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Gamasutra's Best Of 2009: Top 10 Games Of The Year
Gamasutra's Best Of 2009: Top 10 Games Of The Year Exclusive
December 23, 2009 | By Staff

December 23, 2009 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[Closing out Gamasutra's look back at 2009, our staff presents a list of the top 10 games of the year. Previously: Top 5 Biz Trends, Top 5 iPhone Games, Top 5 Controversies, Top 5 PC Games, Top 5 Handheld Games Of 2009, Top 5 Console Downloadable Games, Top 5 Major Industry Events, Top 5 Developers, Top 10 Indie Games, Top 5 Disappointments and Top 5 Game Companies.]

No year-end retrospective would be complete without a look back at the top games. Gamasutra staff together selected what we feel were the finest, most groundbreaking and impressive games of 2009.

Our individual staffers also chose honorable mentions, personal picks that didn't fall within our group top ten, but that we nonetheless wanted to single out.

Without further ado, we present our Top 10 Games of the Year:

10. Retro Game Challenge (Namco Bandai, Nintendo DS)

Retro Game Challenge isn't really just one game. It's a compilation of brand new retro games wrapped in a clever metanarrative that traps the player in 1980s Japan, forced to master a slew of cartridges. The games start basic but reach the NES' early '90s peak -- starting out with classic arcade titles and culminating in Haggleman 3, a ninja action game with the complexity (and quality) of later era NES games like Castlevania III or Ninja Gaiden II.

Retro Game Challenge doesn't just ape retro games shamelessly. No, what it does is ape them lovingly, with a real attention to detail and sense of exuberant fun. This is a compilation that can remind you why you once cherished Galaga (via its knock-off, Cosmic Gate) or illustrate why Japanese kids were so crazy for 2D shooters like Star Soldier (thanks to RGC's Star Prince). There's even a full-featured Dragon Quest-style RPG, Guadia Quest, to play through -- in addition to three Haggleman games and racer Rally King.

Each game is enjoyable in its own right. The attention to detail is impressive, the understanding of what made 2D gaming compelling to a generation of kids is apt, and little touches make the games accessible to gamers unwilling to put up with the truly archaic. It's all wrapped into a sly, charming story (based on cult Japanese TV show Game Center CX, though you need not be a fan to play). Retro Game Challenge is always charming and engrossing, has a lot of variety, and is an obvious labor of love on the part of its developers.

9. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War II (Relic Entertainment, PC)

Despite the shrinking of the real-time strategy genre since its heyday, Relic Entertainment has consistently turned out some of the most inventive and clever RTS games around. Dawn of War II is one of the studio's riskiest, and that risk paid off.

Relic went full-bore in the direction it's been heading in its recent games, dropping traditional base-building entirely to point a laser focus at squad-level tactics and fast-paced resource management. Even then, the single-player and multiplayer components are almost entirely different games: the campaign shares much in common with the persistent "just one more level" character progression of Diablo-esque dungeon crawlers, while the multiplayer is a lean, stripped-down, team-based action/strategy hybrid that draws from Relic's own Company of Heroes as much as from class-based multiplayer shooters.

It's an unlikely but inspired melting pot of genres and mechanics that speaks to Relic's long-term RTS innovation. And the Vancouver studio has kept support for the game strong, with patches and free additional content this year, and a full expansion in March.

8. Plants vs. Zombies (PopCap, PC)

PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies took the tower defense genre and turned it on its side with its six-row, horizontal gameplay. Like other PopCap games, Plants vs. Zombies became a huge time sink this year -- if you were willing to sacrifice a crop of potatoes to ward off a horde of zombies determined to cross your lawn and invade your home.

Plants vs. Zombies is a success for a few reasons. First, it's a weird, unique premise. People hear "Plants vs. Zombies" and their interest is piqued because they're already wondering how the two things can possibly be at odds. Secondly, the wonderful art style of the game takes something horrifying -- mutated self-aware killer plants and reanimated human corpses -- and turns it into something you would see on a Saturday morning cartoon.

Once players are drawn in, it's hard to escape the game's addictive, accessible gameplay, which takes the staples of real-time strategy games like resource and unit management, and artfully condenses them into something a six-year-old could understand. While it is accessible in that regard, Plants vs. Zombies is still entertaining to a wide range of audiences. PopCap said shortly after the game's release that it estimated over half of all Plants vs. Zombies buyers fell in the "hardcore" category. We guess that's just the magic of zombies at work there.

7. The Beatles: Rock Band (Harmonix/MTV, Xbox 360/PS3/Wii)

It’s not surprising that a music game would make our Top 10 for 2009. But with band-specific music titles sometimes being no more than glorified song packs (sorry, AC/DC, Van Halen), what made this much-awaited Harmonix and The Beatles collaboration shine?

Firstly, the art direction was absolutely supreme – from the wonderfully created intro cinematic through to the subtle stylization given to John, Paul, Ringo, and George. Certain other music games have strayed a little too far into the Uncanny Valley at times, but these characters, featured in carefully dressed sets reflecting particular stages of their careers, just felt right.

