From January to December, Gamezebo writers played, reviewed, analyzed and picked apart hundreds of games for PC and Mac, iPhone and Facebook. We're pleased to present our top picks for 2010. Some are simply the best games we've played all year, while others just stood out in our minds as being particularly enjoyable or unique.
Better late than never to this party, right? Previewed all the way back in March by Gamezebo, 3bot sure took its sweet time getting here, but it was worth the wait. Challenging 3D puzzles coupled with a cool sci-fi vibe, 3bot is one of the best brain-twisters on the iPhone this year.
Academagia: The Making of Mages (PC)
It’s not a casual game at all, and it requires patience, serious interest, and a lot of reading. But Academagia accomplishes two things which are absolutely rare and wonderful: It creates an immersive atmosphere in a school for aspiring wizards - a charming world that can easily compete with the Harry Potter universe in its richness of details, and it's one of those hard to find gems that you catch yourself playing on and on, time flying by, and yourself just trying to improve that one skill, studying this special spell, or exploring only one more location. My undisputed highlight of this year.
Asteroids Online (Facebook)
Updating a classic is risky business, and rereleases all too often highlight the dangers of fiddling with the original formula. Asteroids Online, however, is a treasure. This is a bold newcomer that somehow feels as fresh as the original, and additions such as leaderboards and upgradable ships prove that Atari fully understands what makes social games so addicting. What's most impressive, however, is that Asteroids remains as difficult as it ever was. Powerful alien warships will corner you in one level and dozens of tiny asteroids will zip past in a split second in others, and before long you'll start sweating from the challenge. And you'll love it.
--Jeremiah Leif Johnson
Broken Sword: The Director's Cut (iPhone and PC)
Reintroducing this awesome game, with plenty of extras that non-PAC players will love, was a tour de force. The original Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is my all time favorite game (just slightly ahead of the original Myst) and I can't say enough good things about the style, story, gameplay, voice acting and challenges, of this version... even though I still didn't like it quite as much as the shorter original.
Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal (PC)
The graphics are wonderful; the awesome, detailed sound effects covered everything (croaking frogs, baaaing sheep, etc.). The story is well written; the voice acting is a plus and the gameplay is simply fun! Demon is the funniest hint/sidekick, ever - fat, lazy, irreverent and sarcastic (click on him for no reason or wait before you search). Tons of things to find and do (including Easter Eggs) and a great, cohesive story. It doesn't hurt that the publisher (Codeminion) and developer (Twin Bottles) are the best things since sliced bread, AND there's going to be a sequel.
Burger Bustle (PC)
This time management game is low budget and has no storyline but man oh man is it fun. Unlike most restaurant-based TM games where the pace gets more frantic, you are given varied goals and if you achieve them fast enough, you are rewarded with either bronze, silver or gold trophies. Difficult levels are followed by several easy levels so you can catch a breath, remember to enjoy the game, and then go back and try to earn the gold trophy. All of these factors give this game replayability.
Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night (iPhone)
True story: Many years ago, I paid $150 for a rare Japanese Castlevania game that never got a proper release in North America. I was a huge Castlevania fan going into Castlevania Puzzle, but I was rewarded with a solid puzzle game with exploration and RPG elements to boot. Add one of the best soundtracks of any Castlevania title, and you’ve got a pocket puzzler that’s hard to put down.
Chronicles of Albian: The Magic Convention is proof that there's something to be said for simplicity. No blood-soaked mysteries to solve or dark, twisted plot to follow, just a fairy godmother, her flaky friends, a party in a fairy-tale castle and a whole, huge pile of hidden objects to find. It's challenging but light-hearted and very forgiving, and easy to pick up and play for as little or as long as you want. When you need a break from gruesome murders and sinister fiends, this is the game to play.
I have often made fun of the fact that despite hiring 1300 people, Zynga only releases 1 – 2 games per year. Well, with CityVille, the joke is on me. CityVille excels because it takes what works with their other games on Facebook and adds innovative social features such as franchising and an amazing attention to detail (even hiring an architect on staff to make cities realistic). CityVille is the quintessential social game, so if you don’t want emails popping in your inbox about gifts to collect, you will not like this game. But, if you are a fan of Facebook games, it does not get better than this. --Joel Brodie
Cut the Rope (iPhone)
Like Angry Birds before it, Cut the Rope has become the sort of perfect puzzler that defines the iPhone. It’s the type of game the device is best at, offering quick 20 second spurts of gaming that are anyone can pick up and play, yet with enough challenge and depth that even seasoned gamers will feel rewarded playing it. Combine that with an adorable lead character, brilliant stage design, and the promise of ongoing content updates, and you’ve got a recipe for game of the year.
