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Best of the Rest: JC's picks of 2009


Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Muramasa appealed to me in a way that Odin Sphere didn't, thanks to an emphasis on combo-heavy sword action instead of planting and whatever. And the RPG elements that are left, like the sword upgrades and cooking, are not only fun, but simple enough that I can get right back into the game after a long break and still know what is going on.

Also, I don't mean to be shallow, but the fact that Muramasa is the most beautiful game of 2009 helps me be positive about it.

Retro Game Challenge
Easily the best DS game in a year packed with awesome DS games, Retro Game Challenge is a success in two distinct ways: first, developer Indies Zero created a series of fictional NES games that would have been hits in the time periods they're meant to come from, and are great now. Then, the developer put all of those games in a nostalgic frame (based on the Japanese TV show Game Center CX) that actually recalls the feeling of being 8 years old and playing a new game for the first time.

The sequel expands upon the original with games made in the style of the MSX, Game Boy, and Super Nintendo and daily challenges, but since nobody bought the original, XSEED can't localize it. You're going to feel terrible about this when you finally try Retro Game Challenge.

Rhythm Heaven
This DS rhythm game is probably the best game of 2009 about harvesting beets, fitting into an all-monkey fan club, photographing race cars, playing ping-pong, punching light bulbs, helping imaginary lizards mate, and fueling robots -- all to dozens of ridiculously catchy tunes.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
While plenty has been made of this game's marquee feature, which turns the normally precision-oriented Mario platforming into a raucous free-for-all, rife with unintentional (and intentional) subterfuge, even in single-player this game proves why nobody even attempts to compete with Nintendo's EAD in the field of technical platforming. Every stage has its own unique obstacles and challenging jumps.

Plus, there are coins that move in unison with moving platforms now. After 20+ years of stationary coin formations, that struck me as one of the big "wow" moments of New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Phantasy Star Zero
It's essentially a rehash of the Dreamcast's Phantasy Star Online, which is precisely what I love about this game. I have very fond memories of the hundreds of hours I put into PSO, and this new DS game gives me the same feeling, but with new weapons, levels, and monsters, in a convenient portable format.

One of the craziest, most far-reaching game concepts ever thought up -- and 5TH Cell delivered on the crazy part, supplementing the ridiculous concept with bizarrely creative puzzle designs.

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
A late addition to this year's lineup, but one of the best! Even if you hate strategy RPGs (like I do), Clash of Heroes' use of puzzle game mechanics as the basis for the gameplay will ensure that you'll both know what to do and enjoy doing it.

Honorable Mentions
Space Invaders Extreme 2, Bit.Trip: Beat, Big Bang Mini, Demon's Souls, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Canabalt, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

  • The Saboteur: I was at least a little interested in this game, for its cool black-and-white aesthetic and the appeal of the setting. But that interest immediately turned to embarrassment thanks to the unskippable stripping scene, which was super fun to explain to my wife.
  • Miami Law: I loved the writing and the story in this game. I didn't love the game in this game quite as much.
  • Cave Story: This game disappointed me by not existing in a playable form yet.
  • Dante's Inferno: This game, on the other hand, disappointed me by existing at all.
  • Demon's Souls: Nothing against the game -- it's fantastic. I just can't play it at all. That's why it's in both "disappointments" and "honorable mentions."

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