderful muted palette of the backdrops further reinforces the title's cartoon heritage and focuses one's attention on the spectacularly good-looking violence playing out in the foreground.. . .
While its harder difficulty can often frustrate, it's also one of those games that's rather inviting to slip into. One can get a little zen while playing Shank - playing at once strategically and thoughtlessly..."
- from the review -