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 Steely Resolve, The Lapse In Concentration, and The Terrifying Discovery

I often mention the psychological weight that my OCD heaps upon me, and I’ve been trying really hard in the last year to reduce that somewhat; frugality is utterly foreign to me, but it certainly has been fun trying to restrict my purchases somewhat. And that’s partially why I selected my most recent Gaming Resolutions; clearing the backlog, keeping the new stuff in check. So, with nigh-on three-quarters of the year gone, let’s check in to see how I’m doing with those resolutions, shall we?

…to Complete at least two Zelda games. I want to play through them all in release chronological order, and (as I indicated last week) I’m getting close to wrapping up a 100% run on Ocarina of Time. But then what – do I go on to Majora’s Mask (which I’ve never played) or follow-up with the Ocarina Master Quest? Decisions, decisions.

A robust start; not only have I knocked out Ocarina, but Master Quest, Majora’s Mask, and Wind Waker as well. “Comply and exceed,” as we say in the business.

…to Complete at least two PS2 games. This scares me a little, really – of the eight games there, three are rhythm action games (which I’m notoriously bad at), the Katamaris are O/C collection nightmares, and Bujingai is as hard as nails on the higher skill levels.

Oooooh. Ummmmm… not quite as successful here. I tried to hammer out N2O… couldn’t quite push through the skill barrier there, must return to that really. I’ve got one tricky task left in Katamari Damacy that seems to be dependent on luck more than anything, so hopefully that’ll eventually fall in my favour. But then what – We Love Katamari? The safety-net of Super Galdelic Hour?

…to Complete at least four(!) from the PC, Nuon, Dreamcast, and Jaguar groups. Holy shit!

Holy shit indeed. After a promising start – Full Throttle falling quickly way back in April – there’s been scant action since. The dream was to Complete all three renditions of Jet Set Radio on the Dreamcast, but I’ve since discovered that that task would actually require skill. Back to the Jaguar, then, and Tempest 2000, which continues to mock me. Fifteen years old, and so disrespectful to its owner. For shame.

…to keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. In 2008, I managed to Complete 11 of 18 new purchases – let’s aim for a similar target of 60%

This was looking pretty reasonable – I’d only acquired five new games this year, completing three of them… right on the money!

And so, three months out from the end of the year, I find myself in a slightly uncomfortable situation where I need to knock off a bunch of games without actually knowing whether I can conjure the skills required to do so. But that’s OK – there’s not much on the horizon, and I’m prepared to back myself in from here.

Of course, then the Australian dollar goes for a bit of a leap, and I find myself at Play-Asia buying Chrono Trigger DS, Madworld, and We Ski. And mere milliseconds after clicking the checkout button, I realise that there are a few games on the horizon after all… Halo 3 ODST. Brütal Legend. Gridrunner Revolution.

A momentary brain fart has ensured that The List is going to inflate quite a chunk by the end of this week.

But worse was yet to come.

One of my gaming rules-of-thumb over the past couple of years has been to try and Complete at least one game a month; with external forces taking their toll, I figured I was going to be struggling this September (especially after cleaning up Soul Bubbles and Sight Training in late August), but I recently had a rather frantic couple of days that saw me complete a game.

Sadly, it wasn’t a game on The List.

Yes, I managed to complete one of my real-life games: the acquisition of a new Moobaarn, a lovely apartment in the city that I’ll take ownership of in the next couple of weeks. The existing tenant still has another six months on the lease, but that hasn’t prevented me from starting to sift through my possessions, using the upcoming move as an opportunity to shed some excess stuff (fear not: I don’t get rid of games. Except for Half-Life: that was rubbish, and suffered from a massively gamebreaking bug on Windows XP. And Metroid Prime 2: Echoes; that was just plain awful).

But what I found in my burrowing… well, it was terrifying.

I found…

…forgotten games.

First there was a couple of Jaguar CD games, hidden (cunningly enough) in the JagCD box. Two of them. Then a cachet of PC games from years gone by – Quakes a-plenty, a Deus Ex and Soldier of Fortune, and the triggering of a memory that there may be a Thief II hiding somewhere. And then, worst of all, came the discovery of one of my biggest banes – the freebie. The pack-in disc. From the time when I frantically bought an Xbox 360 Arcade after my first RROD.

The Xbox Live Arcade Compilation Disc.

Five games.

And suddenly, the fanciful notion that I secretly carried – of me whittling The List down to forty by the time I hit that age – became completely confounding. It matters not that I jumped right in and knocked Uno off in a matter of hours today, because that compilation includes a rhythm-action game (Boom Boom Rocket) and a Zuma-wannabe (Luxor 2).

And that, quite frankly, has knocked a bit of wind out of my sails.

