Lists. We all love them-especially when we're the ones making them.
Of course, they're generally rubbish, representing as they do the views of the person who makes them and no one else. But they're still a fun and tidy way to organize our thoughts and opinions-which is why I encourage readers to create and share their own in the comments section.
However, while I enjoy making and reading lists as much as the next fellow, I had a hard time coming up with mine this year. There simply weren't enough noteworthy exclusives to warrant separate lists for each platform. At the same time, there seemed to be too many great games overall to crowd onto a single list of my 10 favourites.
Consequently, I decided to buck the top ten trend (it's just an arbitrary number, after all) and create a list of my favourite 20 games of 2009. This allowed me to include both big blockbusters and smaller fare as well as show some love to the games I loved on every system.
But enough preamble. What follows are the 20 games I approved of most in 2009.
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3, action-adventure)
A superlative story and even better action. One of the most entertaining and cinematic interactive adventures of all time.
2. Assassin's Creed II (360/PS3/PC, action-adventure)
We take the role of a vengeful assassin who deals death and does parkour in beautifully rendered 15th Century Italy. It's as awesome as it sounds.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (360/PS3/PC, first-person shooter)
Brings the horror of modern war to the heart of America with terrifying authenticity. Awesome multiplayer, to boot.
4. Dragon Age: Origins (360/PS3/PC, role-playing game)
Creates an extraordinarily detailed fantasy world filled with memorable characters (and a bit of philosophy). Sophisticated battle tactics are a bonus.
5. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii, platformer)
Classic run 'n' jump action with modern graphics and gaming sensibilities. Anyone who has played a Mario game will feel at home at once.
6. inFamous (PS3, action-adventure)
A fresh take on the open-world superhero adventure, complete with compelling characters and a heaping helping of moral quandaries.
7. Flower (PS3, poetic adventure)
This Zen-like experience puts players inside the dream of a flower, floating on the breeze in a monochromatic, polluted world. Brilliant in its simplicity and message.
8. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (DS, adventure/role-playing game)
Exploring Mario's nemesis' feisty innards is fun. Taking on the role of Bowser as he fights a castle? Priceless.
9. Forza Motorsport 3 (360, racing simulator)
The third entry in Microsoft's racing simulation franchise can be as arcade-y or authentic as you like, making it the perfect racer for all levels of car enthusiast.
10. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (DS, puzzle) 150 varied brain-breaking puzzles plus an engaging whodunit mystery filled with quirky, suspicious characters, all in the palm of your hand.
11. Punch-Out!! (Wii, arcade boxer)
Retains all of the flavour of Nintendo's beloved, decades-old boxing game while adding new opponents and updated graphics. Ideal for the whole family.
12. Killzone 2 (PS3, first-person shooter)
A visually sumptuous sequel to an under-appreciated PS2 classic, this masterful FPS features smart bad guys, satisfying weapons, and clever level design.
13. Halo 3: ODST (360, first-person shooter)
This pseudo-expansion to Halo 3 has the most engaging and immersive story of any Halo game to date-and without the presence of the franchise's iconic Master Chief.
14. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS, adventure/role-playing game)
Princess Zelda finally gets in on the action as she and Link make their way through a long series of challenging and original dungeon puzzles.
15. LittleBigPlanet (PSP, puzzle platformer)
This platformer is just as fresh and fun as its innovative PS3 predecessor. It even comes complete with an accessible level editor and bustling online community.
16. PixelJunk Shooter (PS3, puzzle/2D shooter)
Deliciously simple and completely addictive, this pretty little puzzler-cum-shooter will have you dreaming of rescuing orange-clad miners.
17. DJ Hero (360/PS3/PS2/Wii, music)
It's not quite as much fun-or as accessible-as The Beatles: Rock Band , but it's more innovative and a lot longer, making it the standout music game of 2009.
18. Resident Evil 5 (360/PS3/PC, survival horror)
The horror might not be as intense as it once was, but the outrageously bloody zombie-slaughtering action is as gratifying as ever.
19. Batman: Arkham Asylum (360/PS3/PC, action-adventure)
The most faithful interactive depiction of a comic book superhero yet, this action-packed adventure mixes satisfying stealth with frenzied fisticuffs.
20. Borderlands (360/PS3/PC, role-playing game/first-person shooter)
I called it Fallout 3 Lite in my review, but that may not have been generous enough. This stylish wasteland shooter/RPG has a flavour all its own.
Those of you who like to read into lists may find the following of interest: 12 of the titles in my list are available for PlayStation 3, nine are available for Xbox 360, six are available for PC, three each are available for the Wii and DS, and only one is available for the PSP and PlayStation 2.
One might take that to mean that certain platforms performed better than others this year. And that segues nicely into the second part of my year-end wrap: A look at how the industry fared in 2009.
It was a year of highs and lows in the world of games. First quarter sales resulted in the industry's first year-over-year drop in Canada since 2002. There were also major layoff announcements from the likes of Electronic Arts, Sega, Microsoft, and THQ, while prominent studios including Midway and Eidos were downsized as they were swallowed by and folded into larger companies.
But that didn't stop the traditional holiday flood of blockbusters, which included Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, crowned the fastest selling game of all time after moving 4.7 million copies in its first 24 hours (all figures courtesy VGChartz, unless otherwise specified) and earning a tidy $310 million in the process. It's since gone on to sell more than three times that number.
