The Best Games of 2009

Although the recession caught up with the video games industry this year, there were plenty of games to love no matter what genre you’re into.

Great Games Worthy of Sublime Superlatives

Tail between its legs, the video games industry tried to retreat from 2009. Heavy hitters like Splinter Cell: Conviction, Bioshock 2, Bayonetta and Heavy Rain were pushed back to next year, ostensibly to allow more development time, but more likely to avoid competition from Modern Warfare 2 and Halo 3: ODST during a time of frugal gaming. Despite it all, there were plenty of games to love no matter what genre you’re into. I’ve got my favorites, upon which I’ve continued the tradition of bestowing arbitrary superlatives instead of arbitrary numerical rankings. Read on to find out what games were Technologizer’s best of 2009.

The Michael Jackson Award for Best Video Game Music: Bit.Trip Beat

Bit.Trip Beat is what Pong would have been if all the low-bit sound effects became the score, and the ball was replaced by psychedelic patterns that hit your paddle in time with the music. What makes this game such a triumph — even over its sequels — is how the precise, rhythmic twisting of your Wii remote to move the paddle becomes an extension of the beats and visuals, as if it’s a musical instrument itself. (This year, it was finally confirmed that Michael Jackson played a part in composing Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s soundtrack, so this memorial isn’t too far off.)

The Shock and Awe Award for Best Visuals: Killzone 2

By most measures, Killzone 2 is a mediocre game. The plot is forgettable, and most of your time is spent crawling from one bland corridor to the next, popping enemies that look and act too similar. But all is forgiven when your character drops into a warzone, his camera shaking from explosions, pushing forward against an enemy line dotted with muzzle flashes and muddied by smoke and debris. Colorful environments be damned, the grit of Killzone 2’s muted browns and toxic reds left my eyes watering for more.

The Billy Mays Award for Most Over-the-Top In-Game Moment: Ninja Blade

Critics’ cool reaction to Ninja Blade struck me as harsh—despite its rough edges, I loved the nonstop parade of over-the-top monsters, and the game gave me one scenario I won’t soon forget: Upon gravely wounding a gigantic worm, you’re prompted to press a sequence of buttons to finish off the creature. This entails landing mid-air on a motorcycle that the worm spits from its mouth, riding it along several airborne buses — also spit by the monster — throwing the bike back into a final bus, then flinging a kunai into the motorcycle’s gas tank, bursting it and propelling the bus towards the worm’s mouth as the vehicles explode in unison. I’m really sorry if that doesn’t pump you up.

Most Potential: Borderlands

On the most basic level, Borderlands succeeded, giving players crazy weapons such as rocket shotguns and corrosive SMGs, then letting people team up online or in split-screen to scour the desert wasteland for booty. My problem with Borderlands is that it felt so lifeless, sending players on fetch quests and failing to provide the Mad Max atmosphere that was promised. Fortunately, Take-Two has vowed to turn Borderlands into a megafranchise. I’d love to see the series take a page from this year’s Assassin’s Creed 2, whose bustling cities should be a model for every open-world video game to come.

Best Game to Play With Friends: Left 4 Dead 2

Sometimes, with cooperative shooters, it can feel like each person is playing a different game, fighting their own battles and paying little attention to each other. If someone goes astray in Left 4 Dead 2, they’re likely to get pummeled, pounced, spit on or sucked up by one of the game’s deadlier zombie mutations. There’s no saving yourself from these creatures, so your friends are all you’ve got. Good thing most Xbox 360s include headsets so you can scream for help.

Runner-Up: Wii Sports Resort Basketball. It’s the new Wii Sports Bowling.

Best Game You Haven’t Played: Retro Game Challenge

More than just a cash-in on antiquated game genres, Retro Game Challenge is a love letter to anyone who grew up in the 8-bit era. As you play through send-ups of Galaga and Dragon Warrior, your young avatar and his friend sit on the floor in the Nintendo DS’ bottom screen, hollering with every smooth move or crushing defeat. Between challenges, you can discover cheat codes and read previews of the next game you’ll play in an ever-expanding library of magazines, modeled after the hype-laden heyday of GamePro and EGM. This is nostalgia done right, capturing a time when video games were all that mattered.

Best Game I Haven’t Played: Plants vs. Zombies

I can’t give you a good reason why I haven’t played Plants vs. Zombies, but around release time, my Twitter feed was filled with accounts of addiction and way-too-late nights. The game is essentially tower defense, using plant-based weaponry to fend off hordes of undead, but it was so well-done that putting it down was problematic. I’ll have to try it at a time when game addiction is more convenient for me.

The Les Paul Award for Innovation: Scribblenauts

By letting players create practically any object in the dictionary (not copyrighted or explicit) simply by typing that word into the Nintendo DS, Scribblenauts creates a brief feeling of childlike wonder. That’s why I picked the game for best of E3 earlier this year. Sadly, the game itself is flawed; you’ll inevitably rely on dull solutions instead of elaborate objects to solve puzzles, and controls are sloppy. But in that moment when it seems like anything is possible, Scribblenauts charted new territory.

Game of the Year – Hollywood Edition: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

The happy ending of video game awards goes to Uncharted 2, whose tale of treasure-hunting and lost love hit all the right notes. Though I missed some of the first game’s lightheartedness, what turns Uncharted 2 to gold is the interplay between its characters, which for a video game are remarkably human. And this game is colorful, taking you from war-torn streets littered with broken local art to a peaceful mountain town where the children giggle as you pass. And of course, the game’s a thrill ride from end to end, leaving a smile on your face when it’s finished.

Game of the Year: Demon’s Souls

“I’ve been playing the same level all day and I’m no closer to beating it,” I exclaimed to my fiancée on day two of Demon’s Souls. But I wasn’t angry. It was a learning experience, one that everyone goes through in their first five hours of this oppressive, depressing game. Among those who stick it out, Demon’s Souls has earned a cult following, because it demands so much. If you die, you go back to the start of the level, and any currency you earned up to that point is lost. Elsewhere, I’ve written more about why Demon’s Souls is so flawlessly executed. In short, the game is not fun in the typical sense, but the more you play, the harder it is to give up. For video games, 2009 was a year of reducing risks and cutting losses, but Demon’s Souls took the plunge with a game that’s not for everyone, and it paid off.

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