2009 in Review

Well, its the first blog of 2010 so I figured I figured I’d take a look back at 2009 and maybe take a gander at 2010 while I’m at it.
But first, as, usual:

 New Games

A Boy and His Blob (Wii)

  • Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth (WW)
  • Dead Space Extraction (Wii)
  • The Magic Obelisk (WW)
  • Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
  • Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles (Wii)
  • Siren (PS2)
  • Space Channel 5: Special Edition (PS2)
  • Super Punch-Out!! (VC)

Most of this stuff was purchased with Christmas money at Christmas sales.  Super Punch-Out came down to a choice between it and Super Metroid.  I’ve chosen against Super Metroid several times now and I’m sure a lot of gamers will demand I turn over my gamer card now (I actually have a credit card-like XBox Live Diamond card with my screen name on it; I think its pretty cool just to have).  However, my recent experience with Castlevania and its constant wandering in search of a new item and then someplace to use it keeps turning me off.  I asked my friend, a HUGE Metroid fan and made him give me an honest answer and even he came to the same conclusion that I should go with Punch-Out.  While it may be laid out better than the Castlevania games, he told me.  If I don’t like the kind of backtracking, find an item then find somewhere to use it gameplay, Super Metroid isn’t really going to change my mind.
Next up, a few articles to share from my work over on GameObserver.

 We Are World of Goo

This is the full article that I introduced last time.  Its finally been posted.  I hope some of you get a chance to read it, but be prepared, its a lengthy read at about 5,200 words across five pages.  I’d be happy to hear any feedback you may have on the article.  Just post it in the comments.

I actually sent this article in to 2DBoy and got a response from Kyle Gabler, the game designer saying it was one of his favorite articles on the game and has agreed to answer a few questions for me in an interview for the site.  He said that they don’t really do interviews anymore because they always get asked the same questions but if my questions are as good as my article, he’d be happy to answer some.  I have a few questions in mind but if any of you have any ideas, I would love to hear them.  Again, please use the comments section.

Dead Space Extraction Sales

This was an incredibly timely article I think as it was posted New Year’s Eve, only days before a recent 1up Podcast interview with a Studio Director at SEGA (and subsequently circulated via Gamesindustry.biz,GameInformer,Nintendolife, and Kotaku, among others).  The Studio Director basically says that Sega might be reconsidering mature game support for the Wii due to the disappointing sales of EA’s Dead Space Exctraction.

I do remember the early articles about the game selling only nine-thousand copies in its first few days and after buying it and playing through it, I decided to take a look at how the sales were doing via VGChartz.  People continue to say that Extraction is selling horribly.  My guess being in comparison to the sales of its big brother on the HD systems but I wondered if that was really the best place to compare.  After all, Dead Space on the 360 has sold well, over 2million copies combined, but it also sold peanuts in comparison to the later-released Resident Evil 5.  A game with which Dead Space shares a number of gameplay similarites.

I looked at Dead Space Extraction and realized that we had a perfect point of comparison as Dead Space was released months before Resident Evil 5, a very similar game, and Dead Space Extraction was released a short time before Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, again a very similar game that’s even from the same franchise as the original Dead Space’s competition.  I figured that just as Dead Space sold very few copies against its competition, that we might see a similar pattern playing out again on the Wii.

I think my conclusions were somewhat revealing.  In their first week, Dead Space Extraction sold as many copies in comparison to Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles as the original Dead Space sold in comparison to Resident Evil 5.  Furthermore, while both Dead Space and Resident Evil 5’s sales plummetted after the first week, never to remotely approach those first week’s sales, Extraction and Darkside did see a drop, but Extraction’s sales have since picked up, even going so far as matching and topping its first week’s sales.

I’m pretty sure no one can argue that Residnet Evil would certainly be Dead Space’s ceiling: at this point in the franchise’s life, there is no way in hell that Dead Space would outsell Resident Evil, regardless of console or genre.  Still, in terms of overall sales, it looks like Extraction may sell better against Darkside Chronicles than the original game sold against Resident Evil 5.  Maybe Extraction didn’t sell millions of copies, but if we adjust our expectations and be realistic, I think we’ll find that the game did not sell horribly, in fact, it may be selling better, relatively, than its big brother.

