Commentary

The Page 2 Video Game Awards

Updated: December 15, 2009, 4:25 PM ET
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

In the great chain of publishing clichés, year-end best-of lists rank somewhere between lists and, um, ranking things.

Naturally, Page 2 can't resist.

This past weekend, Spike TV broadcast its annual Video Game Awards, in which nerds fans in roughly the same demographic group as the target audience of this Web site voted to determine the best video games of the year -- a privilege we won't be extending for Page 2's 2009 Sports Game Superlatives.

No, for our awards, we came up with the categories, handed out the (nonexistent, but don't tell anyone) hardware and generally behaved in as undemocratic a fashion as possible.

And you? You still get to read. Happy Holidays!

Better Late Than Never Award: "Madden NFL 10"
Decent gang tackles. Television-style presentation. A pass pocket that actually kinda sorta matters. Congratulations, "Madden NFL 10": You've finally managed to add hot new features that were part and parcel of the late, great "NFL 2K5," a 4-year-old game played on last-generation hardware. If the slower, more realistic-playing "Madden NFL 10" was a huge step forward for the venerable pro pigskin franchise, it was also long overdue, coming after four consecutive years of next-gen lethargy. (You know how people still remember exactly where they were when JFK was shot? We remember where we were when Madden 06's chugfest, 30 frames-per-second animations and 'roided-up quarterbacks entered our Xbox 360 disc tray. The horror.) Still needing an upgrade? Line interaction that goes beyond sumo patty-cake, star player differentiation and crisp route running/timing-based passing that works like it does in the NFL -- in short, features you can find in the 2-year-old "All Pro Football 2K8." Sigh. Some things never change ...

Best Reason to Go Online: "NBA 2K10"
Forget loudmouthed trash-talkers, cherry-picking cheaters and the rest of the early-pubescent riffraff you'll find when attempting to play a random online sports game. (If Obi-Wan Kenobi were alive today, he'd skip the Mos Eisley Cantina and save his light saber slashes for Xbox Live on a Friday night. These are the facts. They are not in dispute.) We're referring to sports game makers improving their products via downloadable patches, an ability that took "NBA 2K10" from mildly disappointing to thoroughly satisfying. Wonky player movement, jittery frame rates, moronic A.I. and dozens of bugs: Such was the game as sold in stores. But after a post-release online update from the good people at programming house Visual Concepts? Buttery-smooth near perfection. Kudos, 2K, for righting a wrong. If only real-life NBA teams -- that means you, underachieving Washington Wizards -- could do likewise.

Michael Jordan Chasing Curveballs Award: "MLB 2K9"
One year it's a new producer learning the ropes; the next, it's the programming team. Whatever the reason, the MLB 2K series has been snakebit since the early OG Xbox era, forever promising the moon, forever chasing the glorious shadows of the World Series Baseball series on the Sega Saturn. "MLB 2K9" offers more of the same: sweet graphics and smart pitcher-batter confrontations undercut by bugs, animation oddities, moronic A.I. and frustrating online play, a game that manages to tease and frustrate in equal measure. As gamers, we really want 2K to finally get its act together -- for one, it has semiexclusive MLB rights; more to the point, we're too cheap to buy a PS3 just to play Sony's excellent The Show franchise -- yet as critics, we can't help but wonder whether it's the Chicago Cubs. Next year will be different!

Worst Argument for License Exclusivity: Hockey Games
Once upon a time, Jeremy Roenick was God, Sega Genesis players made Wayne Gretzky's head bleed and EA's NHL franchise ruled the digital hockey roost. Then the NHL 2K series came along, dominating the Xbox-PS2 era with smooth, rock-solid sim-based game play. EA regrouped, retooled, came up with right-stick puck control and forced 2K to play catch-up on the current generation of consoles. Enter "NHL 10" and "NHL 2K10," two of the best hockey games ever made (We give a slight nod to EA's effort, but either way, you're playing a quality title.) The upshot? Competition breeds innovation. Are you listening, NFL?

Best Reason to Hook Up Your Console With An HDMI Cable: "Fight Night Round 4"
OK, so they had us when they took away the button-mashing of rounds past, but more than anything, you need to see this game. Mike Tyson isn't a punch line anymore. He's scary. Like '80s scary. Way scarier than any Wii reincarnation of "Punch Outs" past.

