Maybe you’re surprised to see a Best of 2009 list here since last you checked GeekWeek didn’t even exist a week ago, much less the whole of ’09. Thus GeekWeek couldn’t have been following gaming all year, thus this list is already full of shit, as so many online lists inherently are.
Well you forgot to carry the one in your little calculation there, buddy-boy. Maybe GeekWeek wasn’t official until a few days ago, but behind the scenes? Things were happening. Katz didn’t just wave a magic wand and conjure GeekWeek from the ether. We’ve been lying here, waiting! Like a bear, hibernating in some grimy Interweb tube cave until the right time to yawn, stretch, and march forth!
A big damn bear, son! Dreaming of world domination, and video games! And, and… Leighton Meester, dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl! And in the dream she’s got a Righteous Bison, and she’s wearing this dark eyeshadow, I mean really dark, like kinda hookery dark but in a good way, and she’s wearing these crazy boots that –
Okay, I’ve lost the plot here. The point is: Even though we just launched, wheels were in motion, man, this whole time. So stop your doubting, Thomas, and BELIEVE.
One quick disclaimer: as a general rule I hate lists, so Internet lists rank even lower in my eyes (1). They’re hacky – I know it, you know it, the American people know it. I usually don’t do them. But I’m going to make an exception this time, for two reasons:
1) I’m excited about GeekWeek launching, and
2) To be honest, I feel a little bad about biting your head off with that whole hibernating-bear-Doubting-Thomas thing.
So let’s do this thing.
Best Way To Get Your Kids Into a Fistfight
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII (WII)
It’s hard to know what to make of NSMB Wii’s multiplayer. Generally, co-op is about, you know, cooperation. So the number of ways you can interfere with the other players, either accidentally or via actual sabotage, is astounding.
If Nintendo actually intended people to play together and have a ball, then it’s such an utter failure the design team should be dressed down, fired, and then horsewhipped in the street. But if instead it’s a big prank on their part, a twisted social experiment where the designers wanted to see if they could turn your domestic tranquility into something more like a knife fight in a Costa Rican cockfighting shack, well then nicely done, Nintendo.
Best Return To Form
STREET FIGHTER IV (MULTI)
After all the initial skepticism, Street Fighter IV actually delivered. In fact, it even came in above expectations, given that past Street Fighter “first attempts” are usually pretty half-baked, only starting to shine after a few spit-polishes (e.g., compare Street Fighter III to Street Fighter III: Third Strike; Street Fighter Alpha to Street Fighter Alpha 3; Street Fighter EX to… well that one was never really worth playing but you get the idea).
Sure, some are whining about the fact a follow-up, Super Street Fighter IV, has already been announced, saying it’s going to be like the 90s all over again with Capcom trying to sell you a slightly revised Street Fighter annually for the next 10 years. To that I say: we should be so lucky. Did you see the alternatives this year? What am I supposed to pass my time with, Tekken 6? Please.
Best Diagrammed Strategy For Hooking Up With A Damaged Girl
DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS - MORRIGAN (MULTI)
When it comes to gaming nookie, the path to poon is usually pretty obvious: in a given conversation tree, always pick the nicest, most sensitive responses. This is because most potential mates in games are written as well-balanced, healthy individuals who - conveniently - have no bullshit detector of any kind.
Not so with Morrigan, the witch of the wild in Dragon Age. She’s hostile, disturbed, and a screwed up mess - and like that chick you’ve been pining away for at the punk bar, being a gentleman will only piss her off. No, the route to her boot is surliness, mixed with heaping teaspoons of derision. Keep this up for a few conversations and the next trick she’ll show you is how to make your doinker disappear.
MIRROR'S EDGE (MULTI)
Mirror’s Edge is the sort of game you want to like, irrespective of its actual quality. Its ideas and aesthetics are bold enough to overshadow gameplay that’s alternately clunky and irritating… almost. How often is there a game that’s mostly a failure, yet nevertheless fondly remembered for what we hoped it’d be?
Best HD Remake
R-TYPE DIMENSIONS (MULTI)
Lots of companies are inclined to just slap a half-assed smoothing filter onto an older title to claim it runs in 1080p (Sega is especially guilty of this, recreating all too many beloved Master system and Genesis titles in digital Play-Doh). Irem isn’t. For purists, R-Type Dimensions has the original R-Type I and II in all their razor-sharp pixelated glory, but for videophiles there’s also a high-def remake of the game in polygons that – and here’s the important part – actually manages to capture all the look and charm of the original pixel art. If only every classic title was given the same amount of TLC Dimensions got.
