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The 20 Best Videogames of 2010

December 9, 2010  |  7:00am

It’s easy to say this at the end of every December, but this truly was a revolutionary year for gaming. Sony and Microsoft both jumped onto the motion-sensing wagon trail blazed by Nintendo, the God Of War series drew to a close, and lower-budget downloadable titles proved they could hold their own next to bajillion-budget mainstream games. Before the entire world flips over to 2011 calendars, here’s a look at the 20 titles from this past year that pushed the medium to new plateaus of greatness and creative ingenuity.

20. Deadly Premonition

Developer: Access Games

Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

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Few games proved as polarizing or perplexing as this action-horror title, essentially a mash note to Twin Peaks’ first season with Z-grade production values, deservedly sold with the bargain-bin price of $20. Alternately goofy and creepy, Deadly Premonition milks a lot of its scares from crappy animations, awkward dialog trees, and enemies that can only scream, “I don’t want to diiie!” Ultimately, its absolute clunkiness scored major points for being endearingly contrarian in an era obsessed with ultra-realistic graphics and sequels. In other words: it was experimental without being all arty about it.

19. Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Developers: Good-Feel, HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii

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The gluttonous pink puff hasn’t been on a console since 2003, and he made a triumphant and inspired return in Epic Yarn. As the odd name suggests, everything in the world is comprised of arts and crafts materials, making for some brilliant level-design choices, like entire chunks of the world being movable or destructible by undoing zippers or seams.

18. Battle Kid: Fortress Of Peril

Developer: Sivak Games

Publisher: Retrozone
Platform: NES

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Who said all homebrew games are just hacks of pre-existing ROMs? Battle Kid was a tireless labor of love from Jordan Ordorica (a.k.a. Sivak) available only on legit NES cartridges, and was so supremely challenging that it makes the cuss-inducing indie platformer I Wanna Be The Guy—an obvious source of inspiration—look like a tutorial for this bad boy. Prepare to throw your NES controllers at the wall all over again.

17. VVVVVV

Developer/Publisher: Terry Cavanagh
Platforms: PC, Mac, Flash

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Similarly impossible was VVVVVV, an indie title that was quietly released in the beginning of the year and went on to receive so much critical acclaim that its gravity-defying platforming hero Captain Viridian was made a playable character in Super Meat Boy. VVVVVVs back-to-basics vibe was taken to heart not only with its single-button controls, but also with a Commodore 64 visual style and chiptune soundtrack.

16. Space Funeral

Developer/Publisher: Thecatamites
Platform: PC

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Another indie game that’s solely the work of a single person, Space Funeral has little else for comparisons. Steven Murphy’s twisted RPG isn’t very long, but it’s extremely potent and remarkably weird. Imagine Earthbound, if you controlled a crying man in pajamas who sleeps in coffins and you’re almost there. Replace Ness’ traveling companions with a headless horse with five legs, the enemies with pimps and nostalgic ghosts, and everything else with blood, and you’re even closer. Also: someone slipped you some acid before you hit “start.”

15. Splinter Cell: Conviction

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, Mac

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To avenge his daughter’s murder, super-spy Sam Fisher has opted to stop taking orders and instead serve his own personal interests by whatever means necessary. That also means forgoing a lot of his fancy gadgets that have become synonymous with the series, making for a more engaging style of play. New abilities like being able to mark targets and stalk your prey more effectively let any fat-ass couch-jockey feel like they’re really in the game.

14. 3D Dot Game Heroes

Developer: Silicon Studio

Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 3

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We’ll never get another whiff of gaming magic as potent as the first The Legend Of Zelda, but 3D Dot Game Heroes helps calm the cravings. An unashamed homage to Zelda and tons of other old-school games, this PS3 title positively bursts with charm along a perfectly paced quest.

13. Minecraft

Developer: Markus “Notch” Persson

Publisher: Mojang Specifications
Platform: PC

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Is it a game or a new form of creative expression? Somehow it’s both. Whereas some people are taking advantage of Minecraft hinging on allowing players to mine for resources and then craft shelter or anything else they’d like block by block, others are content to instead build replicas of the real-world buildings, the entire globe itself, or anything else their imaginations can yield.

12. Yakuza 3

Developer: CS1 Team
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 3

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The Yakuza series all but solidified its position as the successor to Shenmue’s level of Western fan devotion to an Eastern series with this year’s outing, Kazuma Kiryu’s adventure continues in a fictionalized version of modern-day Tokyo’s red-light district Kabukicho. It also one-ups other open-world games by having no shortage of anything to do, anywhere, ever. Time to hit the arcades and play Mahjong!

11. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game

Developer: Ubisoft

Publisher: Ubisoft, Universal Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

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Last year the beleaguered Batman franchise finally got a great game. This year, we’re finally starting to see movie tie-in games that don’t suck. Scott Pilgrim’s game is as much a nod to gaming at large as the comic series it’s based on, with references from everything to Battletoads and Ninja Gaiden peppered into a delicious River City Ransom-style brawler sandwich of a game.

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