Silicon Sasquatch’s Honorable Mentions of 2009: Nick’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've arrived at the final installment in our five-part series with Nick's list of honorable mentions.
There's been an ongoing joke about how I was the only person here who played every single game on our top ten list. While it's a testament to my superhuman persuasive abilities, it also raises some questions about how I spend my time and money. In my defense, this was probably the single best year ever for high-quality games in both the mainstream and the independent scenes.
Below is a list of the few games that couldn't make the list, either because nobody else at Silicon Sasquatch had played them -- or because the poor fools didn't know what they were missing.
October -- Windows, Mac
2009 was the best year for adventure games in a very long time. With Telltale dishing out five episodes of a brand-new Monkey Island series and LucasArts providing a lovingly crafted remake of the classic Secret of Monkey Island, those of us who dream in dialog trees were pleased as punch with the selection on offer this year. The only downside was that most of the games were mere iterations on old franchises and design principles.
Except for Machinarium.
The first full-length game from Czech developer Amanita Design, Machinarium is the story of a little robot and his journey to be reunited with his metallic sweetheart. The game stands out from its peers for a number of reasons -- such as the beautiful, stylish artwork and great soundtrack -- but what's most notable is that it manages to tell a story without a single word. Characters communicate with wild gesticulation and cartoon thought bubbles, adding an immense amount of personality to an already charming world. It's the best adventure game released this year, and it comes with my highest recommendation.
Street Fighter IV
February -- Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
I'm what you might call a casual fighting game fan. I know and love the classics like Street Fighter II Turbo, Soul Calibur and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, but I've never invested in the time or hardware to rise to a true competitive level. The amount of manual dexterity, patience and practice required to learn how to use a character's moves wisely is part of a fighting game's enduring value, but for whatever reason it never clicked with me as a fun way to spend my time.
Street Fighter IV converted me to the world of the hardcore fighter with its fine-tuned roster of exaggerated personalities and remarkably well-paced learning curve. I started out just playing a few versus rounds with friends and playing a few games against the computer, but over time I began to see hints of just how deeply strategic the game could be. Before I knew it, I was spending hours grinding out the challenge modes to master a few of my favorite fighters. As of this writing, I've played more than 200 online matches and logged a grand total of 43 hours -- and that's in a game where a round takes just a few seconds!
October -- Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2
I'm a pretty fierce critic of Guitar Hero, and with good reason: Ever since Harmonix and RedOctane/Activision split ways after Guitar Hero 2, the series has failed to even come within reach of its former quality. Iteration after iteration and band-specific spinoff after spinoff, Guitar Hero has all but rendered itself irrelevant.
So you can imagine my surprise when a brand-new Hero game showed up this October and it wound up being excellent. FreeStyleGames managed to launch a new music franchise with all the right ingredients: an excellent soundtrack, a solid and rewarding learning curve and a sturdy, enjoyable turntable controller. The only thing lacking was a more robust interface to help organize gigs and add some weight to the single-player experience. But with a sequel almost certainly on the way, I'm certain FreeStyleGames has great things in the works.
The only downside? Having "Poison" by Bell Biv Devoe permanently lodged in my brain. Actually, maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Assassin's Creed 2
November -- Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
It's a shame we couldn't squeeze Assassin's Creed II into our top ten list. Although I was a huge fan of the original Assassin's Creed, its repetitive mechanics and somewhat stunted narrative didn't appeal to everyone. Fortunately, Ubisoft Montreal did the impossible by addressing just about every complaint that was leveled against its predecessor and producing a sequel that appealed both to fans and detractors of the original game.
I rarely take the time to complete 100% of the tasks available in a game anymore, but with its breathtaking, living cities and excellent pacing -- a rarity in games with open worlds -- I was compelled to find every last feather and treasure box within Renaissance Italy. Fortunately, with more downloadable content on the way, I won't have to hang up my white cloak and daggers just yet.
Rock Band 2
September...of 2008 -- Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2
Just so we're clear: Rock Band 2 came out in September of 2008. As in, it's not a game from this year, and it technically has no business being on this list. But thanks to exceptional downloadable song support throughout the year and a patch that offered a number of significant improvements to the core experience, Rock Band 2 was the rare game that only got better with age. And with Rock Band Network launching in just a few weeks, the floodgates show no signs of closing. Based on my experiences participating in the closed Rock Band Network beta, there are a lot of interesting songs in the pipeline that are being peer reviewed and polished to the point where most are indistinguishable in quality from the weekly releases Harmonix has been putting out. It was easily my most-played game of 2009, and it's all but guaranteed to dominate my living room in 2010.
And to round out the list, I've included a few games that may not have much enduring value but stand out for providing some truly exceptional moments:
- Windosill -- discovering just how much fun a game can be when the player is encouraged to stop and smell the roses
- Bejeweled Blitz -- competing in weekly tournaments against friends in sixty-second bursts makes it easily the most addictive experience of the year
- Red Faction: Guerrilla -- demolishing an entire military-industrial institution with a single sledgehammer