Top 9 of 2009

Let's get this party started, shall we? If this is your first time reading a year-end list of mine, allow me to whore out my past lists, my Top 8 of 2008, and Top 7 of 2007. It's a tradition I'm happy to continue, and I'm honored to share it with you fine Nitrobeard fans.

Without further ado, I proudly present my Top 9 of 2009:

Color me surprised. When I first heard about Final Fantasy: Dissidia (or is it Dissidia: Final Fantasy? Fantasy: Final Dissidia?), I was pretty confused. I didn't understand if the game was meant to be purely fanservice, a storyline compendium, or a Super Smash Bros. ripoff. All I knew, was it featured characters from nearly every title in the series, and they were fighting Advent Children-style: Flippies galore, with no regard to physics, gravity, or sense.

Now, as I look at my 53 hours played save file, my mind has been changed. Is the game fanservice? You bet. Is it ridiculous nonsense, wrapped in Final Fantasy mumbo jumbo? Absolutely. However, know that instead of these being detractors, they're the reason the game is so good. It's campy fun, a salute to longtime fans of the series. The fighting system is much like recent Dragon Ball Z fighting games, with the leveling mechanics of standard Final Fantasy fare. Use alot of Cure spells during combat? Curaga's right around the corner. It's a very basic, yet infinitely rewarding system, and when coupled with the 'Achievement' aspect (play during certain days of the week for bonuses, after X number of fights, receive Y in your mailbox, etc), constitutes a very addictive romp. Highly recommended to action fans, fighting fans, and if you're a Final Fantasy fan, it's a no-brainer.

Shin Megami has always been a love-hate relationship for me: Extremely difficult battles and a mind-numbing learning curve, with incredible design sensibility and great character development, the series is definitely an acquired taste. With Devil Survivor, Atlus has kept what makes Shin Megami games unique, with a splash of genre-splicing goodness. Mixing Pokemon, Tactics Ogre, .hack, and Dragon Quest, they've hit on something fantastic here. The gameplay is as rough-and-tumble as ever, and battles are played out ala Fire Emblem or Advance Wars. Monster collecting and fusing is not only crucial for your party, but incredibly enjoyable. The Auction House even scratches that gambling itch, making sure that your 40+ hour adventure is filled with late nights and compulsive betting. The story starts a bit weak, the character designs are a tad standard for the series, but once the momentum starts, it wont let you go.

You can blame Brian for this. What started as a simple time-waster in Wipeout HD, became a full-blown lifestyle when Fury hit. I stepped aboard the Wipeout bandwagon much later than most, but as I found out, there's NEVER a bad time to get introduced. I'm not even a fan of racing titles, but there's something simply breathtaking about Wipeout HD, and with the additional tracks, modes, and the darker 'vibe' that Fury introduces, I'm hooked for life. Running at full 1080p, locked at 60fps, and having the sickest design sensibility I've ever seen, Wipeout HD Fury may be my favorite racing game ever made. The speed, sense of accomplishment (learning tracks, unlocking ships), and worldwide leaderboards combines to make a game that goes beyond any specific 'genre', it's some sort of voodoo magic.

There's this sort of stigma with popular games, especially shooters, in the hardcore community. 'Dudebrah, let's fire up the Call of Duty and kill some other dudebrahs, dudebrah'. I guess it's the same appeal as giant blockbuster films: 'Dudebrah, did you see Transformers 2: Revenge of the Dudebrahs? Totally wicked'. We completely dismiss the titles as some sort of pandering, a different 'sector' of the community. We'll have these titles, while you have those titles, and never the two shall meet.

I'm here to tell you, though, that Modern Warfare 2 is good. Ridiculously good. So good, in fact, that I'm looking forward to getting as many of the PS3 trophies as I possibly can, and I'm looking forward to playing through the Single Player Campaign again soon. While ridiculous, the story goes to some ballsy places, and even if it's a bit hamfisted, the payoff at the end of the game will cause some sort of fist-pumping, 'AMERICA, FUCK YEAH' reaction. The multiplayer reaffirms why Infinity Ward is always imitaded, and never replicated. Perks now have levels, gear loadouts have additional stat changes, and the maps reward more verticality and tactical thinking. Yes, you'll deal with more dudebrahs than you'll know what to do with, but you know what? It's worth it. If that's not a true testament to the game, I don't know what is.

