2. Super Mario Galaxy
Cynics in the gaming community would have you believe that Nintendo has pulled the proverbial wool over our eyes for years, producing more or less the same game(s) over and over again. Some of their arguments â€˜might' be valid, but when you play Super Mario Galaxy you'll begin to understand that either a) this is no bad thing or b) they're just plain wrong.
As a game Super Mario Galaxy has all the typical traits we've come to know and love from Mario and Nintendo. It has a very deliberate process of introducing new gameplay elements as you progress, and only the most basic of plotlines. However, as Stuart pointed out in his review, it seems as though Nintendo's development teams have opened the brain storm jar and poured the contents liberally all over this spiritual successor to Super Mario 64.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the level design. Based primarily on a spherical world concept that had been in Mario maestro Miyamoto's mind's eye for years, SMG features a bewildering array of smile-inducing mechanics, from sections that play with gravity and sticky surfaces, to Super Monkey Ball style rollercoaster levels. All this inventiveness, combined with the familiar faces, themes and finely tuned controls, makes Super Mario Galaxy a classic in the true sense of the word. Indeed, it comes close to eclipsing Mario 64. What more can you say?
Stuff it, Bioshock haters. You can shout until you're blue in the face that it's just another tunnel shooter, or that it's a dumbed down System Shock 2, or that the AI is rotten and the vita-chambers remove any sense of challenge - we have our fingers in our ears and we're just not listening to your nonsense anymore. The most powerful gaming experience we'll be taking away from this year will be from the magnificent city of Rapture.
Maybe it'll be that first bathysphere ride down through the murky depths and through the neon glows of the art-deco city beneath the sea. Maybe it'll be that first encounter with a Big Daddy, or the understated horrors of the medical pavilion. Maybe it will be the peculiar beauty of Arcadia or the crazed theatrics of Fort Frolic, or maybe it will be the sheer, gobsmacking audacity of one of the most incredible revelations in gaming history. Whatever it did or didn't do - and rubbish endings be damned - Bioshock took us to a strange new world beneath the sea and made us part of an exceptional story.
What's more, it rarely threw you out of the fiction. Everything, including item purchasing, ammunition gathering and skills management had to be done through Rapture's own facilities, and those controversial Vita-Chambers (you can switch them off now, you know) were an elegant alternative to the old quicksave/quickload fandango.
True, you could complete the game without playing around with all the plasmids and tonics, but why would you when the experimentation was part of the fun? You could play Bioshock as a flame-throwing, telekinetic super-trooper, a sneaky hacker or a wrench-wielding maniac and still have a good time. Critics have labelled it pseudo-intellectual, but Bioshock had more ideas and more artistry crammed into its lifespan than most developers manage in their whole career.
It was a game forged with real passion and invention, and one that only asked you to respond with your intellect and your emotions. Whatever you put into Bioshock, the game repaid you double - and that's why it's our Game of the Year.