By Hailinel 10 Comments
Around this time last year, I posted my Best & Worst of 2008. 2009 has been a year filled with new and exciting games...and a few let downs. As I noted last year, keep in mind that I'm only going by what I played this year. If you don't agree, try not to be too offended, as this is only my opinion.
And away we go!
Biggest Disappointment of the Year (Hardware): The Xbox 360
We have a repeat winner, ladies and gentlemen. I don't mean to pick on it again, but I'm afraid that yes, it actually managed to fall even farther this year, escaping my favor completely. I've always had issues with the console. I hadn't owned it for more than a month before I had to send it in to Microsoft to fix a faulty disc drive. I got it back a few weeks later, only to continue encountering issues with the way that the console reads discs. Consequently, this and my wariness of the possibilities of the RROD left me hesitant to play games on it very much. When I eventually got a PS3, I determined that I would buy the PS3 versions of 360/PS3 multiplatform games unless the PS3 version was of a significantly inferior quality. And so, life went on.
Then, earlier this year, I got a hankering for some Warriors Orochi 2 action. If there's one thing that the 360 had been good to me for, it was serving as my Koei hack n' slash box. I say that not to demean it because I honestly enjoy the Warriors games a lot, and the 360 had seen some domestic releases in the franchise that had yet to hit the North American PS3. The Warriors Orochi games being among them. Unfortunately, this peace would not last. After Warriors Orochi 2 crashed five times on me in two days, I finally pulled the disc out of the tray only to discover that there was some very noticeable disc damage that had definitely not been there when I had put the disc in. The console ate my game.
It was then that I made my decision. The 360 had to go. While the console has a great line-up of titles and the best online service of the three current gen consoles (aside from the fact that Microsoft charges way too much for the wireless adapter), the console itself is easily the shoddiest game console I have ever owned. There is an NES that still works in the basement of my parents' house, yet Microsoft apparently couldn't wait until they ironed out the most basic of flaws in the hardware design before shipping it out the door. Why should I pay money for games on this console if the console itself runs the risk of scratching my games to hell?
And so, the 360 is no longer in my home. I had some excellent times with it, to be sure. The aforementioned Warriors games, Eternal Sonata coming along at the perfect time, pulling me out of a depression, these were things I enjoyed. It's just a shame that they played on hardware that is, to be quite frank, utter shit.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year (Software): Scribblenauts (DS)
Scribblenauts had the potential to be an incredible experience. The ability to summon all sorts of items merely by writing their names and using them to solve a series of puzzle levels sounds like an ingenious idea on paper, and in some ways, it succeeds. Unfortunately, the game failed for me largely due to the fact that the controls for the main character were so poor, making him difficult to control and leading to numerous unnecessary deaths that could have easily been avoided were there an easier way to move him about. Also unfortunate was the lack of certain words in the game's dictionary. I love the aesthetic of Scribblenauts, and I love its concept. I just hope that if there's a sequel that the designers put more thought and effort into the way the game controls.
Worst Game of 2009: Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga (Wii)
I'll be honest. I did not play a great deal of this game, but what of it I did play was both painful to play and to look at. The Valhalla Knights series started off on the PSP, where as I understand it has gained a cult following. Eldar Saga was the first entry in the series on a home console, and well...ouch. Just, ouch. The graphics are bland and washed out, the characters are completely uninteresting and generic, and fighting even the most basic of field enemies is an exercise in tedium. Imagine Monster Hunter, except ugly, generic, and not fun in any way. That's pretty much what Eldar Saga is. I buy the occasional odd release to sate my curiosity, but if I owned a cat when I bought this game, I would have come home to find it dead and draped across my Wii. Disgusting, and symbolic.
Best Hardware of the Year: The Wii Motion Plus
There is before, and there is after, and the best way that I can illustrate this notion is by playing any golf game that preceded Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, and then playing Tiger Woods using the Wii Motion Plus. I was a fan of We Love Golf for its arcadey, Mario Golf-esque feel and Capcom character costumes, but the basic flick controls of that game are nothing compared to actually swinging the Wii Remote like a golf club and getting the sensation that it actually means something. Motion controls still have improvements to make, but the difference that the Wii Motion Plus makes is enough to make it the best hardware of this year.
Best Fighting Game: BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (PS3/360)
The fighting game genre has seen a resurgence this year, and while most of that credit should rightfully go to Street Fighter IV, I felt that BlazBlue was the better game. What looks like the lunatic fringe of fighting game design on the surface is actually a well-designed fighting game in which each character feels strikingly different from another. The 2D sprite art and backgrounds are gorgeous and just what should be expected from the people that brought us the Guilty Gear series. And speaking of Guilty Gear, Daisuke Ishiwatari's soundtrack is filled with pulse-pounding tracks that are perfectly suited to the game's aestheic. On top of all of this, the game's online features are the best of any fighting game released this year; in the time I've spent playing, I've suffered very little in terms of lag, whereas I found it incredibly difficult to play SFIV without encountering severe lag multiple times per play session. And though it's a touch that only a relatively few will appreciate, I enjoyed the fact that BlazBlue includes an actual story mode, giving the characters all a measure of substance that goes beyond their flashy looks. Street Fighter IV may have been the biggest fighting game of the year, but BlazBlue was the best.
Funniest Game of the Year: House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
House of the Dead: Overkill follows a pretty simple formula. Take a game series known for its horrendously awful dialogue and campy zombie horror themed gameplay and revisit it through the filter of a grindhouse movie. Yes, it's cheesy, and yes, it's over the top, and yet, I could not stop laughing at this game. Some of its best moments are truly over the top, and it's obvious that the developers did their research before setting out to parody grindhouse films. The humor is so consistently spot on that it makes the brief run through the campaign all the more enjoyable.