Of course, the gameplay works, even with only incremental additions, and the multi-part harmonies were a good technical addition – and vital for a band like The Beatles. And overall, the game was a fully formed, lovingly crafted experience, with the 'dreamscapes' filling out the otherwise drab studio visuals a particularly nice touch.

Perhaps it helps that The Beatles have such diverse – and now mythologized - set of audiovisual shifts. Playing through them felt like a mystical, magical journey. And, last but not least – well, it’s about the music, dummy.

6. Flower (ThatGameCompany/Sony, PlayStation 3)

A lot has been said about Flower over the last year – perhaps too much, at times. But the game, created by ThatGameCompany, took a different approach to games, and to game development, and made it work. The company is very iterative and prototype-based in its approach, and the dynamic duo of designer Jenova Chen and president Kellee Santiago have emerged from indie obscurity and into the media spotlight, while still retaining a different view on what games should be.

Flower exemplifies this view – its non-violent, non-competitive gameplay remains attractive and compelling (if linear), and the integration of sight, motion, and sound make for a cohesive product. Indeed, for a time Flower (a PlayStation Network exclusive) was one of the PlayStation 3’s major selling points, discussed alongside Metal Gear Solid 4. The game made motion control work on the PS3’s Sixaxis controller in ways that no other really did (you could make an argument for Warhawk, I suppose).

The game has received numerous awards and accolades since its early 2009 release, and we feel they are deserved. Though some might argue that the premise is pretentious, it makes you feel good to tell those who decry video games for their violence about a title that allows you to play through the dream of a flower – and that they might actually enjoy it, too.

5. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

Batman: Arkham Asylum is not only the best Batman game to date, but to many, it's the best superhero video game of all time. Developed by UK-based Rocksteady, Batman: Arkham Asylum went beyond Batman's penchant for butt-kicking and batarangs (both of which are implemented masterfully, by the way) and explored the disturbing -- and sometimes moving -- pieces of his psychological makeup.

The game is essentially built around a very solid core fighting mechanic that allowed for perhaps the most intuitive and effective 3D beat-em-up we've ever seen. A simple system made up of one-button counters and attacks, combined with directional input, let players feel like they were part of a Batman comic or film, or even a kung fu movie, in which a highly-skilled martial artist is able to incapacitate waves and waves of thugs using only his well-trained body.

The feeling of improvisation during fight sequences added to the experience -- you could master the timing of the controls, as evidenced by challenge room high scores on the game's leaderboards, but button-mashing is also extremely satisfying for more casual players. Throw in some unlockable moves and gadgets that make you feel like an ever-evolving human weapon, and you have a solid base upon which to build several layers of badassery.

Among those layers are villains like the maniacal Joker, hulking Bane, spunky Harley Quinn, sexy Poison Ivy and the enigmatic Riddler. And of course, there's Scarecrow, who acts as a means to uncover Batman's background in some amazing ways, portraying a vulnerable side to the incorruptible crime fighter. With Batman: Arkham Asylum 2 confirmed, we're anxious to see just how Rocksteady, with its focused approach to game design, can improve upon the original.

4. Left 4 Dead 2 (Valve, Xbox 360/PC)

Left 4 Dead 2 is perhaps not the "best" game released in 2009, but it is unquestionably the game many people will be playing well into 2010. Left 4 Dead’s multiplayer co-op game set a new standard for the cooperative first person experience, and L4D2 takes it a step further. Though the systems are slightly more complicated, they are layered in such a way that they really work – and inspire greater teamwork than ever before.

The game wants you to combine its tools in clever ways to stay alive, and makes you feel clever for doing it (even if some hints are given in the form of achievements). On top of that, new modes like Realism, which takes away your superhuman ability to see your teammates (and health, and weapons) through walls, changes the dynamic even further. And on top of the more cerebral interworkings of the various poultices and weapons upgrades, you’ve got melee weapons, which allow you to slice and dice your way to freedom – you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

On top of the systems, the game is simply more fun to play than ever, and looks completely gorgeous (especially when not in split-screen). The lighting, the set pieces, and even the enemies are rendered superbly, even if zombies to get a rather unfair free ticket out of the Uncanny Valley. The AI feels even sharper than before, and the game simply throws you into a hostile world with a bunch of interesting tools, and sees how you’ll work it out. Giving the player agency is something we're all in favor of.

3. Demon's Souls (From Software/Atlus, PS3)

A focus on accessibility and intuitiveness in game design has helped make gaming friendlier to a much wider audience... and then there's Demon's Souls, mercifully there to remind us that not all challenge is bad.

So detailed is the steeply difficult melee combat design and so logical are the worlds and their enemies that in discovering their way through the game -- even through repeated deaths -- players have the rare and deeply satisfying experience of meaningful learning.

