2009: The Year in Review

2009 was quite a weird one for me; even as I acknowledge my dearth of console gaming knowledge, I’ve never felt more distant from the gaming mainstream. I managed to ignore the miniscule lure of the PS3 for another twelve months, I still don’t do Rock Band, I’ve avoided Borderlands and the Fallout series like they were OCD quicksand, and semi-realist games like Forza 3 and Modern Warfare 2 tick none of my boxes. In fact, the only mainstream toe-dipping I reckon I’ve done this year are with Halo 3: ODST, New Super Mario Brothers Wii and, maybe, Brütal Legend.

Despite that, The List has largely been treading water; throughout the year, I bought sixteen new games, and I completed a total of sixteen games. It didn’t help that a cleanup led me to discover previous purchases, conveniently forgotten, plumpifying The List somewhat; just a lazy 71 games outstanding now, helped along by cheap end-of-year deals on Xbox Live.

But hey! This is supposed to be a flippant, if not light-hearted, awards ceremony blog entry written by an uneducated guy you don’t know, recycling ideas that were never that flash in the first place. On with the show!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Wrapping up Burnout Paradise. Every collectible, every Achievement, and – most chuffingly – every Challenge :)

Disappointment of the Year: Wii Fit still hasn’t had any impact on my weight (though that could possibly be due to the fact that it hasn’t been played… nor has it’s younger brother, Wii Fit Plus), and the much-anticipated GridRunner Revolution sadly failed to light my fire. But the biggest disappointment of the year was provided by MadWorld – so much potential pissed away in immature monotones.

Surprise Discovery of the Year: We Ski, bought nervously at the same time as MadWorld (with the nervousness instantly replaced by regret as soon as the “Checkout” button was clicked) proved to be stupidly good fun. Sure, it didn’t last long, but that flame burned unexpectedly bright enough to be memorable.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: A game that had a release window of about a fortnight over here, that local distributors didn’t want to know about, and wound up being sourced for less than five quid (new!) from Amazon in the UK… Soul Bubbles is a gorgeous little game, completely at home on the DS. Please try to buy a copy! :}

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: Halo 3: ODST takes this one easily. Firefight, all my team-mates dead, being chased around by half-a-dozen Brutes… and I had no ammo. Black Eye skull was on, meaning no health regeneration. And I managed to get the Team through. Fucking magic feeling :)

The “I Love You… Honest” Missive of the Year: A toss-up between all the games I’ve bought, but not played, this year. Shadow Complex, Space Giraffe on the PC, The Maw… but Chrono Trigger takes the gong here.

The “I am the King of the World” Throw-Your-Arms-In-The-Air Trophy: Finally – finally – conquering Level 64 of Tempest 2000. It’s just a pity I’m now stuck on another level only a little farther along.

What Was All The Fuss About? Award: This is going to look like link-bait, but… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I’ve been chewing through a bunch of Zelda games this year (hey, I 100%-ed Ocarina thrice in 2009!), but I’m utterly perplexed by the adulation this game receives. Takes all types, I guess – and I definitely seem to be in the minority. “It was good, but not great…”

The “Go Fuck Yourself” Dismissal: The Grand Theft Auto series, on the basis of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. I swore I’d never speak of it again.

The Everything Old Is New Again Award: Sure, PAC-MAN Championship Edition is a wonderful extension of the original game, but Bionic Commando: Rearmed takes the cake for a superb re-imagining of the original, with just a tiny taste of the original Commando rolled in as well. Gorgeous.

Blast From The Past Award: After a straight month and two 100% playthroughs, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker provided some of the year’s gaming highlights, with gloriously solid gameplay.

That’s What Gaming’s All About Award: Easy one, really – New Super Mario Brothers Wii eschews modern gameplay “essentials” and delivers a stunningly fun, taut, and challenging single-player experience.

The “Friendly Tumour” Award: An award for the game that initially hides its charms, but grows on you, Brütal Legend snaffles this with ease. The first playthrough had it odds-on for the Almost-But-Not-Quite Award, but repeat visits opened up the glory that Schafer built.

The “Flow Like A River” Natural Gameplay Award: Well… I had to give something to the most recent Prince of Persia game, because it was a real revelation early in the year. Fast, fluid, and rewarding gameplay, backed up with charm and gorgeous stylised graphics.

