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Gamasutra's Best Of 2008

December 31, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 15 Next

As the end of the year approaches, Gamasutra presents a collection of all of the year-end charts we've published over the last two weeks.

Spanning categories ranging from the year's biggest disappointments to the best surprises, our choices have alternately earned your praise, ire, and disbelief, as you're about to see in selected reader comments.

Just for fun, try comparing this year's winners to last year's. How does this year's crop of winning titles stack up against last year's offerings? Surprisingly, in some cases. Onward to the countdowns:

Top 5 Downloadable Games

First up, we take a look at the top five downloadable games released in 2008, from World Of Goo through PixelJunk Eden and beyond - with ten other 'honorable mentions' also included.

The games picked are the editor's choice, and are chosen from the titles released in North America during 2008's calendar year to date, with eligible titles spanning both console and PC games. For the purposes of this particular chart, relevant games must be chiefly -- but need not be solely -- digitally distributed.

5. PixelJunk Eden (Q-Games, PlayStation 3)

Dylan Cuthbert and friends at the Kyoto, Japan-based Q-Games made it into last year's charts with the slightly more niche PixelJunk Racers. But this year, both Monsters and Eden debuted on PlayStation Network to both critical and gamer plaudits.

Eden itself is a charming, borderline psychedelic physics-heavy platform game with a beautiful soundtrack and addictive collection mechanics. More to the point, it has a breezy, enticing style that makes it abstract but pointed, all at the same time. It's a great example of a small-team independent game with original thought behind it.

4. N+ (Metanet Software, Slick Entertainment, Xbox 360)

While the original Flash version of N+ was a charming piece of Web-based minimalism, it wasn't entirely clear that a console version would be necessary, let along essential. After all, a vector-style ninja collecting gold worked just as well on your PC, right?

But once the Xbox Live Arcade version debuted, with wonderfully HD-ized visuals, a plethora of online scoreboards (with replays!), a gigantic amount of levels, and the same terribly addictive gameplay, it made sense. Only Microsoft's nervous restrictions on level sharing spoiled the party, but Metanet's cheap and plentiful expansions helped make up for that.

3. Braid (Number None, Xbox 360)

Me, you and everyone we know are fed up of hearing about Jon Blow's time-bending platform game Braid, of course. This is partly due to it winning an IGF prize all the way back in 2006, before an extensive graphical rehaul and its subsequent debut on Xbox Live Arcade in 2008. But try to shut the hype out, and you'll find something special.

Number None's Braid

Specifically, Braid is a title with carefully thought-out, ingenious puzzles, David Hellman's evocative art, and an underlying story that doesn't lack soul, however many different interpretations you might have of it. It's a game that makes you think and one that you care about, ultimately - and its rapturous critical reception reflects that.

2. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (Bizarre Creations, Xbox 360)

The original Xbox Live Arcade version of Geometry Wars, itself a sequel to a programmer-created homage to classic '80s twin-stick shooters like Robotron, re-ignited the genre. It also raised an interesting question. When you've been to 10 already, where is 11 in the world of abstract shooter gymnastics?

While perhaps not as mainstream as some of the other games on this list, Geometry Wars 2 is a perfectly pitched evolution of the franchise. It particularly succeeds in some of the ingenious 'side stories' that make clever alternative use of the gameplay -- 'King' and the fiendish 'Pacifism' being highlights. Add in robust online score integration for a 'beat your friends' fest, and the perfectly thought out 'Sequence' mode, and you have an adrenaline-bespattered winner.

1. World Of Goo (2D Boy, Wii/PC)

Who would have thought that the best downloadable game of the year would be a practically bizarre strategy game that would have the player building bridges and towers out of... sentient goop? You can feel the amount of careful polish that the two-man 2D Boy put into the Burton-esque dark fantasy setting and ingenious puzzle settings.

The icing on the cake? Intelligent metagame goals such as the World Of Goo Corporation mega-tower, built out of goo saved from your regular levels, and the OCD Flag mode for advanced players. Thsis meant that the game defined the key characteristics of 2008's best downloadable games: short-play, carefully iterated, and cleverly multilayered.

Finally, honorable mentions for some of our favorite downloadable games in 2008 that didn't quite reach the top five go to: Audiosurf, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Castle Crashers, Echochrome, Hinterland, LostWinds, MegaMan 9, Rez HD, Ticket To Ride, and Wipeout HD.

