Monday, January 18, 2010

Looking Back on 2009

I often feel like I'm in an odd position when it comes to writing about videogames. Primarily, this has to do with my lack of Xbox 360 or PS3 (or even a decent gaming PC) to play some of the higher profile game releases. When everyone on the net is weighing in on the merits of a game like Uncharted 2, for instance, I am forced to sit out on the discussion. My personal talking points are frustratingly limited to games available on the Wii, DS, iPhone/iPod Touch, a little PC, and the Playstation 2 if I feel like revisiting an older game. Nowhere is this limitation more frustrating than when discussing the "best" games of the past year.

But despite my inability to play the Assassin's Creeds of the world, 2009 still felt like a very full year for my personal gaming. Although my gaming was limited by my final year in college, when I was gaming it seemed like there were a wealth of quality titles to choose from.

Portable games in particular had a good year, with the iPhone maturing into a decent gaming platform. Hookchamp by far is my favorite game released on the iPhone this year, and each update has delivered more characters, upgrades, levels, and miscellaneous extras that keep the experience fresh and engaging. It's still one of the few games that I'll play just for fun during my downtime, as the main gameplay mechanic - grappling - is perfectly executed and just plain fun. Additionally, games like Rolando 2, Flight Control, Space Invaders: Infinity Gene, and particularly Spider all round out my favorite iPhone games of the year, and I'm excited to see where iPhone gaming goes in 2010.

Similarly, the DS had a string of great releases, many of which I neglected to play last year (GTA: Chinatown Wars tops this list). Retro Game Challenge, for instance, is a truly inspired game that distills the best elements from many classic NES and Famicom titles (Dragon Quest, Ninja Gaiden, etc.) into a collection of fake retro games, creating a package that gamers of all ages - but particularly the older set - can enjoy. Best of all, the "retro" games in this collection aren't the tough-as-nails style of 8-bit games you remember from your youth. My favorite DS game this year though was Rhythm Heaven. I know my enjoyment of Rhythm Heaven is in large part due to my inherent talent with rhythm games (I all but completed Elite Beat Agents on its highest difficulty setting within a matter of weeks); but more than that, the game has a style and - pardon the pun - a rhythm all its own. The simplicity and short length of each level encourages that "one more time" mentality, which in turn give Rhythm Heaven amazing pacing. Unless a stage really stumps you, you'll be progressing through the game at a nice clip. And although I haven't finished these games, Dragon Quest V, Devil Survivor, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks all deserve mention as some of the best on the DS in 2009.

The Wii had another fairly good year, with many of the games I played not produced by the House of Mario. Madworld was a pure indulgence for me. As a fan of action movies like 300 and Sin City, I enjoyed playing a game that emulated these movies and comic books in both style and content. Although I wouldn't say that Madworld had much depth in terms of story or gameplay, the entire package is what makes the game great. In particular, the ongoing color-commentary from announcers Howard and Kreese had me rolling at times. It's often said that games have a hard time making people laugh, but Madworld is certainly an exception to this maxim. Muramasa: The Demon Blade was another Wii game that captured my interest this year, although I would have liked a bit more in terms of depth when it came to character growth and combat.

But honestly, when it came down to deciding what my favorite game from 2009 was, I had a hard time making a decision. And then I received a videogame for Christmas from my girlfriend: a little game for the Wii titled New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I intend to write more intensively on it soon, but needless to say this game is meant to be played with multiple people, and I suspect would not be even 1/10th as fun solo.

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