By Dalai 4 Comments
2009 was a transitional year in gaming for me. This was the year I began expanding my horizons a bit more and trying out games from a number of genres that I had forgotten about and ignored for years. It was the year I embraced the first-person shooter again, the year I found a JRPG that I actually liked, and the year puzzle games took up more time than it should have. It was a year where I was buying games at a one per week clip thanks to a plethora of quality Wii games and a slew of PC games that made me realize the platform is still alive and well. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 avoided the expected slump after a stellar 2007 and 2008, the DS still making an impact in innovation, and the PSP even had some memorable titles. But since this all about me and what I played, let me get to the awards ceremony.
Uh... there aren't really a lot of awards I'm giving out. Really just two: Game of the Year and Game of the Decade. And even though this might sound hypocritical, but I don't think any single person can say what the best action game or best 360 exclusive is without actually playing almost every half-decent game out there. I've only played a handful of 2009 games and I missed out on a LOT of games that are frequently mentioned in these awards. So instead of giving out meaningless accolades, I'll run down several games that impacted my gaming life in 2009. Not every game will be a 2009 release, but these were the games I was exposed to this year that kept me glued to my TV or computer for hours.
Sometimes you just want a game that doesn't need to be dramatic or full of action. Sometimes you want a slow-paced game that makes you think. A Boy and His Blob does just that with its mix of traditional platforming and puzzle solving that often challenges, but not to the point of frustration. While that might be all you need in a revival of a classic NES game, but the cartoon art style is very unique this day and age and is reminiscent of a animated feature from the 1980s. A Boy and HIs Blob also has a lot of heart and you can sense an emotional attachment between the main characters. It's a great game for kids and adults alike... don't let the cutesy looks and the adorable hugs fool you.
2008 games will be represented well in this list so consider it a warning. Like most people, I enjoy music. I also enjoy racing games... and puzzle games. Audiosurf somehow meshes together these genres to create an original, innovative, highly addictive experience that is a great example of why PC gaming is still relevant. Taking a trip across my favorite songs means you can't blame the game if the soundtrack is terrible because that's now your responsibility. Audiosurf also adds a number of modes ranging from your basic casual "hit the colored block" mode to the shuffled mess of luck in Vegas (my personal favorite.) Audiosurf ended up being my first ever Steam purchase and I think that was a damn good start to my Steam addiction.
And really to the entire Bit.Trip series as well. The saga of Commander Video began in March as a simple modern take on Pong in Bit.Trip Beat, then morphed into Space Zap 2009 in Bit.Trip Core. Both of those were excellent titles, but Bit.Trip Void adds some subtle improvements that both make the game more pleasing to look at and more accessible for newcomers. Bit.Trip Void has a bullet hell feeling to it and has been compared to Ikaruga, but that's an oversimplification. The Bit.Trip series is known for its retro-chic sound and even more retro look and you can see the Atari influence in the heavily-pixelated graphics and it just feels right.
Borderlands is not the perfect game. It's story is difficult to follow and hidden in the background throughout the game, looting becomes a free-for-all and makes it tough to exchange weapons and upgrades, and the PC's online is inferior to the console versions. Yet I can't help but love blasting dozens and dozens of Skags and Psychos with my collection of guns and rocket launchers while exploring the empty, yet beautiful world of Pandora. I admit I'm a sucker for the artistic style, sue me. Borderlands also throws in a bit of light-hearted humor in a lovable breakdancing robot named Claptrap, possibly the best new character of 2009. Borderlands is far from perfect, but it's hard to find a game as fun to play.
I have a soft spot for SimCity and the city-building genre has been overlooked by everybody in recent years. So when Monte Cristo announced Cities XL, it rapidly shot up my most wanted list. It's a shame the finished product wasn't really finished. It lacked some key elements necessary for any budding urban planner like a rail system and a map editor. But since I'm starving for anything at this point, I got my money's worth out of the game. Cities XL is a major upgrade to SimCity 4 in a lot of ways. The option to go gridless makes for some interesting transportation systems and it looks quite impressive from a graphics standpoint. There's a lot to like in Cities XL and if you can ignore the overpriced MMO part and the incomplete feel, you'll be quite satisfied.
Yes, another 2008 game. I dove into de Blob a little late and it instantly became one of my favorite platformers on the Wii. The premise is simple: create a world full of color and destroy anything that wishes to make everything gray and boring. It's a game that feels like it belongs in Nintendo's first-party lineup which says a lot about the game's quality and appeal. It's great just moving around town painting it red (or green, yellow, blue...) and it even sounds great, too. The original soundtrack is one of the best and most upbeat on any console and is worth a listen just on its own. And the surprising fact that de Blob actually was a sales success is also quite refreshing and that means a sequel is highly likely in the future.
Left 4 Dead is one of the first shooters in a while that I really wanted to buy. The FPS genre, in my opinion, doesn't innovate much when it comes to unique settings. Most shooters are of the space variety (Halo) or the war variety (Call of Duty) so a modern day zombiefest would qualify as different at the time. And what makes this even better is that it's set in Pennsylvania, the home of a man known as Dalai on Giant Bomb, a state rarely represented in the realm of video game entertainment. But I could talk all day about me. Left 4 Dead's strong suit is its suspense and brief moments of high intensity action. Having dozens and dozens of zombies running towards you in a narrow hallway makes you feel almost superhuman. Of course that could be the pills talking.
