2009 Year in Review Staff Commentaries


So here we are, a few days before the end of 2009. As usual, several of the Diehard GameFAN staff have sat down and written up their own personal “Top 10 Games of the Year” list. This gives you, the reader, a chance to see each of our own specific tastes and preferences. It also lets us touch on our own personal favourites that might not have earned a 2009 Gaming Award Nomination, due to only having been played by a few individuals, or perhaps they were the only one that actually liked it. Join us as we look back at the best of 2009, be they highly marketed games from large corporations or smaller easily missed independent excellence.

Aaron Sirois’ Top 10
Staff Writer

1. Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (NDS)
2. Rock Band Unplugged (PSP)
3. Plants vs. Zombies (PC)
4. UFC Undisputed 2009 (360)
5. Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PSP)
6. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (NDS)
7. Fossil Fighters (NDS)
8. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (NDS)
9. Motorstorm: Arctic Edge (PSP)
10. Tekken 6 (PSP)

I get confused whenever anyone says this was a bad year for gaming. That might be because I live almost entirely on a diet of handheld games. Let me tell you, 2009 was a fantastic year for portable play. I logged hundreds upon hundreds of hours on my DS and my PSP. Only two out of my top ten are out of the portable arena, and that’s only because they were two of the most addicting games (for me anyways) that I’ve ever played.

Let’s take a look.

Tekken 6 on the PSP might not have the chops when you compare it to its predecessor, Tekken: Dark Resurrection. However, the addition of characters like Bob, Alisa, and Zafina made it a huge hit for me. Azazel might be the most annoying boss ever, but that didn’t keep the King of Iron Fist Tournament from being a mainstay in my PSP all winter.

The true oddity on this list is Motorstorm: Arctic Edge. That’s not because it’s a bad game or anything. In fact, it’s easily one of the best PSP games this year. The thing is that I usually don’t get into racing games. Somehow, however, this game had me racing around Alaska anytime I had the chance. Like Tekken, its now got a spot in my game case for the foreseeable future.

I’m a Kingdom Hearts fanatic, so the idea of playing the next installment on my DS was no end of exciting to me. As it turned it out, it was a heck of a good game with a plethora of well thought out changes to make it a portable masterpiece. Seeing how well they pulled 358/2 Days off makes me all that more excited for the next installment on the PSP.

Fossil Fighters wasn’t even a game I’d heard of until it showed up in my mailbox. This pretty much made it my sleeper hit of the year. Who’d have thought digging up and cleaning fossils could lead to so much fun? For someone who got a tad annoyed with all of the silly new Pokemon, this was a great alternative.

Zelda might not have come out early enough to make our game of the year awards, but I feel confident that it could have won a couple. As I’m writing this, I’m a good ways through it and its superior to Phantom Hourglass in every way. If you remember, that was our DS game of the year in 2007. It’s just a classic from top to bottom.

I can’t believe how high Dissidia is on my list. In fact, it’s a bit of surprise that it even made the list. Had you tried telling me I’d put it in my top five games of the year, I would have laughed in your face. It seemed like it would have been a mediocre game, but I spent more time playing Dissidia than any other title this year. That speaks volume about not only its quality, but how long it lasts.

I couldn’t care less about UFC or MMA before this year. Then I tried the demo for this game on my friend’s 360. I was hooked. There’s something about that fighting engine that makes every match exciting even if I’m merely just watching. I love climbing the ladder in each weight class and I love trying out all of the different style combinations. Whenever I get a next gen console, UFC Undisputed 2009 will be one of my first purchases. I promise you that.

Plants vs. Zombies is like pure video game crack. You just got to have more. I was playing this game for months and I still have the urge to play it about once a week. Tack that onto the fact that I’ve gotten my whole family addicted to it as well, and its seen untold hours of play with my bloodline. I usually avoid the casual game scene, but there’s no denying how fun this game is.

A couple of years ago, Gamespot put up an April Fool’s joke stating that Rock Band was coming to the PSP. It had a bunch of guys holding plastic instruments up to the system’s screen. I found it highly amusing at the time. When Rock Band Unplugged was announced, I was completely skeptical, especially when members of the team who made the awful Death Jr. were involved. It’s another case of me playing the demo and finding pure hand held gold. I went out as soon as I could, bought the game, downloaded extra songs, and rocked every chance I could get. The game is just awesome, and would have been my game of the year, if not for one very resourceful old gentlemen.

Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is a true classic not just on the DS, but for gaming as a whole. It really bums me out that the game isn’t getting nearly enough credit for how awesome it is. I’ve been pushing for it to be nominated for pretty much any category I could possibly nominate it for, but the game’s relative anonymity makes it a hard sell. Still, everyone on the staff who’s played it can testify to how awesome the game is. In a year full of great DS titles, Hatsworth stands supreme in my eyes. So while perhaps console users didn’t have as much to look forward to, portable players had one of their best years ever. I’ll still be picking up games I missed for years to come.

Ashe Collins’ Top 10
Staff Writer

1. Dragon Age: Origins (PC)
2. Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited (PC)
3. Transformers Revenge of the Fallen (PS3)
4. Tales of Monkey Island (PC)
5. Demigod (PC)
6. Elven Legacy and Elven Legacy Ranger (PC)
7. Trine (PC)
8. The Sims 3 (PC)
9. Jak and Daxter Lost Frontier (PSP)
10. Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition (PC)

This year has been abysmal in the selection of games out there, at least as far as my tastes went. Most of the main titles I’ve wanted to play, I’ve been too broke to buy because I’ve been struggling with employment issues, which is why Batman: Arkham Asylum isn’t on my list. I don’t have it yet and haven’t played it long enough. There’s a number of others I’ve been drooling after, but again, being unemployed has really sucked out my cash flow.

So what you have here is a list of games I either got good deals on or got for review. So mine is a sparse list indeed. Let’s start from the bottom shall we? Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition is a no-brainer. For the price of the game from last year you get it and all of the expansions with it for the same price. Well worth the wait on this one. Jak and Daxter was fun, albeit disappointing for a long time fan of the series.

The Sims 3 was a pretty decent game. I liked that it took me quite a bit less work to make a Sim happy and I could just play the game. That and the fact it loaded lightning fast even compared to a barebones Sims 2 installed on the same machine made it even better. Trine was a lot more engaging to me though. There were lots of great puzzles and I loved that fantastic slant to it.

Elven Legacy was a great turn based strategy game and the expansion just added to that fun. This was a nice surprise for me and I ran with it. Demigod was much the same for me as Elven Legacy. I didn’t know what to expect and what I got was a fantastically crafted game that played amazingly well and had some neat and innovative mechanics to it.

Tales of Monkey Island. A game series that managed to capture what made the original so much fun and made the jump to full 3D in such a fantastic way that it kept you engaged and wanting more. Even as I write this I can’t wait to get my hands on the fifth and final chapter.

Here’s where I’ll get stoned to death, but other than the number two and number one games on this list, I haven’t played any other game more this year. Transformers Revenge of the Fallen delivered a nice playable and fun game to romp around in off the craziness and visual mess that a Michael Bay explosion fest can sometimes turn into. It was entertaining, and while it’s not perfect it made for a lot of fun for this aging Transformers geek. Add that crucial online component and a nice DLC and you’ve got a nice slam fest.

Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited is kind of a given. A free MMO that has all the bells and whistles you’d come to expect from a monthly paid MMO. And one that has managed to keep my wife and I playing since it went free on a daily basis. It captures the fun of the table-top and puts just enough MMO slant on it to keep it bearable and still recognizable as Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve even warmed up to the modified rules and the Eberron setting. I still maintain that if you’re even mildly interested it’s worth the initial download to give it a try.

Last on my list is Dragon Age: Origins. I’d only been mildly interested in it until the E3 shots came out. While there are elements from many different games and stories I’ve seen within it, it has that unique Bioware storytelling and morality driven choices that I’ve come to love in their games. The fact they’ve given us PC players the toolset to continue modding out the game besides their DLC makes the sweet taste even better. Aside from my review copies, all I’ve been playing is this and my number two spot. Yes, it’s that damned good, and I’ll probably still be playing it until Mass Effect 2 comes out on PC.

A.J. Hess’ Top 10
Staff Writer

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum (360)
2. Assassin’s Creed II (360)
3. Bordelands (360)
4. Red Faction: Guerilla (360)
5. Dragon Age: Origins (360)
6. Magic The Gathering Online: Duel of the Planeswalkers(360)
7. AI Wars: Fleet Command (PC)
8. Halo Wars (360)
9. Boom Blox: Bash Party (Wii)
10. Resident Evil 5 (360)

2009 was an interesting year in gaming. There were a lot of games dropped from the dizzying slopes of Mount Hype and some of them were even good. Resident Evil 5 brought the series to the modern consoles. Even though Capcom has completely abandoned Survival Horror in favor of Tactical Horror the game was still a giddy, bloody romp through Umbrella’s hellish world.

My next game is about as far from RE5 as possible. Stephen Spielberg and EA actually topped the first Boom Blox with Bash Party. Cute, fun, and a direct shot to the nostalgia center gives this a warm place in my heart.

Halo Wars might not have reinvented the RTS, but it certainly made it console-accessible. It was also a much more complete product than ODST, whose tagline should have been “prepare to drop … $60 on content you’ve already purchased.”

AI War: Fleet Command is my sleeper hit of the year. The sheer size of the game made it compelling, and being in command of thousands of ships is awesome.

