Best of 2009: Videogames

Making a year-end list for videogames is easier if you don’t feel obligated to finish them all.

Don’t misunderestimate me: I would be shameless enough to include Tales of Monkey Island on a best-of-year list, except I haven’t played any of them yet. Working on videogames doesn’t leave a lot of time for playing them, especially if you’d have to stay at work if you wanted to play them for free.

The idea of “finishing” a game is long gone (although I did actually finish 4 of the games on this list, which is a first). Here are my favorites of the games I played long enough to form an opinion. iPhone games aren’t included:

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum
It’s a full-on Batman simulator, and it got almost everything right. Looks fantastic, keeps you engaged from start to finish, and most importantly: it got the pacing right, mixing up the brawling and the stealth sections in just the right combination.

2. Plants vs. Zombies
I could still do without the music video, and the last level is more random than strategic, but everything else is about perfect.

3. Flower
It’s a beautiful game, it’s exactly as long as it needs to be, and it says everything it wants to say via game mechanics instead of cutscenes or dialogue. If we’re genuinely serious about elevating videogames as an artistic medium, then we need to be making and supporting games like Flower.

4. Rhythm Heaven
The Fillbots still drive me nuts, but this is one of the best games of the year just for the stink-eye you get from the other guys in the Glee Club.

5. The Beatles Rock Band
Best opening video ever, and it does what the Rock Band games were designed to do: let you appreciate music in a new way.

6. Torchlight
I’d heard the game was like Diablo, but it is Diablo. It’s hard to fault the team — if I’d made one of the best games ever made, I’d probably want to just keep making it, too. I just wish they’d added something new. Still, there’s a reason Diablo is one of the best games ever made.

7. The Sims 3
It’s a great sequel, but as it’s gotten bigger, it’s lost a good bit of what made it so innovative.

8. Anno 1404
This is one of those European city-building games, and it pushed all my buttons. It’s absolutely amazing to look at, it’s got all kinds of depth at the city building level, and the combat isn’t that annoying.

9. Trine
I liked this game when it first came out, but I was never compelled to finish it.

10. Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers
Apparently the card game was really popular a while back. I never really played it that much, but the Xbox version kind of explains the appeal. The best part is the whole “challenge” section, which reminds you that there’s supposed to be a strategy to the game more than “buy all the cards.”

My honorable mention section has the games I’ve checked out for an hour or so, but won’t be able to finish until midway through 2010 at the earliest.

Dragon Age: Origins
Of all the role-playing games I’ve played, this sure is one of them. It all seems very well made, but the only really novel thing I’ve seen so far is the ludicrous amount of blood that covers everything after every battle. Plus I think I need to start over because my character just looks weird and it’s unnerving.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The first twenty minutes or so are absolutely amazing, and I was completely convinced that this was a game that could live up to the hype. Then it kind of turned into the first Uncharted, with too-obvious puzzling and some pretty uninspired shootouts.


  1. Kroms Avatar

    Here are mine, complete with little blurbs. I was going to respond to the music/TV/movies ones, but then realised I wasn’t impressed with anything I saw this year besides Up (keep in mind that we don’t get indie music or movies where I live, the October+ movies haven’t arrived yet and TV flaunts between Friends re-runs and whatever Harpo decide to make).

    1. Tales of Monkey Island

    A very fun, funny, engaging adventure game that managed to be both similar to and different from its predecessors. Subjectively, I’d say it’s my favorite Monkey game (sorry; Curse is a close second), though, objectively, the puzzles sometimes needed a bit of a smoothing-out. I still love it.

    2. Left 4 Dead 2

    I’m not a big fan of online multiplayer, but this is fun with friends and the intense, rapid-fire feel of the game was fully used in the levels. It’s pretty funny too – sticking in “raw, delicious sushi” ads in a zombie game is a masterstroke – and the characters are all likeable, which only serves to make the game more fun.

    3. Brutal Legend

    It’s too bad the game never bothers to thoroughly explain how it’s supposed to work, thus forcing you to figure out some quirks on your own, because the word that comes to mind as I’m playing it is “awesome”; not as in “cool”, as in “I am in awe at how good this is”. When it works, there’s nothing like it; when it doesn’t, it’s a bore, but that’s only because they don’t explain it. The trademark Schafer is all there, in full glory; and the game itself is brilliant.

    4. Uncharted 2

    Some bits are too similar to the first game for it to be my favorite game of the year, but Nepal onwards it’s been a blast (pun unintended). I haven’t finished it yet – not even gotten to that famous train sequence – but I’m enjoying it. In terms of writing – I feel I should mention this, since everyone else has been talking about it – it’s fun banter, it could be better, but it doesn’t take it so seriously it matters.

    5. The Path

    For what it was, I liked it. For what it dared to do, for what it tried to do, I loved it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s the first genuine horror experience I’ve had in ages. It made me uncomfortable; it made me feel bad. That was enough.

    I’ve played a few other games, but these are the ones that come to mind as being good.

  2. James Avatar

    While the amount of blood seen in Dragon Age *is* somewhat ludicrous, it becomes a lot easier to ignore if you think of it as makeup.