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.