One of the ‘downsides’, if there could be such a thing, is that there are now simply far too many good games for anyone to reasonably be able to keep up with (affording both the time and money). It means that its been another tough year for game companies downsizing their staff and it also means that for this list that I’ve drawn up of my favourite ten games of the year, I’ve still not played nearly as many popular releases that I would have liked (Resident Evil 5, Killzone 2, Street Fighter IV, Assassins Creed II, Forza 3 etc.) or there are games that I haven’t been able to find the time to play more thoroughly (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks).
With that said, in no particular order, here’s my list of the Top Ten Video Games I played in 2009.
Flower (Playstation Network)
For $10, Flower lets you to float through six fields, bringing them to life with bursts of colour in what feels like an interactive version of those Bravia ads from a couple of years ago. Its very theraputic and I played the last level of this game a bunch of times as they push the concept to a colourful and visually splendid conclusion. Its right up there with the final levels of Rez and Katamari Damacy: they are fun and simple endgames that I almost endless enjoy revisiting. I wish they made more games like this.
Uncharted 2 (Playstation 3)
Not to damn the game with faint praise but one of my favourite aspects of Uncharted 2 is the completely non-interactive cutscenes. As games mature in complexity and some of the higher budget titles start to look and feel like interactive summer blockbuster films, the most glaring problems for me have been around the amateurish presentation of the story telling. Naughty Dog gets it right by hiring talented actors to bring their characters to life as well as having a director with film-making experience and a professional approach to lighting, foley and scripting. I really hope other producers follow their lead next year.
Of course, the actual game itself is a wonder to behold too. The graphics incredible, the set design shows real imagination and the action sequences breathtaking. Uncharted 2 is not just my favourite game of the year, its one of my favourite games period.
FIFA 10 (Xbox 360 version played)
The new king of football games is also one of the best games of the year. It is the complete package: its the best control scheme and player AI they’ve had in a long time, the licenses are considerable and the online play holds up nicely. This really feels like EA have turned a corner and Konami will have their work cut out for them to win this title back in future years.
Hakuna Matata (Playstation 3)
In a far less abstract sense, Hakuna Matata is very much representative of games like Flower, where you can play to unwind and relax, which I love. Nothing better than working as a National Geographic photographer, driving around the serengetti, taking photos of the wildlife and enjoying the excellent orchestral score. Makes you wonder why no one thought of doing this before.
The Beatles Rock Band (Xbox 360 version played)
The one band-specific music game that I thought we would never see. Happily, Harmonix’s treatment of the Beatles brand is excellent. Initially I was a bit miffed at how it there is a walled garden around Beatles Rockband and you can’t load it into the existing Rock Band platform but then seeing that the alternative was a hip hop Kurt Kobain meat puppet dancing around to Run DMC on Guitar Hero 5, maybe that was the right call. The presentation of the game is unmatched, the catalogue of songs is of course formidable and the DLC support to get full albums for Abbey Road, Seargeant Peppers and Rubber Soul is much appreciated.
Henry Hatsworth (Nintendo DS)
This was by far the most difficult game I’ve played this year which I persisted with and played to completion. If there’s one genre where I can still keep up with the harder challenges, its 2D platforming. The mash-up of genres with match-three puzzle games and the cheesy over the top British stereotype aesthetics make this game a winner for me. Be warned if you give this a game a try though. It gets very, very difficult.
A Boy and His Blob (Nintendo Wii)
It bums me out how little attention A Boy and His Blob got in the games industry. I don’t think many critics took much notice of it and I don’t think many people bought or played it. The game looks absolutely gorgeous and is completely charming. The presentation makes this one of the most visual splendid games of this generation, irrespective of platform. Not just the artwork itself, but the animation of the eponymous blob is fantastic to watch as he moulds into multiple shapes, makes expressive ‘faces’ and melts your heart when he gives you a hug. Not to sound like a complete hippy, but more games should have a hug button (come on, Infinity Ward!)
Critter Crunch (iPhone and Playstation Network)
Originally an Apple iPhone app before getting a release on the PSN, Critter Crunch is one of my favourite go-to puzzle games for passing time on the iPhone when I’m waiting somewhere out in public or if I want to listen to a podcast or have a few minutes to kill at home. Once you master the mechanics of the game, its one of those perfect ‘in the zone’ type games where you can enjoy playing it passively and do something else like listening to music or holding a conversation. I’d recommend either version of the game. The iPhone app has the benefit of portability, the PSN version has gorgeous animated graphics.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360 version played)
Here it is, the best surprise of 2009. A superhero game that broke the mould. Not only was it not terrible, it was actually pretty damn amazing. An absolute ball to play because the developers actually took the time to identify what makes Batman fun to play and then lets the player indulge in it. So you get to do the whole shebang: beating up on hapless goons, detective work, play with sweet gadgets and interact with a bunch of crazy and colourful villains.
New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo Wii)
A new 2D Mario game, which currently gets released at an average rate of once every half-decade, is always cause for celebration. The awesome new power-up outfits, the Koopa kids returning as bosses and towards the end of the game, some pretty challenging platforming levels all make this game a cut above the Nintendo DS version a few years back. The whole experience gets boosted immeasurably by the addition of multiplayer. As of writing this, I haven’t even played with more than 2 people and yet it was still a barrel of laughs turning Mario into a communal experience.
Honourable Mentions: Halo 3: ODST, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Brutal Legend, DJ Hero