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: Again, pretty much all of them… though it was pleasing to see that the gaming public may be becoming a little sceptical of the hype machine (after the rapid deflation of Modern Warfare 2‘s bubble, and a retrospective post-coital “meh” being applied to memories of GTA4).

And BOOM! There goes 2009. Big props to Prince of Persia, most of the Zelda series, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Soul Bubbles, and We Ski… oddly enough, only one of that lot was released in 2009. But let’s start looking forward to 2010, and Bayonetta, lots more No More Heroes, and a return-to-form for Llamasoft on the iPhone.

But now, I’m leaving 2009 pretty much as I started it: banging my head against a brick-wall of an OCD Zelda requirement. Phantom Hourglass is demanding that I find four more ship parts, and I dare not keep her waiting.

Happy New Year!

The Surprise OCD Requirement

Last week I wrote a little about finishing New Super Mario Brothers Wii, and remarked that all I had left to do was to collect all the Big Coins and complete World 9. This was derived from the easily-found requirements to “five-star” the game:

Star 1: Beat the game.
Star 2: Beat every normal level.
Star 3: Collect all 207 star coins in the first 8 worlds.
Star 4: Collect all 24 star coins in world 9.
Star 5: Beat every level, find every secret goal and use all of the warp cannons.

Piece of piss, I thought. Even with World 9 noticeably amping the difficulty, I figured that the above feats would all be doable in time. Sure, there was a little backtracking for a couple of skipped levels and secret exits that I hadn’t mentioned, but I was confident (despite my previous comments) that I could manage that pretty quickly.

But then I discovered something new:

Sparkling Stars: Beat the game without Super Guide appearing.

Oh dear.

Such is my platforming cack-handedness, the Super Guide appeared often in my playthrough of New Super Mario Brothers Wii – I love the way that the Super Guide’s Luigi is positively timid, in stark contrast to the high-speed ninja-rific antics of the other Hint Movies. So, alas, no Sparkly Stars were appearing on that save-file. I started an internal dialogue; should I restart the game in an attempt to get some Sparkly Stars? or should I just push on for my five-star completion and leave it at that?

…well, it was a no-brainer, really. I bought the game, I love the game, so it’s time to accept responsibility for my actions and step up to the plate. I started a new game, completed the first couple of levels without incident, and then became utterly terrified: I started thinking about a couple of key levels, like the end of Worlds 5 and 8, and became utterly convinced that I was going to be unable to overcome the task I’d just set myself.

The biggest problem I could foresee was the fact that NSMBWii doesn’t allow you to freely save your game until after you’ve completed the Bowser’s Castle level on World 8; this meant that a series of completely flukish levels would have to be strung together for a mid-world save-point. This sounded highly unlikely to me, so I hit the interwebs for the shortest route to the end-game. As usual, YouTube came up trumps with an amazing speedrun by Dread Phanna:

Obviously, there’s spoilers galore in those videos – and I highly recommend you avoid the last one unless you’ve finished the game yourself. After all, that last level is one of the gaming highlights of the year for me.

The great thing about the speedrun is it highlighted the fastest route to completion, leveraging secret exits and cannons galore. And so, with a couple of days practise, I managed to get my first Sparkly Star :)

Of course, now I’ve got to go and get the other four stars (as detailed above) whilst maintaining my Sparklies; that’s being aided by the fact that I spend a lot of time practising on my first save-file, before popping over to my Sparkly save-file. It’s steady going at the moment – I’m up to the Castle of World 5 – but this is where it starts getting interesting.

I’m expecting much hair-pulling this week :)


This week began with me hoofing into Brütal Legend‘s Normal mode, which proved to be… well, incredibly easy. Aided by previously mentioned maps at AchievementHunter, a 100% Normal mode game was wrapped up in a handful of days. Chuffed with the ease of that task, I ventured online to see whether I could eke out any wins in Brütal Legend‘s online multiplayer mode (a slight variation of the single-player’s stage battles, the RTS-heavy fragment of the game); alas, there was no-one online to be found… or so I thought.

So I returned to the story mode of the game itself, and started a playthrough on the game’s hardest difficulty: Brütal. Once again, I leant heavily on the aforementioned maps to glean my collectibles, only attacking the linear sections of the game when my scouring was complete; but I was genuinely surprised at the increased difficulty of Brütal over Normal.

Because, as difficulty curves go, this was as close to a horizontal line as you could get.