On the Xbox Arcade, Magic the Gathering hit an amazingly addictive spot in my heart. I also applaud the inability to buy new cards. Keeping the game a one-time-purchase is a decision I fully endorse. Keeping in the realm of wizardry, Dragon Age: Origins offered a “greatest hits of fantasy” setting from the geniuses at Bioware.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Red Faction series, and if it does nothing else but give us Guerrilla, then it was worth it. Perhaps the only game to feature more explosions per hour than a Michael Bay film, RF:G also had the visceral thrill of driving a man through a wall with a sledgehammer, and that’s hard to argue with.

Borderlands is a game that I can play and play and play. It could have been a pointless, run-of-the-mill FPS, but the leveling factor and the addictiveness of the myriad weapons put it over the top.

Assassin’s Creed 2 has been my second-favorite game of this year. I really liked the first game, and have had no complaints about the second. Playing this game has been like playing some strange version of Lost or a Dan Brown novel, but without all of the bad things. I really think that people who are willing to lose themselves in the story of the Assassin’s Creed series might find one of the most compelling stories in gaming.

Finally, there is Batman: Arkham Asylum. It is hard to pick just one thing that sets this game over the others. The story was amazing, the graphics were phenomenal, and the controls were spot on. Each room told a different story as Batman methodically took each room apart. Perhaps the best part of the game was the voice acting though. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill turned in perhaps the best voice performances they’ve ever turned in. Batman: Arkham Asylum finally delivered on the promise of what a Batman game should be. Bring on the sequel.

Chuck Platt’s Top 10
Staff Writer

1. Borderlands (PS3)
2. Tekken 6 (PS3)
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)
4. Katamari Forever (PS3)
5. InFamous (PS3)
6. MLB ’09: The Show (PS3)
7. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (NDS)
8. Nostalgia (NDS)
9. Shatter (PS3)
10. Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 (PS3)

2009 was a strange year for me, in gaming and otherwise. The first half of the year was all about catching up on 2008’s big titles, with me playing Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, and whatever inexpensive PS3 games I stumbled upon.

The first game I bought new in 2009 was MLB 09: The Show. It was a great, fun game that does an amazing job replicating the season that was 2009. It was my first year of playing the franchise, but not my last. I will likely be picking up The Show on an annual basis. The only thing that kept The Show from placing higher on my list is the fact that I find sports games infinitely disposable. After the season, I traded it in and will never go back. It’s all about next year, baby.

The second big title of 2009 that I picked up was the lovely InFamous. It came out on my 30th birthday and I picked it up on a whim. Although not the best game to come out all year, it is a fun title with a graphic style I enjoy and one thing I wish other games would have. InFamous does the best job of giving the impression of sheer power over any other game I have played. It’s not a perfect game, but fun.

The rest of the games on my list came all at once, towards the end of the year. I’ll start with my pick for number 10, Smackdown vs Raw 2010. Once again, it’s not a perfect game, but it looks good, plays smooth, and is a blast with two players. Will I have fond memories of it for years to come? Doubtful. As a fun diversion though, it is enjoyable. Any game that lets me have Arn and Ole Anderson fight the Road Warriors is going to make me smile.

Shatter is a game that came out of nowhere and found a place in my heart. It’s an Arkanoid clone for sure, but it’s a novel one and the soundtrack is still one of the best of the year. It’s also one of the rare games I actually wish would get some downloadable content. A nice treat.

Nostalgia is a game that lives in my DS. It should be terrible, since it is a steampunk themed throwback to the SNES Final Fantasy era, but it works. Like most of the games on this list, it is flawed but enjoyable. I do wish it had a more interesting story.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner was one game that I will remember for a while. The plot was engaging, the difficulty was high, and the action was intense. I could use a strategy RPG like this twice a year. Sequel please?

There were more original games than Katamari Forever, but there were none that were more fun to play with my wife. Handing the controller back and forth, taking turns trying to unlock the Cousins and beat each other’s scores was a great joy, and it is a game that will stay on my game shelf for years to come. The music is catchy and the graphics are sharp.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a game that comes up on a lot of these lists for good reason. It is a reinvention of the beat ’em up genre with fantastic production values, it is not rocket science, but it is enjoyable. No game more perfectly captured the persona of its protagonist than this one. If only it was longer.

Tekken 6 might be the big surprise on this list, but I love it. Like the Pringles of fighting games, it is fun for someone like me who learns combos and the like, but it also can be enjoyed by my button mashing friends and family. Is it for everyone? Nope. Do I like it? Yup.

My Game of the Year is one I did not expect to love. Borderlands had all the makings of a boondoggle but it pulled it off with aplomb. Great fun offline and online, I can only refer you to my review and say that I love almost everything about this game. Not genius, but super fun!

Guy Desmarais’ Top 10
Staff Writer

1. New Super Mario Bros Wii (Wii)
2. Left 4 Dead 2 (PC)
3. NHL 10 (360)
4. The Beatles Rock Band (Wii)
5. Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Wii)
6. Punch-Out!! (Wii)
7. Excitebots: Trick Racing (Wii)
8. Resident Evil 5 (360)
9. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS)
10. South Park: Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! (360)

Let’s start from the bottom. South Park: Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! was a surprise that came out of nowhere. I wasn’t even aware of the game’s existence until about a week before its release date. Then I completely ignored it until a friend picked it up a month ago or so. We’re both big South Park fans, but we are also both aware of the franchise’s history in gaming. Most if not all games bearing the name ended up being atrocious, but this one somehow gets it right. It has simple but deep gameplay, funny and completely original voice-overs, and tons of stuff to unlock. The online play encourages cooperation instead of name-shouting, and the offline multiplayer is even more satisfying. This was a big surprise that still keeps on giving.

The newest Zelda in the series, Spirit Tracks, is a great game, and considering the person writing this (hint: the biggest Nintendo fanboy on the site), you might be surprised at how low it scored. That’s because as of this writing, I have spent but a few days playing this game, which I believe isn’t enough to place it at the top of the list, above titles I have spent dozens and dozens of hours playing. However, I believe I have spent enough time with it to confirm that it is another masterpiece by Nintendo’s Zelda team, and in my opinion, a much better game than its DS predecessor, Phantom Hourglass. The train part of the game makes it possible to have a huge game world, full of dungeons and challenges to complete. It also feels much more inhabited than past Zelda games, which outside of two or three towns per game, were mostly barren wastelands. Oh, and let’s not forget how good it looks too.

Resident Evil 5 continues the series’ trend of great games, after the fourth entry in the series and the much loved rail shooters spin-offs, Darkside Chronicles and Umbrella Chronicles. This one sends the series into sunny Africa, once again making a welcome change of scenery from the series’ usual gloomy city streets and manors. The gameplay system introduced in Resident Evil 4 makes the game much easier to play and enjoy, and the story is once again top-notch, explaining little things, showing characters’ motivation and basically tying together the huge mess that the series’ storyline usually is. It’s also an amazingly fun experience when played offline with a friend, as it offers a robust cooperative mode which, in my opinion, is the best way to appreciate this game.

I am a little disappointed that Excitebots: Trick Racing went under the radar this year. This is my choice for the year’s sleeper hit, as it provides a solid single-player experience with an equally great multiplayer mode. There are a lot of different modes to be experienced, but all of them provide exhilarating speed and breakneck stunts that leave you breathless and wondering what the hell just happened. Each race becomes a crazy free-for-all where points can be accumulated in an insane number of ways (Assembling a sandwich? Bumping a soccer ball into a goal?? Throwing a pie into a clown’s face???), which means that you don’t even have to finish first to win. Of course, there is a bonus for the first player to cross the finish line, but that’s not where the biggest part of the fun lies. It truly is a shame that this didn’t get more publicity.

As far as remakes go, it’s hard to do much better than Punch-Out!!. That game offers more or less the exact same game than the original NES title, but with a new character. Even if it was only that, the game would have scored pretty high, but then it offers a brand new Defense Mode where you need to go through the roster all over again, only this time with new tricks they brought with them. This means that it takes you out of your comfort zone that you’ve been swimming in for the past twenty years or so and forces you to learn each character’s pattern all over again. Getting knocked down by a helmet-wearing Glass Joe is a humiliating experience for any long-time Nintendo fan, but the sense of discovery you get from facing these newly trained adversaries is enough to make you come back again and again. The multiplayer mode was substandard, but really, that’s not why I bought the game anyway. One of the best single-player experience of the year.

For a long-time Ghostbusters fan such as myself, the video game was an incredible experience that made up for all of the terrible crap such as the NES games. The Wii version was less realistic in its graphics than the other versions, but it was just as much fun. The funny voice acting, the great story and the simple but fun gameplay were all that I ever wanted from a true Ghostbusters video game experience, and it was about time that someone came out and did it right. Of course, I am placing the game here based on the entire experience, but by the time I had finished my epic fight with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Ghostbusters had already won its place in my heart. The cooperative mode is also a nice diversion, and a Wii exclusive, and I have always been a sucker for cooperative gameplay.

I have been a rhythm games junkie ever since I have played the second Guitar Hero, and while I enjoy playing mostly anything as long as the note chart is fun, I had always hoped for one of the two competing juggernauts to sign The Beatles. I have been raised on The Beatles’ music, I know most of their songs by heart and they are more or less my favorite band of all time. I bought The Beatles: Rock Band on the first day, beat it in 48 hours, and had unlocked everything by the end of the second week. Still, I keep coming back to this day, and I keep downloading my favorite tracks as they are released as DLC. This game beats a lot of its competitors because of the sheer quality of the source material. It solves the issue of the bass usually being the instrument nobody wants to play because of McCartney’s fun and often difficult parts, and it gives you a new respect for Ringo when you realize that some of his drum parts are much harder to keep up with than you expected. Just play “I Wanna Be Your Man” and become a believer. Of course being a Beatles fan helps your enjoyment of this game, but it is still great for anybody who appreciates the genre.

