Looking Back on… the 2009 Year in Review Staff Commentaries.

(BUT FIRST: We also did a write-up of our thoughts on the games announced during E3 that year, and since I’ll really never have another chance to share it, since I’ll almost certainly forget about this thing after now, let’s take a look at that.)

Mark B. Choses: (Aaron submitted this one, so I’m not going to yell at myself for that one.)

Things I’m looking forward to coming out of E3:

– Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story looks as amusing as the last two Mario and Luigi games, so I’m seriously anticipating that one. (I never actually played it.)

– TURTLES IN TIME RE-SHELLED?!?!? XBLA?!?!? GIMME GIMME GIMME! (Bought it, loved it, still do. It’s wonky but it’s essentially what I wanted, and it works well enough for me as a TMNT fan, such that I think it would be worth the price, if it hadn’t been delisted a while back.)

– I’m on the fence about Bioshock 2. If the game can be more like a System Shock 2 than its predecessor, I’m in for one. If it’s just more Bioshock, I’m uninterested. I’m hoping for the former, though, so it can go here for now. (Oh my God this game. Totally different development team, basically reusing the assets from the first game, featuring a story where the moral was ALTRUISM BE BAD, the main villain’s plot was FUCKING BATSHIT because IT WOULD LITERALLY ACCOMPLISH NOTHING, oh, and it ends with the NEEDLESS DEATH OF THE PROTAGONIST NO MATTER WHAT, even though that’s the WORST POSSIBLE ENDING because it ends with your kid, who has NEVER SEEN THE WORLD OUTSIDE, left to fend for herself; at best she puts your mind into hers, which will be weird during love and sex, at worst she becomes a psychopathic murderer BECAUSE THAT’S NORMAL AFTER TWO HOURS OF EXPOSURE TO ONE PERSON. Just a fucking shitshow all around.)

– Tekken 6 looks very impressive, what with the large roster and the two-player co-op beat-em-up mode included, but the fact that I can customize characters to absurd degrees (or so the videos tell me) is pretty much the deal-maker for me. I like stupid stuff like that, I dunno what to say. (I do believe that this was my very favorite Tekken game in the entire series, entirely because it’s, so far, the most varied and technically proficient, and also BOB IS AWESOME, FUCK YOU.)

– Dead Rising 2 looks to be everything I was hoping it would be and more. Can’t ask for anything better than that. (Yeah that actually ended up being really great, and I loved the hell out of it.)

– If anything is going to convince me to actually BUY a PS3 after Monster Hunter 3 was moved to the Wii, it’s probably going to be White Knight Chronicles. (Actually what convinced me to get a PS3 was a shitload of gift cards from work for being good at my job. Fuck you, humility is for pussies. Anyway, this ended up being a weird mess of a game in a lot of respects, and while I liked it, it’s not a game I could’ve recommended to anyone.)

– Either that or Heavy Rain. (Nope. I’ve since come to hate Quantic Dream as a studio, entirely because David Cage and company A. cannot figure out how to fill in the major plot holes in their otherwise awesome game concepts, B. cannot write an ending to save their fucking lives, and C. make everything into Dragon’s Lair.)

– Trauma Team looks pretty much like what I thought the franchise should become as the games evolved, and I am very pleased about this. WOO FORENSICS! (Oddly, I OWN this, but I’ve yet to play it.)

– Endless Ocean 2, while still not sounding as cool as Everblue 2, sounds like a good improvement over the first, and I want it so very much. (Yep, and it’s still pretty rad, to be honest.)

Things I’m not looking forward to coming out of E3:

– Castlevania: Lord of Shadows doesn’t look particularly like a Castlevania game, and though it’s visually impressive, I’m not certain I’m sold on it even a little bit. (So, fun story: the game was announced HERE, but then was pushed back a bit and I got to play the demo at a later E3… I believe 2010? Anyway, at that time I became cautiously optimistic for the game, because the demo spoke well of the experience. THEN we got review copies, and HOO BOY did I hate the shit out of it. So I guess I should’ve listened to my gut there.)

– Can anyone explain to me why Team Ninja making a Metroid game is supposed to be a “good” thing? Anyone? Because all I’m getting from that is “Metroid with sword play” or “third-person Metroid” which would be like first-person Metroid EXCEPT WITH A DIFFERENT CAMERA ANGLE. Wait, am I seriously seeing a promo image of Samus giving a goddamn monster a GODDAMN BULLDOG?!? Oh, FUCK YOU Team Ninja. (To be fair, Samus german suplexing monsters would probably be pretty great. That said, yeah, this game ended up being a huge mess; the mechanics were good, but the story was shit, which Team Ninja later stated had nothing to do with them because Nintendo called the shots on the plot. So, basically, the Team Ninja parts were fine, the Nintendo parts sucked out loud. I don’t even know man.)

– Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. Ten dollars says it stinks. (The last one I played was okay enough, if uninspired.)

– Final Fantasy XIV? REALLY? You haven’t even released the PRIOR one yet! Ooh, ooh, lemme guess. The main character… will either be an emo boy or an emo girl… who looks like Ziggy Stardust… and has a lot of belts. How close am I? (Not even close; this ended up being an overhaul of Final Fantasy XI, for better or worse. Madson and I ended up spending a month on it, and while he went onward to max out a shitload of post-game content, I hit 50 and gave up when I realized I generally hate post-game content in MMO’s.)

(Okay, on to the end of the year countdown.)

Mark B.’s Top 10
Senior Editor (This was the year I transitioned from “Staff Writer” to “Senior Editor,” mostly because Alex got tired of editing five days a week, so we shared out the honors. Originally we had one person per day doing editing work, but now it’s a three person gig, though we’re always hiring, HINT HINT.)

1. Resident Evil 5 (360)
2. The Dark Spire (NDS)
3. Melty Blood: Actress Again (PS2)
4. Demon’s Souls (PS3)
5. Dragon Age: Origins (360)
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum (360)
7. Assassin’s Creed 2 (360)
8. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (PSP)
9. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (360)
10. Tekken 6 (360)

(Mostly a solid list, though I’d probably swap Demon’s Souls and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite into higher spots on the list, given how much time I devoted to the latter and how much the former inspired its sequel. Dragon Age Origins and Onechanbara in particular ended up being weak picks, as I put them both down not long after this and didn’t pick them up again for years, leaving them incomplete. Oh well, live and learn.)

For the record, I didn’t think this was a terrible year in gaming in the least, and while I’d say that I was underwhelmed at various points, I haven’t felt that this year was as depressing as 2004 (which I still maintain was one of the worst years in gaming to date), and in general I had a lot of fun with the games I did play. (Alex was on a huge kick about how this was arguably the worst year for gaming in memory, because he doesn’t like any of the genres I like, more or less. Mind you, he had a banner list of awesome shit for his Top Ten so I think he was mostly just getting worn down on gaming in general, which is a state I’ve been approaching this year more and more. I still maintain 2004 was a terrible year for gaming, as while a lot of classic games came out, everything that wasn’t those classics was uninspired. 2009, I would argue, had a stronger undercard, so I guess it comes down to whether you want a show with a strong main event and a weak showing leading to it, or a strong undercard and a weak main.) I’m going to say that I think this year seemed like it was kind of a downer because it wasn’t as good as 2008, and 2010 looks to be phenomenal, leaving 2009 as something of a slump in comparison. (Man, 2010 absolutely was fucking rad for gaming, and was a stellar year all around. Sigh.) Still, I had to cut my list down from nearly twenty games, including the ever fun and enjoyable Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, (Rereleased on console gaming stores for the brief period Capcom had the license back.) the incredibly technically sound and entertaining King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match, (Also a remake, also rad.) the complex and engaging Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, (Though I enjoyed Overclocked a lot more.) the incredibly well developed Borderlands (which would have made my top ten for sure if that ending hadn’t been such a massive let-down), (Absolutely so.) the incredibly visceral and fun Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, (Arguably the best game in the franchise.) the unexpectedly good, both as a licensed title and as a game based around a part of my childhood, Ghostbusters, and so on, but the above ten games were the ten I spent the most time with this year, bar none, and I feel they deserve their spots on my list. (This was a year that saw the release of Borderlands, a GOOD Ghostbusters game, Modern Warfare 2, Devil Survivor AND a super-rad remake of KOF98. AND WE HAVEN’T EVEN GOTTEN INTO THE TOP TEN YET.)