The game also deserves major props for its creative approach to death, which tasks players with reclaiming their bodies. It implements an inventive multiplayer system, too, by which anonymous ghosts can help one another through battle assistance or simple messages scrawled in eerie runes.

The most addictive game experience of the year reminds us not to be so quick in ditching tradition in favor of one-touch inputs and gesture-controlled simplicity, as there's still much joy to be found in detailed, complex gameplay.

2. New Super Mario Bros Wii (Nintendo, Wii)

Almost since the beginning of the Wii generation, Nintendo took hard knocks from core fans for "abandoning" them. Thanks to New Super Mario Bros Wii, Nintendo deserves credit for addressing, even if slightly imperfectly, several of the major criticisms against it in one joyful, faithful swoop.

The game design essentially makes the difficulty level malleable for each player, depending on how many players who join and what kind of challenges they take on -- attacking the perception that Mario's gone too easy for single-players.

At the same time, the multiplayer is expressly designed to make players talk and interact, which in practice can give the dominant paradigm -- remote interaction over Xbox Live or PSN -- something of a run for it. These brilliant little victories abound, and the impressive result is a current-gen Mario that truly is for anyone and everyone.

1. Dragon Age (BioWare, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

BioWare once reinvigorated the Dungeon & Dragons-inspired line of PC fantasy RPGs with Baldur's Gate. After a decade of evolutions, the studio has attempted to bridge the gap between that early milestone and its modern refinements.

Dragon Age: Origins succeeds both in that goal and as a masterful, ambitious roleplaying game in its own right. On its surface, it seems full of the same dwarves-and-mages-and-elves dynamic that's been so thoroughly mined, with stock visuals to match. But as you explore the game's considerable volume of content, its fascinating subtleties begin to reveal themselves -- class, gender, and race roles form the underpinnings of a compelling world without becoming too heavy-handed.

On the personal scale, Dragon Age features some of the most affecting and entertaining character interactions in gaming, implemented dynamically and seamlessly. Party members idly chat amongst themselves -- affably, dourly, indifferently -- and comment on the player's own choices. The game's overarching story is nothing special; it's the context and the personal moments that count, and they count for a lot. Rarely are virtual characters so believable.

The game itself demonstrates an impressive RPG design fluency born of hard experience, particularly on the PC where it fluidly shifts between a modern third-person RPG and an old-school top-down dungeon crawler at the player's whim. It strikes a satisfying balance between intricacy and intuitiveness, rewarding player investment but not becoming overbearing.

The remarkably diverse origin stories that serve as the subtitle's namesake just add further personality and depth to one of the most surprisingly unique RPGs in recent memory. With Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare has succeeded in reprising its own revival.

Honorable Mentions

In addition to our team top ten, each member of our core staff has chosen honorable mentions, personal favorites that didn't make the final aggregate list:

Simon Carless, Global Brand Director, Think Services Game Group

Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog, PlayStation 3)
Ratchets up from its predecessor on every level, and brings carefully-plotted filmic narrative into games without feeling trite or overly guided to me. Multiple thumbs up.

Trials HD (RedLynx, Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
Perhaps my most-played title this year, it improves the genre of physics-based motorbike trick/race games with an awesome cacophany of microchallenges and mini-games. This is how fast, sharp play for a new millenium should be.

Assassin's Creed II (Ubisoft Montreal, Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)
That craziest of things -- a carefully reverent freeform romp through Renaissance Italy with practically transcendent art and carefully iterated gameplay.

Brandon Sheffield, EIC, Game Developer Magazine

Street Fighter IV (Capcom, Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC)
Capcom’s reinventing of the franchise, alongside developer Dimps, took 2D fighting back to the masses, proving that it can – and should – be popular again.

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes (Capy Games, Nintendo DS)
It’s a Puzzle/Strategy RPG with far more organized randomness and more strategic head-to-head play. And it was good enough for me to beat twice!

Devil Survivor (Atlus, Nintendo DS)
DS strategy meets Dragon Quest battles, with an interesting branching story. It's the game made just for me! (Well, maybe not the punishing difficulty on the last day...)

Leigh Alexander, News Director, Gamasutra

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North, Nintendo DS)
Blah blah, who cares whether M-rated content can sell on the DS or how many units Chinatown Wars sold or what Michael Pachter thought about its numbers? It's still one of the most stunningly-designed DS titles I've ever seen, all the more impressive as Rockstar's first.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Climax Studios, Wii)
Shame it was released just a bit too late for the holiday hype window, and often either incorrectly pegged as a simple "Wii-make" of the original old title or overlooked by franchise diehards for its liberties -- this reimagining of Silent Hill is an absolute must-have for every Wii owner, from the rare brilliance in its implementation of Wii controls to the fun and clever little ways it responds to the player's behavior.

Noby Noby Boy (Namco, PlayStation 3)
So you don't really know what you're supposed to "do" besides free-form play -- good. Games need more of this kind of simple, colorful pleasure, and seeing players strive to collectively "reach" the outer planets of the solar system prompts a warm, whimsical twinge we hardly ever get from games anymore.

