Welcome, one and all, to the 2009 Golden Duck Awards! We don't have any special guests or musical performances... We don't really have much, actually. What we do have, though, are 11 all-new awards given to 11 different games in 11 different (And completely irrelevant) categories. Why 11? Because I like to go one step beyond. Now then, for this year's 2009 Golden Duck Awards!
There are many reasons to reach for a bottle of ibuprofen. Headaches, joint pains, zombie claw marks, the list goes on. Well, that last one appears to be exclusive to the Target-branded variety of the drug, at least according to Left 4 Dead 2. Also listed under the added effects exclusive to this brand: Blood stain removal, bone mending and temporary improvement of vital signs, all in an attractive bullet-proof bottle with a zombie-safe cap. Now if only they could increase the concentration. It sure is inconvenient that it takes a whole bottle for any effect to occur. Must be excellent for sales, though.
I think I'll forgive the drug's fictional shortcomings, though. It's not exactly the most pressing issue in the world of Left 4 Dead 2, with hundreds of thousands of zombies pouring out of every door, hallway and sewer. Luckily players have a few good friends on their side, fighting back against the hordes with over a dozen different weapons, including chainsaws, shotguns, assault rifles, katanas, sniper rifles, and Molotov cocktails. With five ever-changing campaigns and some of the finest enemy AI ever crafted, Left 4 Dead 2 is one hell of a zombie-killing good time. Just remember to pack your Target-brand ibuprofen, folks. It's going to be a rough trip.
Best Game With a Robotic Turtle Speed Demon on the Box
There have been many great vehicles in the history of gaming. From go-karts to jalopies, hovercrafts to biplanes, there's no shortage of vehicles in which to tear up the track, dirt, skies or sea with. It was beginning to seem as if the possibilities had been all but exhausted... Until the debut of the greatest vehicle of them all, the robotic turtle speed demon, which shall henceforth be referred to as the Tortimer Mk. II. Featuring four wheels, a grappling arm, a sandwich bar and optional passenger-side tambourine, the Tortimer Mk. II has everything you could possibly want in a vehicle... Except perhaps for seating. That may be an issue. Good thing it appears to be remote-controlled, allowing drivers to experience the action from the comfort (And safety) of their living rooms.
We should be glad that Excitebots is merely a video game, for there is no pause button in real life. You see, unlike most racers, Excitebots must occasionally be paused for the purpose of laughing at how uproariously absurd it is. Blazing down the road at over a hundred miles an hour, users will spin up poles, catapult themselves into the air, and assemble sandwiches in ways man never thought possible. Taking the tried-and-true formula of Excite Truck and cranking every aspect to 11 turned Excitebots into what is undoubtedly one of the year's craziest, strangest, and all-out best racers. All thanks in no small part to the Tortimer Mk. II. Godspeed, you magnificent robotic turtle speed demon.
Most Entertaining Method of Punching the Pineapples Out of Someone
Pineapples are but one of the many different things that can be coaxed out of people's heads in Punch-Out!!. Croissants, feathers, fish, birds, roses and much more are all contained within the skulls of opponents in Punch-Out!!, and it takes but a single uppercut to enjoy them. It's getting to that uppercut that's the hard part. Less like a fighting game and more like a puzzler, Punch-Out!!'s fights center around fast reactions and a keen eye. Each opponent has his own strengths, weaknesses and hints. Strike at the wrong time and get showered in a barrage of counter-punches, but strike at the right time and you're rewarded with a cascade of pineapples. If that's not motivation, I don't know what is!
Best Game Based on Wildlife Loose in Downtown Toronto
It was a quiet, ordinary day in downtown Toronto, when suddenly, chaos struck! Chaos in the form of... A harmless doe. A deer. A female deer. It was perhaps the city's strangest news story of the year (Tied, perhaps, with the mayor's ineptitude at ending a garbage strike. It's a long story. A long, painful story.). So what is the internet to do? Make a Flash game based on it, of course!
DEERTASE is a classically-styled RPG encapsulating the thrilling life-or-death battle faced that day. A fight of man against deer, technology against nature, human against... not-human. With naught but the standard-issue Toronto police officer equipment available, you must somehow overcome the serious, city-threatening menace that is a doe. Can you possibly succeed? And if you do emerge victorious, another challenge awaits... DEERTASE is a thrilling new saga of Flash-based entertainment, just begging to be experienced by all. Are you a bad enough dude to save the city?