Tekken 6 features an obscenely cheap final boss and suffers for its lack of a co-op campaign mode (for now), but it’s still as outrageously fun as ever when you start busting heads against friends. (I do believe they did finally patch in co-op. Hopefully they’ll have a beat em up mode in Tekken 7 and it comes equipped with co-op from jump.) The new characters are surprisingly solid, especially Zafina the assassin and FREAKING BOB THE GIGANTIC FAT GUY of all people, (Zafina, it turns out, wasn’t well ranked last I checked, though BOB of all people was apparently top tier. I hope he stays there for Tekken 7 if only because it’s hilarious.) and a good bit of the returning characters have received some outstanding upgrades to their abilities and tuning to make them significantly more balanced in comparison to everyone else, and I can’t hate on that. It’s not my favorite fighting game of the year, and there are other games that are technically superior in a lot of respects, but for my money, Tekken 6 is a great time and I’ve spent a lot of time beating the piss out of people with Asuka Kazama and Christie Montiero, so I’d say it makes my list. (I ended up swapping my main from Christie to Askua, then from Askua to Bob, though I’ll almost certainly go through all three when the next game comes out.)

I like playing cheesecake games where half-naked women beat the shit out of things (see also Rumble Roses and the upcoming Bayonetta), so of course Onechanbara made my list. (Though it’s arguably the weakest of the three.) It’s an incredibly simple game, absolutely, but at its budget price it was a joy to play and included a ton of replay value, multiplayer fun, and extra options that some full priced titles can’t even match up to. I love the Simple Series in general, I love Onechanbara as a franchise, and you can best believe that I am actively hoping D3 Publisher brings a metric ton more Simple Series games to the US. (And then they tried to release a Western developed EDF and that interest kind of waned.)

Ah, Monster Hunter. I love it so, much to the befuddlement of several of our staffers. (Aaron in particular doesn’t really get the franchise as a whole, though Madson and Matt eventually got into it, and Aileen jumped in from Monster Hunter 3. I suspect Monster Hunter 4 is going to get ruined by the DHGF staff when it launches.) It’s unapologetically belligerent, features some wonky control schematics, and often unpleasant in its difficulty, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a real sense of achievement that comes from breaking out your bowgun and ruining Nargacuga’s shit by your lonesome, not by spamming Cluster Shot and not by hiding on a cliff but by STANDING IN HIS FACE AND DODGING HIS ATTACKS AS YOU COMPLETELY END HIM that few games can truly mimic, and if you’ve played the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (When I first started the game, after a lot of fucked trial and error, I eventually found my calling as a bowgun master. At first it was a lot of “stand on high cliffs and spam shots from safety” but I’ve since learned how to play correctly and went from barely beating Tigrex with cheap tactics to completely ruining Agnaktor good and proper. It’s satisfying.) As of this writing I’m still working on White Fatalis and waiting for Monster Hunter Tri, which should tell you a lot. I imagine a lot of you are wondering why, exactly, this game inspires so much love from its fans and so much confusion and disdain from everyone else, and I’d love to tell you, but the fact of the matter is that if you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, nothing I say can explain it. (I’ve since kind of worn on the series, entirely because of Capcom’s fuckhanded treatment of it; Tri made using a bowgun entirely too complicated, and MH3U made it borderline impossible to play online with anyone who didn’t own a system nobody bought. I have a sneaking suspicion MH4U will not be very good, honestly, and I keep hoping Capcom will stop smoking PCP for five minutes and release a MH game on a console people own and are willing to play the game on without breaking the mechanics, but then I also wish for world peace sometimes.)

So, okay. I thought Assassin’s Creed was … kinda boring. Sorry, but there it is. The mechanics didn’t work as they should have, the game spent entirely too much time making you travel everywhere, and it got repetitive. Assassin’s Creed 2, however, is pretty sweet. The missions are more varied, the mechanics are more interesting, the game is simply more fun, and diving onto people and ending them in seconds really never gets old. (He said, three games before it got super old.) The plot was also rather interesting, and while I’ve seen bits and pieces of what the game was trying to do with its storyline before, it’s tied together well enough here that I found it to be rather amusing, and hey, NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI makes a cameo, which I loved because I’m a dork. (The Prince is rad, fuck you.) And YOU GET A GUN, which you wouldn’t think would be a big thing, but there it is. It might not be as challenging as you’d want, but I guarantee you that your time with the game will whiz by, and you’ll want more when you’re finished, and really, that’s all that matters. (Ubisoft ran Ezio into the ground with another two games featuring him as the protagonist, before switching back to the “one game per protagonist” route again with Assassin’s Creed 3, which was the game that lost me for now. Black Flag was supposedly great, but Unity launched in such a broken state EA called to thank Ubisoft for helping everyone to forget the Sim City disaster the year prior. The moral here, which no one will ever learn, is maybe you need to push shit back sometimes.)