Christian Nutt, Features Director, Gamasutra

Flight Control (Firemint, iPhone)
Instantly accessible, oddly addictive, and thematically neutral -- its inclusive yet appealing theme is probably a big part of its success. It's a snappily-executed, 99 cent hero.

Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure (EA Tiburon, DS)
A great example of synthesis -- it pairs two genres (platforming and puzzling) with cleverness and great success. This is a game that learned from the classics yet still has its own clever personality, and also represents a budding of unique talent in a huge studio.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (Atlus, PSP)
A remake done right: the game's pace was quickened, its interface was brought up to date, the translation was completely reworked, and once-excised content was restored. The result is a highly playable new version of an unfairly overlooked cult classic.

Chris Remo, Editor-At-Large, Gamasutra

Brutal Legend (Double Fine Productions, Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)
Double Fine's ballsy genre mashup has snappy writing, a bad ass soundtrack, great vocal performances, some of the most breathtaking environments in gaming memory, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Empire: Total War (The Creative Assembly, PC)
The latest Total War takes on the period arguably most formative to our own world, depicting the colonial era in grand style. Games can depict history like no other medium can, and The Creative Assembly's work feels important.

Torchlight (Runic Games, PC)
Remember how Diablo insidiously ensnared you, coaxing you yet one floor deeper into its seemingly endless dungeon even though you had to be at work in three hours? Torchlight is like that. With the guy who made Diablo's music.

Kris Graft, Senior Contributing Editor, Gamasutra

Forza Motorsport 3 (Turn 10, Xbox 360)
Sure, it's aimed mainly towards automobile enthusiasts, plays best with an expensive steering wheel controller, and takes the "bigger, better, prettier" route to racer design, but if you're a gearhead gamer, this is a must-have.

Infamous (Sucker Punch Productions, PS3)
An original superhero game, Infamous gives players a great sense of continuous evolution and increasing power. It's a fine departure from the developer who brought us Sly Cooper.

Borderlands (Gearbox, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)
This gun-loving loot-fest is tough to put down when playing alone, but is even more magnetic when you have three friends to play with. A great multiplayer game with a vibrant art style.

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Mike Rose
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I agree with the majority of this list, there are some great picks here. The only ones I have a problem with are Flower and New Super Mario Bros Wii.

I know to many people, Flower was something very beautiful and provoked an emotional response, but I also know that many people found it to be incredibly dull. When I compare it to some of the titles released this year, I can't help but think there were so many much better titles - for example, Plant vs Zombies was a mile more entertaining than Flower. Of course, this is all opinion, so I respect others will feel differently :)

The other selection I find odd is Mario Bros. While I found it to be wholesome fun, it was also incredibly forgettable and even a little frustrating at times - in fact, it's the first Mario title to ever leave me feeling frustrated! There is no way in my mind I would rank it with the likes of Left 4 Dead 2. Again, all opinion!

I'm sure many more will comment on how much they agree/are completely against this list :)

Matt Diamond
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I didn't think Scribblenauts would be a top 10 game overall, but I'm surprised it didn't make anyone's honorable mentions, just for the sheer chutzpah of it.

Fiore Iantosca
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Some of these items are surely biased. L4D2? No way.

Dragon Age is a superb game, I just can't fathom why BioWare would release a completely subpar version on the PS3 and the 360, with the 360 have the worst graphical issues.

Glenn Storm
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I'm glad to see Plants vs. Zombies on the main list. Masterful. Nice breakdown, folks!

Adam Saltsman
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Really surprised to see SFIV get an honorable mention while NSMBW gets 2nd place! Very curious about why a deeply flawed physics platformer that fails in almost every way could be held so much above a technical masterpiece. SFIV is the kind if game that has accessibilty problems but provides hundreds of hours of deep and meaningful competitive play. NSMBW provides I think 10 hours of sloppy play and annoying music, and the pleasure I derive from it is very much in spite of its design, and not because of it.

I guess this is what you meant by bickering though :D

Luis Guimaraes
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I'd just shift Plants vs. Zombies somewhere up in the rank.

Andrew Curran
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While I can't argue with most of the list, I think Left 4 Dead 2 should have been a touch lower in the list. While it was entertaining, the artificial intelligence is most definitely a negative for the game, not a positive. It seems rare that your computer controlled allies ever do anything useful beyond healing you. I mean, whats the point of having a few allies carrying heavy weaponry if they never use it? I believe that alone should warrant a position change, if not removal from the list all together.

Russell Carroll
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Happy with the lists and really liked the individual lists.

I love NSMB for the multiplayer, which has been fantastic fun with everyone I've played it with. I disagree with the comments about it being sloppy...and we could definitely bicker on that point. What I love about this top 10 list is that it doesn't feel like it came from a single point of view like many do. People have different tastes! That seems to have been the most difficult thing for gamers to swallow and understand this year. I'm all good with people enjoying Left 4 Dead 2, even though I think it is a totally uninteresting sewer slogfest. You should enjoy it and have your own opinion! Put it on top 10 lists, I can respect different opinions, and I'd really like to see more respect for all kinds of games :).

