Here we are: The beginning of 2010. Now that 2009 is officially done and over with, it’s time to reveal the winners of Diehard GameFAN’s 2009 Gaming Awards. Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We all debated, squabbled, eventually voted and in the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head…but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. If you are interested in a specific staff member’s pick, you can always read our individual staff commentaries. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2009.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 2 EXCLUSIVE GAME
The PS2 release calendar is beginning to thin out. While last year’s PS2 GOTY roster was generally quite solid, this year’s list was meager and full of games that, in prior years, would not have even merited a consideration for such an award. Truly, the system is coming into the final year or so of its lifespan, and great console-specific releases are few and far between as developers begin to fully shift their focus to the 360, the PS3 and the Wii. Every so often, though, in the dying days of a console, a developer will step up and drop out one last exceptional release, giving the console the final farewell it deserves and allowing the fans of the console to send it out on one last high note before moving on to their new generation of systems for good.
Melty Blood: Actress Again is that game for the PS2, which is a shame, since US players won’t be seeing it.
The Melty Blood series in general is one that, outside of the English-translated PC release, hasn’t been brought stateside except as an import, despite a surprisingly healthy tournament circuit in the US, and Actress Again is the best of the lot. The visuals are not technically impressive, and there are a few issues here and there that keep the game from achieving perfection, but with a massive roster, one of the most robust game mechanic sets I’ve seen in a fighting game, and some outstanding characters and aesthetic elements, the game is an outstanding swan song for the PS2 that is unlikely to be topped by any other PS2 exclusive title for the duration of the console’s life. What few games remain in the system’s lifespan are either multi-console or unlikely to set the world ablaze, leaving Melty Blood: Actress Again to be one of the very last exclusive games to really make the PS2 sing. That it won’t be finding its way stateside unless a publisher tries to cash in on the underground US popularity is expected, if no less unfortunate, as Melty Blood: Actress Again, make no mistake, earned this award without a doubt.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 3 EXCLUSIVE GAME
For years, Japanese developer From Software has collected a very specific assortment of fans, both foreign and domestic, by way of their moody, against-all-odds action dungeon crawler series, King’s Field. Much like many of the developer’s niche franchises, the King’s Field games were not for everyone, but if you “got it”, you love them. The usually punishing difficulty, drudging pace, and almost complete lack of instruction as what the player should do in all of the four games’ murky, monster inhabited dungeons singled the franchise out as the domain of only the truly dedicated player.
Demon’s Souls, the alleged spiritual continuation of the vision From established in the King’s Field games, carries its torch highly, and not only is it heavily painted with copious amounts of difficulty, dread, and atmosphere that fans of the developer’s cult dungeon hack have been missing since the 2002 release The Ancient City, it also easily sets itself up as a game the current generation of players can certainly be interested in. The game is hard, often brutally so, but in a way the player can adjust to, while the direction and narrative are more focused, and combining this with an interesting artistic aesthetic makes the game a wonderful experience when you really start to “get” the game. While true fans may still pine for an actual King’s Field 5, Demon’s Souls is a beautifully portrayed and expertly crafted fantasy of the most brutal proportions that simply must be played to be believed.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME
Wow. When did people start liking Monster Hunter? A couple years ago it was a game people openly mocked for being bizarre and needlessly hard. Now the game is drawing a surprisingly high aggregated score on review tracking websites and here we are, awarding Monster Hunter Freedom Unite PSP Game of the Year. It’s like some sort of bizarre Virginia Slims advertisement. You know, put up some screenshots of the original PS2 game in sepia tone, Photoshop a cigarette in Rathian’s mouth and a caption reading, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” That sort of thing.
In all seriousness, though, Monster Hunter has really come into its own on the PSP. The PS2 game was a bizarre product, and while the online play was a nice feature, the game attached to it put off so many players that it ended up being a massive flop for Capcom. The Monster Hunter Freedom series is generally a good bit more accessible, between some general gameplay tweaks, a good bit of balancing of monster difficulty, and a significant amount of expansion of the overall game world itself. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is, in all respects, the culmination of that effort, and is fantastic because of that. The world is as expansive as ever and adds in some new locales in which to hunt giant monsters, there are a whole lot of new equipment sets and weapons to build and utilize, there are more skills to build your character and items to use, and of course the monster list has been fleshed out significantly. This particular iteration of the game introduces the G-Rank quests, which are amazingly high-difficulty missions that can wipe out cocky players in seconds. This is a great challenge for the player who thinks they’re the best of the best. The scale of difficulty from beginning to end is pretty fantastic, as the game is more than happy to ease you into the experience with garbage monsters before throwing you into the thick of things, both alone and with friends.
While the series still isn’t a friendly one to all players, it’s progressed dramatically in the past several years, developing into a fantastic franchise that offers an amazing amount of depth and substance for a handheld game about killing giant monsters. I can’t even begin to count the amount of hours I’ve lost to the franchise at this point, and it’s great to see that enough of the staff went through the same experience and decided to award the game the honor it deserved. Congratulations to Capcom and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, and here’s hoping Monster Hunter Tri is on this list next year.
BEST XBOX 360 EXCLUSIVE GAME
Shadow Complex winning this year’s game of the year for 360 just goes to show how much effort Microsoft has put into its arcade game line up. It also shows that the retail exclusives for the 360 were not that impressive. Even with two Halo franchise releases this year, Shadow Complex rose to win the title.
Shadow Complex had a lot of things going for it: nostalgic Metroidvania gameplay, a ten hour campaign with some replayability, and last but certainly not least, its $15 price point. That’s right, this year’s winner is a game that is recession proof. Why scour through used games at your local game store when you can pick up new games for the same price. Is the price the only reason this game was great? Of course not. This game provided some amazing graphics and gameplay. I played through the campaign twice so that should be a little telling of how awesome it is. My first play through consisted of me just getting through the story. The story is based off a novel called Empire. It basically is what happens when the left and right decide to go to war. It wasn’t really that deep but it moved the game along. My second time around was about collecting every hidden item. There were a lot of these throughout the entire complex. After finding them I was rewarded with gold weapons. The proving grounds added some additional replayability as well with some unique to test your abilities.