NHL 10 takes what was arguably the greatest hockey game I had ever played and then improves on every aspect that could have been improved. It adds little touches like battles for the puck along the board, better shot control and the ability to bring opposite players with you to the penalty box. The on-ice gameplay is more or less identical to its predecessor, but the Be A GM mode is much better with a reputation that follows you during your career, meaning that you can’t go around shopping your players to every team until a sucker finally bites. You have to actually plan your moves, and this time, the other teams are just as active as you are in the background. I would like to call this the perfect hockey game, but I am afraid that EA Sports might come out and somehow find a way to improve the game AGAIN next year. They truly are on a roll as far as their hockey series go.

I will admit that I didn’t play a lot with the original Left 4 Dead, except for a few cooperative matches with my friend on the XBox 360. However, what I did play was so much fun that I had to buy the sequel now that I have a gaming-quality PC. L4D2 taps into my love of multiplayer gaming with gameplay that actually necessitates that everybody stays alive until the end, effectively eliminating annoying people who would otherwise just try and piss off each other. That’s right: you can actually play online with polite people who would rather help you than leave you behind! I couldn’t believe it myself! Combined with the sheer satisfaction of splitting zombies in two with a chainsaw or hitting them behind the head with an electric guitar, it makes Left 4 Dead 2 a classic game that still has me hooked nearly a month after its release. I will probably spend a lot of time on this one during the holidays.

Finally, New Super Mario Bros Wii. is my top game of the year for many reasons. The first one is because it takes the usual Mario charm and simply polishes it by adding just enough new stuff to make things fresh again. The second one is because the level design is simply impeccable, which immediately places it in the same category as SMB3 and Super Mario World, both games which I play again and again despite knowing the levels by heart. The design of the courses means that playing them becomes almost a transcending experience, where you enter an altered state of mind where everything seems to fit and every platform seems to be at the right place. It’s a true masterpiece. Finally, the main reason why it is my number one game is because of the new multiplayer mode, which allows up to four players to play simultaneously. Sure, it is still fun when played with newcomers, but when played with people who have been avid Mario players for a few years, the screen becomes an apocalypse for Koopa Troopas with shells and Goombas flying everywhere. Believe me: when played as a group, it becomes one of the most hilarious games I have ever played. Nights can easily be lost on this game. As one of my friends said,”This is probably the greatest thing to ever happen to Super Mario”.

Matt Yeager’s Top 10
Staff Writer

1. Assassins Creed 2 (360)
2. Dragon Age: Origins (360)
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum (360)
4. Mario and Luigi 3: Bowser’s Inside Story (NDS)
5. Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City (360)
6. Borderlands (360)
7. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (NDS)
8. House of the Dead: Overkill
9. Halo 3 ODST
10. The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai

From the bottom of the list to the top: The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is in my top ten for the same reason Weapon of Choice was in my top ten last year. Simply put, it is an amazing game that showed people how one person with talent can create something that rocks harder than some studio releases. While playing the game you can tell that it was a work of love. A love of video games, zombies, chainsaws, shotguns, and guitar solos. I share that love and so I think Dishwasher: Dead Samurai deserves to be mentioned among my favorite games this year.

While some think Halo 3: ODST is nothing more than a glorified expansion pack, I disagree. Personally I thought it had one the best campaigns of any of the Halo games as it had a much stronger narrative, all the DLC maps, and a new online mode. I can load it up and have a lot of choices for different maps to play Rockets on with my wife.

House of the Dead: Overkill is fucking fucked up in every fucking way that I can’t help but fucking love every fucking minute of it.

GTA: Chinatown Wars for the DS brought a full-fledged GTA title to the small screen. This might not seem impressive to those who played through the Stories games on the PSP, but Chinatown Wars fit an amazing amount of content into a small package. Drug wars and the number of different ways they managed to use the touch screen were amazing.

Borderlands is like crack. I had to put it down to take care of a writing project and haven’t picked it back up again because I’m afraid that I might not be able to stop.

GTA: Episodes from Liberty City is actually two games set in the city that many of us explored in GTAIV. Only now it has a larger variety of missions, more believable characters and just flat out more stuff to do. I think each episode separately is better than the original GTAIV, so both of them together for $40 to me is one of the best game deals of the year.

Mario and Luigi 3: Bowser’s Inside Story is just the perfect blend of tight action RPG gameplay and nostalgic humor.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best all around games on the market. The story, graphics, sound, control, gameplay, the combat and stealth parts are all so well developed and the game stays so close to the source material that it is probably the most solidly developed game on the market today. The only reason it is not on top of the list is because the game is also a short lived experience. I had beaten the game and found all of the Riddler clues in just a couple of days with little reason to play it again.

Dragon Age Origins is epic. It’s a Bioware RPG. Creating a character and guiding them through the story is an absolute blast and there are a bunch of memorable moments to be found. While I’m loving the game, so far it is just making me long for Mass Effect 2 that much more. It’s a little harder to care about a kingdom when I could be saving a galaxy.

Assassin’s Creed 2 tops my list. I liked the first but it was repetitive and was only fun in small bursts. Assassin’s Creed 2, I can’t even play in small bursts. I try and end up playing for hours. I love how they’ve woven the narrative into the missions and the fact that there’s actual variety to the missions this time. There are so many small additions and improvements throughout the game that it fulfills the ambitions of the original title.

Michael Merhar’s Top 10
Staff Writer

1. Left 4 Dead 2 (360)
2. Borderlands (360)
3. Dragon Age Origins (360)
4. Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers (XBLA)
5. Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City (360)
6. Halo 3 ODST (360)
7. Ghostbusters: The Videogame (360)
8. 1 vs. 100 (XBLA)
9. Fallout 3 GOTY (360)
10. Shadow Complex (XBLA)

Wow I must be a XBox fanboy! Actually, it is just the only system I currently own and play on. Unlike some of the other staff, I really thought there were a bunch of great games that came out this year. The XBox live arcade also released so many original titles this year it forced me to buy a lot of those darn M$ points. Shadow Complex reminded me that I love sidescrollers. This game had so much of what I loved about games growing up. For $15, I received 20 hours (I played through it twice) of solid fun.

1 vs. 100 is a free game show on XBox live that has really taken off in its second season this year. The first season earlier this year had lots problems but was still fun. Now with the leveling and achievements, this trivia game is amazing. Did I mention it’s free? Okay, it is only free for Gold subscribers.

Overall I would have to say my favorite XBox live arcade game this year would have to be Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers. This was another hit of nostalgia for me. There was a time in my life when I would drag my mother from store to store buying M:TG booster packs. Once it came to XBLA it was a definite must have for me. Now when I buy expansions for this, I can do it from the comfort of my home, and mother doesn’t have to be involved. I can easily play this game for hours as it’s basically an UNO version of M:TG. With two more expansions coming out next year, I am sure there will be plenty of replay value out of this title into the next year.

A couple games from last year held sway over me this year as well. Fallout 3: GOTY Edition had me going back to wastelands to battle Chinese soldiers, slavers, more enclave troops, radioactive hicks, and aliens. With the level cap increased it allowed me to be rewarded for my constant wandering of the capital wastelands.

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City also had me back in Liberty City with two new characters. In this game I was blessed with male frontal nudity and bad guys who crap their pants. That makes for some interesting story telling.

For my single player experiences I had both Dragon Age: Origins and Ghostbusters. Now Ghostbusters had multiplayer, but I rarely played it that way. This game had a great story written by the original writers and voice acting with the original actors. It was like playing Ghostbusters 3. I loved this game quite a bit despite its lack of replayablity. Dragon Age: Origins is currently my drug of choice. This game had has such a fantastic story and is one of the best RPGs I have played. I am a loot hoarder when it comes to RPGs and this game rarely has me dumping craploads of items. It is a perfect blend of story and combat. I heard you can even get a foursome going in this game. I have yet to attempt this but you gotta love Bioware doing this after they had so much controversy over the sex scenes in Mass Effect.

What defines great titles for me these days are cooperative campaigns. Not just your usual multiplayer team death matches and competing against your friends, but working with your friends in a game is so very rewarding. I did the entire campaign of Halo 3: ODST on legendary with friends. It was great to experience the story with a friend for the first time. I really loved the voice work as well because it was done by actors from some of my favorite television shows, namely Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. Some people call this game an expansion but I felt that the campaign was far more entertaining than Halo 3.

Borderlands takes this kind of gameplay to whole new level. This game was a breath of fresh air. I found it very original by taking an FPS and adding just enough RPG elements to add depth to the game. Another nice touch is that this game encourages multiplayer by improving weapon drops and stepping up the difficulty. I also can’t forget to mention that this game has over a million weapons and some with references to movies that I enjoy like Army of Darkness and Mad Max.

When comes to cooperative gameplay there is one game that is king in my eyes, Left 4 Dead 2. The first game was great and even though the campaign was short it didn’t stop me from playing each level dozens of times. Left 4 Dead 2 builds on all that was great about the first game and redefines what you would expect. The variety of new weapons, new zombies, and silly new achievements like the carnival games will keep you coming back for more. This game is what multiplayer is all about. Hopefully Valve will support this game a little more than the previous title and we can get tons of DLC or they may just release this game annually like sports games. I personally can’t wait for Left 4 Dead 3 in fall 2010.

