Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
I think it’s safe to say that 2009 won’t go down as one of the landmark years for gaming. While we did get some great releases that will most certainly be replayed for the next few years to come, the number of heavy hitters released this year won’t compare at all to 2010’s wallet-raping storm of triple A titles.
With two Final Fantasies, a new Mario, a new Metroid, a new Metal Gear, a Castlevania created by Kojima, a revamped Splinter Cell, sequels to EA’s big hits Bioshock, Mass Effect and Dead Space, along with the release of new hardware including Xbox’s Project Natal, Sony’s motion controller/glow wand, and the persistently rumored Wii HD along with several probable releases like the newest Zelda and Final Fantasy Versus XIII, there isn’t a single word that could describe the inhumanely large amount of high-profile releases hitting us in 2010. So I’ll try to sum it up in two:
Despite my eagerness for the upcoming year to arrive, I probably played more games in 2009 than I ever did any other year. Some were new, some were older releases I previously skipped out on during their respective launches, and some were….not very good, but still free, so I can’t complain.
Anyway, I received enough positive feedback on my last year roundup, so I’ve decided to make it a tradition. Here are my personal picks for 2009.
Oh and SPOILER ALERT: Under the Heroine category is a spoiler for Dragon Age: Origins. You’ve been warned.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
You’re probably sick of hearing all the continued praise this game receives. I recommend you rectify the situation by replaying it for the hundredth time. Even with the pre-release hype and built-up excitement, this mammoth PS3 title still managed to exceed all expectations. Incredible visuals, fluid animation, action-packed gameplay, loads of extras, and lag-free multiplayer….seriously, a Game of the Year award is downplaying this next-gen masterpiece.
Assassin’s Creed II
It isn’t often where a sequel addresses and improve on every single fault from its predecessor. And the first Assassin’s Creed had a lot of faults. ACII manages to do everything better and add much, much more in length, content, and extras. After being burned out by collecting stuff during Rare’s N64 releases, Assassin’s Creed II does the impossible and make collecting arbitrary items fun again.
In the course of Uncharted 2’s story, main hero Nathan Drake goes through more pain and suffering than most game characters experience in their entire franchises. Despite being tossed like a ragdoll from explosions or being critically wounded by gunfire, Drake maintains his charm and wit no matter how insane the circumstances get. His reactions to watching a building crash into another building or blowing up a helicopter with a tank closely match the player’s real-time comments, bridging the connection between player and character that much closer.
Batman (Batman: Arkham Asylum)
Whoa, whoa, whoa…no I did not just list Nathan Drake over The Goddamn Batman. While I would never declare Batman as anything less than the greatest hero of all time, from a gaming standpoint he only kicks just enough ass to make runner-up. The reason for this is while controlling the Bat as he silently takes down thugs or loudly bounds them into submission, in the end it feels more like you’re controlling Batman, but not necessarily being Batman.
Shale (Dragon Age: Origins)
Yes, the golem you see above is indeed female, or at least used to be female. Whatever gender you want to classify Shale is irrelevant, as the golem’s british-like snark is what wins gamers over. Surprisingly sarcastic for a creature made of stone, Shale’s affinity for crushing human heads into jelly and utter hatred of birds make him/her/shlim one of the funniest RPG characters of all time, and makes the DLC worth the price of admission (for those who buy their copies used).
Elena (Uncharted 2)
As smoking hot as new character Chloe might be, last year’s model still takes the crown for her resourcefulness, where her idea of improvising involves sudden chase sequences and lots of explosions. April ‘O Neil could learn a thing or two from this gun-toting member of the press.
The Joker (Batman: Arkham Asylum)
Okay, so it’s a bit of a cheat to list one of the most iconic villains of all time for this category, but Mark Hamil’s T-rated take on the clown prince of crime only further cemented his skillful performance made famous from B:TAS. No offense to Heath’s one-time stint, but Hamil will always be the definitive Joker in my book, just as Conroy will forever be the official voice of Batman.
The Therapist (Silent Hill: Shattered Memories)
Another slight cheat, as Harry’s(?) therapist isn’t exactly a villain, at least not in the conventional sense. But with a series as unconventional as Silent Hill, it isn’t a stretch to picture this guy as having some sort of sinister purpose; there’s always a hint of satisfaction coming from this guy’s tone and expressions as he openly taunts you in the first person. Maybe the tough love is part of his job, but in a game filled with flesh-colored creatures that chase you in dark corridors, it’s this guy who really makes your skin crawl.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
It’s impossible to pinpoint just what this game does best visually; between the war-torn streets, the heavy snowfall, the magnificent lighting, the realtime physics, and the superb character models, Uncharted 2’s visual splendor is so advanced that it’s unlikely that a single 2010 title that will outperform it.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Already a visual powerhouse, the sequel to Modern Warfare simply applied some extra coats of paint to an already detailed image. Little touches, such as extra foliage, more detailed character faces, and more explosions than Michael Bay could dream up makes this a strong second in a year of great looking games. It also runs at a constant 60 fps, something most current-gen games won’t even attempt.