This game proves that an arcade title doesn’t have to be a rehash of old game or some simple puzzle game. Shadow Complex provided everything you expect from a retail game with a fraction of the price. This game was lacking in multiplayer modes but it did allow you to compete in scores with your other XBOX live friends. Even without multiplayer, this game did have me running, double jumping, and swinging all over the place for hours without end. Overall this is what I hope to see more of on the XBOX live arcade. It sets the bar pretty high for future releases.
BEST PC EXCLUSIVE GAME
Demigod was just one of those games that came out of the blue. Not only was it fun to play, but the real-time mechanics were a breath of fresh air. They managed to find the right balance of fast-paced mayhem and strategy that is so often lacking in a real-time strategy game, and it does it in spades.
Imagine controlling one of several demigods vying for power and placed on a battlefield. You and your minions are out to wipe the floor with your competition. There was just something thrilling about commanding a living castle or any of the others really that brought on a feeling of power.
The quick thinking and decreased emphasis on button-mashing was very welcome as most of the real-time strategy games I’ve played end up being who can hit their keys the fastest. There was enough variety and customization in each bout, that it really was a game about being able to counter or dish out more than the other guy, but without having to go to insane lengths to achieve that goal.
Visually the game is amazingly well done and even has a cinematic feel to it and the levels are each uniquely designed. There are many reasons to love this game.
BEST NINTENDO WII EXCLUSIVE GAME
A Boy and His Blob represents everything that can make a Wii game great, even in the face of the other consoles’ juggernauts. It’s a charming game with impeccable gameplay and superb art direction. There are many things to praise in this game, starting with the marvelous story. Relying only on beautiful imagery to tell the sweet tale of a boy helping an alien blob save his world, the game successfully makes you care about speechless characters, simply because of the style and personality oozing from every aspect of gameplay. Was there another game in 2009 that made it possible for you to hug your sidekick just for the fun of it? I didn’t think so.
A Boy and His Blob also managed to prove that 2-D gaming could look just as good as its 3-D brother if the art is right. Using detailed, colourful backgrounds and great animations, the game made everything look just as fluid as any cartoon you can see on television these days.
The gameplay was second to none when compared to its contemporaries. The jellybeans and their effects on your blob opened a world of possibilities in terms of puzzles and level design the like of which I had not seen since platforming went 3-D in the 90’s. Not only was it good enough to challenge serious gamers – the original game could defeat any gamer careless enough to mismanage his jellybeans – but it also becomes accessible this time around by removing the restrictions on your arsenal of sweets.
Don’t let the “E” rating on the box and the colourful graphics fool you. In a year where the Wii finally proved that it was more than a kiddies console with quality mature titles like Madworld, Onechanbara and The House of the Dead: Overkill, A Boy And His Blob shows that greatness can come with any rating. The development team at WayForward truly did an incredible job on updating this classic game and giving it a modern feel while still preserving everything that made the original so good to begin with.
With the original now available on the Virtual Console and this amazing update’s impressive showing, we can safely say that 2009 was the year of the blob for Wii gamers.
– Guy Desmarais
BEST NINTENDO DS EXCLUSIVE GAME
The DS has seen a number of quality games this year, and it was a tough call between this and The Legendary Starfy, The Dark Spire, and Henry Hatsworth. While all the nominees were strong contenders, ultimately Devil Survivor prevailed.
Devil Survivor is a bit of a departure from other games in the Megaten series, as it throws in some strategy RPG into the usual traditional RPG mix. Though the story unfolds in seven days and at a fairly fast pace, you’re afforded plenty of time to wander around and grind as you please, with the exception of certain events and battles. You could even advance the clock if you’re in a rush, but by doing that you could end up on missing out on some events and battles. The confined setting provides plenty of opportunities for fleshing out each character, and whether you like a specific character or not, you’re at least given enough to be able to understand why they act as they do. The multiple story branches and endings (It’s possible to end the game prematurely) run the full spectrum of alignments, and going through and seeing them all serves as incentive for multiple playthroughs quite well.
While there’s no equipment or inventory to deal with, fusing to get the desired abilities on a demon and picking the right ones for the impending battle can take a while in itself. Being able to select which abilities the resulting demon will inherit helps in that regard, and you could even negate any inherent weaknesses with some strategic fusing. Of course, it’s a matter of finding the demon with the right ability who is also eligible to be part of said fusion. The fusion search feature made finding the right combinations for the desired fusions much easier, which is especially useful considering you’ll be doing a lot of fusing, as leveling up demons eventually becomes an exercise of diminishing returns once they learn all their skills. Add in skill cracking and being able to copy a skill onto a demon at certain points, and the possibilities become even more vast. The battle system blends traditional and strategy RPG elements quite nicely into an engrossing game and a strong entry in the SMT franchise.
BEST MULTI-CONSOLE GAME
Although the majority of multi-console games are generally third rate titles based around a movie, book, or cartoon license, there is always a nice little minority that proves a game can be awesome even when it’s not a system exclusive. There were several games that year that could be enjoyed no matter what console you owned or considered the best, but as the year comes to a close, Batman: Arkham Asylum proved to be the best.
Batman: Arkham Asylum did so many things this year, it’s hard to list them all. It revived the once dying Beat ‘Em Up genre and brought it from a niche subsect of gaming back to its mainstream glory days when Double Dragon, River City Ransom and X-Men: The Arcade Game were all the rage. It gave Eidos a high quality game that critics and gamers could both applaud; a nice change of pace considering the controversial last few years the publisher has had regarding ratings and game reviews. It gave us our first truly good Batman game in years, and it did it in more ways that with just gameplay and graphics. Batman: Arkham Asylum gave Batman fans an amazing amount of content that could be enjoyed by the casual fan that just knows Batman as a billionaire with dead parents to the hardcore fans with homages and little references that only they would get. Best of all, Rocksteady Studios went out of its way to make all Batman fans happy, and you can see this with the Neal Adams meets Jim Lee style artwork, but also with the use of several actors from the 1990’s Batman: The Animated Series tv show. Mark Hamill + Kevin Conroy = Batman fan service to the Nth degree. In the end, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of those rare few games that did nothing wrong, and managed to surpass expectations in every way possible.