Drawn: Dark Flight (PC)
I am an avid fan of the artist Neil Gaiman, and this game could be easily inspired by one of his graphic novels and vice versa. Surreal but still endearing graphics, a captivating storyline, and absolutely stunning puzzles provide a unique and highly enjoyable gaming experience. While I’m usually not that interested in adventure games, I can certainly make an exception for an outstanding game, and Drawn: Dark Flight is exactly that. It’s even more of a proof of the game’s amazing quality that I did not even mind that I had to use the strategy guide numerous times, because here it is all about the experience and how the player appreciates this amazing world.
Drawn: The Painted Tower was a beautiful and engaging story, but way too short. Fortunately, Dark Flight answers a lot of questions, as well providing more game time in these stunningly beautiful scenes, and even more intriguing characters. The puzzles continue to require that you think differently without being ridiculously difficult. I also immensely enjoyed the Pop-Up Book style puzzles.
--Clarence B. Krueger II
Dream Day Wedding: Bella Italia (PC)
Ah Dream Day Wedding, constantly entertaining us with its wide variety of gameplay and customization, and Bella Italia is no exception! Beautiful Italian environments and settings only add to the already solid and varied gameplay. Whether it's preparing food for the wedding, customizing the venue, or saving it from a disaster, Dream Day Wedding remains a game that is simply fun to play. Besides, it looks absolutely outstanding, and brilliant visuals are always a plus!
Farmer’s Market (PC)
It definitely has not been the most interesting year for time management game fans. For me, at least, there were only two games that stood really out of the crowd, and Farmer’s Market was one of them. The game mechanics and the theme are pretty unique, and to run a market selling milk, eggs, and more complicated products at stands is the natural evolution from the typical farming setting. Apart from the interesting and new core the game also features a very convincing market atmosphere and provides the perfect pace for newcomers and veterans alike. --David Becker
Fiction Fixers (Adventures in Wonderland & The Curse of Oz) (PC)
I'm an avid reader, reading over a hundred books a year. So when I get a chance to play a game based on classic literature, I jump at the opportunity. I won't say these two titles are blockbuster hits, but I found them both to be enjoyable, and felt like old friends just meeting again after several years. They are different but not necessarily in a bad way. It’s nice to get to know their new selves. Fiction Fixers makes for some great casual and fun hidden object play with some very beautiful art work.
--Clarence B. Krueger II
Many people bash Facebook games for their numerous problems, as well as continuing to decry that they’re not even worthy of being called games. No one can deny the number of people who are drawn to gaming through Facebook. Frontierville’s release finally took Facebook games in a major progressive step forward. Great game play, enjoyable graphics, quests, hilarious story line, and improved social elements. No matter your personal opinion about Zynga, they continue to innovate and improve existing game mechanics to continually improve on the online casual game genre.
--Clarence B. Krueger II
I play hundreds of games every year, 99% of which I never touch again after I'm finished with them for work. FrontierVille, on the other hand, I'm still playing six months after writing Gamezebo's preview. Sure, it's just as spammy and psychologically manipulative as other social games, but players are richly rewarded for the grind with entertaining quests, an aesthetically pleasing "pad" to deck out with hundreds of decorations, and a constant stream of new content which ensures that there's always something to do when you drop by the ol' homestead.
Heart’s Medicine - Season 1 (PC)
This time management game comes from the same folks who in the past delighted players with the charming Delicious series. Their new franchise is at least equally wonderful, although the first part lacked a bit in playing time. But this issue is of minor significance if every other aspect is executed just perfectly. The plot is woven into the gameplay flawlessly, the mini-games are entertaining and unique, and by the end of Heart’s Medicine you are left with the feeling that you want to play more of it immediately, which is a remarkable achievement.
Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World (PC)
I was liking (damning with faint praise) this, except for waiting while Kaptain Brawe took his sweet time moving. Then, I remembered something from my old PACs (point-and-clicks). I pressed the space bar and Kaptain Brawe MOVED! Now we're cookin' with grease! The cartoonish graphics are wonderful and the dialog is witty and crisp - the Kaptain's idiotic vanity knows no bounds and his long suffering second's dry insults made me laugh out loud. Even if you're not a fan of point-and-click adventures, this offers plenty of help and hints to make the gameplay enjoyable for iHOG lovers.
Lost Horizon (PC)
If you’ve ever wanted to step inside an Indiana Jones movie, this is just the ticket. An adventure in the truest sense, this game has you racing across five countries, outsmarting Nazis and punching them too. It’s the ultimate cinematic experience of the year (in a game, that is), and it’s looong – it can be played over several days if you read all the dialogue and watch all the action-packed cutscenes. By the end of the game, I was half in love with the rugged anti-hero Fenton Paddock and his cheesy wisecracks. My only complaint: he should have stripped off some clothes before diving into the lake!
Lost in the City: Post Scriptum (PC)
A hidden object adventure that's not afraid to get weird. It's a bit rough around the edges but more than makes up for it with a rich, haunting ambiance and a gripping story that will keep you guessing until the very end. It's safe to say that this is very much a "love it or hate it" kind of game, but I loved it and I think most gamers with a taste for the unusual and a willingness to follow it down the rabbit hole will, too.
Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull (PC)
The production values and attention to detail put this game on top. In terms of gameplay, new elements were added to set it apart from the many MCF imitators. The use of live actors gave the game more life and was a welcome relief from reading a journal. As for the objective hunts, it drove me crazy that I couldn’t pick up the oddly placed crayons and goblets, etc. but when I had to find them, I challenged myself to find them from memory. That was a refreshing new twist to an overly familiar style of play.
Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the Opera (PC)
The most perfectly-crafted hidden object adventure I've ever played. I raved about it in my review and I'll do it here, too, because this is an absolute masterpiece of a game. It's visually stunning, packed with beautiful music and offers a wide variety of challenging gameplay without ever becoming obtuse. The Collector's Edition even includes a complete copy of the original "Phantom of the Opera" novel from 1911. It's a cliché but in this case it's also very true: if you only play only one hidden object adventure in 2010, make sure it's this one.
Penny Dreadfuls: Sweeney Todd (PC)
Some of the HOG scenes were gruesome but what would you expect from a game called Sweeney Todd? This game had everything I love in IHOG games. The storyline was dark and creepy, the puzzles were difficult, there was a scoring system (kind of) and I was often uncertain as to what to do next. I LOVE THAT. There were many beautiful scenes to explore and best of all, to re-explore, there was no rush from room to room. This game took its time to unfold and I appreciated every second of it.
Pix'n Love Rush (iPhone)
It’s a simple arcade twitch game that I couldn’t stop playing. Of course, the old-school aesthetic and in-jokes were great fun for us old fogies, but Pix’n Love Rush had that fantastic “gotta play one more time!” element that few games in 2010 could match.
Plants vs. Zombies (iPad)
OK, I have to admit something. While a fan of Plants vs. Zombies, I didn’t think it was that special. True, the attacking zombies was a nice twist, but essentially, it’s just a Tower Defense game, and I’ve been playing for years. That is, until I played Plants vs. Zombies on the iPad. The iPad’s large touch-screen takes Plants vs. Zombies to another level, and puts it at the tops of my best games of the year list. Editor’s Note: I really wanted to brag about how good Cut the Rope is, but I see Mr. Squires already put that game on his list! --Joel Brodie
Ranch Rush 2 (PC)
Only a handful of games every year receive a perfect 5/5 score from Gamezebo, and this game was one of them. Ranch Rush 2 took everything that was superb about the first game and added a new tropical setting, some additional tasks, a couple of extra modes, and a few other goodies to easily elevate it to one of the best time management games we've ever played.
Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven (PC)
Solid gameplay is always important when it comes to hidden object titles, but giving a player plenty to do without being too cumbersome is equally important. Redemption Cemetery features both these qualities, and beautiful graphics and settings as well. Plus it simply can't be overlooked, the story's very interesting! Not quite sure what's going to happen next or where you'll be transported, the story alone will keep you wanting to play right up until the very end.