My wife went to a baby shower where the conversation for a moment turned to NSMBWii. I was stunned by the image, but I think it says a lot about the game's ability to bring in people who wouldn't normally play. It's not my favorite game of the year, but I really have loved playing NSMBWii...working to get every coin is challenging good co-op fun. That doesn't mean you have to like it...I just don't get the's just a game, and one that a lot of people (a lot!) are loving...diversity in opinion and games I think is a good thing that should be championed. (ok soapbox done...getting down...)

My personal 3 favs of the year:

Rune Factory: Frontier (Wii)

I love Zelda games, and this mix that is like 1/3 Zelda, 1/3 dating Sim, 1/3 crop-growing is a bizarre combo that really worked for me. A wonderful score and a couple of very real feeling characters made the experience unique.

Rhythm Heaven (DS)

Hated this game the first night I played it, then grew to really like it. The designer wanted to make players feel like a conductor? Don't know what that means, but boy is the result a totally unique game that has a 'feel' that I can't describe and that I can't find in any other game.

Wii Sports Resort (Wii)

Nearly even with Defense Grid: The Awakening (PC/XBLA), I give WSR the nod for multplayer. The number of games on this cart is huge, and the second generation motion controls got lost in other company's E3 announcements, which is too bad, b/c they're really amazing and bring in some true to life challenge in motor-skills. Frisbee Golf is my fav.

Simon Carless
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Russell, good point on Wii Sports Resort, which is likely getting a bit neglected in year-end lists - I have to say that the archery and flying mini-games in it were some of the most fun I had with a video game all year.

Jason Withrow
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Ah, Retro Game Challenge. It's good to see you getting some kudos, considering your sales not being high enough to justify translating the sequel. :( I can't help but agree with it, though. Except for the hilarious, if pointless, SMB Late Night Nippon extended reference, every game would be on the classics lists today if they had truly existed back then.

Joshua Sterns
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A big, no huge, WOOT for Batman. I would love to see wave after wave of 3d brawlers copy the super sexy combat system. The stealth segments were also fantastic. The developers didn't simply copy Splinter Cell or Thief. They made a Batman game that truly captures what/who Batman is. Plus I'm a huge fan of Mark Hamill as the Joker.

Overall the top ten list had me nodding in approval. I would have changed the order a bit, but so would everyone else with a opinoin. L4D2 is simply L4D squared (sorry had to do the bad math joke), and Dragon Age is full of bugs, but that doesn't mean they are not great games. My top three are Batman (duh), New Super Mario Wii, and BlazBlue. I would throw in an FPS, but I see little point until there is something more then Halo, Call of Duty, or Left 4 Dead.

Brandon Sheffield
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Saltsman - I totally agree with you! SF IV was my personal bid to get on the list but unfortunately everyone else is way less intelligent and worldly and handsome than I am, so it got relegated to honorable mentions.

I'm also not a NSMB fan - I think inertia is really just not very fun in a 2D platformer unless the whole game is designed around that, and to me, NSMB would've been a lot more fun with Super Mario World control. Also I hated the metagame in retro game challenge! Dang.

Talking of bias, before Modern Warfare 2 came out, I was pretty sure it'd rank high on my list. But after having played it, most of my memories are of CoD4, not MW2. It's an alright game, but it didn't reach the narrative and moment-to-moment gameplay heights of 4. Sad :

Danny Pampel
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Batman, such an over hyped, overrated game, I was saddened to see it make the list.

Jonathan Gilmore
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@Danny, I hear you, I played the demo for about half an hour and I was satisfied-I might pick it up for $30 because it had a ton of polish, but it just wasn't compelling for me.

As far as Modern Warfare 2, it definitely did not meet the expectations set by COD4. The storytelling was mostly silly and arbitrary, and as others have pointed out it unfurled like four Michael Bay war movies consolidated into 2 hours of shooting and set pieces. I haven't moved on to the multiplayer yet, but the singleplayer prevents it from being considered as a game of the year candidate.

Danny Pampel
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It is funny, that's one of the reasons I liked MW2 so much is that is just like a big budget action movie. There are other FPS games out there that do their own niches so well (L4D etc) that I like where MW2 sits.

Corey Navage
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You can't ignore 7 MILLION copies sold (and counting)! Bring in that much money and recognition is just as important to our industry as any boundary pushing piece on this list (many of which weren't even that).

And btw, MW2 is Awesome! MP and SP are both great entertainment. I know its hip and cool to bash the king, but any "Best of..." list should include this record setting success.

Anthony Charles
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Flower may get points for being artistically ambitious, but that does not mean it doesn't also have to be an enjoyable game. its got the depth of a pack-in wii game, only disadvantaged by the PS3's inferiour six-axis.