You said:

Oliver Snyders: "It's pretty telling that a majority of the top five downloadable games and honourable mentions are platformers of some description or use a 2D perspective, each bringing something new to their respective genres. Does this mean the 2D platformer *still* isn't dead?"

Bill Boggess: "I think Bionic Commando: Rearmed not being in the top five is ridiculous. It's actually one of the flat out best games released this year, downloadable or otherwise. Super Street FigherII HD Remix has proven to be an incredibly successful endeavor as well, though the hardcore nature of the game makes it a more niche offering."

Tom Newman: "Galaga Legions is hands down the best downloadable game this year. The other choices are great too, but the combination of great play mechanics with lots of HD geometry based eye-candy proved to be the most impressive downloadabe game."

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Sjors Jansen
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@Tom Newman: As far as I know Activision was founded because some developers specifically wanted more money and credit, not more creative freedom. Taking a glance at their list of published and developed games I'd rule out creative freedom as one of their high goals as well.

My sources are:

* once upon atari episode 2 (

* wikipedia (

* ign (

If you've got any evidence to back up their goal of creative freedom, please let me know cause I really want to believe that statement. As far as I'm concerned Activision is worse than what EA used to be and I really hope Blizzard's not already been affected (
friendly/ &&

If you can't then talking about this fictional past will only make the current situation look worse.

Here's to pitfall and desert strike...

Mike Ante
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In my opinion Metal Gear Solid 4 would have deserved to be in the Top 10 Games list. It's a masterpiece in every direction games can offer, from technological brilliance and artistic style to cinematic storytelling and delivering a powerful message. Just more than a big blockbuster like GTA4!

Tom Newman
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Not to get into an off-topic discussion, but I have to admit a personal bias. My first Activision game was Skiing on the 2600, and as a little kid I knew that Activision games were going to be fun. I won my 7th grade science fair using Activision's Game Maker for the Commedore64, and one of my most memorable gaming moments was beating the original Ghostbusters also for the C64. Jumping into the modern era, one of my favorite PC games of the 90's was Interstate76, and Activision has taken many chances on new titles that ended up being franchises, like the first Tony Hawk on PS1 - no one would have predicted that would turn into the cash-cow that it did. My opinion (and that's all it is) is based only on personal experience, not a wikipedia article.

Anthony Charles
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MGS4 is very appealing to the senses, but the story is maddeningly bad. i know any video game that makes an attempt at serious subject matter is automatically labelled as having "good story", but MGS 4 story is so mind numbingly skull thumpingly bad the game would have been better with 1/10 as much dialogue. Video games should be held to the same standard as other mediums and if this script was in a hollywood movie it would be the joke of the century. Its like the big taboo of video games to talk about the stupidity of mgs4's story.

the whole ending at the grave for about 4 hours of jumping from unrelated topic to unrelated topic in a meaningless and futile attempt to tie up a million loose ends. by the time the credits finally rolled i was bald from pulling my hair out.

one and two had very good stories, particularly two, but guns of the patriots had a story written by a 15 year old boy with ADHD.

Raphael van Lierop
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Regarding Bart Stewart's comment, quoted in the article above:

>>>Bart Stewart: "Part of me wants to object that any game that was excluded for months from PC gamers should be excluded from this list. Is it helpful to reward a publisher with a 'best of' award or honorable mention for a game on a particular platform if that platform wasn't considered worthy of support at the game's launch?"

Bart may not realize that there is a growing trend of releasing the PC SKU of games months after the console SKUs. This has nothing to do with disrespecting the PC as a platform. Rather, it has to do with combating piracy.

By releasing the PC SKU well after the console versions have had a chance to sell through their peak period (1-3 months post-launch), publishers avoid having pirated PC copies cannibalize sales of the console SKUs. Also, anyone who *really* wants to get their hands on a particular title might be willing to purchase the console version rather than wait a few months for the PC one.

It's not a perfect solution, but it makes a fair bit of sense. After all, nobody benefits from PC piracy except the pirates and those who steal games, and our livelihood by doing so.

Kevin OBrien
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I agree with the dismay at a lack of a solid critical vocabulary for game criticism, and on the need to move away from the product review model when discussing games and game design.