Top 10 games of 2009

alright now that I’m past the serious stuff, time to have a little fun.
This year, according to my blog posts here on GT, I have purchase or otherwise (legally) acquired 92 new games.  By system things break down like this:

  • PSX – 2
  • Xbox – 3
  • GCN – 2
  • PS2 – 9
  • PC – 13
  • 360 – 12
  • XBLA – 4
  • PSN – 1
  • DS – 2
  • Wii – 23
  • WW – 14
  • VC – 7

Of those, 11 WiiWare games, 3 VC games, 4 PC games, 2 Xbox 360 games (not including the Fallout 3 content discs), and 20 Wii games were released in 2009.  Of these, not all were played or played enough.  From the ones I did play, I pulled my top 10 favorites (not surprisingly, they’re most/all from the Wii), in no particular order (for the most part).
10. NyxQuest: Kindrid Spirits: NyxQuest is a great platformer for Nintendo’s WiiWare system.  Its take on Greek mythology is unorthodox but beautifully tragic.  Trekking across a desolate desert through fun and inventive puzzles is an excellent experience and it seems the recent release of a demo is making sure this game is getting at least a little more exposure than before.
9. Tenchu: Shadow Assassins: The latest entry in a series that has apprently gone downhill since after the first game, Shadow Assassins was created by members of the original game’s development team.  The game is different from past Tenchu titles in that instead of placing you in wide open areas and letting you find your own way through, this game breaks the levels up into smaller portions, making each room more of a puzzle than a free-roaming game.
The emphasis on stealth is also much greater as being spotted immediately sends you back to the start of the room and combat is not always an option as katanas must be found and can only be used a certain number of times.  I personally enjoyed this approach and while many people complained about the difficulty of the swordfights, I loved them exactly because of that.  It made every blow feel significant and it created a great feeling of tension knowing that you only had a split second to react correctly or you would lose the duel.  A lot of people hated the ‘dated’ controls but I didn’t mind them as the game was obviously built with them in mind, they didn’t so much as hinder the game as you had to adjust to them.

8. Muramasa: The Demon Blade: Possibly one of the most beautiful looking 2D games I’ve ever seen.  Vanillaware has made a feast for the eyes with this one with great gameplay to support it.  The game plays as I would imagine a 2D Devil May Cry to play; with sword swipes filling the screen, mid-combo, damage-dealing weapon switches, and devastating specials pumelling your not so helpless enemies.  Muramasa is a great game though it would have been made even better had the locations not gone from fields to forests to caves and cities almost randomly from one area to the next.  Still, the background doesn’t really matter all that much as you are definitely made to feel like you’re in some mystical version of Japan.

7. Super Punch-Out!!: This one’s kind of cheating since its an old Super NES game and it probably seems even more bizzare since there were two new Punch-Out!! games released this year (Punch Out and Doc Lous’s Punch Out).  Why then did I pick this game that is now over 15 years old?

Well, mostly because it feels a lot newer to me than the recent Punch-Out for the Wii.  Yes that was a great game but it suffered a little because it reused almost the entire roster from the original NES Punch-Out and nearly identical gameplay.  Not that any of that is a bad thing, but Super Punch-Out still feels like the classic Punch-Out but adds a new, more dynamic, special system, and introduces many characters and brings back characters from the original arcade games (which I really hope Nintendo releases via the Virtual Console Arcade) that have not been seen again since.  As much as I like the new Wii game, it really feels like it should have done more for a series that has been dark for 15 years.

6. Bit.Trip Beat:Bit.Trip Beat is simply an amazing game.  It takes you back to the past with new ideas and shows you that you don’t need a story (though it kind of has one) nor amazing graphics in order to have a great time.  The gameplay is simple, I like to describe it as ‘Pong on an acid trip.’  Blocks come at you from the right and you have to prevent them from flying off to the left.  Simple as that.  This simple recipie churns out one of my favorite gameplay experiences of the year; the simple joy of playing a game.  The music is fun and combines with the gameplay to make it almost a rhythm game.

