Best of the Rest: Ben's Picks of 2009

Red Faction: Guerrilla
Arriving approximately seven months late to the party, I didn't play RFG until earlier this month when I desperately cobbled together 2009's game releases for a massive pre-GOTY playstravaganza. That marathon came to a long pause while I smashed through the many structures of Mars with my trusty sledgehammer, constantly hearing "Space A$&%*#&" playing along the way in my mind. Sure, RFG was a bit rough around the edges, but what it lacked in mechanical prowess was more than made up for by the sheer amount of childlike joy I experienced while demolishing everything in my path.

Plants vs. Zombies
"It's another tower defense game," is the response I heard the most when trying to explain how enjoyable PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies is to those who hadn't played it. Even Joystiq's own Ludwig Kietzmann leveled this response when I suggested he play it -- and, to be honest, it's difficult to call it much more than that. Like PopCap has done in the past with Bejeweled and Peggle, PvZ takes a well-known formula and perfects it. Not just that, but the developer dishes out gameplay in bite-sized, highly addictive chunks, constantly goading you to play "just one more level." I'm sincerely worried about what it's going to do to my productivity when I can take it with me everywhere I go.

Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST was my personal number five choice (out of five), and, I felt, a great addition to a franchise that I'm admittedly enamored with. It absolutely could have been riskier in terms of gameplay choices for the game's developer, Bungie Studios, though the game's music and tone went in a direction that no Halo game has ever visited in the past. And I'd be a fool to not lend a nod to Firefight Mode and the hours I spent with friends chasing the initially impossible / now bearable 200,000 point goal.

If our awards were for most time spent with a game this year, Canabalt may have very well taken my top spot. Okay, okay, so most of that gaming was done while on public transportation or when I was -- shall we say, indisposed? -- but in this case, that's a testament to the game's accessibility. It starts up quick as a snap (even on my antique iPhone 3G) and, since each life rarely lasts longer than 30 seconds, can be played during even the quickest downtime. Also, it has a kickass soundtrack. That's important.

Retro Game Challenge
Something that I realized quickly after first starting at Joystiq in late January this year is that time on the internet is dense. News can seem like it happened weeks ago, when in fact it was a few days prior (or, worse yet, earlier that day). That being said, if you'd have asked me earlier this week when Retro Game Challenge was released for the Nintendo DS, I would have sworn it was last year. Even though I played its eight adorably 8-bit games relentlessly over the two weeks it was in my possession, the February release of RGC put the game nearly off my radar when it came time to write our Best of the Rest lists. Missing this gem altogether, though, that would be a much bigger mistake -- Retro Game Challenge is a game that all DS users should own.

Best game that was fun for 4-5 hours but then lasted too long:

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Remember when people were wondering if Batman Arkham Asylum would be better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine? It might sound strange in hindsight, but at one point this year, critics were applauding the basic yet enjoyable hack-n-slashery of Wolverine's latest gaming foray. For me personally, while I thoroughly enjoyed the well-paced first four or so hours, the back half of the game dragged and dragged. Thus, a game that I would have easily recommended to friends as a low-priced purchase became a rental suggestion instead.
  • PixelJunk Shooter - Dude! Dude. Dude. Another PixelJunk game? I couldn't have been more excited. The PixelJunk Eden expansion from earlier this year, Encore, nearly made this list on its own for being so wonderful. It is with great pain then that I admit how little I enjoy PixelJunk Shooter. It sure is quirky, and the gameplay is decently engaging, but none of the ambiance or distinctiveness of earlier PixelJunk entries is there.
  • Rock Band Unplugged - So much promise, wasted on so many rehashed music/rhythm tracks. Like Amplitude and Frequency from Harmonix's past, complex (read: fun) note tracks and jumping between individual parts within a song really shine in Rock Band Unplugged. Unfortunately, the godawful selection of music (Bon Jovi again? Seriously? Another one of their five singles?) and cut/paste campaign mode from Rock Band 1 outweighed the sheer electronic glee of blazing through Freezepop on Expert.
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - It's a bit unfair of me to have expected so much from the single-player campaign of any multiplayer-focused FPS, but in that respect, Modern Warfare 2 really let me down. Mechanically speaking, I couldn't fault it for too much -- the game's controls are rock solid, the set pieces are lavish, and the gameplay is frenetic. The real problem for me was the near 180° difference in terms of tone. Any real sense of weight or seriousness to the events in the campaign was completely obliterated by a seemingly endless stream of impossible scenarios.
New Year's Resolution:

Buy two Xbox 360 arcade fight sticks for Super Street Fighter IV and promptly regret doing so.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.