Yes, you’d suffer a bit of extra damage in close-quarters combat. Yes, the AI was a bit smarter in the stage battles. But the techniques I’d tinkered with in Normal – build up for some battles, rush for others – worked a treat in Brütal, and there were only a handful of repeat attempts required. And that final boss fight… was it even possible to fail that fight at all? In none of my three playthroughs did I even enter red-screen throb-o-vision during that “battle”.

The great thing about those back-to-back playthroughs of Brütal Legend is that my thinking has swung into line with Tim Schafer’s. Where I once failed to find pleasure in the RTS sections of the game, I recently approached them with glee; the most tedious part of my Gentle playthrough (the stage battle in the Dry Ice mine) was explored in Normal, and absolutely whipped in Brütal. Four minutes (that’s probably over-estimating slightly) versus the hour-or-so I flailed away as a n00b. Sure, I was helped by having already beefed up my stats via collectibles, but there was a rhythm that became evident the more I played – play a solo. Spawn some troops. Play a solo. Beat the shit out of the enemy. Play a solo. Send a giant, flaming zeppelin crashing upon your foe. Repeat. Win.

That rhythm continued as I started playing online. A little research discovered that Brütal Legend‘s online matchmaking isn’t exactly the quickest – I was expecting something on par with Halo 3. I suppose, at the end of the day, it is comparable, but Halo 3 keeps the player in the loop as it seeks out a match; Brütal Legend just keeps showing you a spinning axe. Thankfully, the wait for my first match (fifteen minutes!) has never been repeated, but it still appears to regularly take around five minutes for a match.

Anyway, on with the story: my first match was a cracker. I’d done a bunch of research about different play styles before venturing online, discovering that there was one particularly cheap and loathsome technique known as Fire Baron Rushing (FBR). The opposition would just tech up until they were able to build Fire Barons, create a sizeable army, then launch them at the player’s stage; if the player doesn’t know how to counter such an attack, they’re pretty much stuffed at that point. So when I checked my opponent for my first match out and noted he had an exemplary record of 7 wins, no losses, all using the Fire Baron’s Ironheade team, I figured I knew what I was in for.

Sure enough, as I raced for a Fan Geyser, he used the expected no-troops-just-wildlife delay tactics; I captured the Geyser regardless, upping my unit producing ability. I saw his Fire Barons assembling in front of his stage; I was building a larger collection of lower-grade headbangers in front of mine. My attack left first, buffed up with a choice solo; the armies passed each other half-way, and then the Barons arrived, with my opponent’s avatar providing cover. I spent all my resources on a force intent on slowing the Baron’s attack down, and made myself as much a nuisance as possible. Both stages got hammered, and then…

…I won. My first match. He must have been surprised, if not devastated; my troops had decimated his stage whilst he was watching mine burn. Bloody hell that felt good :)

Subsequent matches, though, have been a mish-mash. I’ve met more FBR proponents who manage to beat me into the ground. If I wind up more than a Geyser or two down, and can see the army amassing, I’ll often message the opposition to let them rush my base, offering to swap rushes if they want to chew through wins a bit quicker. And, yes, I’ve even employed the FBR myself a few times; but, at the moment, I’ve got a mere four wins.

I need fifty for all the online Achievements.

Brütal Legend is not going to get finished this year :}

The only other game tackled this week is New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Consider my mojo re-ignited; Worlds 4 and 6 fell in one session yesterday, with Worlds 7 and 8 falling today. The final battle against (or rather, in front of) Bowser would have to rate as one of the greatest gaming moments of the year; utterly thrilling, lip-bitingly serious and yet brilliantly fun. But, now that I’ve got to the “The End” credit-rolling screen, I’ve just got the simple(!) task of collecting all the Big Coins and completing World 9.

Of course, Level 9-1 has cost me 40-odd lives so far.

New Super Mario Brothers Wii is not going to get finished this year ;)


After a healthy dose of New Super Mario Brothers Wii earlier in the week, I admit to burning out on it a little; World 5 just ground me down, with the final Castle nabbing about 35 banked-up lives. I eventually pushed through, doubled back and went through half of World 4, but I’m a little weary of it at the moment. Still fun, but not compelling.