Batman: Arkham Asylum was probably the first GOOD Batman game in at LEAST a decade and a half, if not longer, which would merit its inclusion on this list even if it wasn’t absolutely STELLAR in almost all respects. It looks great, sounds great, plays great, and is an incredibly satisfying experience if you’re a fan of the genre or the character. Sneaking around, jumping on unsuspecting bad guys, lumping the crap out of thugs, using your Detective Vision to track down clues and hunt for secrets, this game really combines all of the elements that make Batman a great character into one outstanding package, and the only reason it’s so low on my list is because I simply played games I enjoyed more, not because of anything the game does wrong. This is a must-own game, period, if only because I WANT MORE GOOD BATMAN GAMES, GODDAMMIT. (Which then brought us Arkham City, and I decided that maybe I didn’t want more Batman games SO SOON after one another. Which THEN brought us Arkham Origins, and I decided that maybe I didn’t want more Batman games in general anymore. Good job guys.)

I generally like Bioware as a developer, but I can safely admit that they have made their share of missteps as a company. Jade Empire can politely be described as “underwhelming”, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic garners all kinds of frothy rage from people for being overhyped and underwhelming, and Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was … not their finest hour, shall we say. (It fucking sucked out loud.) Dragon Age: Origins makes up for a lot of that, and puts a lot of fears about Electronic Arts acquiring the company to rest, at least partially. (Yeah that didn’t last long.) The game is outstanding in virtually every respect, from the ambience to the gameplay to the aural and visual presentation and beyond, and it’s obvious that Bioware has created a world that can be built upon for many more sequels, and I, for one, can’t wait. (They then tried doing exactly that with Dragon Age 2 and everyone hated it except me and Joel, so they went back to what worked in the first game. I mean, everyone who hated DA2 because it was flawed technically and repeated dungeons constantly, YOU I understand. The people who hated the game’s plot, though? Y’all can go fuckstart your faces into a running lawnmower, because y’all are part of the problem. NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE END OF THE WORLD SHIT because SOMETIMES IT CAN JUST BE THE END OF YOUR WORLD. Jesus Christ.)

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I’m a fan of From Software. (Which is still mostly true, even if they decided that Dark Souls is their new drug of choice.) To say that they don’t make crap games would be a fallacy of the highest order, you understand, and it’s often true that their games are somewhat inaccessible unless you’re willing to tolerate some bizarre concepts and elements, but frankly, that’s often WHY I like their games. They have an uncompromising view of what they want to do with a game, and even if the elements are bizarre at times, they stick to it until they make you love it by force of will. Demon’s Souls is essentially that vision in spades; it’s hard as hell, unflinchingly brutal in some respects, and seems as if it was designed to punish the player in a lot of ways for no adequately explained reason. (See also King’s Field, Shadow Tower and Dark Souls.) And yet, it’s atmospheric as can be, interesting in its design and execution, and incredibly satisfying once you really adjust to what it does and how it does it. It’s absolutely not for everyone, and that goes without saying, but it does a fantastic job at what it does, and if you’re the sort of person who can accept the game for what it is and the punishment it will expect you to endure, you’ll love it. Plus it’s probably the closest we’re going to get to another King’s Field for a while. (Well technically it was supposed to be King’s Field until Sony got involved, so, more or less. Two pseudo-sequels and an upcoming kind-of sort-of spinoff later, though, and I’m kind of wondering when From will make something else, so, blah blah I liked From Software before it was cool or whatever.)

So this year was a solid year for fighting games. I mean, King of Fighters XII was a horrendous experience by and large, sure, but aside from that, Capcom re-released Marvel Vs Capcom 2, Tekken 6 was great fun, and Arc System Works made a fighting game that simultaneously wasn’t Guilty Gear and, even though I have no interest in ever playing it again, wasn’t terrible! (BlazBlue, I believe, which they then beat into the fucking ground all over again.) Sadly, the best fighting game I played never even made it to the US, and considering the death of the PS2 is imminent, probably never will. Melty Blood: Actress Again is an astonishingly great fighting game considering it’s based on a Japanese visual novel, but even without that odd qualifier I can safely say that it’s one of the best fighting games released this year and would easily make my short list of the best fighting games I’ve ever played. (This is still entirely true, though I’m tentatively hopeful about their current franchise, Under Night In-Birth, if only because it’s seeing an actual US release.) I mean, yes there’s a broken playable character, yes the graphics are pixilated, and yes there are some absurdly overpowered final bosses, and I won’t try to pretend they don’t exist. But the fact of the matter is that the game features multiple different gameplay styles that can completely change around the way a character plays, runs smoothly, is a ton of fun, is surprisingly easily accessible to new players, AND is fun as hell. I hope that one of the games will find its way stateside at some point in time or another, simply because the franchise deserves the US exposure, but even if you have to import the game, Melty Blood: Actress Again is definitely worth the effort to track down, and no fan of fighting games should be without it. (Actress Again seems like the last entry in the series for a while, sadly, but since French Bread has managed to turn that into working on two different franchises, one directly for Sega and another that’ll be coming out in 2015 in the US, I can only be so sad about it.)

