Crispy Gamer

Game of the Year 2009: The Game Trust's Picks

You've patiently listened to Uncle Crispy rant and rave about his least-favorite gaming moments of 2009. You've looked on with horror as we recounted the year's oddest gaming moments. Now it's finally time to talk about the reason we're all here: the games themselves. Specifically, the best games to come out in 2009 (Yeah, we know the year's technically not over yet, but we hope you'll forgive us for not holding our list off in anticipation of Playmobil Pirates and Guitar Hero: Van Halen).

To keep things simple (and to avoid months-long arguments/barroom brawls over which games truly belonged where), we based our game-of-the-year rankings on a secret ballot. Eighteen members of the Game Trust submitted a ranked list of their top-five personal favorites for the year. First-place picks received five points, second-place picks got four points, all the way down to one point for fifth-place picks. The point values were added together to create the rankings below.

If you really can't get enough statistics, there's a detailed breakdown of the voting at the end of this piece. But for now, let's get right down to it with our top 10 12 picks for the year:

Game of the Year

#9 (tie) Torchlight

How it got here: Nostalgia for Diablo II and impatience for Diablo III squeaked this somewhat derivative dungeon crawler onto our list of the best games of 2009. What Torchlight lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with excellent production values and a wonderfully balanced execution. Torchlight is that rare beast that's both easy to pick up and easy to get deeply absorbed in, and that earned it a place on this list.

From the review: "The familiar formula of dungeon delving, looting, and foozle killing is executed here with finesse, style and a production value that shouldn't be possible on an indie-game developer's budget." --James Fudge

Game of the Year

#9 (tie) New Super Mario Bros. Wii

How it got here: It's really hard to screw up that classic Mario formula, although New Super Mario Bros. Wii certainly seems to have done its best to try. Despite some frustrations with the new multiplayer mode, simply jumping around the colorful, well-designed 2-D levels is just as fun as it ever was, whether playing together or alone. Fun new items like the Propeller Suit and the triumphant return of Yoshi kept fans happy as well.

From the review: "Even the sections that don't really innovate feel comfortable, like a favorite pair of fuzzy slippers. The old neural pathways kick into life as you quickly and automatically plot out the best way to get from the left side of the screen to the right. ... When it's running smoothly, the flow of those old Mario moves, perfectly executed, is a thing of beauty." --Kyle Orland

Game of the Year

#9 (tie) Demon's Souls

How it got here: After years of games that hold your hand and push you inexorably forward, many Game Trusters were ready for a truly old-school challenge. Demon's Souls was more than happy to oblige, providing a punishingly difficult dungeon-crawler experience. How difficult? It's quite easy to spend a majority of the game dead! Despite the difficulty, the game never feels unfair; slow, methodical strategy can always win the day for a skilled player. An innovative multiplayer system that allows players to pass written in-game hints to each other helped sealed the deal.

From the review: "Rather than toss thousands of players a world so big that most will choose to ignore each other, this inventive reimagining of the classic dungeon crawler lets players haunt each others' nightmares. Adventurers here don't populate the same realm. It's more like their purgatories intersect." --Gus Mastrapa

Game of the Year

#9 (tie) The Beatles: Rock Band

How it got here: Start with the time-tested party-game magic that is Rock Band. Add in the music of the greatest rock band of all time, making its videogame debut. How can the result be anything but one of the best games of the year? True, The Beatles: Rock Band adds little in the way of new gameplay (aside from the ability to sing three-part harmonies), and the animated Beatles history vignettes border on hagiographic. Still, it's hard to care about that when a whole room full of people are singing about "getting by with a little help from my friends" at the top of their lungs.

From the review: "In studio sessions at Abbey Road, you almost feel like you're sitting next to John, Paul, George and Ringo; especially because before each tune, there's real-life chatter from the band that shows both its focus and its occasional enjoyment at 'coming together' to make records. In that way, The Beatles: Rock Band is a most precious holographic mimesis." --Harold Goldberg

Game of the Year

#7 (tie) Dragon Age: Origins

How it got here: Despite some clunky party controls and relatively ugly presentation, Dragon Age: Origins won voters over in much the same way as other BioWare classics like Knights of the Old Republic. With an intricately detailed world; deep, believable characters; and branching dialogue trees that make the player feel like a participant rather than a passive observer, it's easy to forgive the long sections of dull level grinding. And with six different classes, each with their own customized story arcs, there's good reason to think Dragon Age: Origins will keep many players busy well into 2010.