Best Way To Trick People Into Paying To Look Up Words In A Dictionary
Because that’s what you do for a couple days: just sit and try to stump the Scribblenauts’ dictionary. “Oh, is griffin in there? What about rutabaga? Sleeping bag? Matchstick? A black hole? What about millet? A schnauzer? A virus? A pocket knife?”
Yes, it’s all there, as drawn by a 4 year old. Then you realize you could’ve had this experience without buying the game at all: you could’ve just sat in your room, trying to write down every object you can think of. Of course you wouldn’t because it’d be retarded and boring; on the other hand it wouldn’t have cost you $30, either. Whose teh retard now!
NINJA GAIDEN SIGMA II - MOTION CONTROLLER BOOB SHAKING (PS3)
Pick a scantily clad female protagonist, turn her to face you, and now shake the DualShock 3 to make her boobs jiggle. Great fanservice, and finally a modest enough task for the motion-sensing-challenged PS3 controller to take on.
Best Evidence SNK Foolishly Thinks They’re Above “Fanservice”
KING OF THE FIGHTERS XII (MULTI)
How does this game even get out of the concept stage without bouncy, skin-flashing Mai Shiranui? Are you kidding me? Along the same lines, KOFXII is my winner in a personal category: Best Game To Help You Realize, Sadly, That When It Comes To Buying Games No Fanservice Is A Dealbreaker For You.
Most Desperate Attempts To Get Attention
DANTE'S INFERNO (MULTI)
Like a girl with her thong pulled up just past the top of her jeans, some ploys to turn heads seem more pathetic than anything else. First EA staged a protest of the game, trying to dupe people into thinking it was more controversial than it really is. Then came the demo, which is nonstop gore, nudity, and button mashing to the point of being laughable. It couldn’t be trying harder to get the player’s attention without tearing its top off and pressing its tits against the inside of your TV screen while you quietly masturbate and sob.
Alas, the demo provoked only the sobbing part for me. Mostly because I’m a lit’ geek – how dare you turn Dante’s Inferno into a videogame, you philistines! *adjusts pocket protector*
Runner-Up: “No Russian”, Modern Warfare 2
Most Fun Game That Barely Qualifies
I love Peggle, my gaming friends love Peggle, what’s not to love about Peggle? Indeed, it’s so charming, you rarely even think about the fact it’s kinda an elaborate game of chance. Release balls, watch them bounce around in ways you couldn’t possibly predict, then disingenuously take full credit for the wins while dismissing the losses as bad luck. And they called Flower (PS3) a non-game.
Best Desktop Wallpaper Source For Old-School Geeks
VGMAPS.COMHow many hours have I wasted thumbing through VGMaps' collection of 8 and 16-bit game atlases, stitched together into enormous images perfect for cropping into retro wallpapers? Too many. Some of my favorites: the enormous (9920x2096!) entire world of Castlevania (NES); the classic Area 01 exterior from Bionic Commando (NES); and, naturally, Hyrule from the very first Legend of Zelda, back when Nintendo still knew how to make an interesting overworld.
Best Swan Song
HALO WARS (360)And now, a moment of silence for Ensemble Studios.
RESIDENT EVIL 5 (MULTI)
With the first trailers, Capcom raised a few eyebrows by depicting a game in which the white protagonist seemed to be marching through African shantytowns shooting black locals armed only with pitchforks and clubs. The gaming press made hay out of the imagery, while gaming messageboards erupted into some of the most lowbrow, dopey, often racist analysis of the issue imaginable (as gaming messageboards can always be trusted to do).
In response to the hullabaloo, Capcom quietly (and from a narrative perspective, somewhat absurdly) made Resident Evil 5’s remote African community surprisingly multiethnic, claiming that’s what they intended the whole time. And then to be extra safe they gave the player a black partner, Sheva. Nothing to see here, nothing to see here…
Best You’re Making It Worse
RESIDENT EVIL 5 (MULTI)
After (albeit clumsily) smoothing over the shit field, Capcom merrily skipped across the shiny brown patio(2) all over again by including a level where your Aryan hero marches through an African mud hut village filled with spear-wielding, grass skirt-wearing ooga-booga natives, giving players the opportunity to shoot aboriginals in the head and loot their pagan idols for cash.