When we critically consider other forms of entertainment - for instance, literature, movies, and theater - we can focus on both the phenomenal experience of the thing, and on the formal quality of the thing being reviewed. It isn't a perfect approach, but it gets at the heart of the matter, which seems to be twofold: "is this thing well put together", and "will I be moved by this thing in some fashion?" It doesn't take a vast and complex understanding of the field to speak to those points, either - we all know that a review citing poor special effects and horribly mixed audio (arguably formal issues) suggests that even an exciting science fiction story (the experiential side of things) will come across poorly on film.

The interesting question, I think, is whether we should we approach games (be they electronic or otherwise) in the same way, and if so, whether the tools that we can borrow from other critics are sufficient?

Amir Sharar
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Just a clarification on the LBP delay Top 10 Contraversy: Muslims don't find it offensive to have Quran quotes in songs, it happens quite often in Muslim hymns.

What makes this a remarkable news item though, was that Sony reacted to a gamer's post on a forum, rather than a complaint by any organization. Muslim organizations didn't complain because it was in fact a hymn, but you saw a gamer stating his opinion, and Sony taking that as a representation of over 1.5 billion people. It seems from my limited research that Sony did little in making an effort to contact organizations like the Muslim Council of Britain...which would have saved them a lot of hassle in delaying the title, reprinting BluRay discs, and in affecting launch sales.

Fireblaze Blaze
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"alarming numbers in the audience still think it's fair to steal en masse." Thats is a false statement, steal is to take something from another person so that that person does not have it anymore, copying is another matter.

Am I to understand that Gamasutra thinks that make of Tris a tetris-like game for the IPhone is a thief? Cause he made an clone of Tetris?

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My list:


2Fallout 3

3Lost Odyssey

4Last Remnant

5Soul Calibur 4

6Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

7Crisis Core

8Valkyrie Chronicles

9Resistance 2

10Farcry 2

Tony Coles
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I'm surprised that Saints Row 2 hasn't made it into any lists here. For my money, it offered one of the best player-considerate sandbox experiences yet seen. Superb levels of detail and real consideration for what the player will want to do and how they want to do it. Compared to GTA IV, it was a revelation, making Rockstar's folly seem aged and clunky in comparison.

Matt Myers
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My favorite this year would have to be Tales of Vesperia. It may have been business as usual for some folks, but it was my first Tales game and has the best combat system in a JRPG I've ever played. That plus the ~40 hour storyline with characters atypical to the usual JRPG fare makes it the most memorable game for me.

Also an indie game not mentioned anywhere here is Passage. It's a very simple 2d experience that only lasts five minutes. Nevertheless I found that it had a profoundly emotional effect on me and is certainly worth checking out at least once.

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I agree tales is pretty good, but I don't like that the battle system has characters that control themselves. I like to be in control of everything and while you can set the battle rules for them it turns out that it feels like you're barely playing the game and making the decisions. Compare this system to FFXII and I like how FFXII allows you to pause and issue moves for characters each turn so that at times I can let the gambits do the work for trash enemies, but on harder bosses I can micromanage a bit more. The only Tales game I ever played all the way through was Tales of symphonia for the gamecube and I played through it with all the characters dead except the main character because I didn't like the AI controlling my guys.

Chris Remo
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"Fireblaze Blaze,"

How about "obtain illegally" rather than "steal"? Does that work for you? Call it what you like if it makes you satisfied.

Bart Stewart
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Raphael, I appreciate the point you're making. I did/do understand that piracy of PC games is a potential reason for delaying the release of a multiplatform game for the PC SKU.

I'd just ask readers to consider a couple of points.

1. The PC is hardly the only platform on which piracy occurs -- Gamasutra itself recently published an article on the massive, almost casual piracy of games for handheld devices in Asia. Singling out the PC for a delayed release may not be justifiable on piracy grounds alone.

2. The question I raised -- regarding the decision to reward publishers (with a mention in a "best of platform" category) despite excluding the gamers who prefer that platform by not initially launching the game on that platform -- I think stands on its own regardless of the reason for not launching on a particular platform. As I said in my original comments, it's not something I'm losing sleep over, but I do wonder whether it's a good principle generally for anyone who publishes widely-read judgements on games. That said, Chris's response satisfied me that some thought went into the decision to do so, so I have no serious complaints. As I said then, I thought the games that made it to Gamasutra's "best PC games" list were generally excellent... once they came out for the PC. :)