"Indeed, for a time Flower (a PlayStation Network exclusive) was one of the PlayStation 3’s major selling points." An infintecimal amount of PS3s were sold because of Flower, especially when compared with Uncharted 2, a great game that was left off the list.

I'm glad Batman got some love. I feared it wouldn't get its due respect because of all the preconceptions that justifiably go along with big IP licenses. It wasn't revolutionary, but the execution was just about flawless. I don't care about batman fiction, but i've never seen a game outside the star wars universe do such thorough fan service.

Joe Woynillowicz
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I am really glad to see Demon's Souls up high on the list, it is definitely the best game I have played in an extremely long time. I agree with what Brian Bush mentioned above that it is the current generation's Shadow of the Colossus... although I think it definitely eclipses it and takes the top spot.

Scott Edgar
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I'm happy to see so many PC games on that list. Indeed it was a good year for PC gaming.

Aaron Smith
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I am a little surprised not to see MW2 or Uncharted 2 on this list. MW2 shouldn't be #1 but I think it should be in the ten. My personal favorites may be niche but these are the titles I felt the greatest sense of satisfaction, frustration and enjoyment from playing.

1 - Blazblue

2 - Uncharted 2

3 - Trials HD

Brandon Sheffield
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man, if uncharted 2 is niche, I can't imagine what a blockbuster must look like!

nathan vella
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I would like to profess my love for SFIV.


That is all.

Ed Alexander
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I seem to be the odd one out... I bought SFIV and played it twice, I think. It's so slow and, well, to be honest inferior to Marvel vs Capcom 2 in every respect except maybe nostalgia. I used to play it at the grocery store when dad was shopping, so it does have a spot reserved in my childhood but... it is slow.

All praise Demon's Souls. I'm on my 4th character now, even though I have Dragon's Age and an assload of stuff I bought off of Steam (including L4D2, which didn't really capture me despite having really great level design) that are collecting digital dust because I just can't seem to put it down. I could have gotten my Assassin's Creed 2 platinum trophy weeks ago if it wasn't for Demon's Souls! (The holiday Pure White World Tendency has pretty much cemented it in my PS3 until the 28th...)

Dawn of War II was another surprise I was really glad to see up there. Personally, I'm not a fan of RTS games at all. Just something about the constant micro-management of things when all I ever seem to get caught up in is just the fun of base building that is a turn off... But stripping away all of that stuff so you have 4 squads to worry about and a whole map full of xenos was perfect for me. Not to mention I played a ton of their free released survival mode. Minor qualms, but overall I was very happy to have bought Dawn of War II.

Sean Parton
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I agree with Russell Carroll on NSMB Wii. It's not going to be loved by everyone, but it's the most fun I've had with all of my gamer friends (of widely disparate skill levels) in a long time.

I highly disagree with Dragon Age being placed as high as it is. Great game, sure, deserves to be in the top 10, but...

1) Buggy as all heck

2) Ridiculous difficulty curve (The difficulty in sections of the game is not even remotely balanced, and most combats become a cakewalk once you're a high enough level)

3) Schizophrenic art direction (some wonderful assets/animations, some terrible)

I would say that the list is otherwise pretty good. The honorable mentions are nice, too; I'm seeing some games I definitely should check out.

Dean Rymer
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Individual editor lists are far better than the overall list.

Glenn Storm
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Russel, I too am stunned by that image. "Baby Shower Party Game for the Wii", anyone?

Carlos Mijares
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Thanks for the list!


It's odd that a game like Batman made the list (a great third-person, "cinematic" action game), but not Uncharted 2 (ditto, but a little better). Hopefully it wasn't the case of, "Hey, let's represent every genre/ niche /system we can in this list, instead of naming the 10 truly best games to play from 2009. From indie to handheld to console to PC! We're all equal! Old and new! Let's all represent each other and be fair! Our readers will have something to identify with because of our varied, fair list!"

Naturally, from the description of Retro Game Challenge, I can't imagine a collection of such simple games (or rather, mechanics) we've all played before being less entertaining / better than only 9 other games out this year (no matter how polished they are, or how inventive the story connecting them is), let alone their being more enjoyable/ better than something like Uncharted 2 (I mean, really? Did you miss the '80s and '90s? I'm all for nostalgia like the next guy. I just bought a Sega Saturn, Panzer Dragoon Saga $$$, Guardian Heroes, Nights and 28 other Saturn games to play one of the few systems I missed in my youth, but nostalgia and criticism should remain separate if one is to compare one game as being better or worse than another... *rant*).

Oh well.

Honorable mention: Way of the Samurai 3, which is not one of the best games around, but it's certainly an entertaining one, and surely one that would benefit from more $$$ in its budget.

Jehanzeb Hasan
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Glad to see Arkham Asylum make the list. I agree with Josh -- it was a unique, well-balanced stealth action experience that avoided the kind of tediousness that's plagued other titles in the genre. As for DragonAge, it certainly deserves to make the list but I was a little surprised to see it ranked so high -- IMHO, in some ways (especially the dialogue system), it was a step backwards from Mass Effect.

