Let's take another one, Rock Band. This game has also been out for about two weeks and was also graced with awards. Two of them, in fact. One of which it almost certainly deserved, the other ... I don't know. Rock Band was awarded "Best Rhythm Game" and "Best Soundtrack," and the soundtrack award is a gimme. You don't even have to play the game to know it's got the best soundtrack ever put in a game. If Forrest Gump can do it on the strength of licensed songs, so can Rock Band. Nuff said, hand over the trophy. Done.
But let's look at the "Best Rhythm Game" award for a second. There aren't many, so this was, admittedly, a tough category to judge, but of the rhythm games available this year, all but one were released well before Rock Band, and while I'm willing to give some games the benefit of the doubt and admit the folks doing the judging had their hands on review copies of most of the games up for awards this year well before the games shipped, I can't buy that with Rock Band.
I know how many folks got review copies of the game, and it wasn't a large number. I know folks with major connections working at console makers who didn't get a copy. We didn't get a copy. I'm willing to bet a good half the judges for this year's awards didn't get a copy. And yet, it was nominated. On the strength of what, exactly? A few hours' play time at E3? I'm sorry, but I just can't accept that.
I'm sure history will prove them right, and come on, it's Rock Band, but still. If we're going to pretend we have ethics and integrity, we should probably act like it and not nominate games we haven't played for industry awards.
And now on to Super Mario Galaxy . This one earned two awards, "Best Action Game" and "Best Wii Game." Really? Best action game? I understand 2007 was a shooter-heavy year, but surely there was an action game people could actually play we could have voted for. "Most anticipated Action Game" would be more like it, I think. Or "Most Screenshots Wanked Over by Nintendo Fanboys" perhaps. This one was a shoe-in, not because it was actually a great game, but because it was called "Mario" and we'd been teased with trailers of it for over a year. But, I say this again, the game hadn't even been released when it was put on the ballots.
If this is the way we're going to play, we may as well just call Madden '09 "Best Sports Game" for next year right now and save everyone the trouble of pretending to be involved in the process. Better still, let's pass the hat around and see who ponies up the most cash before we start handing out awards. It's what everyone assumes we're doing anyway. May as well be honest about it.
Anyway, I'm setting my own criteria. I'm giving out The Russ Awards and there will only be one category. And the criteria for this award are the game must have been out for a full year, it must be enjoyable, re-playable and fun. It must have cute characters, a catchy theme song, collectibles and lots of swag to send to me.
These criteria close the door on some of my favorites released this year, like BioShock and Call of Duty 4, but they'll have their chance next year, as it should be. Therefore, I'd like to proclaim as my game of the year, knowing full well this award will have absolutely no chance to make it onto a product box and will therefore fail to cement my name as one of the "people to watch" or "tastemakers," and deprive me of a slush fund for another year: Viva Pinata.