Silicon Sasquatch's Honorable Mentions of 2009: Aaron's picks

While our Top 10 Games of 2009 deserve attention for their overall excellence, we can't neglect this year's other fantastic games -- titles that just missed the final cut. Be it their charm or presentation, our Honorable Mentions were simply hard to forget. We now present a five-part series of articles, one from each member of the Silicon Sasquatch staff. Today, Aaron brings us our penultimate installment in this series with his list of honorable mentions.

The Maw

January -- Xbox Live Arcade, Windows

Twisted Pixel Games knows how to have fun with its projects. Instead of filling a crowded gaming market with more of the same, Twisted Pixel created The Maw -- a wonderfully original title that made me laugh without needing a single complete sentence of dialog. The Pixar-like scenario of an alien (Frank) teaming up and becoming friends with an insatiably hungry purple blob (Maw) made for a refreshingly heartfelt downloadable game. Little things like watching Maw express emotions -- panic when it was burned, pain when it ate a bad creature and fear when it hid behind Frank -- were fantastic visual treats, and demonstrated the development team's knack for working in a cartoon style. While the game's controls and light platforming segments were average, watching Maw grow to the size of a planet by the end made up for the less-impressive aspects. Charm makes all the difference in an industry that has resorted to provoking reactions through gore and realistic graphics.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

February -- Windows

If it's a real time strategy game, I've more than likely played it. At one time I enjoyed only RTS titles; incessant in my collection of resources and conscription of soldiers, I would double click and hotkey my adolescent nights away. So I might be a habitual RTS player, but I'm ready to break tradition and openly thank Relic Entertainment for its innovative and decidedly non-traditional Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II. Instead of micromanaging a base, the game granted intimate control over a squad of four unique (and upgradeable) characters. Dawn of War II is still a strategy-intensive game played in real time, but it feels more like a merger of Relic's light squad mechanics from Company of Heroes with the intensity of a cover shooter like Gears of War. The RTS die-hards and Dawn of War I fans were somewhat upset by the big changes to a tried-and-true genre, but I'll take innovation over stagnation any day.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

July -- Xbox Live Arcade, Windows

It's a good thing I first experienced the Secret of Monkey Island in its Special Edition form. While I'm confident the original would still have captivated me with its self-referential humor and sharp wit, it was simply brilliant to discover such a timeless story intact underneath the drastic makeover. I might not have grown up playing any of the classic LucasArts adventure titles, but I'm happy the genre is experiencing a period of revivalthanks in part to Telltale Games' work on the Sam and Max and Tales of Monkey Island episodes. The Special Edition's updated art was gorgeous, and fit with the series' style in the opinion of a Monkey Island newcomer like me. The numerous jokes, gags and one-liners are relevant 19 years later, and the characters are memorable enough that I hope Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge gets the same fresh coat of paint that Secret did.

Battlefield 1943

July -- Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network

DICE won't win any awards for shrinking the Battlefield formula into a petite downloadable package, but that doesn't mean 1943 was anything less than a solid summer distraction. The concept of ground, sea and air forces clashing over control points to keep decreasing the enemy's reinforcements is still the best option for multiplayer chaos. Other games' online deathmatch modes have their limits, so I gladly accepted Battlefield 1943's break from the monotony to laugh maniacally while I flew numerous Japanese Zeros into hapless Sherman tanks. And sure, the game had a meager selection of four maps (which as of this writing are still the only available maps), but at the end of the day I felt my money was well spent. DICE might be guilty of milking its franchises a bit, but it says something about the team's capabilities and the strength of the core Battlefield product that I can continue to purchase the same game indefinitely and have an absolute blast, each and every time.

Torchlight

October -- Windows

Is it unethical that I decided Torchlight would be one of my honorable mentions long before I even played the full game? Sometimes a demo is all you need, and Torchlight dug itself into my brain the moment I loaded its trial-sized world. Now that I own the full Torchlight experience, I feel much better about giving it a spot on my list. Call Torchlight Diablo Lite, but don't say it isn't addictive and well-designed. The art direction alone is worth the price of admission. Diablo may still be the boss in the world of isometric action RPGs, but Torchlight deserves recognition for its lighthearted attempt at being different in a sea of familiarity -- and because it proves that, as far as gameplay is concerned, an expanded color palette won't ruin Diablo III.