From the review: "I'm a pig sniffing for conversational truffles, digging through everyday dirt for those small, rare moments where characters and situations come together in potent sequence. Dragon Age has kept me hunting for a few dozen hours already, and the reward is sweet enough that I'm going to keep at it." --Russ Fischer

Game of the Year

#7 (tie) Brütal Legend

How it got here: Leave it to the twisted genius of Tim Schafer to make heavy-metal music interesting even to people who don't care about heavy metal at all. Brütal Legend's reverence for its source material is infectious, thanks in large part to witty writing, over-the-top metal-fantasy environments and an excellent voice cast led by Jack Black. Oh, and the gameplay is noteworthy too; an interesting, constantly changing m?lange of different genres (brawling, racing, even real-time strategy) that never gets stale.

From the review: "What matters is the music -- and how it drives us to dream, to imagine, to live and to love. Play Brütal Legend and you may not learn to love metal, but you'll certainly feel the love that Tim Schafer and Double Fine carry with them. Their art here screams with passion." --Gus Mastrapa

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Game of the Year

#6 Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

How it got here: Despite some ambivalence from our reviewer, Uncharted 2 won over our voters with writing full of witty one-liners, beautifully detailed environments and cinematic camerawork that captured the action-movie ethos more perfectly than perhaps any game that came before it. Add in some excellent over-the-shoulder gunplay, effortless climbing sections and a surprisingly engaging multiplayer mode and you have what the Game Trust calls the year's best PlayStation 3 exclusive.

From the review: "It's a good game, to be sure. In fact, when it comes to pure gunplay, it's the PlayStation 3's best exclusive shooter. But as a follow-up to Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, as a story about Nathan Drake, as a romantic adventure, as a series of set pieces, as a story, it's merely fair. The original game was a revelation. Uncharted 2 is a sophomore effort." --Tom Chick

Game of the Year

#5 Red Faction: Guerrilla

How it got here: Anyone who's ever destroyed a carefully built LEGO structure knows tearing stuff down can be even more fun than building it up. Red Faction: Guerrilla proves this concept beautifully, allowing for a level of environmental destruction that puts previous attempts to shame. "If you can touch it, you can destroy it" is the motto, with buildings collapsing left and right as you wreak havoc in a desolate Martian setting. We dare you to reduce an in-game building to a heap of twisted steel and concrete with a sledgehammer and disagree with this pick.

From the review: "Red Faction: Guerrilla is an historic game. By building into the gameplay the sort of destructibility other games have only pretended at, it's a revelation. ... Red Faction: Guerrilla isn't just a great game. It's a point of no return." --Tom Chick

Game of the Year

#3 (tie) Assassin's Creed II

How it got here: The first Assassin's Creed was an inspired if slightly flawed demonstration of a new kind of open-world concept, based around targeted assassinations and managed crowd dynamics. Assassin's Creed II builds on this solid base, opening it up to a fully realized recreation of Venice that simply bursts with life and energy. The effortless gameplay combines many different genres into a satisfying whole, and while some took issue with the story, it doesn't detract too much from Ubisoft's world-building accomplishment.

From the review: "This game uses everything in the service of a single admirable goal: to create a generous, forgiving, spectacular, exciting, vast, never-before-seen, unforgettable open world that can and should be recommended to anyone. ... Until someone else out there can take me to a place as grand as Venice, I shall think of Assassin's Creed II whenever I hear Arthur C. Clarke's axiom that any sufficiently awesome videogame is indistinguishable from magic." --Tom Chick

Game of the Year

#3 (tie) Plants vs. Zombies

How it got here: One of only two games from the first half of the year to make our top 10, Plants vs. Zombies' mix of casual simplicity and addictively deep gameplay stuck with voters through to the end of the year. PopCap's wonderfully expressive, childlike animation and character design draw players in, while the slowly unfolding array of new items and enemies keeps things going. By the time you've begun to master the game's surprisingly involved survival modes, you may well wonder how you lost so many dozens of hours of your life to a game that looks so non-threatening. Then you'll likely lose many more.