Best Soundtrack: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (PSP)
For the PSP remake of the original Persona, Shoji Meguro went back and created a brand new soundtrack that fits more with the tone hip-hop of Persona 3 and the pop of Persona 4. While some fans of the original version may not like the new soundtrack as much, my exposure to the original Persona was very limited prior to the remake, and the soundtrack is something that's stuck out at me in the way that good songs should. The game came packaged with a two-disc soundtrack, and it's well worth a listen.
Best New Character: Xion (Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days)
Xion is something of a quandary. A new character that appears in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, her story by necessity would need to conclude in such a way that wouldn't interfere with the fact that she is never mentioned in Kingdom Hearts II. Yet, the team behind the game managed to accomplish just this, making her a very meaningful character to the protagonist Roxas all the way through to the game's inevitable conclusion.
Best Remake: Punch-Out!! (Wii)
If I had more time to dig into it, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories might have taken this spot, but as it stands, Punch-Out!! wins this one easily. The game takes the entire roster of fighters from the NES game sans Mike Tyson/ Mr. Dream, adds in a couple of characters from Super Punch-Out!! and throws new fighter Disco Kid into the mix, resulting in a roster of goofy caricatures with far more personality and flare than the NES and SNES could have ever provided them. The cel-shaded character art, combined with voice acting for all of the characters in their native languages, is a perfect fit, enhancing the game's charm. And while the returning fighters may still rely on old tactics, they finally learn from their mistakes. Who knew that with a helmet to protect him, Glass Joe actually becomes formidable? This game is classic Punch-Out!! through and through, which is exactly what I wanted, and it also goes a long way in showing just how spectacularly awful Punch-Out pretenders like Facebreaker and Ready 2 Rumble: Revolution actually are.
Best PSP Game: Dissidia: Final Fantasy
After finding so few games that caught my interest on the PSP in 2008, 2009 was a breath of fresh air with a good assortment of quality games. However, none of them hooked me quite as much as Dissidia, the all-star Final Fantasy brawler. Dissidia takes heroes and villains from throughout the twelve main titles in the series and sets the stage in a story that, while something out of a fanfic writer's dreams, is actually fairly well told, making frequent references and call-backs to the games that each character appeared in. The combat is also a lot of fun, with characters flying around expansive arenas, stealing enough points from their opponents in order to do more damage as they unleash their attacks. The game also offers a fair degree of customization, with weapons, armor, and summons boosting and augmenting the characters' abilities in battle. The only thing that might have made the game even better would have been the inclusion of more characters beyond the primary heroes and villains, but I suppose there's always room for that in a Dissidia 2.
Best PS3 Game: Dragon Age: Origins
I'm generally not a fan of western RPGs for various reasons, though that's a conversation for another time. Dragon Age caught my eye for a couple of reasons. One is its high degree of D&D-ishness. Though the rule set may not be the same and the characters and world have no connection to the Forgotten Realms, Dragon Age is very much a new generation of D&D in video game form, and a fun one at that. The second thing that caught my eye was its gameplay, which takes inspiration from, of all things, the JRPG Final Fantasy XII. Though Dragon Age lacks polish (I've encountered several odd glitches here and there), there's definitely heart behind it, from the amount of detail put into the world's lore to the quality of the voice acting. The story in Dragon Age may not be the most original, but it's entertaining, and the amount of things to see and do in the game is absolutely staggering, even after embarking on a second playthrough.
Best Wii Game: Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Muramasa is a rarity among games today. Rendered with beautiful, painting-like 2D sprites and animation, it demonstrates that artistry in 2D game design is far from dead. Equal parts hack n' slash and Metroidvania, Muramasa presents two playable characters with unique storylines and boss fights, and each story can be played using two difficulty settings. The game is challenging without being frustrating, and its atmosphere perfectly evokes an era of a fantastic Japan through both its gorgeous artwork and Ignition Entertainment's decision to keep the game's voices in the original Japanese.
Best DS Game: Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days has an odd title, but those that play the game should understand its meaning fairly quickly. A sidestory to the overall Kingdom Hearts narrative, the game explores the life of Roxas, first introduced in Kingdom Hearts II, during his days as a member of Organization XIII, who served as the antagonists in both KHII and Chain of Memories. The Kingdom Hearts style of action role-playing combat is translated well to the DS, and the game looks gorgeous, as is typical of Square Enix titles on the platform. For ease of portability, the game is thougtfully segmented into a mission-based structure, and the four-player local multiplayer is an absolute blast.
Best Game of 2009: Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
This was a tough call. I was very tempted to call Dragon Age my favorite game of the year, but for all the game has going for it, a few technical issues and gameplay choices ended up hurting it. 358/2 Days, by contrast, was fun from start to finish. While the story starts off simply, it evolves into something that is surprisingly touching with an ending that is absolutely heartbreaking. It's difficult not to feel for Roxas, who begins the game without any memories (not to be confused with amnesia) and needs to be taught the most basic things, from his tasks as a member of the Organization to what to do with his free time. There's something innocent about his desires that holds true throughout the course of the game, and when he finally does grow a spine, it's easy to root for him, to want to see him succeed despite his fate, already known to anyone that's played Kingdom Hearts II. 358/2 Days doesn't break any boundaries in its gameplay, and its narrative and characters may not be the deepest, but the game is a pure form of fun that made it my favorite game of the year.