Best Rendition of Frodo: David Lee in "NBA 2K10"
We know, we know: When you're trying to model every single face in the NBA ... and you're working with a small team of artists on a condensed time frame ... and you're introducing a brand-new facial-animation system borrowed from "Grand Theft Auto IV" ... some mugs (meticulously modeled cover boy Kobe Bryant) are bound to appear better than others (Nosferatu-like Charlie Villanueva). Still, special recognition has to go to NBA 2K10's David Lee, who in real life is decent-enough-looking to date World Poker Tour host Sabina Gadecki, and in digital life -- well, take a look for yourself.

Sweat Shaders Are Programming Time Wasted Award: "Wii Sports Resort"
Awful, awful graphics, the worst this side of the original "Wii Sports." And also the most fun sports game of the year. Just like the original "Wii Sports." There's a reason "Missile Command," "Tetris," "Mrs. Pac-Man" and "Minesweeper" remain so much fun -- and it ain't because you can count every digitally rendered whisker on Brett Favre's chin. Game play uber alles.

Deadliest Play of the Year: "Wii Sports Canoeing"
One more for the Wii ... while the airport scene in "Modern Warfare 2" raised eyebrows for the mental image, nothing will leave you with actual physical scars quite like taking a canoe ride in "Wii Sports Resort." It starts out fine, but after a couple of ill-fated turns (and you will make these) your lat muscles will soon be screaming in agony leaving you more incapacitated than if you were Tasered.

Best Reason to Smash a Controller: "Grand Slam Tennis"
OK, fine: The swing-the-Wii-wand-like-a-racket controls aren't perfect. They don't even offer long-promised, much-hyped true one-to-one movement mapping, despite the use of the Wii Motion Plus add-on. So what? Grand Slam Tennis' control scheme is relatively close, and as such, it draws you into the game like no tennis title before. Flub a shot, and you're not just ticked your on-screen character hit a forehand when you swung backhand -- you're pissed because you really needed that point. And if a racket controller has to die to assuage your resulting rage, no apologies -- cover boy Johnny Mac would have done the same thing.

Best Game Not to Actually Play: "NCAA Football 10"
From designing your own uniforms to running multiseason online dynasty modes that include minor NCAA infractions, EA's college football warhorse offers a million and one ways to have fun without ever stepping foot on a virtual field. Which, once you get a taste of NCAA Football 10's stale, unevolved game play, is probably a good thing.

Best Reason NOT to Smash Controllers: "NBA 2K10" (Wii)
Great game, fully featured, a rarity for a sim sports title on Nintendo's kid-friendly system. The only real problem? "NBA 2K10" is a chore to play with waggle and far more fun with classic, stick 'n' button-based controls. Therein lies the ongoing dilemma for sports on the Wii, as well as the motion-control devices set to land on the Xbox 360 and PS3 next year: Some games don't lend themselves to wrist flicks and gross arm movements. Tennis? For sure. Bowling? Like a dream. Baseball? Getting there. Boxing? More, please. But complex sports such as basketball? Or football? Gack. No one has figured out an adequate replacement for "A to pass, B to shoot." Perhaps Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series on the Wii points the way (literally); for now, we remain skeptical. And sore-thumbed.

Best Final Chapter in the Dethroning of a Franchise: "Forza Motorsport 3"
Remember when the tipping point in deciding between Xbox and PlayStation was whether or not you could play "Gran Turismo" (a PS exclusive)? Yeah, neither do we, thanks to the latest edition to the Forza Motorsport franchise. All hail Bill Gates!

Video Basketball Game That Was Better than "NBA 2010: The Inside": "Modern Warfare 2"
During the weapons check at the start of the "Modern Warfare 2" campaign mode, a group of Marines play pickup hoops in the background, a moment that is inarguably more entertaining than anything found in Sony's "They still make that? Why?" basketball title. Still, why you're on your way to The Pit, don't get in the way of Corporal Keating, Corporal Macey and Private Sumners. They will put you in your place with a terse yet friendly "Get off the court, dude."

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