Yannick Boucher
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Pretty alright list but, did you purposely leave Uncharted 2 out just to 'look cool' ? ;)

Brandon Sheffield
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Carlos, the reason is that this is meant to be a list of the editors' collective best games of 2009, it's not an objective list. Because that would be boring!

(Yannick the above comment applies to your question as well)

Adam Bishop
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Other than Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, my favourite games of the year are all represented here (well, and also NHL 10, but sports games never really make these lists). I definitely agree with Dragon Age being game of the year; we'll see how it holds up in the long run, but so far it's the most enjoyable experience I've had in this generation of consoles.

steve roger
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I can't respect a list that doesn't include Uncharted 2 in it's top ten. If you have room for L4D2 in your list you have room for Uncharted 2.

This doesn't really seem like a list of the best but a list of gaming angles that Gamasutra wanted to talk about.

Really Retro for the DS over Uncharted 2?

And Brandon, here is the description of the editorial picks:

"No year-end retrospective would be complete without a look back at the top games. Gamasutra staff together selected what we feel were the finest, most groundbreaking and impressive games of 2009."

"Finest, most groundbreaking and impressive games of 2009." If Uncharted 2 doesn't fit that moniker then I don't know what does.

I question the competency of the Editorial staff in their collective ability to assess video game excellence. Yes, I said that.

Really disappointed.

Mike Rose
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so I guess if you can go as far as to 'question the competency of the Editorial staff', that means you have played all 10 games in their top 10? Because if you haven't, then you should possibly give each a play before trolling.

If your best argument is 'Uncharted 2 should be in there cos it was good and stuff', I would think about questioning your own competency. Yes, I said that.


Hillwins Lee
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I disagreed about L4D2, personally I think they tune down the AI to encourage more interactive between real Co-op players, driving the gamers to get a real team together. That's the beauty of Co-op, afterall.

Also one thing that got overshadowed by all the melee weaps and new mobs and what the objectives in the levels. To me, that's the best gameplay improvement in L4D2, not the chainsaw or the katana or spitter. The introduction of special in game objectives add a somewhat RPG/Quest element to the game, for me, it's more engaging than just hack and slashing and rush into a safehouse.

Daniel Martinez
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Great list. I'll make sure to check out some of these titles, if I haven't already.

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My GOTY is Demon's Souls with SFIV as runner up.

Yannick Boucher
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@Brandon : still, man! you guys didn't like Uncharted 2 enough? I can totally see for MW2 though (and I share _exactly_ the same opinion you stated above). Anyways, I'm not paid by Sony... ;)

@Michael: I for one have played all 10 and still disagree with part of that list (namely, L4D2 indeed, and Dragon Age Origins at #1). Anyways, a list is a list... happy to see Retro on there though!

Mr. Zurkon
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Exactly what's the big deal with L4D2? I see several people go on about the game without giving any actual criticism, except for the friendly AI (which shouldn't be much of a factor as this is meant as an online-game).

About Batman being "cinematic". Cinematic is first of all a useless term which has very little to do with the context we're usually applying it to. What made batman great wasn't the cutscenes, but the pace and flow of the game and level design built on strong gameplay mechanics.

As for Dragon Age not being superficial, I'd like to know where this depth comes to play - as I've finished the game by now and have been a victim of nothing but cheesy dialogue and storytelling. I'm getting a bit tired of this game's praise, it's as if people have waited so long for a PC-RPG they're willing to swallow anything.

Brandon Sheffield
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Yannick, I can't speak for everyone, but I liked Uncharted, and I beat it, but I didn't feel it was spectacular. for me, this may be tied to the fact that for me, a blockbuster movie feels like something trashy to watch on a plane and then forget about. I never love them, but they're innocuous entertainment with lots of explosions and things to look at. Blockbusters are movies I will watch for free, but pretty much won't pay for.

Uncharted wasn't quite like that, but it was emulating these blockbusters in many ways, which doesn't rub me the right way. It was an improvement over the original in terms of the shooting, but it wasn't a game of the year for me. It was a fun ride, but it was basically like playing a blockbuster, which for me was something to do for a bit and then move on from. It's not something I'll be thinking about for months to come, nor something I'm likely to revisit. It was good, but not lasting, for me. Does that make sense? Again, that's just me - the others may have different thoughts. I know Simon said it was one of his favorite games he played all year, but that's why it's on his honorable mentions list :)

Marque Sondergaard
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Not a single nod in the direction of the behemoth that is World of Warcraft?

These lists will always be massively subjective, but the sheer magnitude and force of WOW in the games and wider cultural space can not be ignored.

Tom Newman
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Very happy to see Retro Games Challenge on the list! This was on mine, and frankly I was surprised to see it here! Retro, Demon's Souls, and Brutal Legend are on my top of the list.