Oh, and that black partner, Sheva? The one who makes it all so culturally sensitive? Well here's the funny part:
1) She’s the lightest-skinned black person in the game,
2) Her unique weapon is a bow and arrow, and
3) You can change her into a leopard print bikini outfit with shiny bead jewelry.
Really, no bone in her nose, Capcom? Well maybe for DLC then.
Best Case For Leaving Well Enough Alone
BIONIC COMMANDO (MULTI)
Bionic Commando for the NES easily ranks as one of my top 5 games of all time. And Bionic Commando Rearmed was an amazingly faithful and high-quality recreation of it, giving me hope that Bionic Commando "2009" would actually be worth playing.
Resisting the urge to wander into hyperbole, BC 2009 wasn’t an utter disaster: the swing mechanics, given the exact right environment with the exact right enemies, were excellent. Unfortunately, just about every other aspect of the game fumbled: the visuals were played-out sci-fi gritty, the voice acting had a wince-inducing macho earnestness, and the story… dear god, the story. Turns out your bionic arm is your missing wife, and Super Joe, classic and beloved Capcom hero of Commando and Mercs, is actually a villainous megalomaniacal traitor.
Some may be whining in involuntarily Comic Book Guy-sounding nasal drones: “Spoiler alert, please!” Let me explain something to you, Poindexters: the only thing “spoilerish” about my plot summary was how it “spoiled” one of the greatest games of all time, Bionic Commando 1988. Bionic Commando 2009’s existence is a spoiler.
The game was so bad, in fact, that Error, God of the NES, took umbrage from the defiling of the BC name and worked his cosmic magic to kill the company responsible. Believe!
Best Retro Release
GUNSTAR HEROES (MULTI)
Sometimes "classic" old games were never more than good for their time, elevated to legendary status by nostalgia. Gunstar Heroes is the other kind: genuinely great, busting at the seams with creativity, personality, and sheer funitude.
Yeah, that's a word. If it's not a word, how did I just type it, and you just read it, and you know what I meant, hmmm? Check... and mate.
THE SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND (MULTI)
Still the most reliable source of belly laughs when gaming. Except for when you hear some racist, foul-mouthed homophobic 12 year old on Xbox Live get screamed at by his mom.
LEFT 4 DEAD 2 (360)
As an old-schoolie, I believe that if a modern game would still work as a monochrome 2D experience, then it’s got good game design. Left 4 Dead 2 (and its predecessor) could be a 4-player, top-down, Robotron-style shooter with endless waves of zombies and inventory management, and it would still kick ass. Add some sweet Valve visuals and audio and you’ve got the most refreshing slant on the genre since Halo.
Best Realistic FPS
OPERATION FLASHPOINT 2: DRAGON RISING (MULTI)
Nothing (well, other than actual military service) makes Modern Warfare 2 look more like a gay militiaman wet dream directed by Jerry Bruckheimer than playing Dragon Rising for a few hours. Combat at hundreds of yards rather than inches, fire from unknown directions and unseen enemies, comrades that don’t always act with robot precision and bullets that can and will kill you quickly.
Best Argument That Sometimes, Graphics Are Indeed Everything
UNCHARTED 2 (PS3)
As I said before: if I can picture a game as a 2D monochrome experience and it still sounds like fun, then it’s probably a great game. Without all the Strum und Drang of Uncharted 2’s visual and audio presentation, it’s kinda hard to picture what the game would even be. A stick figure climbing boxes? And sometimes trying to figure out which boxes you can climb, and which other boxes are just decorative, scenery boxes? Oh, but sometimes the stick figure says something glib and ironic! Wow, sounds like fun.
It seems like the fewer artists you have working on a game, the better the chance you'll end up with game visuals that look more like compositions than mere assets. A quick look at David Hellman's work on Braid furthers the argument.
Sure, Uncharted 2 is gorgeous, and technically second to none. But I've never been as impressed with technical hijinks as genuine artistry, and in the latter category Machinarium really dazzles. It's a great little point-and-click adventure game to boot, which gives you no excuse to not go and at least download the demo right now.
Best Double Entendre
HALF-MINUTE HERO (PSP)
Huh, someone say my name? You been talking to my exes? ROFLMAO amirite???