Sean Madson’s Top 10
Staff Writer

1. Uncharted 2 (PS3)
2. Borderlands (360)
3. Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PSP)
4. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii)
5. Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (360)
6. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (NDS)
7. Shadow Complex (XBLA)
8. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (WiiWare)
9. Phantasy Star Zero (NDS)
10. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (NDS)

While 2009 was not a bad year for gaming per se, it just wasn’t nearly as impressive as 2008’s stellar lineup. Perhaps much of that has to do with the fact that I haven’t had a chance to try out all of the big holiday releases or spend much time with them (hence why Dragon Age: Origins isn’t in my top ten). At least the titles that were worth playing seemed to be spread out a little more throughout the year. I was a little overwhelmed during last year’s holiday season, having been bombarded by Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, Little Big Planet, and others all at once. This year, even though there are still a ton of great titles being released within days of each other during the Christmas season (and likely always will be), at least there have been a number of great spring and summer releases as well. Could be worse … I’d rather have too much to play than too little, am I right?

Starting from the bottom, the latest Zelda title makes the number ten spot on my list. As much as I would’ve loved to rank it higher (being a big Zelda fan and all), I really didn’t feel I could justify it after spending so little time with the game. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s modeled very closely after Phantom Hourglass which was also a classic DS title, so I’m confident that this game will not disappoint in the weeks to come.

Phantasy Star Zero is a fantastic multiplayer handheld title, and incredibly reminiscent of its Dreamcast predecessor. Sure, the customization options are limited and the controls could use some work, but the game is a complete nostalgia trip for people who loved playing the original Phantasy Star Online. This game succeeds where Phantasy Star Universe could not.

Speaking of nostalgia, I felt like I was blasted back to 1992 when I downloaded Final Fantasy IV: The After Years on WiiWare. Playing this game is the video game equivalent of going to a high school reunion, except that the people you’re catching up with have become paladins and dragoons, rather than engineers and accountants. Despite the high price tag that you’ll pay for all of the content, it’s well worth the many hours of old school RPG goodness to be found here.

The first time I sat down with Shadow Complex, I seriously though I was playing Super Metroid with a bunch of political crap thrown in. Looking at screenshots for the game up until its release, it looked to me almost like a 2D Metal Gear, and while there are some minimal stealth elements, it’s all about the action and exploration. This is one instance where I can say that I was happy a game wasn’t what I thought it was.

I was unsure how well a Kingdom Hearts game that didn’t involve cards would translate to a handheld, but Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days made the transition with a few minor flaws. The storyline was a little slow going at first, and you revisit the same areas a lot, but the mission structure is absolutely perfect for a DS game. And can someone say multiplayer?

I can’t believe that I’m actually suggesting that a collection of games from almost two decades ago is one of my favorite titles from this year, but it’s true. This disk would’ve been worth it for the Phantasy Star series or Shining Force games alone, but when you throw in all the Sonic titles, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and more, you have a holy grail of compilations that is made even sweeter by its low price tag.

Ever since Mario’s advancement into the third dimension, I’ve begun missing some of his classic sidescrolling adventures. New Super Mario Bros on the DS showed that Nintendo still had it in them to make one, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii continues that legacy even further. Four player simultaneous play means you no longer have to take turns with your friends and family if you all want to play Mario, but it also means you will likely get a turtle shell to the face if you steal someone’s mushroom.

I anxiously awaited the release of Dissidia: Final Fantasy ever since its announcement. Heck, this game along with Crisis Core were the reasons I even wanted a PSP in the first place. My patience was certainly rewarded. Dissidia is to Final Fantasy fans what Super Smash Bros. Brawl is to Nintendo fans. Sure, it’s absolutely drenched in fan service and has an absolutely terrible single player storyline. But the gameplay was fantastic and incredibly original. And where else are you going to have an epic duel between Cloud and Squall other than reading someone’s bad fanfiction?

Borderlands was truly a surprise hit for me. I had no idea what it was until it was within weeks of release and even then, I had done minimal research on it. Due to the fact that there was such a heavy emphasis on cooperative multiplayer, some of my co-workers mentioned they were willing to take the plunge on this game if we all did together. Best. Idea. Ever. The blend of the FPS and RPG genres seem like a natural fit for one another, it’s a wonder that nobody thought of this earlier. And no, Fallout 3 doesn’t count.

I really had a hard time deciding if Borderlands or Uncharted 2 deserved the number one spot on my list and I ultimately chose the latter. In my mind, Borderlands only truly hit its peak when playing with friends, whereas Uncharted 2 had both a single player and a co-op mode that were entirely separate from each other. Not to mention you can go online and frag total strangers too. This game was definitely the total package. I enjoyed every minute of it and it is one of the few games that I’d really have to think hard to form a complaint about.

J.Rose’s Top 10
Staff Artist

1: Resident Evil 5 (360)
2: Demon’s Souls (PS3)
3: The Dark Spire (NDS)
4: Madworld (Wii)
5: Borderlands (360)
6: Monster Hunter Freedom: Unite (PSP)
7: Half Minute Hero (PSP)
8: Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble (PSP)
9: Rune Factory: Frontier (Wii)
10:Dragon Age: Origins (360

Resident Evil 5. Usually I’m big on introducing new gameplay elements into video game sequels, but Resident Evil 5 was a certain exception. The near flawless re-invention of Resident Evil‘s schematic in part 4 is pretty much brought over unchanged in part 5, and it remains just as thrilling and sharp as it first did four years ago. The current generation visuals, the awesome split screen, and on-line co-op modes were more than enough to shoe this masterpiece of horror action into the top spot of my list.

Demon’s Souls. From Software’s brutally hard yet thoroughly engrossing dark fantasy demanded attention this year, and unlike so many of the developer’s RPG inspired excursions, this gloriously crafted game actually received the recognition it deserved universally by critics. Combining the signature bleak and unsettling atmosphere of the developer’s fan beloved King’s Field series, with fantastic play control, punishing difficulty, and a unique approach to multiplayer gaming, Demon’s Souls is a recipe for awesome, and certainly the best exclusive by far for the PS3 this year.

The Dark Spire. Incredible art and sound design are only a few reasons I got excited over developer Success’s spot on homage to the classic dungeon hacks of old. In every way possible, The Dark Spire excels at replicating the old school true RPG experience.

Madworld. The geniuses at Platinum Games certainly brought their A game with Madworld. The gritty black and white style, the over the top Running Man theme, and the grotesquely dark humor tie up made Madworld as the perfect package to prove that Nintendo’s little Wii isn’t just for your kid sister to play Carnival Games on. It also is one of the few action games I’ve played on the console that actually work well with the usually forced feeling motion controls.

Borderlands. The ridiculously fun and addictive love child of Diablo and your traditional FPS experience. Enough said.

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. Yet another sequel that is above my usual want of innovation in game franchises. Unite is more of an expansion to Freedom 2 in most respects, but the new content that is here is more than enough reason to gather the hunting party up again and curse at giant beasts.

Half Minute Hero. The quirky presentation and absurd concept were enough to sell me on Half Minute Hero, and the effective humor, and uniquely frantic gameplay made me a fan.

Kencho Bancho: Badass Rumble. As a modern day River City Ransom, Badass Rumble is a satisfying and in depth beat em’ up with a substantial amount of replay value and customization, that also serves as a beginner’s course to Japanese teen culture. Seriously.

Rune Factory: Frontier. The innovation the Harvest Moon series has needed for years is in place in the Rune Factory games, which are a spin-off series to Natsume’s popular farming simulator. Though first impressions mark Frontier as just a console based version of the two preceding Nintendo DS games, the Wii versions offers a considerable amount more content then either of the portable editions and better play control.

Dragon Age: Origins: Bioware’s RPGs never caught on with me in the past, but I considerably enjoyed the experience Dragon Age offered. The fantasy setting is rich with its unique history and lore, and the multiple pathways the game can go in based off your actions are quite diverse.

Aileen Coe’s Top 10
Staff Editor

1. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (NDS)
2. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume (NDS)
3. The Legendary Starfy (NDS)
4. Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure (NDS)
5. Space Invaders Extreme 2 (NDS)
6. Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days (PSP)
7. Punch-Out!! (Wii)
8. Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What’d I Do to Deserve This? (PSP)
9. Phantasy Star Zero (NDS)
10. Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island (NDS)

As you can see from the above list, my portables got plenty of use this year, especially my good old DS. I initially thought I wouldn’t have enough to make a top ten, but when I sat down to write up my list, I actually had trouble narrowing it down to ten games. I picked upMonster Hunter Freedom Unite based on some glowing recommendations, but haven’t progressed far enough in to feel comfortable with putting it on the list.Scribblenauts was fun and creative, but it was also challenged in the movement controls and physics departments. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box was a nice followup to Curious Village, but sadly there was a quota on puzzle solving British dudes in stylish hats (sorry Layton – it was close, though). Space Bust a Move was just as addictive as ever – and really, it’s Bust a Move, need I say more? Finally, Princess Waltz (yes, a hentai game – stop looking at me like that) had an amazingly well done story and well developed characters. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon also came out this year, but I had already included that on my list last year, so I didn’t feel it was prudent to include it again, especially considering I had so many other contenders I ended up having to relegate to this “honorable mentions” section. If not for that, however, it would’ve earned a spot for sure.

With all that being said, let’s go onward to the list itself.

Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island was something I got drafted into reviewing, but that I actually ended up enjoying. While one playthrough doesn’t last all that long (I managed two playthroughs before I finished my review), it had enough to sustain multiple playthroughs. It’s also the first game released stateside that has the management aspects mixed in with the alchemy and RPG parts, as the Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia games focus more on the latter two.