But then comes The Steely Resolve again… a biting of the bottom lip, and a determination to remain absolutely accountable for my choices. That, and the promise of more Halo hijinks later this week, followed by some nutty Minter goodness on Friday.


Hello again!

Took last week off because… well, not much happened, gaming-wise. I’ve been a bit more focussed on my other games – work (gasp – yes, I do have a day job) and house-hunting – to play much other than Tempest 2000 for the last fortnight. I’ve still not progressed past that bastard Level 64 yet, but the occasional practice seems to be improving me somewhat; Level 63 now has a five-to-one chance of being successfully completed, and I seem to be getting into the groove of the pulsar waves. Fingers crossed.

This weekend, though, I squeezed in a little extra gaming time. Friday saw me return to a purchase from earlier this year – Soul Bubbles on the DS. My first stint with this game saw me chew through the first brace of levels, proclaim it wonderful, then promptly ignore it. But Soul Bubbles‘ homecoming was… well, addictive. Sure, it’s not the longest game in my collection – I reckon it only took a total of fifteen hours to S-Rank all the levels, but I was absolutely hooked… to the point where I woke up at 5am, just to crank out a couple of S-Ranks, before dropping back to sleep, satisfied.

Clearly, I’m not above a bit of tawdry euphemism ;)

A dash of Sight Training between house inspections (I found some extra content in there, dammit), and a totally sweary-but-brilliant belated first bash at ChuChu Rocket! with a mate rounds out a lazy fortnight. Unfortunately, the Other Games will probably take priority for the near future, but I’ll crank out some gaming where I can.

Je Retourne! (Part 3)

Four weeks since my last post. Four weeks, three of those spent at a construction camp an hour out of Karratha, tethered to the Interwebs – and hence, my sanity – by a satellite connection that was lucky to hold 5KB/s for a solid minute. And so, with the exception of this weekend (grinningly punctuated by my annual dose of Eurovision kitsch and bloc favouritism), my gaming has been sporadic – and mostly handheld based.

And by “handheld,” of course, I mean “DS.” The PSP has only tempted me with Patapon, Loco Roco, and (more importantly) the potential for a powerful emulation platform. Prior to the DS, my only other handhelds were also Nintendo in nature: old style Game & Watches (Helmet & Donkey Kong). But I digress, distracted by history and Sweden’s off-key Eurovision entry.

Just before my last painful journey to site, I picked up my first-ever entry into the Grand Theft Auto franchise: GTA: Chinatown Wars. And early impressions were fantastic – I loved the open world, the presentation, the scope. After 13 hours (56% complete), however, the lustre has most certainly been lost: where I initially thought the writing was mature, it now feels hopelessly juvenile; where I once savoured the morsel-sized missions, it now feels like an annoying grind. If this is the franchise that defines modern gaming, then I’m not really sure I want in; an especially ironic comment, given my undying love of Crackdown, which owes so much to GTA‘s heritage. But where Crackdown is wonderfully refined and constrained in its maturity, GTA: CW feels like it’s trying too hard to be Adult. Technically impressive and fun in small doses, sure – and it most definitely deserves to sell more than its reported numbers. But it’s hardly the most compelling thing on the DS.

Compare and contrast with another recent DS acquisition – Soul Bubbles. Seemingly victim to an unsupportive import policy (it was available in Australia for all of two weeks, I reckon), I had to get a UK mate to snaffle this for me (Amazon UK had it for a paltry 6 quid). And it’s a cracking game – utterly unique control mechanism, fun without frustration, a perfect little package. It’s shameful that this has gone so unnoticed.

Other site-based gaming has been limited to more Sight Training (which has proven to be quite enjoyable in a minigame-ish way) and Rub Rabbits (which leads me to believe that practice may, indeed, may – eventually – make perfect). The last couple of days has presented opportunities to get back into my Zelda Master Questing, with a couple of today’s dungeons surprising with their re-jigged ease; both Dodongo’s Cavern and the much-feared Jabu-Jabu’s Belly felt much easier in their Master Quest renditions.

To be honest, though, my mind has been more focussed on a game that’s still some months off: Bayonetta. Ever since I first laid eyes on the initial teaser trailer, I’ve been gagging for more goodies from Platinum – and they’ve delivered some delicious tidbits on the complexities of modelling Bayonetta’s arse. Now, I’m a bit of a fan of a bit of female protagonist posterior, and Bayonetta backs that up with some nutball looking action – I can’t wait.

The near future, however, is (annoyingly) still dictated by work – do I have more lovely Zelda in my future, or am I going to be grinding more GTA: CW in airplanes? It’s pretty much a day-by-day proposition at the moment, but hopefully there’s only another four-to-six weeks of this flux left. I want a chance to feel at home again, bed myself back into my old gaming habits; I haven’t turned on my 360 since March!