Gustav Ziolkowski
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I agree with Steve Roger, in that I cannot respect a GOTY list that does not include Uncharted 2. Uncharted 2 (together with Torchlight and Batman) was one of the best paced games I have played to this date. Also the writing was superior to anything "videogame" this year. Not even Dragon Age comes close.

The train level alone in Uncharted 2 introduced so many game patterns that were different (and fun) that others don't even have during their whole gameplay.

Although I do not agree, I'm happy Dragon Age received this much love. Simply because I was working on a similar game for the last year which will see release soon. Hopefully we can ride the gravy train. ;)

David Delanty
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@Marque. I don't think WoW was included in the list because it didn't come out this year. If 'best game of the year' could apply to any game from any time, I'd give my award to Rollercoaster Tycoon for the 12th year in a row, lol.

@All the 'Where's the Uncharted 2!?' guys.

Oh man, Uncharted 2 was phenomenal, absolutely ground-breaking and really a killer title that raised the bar for the cinematic delivery of gaming. While I can understand people questioning the credibility of game reviewers who don't give a mention of Uncharted 2, let's also not forget that Gamasutra isn't a game review site. It's focused more on the art and business end of the industry, and it is their outlook coupled with their objective presentation of gaming news that will keep their credibility in place for me. Gamasutra will only lose their credibility for me when they start displaying obvious symptoms of fanboyism and become puppets to their advertising demanding objective writing stand back to a pushed corporate agenda.

@Anybody who read previous and agreed.

But seriously, Uncharted 2. If you haven't played it yet, you have no idea what you're missing. It was absolutely jaw-dropping in my opinion, every heart-pounding second of it. It was the game that prompted me to invest in a PS3, HDMI Cable, and 1080p HDTV, and truthfully, one of the best investments I've made. I can't criticize people who don't give it glaring admiration, because it's their opinion. But I will bug those who haven't played it yet. Come on, dudes! Give it a whirl! =)

Simon T
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@ Lee Man

Absolutely agree about Dragon Age. Bland.

Trevor Dikes
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Great list! Personally though, I find it surprising that games such as Shadow Complex, Uncharted 2 and Assassins Creed 2 were not included. But like any list like this, they are someone else's opinion.

Very happy that Batman: AA made the list. Fantastic game that was very true to Batman as a charecter.


Yannick Boucher
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@Brandon: I think the whole 'blockbuster' thing is rubbing too many people the wrong way, and I think there's an issue underneath that. Perhaps we're afraid that games would go the way Hollywood went (I certainly wouldn't want that myself), and there are certainly issues with big budgets, big publishers, diluting creativity, etc. Yes, UC2 was emulating blockbusters, but it's still much more than that, in my opinion.

Oh, and I just saw that Gamespot named Demon's Souls as their GOTY. You know how I feel about that... ;) Totally ridiculous. It's an 8, tops. This smacks of a desire to make the 'David' win.

Thomas Lo
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The older I get the more I hate Nintendo games. Very incremental changes always get lauded in Nintendo games whereas wholesale evolutions of the game by great developers like Relic and Bioware are generally put lower. Nintendo's business model is simple: appeal to the lowest denominator which is little kids and get away with it by using retro-ness and smart marketing to get past the fact that their games are often too easy and have low production costs because they have no story whatsoever.

IMO Nintendo's game quality peaked during the SNES days and have fallen hugely relative to the competition for the last 10 years. There are always new kids to trick with pokemon and other mediocre, easy games and Nintendo will always be profitable selling to them, but the Wii has been a disaster for third parties and it has not really brought gaming foward in any serious way. A gimmick and an exercise game where you don't actually lose weight is not the wave of the future.

david vink
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@Thomas Lo: The older you get the more demented..

Thomas Lo
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Which is to say I completely disagree about NSMB. The 2 player isn't enough for me to particularly care or enjoy the overall easy difficulty level of the game nor think that a game with such poor production values is worth the full price of a 3d game.

Russell Carroll
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@ Thomas

I'm good with the "I don't like it opinion," but why the hatred? Your post encapsulates a lot of what I've found most troubling about the industry this year. (not that it's new this's just that I'm getting older too...and the so-called console wars make me feel too old for the industry)

I love the diversity in gaming. I enjoy diversity in opinions, but I struggle to understand what the point is in hating what other people are enjoying, ridiculing what other people are loving. Why does the existence of companies who doing things differently, or people enjoying different things than you or I might create anger and hatred? I really don't understand it. (and that's not specifically aimed at you Thomas, it's a more general question that leaves me baffled...especially as gaming tries to articulate how it is 'not just for kids')

I think diversity in gaming is great. It's something to appreciate and to celebrate. That we're not all the same and have different likes and tastes is a good thing that I really would like to see more positively appreciated, defended, and discussed. All the hatred around video games seems very misplaced to me personally.

Anthony Charles
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talking shit on people who like stuff you don't like is not a phenomenon circumscribed to gaming. it's actually everywhere you can find human beings that are capable of speech.