I used to spend a good deal of time on the Xbox version of Phantasy Star Online, and I never really got the chance to play Phantasy Star Universe, so Phantasy Star Zero felt a bit more familiar and thus hit the spot a bit better for me. I did also enjoy what I’ve played of Phantasy Star Portable, but in this case nostalgia came into play and tipped the scales a bit in favor of PSZ.

Badman combines a bit from different genres to form a diabolical ecosystem that’s great fun to manage. It also garnered some attention thanks to the controversy from the game being only available via download. NIS did later offer to produce a UMD version if they got enough preorders (1000) by November 13th , but sadly they didn’t reach that. While it was a nice gesture on their part and showed how much they listen to their fans, it was a case of too little, too late for the fallowing reasons: it had been months since the game was out, it’s a fairly niche title, and many who wanted the game would’ve already bought it. The sequel also has a confirmed US release, so I’ll be wanting to get my hot little hands on that as well when it does come out.

Punch-Out!! hit the sweet spot between retaining everything that made the original so good and adding enough fresh material that it didn’t feel like a simple rehash or cheap cash grab. Even veterans of the original have new patterns to learn and can’t rely solely on past experience to beat each opponent. It also retained the humorous over the top stereotypes that make the games so entertaining and the zealously politically correct froth at the mouth.

With the first Disgaea receiving ports to the PSP and DS, it was only logical that the second would eventually receive similar treatment, and this year it indeed did. Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days integrates features from the third game (notably the Magichange system) and includes a whole new mode in the form of Axel Mode along with some new characters, making it a worthwhile port even if you’ve played the PS2 version. Now if only the DLC would stop having issues…

The Legendary Starfy is the first in the series to be released outside of Japan. It even manages to have more story and plot development than you’d expect from a cutesy platformer. Navigating through all the different worlds never feels like a chore, and the mini-games are a nice diversion if you want to take a break from all the platforming.

Space Invaders Extreme 2 arrived in my mailbox along with Atelier Annie, as Chris opted to have the review copy that arrived for the site sent to me. For that I’m rather thankful, as it’s just as addicting as its predecessor, and the new features add more longevity to the game. After all, who doesn’t like blowing up colorful things?

Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure is a lovechild of the platformer and puzzle genres, and it pulls off the combination quite well. The constant balancing act between the puzzle and platforming worlds can get quite frenetic, and it can become hard to keep track of both at once when things get really heated. However, the transitions are pulled off fairly seamlessly and switching between the two became second nature after a while.

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume takes three genres, blends them all together, and runs with the results. The battle system combines turn based and the Simon says type of button input for each of characters and is a lot of fun to play through. The number of story branches, characters, and endings, plus the fact that you could mix and match paths to an extent to arrive at an ending leaves the game highly conducive to multiple playthroughs and helps each playthrough to feel different.

Last but not least is SMT: Devil Survivor. I probably annoyed a couple of people because I couldn’t shut up about this game. I loved the story, setting, and the battle and fusion systems. The soundtrack complemented the setting, and some tracks stayed stuck in my head even after I turned off the game. The plot progressed at a quick enough pace to keep me hooked, even when I ran into roadblocks (I’m looking at you, save-the-citizen battles). Between this, Covenant of the Plume, and Dark Hero Days, my inner SRPG freak was more than satiated for the year.

Chris Bowen’s Top 10
Staff Editor

1. NHL ’10 (360)
2. Punch-Out!! (Wii)
3. FIFA ’10 (360)
4. Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 (360)
5. Space Invaders Extreme 2 (NDS)
6. Crimson Gem Saga (PSP)
7. Princess Waltz (PC)
8. Need for Speed: Shift (360)
9. Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
10. Shin Megami Tenshi: Devil Survivor (NDS)

I’ve heard Alex and a couple of other people say that 2009 was a bad year for gaming, or even the “worst in memory”. I thought so at first, but after really looking back at what we had in 2009, I have to respectfully disagree with my peers. Allow me to apologise for the coming sports analogy, but this year in gaming was a lot like baseball’s Anaheim Angels. No one really pays attention to the Angels; they’re so busy worrying about the Yankees and Red Sox, or the Giants and Dodgers, to realise that the Angels have been the best baseball team of the decade in terms of consistency. They only have one title, but the Angels made the playoffs every year, and contended in every single season.

That’s how I view 2009: quiet, dangerous contention. It doesn’t blow anyone away like ’08 did, but if you look deep, and ignore silly “metrics” like average review scores, this was a knock-out year.

What’s sad is that my own personal top ten list was affected by the economy. As I strive to never, ever EVER have to work in my “trained” field of internet/network security ever again lest I go grey before I turn forty, my own bank account took a hit this year. Therefore, my honourable mention list of great games – most of which I just haven’t been able to purchase yet – might be more impressive at first glance than my own personal top-ten list. I just wasn’t able to play enough of truly outstanding games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dragon Age: Origins, and Borderlands to justify putting them on my top-ten list; they’re amazing, but I need to purchase them to be able to really play them, and I haven’t been able to do that. Or what about the games that just didn’t have it to make my list? I loved Bubble Bobble Neo and the Ultimate Genesis Collection, but I also loved them in the 80s and 90s as well. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is an amazing game that might make my list in 2010 once it’s complete in America. Shadow Complex was a very good evolution of the Metroidvania style of game that showed how good the XBox Live Arcade service could be. Finally, there was not one, but TWO very good Phantasy Star Online games, almost enough to make me stop whining about Sega not bringing over the Sega Ages versions of the first two Phantasy Star games. Almost.

I also have to state that Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon would have absolutely made this list, though I personally felt it would be silly to include a game in ’09 that I had on my ’08 list, just because it was released in America. Therefore, I disqualified it on those grounds, but if you haven’t picked up this awesome game yet, what’s taking so long?

With all that said, I will describe my PERSONAL (emphasis mine, please don’t email me hate, I’m very sensitive) top ten games of 2009, as well as where I think the industry’s been, and going.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor is yet another in a great line of games that make up Atlus’s flagship. Arguably better than the critically acclaimed Persona 4, Devil Survivor combines an outstanding battle system with a very well localized story that grabs you from the word go and never lets up. If you like games that start off quickly, without needing hours to build up the story, this is the game to get.

If I reviewed Muramasa: The Demon Blade, it probably wouldn’t score that well. It’s repetitive, the story dragged on at times, and the controls are flawed. That doesn’t matter in the long run. What matters is that the game. Just like another flawed but beautiful game before it, Odin Sphere, it is absolutely gorgeous, and has a way to immerse me in its universe. Maybe this is my closeted graphics whore making an appearance, but I was able to forgive the game’s flaws because it is ultimately a fun game to play. Therefore, Muramasa wins the second annual Mount & Blade award for Best Good Bad Game. That made more sense in my head, I swear.

I like driving games, though I don’t consider myself a driving fanatic by heart. I don’t sit around tweaking displacement settings for hours, and experimenting with different tire pressures so that I can shave .002 seconds off of my lap times. That’s probably why I enjoyed Need for Speed: Shift a lot more than I did a “better” game like Forza Motorsport 3. Forza feels like a job at times that you have to pay for, while Shift is easy to pick up and just as easy to put down if that’s what you want. It’s the best blend of hardcore and casual racing I’ve played.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s a hentai game, Princess Waltz excels specifically because of its non-hentai aspects. The card battling system needs to be more pronounced, but the story is probably the best I’ve seen in a game this year. It’s not for everyone, but Princess Waltz is a great interactive novel/game that just happens to have uncensored sex scenes in it.

Crimson Gem Saga is the best traditional JRPG to come out this year, in a weak year for the genre. Most of what we saw in this category was derivative crap that relied on heavy graphics at the expense of a solid story that made sense or a decent battle mechanic, or had “Tales” somewhere in the name, automatically making it pants. CGS, on the other hand, had a funny story that didn’t go overboard on the “edgy” humour unlike past Working Designs titles, a good battle system, and a nice difficulty curve. This will be the best JRPG until Final Fantasy XIII comes out, and probably even after that, too.

Space Invaders Extreme 2 shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that read my review of the game. It’s the same great shooter that we’ve been playing for a long time now, and hasn’t gotten any less fun over all the time I’ve spent playing it. This technically counts as my only import game on my list, only because I couldn’t wait for the NA version to come out. That impatience on my part is indicative of how fun this game is.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2 (henceforth known as GM2, abbreviated from Gundam Musou 2) took the best Musou game we’d seen since DW5, and made it better in every way, shape, and form. For fans of Musou, this is an amazing game regardless of the subject matter. For fans of Gundam, this is an absolute must buy, and makes me excited to see what could come about from the coming Fist of the North Star Musou game.

Both football games this year are very good, but FIFA ’10 is a cut above. It’s simply the best game of football of any kind on the market, and to top it off, it’s the deepest, containing the most teams, the most modes, and the most ways to play the game, not to mention the fact that you can literally play a ten on ten game of football over the internet. It’s hard to believe the formerly maligned FIFA series has come this far, but it has; it’s amazing.

Punch-Out!! showed how you remake a game properly: make it easy enough to pick up and play for people coming back into the series from the 80s NES game, but add in enough from the other Punch Out!! titles to keep it fresh. This was Nintendo’s love letter to my generation – much better than New Super Mario Brothers, in my estimation – and I sincerely hope that they continue to do things this well. The amount of care that was put into this game by the developers is astounding.

Finally, NHL ’10 isn’t just my game of the year, nor is it my sports game of the year. It’s the best sports game we’ve probably seen to this date. It’s pickupable for casuals, but hardcore fans will see the way the AI plays, see how tweaked the engine has become, see the many different modes and ways to play the game – comparable to FIFA, in fact – and all the things EA did with this game to make it the best it could be. I’m dumbfounded as to how much was packed into this disc, how tight it all plays, and how smart it is. Take it from the only person on this site that plays sports games regularly: this is as good as it gets in any genre.

