Crispy's Mid-Season Videogame All-Stars: Our Top Picks for 2009 So Far
With Major League Baseball taking a break for the All-Star Game this week, we thought it'd be a good chance to take a look at videogaming's all-star performers for the first half of 2009. These are the games that brought something new and interesting to the table, the games we keep coming back to when we should be working, the games that we don't want to forget about when it comes time for the year-end lists.
Voting: Ten members of the Game Trust each picked their five top games of the year so far. First-place picks received five points, second-place picks four points, all the way down to one point for fifth-place picks.
What we said: "Before you know it, you're deploying watermelon catapults to drive back rows of Zombonis (those are zombies on zambonis, don'tcha know?) while erecting a protective canopy of palm trees to protect your balloon-zombie-popping cacti from an overhead assault by zombies on bungee cords. The change is so gradual that it barely registers from level to level, but at some point you look up and realize that Plants vs. Zombies has grown from a small, insignificant seed into a complex, chaotic, fast-paced strategy game that's as addictive as the best in the genre." -- Kyle Orland (Read his review)
Second-half prospects: The addiction has held on this long, but it may be a faded memory by the time 2010 rolls around. Upcoming versions for non-PC platforms, though, could bring it back -- stronger than ever.
What we said: "Flower packs a deceptively large emotional impact that, like the best and worst things in life, sneaks up on you. Playing it made me want to return to my uncle's farms in Haiti or invite my dad over for an afternoon to see how he'd react to the Sixaxis. And while I don't know if my mom ever truly 'got' my passion for videogames, I think Flower would've been the game to make her understand." -- Evan Narcisse (Read the review)
Second-half prospects: The beautiful experience will definitely stick with us, but this short game doesn't exactly demand frequent replays. Can this gentle journey hold up to the nonstop action of other games?
What we said: "The way Infamous integrates its ideas -- individuals' responsibility to each other, the fragility of the social contract and the allure of situational morality -- into actual gameplay turns it into a surprisingly self-aware piece of entertainment. That integration of theme and gameplay also works to make it one of the better-executed open-world games in recent memory." --Evan Narcisse (Read his review)
Second-half prospects: Big-name, open-world action games tend to hit hard and heavy during the holidays. Infamous will have to cut through this cloud to get attention from award-pickers come December.
What we said: "As a game about gunplay, Resident Evil 5 is different, refreshing, uniquely social, and most of all, it packs a long-term punch in terms of replayability. It takes potential liabilities -- ammo shortages, unconventional controls, canned encounters, limited environmental interactivity, reliance on multiple playthroughs -- and turns them into assets. I'd rank this right up there with Far Cry 2 in terms of shooters that refuse to play by the usual rules and are ultimately better for it." -- Tom Chick (Read his column)
Second-half prospects: Problems with racism, clunky controls and repetitive gameplay (see Scott Jones' review) may keep this one from being remembered as a true classic by year's end.
5. Red Faction: Guerrilla (tie)
What we said: "Red Faction: Guerrilla is an historic game. By building into the gameplay the sort of destructibility other games have only pretended at, it's a revelation. ... Red Faction: Guerrilla isn't just a great game. It's a point of no return." -- Tom Chick (Read his review)
Second-half prospects: It'll have to compete with a lot of other shooters, but it seems unique and well-made enough to stand above the clutter.
6. Retro Game Challenge (tie)
What we said: "Like the Game Master, Retro Game Challenge is obsessive, sealing you in a time capsule so tight that its fully contemporary trappings barely ever escape. Compare it to the retro gaming nostalgia that's spread all over the Internet -- on archival sites like YouTube, where fuzzy bits of the past (classic game intros, boss battles, speed runs and ROM hacks like M. Bison spinning his way through Stage 1-1 of Super Mario Bros.) are there to be collectively admired and remembered fondly, as if from a distance. At point-blank range, Retro Game Challenge aims itself at you, the player, rebuilding your memories right in front of you with a scientist's precision. " -- Ryan Kuo (Read his review)
Second-half prospects: Once the cuteness of the concept wears off, there might not be enough to these faux-retro games to carry them to the end of the year.
7. Skate 2
What we said: "Skate 2 is hard, but ultimately satisfying -- the kind of game that rewards advanced players with massive tricks, but doesn't ignore the newbie. When cruising around New San Vanelona, even the simplest moves feel good." -- Gus Mastrapa (Read his review)
What we said: "Don't be deceived by the cosmic calm of its music. Eliss demands steely, dexterous fingers and the concentration of a bomb defuser. It's a frantic, marvelous twitch-puzzler that suits the iPhone and iPod Touch like Street Fighter II and the arcade stick. Think Tetris for the next generation of gamers. Eliss rejects the fat-fingered." -- Ryan Kuo
Second-half prospects: Despite millions of sales and dozens of great games, the iPhone still struggles for respect as a gaming platform. This could count against it in year-end determinations.
What we said: "Relic has decided to cut to the chase. It's performed an econo-ectomy, deliberately and ruthlessly carving away everything that isn't the men/tanks/Zerg fighting each other. You can go from zero to chainsaw-cutting-into-Ork-flesh in 30 seconds, at which point it won't slow up." -- Tom Chick (Read his review)
Second-half prospects: If StarCraft II somehow sneaks out this year, expect it to eat up a lot of the oxygen in the genre. Otherwise, this one has a shot at being remembered.
Also receiving votes:
The following games received at least one vote from our panel as one of the top games of 2009, so far.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand; Afro Samurai; Big Bang Mini; Bit.Trip.Beat; Burn, Zombie, Burn; The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Dark Athena; Demigod; Edge; Fieldrunners; Flower, Sun and Rain; Grand Slam Tennis; Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars; Guitar Hero: Metallica; Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure; House of the Dead: Overkill; Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers; Noby Noby Boy; Opera Omnia; Out of the Park Baseball 2010; Overlord II; Punch-Out!!; Rhythm Heaven; The Sims 3; Spelunky; Street Fighter IV; X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Zen Pinball
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