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Adriaan den Ouden's 2010 Halftime Report
1st Half
RPGs Not to Miss
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The first half of 2010 has seen an unprecedented number of high-quality games released, and it's quite frankly getting to be overwhelming. I, like many of you, am sitting on about half a dozen backlogged titles from this year alone, with no idea when I'll have time to play them. If you've picked up any of the following titles and are still sitting on them, rest assured that they're worth taking a look at earlier rather than later.

The first game on my list, and my favorite game so far this year, is one that caught me completely by surprise. Nier, Square Enix and Cavia's unusual tale of a man trying to save his ailing daughter, is unique in that it's a jack of all trades of sorts. The gameplay shifts constantly, and although no single element stands out as excellent, the entire package, coupled with the amazing soundtrack and terrific characters, keeps you hooked throughout. Once I picked this game up, I couldn't put it down, and it comes highly recommended.

My number two game is probably most everyone else's number one: Mass Effect 2. Picking up in the aftermath of Sovereign's attack on the citadel in the original BioWare RPG/Shooter hybrid, Mass Effect 2 sees Commander Shepard investigating disappearing human colonists on the fringes of the galaxy, and recruiting a rag-tag group of misfits and mercenaries to get the job done. The gameplay has been polished and refined, making it hard to top.

Thanks to the previous two games, Final Fantasy XIII managed to get bumped down to number three. Square Enix's latest flagship title isn't perfect, but it also features one of the most engaging battle systems in the series' long and venerable history, and that's saying a lot. I can't claim that it's my favorite Final Fantasy game, but it's still a fantastic, if somewhat streamlined, experience.

As a Legend of Zelda fan, it can be hard waiting for the next game to come out. This is particularly true if you're looking for the console experience. Although E3 saw the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for 2011, this year has already brought us two Zelda clones, and they're both absolutely terrific. The first is Darksiders, which couples highly polished Zelda-style gameplay with a post-apocalyptic setting, putting you in the role of War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The game has terrific puzzles that rival Zelda's dungeons, and combat that plays more akin to God of War. Despite unabashedly stealing gameplay mechanics from both games, Darksiders is a blast to play.

Finally, 3D Dot Game Heroes heralds back to the days when Link was just a sprite on a flat, 2D landscape. When the kingdom of Dotnia decides to "go 3D", evil threatens to destroy the world, and a hero must rise up to save it. The game is filled with plenty of retro throwback humor, poking fun at dozens of classic games. And with a terrific character creator, you can make your pixelated game hero look like whatever you want. The gameplay is simple but fun, like a retro game should be, and for a mere $40, it's a bargain too.

2nd Half
Most Wanted RPGs
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Sadly, the latter half of 2010 is not nearly as jam-packed with exciting new releases as the first, though it's certainly has a few. Topping the list is, without question, the recently renamed Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. Being a huge fan of the first two games, I have been waiting for this title to finally see the light of day for the better part of a decade, and it's finally coming this year. In the meantime, if you haven't had a chance to play the original two games, by all means, do so.

Next up, predictably, is Fable 3, the third entry in Lionhead's ever-criticized franchise. After failing to live up to lofty promises, both Fable and Fable 2 have seen their fair share of criticism, but I for one loved every minute of both games, and have no doubt in my mind that the third one is going to be just as enjoyable. And although details have been scarce so far (this is probably a good thing), what we have seen is shaping up to be quite good.

Right in the middle is DeathSpank, a quirky action-RPG by HotHead Games, the developer behind Penny Arcade Adventures. Described by the developers as a cross between Monkey Island and Diablo, gameplay videos have been extremely promising. Although a tad on the simplistic side, DeathSpank is sure to provide plenty of fast-paced fun, and more importantly, plenty of goofy humor.

Early in the DS's lifespan, there was one game that surprised me and ended up becoming one of my favorite DS series: Pokémon Ranger. Now, the third entry, Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs is slated to be released this year. The Ranger series shakes things up by offering a new way to catch the colorful critters: by drawing circles around them really, really fast. Of course, there's more to it than that, and Guardian Signs looks to refine the formula even more than last year's Shadows of Almia did. This is definitely on my "must buy" list.

Last but not least is a game whose title contains two words that I don't think anyone ever expected to see together: Epic Mickey. Yes, this is an adventure RPG starring everyone's favorite Disney mascot, Mickey Mouse. The core gameplay revolves around creating and destroying objects in the world using paint and paint thinner, and it offers a look at not only the darker side of Mickey Mouse, but also at some of the older, forgotten cartoons of Disney's past. To put it another way, it's looking like Kingdom Hearts without such a large focus on Square Enix's new characters. It's definitely one to keep an eye on.

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