I was a fan of the original Assassin's Creed. I loved the premise, enough-so to overlook the insanely repetitive missions, and the absurdity of a handful of mechanics. I was interested in where the story was going, as I've always been a fan of whodunit, DUN DUN DUNNNN mysteries. Where the first Assassin's Creed laid the foundation, Assassin's Creed 2 laid out the floorplan, built a mansion, and partied all up in that bitch. Upping the ante in every single way, Assassin's Creed 2 is one of the best sandbox games I've ever played. The gameplay flows evenly from setting to setting, the combat mechanics are MUCH improved, the visuals are as lovely as ever, and I'll be damned, they added a SimCity-lite village, where I get to upgrade my town. I'm truly convinced this game was made for me! Not only is hanging out with Da Vinci pretty amazing, but I get to fly on his makeshift hanglider? Sign me up, Ubisoft!

The story takes the conspiracy theory aspect and runs with it, with a much richer narrative, basing its lore upon the first Assassin's Creed. You can tell that Ubisoft heard the complaints about the first game, and took them to heart. While there are major mysteries still left to solve, the game is fantastic about answering what it needs to in order for the player to follow the narrative. Never is a mystery revealed too soon, or too late, and that's a balance that is extremely hard to achieve. With all of the unlockables, dialogues, and watercooler moments in the game, PLUS the aforementioned conspiracies, there's something for everyone in Ezio's fantastic romp. Plus, dual wristblades, thanks to Da Vinci. How badass is that?

Dammit, Nintendo. Every single year, I think to myself, 'I'm outgrowing Nintendo. Sorry Wii, sorry DS, you just aren't as meaningful as you used to be. It was fun while it lasted, but I can only play Zelda so many times'. Then, as if they're monitoring my house, a game is made that reminds me why Nintendo is the most successful videogame company of the planet. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a phenomenal success, and is tied with Super Mario Galaxy as my favorite Wii game.

Adding 4 player to the classic gameplay seemed like a cheap trick when I first heard about it, but in practice, it adds infinite replayability to an already insanely replayable experience: Working with other Super Mario veterans? You'll have an amazing co-op experience, trying to break levels, complete speedruns, or gaining the highest points. Friends or family that have played exactly 10 minutes of videogames prior to owning a Wii? Prepare to steal items, get jumped on by your buddy, and have hilarious moments of mistakes, mishaps, and slapstick comedy. Nintendo has been, and in my opinion, always be the golden child. They have the Midas touch, and the fact that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is not only NOT a rehash, but feels like a completely rich, inviting, new experience just shows the ingenuity and overall perfection of their gameplay designs. Thanks for proving me wrong once again, Nintendo. I'll mail you some hearts I cut out of construction paper.

I love Diablo 2. I need to bring this to your attention, so you can know where I'm coming from. I loved Diablo 2 so much, in fact, that I was ranked in the Top 100 on USWest servers in 2002, on the Hardcore Hell ladder. I played so much, at one point, I got physically ill. With this being said, know that Borderlands is the closest I've ever felt to getting THAT addicted to a game since my D2 haydays. I played (and loved) Titans Quest, Sacred, and Hellgate: London, but Borderlands is the closest thing to Diablo this side of, well, Diablo. Before I played, I was worried about the limitations of the game, and the gameworld. 4 characters, only one 'main' map, and the advertised '40 gajillion guns' were just renamings and alterations of 5 or 6 standard guns. I bought the game on a whim to kill some time, and now I'm a believer.

The design of Pandora is remarkably polished, and well-realized enough that when I turn the game on, I literally feel transported to it. A game hasn't done that for me in close to a decade, and it was immensly enjoyable to have that feeling again. The loot-whore in me is constantly rewarded not only with guns, but with levels (which are balanced and achieved at a flawless pace), skill-trees, and fantastic enemy deaths. There have been more 'Oh, there was this one time...' moments in Borderlands than I can count, and I know for a fact more are around the corner. There are tons of small 'holes in the wall' dungeons to find, AMAZING boss fights, and an overall sense of awe as I trek along, grabbing my fire-shooting, exploding-round-filled Sniper Rifle and Combat Shotguns. The guns, while there are many, always feel fresh, unique, and polished: The weight is meaty, and you'll no doubt find your "favorite gun", only to replace it in 2 hours with your new "favorite gun". Mix all of this with 4 player multiplayer, and the fact that Borderlands is the first game in the franchise, and you have a sleeper hit on your hands. The fact remains: If you're a shooter, and you're released the same year as Modern Warfare 2 AND Halo ODST, yet you're STILL successful? You have a long, bright future ahead of you.

Mmm, daddy loves his stories. I'm an old fogey when it comes to my story-driven games, as I still talk about Deus Ex, Planescape: Torment, and Baldur's Gate with the authority and nostalgia of your grandfather harping about the Lawrence Welk Show, or Werthers Originals. I appreciate strong character development, fine plot twists, and meaningful choices in my games, moreso than good gameplay, attractive graphics or astounding voicework. The great thing about Dragon Age, though, is that it has ALL of these things: Bioware's pulled out all the stops, and while it may look a little dated, there's no deeper console RPG than Dragon Age. None.