Best Glorification of a Boring Factory Job
I've never worked in a factory, but I imagine it's not all that fun. A week of 9-to-5 shifts of the same exact thing over and over and over. One of the most mundane of these jobs would have to be manual box assembly. Just thinking about the endless hours of folding makes me drowsy. Now, if perhaps there were some sort of challenge involved. Say, an infinitely-long sheet of paper with a grid pattern printed on it, which could be cut, folded and turned into boxes like some sort of puzzle game. If only there were such a game...
...is something I highly doubt anyone ever thought in the history of mankind. That didn't stop the fine folks at Skip Ltd. from making that very game, though, and they called it BOXLIFE. With gameplay consisting of everything I said above and nothing more, BOXLIFE is not exactly a complex game. What it is, though, is incredibly fun, and inexplicably addictive. I don't know what it is, but somewhere in this insanely skimpy design is a golden nugget of infinite replayability. Come to think of it, I don't even care what it is. All I know is that this is the best 500 points I've spent on DSiWare so far.
Best Adventure Within the Bowels of a Gigantic Turtle
One of the oldest standbys of cartoons is the classic "inside the body" episode. It always begins with some cheesy method of the characters shrinking down and entering the body of another character, where they have a whole bunch of wacky adventures or learn biology or some crap like that. Whatever the case, it's tired and overdone, with every cartoon from The Magic School Bus to Spongebob Squarepants having done it. Trust Nintendo to look at this tired old story and make the one game we've all secretly desired our entire lives: A game primarily staged within the body of Bowser himself. Truly it is the game to end all games.
Joking aside, Bowser's Inside Story really is a fantastic platformer/RPG hybrid, featuring the greatest parts of the two genres of which it is composed. Classic Nintendo platforming perfected over the last two decades years and the vast and exciting world of role-playing games come together to create the greatest Mario & Luigi series game so far. The writing, battles, storyline and animation are better than ever before, which, compared to the amazing quality of the franchise up to this point, is saying quite a lot. Not only that, but the main boss of the game is probably the best one out of all bosses I've fought this year, whether or not he is, indeed, "beefless".
Best (Hopefully) Fictional Portrayal of Life in 2077
Upon the discovery of a virtual reality device in the post-war ruins of Washington D.C. (Do keep in mind that this is merely a fictional situation), the group that made the discovery searches long and hard for a person equipped to tackle the brutal game-within-a-game. This person, of course, if the player. What kind of game would it be if it wasn't? The simulation is no mere virtual reality adventure, though, with death having real-world consequences. That's right, folks; "If you die in the game, YOU DIE FOR REAL!". This program is a recreation of the war at Anchorage, and only by fighting their way through this historically-significant battle can the player escape it. Operation: Anchorage is a nice twist on the usual Fallout 3 formula, and it certainly helps add more to the already huge overarching storyline of the franchise. Let's just hope this particular story remains in fiction.
Best Use of Fireworks
Fireworks are always one of the best parts of any major celebration. The bright lights, the vibrant colours, and of course, the loud crack of the explosions. It's bright, pretty and ear-splittingly loud. There's something in it for everybody... Well, except for the shoot 'em up fans, that is. Fireworks are nice, but they lack the action and excitement of games like Xevious, Nanostray and Gradius. And while games like Xevious, Nanostray and Gradius are nice, they lack the Summertime thrills of fireworks. Fireworks are just begging to be put into a shoot 'em up. Begging I say!
Well, the Roman candles need beg no longer, thanks to a little game known as Big Bang Mini. It's the same basic shoot 'em up we've all been playing for years, but with an explosive twist. Forget about rockets and missiles and Photon torpedoes. Nah, the real firepower's in a firecracker. It's all the greatness of classic shoot 'em ups with the wonders of fireworks. Seriously, what more could you want?
Best Game Featuring a Rooster Hat in a Leading Role
Hats are only recently getting the attention they so dearly deserve. Mario's been wearing a hat since day one, but nobody truly appreciates it. Valve noticed the lack of love for hats, and added them to Team Fortress 2 earlier this year. While it was a good step, there just wasn't a rooster hat. They were on the right track with the Pyro's Respectless Rubber Glove, but they stopped just short of paying respect to the hat that deserves it most. It wasn't until Scribblenauts debuted two months later that the rooster hat finally got its break-out role. Simple, elegant, presumably floppy. Clearly it is the hat of the gods!
