Press Start’s Top Five Games of 2009

 
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Some of you may have noticed Press Start was not updated last week. For that, I apologize. Too much turkey. Most of you probably noticed nothing. My feelings are hurt, but I will soldier on.

Anyway, for my last column of the semester, I wanted to do a list of the best games of 2009. Over the years, my “Top Five” list in The Lumberjack has managed to garner an astonishing amount of prestige, so I thought it would be appropriate to keep it going. Like, so much prestige that you could not even imagine how much.

 5. Halo 3: ODST­–I tempered my enthusiasm for the release of ODST based on the fact that Bungie seemed to be whoring their franchise out faster than Nintendo. Between the Halo anime, Halo books, Halo comics, Halo RTS game, and the announcement of two new Halo shooters (ODST and Reach), I was at the point where I believed a Halo party game, where the Chief, Cortana, Sergeant Johnson and the Arbiter all played children’s games with kittens to win little Halos, was around the corner. Fortunately, Bungie did not take the formulaic approach with ODST that they did for Halo 3. The short campaign’s plot is tightly woven and compelling, and while the characters are less bulletproof than the Chief, they come with 100 percent more personality (even the mute Rookie), and manage to kick just as much ass. 

I mentioned the solid campaign, but the real reason ODST earned the number five slot is due to its new mode, Firefight. Getting a group of people together and taking on endless waves of the Covenant is a blast, and the two hours it takes to reach par are well worth it. By returning the gameplay back to the basics of the original Halo, and including brand new modes, ODST revived my interest in the mega-franchise.

 4. Left 4 Dead 2Left 4 Dead 2 did to the zombie survival franchise what Aliens did for Alien–it followed up an installment predicated mostly on fear and suspense, and considerably ramped up the action. In Left 4 Dead 2, there is no methodical pausing when you hear the soft clinking of the piano that indicates a Hunter; instead, the game throws two of them at you, with a Boomer on a building and a Spitter around the corner. Stopping of any kind really only alerts a horde, which at times seem to spawn about every 15 seconds. Occasionally, even visibility through the carnage of gunfire, explosions, and zombie entrails is limited. While I preferred the pacing and tension in the original, there is something addicting about the constant adrenaline rush that is L4D2, and the sense of triumph tends to be that much greater because of it. When I saved my little buddy Gnome Chomsky from the zombie apocalypse, I felt the same satisfaction as when I completed a campaign on expert in the original. L4D2 is full of these little trades and compromises with staples from the first one, and while they don’t all work, they help craft an experience that is completely unique and stands on its own. This fact alone is an important feat at a time when developers seem content to plug their sequels into a formula to churn profit.

 3. New Super Mario Bros.New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the spiritual sequel to Super Mario World, one of the best games of all time, and features four player co-op. If this does not excite you, you should probably charge that defibrillator. On second thought, don’t–we don’t need you. A classic, sidescrolling Mario sequel in which four friends can all play together seems so natural, it’s a shock Nintendo didn’t capitalize on this opportunity sooner. The emphasis on precise jumping and intricate timing is essentially destroyed by three other people constantly sabotaging you on accident (or on purpose if your name is Lee), but if you are willing to accept this gameplay alteration, NSMBW may be the most fun you have ever had with the classic Mario formula. Between the friend-generated chaos and new platforming obstacles made possible by the Wii’s technology, the title may also be one of the most difficult Mario games to date, which is a welcome addition to the franchise for anyone who is not a pansy. The technologically advanced games may be the most tempting this holiday season, but if you call yourself a gamer, you owe it to yourself to get back to basics with NSMBW.

 2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves–Ever since the original Metal Gear Solid was released on the PlayStation, people have been comparing games to movies. Not until Uncharted 2 did this comparison hold any weight. From the intelligent script to the sharp direction, Uncharted 2 plays out like a Hollywood blockbuster right on your PlayStation 3. However, unlike the MGS series, the game allows you control your protagonist, Nathan Drake, through these complex set pieces, and does not force you to idly watch endless cut-scenes. This ability to put the gamer in the middle of Indiana Jones style scenarios is by far the title’s greatest strength. I wrote a column once where I argued that the cinematic direction gaming is taking is harmful to the industry as a whole. If more developers handle the integration of gaming and film like Naughty Dog, then consider the problem solved.

 1. Batman: Arkham Asylum–I heavily debated which game was the best of 2009, but in the end, Arkham Asylum is the obvious choice for many reasons, which I will list below.

Reason number 1–Batman: The Animated Series is one of my all time favorite cartoons, and this game is like a sequel to that incredible show.

Reason number 2–This is my list, so I rank my preferences and tastes very heavily. Don’t like it? Go read some other site’s awful “Best of” game lists…but then come back here. I need readers.

Reason number 3–Quite simply, the entire game is just awesome. Never before has a superhero been so faithfully and consummately captured as in Arkham Asylum. Batman fights like a ninja. He sneaks like a ninja. His crazy gadgets are put in the hands of the gamer, and his personality is consistent with the foundation built by decades of comics and television. Every aspect of this title, from the fantastic and grim atmosphere granted by the asylum itself, to the imaginative boss encounters (the Scarecrow’s in particular are excellent), is extremely polished and highly innovative. Rocksteady has demonstrated what can happen when a franchise is faithfully captured, and in doing so, has set the bar for all licensed games to follow, whether they be superhero or not.

 Okay, that’s it for me this semester. I could write more entries over the break, but I will probably just eat more turkey and listen to Taylor Swift’s Christmas CD the whole time. Thanks for reading, and tune in next semester for some more hard-hitting game journalism.

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