I've been out of the World of Warcraft for a bit now, and just as I was starting to get my WoW itch again, Dragon Age came, and not only scratched it, but put some sort of soothing ointment on it, then whispered sweet nothings into my ear. It meets the 'just one more quest' requirement, and the gameworld is just as interesting, and just as dynamic as Azeroth. Characters make HUGE impacts on your story, experience, and overall enjoyment: Some things you can't take back, and there's some downright scandalous things happening behind the scenes, of which you'll play a part. This is definitely the most mature Bioware game I've ever played, and it's tied with The Witcher as the most mature RPG I've played, period. I play Baldur's Gate II once a year, every year, and have for quite a while. Now, I won't need to, as Dragon Age is better looking, just as well-written, and the story is superior (yeah, that's right, I said it). While at first, the idea of Dragon Age being Bioware's best game was almost sacrilige to me, the more I've played, and the more I think about it, the more I find it irrefutable. Dragon Age IS Bioware's best game, as now I can see that while Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect are stunning achievements, they were test subjects so-to-speak: Vessels to test gameplay mechanics, in order to make the game they've wanted to make for a long time coming. Believe the hype, Dragon Age is the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate II, and not only holds a candle to it, but surpasses it in nearly every way.

It's also my favorite RPG of all-time. Bam.

Think back to every console you've owned. Now, for each one, name the first game that comes to mind. Usually, it's the one that gave you the most joy, or was the most memorable. Maybe it's the one that holds a special place in your heart, even though it wasn't the best game on the system. There's a special "understanding" that you and your game have, one that nobody can talk you out of, for any reason. For me, Breath of Fire III for the original Playstation is one, while Jet Force Gemini on N64 was another. Now, I'm happy to say, when I think PS3, I think Uncharted 2.

I didn't play the first Uncharted when it launched, firstly because I didn't have a PS3 then, and secondly, because it didn't interest me. Woo, some Indiana Jones ripoff that had pretty water! Sure, while the first title had critical acclaim and a somewhat cult following, it literally had zero interest to me. When Uncharted 2 came out, though, I was enthralled. I HAD to have this game, and I can't explain why. It wasn't just visuals, or the perfect animations, but there was SOMETHING that hooked me, even before I played the first level. The further I played into the game, I figured out what it was: Charm.

Make no mistake, Uncharted 2 is the most charming game you'll ever play. Now, LittleBigPlanet's a top contender in that category, but I'm speaking of charming in a different sense: The sense that you're aware of playing a video game, the GAME knows you're playing a videogame, and you both have an agreement: to enjoy one another's company. The story pulls you in (literally) in the first five minutes, and it never lets up. Many will claim that Modern Warfare 2 is like playing an action film, but Uncharted 2 destroys it in that regard. I audibly gasped, laughed, 'woah'ed, and damn near cried during my time with Uncharted 2, and that can be attributed to the key aspects of the game. The visuals are the best I've ever seen (surpassing Crysis, in my book), the music is sweeping orchestral magic, the voice acting is THE best in gaming, and the gameplay is flawless. There was never a point in the game (keep in mind, a VERY platform-heavy game) where I was frustrated with the controls. There was plenty of dying on my part, sure, but it was ALWAYS my fault, and I always learned from my mistakes. The voice acting needs special mention, as it's the best, most genuinely gripping voicework I've heard in the industry. There are subtle grins, hints of innuendo, and backstory galore in these voices, and you can tell that they've created a deep, satisfying fiction: You can tell tensions in relationships, emotional mishaps, and second guesses of people's morals, all within a single sentence. I really can't stress this enough, but the voicework is the best in the industry, and in my opinion, it rivals the best Pixar films. Emotions run high, but Nathan Drake always knows exactly what to say, and how to say it. I simply can't get over how well it's done.

Multiplayer is no slouch either, as it feels like a fantastic mix of Gears of War, and Modern Warfare. Very vertical levels, great co-op support, awesome weapon variety, and fantastic teamwork opportunities are around every corner, and reward constant play. There are perks, upgrades, and level-ups as well. I'll be truthful, I've played more of Modern Warefare's multiplayer than Uncharted's, but it's strictly personal preference, and shouldn't be seen as a slight on Uncharted's mechanics.

This Game of the Year list was difficult, but only in regards to choosing the other games. Uncharted 2 was the instant #1 choice in my mind, one that I didn't think twice about. At no other time has a game come together has an 'experience' in such a way. Perfect acting, absolutely ridiculous visuals, incredible multiplayer, and rock-solid mechanics literally make out the perfect package. Never have I called a game 'perfect', but dammit, Uncharted 2 is as close as you can get. Easily the reason to own a PS3, and in my opinion, the best game this generation.