Still, the bad news seemed to outweigh the good.
Nintendo's seemingly indefatigable Wii was showing signs of weakness in the second quarter, with company sales dropping by nearly half compared to the same time a year earlier.
However, software sales were bolstered in July, thanks to Wii Sports Resort , which has sold nearly nine million copies already and will likely ship at least a million units per month well into the new year, as well as New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which moved more than five million copies in its first four weeks and will almost certainly show similar longevity.
Then, as the busy holiday shopping season approached, Nintendo cut the Wii's price by $50, resulting in a sharp spike in global sales that the hardware maker is still riding.
Still, it's highly unlikely that the Wii will be able to match last year's record-setting numbers in the fourth quarter. In what will surely be remembered as one of the Wii's darkest days, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was quoted in a Japanese newspaper in late October as saying "the Wii has stalled" due to a failure to produce enough high quality games in 2009, and that the company was working on fixing the situation for 2010 and beyond.
Meanwhile, a steep price cut and hardware redesign helped improve the once-flagging PlayStation 3's fortunes to the point that the system's worldwide sales have steadily outpaced those of the Xbox 360, its primary competitor, for the last four months. In fact, it's the only one of the big three living room platforms that looks likely to show a year-over-year increase in units sold in 2009.
And with a year-long stream of quality, million-plus selling exclusive titles, beginning with Killzone 2 and inFamous in the first six months and ending with Demon's Souls and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves-the most critically praised title of the year and one of the best reviewed games of all time-Sony proved in 2009 that there are some serious advantages to choosing their big black box.
Unfortunately, Microsoft's Xbox 360 hasn't fared quite as well in 2009. The company sold nearly 11 million consoles worldwide in 2008, but, with only a couple of weeks left, its annual sales for this year are sitting at 8.2 million.
However, that doesn't mean Xbox loyalists haven't had anything to get excited about. Million-plus selling games such as Halo Wars , Halo 3: ODST, and Forza Motorsport III have given Xbox 360 players at least a few noteworthy exclusives of their own.
Plus, Microsoft managed to kick up a storm of publicity with its new motion-sensing technology-code-named Project Natal-which debuted at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June. The tech giant promised it would deliver one-to-one control based on the movement of a player's body, and brought industry heavy hitters like Peter Molyneux on board to espouse its virtues. Gamers will learn if the hype is earned when the technology is released later next year-and whether it can serve as a much needed boost for Microsoft's game platform.
Handheld gaming saw the release of two new devices: Nintendo's camera-equipped DSi, which plays the same games as the DS but offers a vastly improved operating system and access to downloadable games from Nintendo's online store, and Sony's PSPgo, a sexy little gadget with a sliding screen and no UMD drive, making it the first serious handheld gaming machine to force players to acquire all of their content online-which could be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your gaming habits.
Apple's iPod/iPhone, which also offers good looking downloadable games, seems like it should be a potential competitor for both the DSi and the PSPgo, but the system's developers have spent the last year content in offering small, inexpensive casual games rather than the more sophisticated titles craved by the sort of dedicated players who use Sony and Nintendo's platforms. Perhaps they're on to something, given that Apple says more than two billion applications have been downloaded from its App Store to date (though there's no word on how many of these apps are games).
And that just leaves the difficult-to-define world of PC gaming, which continued to swell in numbers thanks to the ever-growing casual games market while at the same time stagnate on the hardcore side due to a lack of noteworthy PC exclusives, once-staunch Windows platform developers like CryTek announcing plans to move toward the console space, and the PC versions of cross-platform games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 failing to live up to player expectations.
Confirming what everyone suspected, the U.S. arm of research firm NPD announced early in 2009 that annual sales of boxed PC games had dropped by nearly a quarter the year previous (though online juggernauts such as Blizzard's World of Warcraft continued to reap big profits).
Still, some love was shown PC players in games like Dragon Age: Origins, which critics agreed offered an interface noticeably superior to those of its console counterparts, and Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason , a little-known but well reviewed PC-exclusive horror game with a sublimely chilling atmosphere from Ukraine-based Action Forms.
And 2009 proved that the PC is still the platform of choice for games of simulation and tactics, with notable releases including The Sims 3, Empire: Total War, and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II. Though, alas, Blizzard's StarCraft II-probably the most anticipated strategy game of the decade-was bumped yet again, and is now slated for release sometime in 2010.
On the subject of next year, if the problem with 2009 was not enough high profile software, then it looks very much like 2010 will rectify the issue. In the first three months alone there will be nearly 20 high-profile releases, including Bayonetta , Splinter Cell: Conviction , Final Fantasy XIII , Battlefield: Bad Company 2 , BioShock 2 , Dante's Inferno, Mass Effect 2, MAG, Dark Void, Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil Zero, Heavy Rain , White Knight Chronicles , Gran Turismo 5 , Star Trek: Online, Army of Two: The 40th Day, Darksiders, Napolean: Total War, and Command and Conquer 4. Such a stacked line-up is unheard of for the first quarter of the gaming calendar, which is typically almost void of triple-A titles.
And perhaps that will make the perfect subject for my first post of 2010. Thanks for reading in 2009. Happy holidays and good gaming next year. :)
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