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!


Short and sharp this week: Wind Waker is done. Two play-throughs, 100% items & collectibles in both, and the second run had everything I could think of done: all platforms, all caves, every ring-of-light I could find on the Great Sea, every Tingle-related sidequest… I even collected all the Blue ChuChus. So that’s it… Off The List.

Two new games have been started: the easy one is Katamari Damacy. Starting from scratch, two sessions have seen me finish the game and collect 82% of all items – let’s face it, it’s not a long game, but it is still a joy to play (except when you’re 4mm short of a katamari size to unlock an Eternal level with ten seconds left to play and you can’t see anything because you’re trapped in a house and the camera is zooming out). The goal here is 100% items, all Eternals, 100% the “final” level, 90%+ for the Constellations, and within 10cm of the North Star. We’ll see how I go.

The other game… well, this one I’ve only played briefly before. It’s called Find A New Location For The MooBaarn, aka House Hunting. And what a frustrating game it is! Crappy time to be playing it, too.

More Of The Same…

It’s been a relatively compressed gaming week, with three days and nights being taken up by the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. What gaming time I did have, though, was devoted to Wind Waker.

Thanks to a mate in Melbourne – hi, Spencer! – who chucked a much-loved GBA and Connect cable into the mail for me, I’ve managed to complete a 100% run of Celda. All Heart Pieces. All items, except maybe the odd ocean rupee. All pictographs, including Tingle’s brother Knuckle. All Tingle statues. And I even became Orca’s master (resulting in the acknowledging smile of “Master, is your left index finger not numb?” after having locked onto Orca for 1000 consecutive hits). And so, with the defeat of Ganondorf, I could well have packed Wind Waker away and struck it off The List

…if it weren’t for the subtle changes wedged into the New Game Plus. Hylian translations, new clothes for Link and Aryll (“You got the Hero’s New Clothes… What the…? Wow! They’re really light…”). Just the type of things that would gnaw away at my OCD were I to ignore them. So I’m off on another 100% playthrough, though this one should be much quicker: the pictograph subquest carries over into New Game Plus and doesn’t need repeating, and there’ll be a lot less backtracking this time.

And then… well, who knows. A return to one of my many open projects, I guess.

My Week

My gaming week can be summed up thus:

Nothing but Link

Wind Waker, and nothing but. Halfway through collecting shard charts, and all but ten figurines collected.

So it’s progressing quite well – not many tricky bits left. One or two one-shot photos, the fifty-floor challenge, and that bloody Ghost Ship.

But I’ve hit a bit of a hurdle: my lack of a GBA. And I really, really can’t consider Wind Waker 100% complete until I’ve snagged all the Tingle Tuner linked collectibles. The call has gone out to friends and nephews for a GBA, but I’m quite prepared to acquire my own – all for the sake of 100%-ing One Game (and what a game!)

I guess that’s the O/C coming to the fore :}

Windy CommandoSports

It’s been an odd week.

A week of creeping horror, with the dawning realisation that my aging skills may not be enough to drag me through the Hard difficulty on Bionic Commando: Rearmed, let alone the Achievement-linked Super Hard mode. Hard is proving to be… well, ninja hard: there’s very little room for error, with three hits killing you in levels that seem to be more heavily populated with bullets. I’m still enjoying it, but in short bursts; often I’ll fire up the 360, figure out a quick route through a level to the boss fight, and then get absolutely belted. Try again, same result. Switch off 360 in frustration. Turn it on ten minutes later for another go. Repeat.

A week of lost love, with my very first 360 controller’s thumbstick disintegrating beneath me. This was the controller that helped me get most of my significant gaming victories; Ridge Racer 6. Space Giraffe. Crackdown. And now, after suffering years of my abuse, she’s gone. I only wish I could tell her how much I miss her, but… y’know… gaming time is precious. She’d have wanted me concentrating on the next Achievement, not moping around her grave.

A week of unwanted excessive effort, with my Wii Sports practice yielding a Gold Medal in the Bowling Power Throws, and an unfortunate Platinum in the Boxing Dodging. That Platinum will gnaw away at my mind for years, I can tell… I’d happily revert to a backed-up save of my status to under-achieve a Gold in its place, if it wasn’t risking my Boxing rank (740-ish… but Tennis is up to 1740-ish!) And, of course, excessive vigour in the remaining Bowling training modes leads to a dodgy shoulder and elbow.

A week of returning to old friends. Beset with doubts of my own abilities, bereft with injuries, I just wanted something to crash in front of the telly with on a drowsy Sunday. Wind Waker seemed like a perfect fit, and before I knew it bedtime had arrived, I’d forgotten to eat dinner, and I had to sadly bid the Deluxe Picto Box goodnight. I love that game – the wonderful pacing (compared to Twilight Princess, anyway), the gorgeous presentation… and the OCD pandering of it. I will fill that Nintendo Figurine Gallery, oh yes I will.

A Mixed Bag

Being Australian, there are times where I don’t want to fuck around with words. Hence the title of this post, because this week’s gaming has been a real mixed bag.

Having wrapped up Master Quest last week, I needed a new project; and, being mindful of my New Year’s Gaming Resolutions, I figure I’d best start work on the Playstation side of things. To that end, I started N2O.

N2O is an interesting one; I bought it, of course, because of its links with my 8-bit past. Written by Tony Crowther (responsible for the first Monty Mole game, and the Loco / Suicide Express / Black Thunder trio of near-identical games, amongst others), it’s very much a love-child of Tempest and one of Crowther’s earlier games, Phobia. Fly along the rim of undulating tunnels, shoot bugs. Easy.

But, as a shooter, it’s got a bit of depth. There’s a great speed-up mechanic (the more you shoot, the faster you travel), and there’s a certain puzzle-solving element to it, too. But it’s blackened somewhat by (seemingly) random weapon drops and a tendency to obscure your view with too many twists in the tunnel. Still, I’m having a fair bit of fun with it at the moment; I’ve clocked it on Easy, and am about a quarter of the way through Normal. Whether or not I require Hard for Completion is yet to be decided.

But the problem with N2O (and a lot of other twitchy shooters) is that I can’t concentrate on them for long stretches; so off into the vaults I went, checking out a few other games for the Next Project. I fired up Bujingai – again – and got nowhere on the boss I’m stuck on – again. I pootled around in the wacky world of Katamari Damacy, looked at all the items I need to collect to satisfy my OCD, and quickly moved on to Frequency – Harmonix’s original rhythm action game. Unfortunately, the use of the word “rhythm” there makes me completely unable to play it.

Hoping for a cheap win, I dug out my Nuon and threw the unknown Ballistic on. Oh shit – it’s Zuma. I fucking hate Zuma. Nine of the twenty-five levels was all I could bear; the Completion Requirement for that one will be All Levels On Easy, I think. And that’s kinda fair enough, given the harder skill levels just increase the speed.

Then there was a little bit of Wind Waker, but I turned that off after an hour or two… I’m wary of burning out on Zelda, as I did when I first encountered the games (when I played through Ocarina and Wind Waker, back-to-back, in a two week holiday of gaming where I rarely left the house). I fired up the 360 for the first time in two months, grabbed all the Burnout Paradise and Halo 3 add-ons that had been released in my absence, and then scored a couple of easy skull-finding Achievements in Halo 3.

Finally, I pulled my finger out and finished GTA: Chinatown Wars. There’s still oodles left to do in-game – I only finished with 81.15% – but it’s still the annoying experience that I remembered. It reminds me somewhat of Heroes or Dexter on TV; fantastic openings that convince you that they’re groundbreakers, before extended exposure reveals a tepid unsatisfying grind. Sigh.