From the review: "At some point you look up and realize that Plants vs. Zombies has grown from a small, insignificant seed into a complex, chaotic, fast-paced strategy game that's as addictive as the best in the genre." --Kyle Orland

Game of the Year

#2 Left 4 Dead 2

How it got here: On the surface, Left 4 Dead 2 is just an expansion of everything that made the original Left 4 Dead great. It's just the same highly cooperative first-person shooter, only now packed with new settings, new zombies, new weapons and new gameplay modes. But Left 4 Dead 2 is more than just an expansion pack. It's a whole new set of scenarios, with well-realized new characters and a renewed focus on pacing and dramatic tension that makes the first game look like a B movie in comparison. The boycotters got it wrong ... this is much more than a DLC update. This is an entirely new game.

From the review: "Left 4 Dead 2's campaigns, when played end-to-end, feel like a true odyssey. The final airlift is a hard-won prize as cathartic and thrilling as the climax to any movie." --Gus Mastrapa

And Crispy Gamer's 2009 Game of the Year is...

Game of the Year

#1: Batman: Arkham Asylum

How it got here: This one was possibly the beneficiary of low expectations, since almost every other superhero game before Batman: Arkham Asylum has been awful. That said, Rocksteady blew those low expectations out of the water, crafting an experience that was both true to the Batman mythos and actually interesting to play. From the chilling atmosphere of the Arkham setting and excellent voice work (by the cast of the original Batman animated series) to the wonderfully fluid combat controls and slowly unfolding Metroidvania gameplay structure, Arkham Asylum just seemed to hit all the right notes to become our Game of the Year pick by an overwhelming margin.

From the review: "One minute, you're in frantic combat, pounding thug after thug; the next, you're clenching your jaw until the time is right to glide down into a crushing kick. You're forced to crouch in the darkness, finding your patience. That feels like Batman." --Evan Narcisse

What's your pick for Game of the Year? Come back to Crispy Gamer Monday and vote in Game of the Year 2009: The People's Choice!

Voters

William Abner
Christopher Buecheler
Tom Chick
Russ Fischer
James Fudge
Harold Goldberg
Troy S. Goodfellow
Scott Jones
Steve Kent
Ryan Kuo
Gus Mastrapa
Jason McMaster
Evan Narcisse
Kyle Orland
Marc Saltzman
Steve Steinberg
John Teti
David Thomas

Vote breakdown

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Game Points # Votes Avg. Place 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Batman: Arkham Asylum 48 12 2.00 6 0 6 0 0
Left 4 Dead 2 20 6 2.67 2 1 1 1 1
Plants Vs. Zombies 19 7 3.29 1 1 1 3 1
Assassin's Creed II 19 6 2.83 0 3 1 2 0
Red Faction: Guerrilla 15 5 3.00 1 1 1 1 1
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves 14 4 2.50 0 2 2 0 0
Brütal Legend 13 3 1.67 1 2 0 0 0
Dragon Age: Origins 13 4 2.75 0 3 0 0 1
The Beatles: Rock Band 7 4 4.25 0 1 0 0 3
Demon's Souls 7 2 2.50 1 0 0 1 0
New Super Mario Bros. Wii 7 3 3.67 0 0 2 0 1
Torchlight 7 2 2.50 0 1 1 0 0

Also receiving votes (listed in descending order of points):

Borderlands, Canabalt, Flower, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony, Scribblenauts, Spelunky, Eliss, MLB 09: The Show, Machinarium, Battlefield 1943, Modern Warfare 2, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2010, Need for Speed: Shift, Punch-Out!!, Fight Night Round 4, Henry Hatsworth, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, NBA 2K10, Phantom Brave: We Meet Again, Retro Game Challenge, Shadow Complex, Solium Infernum, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, DJ Hero, Fallout 3: Broken Steel, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, Noby Noby Boy, House of the Dead: Overkill, Infamous

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Good reviews. These are really great games. I must say that I agree with everything you said. - Kale Flagg

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