2009 was a banner year for downloadable games on all three home consoles. Game Forward has selected eight titles from PlayStation Network, WiiWare and Xbox LIVE Arcade respectively as our favourite games of the year.
To meet eligibility games had to be released in 2009 and had to be available exclusively as a downloadable game before seeing a boxed retail release. Games that saw simultaneous retail and digital release were not considered, nor were any digital versions of games already available at retail. Ports and remakes were considered and in the case of multiplatform titles we chose the version we felt was the best. Most importantly, the titles that Game Forward selected had to be ones we thoroughly played and enjoyed. Read More…
Xbox LIVE Arcade set the standard for downloadable games when it was introduced in 2005 and the service is arguably still the leader in providing high-quality, original digital content. 2009 saw a healthy mix of new intellectual properties and updates of classic franchises in addition to new services like the Avatar Marketplace and the emergence of the Indie Games program.
1. Shadow Complex (Chair Entertainment - 1200 MS Points - ESRB: M) - This lengthy and sprawling "2.5D" action-adventure game draws inspiration from classics like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Players assume the role of Jason Flemming as he infiltrates a labyrinthine facility in search of his kidnapped girlfriend and uncovers a plot to “liberate“ San Francisco. Over 100 collectable items and a great upgrade system heighten the appeal of Shadow Complex making you want to explore every nook and cranny of the map, which should take six to ten hours on your first play through.
2. ‘Splosion Man (Twisted Pixel Games - 800 MS Points - ESRB: E10) - Twisted Pixel has created one of the best side-scrolling platformers in years. ‘Splosion Man plays like a love letter to the 16-bit era when Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog were king.
Players traverse 50 increasingly devious levels using a unique mechanic that allows the title character to “’Splode” up to three times before having to recharge on the ground. A wonderfully upbeat soundtrack and Pixar-like charm punctuate fantastic level designs that reward speed and precision.
3. Trials HD (RedLynx Ltd - 1200 MS Points - ESRB: T) - Few games in 2009 were as challenging as Trials HD. Even fewer could find a balance between challenge, addiction and heartbreaking frustration.
This physics-based puzzle-platformer is all about creating and maintaining the momentum of your dirt bike as you tackle obstacle courses made of wood, metal and exploding barrels. Never has restarting a level or checkpoint 300 times been so fun or beating them been so rewarding. Integrated leaderboards and rock-solid 60 fps performance also highlight Trials HD, one of the biggest successes of 2009 on Xbox LIVE Arcade.
4. Defense Grid: The Awakening (Hidden Path Entertainment LLC - 800 MS Points ESRB: E10) - This is quite possibly the best tower defense game produced to this point. A lengthy campaign complete with a story and voice acting helps to set it apart from the pack, as does its fully 3D engine.
Defense Grid: The Awakening combines elements of both fixed path and path creation tower defense and provides players with some wonderful destructive tools with which to dispatch a number of unique and intelligent enemy types. Once the ten hour campaign is completed, you can try your hand at a number of challenges.
5. Axel & Pixel (Silver Wish Games - 800 MS Points - ESRB: E) - I saw this game as the Braid of 2009, in that it could be looked at as a work of interactive art as much as it could be looked at as a video game.
In this point-and-click adventure, players guide an artist and his faithful dog through a beautiful and very surreal dream world in search of lost memories. In addition to its unique art style, Axel & Pixel features an excellent soundtrack and a surprising amount of gameplay variety. Read our review…
6. South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! (doublesix - 800 MS Points - ESRB: M) - It would have been easy to dismiss this game, given the over saturation of tower defense games in the past couple of years and the fact that it is based on a television license that has produced mediocre to awful games in the past.
South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! manages to be both a great use of the license, complete with dozens of clips from the show and also manages to be one of the best tower defense games yet. It combines elements of fixed path, path creation and real-time action to create a rather unique entry in the genre and can be played co-operatively with up to four players locally or over Xbox LIVE.
7. Gyromancer (Square Enix - 1200 MS Points - ESRB: T) - Much like Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, this game combines a lengthy, monster-battling adventure with puzzle mechanics. In this case, the mechanic is literally that of Bejewelled Twist, a popular “Match 3” game from PopCap Games, who co-developed.
Players collect an increasingly powerful stable of beasts as they navigate through large, maze-like maps. Gyromancer features detailed art, a decent soundtrack effort from Tsuyoshi Sekito and a story-driven adventure that should last most players 12 hours or more.
8. OutRun Online Arcade (Sumo Digital Ltd - 800 MS Points - ESRB: E) - The world of OutRun has never looked so good. This update of OutRun 2006 now features HD resolution and, of course, online play.
The point-to-point racer sees you piloting licensed Ferrarri vehicles though 15 courses at insanely high speeds while attempting to avoid traffic and maintain as much speed as possible in order to impress your girlfriend.