Sure Playstation 3 owners got the better overall deal thanks to the Joker downloadable content, but even if you played Batman: Arkham Asylum on the 360, you were able to play one of the best games released in 2009, and you could do it without having a systems war pissing contest. It doesn’t get much better than that.
BEST SPORTS GAME
There were arguably other sports games than UFC Undisputed that could have earned this title, such as NHL 2010. However there have been years of excellent NHL games. Even NBA, MLB, and NFL games have come out over the years that have ranged range from good to great. Undisputed marks the first time a UFC game was done exceptionably well.
That’s right, I said the first time. I played the games on the Dreamcast and Playstation. None of them came close to capturing the human chess game that makes up Mixed Martial Arts. Nearly every fight on the Dreamcast game ended in under a minute, maybe two minutes if both players were highly skilled. It was ridiculous and came as close to resembling Mixed Martial Arts as Blitz: The League was to Monday Night Football. Years of similar games with poor graphics, few modes, and a fighting system that was past its prime was all that any UFC fan had to look forward to.
Then finally THQ got the license. At first there was some concern over the fact that Yukes and THQ were known more for creating pro-wrestling games than something like UFC. Amazingly they developed a fighting system that captured what previous attempts failed to do: it felt like an MMA game. Striking, grappling, and submissions were all important. Having a game plan and exploiting the weaknesses of an opponent were all important. This was especially when facing someone online. When paired up against someone of equal skill, I had some epic drag out fights, and those with greater skill showed me the holes in my game I needed to work on.
While there is still some work that is needs to be done on the series, namely in the lackluster career mode and online balancing issues, UFC Undisputed 2009 was the first time that a really good MMA game was released on a home console and gave hope for a future of future UFC game releases.
BEST FIGHTING GAME
I almost consider myself unqualified to write about this game in a definitive way. I’m far from being our fighting game expert at DHGF; Mark and Alex would probably turn me into a theoretical splatter mark on the wall. The last fighting game I truly studied and got very good at was Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast. Before that, it was Killer Instinct.
BlazBlue changed all that. I’m a bit of a graphics whore when it comes to fighting games, and can easily be fooled by pretty looking sprites. BlazBlue definitely provided that, with hand-drawn sprites that looked gorgeous in action, but there was more to the game than that; otherwise, I’d be writing about King of Fighters XII in this space.
When I bought BlazBlue, I bought the deluxe edition that came with a DVD that fully explained all the things you could do with the game’s mechanics. There’s a lot to learn, different types of combos, counters, you name it. It’s like Guilty Gear and Killer Instinct got drunk and had a love child. Combine all that with sharp controls and the underrated mapping of special moves to the right stick (for simpletons like me who don’t have arcade sticks with macros programmed in), and you had the Othello of fighting games. It takes a minute to learn, and a lifetime to master.
As I’ve stated prior, I don’t have the expertise with fighting games that some of the others on this site have. For God’s sake, I even lose to Aileen in Soul Calibur sometimes, and she might as well be hitting the controls with her breasts. I sure don’t play them as much as I used to. I do know this: BlazBlue is the first time I’ve cared about a fighting game in ten years.
… Now that I think of it, I think I realize why I was the one tasked into writing about BlazBlue.
BEST ROLE-PLAYING GAME
A good story is integral to any good role playing game. Dragon Age‘s gameplay, like its story, is familiar but not quite the same as your father’s CRPG.
Bioware decided to ditch everything they had with Dungeons and Dragons and that includes both story and gameplay. The end result was an entirely new system from scratch.
Combat is now more dynamic. It is faster paced with a greater emphasis on stunning, crowd control, flanking and above all, teamwork. You’ll need to be quick with your keyboard (or just pause the game and issues orders) and your tactics if you want to succeed in saving Ferelden from the Darkspawn Horde.
The Origin stories are a stroke of genius and offer great replay value as everyone, including your own party members, treat you differently depending on who you are. Don’t expect humans to like you if you’re a “filthy” elf, for example. Your stats and classes differ slightly depending on your choice (Dwarves are strong but cannot be mages..etc) which makes Dragon Age one of the few games I’d play through multiple times despite its length just to see how the intricate world looks like from a different set of (metaphorical) eyes.
Here’s hoping Bioware make a sequel and implement the Mass Effect carry over system!
BEST FIRST PERSON GAME
There are a lot of things to like about Borderlands: the spot on controls, the nice graphics, and the Diablo-esque weapon drops. What keeps players piling onto the planet of Pandora is something else and that’s the cooperative gameplay. What has been attempted many times previously is executed to its zenith for the first time on a console. Split screen is fun, but a four player party Skrag hunting in the Badlands, where you are splitting loot and protecting each other’s back is a very special sort of pleasure.
There were bigger name first person games this year, but none held my attention like Borderlands. There was always one more side quest, one more enemy enclave, and a dozen more guns to collect. For the obsessive compulsive shooter enthusiast, the need to get better and better firearms becomes insatiable. Luckily, Borderlands tries its damnedest to sate that thirst.
With DLC already out and more on the way, not to mention a sequel, Borderlands is here to stay. Time to either get on the bus or get left behind.
BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER
Here’s another category we’re quite thrilled to see surging again. Back in the day when the shooter genre meant you jumped into a spaceship (or various other aircrafts) and shot down a ridiculous number of enemies and tackled humungous bosses, arcades and consoles saw their fair share of these titles. Even though the genre has fallen in popularity, recent ports from Japan has given us a healthy amount of quality arcade shooters. 2009 brought us this group of phenomenal shmup titles. DUX proved what the Dreamcast was made of with powerful visuals and solid gameplay. Ultimate Shooting Collection brought three of Milestone’s best recent shooters over to us in one package. R-Type Dimensions showed companies how to bring retro games onto current systems correctly and Raiden IV upped the ante on one of the genre’s most endearing series. While all four of these titles are easy recommendations to anyone interested in the genre, in the end, the staff sided with Raiden IV.