As previously noted, my previous best percentage-complete on the 360 (in terms of attained Achievement points) was just prior to the addition of all the extra Halo 3 Achievements, when I had a GamerScore of 15520 out of a possible 16900… 91.83%. That’s a nice goal to return to, but I’ve had those “discovered” games (from the recently re-discovered XBLA pack-in disc from my 360 Arcade purchase) just waiting to damage my lovely percentage. So this week I bit the bullet and fired up the last of them.

Boom Boom Rocket reminds me of Fantavision (which I’ve only played once, so please forgive any misconceptions there). It also reminds me of rhythm action games and, as such, I am completely at odds with it. Yes, I managed to claw half-a-dozen achievements out of it, but I doubt I’ll get many more, simply because I am utterly crap at it. Sigh; that’s a percentage-denter.

Feeding Frenzy, on the other hand, was a four-day doddle. Brute-forceable Achievments mixed with a curiously apologetic demeanour; the game actually says “sorry” to you every time you fail. Odd. Still, it was a straightforward – if unengaging – load of Achievements… a percentage booster.

So – with all games at least played (including PAC-MAN Championship Edition, Luxor 2, and Uno), that’s a total of 747 points out of 1000 from that re-discovered XBLA disc. Well below average, but with only Luxor 2 and Boom Boom Rocket to work with, unlikely to improve much.

After popping into Halo 3 for a quick bash on this weekend’s DEXP playlist (Living Dead – two of my remaining Halo 3 Achievements are zombie-related), I returned to Brütal Legend, engaging the Normal difficulty for the first time. It’s handy to have half-a-clue what’s going on, and the maps that I’m affording myself on subsequent playthroughs are divine. But, despite the fantastic storyline and voice-work (and incredibly detailed character models that I seem to have missed on my first playthrough), it’s feeling a bit like a slog… here’s hoping the following days make it feel a little easier, and a little more fun. And then I’ll be venturing online with it… oh dear :}

A game I totally suck at: Willpower

I had every intention of not buying any more games this year, quaking with both anticipation and fear of the upcoming onslaught of Must-Buy titles in the New Year (Bayonetta and No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle in January, No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise in February, and a whole heap I’ve temporarily forgotten about in the same way that Brütal Legend and Halo 3: ODST slipped my mind a few months back).

So when previews of New Super Mario Brothers Wii showed a huge multiplayer focus, and with rumours of it being dumbed down with the stupefying “Super Guide” playthrough mechanism, I figured it’d be pretty easy to skip over. To just forget about it. Sure, I’d probably buy it for my nephew at Christmas, but I could get away with not owning it myself.

And then the reviews started popping into my RSS reader. “Like two completely different games in single and multi,” they said. “A return to the hardcore,” spouted others. “Don’t be deceived – behind the cute graphics is a fiendishly difficult game,” said the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So I bought it. And it’s… nice. Fun. But not brilliant.

Surprisingly, I love – really love – the purported “dumbing down” of the game. There’s a stack of hint movies that can be unlocked in exchange for your Big Coins, with each movie being a run-through performed by some gaming ninja. Seriously – some of the “Super Skills” movies are amazing, putting every other speed run you’ve ever seen to shame. Other hint movies include sample 1 Up leeching runs, and some mighty helpful Big Coin guides. And the Super Guide – the big green action item that appears onscreen when you die more than eight times in a level, allowing you to trigger a run-through of the level by Luigi – is magic; in stark contrast to the sharp skills of the hint movies, the Super Guide movies are much more sedate and cautious, almost timid.

I’m finding NSMBWii to be exactly the right level of frustrating – it all looks doable onscreen, I can grok what’s required of me, and then it just requires a bit of coordination to get the actions lined up for the win. For the Big Coin. And blimey, some of those big coins are tough. Still, I’m halfway through both Worlds 3 & 5, having cleansed out World 1 (and leaving only a few coins behind in World 2). But, as I said, it’s not brilliant… yet.

The only other gaming of this week was Luxor 2 – up to Level 13-4 of Easy, and it’s feeling nigh-on impossible. That’s not brilliant at all. It’s a chore, really. Penance.

…oh, Just Cause 2. That’s another one for the New Year.

The one downer of the whole week – besides succumbing to a frankly embarrassingly minor assault to my willpower – was that NSMBWii had the good grace to update my Wii firmware, nixing my USB Loader hack. Bugger – back to the optical disc thing, then. Hopefully I can still get my region-free hacks to work, lest Madworld may be going even further off the backburner.