Mark B.’s Top 10
Senior Editor

1. Resident Evil 5 (360)
2. The Dark Spire (NDS)
3. Melty Blood: Actress Again (PS2)
4. Demon’s Souls (PS3)
5. Dragon Age: Origins (360)
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum (360)
7. Assassin’s Creed 2 (360)
8. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (PSP)
9. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (360)
10. Tekken 6 (360)

For the record, I didn’t think this was a terrible year in gaming in the least, and while I’d say that I was underwhelmed at various points, I haven’t felt that this year was as depressing as 2004 (which I still maintain was one of the worst years in gaming to date), and in general I had a lot of fun with the games I did play. I’m going to say that I think this year seemed like it was kind of a downer because it wasn’t as good as 2008, and 2010 looks to be phenomenal, leaving 2009 as something of a slump in comparison. Still, I had to cut my list down from nearly twenty games, including the ever fun and enjoyable Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, the incredibly technically sound and entertaining King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match, the complex and engaging Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, the incredibly well developed Borderlands (which would have made my top ten for sure if that ending hadn’t been such a massive let-down), the incredibly visceral and fun Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the unexpectedly good, both as a licensed title and as a game based around a part of my childhood, Ghostbusters, and so on, but the above ten games were the ten I spent the most time with this year, bar none, and I feel they deserve their spots on my list.

Tekken 6 features an obscenely cheap final boss and suffers for its lack of a co-op campaign mode (for now), but it’s still as outrageously fun as ever when you start busting heads against friends. The new characters are surprisingly solid, especially Zafina the assassin and FREAKING BOB THE GIGANTIC FAT GUY of all people, and a good bit of the returning characters have received some outstanding upgrades to their abilities and tuning to make them significantly more balanced in comparison to everyone else, and I can’t hate on that. It’s not my favorite fighting game of the year, and there are other games that are technically superior in a lot of respects, but for my money, Tekken 6 is a great time and I’ve spent a lot of time beating the piss out of people with Asuka Kazama and Christie Montiero, so I’d say it makes my list.

I like playing cheesecake games where half-naked women beat the shit out of things (see also Rumble Roses and the upcoming Bayonetta), so of course Onechanbara made my list. It’s an incredibly simple game, absolutely, but at its budget price it was a joy to play and included a ton of replay value, multiplayer fun, and extra options that some full priced titles can’t even match up to. I love the Simple Series in general, I love Onechanbara as a franchise, and you can best believe that I am actively hoping D3 Publisher brings a metric ton more Simple Series games to the US.

Ah, Monster Hunter. I love it so, much to the befuddlement of several of our staffers. It’s unapologetically belligerent, features some wonky control schematics, and often unpleasant in its difficulty, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a real sense of achievement that comes from breaking out your bowgun and ruining Nargacuga’s shit by your lonesome, not by spamming Cluster Shot and not by hiding on a cliff but by STANDING IN HIS FACE AND DODGING HIS ATTACKS AS YOU COMPLETELY END HIM that few games can truly mimic, and if you’ve played the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about. As of this writing I’m still working on White Fatalis and waiting for Monster Hunter Tri, which should tell you a lot. I imagine a lot of you are wondering why, exactly, this game inspires so much love from its fans and so much confusion and disdain from everyone else, and I’d love to tell you, but the fact of the matter is that if you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, nothing I say can explain it.

So, okay. I thought Assassin’s Creed was … kinda boring. Sorry, but there it is. The mechanics didn’t work as they should have, the game spent entirely too much time making you travel everywhere, and it got repetitive. Assassin’s Creed 2, however, is pretty sweet. The missions are more varied, the mechanics are more interesting, the game is simply more fun, and diving onto people and ending them in seconds really never gets old. The plot was also rather interesting, and while I’ve seen bits and pieces of what the game was trying to do with its storyline before, it’s tied together well enough here that I found it to be rather amusing, and hey, NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI makes a cameo, which I loved because I’m a dork. And YOU GET A GUN, which you wouldn’t think would be a big thing, but there it is. It might not be as challenging as you’d want, but I guarantee you that your time with the game will whiz by, and you’ll want more when you’re finished, and really, that’s all that matters.

Batman: Arkham Asylum was probably the first GOOD Batman game in at LEAST a decade and a half, if not longer, which would merit its inclusion on this list even if it wasn’t absolutely STELLAR in almost all respects. It looks great, sounds great, plays great, and is an incredibly satisfying experience if you’re a fan of the genre or the character. Sneaking around, jumping on unsuspecting bad guys, lumping the crap out of thugs, using your Detective Vision to track down clues and hunt for secrets, this game really combines all of the elements that make Batman a great character into one outstanding package, and the only reason it’s so low on my list is because I simply played games I enjoyed more, not because of anything the game does wrong. This is a must-own game, period, if only because I WANT MORE GOOD BATMAN GAMES, GODDAMMIT.

I generally like Bioware as a developer, but I can safely admit that they have made their share of missteps as a company. Jade Empire can politely be described as “underwhelming”, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic garners all kinds of frothy rage from people for being overhyped and underwhelming, and Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was … not their finest hour, shall we say. Dragon Age: Origins makes up for a lot of that, and puts a lot of fears about Electronic Arts acquiring the company to rest, at least partially. The game is outstanding in virtually every respect, from the ambience to the gameplay to the aural and visual presentation and beyond, and it’s obvious that Bioware has created a world that can be built upon for many more sequels, and I, for one, can’t wait.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I’m a fan of From Software. To say that they don’t make crap games would be a fallacy of the highest order, you understand, and it’s often true that their games are somewhat inaccessible unless you’re willing to tolerate some bizarre concepts and elements, but frankly, that’s often WHY I like their games. They have an uncompromising view of what they want to do with a game, and even if the elements are bizarre at times, they stick to it until they make you love it by force of will. Demon’s Souls is essentially that vision in spades; it’s hard as hell, unflinchingly brutal in some respects, and seems as if it was designed to punish the player in a lot of ways for no adequately explained reason. And yet, it’s atmospheric as can be, interesting in its design and execution, and incredibly satisfying once you really adjust to what it does and how it does it. It’s absolutely not for everyone, and that goes without saying, but it does a fantastic job at what it does, and if you’re the sort of person who can accept the game for what it is and the punishment it will expect you to endure, you’ll love it. Plus it’s probably the closest we’re going to get to another King’s Field for a while.

So this year was a solid year for fighting games. I mean, King of Fighters XII was a horrendous experience by and large, sure, but aside from that, Capcom re-released Marvel Vs Capcom 2, Tekken 6 was great fun, and Arc System Works made a fighting game that simultaneously wasn’t Guilty Gear and, even though I have no interest in ever playing it again, wasn’t terrible! Sadly, the best fighting game I played never even made it to the US, and considering the death of the PS2 is imminent, probably never will. Melty Blood: Actress Again is an astonishingly great fighting game considering it’s based on a Japanese visual novel, but even without that odd qualifier I can safely say that it’s one of the best fighting games released this year and would easily make my short list of the best fighting games I’ve ever played. I mean, yes there’s a broken playable character, yes the graphics are pixilated, and yes there are some absurdly overpowered final bosses, and I won’t try to pretend they don’t exist. But the fact of the matter is that the game features multiple different gameplay styles that can completely change around the way a character plays, runs smoothly, is a ton of fun, is surprisingly easily accessible to new players, AND is fun as hell. I hope that one of the games will find its way stateside at some point in time or another, simply because the franchise deserves the US exposure, but even if you have to import the game, Melty Blood: Actress Again is definitely worth the effort to track down, and no fan of fighting games should be without it.

The Dark Spire is an unmerciful return to old-school RPG elements, taking its inspiration as much from Eye of the Beholder as Etrian Odyssey, and as such, it’s pretty much meant to appeal to absolutely no one. The thing is, the game revels so much in its old-school design mechanics that anyone who is a fan of the dungeon crawling games of old can’t help but fall in love with it. Characters take forever to level up, there are armor class numbers and equipment limitations to consider, death is frequent, and grinding is not only a good idea, but a way of life. So, yeah, this is (probably) not for you. Here’s the thing, though: somewhere along the way, the old-school mechanics combine with the modernized artistic presentation to create a game that’s not only enjoyable, but SATISFYING in a lot of respects. Waging war on a powerful enemy and escaping with no characters having been smited can be quite enjoyable, and regular battles against standard enemies can be harrowing affairs, making every inch of progress you make without expiring feel like you earned it. I’m not going to lie and say everyone needs to try the game or anything like that, as frankly, even with it having dropped astronomically in price, it’s still an INCREDIBLY niche game that maybe ten percent of the people reading would want to play, but I found the punishment incredibly enjoyable, and if you long for the days of spending hours clearing one floor of a dungeon, you will too.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I have something of a love/hate relationship with the Resident Evil franchise. I thought the first and second games were good fun for their time, I enjoyed the remake of the first game quite a bit, and the shooter-based games like Dead Aim and Umbrella Chronicles amuse me to varying degrees, but Resident Evil: Nemesis felt like a cash-in, Code Veronica was boring and poorly conceived, the Outbreak games never worked as well as I wanted them to and Resident Evil 0 is an abomination. That said, I loved Resident Evil 4, and Resident Evil 5, while it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, is still one of the best games released this year, and overall, it’s my favorite. Yes, the AI partner was stupid, but I have friends, so this wasn’t a particularly big issue overall. Yes, the game didn’t improve much upon Resident Evil 4, but I loved that game so I’m not so disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy this game too. Yes, you have to stand in place to shoot, but not everything is going to play like Gears of War and I frankly never had a problem with that, because I never had a problem playing Resident Evil 4. I spent hours playing Mercenaries mode with friends, and hours more ripping through various stages on Professional difficulty (where one hit equals death) with J. Rose, and at no point did I wish I was doing anything else but ripping apart the crazy bastards around me. I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.