Raiden IV has a little something for players of any skill level, as beginners intimidated by bullet hell can play a mode where the enemy ships do not fire and experts can crank up the difficulty to take part in a hellacious mission. The title perhaps gives more options to players than they can find in most other titles in the genre and its challenging nature no doubt keeps fans of the genre coming back. The Xbox 360 hardware allows the game to be flashy and the home title adds to the original experience by adding in new levels, while still keeping the original arcade progression intact. Even amongst some tough competition this year, Raiden IV offers up a lot and the end result is nothing but satisfying if you like to sink your teeth into a shooter every now and again.
BEST ACTION GAME
The formula for a successful action game is pretty cut and dry on paper but pretty hard to implement when all is said and done. You need simple but addictive gameplay that a gamer of any skill level can learn even if they can’t master it. You need camera angles that enhance the game rather than leave the gamer swearing profusely. You need a gripping story that keeps a gamer enthralled even when the game itself gets a bit repetitive. Finally, you need to wrap it all up in a package that is equal parts innovation and familiarity. Sadly the vast majority of action games tend to be quite lackluster, but every year we get a few that showcase just what this genre in capable of. In 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum was not only the best of the best in this genre, but one of the best Beat ‘Em Ups ever.
Although Beat ‘Em Ups are often cited as “button mashers,” Batman: Arkham Asylum defied this stereotype by having a pretty deep combat system, a rpg like experience system, a strong emphasis on stealth based combat as an alternative to in your face ass kicking and of course, the “Riddler Challenges.” This last aspect was such a simple yet innovative idea that it quickly became my favorite part of the game. The detective side of Batman has always been my favourite aspect of the character and being able to really delve into this side was a wonderful experience that was neatly balanced out with attempts to string together 50-hit combos or swooping down from a gargoyle to one hit KO some cheap punk. There’s also the combat and stealth challenges outside the main game which allow people that have already beaten the game to still challenge their mettle. Of course I can’t forget the voice acting talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill or the sheer amount of fan service in this game either.
It’s hard to think of a game released in 2009 that offered not only this many layers and options, but did so with such excellence. With this in mind, it’s no wonder Batman: Arkham Asylum took our Action Game of the Year award. Kudos to Rocksteady Studios for making such an incredible game.
BEST ADVENTURE GAME
Tales of Monkey Island holds a special place in the hearts of adventure gamers. So going into reviewing the Tales of Monkey Island series, we regarded it with a skeptical eye. Thankfully Telltale Games didn’t disappoint. What we got was a great and worthy successor to the original series and it was handled beautifully.
The change to a 3D set-up was pretty smooth and didn’t detract too much from the presentation, the game was as witty as ever, and the puzzles were challenging and pretty original. Guybrush and crew haven’t had it this good in a long time.
Not only was this series challenging, but it was also fun to play and overall addicting. Add into the mix that it was very family friendly, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Telltale did an amazing job on this game and we look forward to seeing more from them.
BEST RHYTHM GAME
Since the rise of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, we’ve seen the genre crowded with imitations that fail to deliver, leaving most people to bank on one of the two series for rhythm game of the year every year since 2005. While genre started to go stagnant again, the past few years have brought us a number of other unique titles and 2009 wasn’t much different. A few great (and previously import-only) titles in Rhythm Heaven, DJ Max and Pop’n Music finally surfaced in the U.S. While it didn’t perform as well, Masya Matsuura brought the very unique Major Minor’s Majestic March and Japan received Hatsune Miku: Project Diva, along with more Taiko no Tatsujin titles and beatmania IIDX 16 EMPRESS. That doesn’t even take into consideration some of the fantastic arcade titles the rhythm genre added to its ranks in 2009 such as beatmania IIDX 17 SIRIUS, DJ Max Technika and more.
Our four nominees were among the best domestic titles we were able to review this year and three of those are honest efforts to reinvent games we’ve seen in the past. Even though both Rhythm Heaven and Karaoke Revolution were a great introduction to a popular Japanese series and a successful transformation into a fresher series respectively, our universal voting brought Rock Band: Unplugged and The Beatles: Rock Band to a tie. Putting in the tiebreaking vote, I found it easy to vote Unplugged over The Beatles: Rock Band. Unplugged moved the series to a new direction, appealing to the Frequency/Amplitude fan in most dedicated music gamers, all the while crafting one of the best portable music game experiences in video gaming. Very few modern portable music games can touch Unplugged in terms of quality and the presence of Unplugged gave the PSP system quite a surge, bringing the system a dedicated download stream for the first time.
So our nod this year goes to Rock Band: Unplugged. The title fought against some great competition this year, but it was clearly ahead of the pack giving a new spin on the Rock Band series and providing one of the most fun and addicting portable experiences of the year.
Our nominees for this category read like a who’s who of awesome in 2009. Punch-Out!!! A Boy and His Blob! A remake of the best Pokemon game ever! All three of these games were released in 2009, and they were all in this award category. None of them won.
That’s how great Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection was. It contained forty Genesis games, including some all time classics such as Phantasy Stars II-IV, Beyond Oasis, Gain Ground and all three Streets of Rage games, were included on this disc, with only a few “stinkers” that are inevitable in a compilation like this. In addition to that, there were nine other games, ranging from Master System games (including Phantasy Star, completing the pentology) to arcade classic (including the amazing Shinobi and Fantasy Zone). There were also interviews with the original creators of most of the classic games, and other assorted unlockables. For the cost conscious, this was $30 new, and if you go to stores nowadays, it costs less than $20.
In my line of work, we call that a steal. It’s not only the best in a line of amazing remakes and re-releases, it rates as one of the greatest of all time, up on a pedestal with the likes of the PS2 Activision Collection, to be praised routinely, and taken from its perch only for yet another sojourn into the system.
Not everybody likes platformers: it’s a genre that has its roots in the early days of video games, when fancy stories were an afterthought and getting a character from point A to point B was all the motivation one needed to keep sinking quarters into a machine. With all the evolutions gaming has seen in the past 25 years, I guess it can be harder and harder to love a genre that embraces its bottomless pits and tough jumps so much.
Still, 2009 proved that platformers are still relevant and just as entertaining as anything else on the market: from the ambitious genre-mixing of Harry Hatsworth to the challenging levels of Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? and the pure fun and charm of The Legendary Starfy, there was a little bit of everything for gamers everywhere to rediscover the genre.