Also of the gods is the core concept of Scribblenauts. The game's tagline is "Write Anything, Solve Everything", and it just about delivers on both accounts. Not everything can be written (What, no Dromiceiomimus? Well, crap, there goes my Dinosaur Comics reunion!), and some puzzles are so punishingly hard they may as well be impossible, but the game does, in general, pull off what it was advertised to do... If the crummy controls don't result in that marvelous rooster hat plummeting off a cliff. So sure, it's not a perfect game, but dammit, it finally gives the lord of all hats the exposure it deserves!
Best Head-On Collisions
People love car crashes. It's some sort of morbid fascination built into the human mind that, whenever there's a car accident, we just have to go look at it. Just yesterday I saw a white car halfway through the front wall of a dental office while I was riding the bus, and everyone else turned to look. There's just something within a human that makes them need to see these things. What could be better than seeing a car wreck? How about playing a video game where one of the main objectives is to create them? That's exactly what some developers thought years ago, and lo, the Burnout franchise was born.
2008 brought us Burnout Paradise and a few expansions, with 2009 bringing all of those goodies wrapped up in one nice little package. The best package. The Ultimate Box, you could call it. It's all the car-wrecking goodness wrapped up in one convenient disc! With an extensive online mode, a huge virtual city to drive in and more cars than any dealership I've seen, there's no end to the various ways, places and vehicles in which you can get your crunch on. Pack your roll cages and fasten your seatbelts, folks. It's going to be bumpy ride.
Most Wanton Wontons
Next time you order Chinese food from your local Chinese restaurant, look that delivery man a little closer in the eye. Look out for anything suspicious, because you never know. You local Wok On The Wild Side could very well be a front for the mafia. If that turns out to be the case, what will you do? You could call the police, notify the FBI or, if it comes to it... Order pizza instead. It's a last resort, but sometimes it just has to be done!
In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, the situation above is a reality, but it's okay, because you're on the side with the guns and explosions! Far better than the cold chicken balls and lumpy fried rice, believe me. Chinatown Wars brings the winning Grand Theft Auto formula to the DS for the first time ever, meshing together the gigantic world of Grand Theft Auto IV with the birds-eye view perspective of the original game. It's truly amazing how much they managed to squeeze onto that little game card, and it's a huge shame that so few people got to enjoy it. Come on, people! There's a mission where you play as one of those big Chinese dragons you see in parades. If that's not worth the $20 sticker price, nothing is!
And so ends this year's 11 all-new Golden Duck Awards... But wait, there's more! Notice I said there were 11 new categories... I never said there couldn't be an oldie coming back for one more go! And so, without further delay...
Best Way to Beat the Crap Out of Your Friends Without Getting the Police Involved
Super Smash Bros. Brawl now hands the legal assault-granting torch to this year's Nintendo masterpiece, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Four-player Mario platforming... Even someone completely unfamiliar with the game should know what kind of chaos such a concept can bring. Oh, the satisfaction of tossing your whiny sibling into a never ending pit. The joys of leaving that annoying family friend to die in the fires of Bowser's castle. And the best part is that it's perfectly legal! If this isn't the best Wii game of the year, nothing is!
...well, I suppose I can't say that just yet. I'll admit, I've only played the first couple worlds of this game, but what I did play was fantastic... And frantic. I still can't decide if it was a good idea for my initial exposure to this game to be in four-person multiplayer. Whatever the case, it was a complete blast, and I'm very much hoping to find it beneath the Christmas tree tomorrow. And if I don't... IF I DON'T GET THIS GAME FOR CHRISTMAS I'LL... I'LL... Eh, I guess I'll play something else.
So ends this year's Golden Duck Awards... For real this time. Another 12 useless, meaningless, overly-specific trophies have been handed out to another 12 more-than-worthy games. That makes 20 total Golden Duck Award recipients. Quite the exclusive group, don't you think? Not a very prestigious group, but certainly exclusive. Do you have any random, pointless awards to bestow upon 2009's finest games? Feel free to have your own merry little awards ceremony in the comment section, or in this forum thread.