Royal Envoy (PC)
Another game that’s fun, fun, fun! Royal Envoy took the Build-a-Lot concept and polished it till it glittered! From my first glimpse of the gorgeous Islandshire map (and the King’s purple shoes), I knew I was in for a treat. There’s so much more to do here than just build houses – you dig up treasure, pay off pirates, load ship cargo, train circus clowns, and oh yes, collect taxes. Seeing the tax collectors twirl their pirouettes was enough motivation for me to finish a level! All those little characters and detailed touches of animation made everything shiny. Instant addiction for me!
Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles Collector's Edition (PC)
It had flaws (story, voiceovers and dialog Mr. Holmes/Dr. Watson wouldn't be caught dead with and some clunky, forced game triggers), but the sheer amount of gameplay, the ability to replay all 24 random searches and 32 minigames, AND the addition of 10 more pick up/put down games (like Othello and Sudoku clones), overcame any issues I had. The graphics are stellar, the interactive map was a plus, and most of the minigames were right up my alley (logic-based). I was also impressed they saved the most diabolical puzzles for the bonus section. The first Collector's Edition I've played that was truly worth its name.
Snark Busters: Welcome to the Club (PC)
This tops my list of games I wouldn't mind playing again and again – and I actually did, thrice in a row! Snark Busters was pure enjoyment, and I can’t exactly pinpoint whether it was because of the upbeat jaunty tunes, the rainbow-colored environments, the clever puzzles, the fractured object searches (my favorite type of HOG), or simply because it was a perfect mix of everything delightful! Having two worlds that mirrored each other was a unique twist, and this idea was translated effectively in the gameplay. The game has a decent length, but I’d be happier if it had gone on forever – give us the sequel already!
Space Miner Blast (iPhone)
The freemium spin-off to Space Miner: Space Ore Bust might not have been Venan Entertainment’s biggest release this year, but there’s no doubting it was their finest. A game best described as endless survival meets Asteroids, players face wave after wave of space rock in their quest to mine raw minerals and rack up a huge score. Different ships available for purchase offer a truly different feel from one another, and with a neat upgrade system in place, pocket space jockeys are placed in total control of their destiny. An experience that starts slow but picks up steam quickly, Space Miner Blast has been impossible to put down.
The Fall Trilogy- Chapter 1: Separation (PC)
Games that begin with vague storylines can often be frustrating, but the first installment of The Fall Trilogy is the exact opposite. The initially unknown background of the character, and his waking up in a gorgeously rendered ruin, only enhances the fun point-and-click and puzzle gameplay of this title. With a simple and singular goal that remains unhindered by pointless tasks and puzzles, this game even wraps up the package with a brilliant cliff-hanger ending.
Tilt to Live (iPhone)
Never before has a game’s title so perfectly described the content within. The object of the game is exactly what the title suggests; no more, no less. In many ways, it’s gaming in its simplest form. All players need to do is tilt their device to guide a cursor around the screen. And yet this simple premise belies the game’s incredible difficulty, as you’ll be tilting like a madman to avoid hundreds of deadly red dots while picking up power-ups to destroy them along the way. Tilt to Live is twitch gaming at its finest.
Writer's Blox (Facebook)
It takes a goodly helping of genius to improve on Scrabble (not to mention a bucket of guts), but somehow Arkadium managed to pull it off with Writer's Blox. Whether it's in the way you must beat your friends at the same daily puzzle or the way it forces your creativity by presenting several conjoined letters, Writer's Blox makes playing word games feel like an entirely new experience. Above all, however, its greatest strength is its decision to let players move the pieces on the board at any time to achieve a high score. The simple move makes Writer's Blox an enjoyable and demanding single-player experience in a way that Scrabble never could.
--Jeremiah Lief Johnson
Zuma Blitz (Facebook)
Shooting marbles has never felt so fun. With Zuma Blitz, PopCap builds on the successful formula of Bejeweled Blitz with an experience that may actually outshine that of its sensational gem smasher. As with Bejeweled, the riveting Zuma experience is somehow even more enjoyable in one-minute chunks than in extended play sessions, and the skill required invites constant competition with your friends on the leaderboards. Indeed, at times I fear that Zuma Blitz's relatively higher skill requirements may keep it from ever attaining the feverishly loyal following of its cousin, but this is a game that shouldn't be missed.
--Jeremiah Lief Johnson
What were your favorite games of 2010? We want to hear about them in the comments!