MadWorld was supposed to be a turning point for the Wii and its image as a purely casual console. MadWorld was violent, stylized, and had an all-star cast from Platinum Games designing the game. That turning point didn't happen and MadWorld quietly faded away like so many other core Wii games, but that doesn't mean MadWorld didn't make a splash among the niche crowd. I always have room for one crazy ultra-violent game that borders on stupid and like No More Heroes in 2008, MadWorld filled that void in 2009. It might be a tad on the short side and the repetitive nature eventually hits you near the end, but those first few hours throwing guys into spiked walls, at moving trains, and a giant press just brought out the sadomasochist in me.
Here is yet another psuedo-RPG that I embraced in 2009. Muramasa is yet another game with a unique art direction, best described as a Japanese watercolor painting come to life. I would have to say this would win my award for most artistic game of 2009 if I were giving away those types of awards... simply stunning. It goes well with the story that delves into Japan mythology. As for the combat, it's a button-mashing brawler that takes little skill when playing on easy, but experience, sword skill trees, and the non-linear world that adds a bit of depth to a seemingly simple game. In short, it's an excellent highly stylized brawler RPG Metroidvania game... I guess.
Nostalgia is a beautiful thing sometimes and New Super Mario Bros. Wii is chock full of old-school antics. Some complain about the game as just sticking to what works and not trying to reinvent the wheel, but that's what I love about it... it takes what made the 2D Mario games great and improving on that template. Okay, Kuribo's Shoe still eludes us, but we do get some swanky new suits and some current-gen flair. There is also this multiplayer option that has become a big deal at my place, almost surpassing the popularity of Wii Sports. There's something special about a game that has its roots in the classic 2D platformers of the 1980s, yet is accepted with open arms in today's gaming world that left 2D platformers behind.
I'm about to show off some indie cred with Osmos, one of the most chill physics-based puzzle games in recent memory. Osmos is a game where you try to grow your Mote as big as possible and that's enough to turn this innocent little game into a potential timewaster. There's enough variety to make sure you won't be playing the same kind of game over and over and quite honestly, you won't care much if it did. You'll be in a relaxed state of mind as long as you're listening to the game's extremely ambient soundtrack. So kudos to Hemisphere Games for making one of the more addictive games you'll find on the PC.
I got a chance to play some Scribblenauts Christmas Day and for those who were disappointed at the game, really? Maybe we were playing a different game, but I found Scribblenauts to be an amazing concept brought to life. Okay, it controls worse than a broken shopping cart, but it's not as bad as people make it out to be. And maybe they cheated a little on the 22,000+ words by adding some obscure birds and mammals, but I've only stumped the game a handful of times out of the hundreds of words I threw at it. It works well as a puzzle game, but it's even better as a decider of epic matches.
If there's one game that forced me to borrow my brother's PlayStation 2 and grind through 75 hours of dungeon crawling and meat bowl eating, Persona 4 is that game. It's not enough that I watched the Endurance Run from start to finish, I actually had to get in on this breath of fresh JRPG air. You see, Persona 4 is the first turn-based JRPG I had really, really liked since Earthbound way back in 1995 and if more JRPGs were like Persona 4, I'd lose precious free time building social links and fusing new allies. Where Persona 4 shines, as you all know by now, is in its humor and cast of characters. Persona 4 is the game I spent the most time playing in 2009 and the game that made me laugh out loud more than any this year.
Team Fortress 2 is a weird anomaly of a game where it has changed dramatically since it came out in 2007. There was even a major update a few weeks ago which added more achievements and more weapons. Valve definitely knows how to treat their community and Team Fortress 2 is the best example of that theory. There truly is something for everyone whether you prefer the explosive power of a Soldier, the precision of a Sniper, or the mage-like healing powers of the MEDIC!. This purely multiplayer shooter has become my default game of choice within the past few months and I wonder sometimes why I avoided it for as long as I did.
EA will always take gobs and gobs of money from my wallet as long as they keep making expansions and sequels to The Sims, so I expect they will eventually take everything I own. The Sims 3 might seem like an insignificant upgrade to some, but it's far from a Sims 2 light. Taking the series open-world means traveling, aging, and interactions with others is more seamless than ever before. Needs and wishes got an overhaul this time around, personality traits replace the standard personality sliders of its predecessors, and there's more to do for the interior decorator in you. The Sims 3 will be a game that I'll keep coming back for years because those expansion packs will be churning out for years.
When we first saw the Wii, we were promised near-realistic motion controls that is going to the most immersive, most realistic experience in home entertainment. That... didn't entirely happen. Sure the Wii won the hearts of casual gamers and people like me looking for something new, but we always wondered in the back of our head whether the Wii can do more. Then came Wii MotionPlus and our prayers were answered. Wii Sports Resort is very damn close to 1:1 controls it's scary. It realistically calculates my lousy Frisbee skills to a tee, but I learned my archery and basketball skills aren't as awful as I thought. There are a few throwaway games and some repeat performances, but man... swordfighting never felt so good.
Those are the 16 games that shaped my year as a gamer... now to pick a winner. I'll need the entire weekend to think about it.