The Dark Spire is an unmerciful return to old-school RPG elements, taking its inspiration as much from Eye of the Beholder as Etrian Odyssey, and as such, it’s pretty much meant to appeal to absolutely no one. (Well unless you’re sick, which I am.) The thing is, the game revels so much in its old-school design mechanics that anyone who is a fan of the dungeon crawling games of old can’t help but fall in love with it. Characters take forever to level up, there are armor class numbers and equipment limitations to consider, death is frequent, and grinding is not only a good idea, but a way of life. So, yeah, this is (probably) not for you. Here’s the thing, though: somewhere along the way, the old-school mechanics combine with the modernized artistic presentation to create a game that’s not only enjoyable, but SATISFYING in a lot of respects. (This game is basically Operation Darkness in reverse; instead of innovative mechanics and shit presentation, it uses shit mechanics that we grew up with and super-artistic presentation, and the end result was a lot more successful overall.) Waging war on a powerful enemy and escaping with no characters having been smited can be quite enjoyable, and regular battles against standard enemies can be harrowing affairs, making every inch of progress you make without expiring feel like you earned it. I’m not going to lie and say everyone needs to try the game or anything like that, as frankly, even with it having dropped astronomically in price, it’s still an INCREDIBLY niche game that maybe ten percent of the people reading would want to play, but I found the punishment incredibly enjoyable, and if you long for the days of spending hours clearing one floor of a dungeon, you will too. (I feel like this game tanked financially too, sadly, though people seemed to like it a lot better than OpDark, for what that’s worth. It’s okay, I love you Success.)

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I have something of a love/hate relationship with the Resident Evil franchise. (A lot of people seem to be of the somewhat mistaken impression that I am, at best, a fan of the Resident Evil franchise, and at worst am a “fanboy” of same, entirely because I thought Resident Evil 4 was fucking rad as hell. To them, I say: liking a game because it’s fucking awesome does not mean you’re a fanboy for an entire series, and lord knows my love for RE4 is tempered quite a bit by my hate for other parts of the franchise.) I thought the first and second games were good fun for their time, I enjoyed the remake of the first game quite a bit, and the shooter-based games like Dead Aim and Umbrella Chronicles amuse me to varying degrees, but Resident Evil: Nemesis felt like a cash-in, Code Veronica was boring and poorly conceived, the Outbreak games never worked as well as I wanted them to and Resident Evil 0 is an abomination. (Also RE Revelations was pretty great, but The Mercenaries was absolutely a shitty cash-in that Capcom exploited to prevent trade-ins, and RE6 is a shitshow.) That said, I loved Resident Evil 4, and Resident Evil 5, while it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, is still one of the best games released this year, and overall, it’s my favorite. Yes, the AI partner was stupid, but I have friends, so this wasn’t a particularly big issue overall. (What’s weird is, I’ve basically completed the game, in its entirety, but I keep coming back to this to help out others with it, and it still holds up pretty well all things considered.) Yes, the game didn’t improve much upon Resident Evil 4, but I loved that game so I’m not so disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy this game too. Yes, you have to stand in place to shoot, but not everything is going to play like Gears of War and I frankly never had a problem with that, because I never had a problem playing Resident Evil 4. I spent hours playing Mercenaries mode with friends, and hours more ripping through various stages on Professional difficulty (where one hit equals death) with J. Rose, and at no point did I wish I was doing anything else but ripping apart the crazy bastards around me. I can’t think of a better recommendation than that. (Of course, Capcom decided to listen to all of the people who thought this needed to be Gears of War, and they made Resident Evil 6, so if you ever wonder why I hate the gaming media as much as I do, things like that are a big part of it.)

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