The true winner however this year is A Boy And His Blob, a game which takes a little bit of everything that made these other games great: it intelligently mixes platforms and puzzles, offers some challenging levels and it is filled to the brim with charm and personality.
A Boy And His Blob does offer some of the platform jumping action that gave the genre its letters, but it also brilliantly uses a gimmick that requires you to feed your blob with different jellybeans in order to change its shape and accurately solve the puzzles presented to you. This facet of gameplay alone breathes some fresh air into a genre which sometimes love to rehash its own ideas more than necessary.
If you want to rediscover platform games, you can’t go wrong with any of our nominees. If you only want the best however, you can be sure that A Boy And His Blob will provide you with everything that makes the genre fun, and even more.
BEST HORROR GAME
The horror genre is a very wide-open genre, regardless of media. While video games tend to gravitate toward the Aliens style of, “give the player lots of heavy weapons and unleash millions of enemies upon them” horror, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some solid competitors in other categories. That said, however, this year was basically all about killing everything that moves, as three of the four nominees for Best Horror were all about this very concept. This isn’t a bad thing, per say, as I and my cohorts love us some mass monster genocide, but it’s always nice to see some variety in the category, even if the nominees this time around are all pretty good. In the end, Resident Evil 5 took top honors in the category, which is honestly not that surprising. Despite some solid competition this year, Resident Evil 5 was pretty much an outstanding game across the board that offered a more robust, more enjoyable and more horrific experience than its competitors.
Resident Evil 5 was essentially Resident Evil 4 with modified mechanics and a shorter story mode. While the lack of innovation and shorter campaign were a bit depressing, they were more than compensated for by the fact that the game featured split-screen co-op and all sorts of online play modes, which was something Resident Evil had been begging for: GOOD MULTIPLAYER. Horror gaming alone is fun and all, especially when the lights are low and some gigantic monster bursting through the wall makes your heart jump into your throat, but when you AND a friend are spazzing out as you try and kill the aforementioned wall-breaking monstrosity, well, it’s a whole other experience. In the same way Left 4 Dead brought the simulation of terror to multiplayer FPS gaming, Resident Evil 5 brought it to action/survival horror, both in co-op missions and “The Mercenaries”, and sharing the experience of nearly getting obliterated by the infected horrors you face is an experience that really brought the game into its own instead of leaving it as a carbon copy of Resident Evil 4.
Make no mistake, the teammate concept was interesting, and the way the game is executed works quite well, but without the ability to bring a friend into the game, Resident Evil 5 is simply a pretty coat of paint on the prior game. That the game is exponentially more interesting in every way with a friend is outstanding, and the fact that this makes encounters no less terrifying a sizable portion of the time is a good thing. The game does the right things to improve itself over its predecessor while retaining many of the things that made that game great. While the game doesn’t deliver the sort of terror that appeals to everyone, there’s nothing quite like the sensation of ripping through a horde of Lickers with a friend, saving each other from near-death all the while, and coming out of it alive.
BEST ALL-AGES GAME
With most of the games getting publicity these days being rated “Teen” or “Mature”, it can be hard to find a decent game that will be fun for the whole family, let alone a great one. Still, 2009 had a lot to offer on that front. There was the timeless gameplay of Space Bust-A-Move, the deceptively deep and addictive Pokémon Platinum and the amazing Wii Sports Resort, which is always a hit at a party. All of these games embodied the qualities we want from a game for the whole family: a universal theme that has a reach beyond one’s age, and gameplay that is accessible but challenging enough for the majority of gamers. Still, none of these game represent these qualities as well as A Boy And His Blob.
Featuring an “animated movie” art style that is sure to charm kids and adults alike, A Boy And His Blob shows that pretty colours and intelligent gameplay can go hand in hand. The superb level design is guaranteed to keep even the harshest gamers coming back while the fantastic characters and story are sure to be a hit with just about everybody.
Quite simply, it would be hard to find a reason not to love A Boy And His Blob. It has that ageless appeal that characterizes great works of art such as Pixar movies. Sure, at first sight, if you only take a look at the box and the screenshots, you might be thinking about buying this for your kids or a younger relative. Don’t let these fool you. Within the package lies a world full of wonders and challenges that are fun for anybody who has ever held a controller, from the beginners to the advanced players.
BEST RACING GAME
Codemasters have been making excellent off road rally games for over a decade and therefore have honed the art of rally game making to perfection.
After pretty much reaching a zenith of realism with Colin McRae Rally 2005, Codemasters decided to make the series more accessible with 2007’s Colin McRae: Dirt. The blend of simulation and arcade racing, great graphics and a more “hip” interface and style worked wonders and Codemasters went to work on the sequel.
Dirt 2 is in many ways simply Dirt 1 on steroids. It features more Cars, more Tracks, more race events and improved graphics. The excellent flashback feature from sister game GRID is included and when you’re getting a bit lonely with the game’s deep career mode you can race other rally drivers with the game’s excellent online modes either in the informal “Jam Sessions” (anything goes races) or the more serious ranked races.
Forget Forza 3, Dirt 2 offers the funniest, most accessible racing thrills for 2009.
BEST DOWNLOADABLE GAME
There are two things you can count on for sure with the Pokemon franchise. The first is that there has never been a series in video game history more willing to try new things with their characters via spin-off games. The second is that their games are continuously innovative, even if they aren’t award-winners. Thankfully Pokemon Rumble is as good as it is outside the norm for a Pokemon title.
At only $15, Pokemon Rumble is one of the best gaming deals of 2009. Not only does the game contain all the Pokemon from Generations I (Red, Blue, Green and Yellow), but after beating the game, you unlock a much higher difficulty setting where you can then obtain all the Pokemon from Generation IV (Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum). The game also offers eight different stages per difficulty level, but an amazing Battle Royal mode, there really tests one’s skills. You also have the Pokemon fan service aspects, such as Shiny Pokemon, Pokemon with special abilities, and the ability to teach your characters new moves. You can also unlock new, special, and Legendary Pokemon via passwords. The game is surprisingly deep and at higher levels, it can actually be quite challenging.
