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Best of 2009

MrJared: Best of 2009

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  • Prior to its launch, I was constantly asking myself, “How many times can Bioware possibly recreate their formula for RPG greatness before it becomes stale?” For a game that, to be honest, I had very little interest in, apparently that answer is as many times as they damn well please.

    Dragon Age takes everything that was great about the classic Baldur’s Gate series and combines it with all that Bioware has learned over the years of making inviting, yet deeply engrossing RPG’s to craft their greatest effort since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In it, Bioware flexes their muscles of characterization, creating an incredibly diverse cast of characters, all of which make the 50 hour journey worth it at every step of the way.

  • Can a video game make you cry? This is a question frequently posed as some sort of requisite for the medium to be taken seriously, and while I didn’t bawl at the sight of a virtual George Harrison strumming to “Here Comes the Sun,” I never thought that a rhythm game could possibly evoke a significant emotional response. Yet, every time I pick up the cheesy plastic guitars for a go with The Beatles, I get a slight lump in my throat.

    As someone who’s played rhythm games with a near religious fanaticism for over a decade now and a huge fan of The Beatles, seeing Harmonix’s dedication to excellence and wealth of talent on display is nothing short of amazing. Even if The Beatles: Rock Band is a revisionist history of the greatest rock band to ever pick up instruments (The Beatles were barely on speaking terms by the time they took to the roof of Abbey Road Studios, yet in the game everything is happy-happy-joy-joy), there’s no denying that this is about as big as rhythm games can possibly get.

  • It’s impossible to walk away from Arkham Asylum and not be impressed with the effort put forth by Rocksteady. As something of a skeptic myself, I figured that the overwhelming praise for the title was more about it being the first legitimately acceptable Batman title than a true game of the year contender. After only an hour or so with the worst inmates in Gotham, I realized that I was very, very wrong.

    Arkham Asylum is a tightly wound piece of design that incorporates so many different elements and play styles that it almost feels as though it’s about to burst at any moment, yet it always remains in control with a laser-like focus. Its combination of Metroid-style scavenger gameplay, lighting-fast combat and stealth scenarios that put you in the boots of Batman like no other game ever has before seems almost impossible, and that may just be the most fitting description for this game.

  • The plucky hero of The Adventures of Half-Tuck and the Legend of Curly’s Gold returns and while Naughty Dog can’t quite seem to pin down exactly what kind of character Nathan Drake is (Charming rogue? World-saving super adventurer? Merciless butcherer of thousands?), that doesn’t stop Uncharted 2 from being the blockbuster epic of the year.

    Set piece after brilliant set piece, Uncharted is a constantly unpredictable adventure where once you think you’ve seen it all, something even more ridiculous knocks your expectations back out of the park. Amy Henning’s talent for creating incredibly three dimensional characters is completely without rival in this business and while some of the concepts both the game and plot center around are a bit unhinged (When did Drake become a rocket-spewing, super-soldier fighting ninja?), its an extremely impressive piece of work that demands to be played.

  • There was once a time where everything Bungie crafted didn’t have to please every single organism in the galaxy lest they be seen as a failure; when all they needed were the fundamentals of good design, a story rich in both depth and text and the Mac kids would be as giddy as could be. Halo 3: ODST is easily the most understated of their games since Halo: Combat Evolved changed the face of both gaming and Bungie forever, but it’s also their most unique and daring effort to date.

    It’s also clear that ODST is as much a love letter to Bungie fans as it's the developer frantically wanting to do something different for a change. From its night-vision rich gameplay to Marty O’Donnell’s emotional score, the fragile “Rookie” winds his way through the city of New Mombasa in search for his lost team, while players discover more secret’s of the Halo universe than ever before.

  • Flower is the kind of game that will forever be polarizing due to the inherent, immature nature of video games which can be boiled down to a simple statement: “What do you mean there are no guns?” It’s a game where you play as nature itself, whisking flower petals to and fro. It’s a statement against the urban sprawl and the importance for both man and nature to live together in harmony and to appreciate life in its beautiful simplicity.

    And no, it does not feature guns.

  • The Korean developers at Pentavision were most likely insane to release a game like DJ Max Technika in the US. It’s a $10,000 unit that features primarily Korean pop and electronic songs wrapped in an intimidating dual-screen HD display. Fortunately for us, they were crazy enough to do it and it went on to be the best new arcade game of the year.

    Describing DJ Max Technika with its multi-touch, Ouendan-esque gameplay doesn’t really do it any justice as its something that must be experienced. Its giant, pulsating speakers, beautiful presentation and fantastic soundtrack – regardless of what language you understand – stays with you long after you’ve stepped off its vibrating platform. In Technika, you feel what its like to truly touch the essence of music, and that alone makes it difficult to describe.

  • I remember a time when I actually had to argue that the iPhone was a legitimate gaming device. With zero buttons and a lack of compelling software, I can see how some folks would be doubtful at first. But then Steph Thirion came along and released his game, Eliss. And thus, the platform was validated.

    A fusion of simple puzzle mechanics and pop-art sensibilities, Eliss can be described as cute as much as it can for masochists only. The object is to form planets of color to a precise size and place them in their goals without allowing planets of the same color to touch. Sounds simple, until you realize that multi-touch (and by multiple, I mean like six of your fingers doing six different things) is required to succeed and suddenly, pulling and pushing the planets becomes something akin to brain surgery. It’s a game that anyone who has ever doubted the iPhone should experience.

  • If you’re like me and you love racing games but are too reckless for simulation driving (too many years of Initial D did me in), consider Forza Motorsport 3. If you screw up, you can rewind the game back with no questions asked. If you lose a race, that’s ok, because you still get cash to upgrade and purchase new rides and you simply move on. No time to create your own ridiculous decals for your car? There’s a whole player economy for that.

    A racing simulation that doesn’t hate you. What a concept.