Street Fighter IV
You can try and pretend not to like the J-Pop opening all you want, but the fact that it stays in your head long afterward proves its power over you. Even if Indestructible doesn’t keep you coming (heh), the soundtrack is filled with great beat-em-up music, including excellent remixes of Street Fighter II’s classic character themes. It’s cheesy 90’s goodness that is not just appropriate, but a true testament that Street Fighter is back in full force.
Halo 3: ODST
While the newest Campaign leaves little impression in the eyes of multiplayer-hungry Xbox Live players, the music is surprisingly deep. Featuring a somber mix of jazz, piano, and orchestral pieces, ODST’s soundtrack conveys a great deal of emotion where its characters and story failed otherwise.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The best online multiplayer mode isn’t ODST’s firefights or Left 4 Dead 2’s survival co-op, but Uncharted 2’s lag-free, third person skirmishes and objectives. Simple but effective, nearly every competitive match is entertaining and fully balanced (provided your team is up to snuff), but the real draw is the fantastic co-op missions. Far better than the entirety of Resident Evil 5, these brief missions offer an extra amount of intensity and presentation that’s every bit as exciting as the main campaign.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Javelin glitch, rampant knifing, the goddamn Akimbo’s goddamn range….people have tried really hard to hamper our enjoyment of MW2’s multiplayer, but the sheer volume, range, and fun of the many modes make up for those occasional moments that you throw your controller across the room. The online world might unforgiving, but pulling off several killstreaks while dropping a predator missile on the opposing side makes coming back worth it every time.
I had the privilege of playing Shadow Complex a week before its official release, which resulted in my Xbox inbox filling up with jealous messages from my friends list. I hadn’t followed up on this game at all until I was asked to review it, but it only took an hour to see what all the fuss was about. A love letter for fans of Super Metroid, with a good dose of Flashback thrown in, Shadow Complex takes an old yet beloved gameplay mechanic and adds modern visuals and polish that almost made this the best Xbox 360 game of the year.
Plants vs Zombies
Who would have thought a game that manages to make zombies cute would also be incredibly fun? This cheaply priced download not only creates an unforeseen adversary for the living dead, but brings some of the most entertaining strategy/tower defending gameplay in quite some time. Who would have thought the zombie apocalypse could be such a cheery setting?
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
While not quite reaching Crisis Core levels of manly tears, the tragic story of Roxas in this prequel to Kingdom Hearts II can be utterly gut wrenching. Despite the incredibly slow pacing, 358/2 Days features many somber moments of Roxas trying to come to terms with his own existence (or non-existence), as well as developing feelings that a person lacking a heart shouldn’t feel at all. The ending borrows a bit from Crisis Core’s climactic moment by mixing gameplay with story to showcase the fated destiny for this fan favorite Nobody.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Tearjerker isn’t exactly the right word for Modern Warfare 2, but it isn’t a stretch to get an emotional response during some of the more intense moments. The scenes involving a bloody airport massacre, or a familiar-looking neighborhood turning into a warzone, or when a certain landmark state becomes a fallout of destruction create a feeling of dread, showcasing a very real fear that America could easily find itself in overnight.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
It was a potential recipe for disaster: A re-imagined version of the original classic from the makers of the mediocre Silent Hill: Origins, which greatly strips away the horrific monsters and phallic imagery that made the series famous for four games running (or three, depending on who you talk to). Ironically, by downplaying the horror aspect, Silent Hill has never felt more mature, or more imaginative. With a wise emphasis on the psychological horror that a lonely and disturbed mind experiences, Shattered Memories is a David Lynch-style trek through a vaguely familiar town where none of its residents can be trusted…including the main character.
Assassin’s Creed II
Da Vinci Code knockoffs are so last year, but Asassin’s Creed II’s conspiracy dossiers add an extra amount of intrigue to Etzio’s Monte Critso-style saga. The real-time sequences involving Desmond and the assassin’s guild also stirs up anticipation for the inevitable sequel that should completely take place in a non-Animus setting.
Even though the game is available now, for the better part of 2009, gamers “in the know” steadily imported this english-friendly dungeon crawler. Brutally hard but also addictive, Demon’s Souls is a unique dark fantasy adventure where dying is not only expected, but occasionally beneficial. A true sleeper hit that should be experienced by every PS3 owner.
Final Fantasy XIII
So the lucky Japanese (and impatient importers with cash to spare) finally got their mitts on Final Fantasy XIII before the year’s end, while the rest of us english-speaking weeaboos have to wait until March 2010. Despite complaints about linearity, the general consensus says that FF’s first foray into high def territory is a worthy start, indeed, with a cast of characters who interact and build relationships with one another, unlike FFXII’s cardboard cutouts.
King of Fighters XII
In a year filled with excellent fighting games, you have to wonder what in the hell happened with SNK’s promised “revival” of their beloved fighting franchise. A small cast of characters, an even smaller “Arcade” mode that lacks any incentive, dialog, or even a final boss, and a fully revamped graphics engine that is inexcusably rendered in sub high def. What was once a strong contender to Street Fighter has ended up as the Glass Joe of fighting games.
Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 4 was a truly excellent game….one of the greatest games of all time, even. It isn’t a surprise that the sequel wouldn’t be able to match the tremendous achievements of its predecessor, and while the game certainly isn’t bad, it is disappointing how it failed to tweak its dated controls to match the visual upgrade. The co-op system also removes much of the fourth game’s tension, effectively teetering over the once perfect balance between action and terror.
Flowchart Ken (Street Fighter IV)
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love Ken Masters. He may not hold a candle to Ryu, but he’s always entertaining as a quicker, combo-heavy alternative. The real douchebags are the online players who follow a specific pattern of Shoryuken, Shoryuken, and oh yeah, SHORYUKEN. You would think a decent player could easily avoid a single spammed attack, but when the special move in question has a ridiculous range and priority over other moves, followed by brief spurts of lag that always seem to work on your opponent’s favor, the term “Flowchart Ken” has become one of the most recognized (and hated) labels of 2009.
Morrigan (Dragon Age: Origins)
One of the first allies to join your group in Dragon Age, it doesn’t take long for you to wonder just why Morrigan joined your group in the first place. Constantly sneering at your every whim and disapproving of almost every action you take to advance the story, this spell-casting bitch would have remained at the sidelines if not for her powerful spells and shape-shifting abilities.
Ayane (Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2)
At this point it’s almost second nature to roll your eyes regarding a Team Ninja female character, and it’s not like the purple haired kunoichi was ever less than generously endowed. Her newest look in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is even more ridiculous, however, since at this point in the continuity, Ayane should only be around 15, and yet she somehow carries an even larger bust and skimpier clothing, the former serving as the forefront of the game’s heavily advertised sixaxis jiggle.
Rachel (Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2)
Despite her appearance remaining unchanged from the previous game, walking blow-up doll Rachel still leaves a lasting impression with her utterly ridiculous design. High heels, black leather, huge guns and even huger…you know…makes Rachel the reigning queen of the G cups.
Left 4 Dead 2
Blood and gore is only natural in a zombie game (unless it’s Plants vs Zombies), but Left 4 Dead 2 takes things to a whole new level with its copious amounts of exposed spines and red juices covering the first-person camera. Apparently the gore was so bad that Australia went and censored the good stuff, resulting in 8-bit style deaths (as in, flickering and fading away). The body count resulting from the protests was probably messier than the actual game.
Not Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
Featuring exclusive additions such as extra bosses, extra missions, extra playable characters, and online co-op, the PS3 version of Ninja Gaiden 2 easily seems like the definitive choice for multi-console owners. And yet even with the copious amount of jiggling boobs, it’s hard to cover up the disappointing lack of blood present in this “family friendly” edition. While it’s true that excessive gore does not equal a better game experience, when the alternative is purple mist followed by bloodless limbs, your suspension of disbelief begins to wane….and this coming from a game where you fight giant armadillos and katana-carrying dogs.
No bones about it, the fighting game genre completely dominated 2009. Fresh from the start was Street Fighter IV, which not only revitalized the public’s love for the franchise, but had them hankering for more late-night smackdowns. They got their wish with Tekken 6, Marvel vs Capcom 2, BlazBlue, among several other titles that resulted in a near-perfect streak of excellent fighting games.
Featuring a dark and mature setting with no restrictions (boobies!), along with a powerfully emotional story coupled with incredibly detailed facial features, Heavy Rain is shaping up to be the ultimate interactive movie, to the point that you could show it off in the living room to unsuspecting people (at least until the button prompts appear). It’s still unknown if a quicktime-heavy game will be able to hold our interests in the long run, but as long as the story and visuals deliver, this could end up as one of the best non-games ever.
Batman: Arkham Asylum 2
It’s no surprise that a sequel will be developed for Batman: Arkham Asylum (even though the fact that the game ended up great was a surprise in itself), but before the year came to an end, we were already given a teaser that made our inner goddamn Batmans drool in anticipation. Will Rocksteady be able to pull a Valve and release a sequel to their hit game within a year? With a No Man’s Land scenario along with the promise of Two-Face, we can only hope.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII
You would think I would be satisfied enough with two numbered Final Fantasies falling on the same year, but Nomura’s mature action RPG is something I’m still anxiously awaiting. With FFXIII wrapped up and ready to go, the majority of Square Enix media will no doubt focus on Versus, and based on closed theater commentaries, the spectacular footage will only make the wait that much harder.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
For the second year in a row, the desire for Final Fantasy VII’s big 3D makeover has not waned. With FFXIII finished and Versus getting closer to completion, the Crystal Tools Engine seems like the perfect fit for Cloud and company’s long awaited return. Sadly, Nomura has just recently announced that while Square is well aware of the demand for the remake, development still hasn’t officially begun.
But a lot can happen in a year, and a TGS teaser/reveal will always remain a possibility for hopeful fans like myself.