Pokemon Rumble is also the first Pokemon action game, and it’s a great first foray into the genre. Pokemon Rumble is a wonderful little button masher with an amazing amount of customization and classic characters to play as. There’s also something only a long term Pokemon fan will be able to appreciate in the fact that you can have a Butterfree or Muk take out a Mewtwo or Giratina in this game. Best of all, this is a Pokemon game that even non-Pokemon fans can enjoy. The fast paced action oriented nature of the game means that people who has eschewed the turn based RPG’s now have a game that is more their style.
No matter who you are, or what your gaming preferences are, you’ll be able to find something to love about this $15 game.
BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME
For me this is a no brainer. There is no game I play more multiplayer on than Left 4 Dead 2 and original title from last year. This year there was a lot of pressure on Valve as the download content provided for the first Left 4 Dead was pretty limited before this sequel came out. There was even an organized boycott against Valve that was silenced for the most part when they sent the organizers to the studio to play the game first hand. What could have silenced these rabble rousers? It must have been the awesomeness that is Left 4 Dead 2. This game takes what Valve learned from the first game and expands some much further. While the campaign will take less than five hours to complete the multiplayer will keep you coming back for more.
Left 4 Dead 2 features four new characters and added a little more depth to the story. In addition to that there are few new special infected as well. One of greatest additions is the use of melee weapons. It has everything from machetes to frying pans. There’s even a chainsaw! Some new tools were even added to your disposal like special rounds for your weapons and defibrillators to review your dead companions. The variety of weapons in this game is pretty impressive compared to the previous game. But let’s be honest games like this are not defined by the weapons alone. It is the multiplayer game modes that make this game. This game includes the original versus and survival. The versus mode involves all new gameplay strategies with the new special infected to play as. New modes that have been added include scavenge and realism. Scavenge is a lot like versus expect you are expected to scavenge fuel while attempting to survive the horde. Realism is pretty damn hard as nothing within your environment is highlighted. This makes it nearly impossible to spot much needed weapons and medical supplies.
This probably is the only game that most of my friends have in common so it is easy for me to jump into a party and play for a couple hours. The chapters being short help for some of my friends who don’t dedicate as much of their time on games as I do. Valve has definitely proven that a sequel was a good choice as there is so much in this game that it just couldn’t fit as download content. Now let us only hope for more download content this time around instead of another sequel in 2010. When it comes to multiplayer games Valve know what it is doing and Left 4 Dead 2 only proves it hence why it get 2009’s multiplayer game of year.
BEST PUZZLE GAME
How does a puzzle/platformer hybrid end up winning best puzzle game when most of the action takes place in the platforming section?
You see, you can’t look at Henry Hatsworth as one or the other. The platforming is part of the puzzle, and the puzzle is part of the platforming. While on the surface it might look like all you need to do is match colored tiles, there really is a lot more strategy to it. You’ll need to move pieces around in order to obtain the best benefit. Do you need the extra health, or is it more important to get rid of the enemy tile that’s moving ever closer to the top of the screen? How long do you wait to switch to the puzzle realm? How long do you stay in there? Do you use your puzzle meter for ammo or do you save it up to use the giant robot suit?
All of these thoughts and so much more race through your head even as you’re making tough jumps and battling hordes of enemies. In a very real sense, the decisions you make in the puzzle realm are paramount to your success or failure.
While I’d have preferred it if Hatsworth won every award it was nominated for (and even a few it wasn’t), I can say without a doubt that it was the best puzzle game this year.
WORST GAME OF THE YEAR
What else can I say here? What can possibly be said that hasn’t been said already?
Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust attained the lowest possible score our website can give. It is the single lowest-scoring game I’ve ever reviewed. I hated the game so much that I not only wrote a massive, insulting review about how much I hated the game, but felt the need to follow that up with a twenty-plus page column on the game. The publisher thought so little of the game that they reacted to the news of their game receiving a low score dismissively, as if they EXPECTED this result. The game garnered such bad press and poor opinions from gamers that, as of this point, I’ve yet to see ANYONE come out in defense of the game.
And now, as the year comes to a close, Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust has unanimously been declared the Worst Game of the Year. UNANIMOUSLY. The worst.
Leisure Suit Larry was, at one time, a fun and enjoyable adventure game series that was designed for adults and packed with bawdy, often juvenile but rarely immature humor. Sierra is known for publishing some fantastic PC games, be they adventure or otherwise, throughout their history as a company. Codemasters has published some good and great games, like Overlord and DIRT 2, and has managed to build themselves up from creating the Game Genie into a notable publishing company. Team 17 essentially created the Worms series, and has made plenty of good games, and hell, they just released Alien Breed: Evolution on Xbox Live, which is quite fun and reminiscent of games like Alien Syndrome and Smash TV, while also managing to be entertaining some years after those games were considered ancient.
This game stands as an affront to all of that. This game spits on the achievements of these companies, these intellectual properties, and the people associated with them. This game spits on Al Lowe. Everyone involved in allowing this abomination to see the light of day should be GODDAMN ASHAMED of themselves. EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. You have spit on the life’s work of a man who, by all indications, did not deserve it, all in service of the almighty dollar. This game did not DESERVE to exist, and the fact that you published it when developers like Blizzard have the heart to say, “We sunk millions of dollars into this game, but it sucks, so we’re scrapping it” speaks volumes about what sort of people you are, and none of what it says is very kind.
Just so you know.
On the other hand, hey, I officially own a game NO ONE wants to play, and I know people who willingly played Batman: Dark Tomorrow, so that’s something, at least.
CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
2009 saw the presence of a lot of memorable characters in the video game world. None of them captured our attention like the Dark Knight. Batman: Arkham Asylum isn’t the first example of the Caped Crusader in videogames, but Rocksteady was spot-on in their depiction of him. The graphics team created an armored Batman that could have stepped out of the comic books. Kevin Conroy again lent his voice to Batman, and there is no other performance that resonates as his does. Rocksteady put out a game that, while not actually canon, could have been sandwiched between any number of comic books or animated episodes without missing a beat.
