December 2009

Here they are: Snackbar Games’ 2009 Games of the Year.  Without further ado:

Platform-specific awards

Xbox 360: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Shawn Vermette: I give Infinity Ward props for not playing it safe with such a guaranteed hit. Making the changes they did make worked out, and putting in such a controversial scene, in order to make the story more powerful, was also something I admired in this game.

Andrew Passafiume: Here is a game that not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds it. The single player campaign is fantastic and very intense from start to finish. The Special Ops mode (or Spec Ops) is the most challenging and rewarding co-op mode I’ve played in quite some time, and it really makes you value the addition of co-op during certain missions. And finally, the multiplayer raises the bar once again; I can safely call it the best online shooter, just as the original was two years ago.

Runner-up: The Beatles: Rock Band

Justin Last: Great music, three-part harmony, wonderful dreamscapes, and an insane amount of polish make this my favorite Rock Band title to date.

PS3: Uncharted 2

Andrew Passafiume: Very few games actually feel like a big Hollywood blockbuster, but the ones that do (and actually get it right) become some of the most thrilling gaming experiences you will ever have. Uncharted 2 is one of those experiences, as it not only exceeds the original in every way; it is also already becoming an instant classic among many gamers. And not only that, the multiplayer is a fun time waster way after the credits have rolled.

Paul Bishop: What every sequel should be. I thought the first was like playing a movie, and I had no idea they could improve upon that feeling.

Runner-up: Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time

Shawn Vermette: Tools of Destruction was my pick for Game Not of the Year and A Crack in Time continues the excellent writing, storytelling, humor, and platforming of the first. It is one of the moore enjoyable games I’ve played in a number of years, not just of this year.

Wii: Punch-Out!!

Chris Ingersoll: One part nostalgia, one part innovation, and two fistfuls of action-puzzling combine to deliver a knockout blow. Being able to practice against opponents before getting in the ring for real was a huge improvement to the franchise, and Title Defense Mode is so badass it actually managed to make Glass Joe a legitimate threat!

Andrew Passafiume: As the original was my favorite game on the original Nintendo console, this has quickly become my favorite on the newest Nintendo console. Punch-Out!! is a game that requires, above all else, strategy and quick timing. Although that may be expected of a boxing title, but this one (while not realistic at all) is incredibly addictive and remains fun, even during the more frustrating fights. 

Runner-Up: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Graham Russell: It’s back, and it’s great.  Multiplayer is a must, but it’s even more compelling than Four Swords Adventures, and infinitely easier to get the equipment together for.

DS: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story

Shawn Vermette: It sounds like a ridiculous game, but Bowser’s Inside Story was a remarkably well-crafted game in my favorite genre of them all, RPGs. Not only did this game satisfy my urge for a good Mario game for the first time since Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but it had a great, Mario-esque story and a script that was well-written and good for a number of laughs.

Justin Last: It’s a Mario RPG (which already means it’s great) where Bowser is a long-term playable character. Stylus battles are neat, and the battle system involves the player just enough to be challenging without being frustrating.

Runner-Up: Scribblenauts

Chris Ingersoll: The nearly bottomless well of creativity is something that needs to be experienced, for all of its faults. Those who don’t want to plumb its cavernous depths will probably find its charm wear off quickly, but this is the biggest virtual sandbox ever offered.

PSP: Patapon 2

Graham Russell: So my friends hate me for playing this.  I understand them; the sounds are incredibly repetitive, and that’s all they experience.  The core gameplay, though, is interesting, and the RPG elements keep it all held together.

Runner-Up: Rock Band Unplugged

Graham Russell: It lost the performance aspect of its console brethren, but let’s be honest: the Rock Band moniker was on this game just for sales.  It was really an homage to Harmonix classics Frequency and Amplitude, and I’m okay with whatever they have to do to get more people to play it.

PC: Plants vs. Zombies

Justin Last: I have a plant that throws frozen watermelons at the zombies that are, for some reason, trying to cross my roof. I’m not sure what else I could say to make this game sound better.

Graham Russell: Don’t start playing this game if you need to be somewhere in the near future.  You won’t make it there. PvZ has a level of variety that PopCap games usually don’t, so even monotony won’t be an excuse to stop playing.

Runner-Up: Left 4 Dead 2

Andrew Passafiume: The original Left 4 Dead is an amazing game in the fact that it is probably one of the shortest games around, but it is also one of the most replayable. The sequel brings us a brand new setting, new characters, and plenty of other new toys to dispatch zombies with. It simply is bigger and better than the original in just about every way.