DJ Tatsujin’s Top 10
Head of Public Relations

1. Borderlands (360)
2. Batman: Arkham Asylum (360)
3. Punch-Out!! (Wii)
4. beatmania IIDX 16: Empress + Premium Best (PS2)
5. Rock Band Unplugged (PSP)
6. DeathSmiles (360)
7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (360)
8. Rhythm Heaven (PSP)
9. Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (NDS)
10. DJ Max FEVER (PSP)

2009 was certainly filled with its fair share of games, with downloadable titles taking full swing on all five current-gen systems, not to mention PC titles and the like releasing at a rapid pace. Even so, I’ve played a good bunch of those titles and, unfortunately, I felt most of these titles were merely mediocre to good at best and a lot of the titles deemed “great” seemingly had little in replayability. Upon approaching my 10 personal favorites for the year, it didn’t seem all that hard as just barely more than 20 games even registered with me as remote possibilities. But, given that, I already mentioned a score of above average titles released this year, so, as a whole, 2009 really wasn’t that bad of a year overall and it’s arguably been one of the best in recent memory for the portable system scene. Perhaps the fact Modern Warfare 2 and other developer snafus have driven a lot of titles into 2010 leads many to believe the year is ending on a gaming “sour note,” but a strong fall season and a lineup of great titles from early in the year beg to differ.

Even though there were a ton of solid games this year, very few screamed “game of the year” material to me, but, still, there were a bunch that came close as my personal favorites. Games such as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, Tekken 6, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, Afro Samurai, Mana Khemia 2, Raiden Fighter Aces and a good bunch of others took up a lot of my free time in 2009 and came close to making the list, but after some internal debate, I settled on the above list.

Rolling in at number 10 is PM Studios’ DJ Max FEVER, one of the first games released for the year and heavily marketed as a Sony PSP exclusive in what could be called, “the year the PSP finally got serious.” From the Korean development team Pentavision, the company had long supported the system and arcades with exclusive titles and this year finally brought one of the more interesting music games developed in a while to the United States. The reason I admire the release so much is because it didn’t cave in and try to cater to an unproven North American audience. PM Studios knew it already had an existing fan base, given how the DJ Max series is easily one of the most-imported portable titles, and it brought an exclusive, easily accessible version of what these players have been experiencing for a handful of years. FEVER combines player favorite songs from DJ Max Portable and Portable 2 along with a few other surprises and tightens up the game’s career-like system. The gameplay is intense and challenging and the art and music comes from some of the best in Korea and at the price of $20, perhaps only Rock Band Unplugged can rival FEVER on the Sony PSP when it comes to music titles.

Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year and ranks in at my number nine pick. While at first everyone assumed the game to be a knockoff of Professor Layton, the result was one of the more original implementations of integrating the puzzle genre with another, differing genre. It was a risky mix and although the game isn’t without its problems, Henry Hatsworth had me glued to my DS in the early portion of the year. While the title starts off simple enough, as the player progresses, both the platforming and puzzle elements amp up, leaving Henry with vicious foes and tricky jumps to deal with while keeping a careful eye on the bottom screen, which later enemies also start to fill with all sorts of difficult gimmicks. When most companies struggle to do just one genre correctly, it’s interesting when a game finally comes along that handles two of them to a satisfying degree.

In an effort to cash-in on the recent rhythm game trend and later promote the new DSi, Nintendo brought over its Japanese gold mine series, Rhythm Tengoku. Rhythm Heaven is a direct port of Rhythm Tengoku Gold, which is handled by the WarioWare team that also unleashed a Game Boy Advance title, an arcade cabinet and a handful of soundtracks based on the series in Japan. While nothing new has been added to the title for its U.S. release, it finally brings the quirky and well-produced title to North American DS systems. Some of the games can be ridiculously hard, however, such is the mantra of a Western-developed music title. The tunes ring great through the DS and there are plenty of humorous situations in the title, coupled with a ton of unlockables to make Rhythm Heaven one of the highest quality DS titles for the year and my eighth-most enjoyed title of 2009.

When I said earlier that 2009 was a year for handhelds, it also seemed to be a stellar year for super heroes as well, with X-Men Origins: Wolverine hitting my list at number seven. Given how crappy most X-Men games have been in the past, I was a little hesitant to jump on this title, but Raven’s involvement, a more mature spin from the movie and a demo was enough to change my view. Expanding on the plot and deviating from the path of the movie arguably makes the game a more fleshed out experience over the film and it helps that Wolverine’s God of War-like gameplay keeps the game as gritty and visceral as its source material. Logan has a lot of options at his disposal and the light RPG elements one might find in X-Men Legends or Ultimate Alliance keeps the game more interesting with a good number of secrets to uncover while players slice through the story. Plus, the game’s numerous action scenes, including a number of which that have Logan skydiving, really bring a sense of action into the game that are often missing in most generic movie cash-ins.

It’s not too familiar to North American audiences, but at number six, DeathSmiles is perhaps one of the few reasons you’ll actually want to import something for the Xbox 360. The title’s popularity is also carrying it to a sequel overseas, so, hopefully someone will step up and bring us this splendid shooter. This Cave-developed arcade experience gains a lot of ground over most modern shooters by actually taking advantage of the Xbox 360’s graphical muscle to bring out marvelous hand-drawn animations, while being a character-based affair that manages to flesh out an actual story – two aspects that have been grossly ignored in most other arcade shooters of the year. Multiple characters and game paths will keep players coming back for more and the dual direction shooting allows for some intense firefights from both sides of the player. The bosses are also large and in charge, making DeathSmiles one of the finer titles from Japan we get to miss out on.

One more music game hits my list, with Harmonix’s Rock Band Unplugged, which still remains as my highest score given to a game on Diehard GameFAN, resting at number five. Even though the game is free of plastic instruments, that is perhaps its biggest charm as the company has gone back to its Frequency/Amplitude days to give us a fully fleshed out music gaming experience on the go that truly has no rivals at this point (in the U.S. at least). On the higher difficulties, Rock Band Unplugged’s action is feverish and the game play options allow players to make the game as relaxed or frantic as they want. While the title is missing community features, it still allows for downloadable songs and it maintains the quality seen in the Playstation 2 Rock Band titles. With Rock Band Unplugged, it’s easy to get lost in the music and there are few better ways to kill time on the road than by firing up this title.

Number four brings us to the other imported title I have on my list, beatmania IIDX 16 EMPRESS + PREMIUM BEST. Having followed the series since 2000, it’s not too often music gamers get a treat like this – a full EMPRESS experience with exclusive songs and a bonus disc providing even more game content from the full span of previous IIDX titles. Of course this comes in exchange with being the final IIDX game to touch the Playstation 2 and giving fans uncertainty of the future of the series on consoles, but the package comes home as easily one of the better entries seen in the series for some time. The gameplay hasn’t changed one bit, but as one of the Playstation 2’s most-imported game series, I suppose they say, you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. The title is arguably one of the most challenging music titles you can pick up, but that is also why those that master the gameplay are so satisfied by the army of falling note patterns. The beatmania series is a rhythm game staple and 2009 brought us one of the better home releases in recent years.

My Wii remained unplugged and gathering dust in the corner until May, which was when my number three title released. Given Nintendo’s effort to pitch in useless motion controls into proven franchises, I was a bit scared to break into Punch-Out!!. I didn’t want to use the balance board or flail around to punch, but when you turn the remote on its side, the old NES magic returns and you have one of the most fun titles of the year and by far one of the best things to happen to the Wii in 2009. It was a bit disappointing to see only one new character hit the ring, but everything was familiar for the series’ universe and the graphics of the Wii brought each character into a new light. Every character exudes personality and the zany, yet simple action gives players arcade action done to perfection. Punch-Out!! still remains fairly challenging, but it just keeps players coming back for more.

My number two game could potentially be a sign of impending apocalypse, but it had the world exclaiming that, yes, finally, someone did the impossible and made a fantastic Batman game. While its induction into the Gamer’s Guinness Book of World Records made me lose any shred of credibility I had for the publication, Arkham Asylum is indeed by far the best Batman game ever conceived. Not having its arms shackled by movie scripts and deadlines, the developer knew its source by bringing the right mix of writers and voice actors to craft one of the most compelling stories and sequence of events to be seen in 2009. The title dared to follow the source material for once and highlighted what Batman really is: The World’s Greatest Detective. This motivation grouped with the extensive use of Batman’s gadgets carried the game well beyond what gamers have come to expect from a Batman title and the wide open exploration of one of the series’ creepiest locales is an experience a gamer won’t soon forget. Arkham Asylum is one of the few games this year that I didn’t want to put down – I was glued to it through the end and it would have eaten away at me if I wouldn’t have been able to finish the story. The expansive Riddler challenges keep me playing the game still and I would say there are very few other games out there that are still worth $60 at the moment.