It is said that you judge a hero by his enemies, and some of Batman’s best are on display. Arkham Asylum locked Batman up with the brute monstrosity that is Bane and the toxic seductress of Poison Ivy. He faced the murderous Mr. Zsasz and fear-obsessed Scarecrow. The main event, as always in Batman’s mythos, is the Joker. The conflict of the rigid, lockstep order of Batman against the chaotic madness of the Joker sets up many of the best sequences in the game.
One of the best of these might come in the early hours of Arkham Asylum. Batman chases down the Joker, who is standing on an elevator cage over a lethally-deep pit. Joker offers Batman one free toss, one free batarang toss. Kill me, says the Joker, and the madness stops now. All Batman has to do is cross the boundary and become a killer, change everything that he believes in, and he can stop the one man crime wave before it goes further. It is a wonderful moment, and it perfectly encapsulates so much about Batman and the world he inhabits. Well done, Rocksteady.
In my mind, the offices for Bioware have a fork in the hallway. To the right are all the high tech supercomputers, collating graphics engines while smoking programmers code tirelessly. To the left would be a giant library, full of leather chairs and warmed by a huge fireplace. Bioware has always been the company to go to for story. Anyone that can’t build a game is ushered quietly over to this side of the office where they can just write. Bioware doesn’t just create games; they create worlds. Dragon Age: Origins is no exception. Quick, name me any other game out there with the amount of story that this game offers. You can’t. Not a bit is out of place, either. Bioware took the standard trappings of fantasy and turned them inside out. Pointy-eared Elves? Check. Bearded dwarves? Check. Humans who for some reason are in charge? Check. Orcs, goblins, talking trees, werewolves, magic, ancient Evil, etc? Check. Then come the twists. The elves are second-class citizens. The humans are almost as cruel and greedy as the villains. Magic isn’t a blessing, but a curse, one that might end up with you held down while parts of your brain are cut out. You are thrust into this familiar yet forbidding world, and you love every moment of it.
Bioware wasn’t satisfied with just creating an epic game world, however. In my mind, what won this category for Dragon Age: Origins were the prologue stories. Each character archetype has a distinct, fully realized prologue. While other games might be satisfied with a voice over or a bit of rendered animation for the intro, Dragon Age: Origins puts you firmly in the shoes of your character to endure some of the most harrowing video game events I’ve ever witnessed. Take the female city-elf prologue for instance. On the day of your wedding, you are forcibly kidnapped by some human nobles, at sword-point in front of your family. Your friends are raped, beaten, and killed right before your eyes because it was amusing. You no longer are empathizing with your character, you are your character.
It is that sense of indignation, not wonder, that locks you into the story of Dragon Age: Origins. If you opened up to it just a bit, you found yourself being pulled down the rabbit hole before you even have time to blink. We asked Bioware for a game, and they gave us a world.
2009 was a banner year for graphics in a lot of ways. Standing above the rest, on a stone gargoyle, is Batman: Arkham Asylum. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the Caped Crusader in video game form, but it is without a doubt the best. The care and attention to detail that Rocksteady Studios put into this game never fails to impress the eye.
Batman himself looked amazing. Especially his cape. There was never a moment where his cape failed to look like a cape, and not just a towel hanging off his back. The progressive damage to the costume helped show a man pushed to the end of his resources. While Batman himself may have looked very faithful to his comic-counterpart, his Rogue’s Gallery underwent one of the best redesign processes I’ve ever seen. The Joker himself was boiled down to his manic essence, and his face perfectly conveys that sense of whiplash danger that takes him from comic to killer. Harley Quinn gave up her bodysuit for a corset and garter number that looked like something out of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Perhaps the most striking change was to the Scarecrow. No longer a scrawny man stuffed with straw, Jonathan Crane’s mask has been changed into a gas mask with hollow, sunken eyes. His normal cloth has been replaced with serial-killer leathers, and his right hand ends in fingertips capped with syringes full of fear-toxin.
Even the Asylum itself deserves mention. Rocksteady did a beautiful job of melding the dark medical science of an insane asylum with the classic, gothic look of the Arkham estate. Vaulted ceilings and X-ray booths made gave the very environment a case of split-personality syndrome. They made sure that there was always something neat around the corner to look at, while at the same time hinting at the challenges that would need to be overcome in order to progress. Batman: Arkham Asylum looked awesome, and we are happy to award that achievement.
More and more people these days are judging videogames solely by their graphics. After all, screenshots and box art can’t really convey anything to our ears; just our eyes. Once you put the game in and press play, sound becomes much more important. Playing a survival horror game with the sound off removes at least half the fear. Similarly, action games and first person shooters rely on good sound design to keep players interested at least as much as graphics. Batman: Arkham Asylum is no exception. It won our Best Audio award, and probably did so for two main reasons. Kevin Conroy IS Batman. Mark Hamill IS the Joker. Through all of the other incarnations of the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime, no pair has been as memorable or iconic as these two. The fact that their performances are entirely audio and not visual only adds to the strength of their characterization.
Batman and the Joker will spar face to face, but you also can collect audio logs throughout the game featuring interviews with Arkham staff, other patients, and Joker himself. While the game might focus on Batman and Mr. J, the secondary characters all turn in marvelous performances as well. Particularly Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, but Wally Wingert’s turn as the Riddler is particularly memorable. Although he is seen in the game, the voice performance still gives you everything you need to know about the condescending, riddle-obsessed Edward Nigma. The voice acting in this game is flawless.
An early scene in the game sets the tone for how perfect the voice acting is. Having just watched Joker walk through a controlled gate, Batman grumbles that he doesn’t like how easy Joker gave up. Joker, walking with a guard, stumbles to the ground on purpose. When the guard tries to pull him up, Joker emits a low, menacing, animalistic growl and breaks loose. Welcome to the Madhouse, indeed.
Let’s wind the clock back a year. When we were first starting to get videos from the Asylum and seeing the punishment inflicted on those poor little henchmen, did anyone ever think that the beautiful, free-flow combat was going to be controlled by just one little button? I sure didn’t. I expected the combos to require perfect timing and a mastery of most of the buttons on the controller. What a revelation to be wrong. The one button, free flow combat of Arkham Asylum was glorious, and a perfect example of the phrase, “easy to learn, hard to master.”Â Once you got it down though, each fight became a ballet of blows, a theater of technique.
