Now for my GOTY. I'll try to keep the descriptions short so I can get through all 7.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (PL:DB)
- I foolishly excluded Layton from my GOTY list last year. Fortunately a sequel was released that's as good or better than the original.
- The Layton games are puzzle games for real puzzle fans. With over 150 brainteasers in PL:DB, there are a wide variety of puzzles to conquer including chess, word, math, spatial (2D and 3D), and jigsaw. Some I solved in seconds. Most in minutes. And a few took me hours.
- Puzzles are the focus of this game and nothing gets in the way. You can hardly take several in game steps before running into another puzzle. The game keeps track of all missed puzzles and lets players access them at any time. The puzzles that must be completed to progress have very detailed hints giving less capable puzzle solves a good chance to make it to the end of the game.
- The genius of Layton's interface is in its touch screen controls. Every type of query from fill in the blank, connect the dots, move the objects, to draw a shape are very intuitive. Furthermore, the notepad feature let's you write notes directly on top of the game screen, which came in handy.
- The characters are unique, simple, and charming. The story is magical, extraordinary, and intriguing. The music and art work are top notch as well. And if you just couldn't get enough puzzles, the game has DLC. It's a perfect game.
Rhythm Heaven (RH)
- The Japanese demand perfection. At least compared to western games, Japanese music-rhythm games tend to have significantly less leeway for successfully timed inputs and a much harsher grading system. With a game as simple as RH, you either focus and step up, or have fun failing. As a musician myself, I'm more than used to performing with the expectation of perfection.
- Once again, the touch screen of the DS is put to perfect use. The original Rhythm Tengoku for the GBA used the A/B buttons and the D-pad. Rhythm Heaven only uses the touch screen. This design simplifies a two handed game, into a one handed game. The tap, hold, flick, and release inputs provide more input options than with traditional buttons. And the tactile flick is more engaging that tapping a button. This is a significant innovation in itself.
- Each level features a new song and theme, which also introduces new rhythms and cues/tells that players have to recognize and react to. This interactivity is much like reading music. The Remix levels are climaxes like final boss encounters combining everything that was learned in the previous 4 levels.
- Each level in the game can be failed, passed (silver), aced (gold), or perfected. Sometimes, the difference between acing a level and failing is just 2-3 mistakes. Also, you cannot perfect a stage whenever you want. You must wait for the game to randomly offer you the chance to earn a perfect medal. Initially, I thought this design was unnecessarily cumbersome because I could score a perfect run on a level and still not get a perfect medal for it. In other words, I had to wait around for the game to let me do something I've already proven to myself. But with time I realized that RH is the type of game that's really simple. Because the cues are clear and the inputs are simple (especially compared to other music-rhythm games like Elite Beat Agents), players don't have to memorize anything. If you could get a perfect medal on any level any time you wanted, that design would encourage players to repeatedly play, grind, and memorize levels to 100% the game. By keeping things sporadic, players have to be a little more flexible, adaptive, and learn to focus when it really counts.
- RH is packed with Wario Ware like style and charm. And like Wario Ware, RH comes with a lot of extra music-rhythm toys, doodads, and mini games. Another perfect game.
- This game wouldn't be possible without the touch screen and the fine degree of stylus control. Cutting, mending, and folding boxes from the isometric plain of paper is as easy as tracing lines on the screen. The optional D-pad support for switching between tools gives players the ability to quickly execute complex maneuvers without moving from their place on the touch screen.
- BOXLIFE's core puzzle engine revolves around the dynamic of creating 3D boxes out of 2D shapes. Each square is a precious resource, and depending on the mode, there are penalties for not using every square.
- Like one of the greatest puzzle games of all time, Tetris, BOXLIFE features a few rules that focus the gameplay. In Tetris, players manipulate shapes composed of 4 blocks to make and clear lines of blocks. In BOXLIFE, players cut out and manipulate shapes composed of 6 blocks to make and clear blocks. In the same way the number 4 and the shapes that are possible in Tetris create a intersecting network of algorithmic permutations so that the solution of clearing lines can be reached in a range of ways, BOXLIFE's 11 total shapes for folding cubes allows players to rearrange their cut formations to maximize square usage and rearrange the field in case of sporadic obstacles (bombs). This Tetris like quality is rare and absolutely engaging. At the peak of my skills, I would automatically arrange the floor tiles of my kitchen into boxes.