Best Redemption Of All Subpar Superhero Games, Ever
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM (MULTI)If you've been gaming for any amount of time at all, you know we've had to suffer many, many disappointing superhero games in our time. Superman for the N64 is only the most infamous example - there are dozens more, maybe not all as terrible but at least painful in terms of mediocrity.
That's why Batman: Arkham Asylum is so shockingly great. It's not just "good for a comic book game", it's just a damn good game, period - which makes it the best comic-related game by a million light years. One can only hope the sequel, which seems to be set in Gotham proper, can meet the same high standard.
Cry for 13 and 14 year olds who name Batman: AA as the first superhero game they've ever played: they're only going to be disappointed from here.
Best Comeback Reunion Tour
HODGES, THOMPSON, WARD & ZOSS REUNITE UNDER GEEKWEEK'S BANNER
WE’RE GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER.
XBOX 360This is a tough call, as the PS3 - for the first time since its launch - really gave the 360 a run for its money this year, sporting a tighter, genuinely amusing and effective marketing campaign, a sleeker hardware model, and some solid PS3-only software. That's not even mentioning a Blu-Ray catalog that's getting more and more desirable. (Did you know Boogie Nights just came out on Blu-Ray? The drug deal scene = BEST EVAR.)
Alas, "Most Improved" does not always equal "Best". And while the 360 is still an unlikeable pain in the ass when it comes to mechanical reliability and DRM issues, by every other measure - controllers, online services and features, exclusives, cross-platform releases, you name it - Microsoft's box is the one to beat. A few Nintendo fans might point to the Wii's superior installed base, but looking at software numbers for MS's box (and their ridiculous accessory prices), I doubt they care.
Best lolwat Console
After years of steadily improving the PS3 experience (let’s be honest: most improvements actually repairs of initial mistakes), Sony demonstrates there is still a part of the company that is really fucking hard to understand. I picture a group of suits standing around a crack in the earth where noxious gases leak out, inhaling the vapours and then making pronouncements to the engineers about what to build.
Print may be dead (let's just say feeble and lame compared to its heyday), especially when it comes to gaming press, but only in the USA. Edge, a UK mag available on some newsstands here in the States, is still as good as it gets. It seems Europe is the only place in the world that can sustain mature, thoughtful, interesting print games journalism, where here to turn a profit you have to be... well, Gamepro or Game Informer.
It's worth the price of an import subscription if you're looking for serious content.
Best Game of 2009
DEMON'S SOULS (PS3)
During my hiatus from writing game reviews, Demon's Souls was a game that made me really, really wish I had a platform to sing its praises. I guess I'll just have to settle for naming it the best game of 2009.
But in a way, just calling it the best game of the year is a hell of a lot easier than writing an actual review. There is just too much to like about Demon's Souls, too much it does right, and too many directions to go in if writing a critical analysis. Do you talk about the game's oppressive, mysterious mood that does just as much as its steep challenge to put you on the edge of your seat and flinching from every errant sound? Do you talk about the sublime online features, which only allow the barest of communication between players, integral to preserving that mood? Or do you just do some straight reporting, giving the New Games Journalism a wide berth and instead talk about how this game, more than any other in decades, is probably the most successful virtual rendition of a good old-fashioned pencil, paper and dice Dungeons & Dragons game?
Do you talk about how in the year of Uncharted 2, Killzone 2 and LittleBigPlanet, this is the PlayStation 3 exclusive to buy the console for?
The layout of Boletaria Palace is tattooed into my brain with an exactness reserved for only the most iconic terrain, like Hyrule or Zebes. The music has found a happy home on my iPod, and the game has earned its spot in that core library of titles gamers keep: Those That Will Not Be Traded. A shame, then, that most reviews only saw fit to emphasize the game's difficulty - significant to be sure, but hardly insurmountable, and indeed only "difficult" compared to the limp resistance offered by most games today. Yes, Demon's Souls makes you sing for your supper. But it's a pretty fine meal once you get it.
Until next time, folks...
1: It’s an irrefutable truism that the Internet version of anything is always worse than the tangible real world equivalent. Watching a movie on the Net < watching a movie anywhere else; reading a book on the Net < reading a real book; sexting < actual sex; blog writing pay < print column pay, and so on. Try this game at home!
2: No racial connotations intended.