You can’t give all the credit to the combat engine for winning this award though. In fact, even more fun than the fighting was the Silent Predator areas. Batman has always been about striking fear into the hearts of ordinary criminals. His method of deterrence is the little worry that if he catches you selling drugs, you’re going to wake up in the Intensive Care Ward without the use of your legs. The Silent Predator sections capture that to a T. Zipping up to a gargoyle, dropping down to ruin someone’s dental work, and leaving their unconscious body for a friend to find is awesome. Batman: Arkham Asylum truly nailed the “Out of the Shadows”Â aspect of Batman.
Finally, you can’t talk about how good the controls of this game were without mentioning those wonderful toys. Nearly all of Batman’s coolest gadgets are on display, from the humble Batarang to sonic-lock pick to Bat-explosive gel. Even the Batmobile does service as a weapon in one scene. From the grapnel gun to all the tricks in the costume itself, players were put in total control of the Caped Crusader. This game condensed a lifetime of training in martial arts, detective work, acrobatics, and intimidation into one smooth, perfect gaming experience.
SYSTEM OF THE YEAR
Sony Playstation 3
It would be hard to deny that 2009 was the year of the Playstation 3. This system had its best overall year ever while the Wii and Xbox 360 had arguably their weakest. After floundering in last place from 2006 to 2008, Sony finally stopped resting on their laurels and egotistic expectation of blind brand loyalty to give us what we knew they were always capable of.
First up – Sony added Netflix to the PS3 and in a way that surpasses the 360 version, if only because you don’t have to pay for Xbox Live to use it. Free steaming video with no strings attached is a great option.
Next – The Playstation Network. Sony has done an incredible job of bringing gamers together this year with things like the Playstation Blog and Home has proven to be an incredible success.
Sony also managed to make the Playstation 3 more appealing thanks to some strategic bundles, increasing the hard drive two to three times what it had been and of course, the first true price drop in the system’s history. The end result was a lot of Playstation 3’s being sold, and a lot of gamers willing to forget Sony dropped backwards compatibility in the system. It also doesn’t hurt that the PS3 is the best overall blu-ray player on the market today.
Most of all, there are the games. This was an incredible year for system exclusives. Do you like action games? You’ve got Infamous and Uncharted 2. Do you like games like the Wii’s Endless Ocean? Well, the PS3 has Afrika. Do you like First Person Shooters? Killzone 2 is the game for you. Are you an RPG fan? Then look no further than games like Demon’s Souls or Cross Edge. Are you a sports fan? Sony has the best Baseball game on the market with MLB: The Show. The PS3 also has the best quiz based games on the market with titles like Buzz! and Karaoke games with the Singstar series. Sony even managed to turn things around with multi-console games. For years Sony was getting games later than the 360 or weaker versions. This year things definitely changed. Batman: Arkham Asylum for example had exclusive PS3 content where you could play as the Joker, a huge selling point for that game.
It’s great to see Sony finally taking this generation’s “console war” seriously. 2009 definitely was the year of the PS3, and 2010 promises to be another great year for Sony with titles like White Knight Chronicles and Heavy Rain. it’s great to see Sony back in the game. Let’s hope they can keep up this level of excellence for another year.
GAME OF THE YEAR
So here we are. If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably not surprised that Batman: Arkham Asylum took top honours this year. In fact, it’s won more awards than any game in the history of this website, going back to 2003. It blew away both Disgaea and Digital Devil Saga. That’s pretty impressive. Now you may be asking yourself why Batman: Arkham Asylum walked away with top honours in a year with several worthy candidates for GOTY. Let’s take a look.
In terms of story, Batman: Arkham Asylum was a thrill ride from beginning to end. Not only was this game faithful to the overall Batman Mythos, Rocksteady Studios got legendary Batman scribe Paul Dini to tell the tale. The game makes itself accessible to the most casual of Batman fans and also rewards longtime DC loyalists or Batman aficionados with an amazing amount of references and in-game homages to characters and events both obscure and classic. Finally, there is a game that truly does justice to the Batman mythos.
In terms of graphics, Batman: Arkham Asylum is breathtaking. Whether you are talking about the incredible detail given to the entire asylum or the character designs, Batman: Akham Asylum is as beautiful as it is foreboding. Characters like The Scarecrow and Killer Croc get a bit of a redesign that fit the game, while Batman and The Joker retain their timeless appearance. Again, Rocksteady surpassed expectations.
In terms of audio quality, the game featured Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin as Batman, The Joker, and Harley Quinn respectively. For a large section of Batman fans, Hamill and Conroy are the definitive voices of these characters and it was great to see them revive their roles.
Gameplay, however, just might be the game’s strongest quality. In this day and age of developers trying to assign an action to everything single possible press of a D pad or button, Rocksteady reminded us all that often times, simple is better. Combat was simple and yet flawless. It gave gamers everywhere proof that a beat ’em up isn’t always a button masher. The game also rewarded Batman fans with some great gameplay ideas. Who didn’t mark out the first time you made Batman swoop down from a ledge onto a bad guy. What about when you would hang upside down from a gargoyle only to fly down at your enemy, drag him up to the precipice and leave him trussed up there to spook his fellow cronies? You also have the stealth aspects of the game along with the detective bits in the game and the ability to solve over 100 riddles left for you by Edward Nigma. Batman: Arkham Asylum was a joy to play from the second you booted the game up until the end credits finally stopped rolling.
Then there are all the extras worth mentioning. The combat and stealth challenges. The ability to play as The Joker on the PS3. The fact this was arguably the best game Eidos ever published. The fact this was arguably the best superhero game ever published. The fact it was the best Batman game ever published. The fact this was arguably the best licensed game ever made. There is literally nothing that Batman: Arkham Asylum did wrong and so much about the game that surpassed even the wildest expectations. All these things (and more) added up to easily net Batman: Arkham Asylum our game of the year award. No other game in 2009 was consistently this excellent or this accessible. Hats off to Rocksteady and you can bet we are eagerly awaiting the sequel.