Throughout December, Gamasutra will be presenting a year-end retrospective, discussing notable games, events, developers, and industry figures of 2008, from the perspective of our position covering the art, science, and business of games.
First up, following up on last year's chart
, 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
debuted on PlayStation Network to both critical and gamer plaudits.
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.
(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.
(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.
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
[Do you agree or disagree with these picks? Feel free to comment below. We'll pick the best reader comments on each list for our final retrospective, to debut on Gamasutra close to the holidays.]