Its an incredibly difficult game with no continues or checkpoints.  You fail a stage, you have to start back at the beginning but its always fun to try again and do better as you begin to memorize the courses just like in a classic sidescrolling shooter.  I’m not sure what else to say about this game.  Its gameplay, pure and fun.

5. Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth: One of my all time favorite series finally returns.  Sure there have been plenty of Castlevania games in the past few years, but none of them have felt like Castlevania to me.  I first played Castlevania back on the NES when the game was about dodging traps, whipping monsters, and struggling to get to the next stage.  Symphony of the Night changed the whole formula of the series from a stage-based action/adventure title to an action/RPG across a large map.  This new formula has been a hit with most gamers and critics but not being a huge fan of RPGs, I missed the old, skill-based stages.  The creative decisions by Koji Igarashi as producer of the series have also left me disillussioned with the series.
But lo and behold, MY Castlevania has returned.  I almost shed a tear when I booted the game and saw the classic Castlevania logo (gone after Circle of the Moon and my metaphorical boundy between old Castlevania and new.  Yes I realize the game was Metroidvania-ish but it was still before Igarashi took over creative control of the series and it still had the classc, whip-toting hero).  Back was everything I loved from the classic games; zero rpg elements, linear stages with enemies and traps making each stage a brutal gauntlet from start to finish, the classic whip and sub-weapons.  Hell, they even brought back the useless score-count from the old games.  Yes, this was my Castlevania.

4. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers: A game announced before the launch of the Wii itself, Crystal Bearers is an odd game, as most of the Crystal Chronicles series is.  Most people expected an action/rpg and really couldn’t understand what they had once it arrived.  The game is simply not an action/rpg.  It has some action elements and some RPG elements but I’ve found the game to be much closer to the adventure genre where the story is at the forefront.  As such,t he game doesn’t bog you down with too much errand-running and if you focus only on the story, you can breeze through the game rather quickly.

The game includes hundreds of bonus objectives/achievements that you can aim for to extend your game time.  I personally enjoyed the little bonuses they added to the gameplay such as your interactions with enemies and Layle is probably my favorite Final Fantasy hero since Zidane back in Final Fantasy IX.  He’s not one of the now stereotypical ’emo’ rpg heroes, nor is he one of those naive rpg hereoes that has never been further than a block away from home.  Instead Layle comes across as both confident, fun, knowledgable about his world, and sometimes serious.

My only major complaint is the lack of interactivity with much of the gameworld.  The designers have created large cities populated with dozens if not hundreds of NPCs, all of which have emotions but you are limited to a Fable-like emotion system, which works well, but it doesn’t provide you the same satisfaction you get out of at least hearing what an NPC has to say.

Crystal Bearers is a game I loved but probably too different for the mainstream public to get behind it in any significant way.  But oh, how I do wish for a sequel to both improve on this game’s faults and expand the ever growing Crystal Chronicles world even further.

3. Dead Space Extraction: A game that will forever be flogged for its ‘disappointing’ sales, Dead Space Extraction is still a great gaming experience that, along with Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, has changed my opinion of rail shooters/experiences as a viable and interesting genre that I would love to explore during my career.
The game throws you into the Dead Space world and you witness the events prior to the original game through the eyes of several different characters.  Since you often have several characters following yours, there is a lot of dialogue flowing back and forth that really gives the characters a chance to develop, and the fact that its all scripted means the other characters never get in your way like other computer-controlled partners.

The game has a decent enough story that ties in well with the whole of the Dead Space universe.  The developers also did a fairly good job of squeezing the hardware as the great looks pretty good.  Extraction is a solid game throughout but what really made the game for me was the intense ending.  There is one moment in particular, that I can really only compare to the now famous nuke scene from Call of Duty 4, that left me shaking for several minutes.  The game is a bit short however, but oh how I want a sequel that is simply longer and with more things to unlock.

2. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles:Again, another rail shooter, but again done so well that you are left not with a confining shooting gallery, but an efficient and exciting gameplay experience.  Like Extraction, Darkside Chronicles puts a partner at your side for the entirety of the game and has the two in almost constant communication.  What ends up happening is that the characters are developed even moreso than they were in their original games.
Speaking of which, many purists will cry foul when they see how Darkside reinterpreted the storylines from the original games but this was something I particularly enjoyed.  The game’s interpretation of Resident Evil 2, for example, has the two characters proceeding through the adventure side-by-side, you know, how normal people would do it, and works events from all four of the possible scenarios in RE2 into a single game that works much better for the series’ canon than simply culling events from four different scenarios that cannot possibly co-exist as they are told in the original game.
While Dead Space Extraction seemed particularly slim on content and not really designed for multiple playthroughs, Darkside Chronicles nails both of these points down.  By summarizing two entire games and contributing a new tale, Darkside has a good deal more story content within  than does Extraction and its upgrade system, online leaderboards, and bonus content make replays a much more enticing proposition than its Dead Space counterpart.  Darkside also looks beautiful.  Extraction looked good but Darkside Chronicles goes beyond that.

While it may seem odd to have two similar rail shooters on this list and then describe one as much better than the other, the two games are separate experiences and I don’t believe that simply having one great game per genre is enough to satisfy since just about every game, regardless of genre is still its own experience and Extraction and Darkside Chronicles are two very impressive ones that have earned their spot on this list.

1. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories: I definitely believe Shattered Memories to be one of the best games made this year.  Granted, the mainstream gaming community’s tastes will never really accept it but Shattered Memories is an experience unlike any other.
The game immediately faced an uphill battle when it detatched itself from many of the conventions the other games in the series had in common.  Instead of being about otherworldly horrors, Shattered Memories is about you as Harry Mason.  The game asks you questions and changes in response.  Furthermore, the game observes how you play and again, changes in response.  You make choices, sometimes without realizing it and the world changes in response.

People may scoff at the fact that you are technically ‘safe’ while you’re exploring the town, but that’s really missing the point of the game.  Perhaps the concept of conflict above simply physical danger is too far above most gamer’s heads to really understand.  The game isn’t so much about ‘beating the boss’ and ‘getting to the next level.’  The game is more metaphysical.  Its about self-discovery.  Its about Harry and his internal struggles.

Most gamers understand a ‘mature’ game to be simply about having guns, gore, sex, and swears and that may all be mature content, but it is used in a somewhat immature context.  Shattered Memories is a mature game because it deals with difficult and sometimes uncomfortable material in a mature, thought-provoking way.
Many people didn’t find the game scary and I suppose it wasn’t, but again, that’s not really what the game was about.  No you didn’t have to worry about what was going to come at you next nor did it have the same atmosphere that really crept into you.  Instead it felt like the game didn’t so much want to upset you from the outside in with atmosphere or danger.  Instead it felt like the game wanted to distrub you from the inside out by planting information and ideas in your head that you would contemplate.

The game also drew criticism for its lack of a combat system.  Instead, when the danger became real in its various nightmare sequences, your only choice was to run.  There were many complaints about the accuracy of the motion controls but I found that they worked wonderfully most of the time and I began to perfor most of them out of reflex after a while.  Some of the chases do then leave you a bit tired, but in an odd way I found that it helped me connect with Harry a little better.  It felt as if his struggle in his world had somehow reached out and affected me.

For many people, Shattered Memories was the worst game in the Silent Hill series, some don’t even think it should be considered a part of the series, for others it is a refreshing take on the series with many new ideas implemented with varying degrees of success.  Me, I think it is a brilliant game that transcends the conventions of the medium by taking the struggle out of the physical realm and to explore more abstract concepts and themes without having to wield a gun or knife and killing something.

 

And there you have it, my 10 favorite games of the year and my first blog of the new year.  I hope you all had a great holiday season and that you have a great year ahead of you.
Please leave any comments down below as I love to read them.

Happy New Year!