Downloadable: ‘Splosion Man

Graham Russell: So simple. Twisted Pixel’s sophomore effort had just one mechanic, and it was on almost every button. It’s telling that everyone I know that has played it would prefer it over most retail titles.

Andrew Passafiume: ‘Splosion Man offers an incredible amount of depth and challenge for only $10. ‘Splosion Man ranks among the best of downloadable titles such as Braid and World of Goo. 

Runner-Up: Shadow Complex

Justin Last: A modern love letter to Super Metroid complete with missiles, health packs, and an x-ray visor analog. Challenge rooms are fun, but the story is lackluster, and the map layout makes no sense. Still fun enough that I have completed it three times.


Game of the Year: Uncharted 2 (PS3) 

Justin Last: Uncharted 2 may be the perfect game. Gunfights are entertaining, multiplayer is great regardless of whether you’re playing competitive or cooperative, and it never stops feeling like an action movie. The commercials were right though – I could only play this one while my wife watched.

Shawn Vermette: What can I say about Uncharted 2 that hasn’t already been said by others? I love games with great storytelling and memorable cinematics or action sequences. Uncharted 2 felt like it was one long, gorgeous action movie I could control.

Runner-Up: The Beatles: Rock Band (Multi)

Andrew Passafiume: The Beatles: Rock Band is more than just a Rock Band spinoff; it takes one of the most popular bands of all time and gives them a game that just feels distinct. The gameplay is the same as Rock Band, but with a multitude of amazing songs and plenty of things that set this apart from any other music game. This is a game that will appeal to not only gamers, but fans of The Beatles.

Paul Bishop: Now this is a band that deserves a Rock Band game.

Graham Russell: It’s one big, long tribute to the group, and that’s okay, because a lot of people love ’em.  It’s not a full-featured platform like RB2, but…well, you don’t have to throw it away when you get this.  It’s icing on the cake, you know?  Delicious icing.  Yum.

Runner-Up: Borderlands (Multi) 

Paul Bishop: Borderlands is a game that succeeds in stealing other games’ elements to create a unique experience, from its beautiful cell-shaded graphics to its accessible yet involved gun and item system and unbeatable multiplayer, it is a game that satisfies on many different levels. 

Chris Rasco: I love shooters, but they usually bore the hell out of me. I played Halo 3 a single time in campaign mode and never went back. The same holds for just about all shooters that I’ve played… until Borderlands. I just can’t get enough of it. The stupid RPG elements drew me in and I can’t stop thinking about it at all.

Justin Last: If Diablo II, Mad Max and World of Warcraft had a baby, and that baby came with guns that let me shoot weirdo dogs and set them on fire, then they would be obligated to name it Borderlands.

Runner-Up: Batman: Arkham Asylum (360/PS3)

Andrew Passafiume: Arkham Asylum is the game Batman fans have been waiting their whole lives for. This is a real Batman adventure, with next to no real problems and a true sense of what it feels like to be The Dark Knight. This is definitely a must own, even if you are not a big Batman fan.

Paul Bishop: A game that gets Batman right: visceral fighting, neat toys and excellent atmosphere.

Justin Last: Rocksteady managed to do what no other developer could – make Batman feel powerful and fragile simultaneously. Combat is visceral and satisfying, predator segments are stealthy and fun, and the Scarecrow segments are unforgettable.

Honorable Mentions:

Punch-Out!! (Wii), Wii Sports Resort (Wii), Assassin’s Creed 2 (360/PS3), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Multi), Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS)

In Roll Through the Ages (RTTA), players must accumulate food, goods, and workers via three rolls of custom dice. Food must be spent to feed your cities (each city represents one die you can roll on your turn, starting at three and up to a maximum of seven); workers are used to build new cities or monuments, and goods can be traded in for developments (one per turn) to give you advantages.

Each die has the following faces: three food, three workers, two food/two workers (player’s choice), one good, two goods plus one disaster, and one coin (normally equivalent to seven points of goods when purchasing developments). Disaster results may not (normally) be rerolled, and accumulating more than one will result in penalty points or a loss of goods — although sometimes those penalties are applied to your opponents! The game ends once either one of each available monuments has been constructed or when one player achieves his fifth development; once one of those conditions has been met, the round will finish out so that each player has received the same number of turns before the final scores are tallied. Points are earned via monuments and developments, with bonus points being available under certain conditions and disasters costing you points.