Finally, this brings us to my favorite game release for the year, which is one that I am still playing and enjoying when I can in my free time. Often billed as the finest new IP to launch this year, Borderlands is an experience that has been attempted before, but never produced in this quality. I like to describe Borderlands as a fast-paced Fallout 3, which, by all means, is accurate. When you consider Fallout 3 was one of the greatest games of 2008, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a game of equal caliber is among the favorites of 2009. The post-apocalyptic world is given a new light thanks to fantastic, colorful graphics, the gunfights are intense, and when you consider there is near unlimited gameplay to find in the title, Boderlands should likely last players well into 2010. What really fleshes out the title is its RPG aspects, which really break the mold seen in most first-person shooter titles. Not only are guns assigned random combinations of stats and abilities to keep players searching for the best in firearms, but unique special skill sets really flesh out characters and provide interesting team-based mechanics for up to four players. If you have a lot of time to invest Borderlands is an easy recommendation.

Jonathan Widro’s Top 10

1. Flower (PS3)
2. Scribblenauts (NDS)
3. Trine (PS3)
4. Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)
5. A Boy and His Blob (Wii)
6. New Super Mario Bros. (Wii)
7. LocoRoco Midnight Carnival (PSP)
8. Little Big Planet (PSP)
9. Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero? (PSP)
10. Wipeout HD Fury (PS3)

For fans of platformers (especially 2D) and arcade racing games, 2009 was a treasure trove. Above even those two genres though, there were a couple of ultra-original games released that captivated me more than the others.

Unlike the other platformers and arcade racers in my life, Flower blew me away with its completely fresh and unique take on everything. The graphics were crisp and detailed, the sound design kept me from muting the game and listening to music, and the gameplay made perfect use of motion controls.

Hype has died down for Scribblenauts after its launch seemed like an online fever pitch, but to me the game still delivered in a way no other game this year did. I could see myself popping in the game and experimenting with words in the attract screen long after the initial levels and puzzles were finished.

Trine and A Boy and His Blob represent my ultimate 2009 games – 2D platformers with stunning and notable graphics styles. Trine‘s ultra polished 3D and Blob’s hand drawn 2D both show that all games don’t have to have a similar look and feel to succeed. Both had tight 2D gameplay to finish the package.

New Super Mario Brothers is really fun, and in a world of only Nintendo, it might have been #1. However, the graphics are subpar, the game lacks any online or level editing functionality and compared even with other 2D Nintendo releases (Super Paper Mario, Wario Land Shake), the game just feels lacking. Compared with Little Big Planet, and Mario is left only with its impeccable level design and intangible nostalgic fun factor to claim 2D platformer supremacy in this generation.

With so many PSP platformers, my PSP Go is just loaded with instantly playable, slick 2D platformers on both the top ten and honorable mention list. Between those and the PSN racers, 2009 ended up with more games than I had time to play through.

This year showed me that big budget and mainstream releases might continue chugging out repetitive and derivative gameplay, but genre fans are reaping the benefits of low-cost downloadable games and portables.

Alex Lucard’s Top 10

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)
2. Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver (NDS)
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (NDS)
4. Crimson Gem Saga (PSP)
5. Phantasy Star Portable (PSP)
6. Gold Gym’s Cardio Workout (Wii)
7. Adventures To Go (PSP)
8. Pokemon Rumble (Wii)
9. Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers (Wii)
10. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume (NDS)

2009 was a pretty crappy year for gaming. Several of our staff has said it’s been the worst in memory. There were a lot of piss poor games, a lot of outright awful games, and those few good games ended up seeming great by comparison when in another year they probably wouldn’t have received the acclaim or attention they did.

That being said, that makes the ten games that have made my list all the more impressive. There were other games that I enjoyed that weren’t top ten worthy but I will mention them in passing here. Unfortunately, I still haven’t had the chance to play Dragon Age: Origins yet, so it couldn’t make my list. Bakugan Battle Brawlers was a lot of fun, but also way too short and limited to make the list. Dux, a scrolling shooter released for the Dreamcast this year, was both the best shooter and Dreamcast game I played this year, but it just didn’t make the final cut. Finally there are Agarest: Generations of War, which is a PS3 import from the UK and Your Shape for the Wii. Both probably would have made the list if I had gotten to spend more time with them. Your Shape is simply a game you’ll have to spend months on to get a true handle for the quality of the game and Agarest is so bloody long I’m still only in the first generation at the time of this writing, which means I have three more full length RPGs to go. It’s an awesome game so far, but I’m just not far enough in it that I would feel comfortable putting it in here. It was also a year of really good platformers, and that means a lot coming from me as I hate that genre more than any other, Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero?, The Legendary Starfy, and A Boy and His Blob were all a lot of fun and are worth purchasing.

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s take a look at the list.

Valkyrie Profile is, in my opinion, the closest thing to RPG perfection that has ever been made. It’s a wonderful blend of graphics, gameplay and Norse mythology. The second game, was a horrible piece of crap and made truly fear for Enix titles after the Squaresoft and Enix merger. The third game was VERY different from the first two titles. Instead of an action/turn based hybrid, Covenant of the Plume was a tactical RPG. Although the game was very short in a single playthrough, there were so many story branches, that you’d have to play the game up to six times to see everything, collect every character and witness all the endings. Covenant of the Plume still wasn’t as good as the first Valkyrie Profile, but it was still the second best SRPG of the year.

I’ve always been an Onechanbara fan, and the latest entry into the series, Bikini Zombie Slayers is not only old school hack and slash fun, but the game makes amazing use of the Wii’s controls. It also has a ton of unlockables and far more replay value than you might image. Best of all, this was a budget title and 2009 seemed to be the year of cheaper budget games actually being superior to a lot of full priced titles.

I love Gauntlet. I love Pokemon. I love the Royal Rumble. So it’s no surprise that Pokemon Rumble was a game I felt in love with the first time Ambrella sent me a beta copy back in July. Four player multiplayer is hilarious and awesome all at the same time, and although the game is pretty easy at the beginning, there is a ton of customization and the game gets pretty hard in later levels. It’s not an RPG, but it’s mind beat ’em up fun. Think River City Ransom with cock fighting instead of high schoolers.

Although I didn’t give Adventures To Go a super high score when I reviewed, I’m still constantly picking it up and playing it. It’s got roguelike dungeons, random battles, tactical gameplay, and a cute little story even if the man character is a total prick. There is something about this game that has sucked me in and kept it in one of my PSP’s since I picked it up. Sadly, it’s a Gamestop exclusive, so you’ll have to do some searching to see if one actually has a copy.

Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout is another one of those budget titles that surpasses most of the full priced titles on the Wii. This was the first truly high quality exercise game made exclusively for the Wii and I have played it more than any other game on that system this year. It’s dynamic two Wiimote control system ensures you will get an actual workout without restricting your upper body movement like Wii Fit and EA Active often does. At $19.99, you’ll get a real workout and at only a fraction of the price those expensive scams are offered at.

Phantasy Star Portable is another game I didn’t give a super high score to, but that I played the shit out of. If you’re in the know, you can get online with this game, and I ended up playing this with a lot of friends. In fact, it’s through this game that I actually got to “know” D.J., and he eventually became a DHGF staffer. My Robot Ranger, who looked almost exactly like Jushin “Thunder” Liger was in constant demand due to most of the people playing being straight up close combat characters. A really fun game and exactly what the original Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast should have been.

Crimson Gem Saga was easily the best traditional RPG I played this year. It was witty, charming, offered some nice twists to turn based gameplay and the story had me laughing out loud at times. If you own a PSP you need to experience this game. CGS was by far the best game released for the PSP this year and this was a pretty good year for the PSP, as long as you ignore the mishandling of the PSPGO.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor was a great twist on Megaten. It is only the second Megaten game to feature tactical gameplay and anyone who has ever played Soul Hackers will fall in love with this immediately. The gameplay was really innovative, the story sucked me in, and I loved how many different multiple endings you could get. This was definitely the best Megaten title since the original Digitial Devil Saga and for some time I thought it was going to be my outright GOTY.

Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver will be out in the US in 2010 and considering these are remakes/upgrades of the most popular Pokemon game of all time, I’m sure it’ll be on the list of several of our staff next year when they can play it. Even better, the game uses the Pokemon Crystal storyline. Pokemon Gold, Silver and Crystal is easily the best portable RPG ever made, in terms of what innovation and creativity compared to what was possible (or rather, thought possible) in it’s time. HGSS might not be AS innovative, but there are so many things added to this game, it really does stand out as the best Pokemon game ever made. Plus, free Pokewalker! Can’t beat that.

Finally, we’re at #1. If you had ever told me my Game of the Year would be a licensed title, I’d have laughed at you. if you had said it would be a Batman title, I’d have been extremely skeptical. if you had told me it would be an Eidos title, I’d have probably kicked your ass. But here we are and here it is. Before now, there were only two Batman games I can honestly say I enjoyed. The old NES Batman and Batman: Vengeance for the Nintendo Gamecube.

Take one part old school beat ’em up, one part Paul Dini, one part Bruce Timm, one part Mark Hamill, and one part Kevin Conroy, stick in a blender and you get … well, you’d get four counts of murder and bit of Double Dragon stuck in them, but you get the idea.

Boasting some of the best graphics of the year with reto gameplay and the nostalgia of Batman: The Animated Series and you have an amazing experience that you can’t help but love almost instantly. There are over 100 riddles to solve, courtesy of Edward Nygma, and a lot of classic Batman villains and allies to encounter. We even get obscure people from Dan Slott’s Arkham Asylum: Living Hell graphic novel and in jokes like Ra Ah-Ghul’s body disappearing after a certain point of the game. There is nothing this game does wrong and it is simply fantastic. Of course the PS3 version is the way to go, thanks to the ability to play as the Joker, but even if you get the 360 or PS3 versions, you’re in for an amazing experience.







2 responses to “2009 Year in Review Staff Commentaries”

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