- With a stage based traditional puzzle mode and a randomly generated score attack mode, BOXLIFE features 2 of the 3 types of puzzle game modes (the last mode being a competitive multiplayer option). The more flexible the core puzzle engine, the more modes it can support.
- There's a lot to unlock in this game as work your square character up the corporate ladder and watch your box life improve in the processes.
- To be frank, this game is kind of ugly. Judging by the poor video compression technology and many of the game sprites, I think Zengage was originally a GBA game. Though a bit abrasive to the eyes, these shortcoming hardly matter to me. I'm all about gameplay, especially when it comes to puzzle games. I crave challenge.
- I boldly put Zengage on my GOTY list because of its shear variety of challenging puzzles. Every 9 of the game's 108 levels feature a new gameplay changing element from time bombs, arrow tiles, ice tiles, to switches. As a tile sliding game the touch screen makes things simple and intuitive. The rewind feature can undo moves step by step. With this key feature players can explore different possibilities without fear of making irreversible mistakes.
- DSi Ware games are much cheaper than DS, PC, and console games. Compare to free games on the internet and cheap games on the iPhone, games like Zengage and BOXLIFE offer more game content and deeper, better developed content. It's hard to compete with these games, which is why they're on my GOTY list.
Wii Sports Resort
- The new technology of the Wii Motion Plus makes a difference. What better way to showcase the tech than doing what Wii Sports did for the Wiimote. Get the controller in someone's hand and allow them to interact with simple, engaging, and deep games presented as straightforward as possible.
- The skydiving introduction to this game is quite genius. Its almost self explanatory, emergent demonstration is on the same level as the astounding, emergent secrets of the introduction to World 1-1 in Super Mario Brothers.
- With so many current-gen games blowing their budget on excessive visual, audio, and narrative elements, it's a relief to play a game that focused on what games do best; interactivity and engaging gameplay.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
- I've already talked at length about this game. You can read about it here in The Measure of Mario series, or when I talk about NSMBWii's (p)layered design. Mario is the greatest action video game and now I can play it with (or against) friends in an experience I've been waiting for since I got my first NES so many years ago.
Maboshi's Arcade (MA)
This game was released on December 29, 2008. I say that's close enough to 09.
- At the core, MA is three arcade games in one. Arcade is an accurate descriptor because players only get one life to try to score at least 1,000,000 points. Like some arcade games of old, the penalty for any mistake is game over. Some might think this is a bit harsh, but I love the straight forward conditions.
- Each of the games in Maboshi's Arcade are designed around simple inputs. Using a single button or just the D-pad, the inputs couldn't be simpler. On the other hand, controlling the game is highly engaging. Just moving the Circle or the Stick around involves coordinating momentum, gravity, and circular motion. Moving the Square around the screen leaves behind a flammable trail like in the classic game of Snake.
- The arcade games feature a lot of significant variation that tops many AAA, current-gen titles. On top of this, each game features a unique chain/combo system. The dynamics of these systems involve playing more quickly and accurately making this already simple and difficult game more interesting.
- Each arcade game takes up only a portion of the TV screen. Up to 3 players can play at once focusing just their cell. Just when you think Maboshi's Arcade's multiplayer potential consists of 3 players confined to the actions on their own cell, the special effect from different game actions extend beyond their game box and can affect elements in nearby game cells. This design gives the game unique co-op and co-ounter-op potential. And just when you think you need friends to take advantage of this multiplayer layer, MA has a feature that allows you to record and play back video of your playthroughs so you can essentially give yourself a hand.
- Aside from all of these features, MA lets you download an 8-bit version of the same arcade games to your DS so you can take the action on the road. If only every relatively simple Wii Ware game had such a feature. I want to see more of this in 2010.
At this point you might have noticed that all of my GOTY are Wii and DS games. As I've explained in part 1 of this series, I can't play all the games released for every platform in 2009. I do not have the time or the money. But there's hope. I plan on getting to many of them throughout 2010. Here are my games of shame.
- Spirit Tracks
- Muramasa: The Demon Blade
- Gravity Crash
- Wii Fit +
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Assassins Creed 2
- Brutal Legends
- Noby Noby Boy
- Beetles Rockband
- DJ Hero
- Demon Souls
Here's to 2010.