Goods and food are recorded on a player’s pegboard, and everything else is recorded on the paper score pads. Earning goods is initially awkward; there are five types of goods (wood, stone, pottery, cloth, and spearheads) that increase in value as you work your way up the list, but you will never earn spearheads unless you collect at least five goods on your roll, as you always start from the bottom and work your way up (the 6th good translates into an additional movement of your “wood” peg, and so on). Similarly, trading in goods for developments is an all-or-nothing proposition; if your wood peg is in the second slot, representing three points, you cannot use only two of them and move your peg down to the first slot (one point). Finally, at the end of your turn you must discard any goods in excess of six peg-moves’ worth. The whole goods system takes some getting used to, but since it is the primary mechanic in the game you will quickly overcome its mild learning curve.

Despite its Yahtzee-like appearance, RTTA is a very strategic game filled with options. Building cities to roll more dice is obviously a good idea, but only if you can generate enough food to support your growing population; unfed cities cost you a point per food you are short each round. Every development gives you some sort of ancillary benefit in addition to its point value; some make you resistant to certain disasters, others give you bonuses to your food or worker rolls, and some award bonus points for monuments or cities. The cheaper developments are worth less points, but the game ends shortly after one player has achieved his fifth one; is a rushing strategy going to pay off and catch your opponents flat-footed? Monuments offer you big points if you’re the first to build a given type and a lesser award (often half the points or less) for anyone else to complete one; occasionally an especially worker-heavy roll has  “stolen” a monument from a player slowly chipping away at it, so plan accordingly!

The box you can purchase from Gryphon Games (at your FLGS for around $30) contains the dice, four pegboards, and score pads for “the Bronze Age”, which are the rules I’ve outlined above. But the beauty of Matt Leacock’s design is that the game can change just by using a different score pad and adjusted rules. He has a “print and play” expansion up for free on the game’s official website, representing “the Late Bronze Age.” In addition to new developments and adjusted versions of some of the originals, the expansion includes better rewards for finishing already-built monuments, a trading option via one of the developments that let you better control the value of your goods, and ends the game at seven developments rather than three. I actually prefer the expansion for its additional strategic options, but the base game is quite fun on its own. It supports two to four players and has a solo variant that works well (you take ten total turns and can re-roll disaster dice if you wish). 

One of Snackbar Games’ traditions every year is to have each staffer pick their top ten games of the year.  We’re so all over the map in our tastes that our lists are never similar.  Today, we have site veteran Chris Ingersoll.  We’d be surprised that he wrote so much about only two systems, but…well, we know the guy.

As usual for my own year-end list, I want to emphasize that this only covers games released this year that I have actually played. This leaves a lot of front runners left off the list simply because I don’t own the system(s) on which they were released, I wasn’t interested in them, I had other financial obligations at the time of its release and it got back-burnered, or any number of other reasons. Additionally, there are a few titles remaining to be released this year that could have stolen a place or two.

Right off the bat, I don’t own an Xbox360, PS3, PSP, DSi, or gaming-capable PC. For the two systems that I do own, here are the ones I didn’t get to for 2009 that probably deserve consideration: READ MORE

One of Snackbar Games’ traditions every year is to have each staffer pick their top ten games of the year.  We’re so all over the map in our tastes that our lists are never similar.  Today, Andrew Passafiume has a lot of games about punching, shooting and killing things.  Then he has The Beatles.

10) MadWorld

MadWorld is a game I had been anticipating for quite some time, and it delivered on its promise of over the top action and extremely fun gameplay. It has a surprisingly strong story, and very nice variety of bosses and challenges. Although the game may seem easy at first, the challenge picks up quickly. This is a game I believe every Wii owner must have in their collection.

9) Left 4 Dead 2

The original Left 4 Dead is an amazing game in the fact that it is probably one of the shortest games around, but it is also one of the most replayable. The sequel brings us a brand new setting, new characters, and plenty of other new toys to dispatch zombies with. It simply is bigger and better than the original in just about every way. READ MORE

The third and final DLC album for The Beatles: Rock Band was released this week, one that is considered one of The Beatles’ best albums by many. Rubber Soul contains the rest of the eleven tracks not already on the disc, and although I’ve said this before, it may be the best DLC for the game yet. READ MORE