Best & Worst Video Games of 2009

I don’t play anywhere near as many video game as I see movies so I’m not going to do an in-depth list and there’s a high likelihood that there are better games from this year that I didn’t play.  But of the handful I did, here’s what I came up with:

Best of 2009

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum: This is the Batman video game I always imagined and the Batman movie that can never exist.  It’s dark, violent, but has Batman doing more than just punching people, although the fighting mechanics are superb.  There was just no great satisfaction for me in gaming than perching on a gargoyle, waiting for a henchman to pass by underneath, and stringing him up in less than a second.  Oh wait, there was a greater moment: every time a mad man charged you and you timed it right to just take him down with a strong punch to the face.

2. The Beatles: Rock Band: There was no way this game could disappoint.  It’s my favorite band of all-time paired with one of my favorite games of all-time.  It’s visually spectacular and will (hopefully) introduce a new generation to The Fab Four.  The only reason this game doesn’t edge out Arkham Asylum is because it does live or die with it’s Downloadable Content and Rubber Soul was a letdown on bass and guitar.

3. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: About a billion times better than Grand Theft Auto IV because it was…oh, what’s the word I’m looking for?  Oh, right: FUN.

4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Add this to the short list of videogames that are better than the movie they’re based on.  There’s no way the awful movie could ever match the violence of the game (in the first stage you rip a pilot out of the cockpit and shove his head inside the blades), and while the story is just as weak, video games tend to have lousy stories anyway.  At least the game was loads of fun, which is more than I can ever say about the movie.

5. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story: These games are always fun.  They mock the Mario universe rather than just pile on it.  The gameplay is also solid and while I wish there were more sidequests and less touch-screen controls (which almost always feel shoehorned into just about any Nintendo DS game), it was a DS game that wasn’t a disappointment (unlike The World Ends With You, which didn’t come out this year, but I did play it back in January and I hated it; if your game is still give you tutorials ten hours in, then it’s more complicated than it needs to be).

Worst of 2009

1. Brutal Legend: “Disappointment” is not a strong enough word.  This is a game that didn’t even believe in itself.  When I played the demo, I thought it was going to be one of the best games of the year.  But the demo left out what Brutal Legend actually was: a real-time-strategy game.  Not only does that kind of game bore me, but I felt tricked.  I thought it would be a fun hack-n-slasher from the guy who made Psychonauts, one of the all-time great video games.  If Hollywood made R-rated animated films, Brutal Legend would be fantastic.  But since video games actually require fun gameplay, it was failure.

2. Scribblenauts: This is how you trick journalists at E3: you offer them a game that supposedly offers 20,000 words which allow you to imagine just about everything, and then see how they think it’s fun to pit God against a kraken.  That is fun.  For about five to ten minutes and if you sat down and actually devoted time to play the game (which the journalists clearly didn’t have time to do), you would see that it has appeal for a few hours before you realize that it does limit your imagination and it probably only has a few thousand words and then uses them for the same item.  “Box” and “Crate” produce the same item, but so what?  It’s a trick to make you think that 20,000 words means 20,000 items.  But it doesn’t really matter because the game has very specific items it wants you to use to achieve your objective.  Oh, and the controls suck, so good work on that one.

3. Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions: Yes, it didn’t come out this year, but it was also a massive disappointment.  I don’t get the love for this game.  It’s not a strategy game because strategy allows you to plan.  FFT forces you to choose your units and position without knowing the terrain or which enemies you’ll be facing.  Then it just falls to grinding your characters’ levels, because it’s not about who positions their units the best, but who gets lucky.  Luck is the opposite strategy.  And yet this is one of the highest rated PSP games on the market.  Then again, most video game critics are worthless so why am I not surprised.

Sunday, December 27th, 2009 criticism, videogames

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